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You’re wrong! I’m right!

Mon, 2018-02-19 07:50

We live in two Americas.

In one America, a mentally unstable president selected partly by Russia lies daily and stirs up bigotry that tears our social fabric.

In another America, a can-do president tries to make America great again as lying journalists stir up hatred that tears our social fabric.

The one thing we all agree on: Our social fabric is torn. In each America, people who inhabit the other are often perceived as not just obtuse but also dangerous. Half of Democrats and Republicans alike say in polls that they are literally afraid of the other political party.

This is not to equate the two worldviews. I largely subscribe to the first, and I'm a villain in the second. But I do believe that all of us, on both sides, frequently spend more time demonizing the other side than trying to understand it, and we all suffer a cognitive bias that makes us inclined to seek out news sources that confirm our worldview.

A classic study offered free research to ordinary Democrats and Republicans. People on both sides were eager to get intelligent arguments reinforcing their views and somewhat interested in arguments for the other side that were so silly they could be mocked and caricatured (it's very satisfying to dismiss rivals as libtards or bigots). Neither Democrats nor Republicans were interested in intelligent arguments challenging their own views.

Decades ago, a media expert at MIT named Nicholas Negroponte foresaw the emergence of a news product that he called "The Daily Me," with information tailored to a user's needs. Negroponte was thinking of local weather, sports, particular interests and so on, but what actually arrived with the internet was a highly political version of "The Daily Me."

There's not an exact parallel in the way the right and the left seek out like-minded news sources. The right has spawned conspiracy nuts like Alex Jones who believe that the Sandy Hook school shooting was faked, and one study found that the more people watched Fox News, the worse they did on a current events test.

So I'm not advocating that you waste time on Breitbart propaganda any more than I'm saying that it was worth listening to leftists in the 1970s who praised Chairman Mao. But wherever we stand on the spectrum, there are sane, intelligent voices who disagree with us — and too often we plug our ears to them.

On the left, there has been some outrage at conservative voices on the Times op-ed pages. But as a progressive myself, steeped in the liberal worldview, I must say that I often learn a lot — however painfully — from these conservatives with whom I utterly disagree, partly because they gleefully seize upon inconvenient facts that my side tends to ignore because they don't fit our narrative.

Moreover, there's some experimental evidence that our biased approach to getting news actually makes us dumb. For example, one experiment asked 1,000 people to look at a simple data set and draw conclusions about a skin cream's effectiveness. Not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans were about equally good at calculating the math and determining how well it worked.

But when the experiment offered the very same data set and said it referred to the effectiveness of a gun control measure, Democrats and Republicans alike went to pieces. In one version, the numbers showed that a gun control measure worked — and Republicans kept flubbing the math. In another version, the gun control measure was ineffective, and this time the Democrats couldn't manage the calculations.

The evidence on these biases is complex, studies sometimes haven't replicated well, and I don't want to exhibit confirmation bias in my warnings of confirmation bias. Researchers also caution that it's too glib to say we are all locked in our echo chambers, for most Americans still are regularly challenged by dissonant information.

But what does seem clear is that rigid ideological beliefs impair our cognitive functions. For many years, Philip Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania has been running experiments measuring the ability of thousands of people to make sound predictions.

The best forecasters, Tetlock finds, are not experts or even intelligence officials with classified information, not liberals and not conservatives, but rather those instinctively empirical, nonideological and willing to change their minds quite nimbly. The poorest marks go to those who are strongly loyal to a worldview.

I wondered whether to write this column, for there are so many urgent — and progressive! — causes on the table that I want to thunder about: Dreamers, guns in American life, White House dismissiveness toward domestic violence, and so on. But the "Daily Me" problem also undermines the capacity of liberals to win these arguments. When we stay within our own tribe, talking mostly to each other, it's difficult to woo other tribes to achieve our aims.

The ideological blinders may worsen because of our tendency to seek out like-minded people. A 2014 Pew survey found that half of consistent conservatives and 35 percent of consistent liberals say, "It's important to me to live in a place where most people share my political views."

It should be possible both to believe deeply in the rightness of one's own cause and to hear out the other side. Civility is not a sign of weakness, but of civilization.

Trump backs effort to improve gun background checks

Mon, 2018-02-19 06:55

PALM BEACH, Fla. – The White House said on Monday that President Donald Trump supports efforts to improve federal background checks for gun purchases, two days after a shooting at a Florida school killed 17 people.

Trump spoke to Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, about a bipartisan bill that he and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy introduced to improve federal compliance with criminal background checks, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

"While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system," Sanders said in a statement.

Cornyn and Murphy introduced the bill to improve federal background checks last November, days after a gunman killed more than two dozen people in a church in Texas.

The bill, called the Fix NICS Act, would ensure that states and federal agencies comply with existing law on reporting criminal history records to the national background check system.

Cornyn, of Texas, had complained when introducing the legislation that compliance by agencies was "lousy."

Students from the Florida high school where a former student is accused of murdering 17 people last week using an assault-style rifle, are planning a "March For Our Lives" in Washington on March 24 to call attention to school safety and ask lawmakers to enact gun control.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Palm Beach, Florida and Timothy Gardner in Washington)

French skier kicked out of Winter Games for lack of team spirit

Mon, 2018-02-19 06:31

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – French Alpine skier Mathieu Faivre, the boyfriend of Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin, has been sent home from the Games after saying he did not care about medals won by his teammates and was only concerned with his own success.

The French Alpine team confirmed on Monday that Faivre had been kicked out of the Games for the comments he made to reporters after finishing seventh in the men's giant slalom on Sunday.

Alexis Pinturault won bronze behind Austrian Marcel Hirscher in the race and two other Frenchmen, Thomas Fanara and Victor Muffat-Jeandet, finished fifth and sixth.

Faivre, who won a gold in the team event at last year's world championships, apologized for his outburst on Facebook.

"I said that the performance of the team was the least of my concerns when responding to a question (about) how I felt about the French team's overall good performance," the 26-year-old, who comes from the southern city of Nice, wrote.

"When asked to describe my feelings on the race 10 minutes after I had crossed the finish line, only my performance and my failure were present.

"People don't react the same faced with failure and I have to admit, coming from the south, that I am hot-blooded. So words somehow overtook my thoughts.

"I did not want to show disrespect to anyone I was extremely proud to have represented my country and I thank those people who made it possible."

American Shiffrin, who won gold in the women's giant slalom, did not stop to speak to reporters on Monday after clocking the 15th fastest time in the second training session for the downhill.

Faivre would have been a strong contender for a place in the France team for the mixed sex Alpine team event, which makes its Olympic debut on Saturday.

Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann.

Olympic notebook: Soldotna grad makes golden moment possible; Patterson, Hanneman ski the relay

Mon, 2018-02-19 05:22

Eleven years ago, Scott Patterson and Reese Hanneman were battling for Skimeister honors at the Alaska high school cross-country ski championships at Kincaid Park.

Saturday night, they were battling the planet's best skiers as members of the U.S. men's relay team at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Americans finished last in 14th place, more than nine minutes behind the gold medalists from Norway.

"Wowzers," Hanneman posted on Instagram. "Olympic relays are on a completely different level!! So proud of my teammates @andynewellskier@scottgpatterson @hoffnoah and honored to be part of #TeamUSA."

[Once rivals, APU skiers work for common goal]

The team was a blend of veterans and newcomers – four-time Olympian Andy Newell of Vermont, 34, and two-time Olympian Noah Hoffman of Colorado, 28, plus the Olympic rookies from Alaska – Patterson, 26, and Hanneman, 28.

"We knew we weren't going to get medals," Patterson told USA Today. "We also knew some of our higher-end distance guys were sitting out to save it for the team sprint. Coming in, the goal was to finish."

Newell skied the first classic leg and put the Americans in 12th place. Hanneman skied the second classic leg and dropped to 14th with the slowest time in his leg.

Next up was Patterson, who skied the first of two freestyle legs. He skied the 12th-fastest time of his leg but wasn't able to pass anyone. Noah Hoffman, skiing the anchor leg, lost time on the leaders with the slowest time of his leg.

"I was a long shot of catching anyone," Patterson said. "I put out a really strong first effort, the first loop out of three, then I started to fade. I think I gained a little bit on Russia on the first loop and I was hurting the next two."

While the women's cross-country team has gotten all of the attention in South Korea as it pursues – so far, futilely – its first Olympic medal, Patterson is quietly having a very good Olympics.

He placed 18th in his debut, the 30K skiathlon, and was 21st in the 15K freestyle. He will get another start in the 50K on Saturday (Friday night in Alaska).

"I've had two great races," Patterson said. "… It's been an awesome experience. The Olympics are hard to beat."

Soldotna’s Olympic moment

One of the greatest moments of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics came last week at the end – the very end – of the men's 15-kilometer freestyle race when Mexico's German Madrazo was given a hero's welcome at the finish line, some 36 minutes after the gold-medal had been decided.

You can thank Soldotna High graduate Andy Liebner for making it possible.

Liebner, a 2001 Soldotna graduate who skied for UAA, lives in Cheboygan, Michigan, these days. He is the founder of the U.S. Ski Pole Company, which manufactures ski poles, and he is a coach with considerable experience.

On two occasions, Liebner has turned men from snow-starved nations into Olympic skiers. Both times, those men finished last in the 15K – Peru's Roberto Carcelen was 87th at Sochi, nearly 28 minutes behind the winner, and Madrazo was 116th last week, nearly 26 minutes behind the winner (who, in both races, was Switzerland's Dario Cologna).

Madrazo is a 43-year-old endurance athlete who finished the Ironman World Championship triathlon last year. When someone sent him an article that said cross-country skiing is the toughest sport in the world, he was intrigued.

When he read that Liebner had helped Carcelen qualify for the 2014 Olympics, he picked up his phone.

"I didn't know who Andy was," Madrazo told the Peninsula Clarion prior to the Olympics. "It was the craziest decision of my life, but it turned out to be one of the best."

That was in December 2016. In January 2017, Madrazo began skiing. A year later, he met the qualifying standard for the Olympics.

And now he is one of the faces of Pyeongchang.

More than 30 minutes after Cologna had repeated as the 15K Olympic champion, Madrazo approached the finish line, the final skier in the race. Someone handed him a giant Mexican flag. He carried it as he skied, somewhat shakily, across the finish line, where a reception committee waited.

They were stragglers in the race too, skiers from countries where there is little or no snow, much less cross-country skiing. The four of them – athletes from Colombia, Tonga, Morocco and Portugal – greeted Madrazo with a bear hug and then hoisted him on their shoulders.

Liebner was still on his way to the stadium, according to the Clarion, so he didn't get to see it happen. But he heard it.

"He's become famous amongst all athletes around, from his personality of supporting everyone in their events and even his own competitors," Liebner told the Clarion. "He's always had the heart of what we all believe an Olympian has to commend everyone from everywhere to do the best they can.

"I'm so proud on many levels. This was one athlete who had no chance at the gold medal, but won the gold in the hearts of all the viewers and his own competition."

Social networking

Ashley Wagner didn't qualify for the Olympics in figure skating but her live tweets are medal-worthy. She grew up in Eagle River and began skating here, which means she knows Girdwood's Keegan Messing from way back. During the men's free skate, she shared this:

"Fun fact…Keegan Messing taught me everything I know about yoyo tricks when we were kids. #TheMoreYouKnow"

Other observations and insights shared by Alaska athletes in Pyeongchang:

Ryan Stassel, snowboarder, on Instagram: First day of the Olympic Big Air practice is a wrap and the jump is sick!! Pumped to ride this bad boy a few more days before (qualifying).

Rosie Mancari, snowboarder who suffered a season-ending injury during training, on Instagram: Everyone's Olympic dream has a different outcome, and unfortunately mine was cut a little short when I ruptured both of my Achilles in training yesterday. I appreciate all the love sent my way already, sorry if I haven't responded, definitely taking some time for myself at this moment in time. However I'm staying SUPER positive and optimistic and excited to get even better and stronger this summer.

Hongsu Hill! “Hongsu” 홍수 means “flood” in Korean! Have you been watching the 2018 Olympics? Have you seen the big, steep sprint hill above the stadium, the last uphill before the finish of every cross-country race? I thought this hill needed a name, since the lactate-flood from climbing it is brutal. As I was writing a course preview article in the fall, based on racing in PyeongChang last February, I gave the hill an alliterative, (hopefully) poetic name. And then it made me pretty happy to get here to the Olympics and follow up, to write the name on the side of the hill itself!

Major Olympic wardrobe malfunction strikes during French ice dancers’ short program

Mon, 2018-02-19 05:15

During the first week of the Olympics, a South Korean ice dancer had to struggle to keep her top from falling down when a clasp in the back gave way just after she and her partner started their routine during the team competition.

On Monday, a French ice dancer could not avoid that embarrassing fate when her breast was exposed while she competed in the short program.

Gabriella Papadakis, along with her partner, Guillaume Cizeron, still managed to notch a good score despite the wardrobe malfunction and the adjustments it caused in her movements. She was just seconds into their program when her costume pulled apart in the back by her neck, and she was visibly upset about the incident afterward.

"It was kind of . . . in our thoughts all along the program a little bit," said Cizeron, who handled most of the questions in a post-event media session. "When you rotate, it's kind of hard to keep your dress on when it's open."

The French team wound up with a score of 81.93, putting them in second place behind Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (83.67), with Tuesday's free dance still to come. Team USA's Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third at 77.75, with Americans also in fourth (Maia and Alex Shibutani, 77.73) and seventh (Madison Chock and Evan Bates, 75.45).

"It's just frustrating to miss a few points because of a costume issue," said Cizeron, 23. "That's not what we get ready for when we train. I'm still proud that we managed to pull out a program like that even with a difficulty like this.

"We look forward to a new day tomorrow and we have all our chances to win. We'll just do our best."

When asked if she was okay, the 22-year-old Papadakis offered a rueful chuckle while replying, "Not great" (via USA Today). After a question about how their style of dance has transformed the sport, she said, "Thank you for not talking about the dress anymore."

In addition to being televised live to audiences worldwide, the revealing incident was reportedly replayed in slow motion in South Korea's Gangneung Ice Arena, where the event was held.

"I was like, 'Oh no!' " South Korea's Yura Min, who finished 16th Monday with partner Alexander Gamelin, said last week of her mishap. "If that comes undone, the whole thing could just pop off. I was terrified the entire program."

Beats, rhymes and ice: Olympians rely on their tunes, and science backs them up

Sun, 2018-02-18 21:08

BONGPYEONG, South Korea – Before Darian Stevens could begin her slopestyle skiing qualifying run, she had to find the right song. A combination of fate and feeling would guide her. Standing at the top of the course, having been told she could drop in, Stevens sifted through her phone's music shuffle until the right song filled her ears: "Caught Up," by Usher.

"If I get too in my head, I know I don't perform that well under pressure," Stevens said. "I just need a distraction. I just let my body take over and do what it knows how to do."

As snowboarders and freestyle skiers walk from the end of their runs through crowds of reporters and supporters, equipment in hands and goggles on forehead, you may notice a curious accessory protruding from the top of their jackets. For a certain percentage of riders, probably a small majority, those wires and ear buds are as much a part of their uniform as bindings and boots.

Throughout the Pyeongchang Olympics, snowboarders and skiers have provided personal soundtracks. Women's halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim told ESPN's Alyssa Roenigk she listened to "MotorSport" by Migos during her iconic final halfpipe run. For his gold medal halfpipe trip, Shaun White had a Post Malone song in his ears. Slopestyle skier Caroline Claire listened to Playboy Carti. Halfpipe snowboarder Maddie Mastro chose Cage The Elephant.

The individual nature of their sport allows riders to listen to music in competition. There are no teammates to interact with or coaches to heed. But they do not do it just because they can. Music helps the athletes block out distractions, focus before a race and perform better during it. The sports require rhythm and artistry, and those who choose to roll with an iPod may see inherent benefit in those areas.

According to Matthew Stork, a PhD candidate from the University of British Columbia who has researched and written on the relationship between music and performance, researchers have come understand the phenomenon through the term "entrainment." It means the tendency of biological rhythms – heart rate, respiration rate, even brain waves – to align with musical rhythms.

"In other words," Stork said in an email, "there is an innate human tendency to synchronize movement with musical rhythm."

On her slopestyle skiing runs Saturday, 2014 silver medalist Devin Logan bobbed and bounced to Kendrick Lamar as she started, moving her hands to the beat even as she gripped her poles tight. She practically danced during her first few pushes.

"I like to get into it, just feel the music and ski kind of to the beat," Logan said. "It helps my rhythm. It's just something to drain out my head talking to me too much."

Many riders praised the effect music has just before a run begins. For some, it reduces the noise around them or puts their mind at ease. For others, it amps them up and ratchets their intensity.

"Music has the potential to put athletes in a spot mentally or emotionally where they're able to operate or perform in a more optimal way," Stork said. "Music can 'get you going,' put you 'in the zone' or state of 'flow' where you are fully focused and immersed in the task at hand."

While skiers and snowboarders listed both heavy rock and hip-hop as pre-race musical choices, those who listened during competition all leaned toward pop and flowing hip-hop. Stork said he would expect that. Different kinds of athletes, he said, would be looking for different kinds of music. In hockey, an enforcer may blare Metallica before a game, but a stick-handling forward may prefer Tupac.

"You put on the heavy stuff, and you hear guys say, 'Whoa, bro,'" Canadian snowboard cross racer Kevin Hill said.

Skiers and snowboarders have to choose lines and routines in practice, then employ mental imagery to replicate them in competition. Stork said music can serve as a kind of "aural imagery" – listening to the same song in practice and competition can create cues and promote repetition.

Some riders opt to leave the iPods at home. Sebastian Toutant, a Canadian slopestyle snowboarder, foregoes music during competition so he can hear his board, particular when he is on rails, when he listens for aural clues of when to pop and when to leap back to the snow.

"If you get used to riding with music all the time, then people riding without music feel weird," Toutant said. "So I'm kind of like the opposite. And I like to shred with the homies and talk all the time."

Swedish slopestyle snowboarder Niklas Mattsson listens to rock – the Black Keys and Iron Maiden are favorites – before his run to psych himself up. While riding, though, he turns it off to maximize his capacity to process aural feedback. He does not want to miss what his surroundings are telling him.

"I like to hear the sound of my board." Mattsson said. "It's really important. You can hear whether the snow is hard or it's soft. You feel better if you don't have music in your ears. Your feeling of it's soft, it's firm, you can hear how fast it goes."

Hill said he likes to hear the edge of his board cut into crisp snow, and that listening for wind direction can help. There are secondary considerations that may prompt an athlete not to listen.

"I honestly get sick of my music a lot faster," Hill said. "I get sick of playlists. You're on the hill for four hours a day. You listen to 30, 40 songs. They just run out quicker."

Meeyhun Lee, a South Korean slopestyle skier who grew up in Pennsylvania, said she never rides with music for a reason dating from her development: Her ski instructor kept telling her to take her earbuds out so she could listen to him, and the act became so tiresome she just did away with music altogether. Creating her own energy, instead of using music to do so, became her focus.

"The vibe you carry is the vibe you ride," Lee said.

Even some riders who listen to music, the practice reveals a trait that helps make them elite athletes in the first place: Their level of focus overtakes the tunes.

Stevens had to think for a couple minutes before she could recall which song was on during her run. Great Britain's Isabel Atkin, the women's slopestyle skiing bronze medalist, listens to music during competition, but "I don't hear it, because I'm in the zone," she said. Mattsson, the Swedish snowboarder, ¿said one reason he stopped listening to music is because he couldn't hear it, anyway.

Some riders who'd like to listen don't need actual music. American snowboard cross racer Hagen Kearney plays guitar in the metal band Kapix. But snowboard cross racers cannot listen to music during race heats, because in the chaos of their sport, they need to hear if a rider if coming from behind or next to them, or in some cases communicate with competitors. Kearney still finds a way, like so many of his brethren, to compete to music.

"I have a song in my head," Kearney said.

How unwitting Americans encountered Russian operatives online

Sun, 2018-02-18 20:51

They were politically active Americans scattered around the country, dedicating their spare time to the 2016 presidential campaign or various causes. And the seeming fellow activists who called them to rallies via Facebook, or joined in the free-for-all on Twitter, appeared unremarkable.

Except that their English sometimes seemed a little odd.

"We are looking for friendship because we are fighting for the same reasons," someone purporting to be with an online group calling itself Blacktivist wrote via Twitter to the Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III, a Baltimore pastor, in April 2016. "Actually we are open for your thoughts and offers."

In late October 2016, in Nederland, Texas, the Texas Nationalist Movement got a Facebook message from someone representing a group called Heart of Texas, which planned to organize rallies in favor of Texas secession on the eve of the election. But on a follow-up call, "something was off," said Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement.

Despite their wariness, neither Brown nor Miller had any inkling of what was really behind those odd encounters. Heart of Texas and Blacktivist were phony groups, part of a sweeping Russian disinformation campaign that was funded with millions of dollars and carried out by 80 people operating out of St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Russian attempt at long-distance choreography was playing out in many cities across the United States. Facebook has disclosed that about 130 rallies were promoted by 13 of the Russian pages, which reached 126 million Americans with provocative content on race, guns, immigration and other volatile issues.

An indictment filed in court on Friday by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election, laid out for the first time, in riveting detail, how Russia carried out its campaign on social media. And while the indictment did not suggest any involvement by President Donald Trump or his associates, it did say many Americans engaged with the Russian trolls without knowing whom or where they really were.

"Some defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities," the indictment said. Among others, it said, the Russians contacted "a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grass-roots organization," who advised them to focus their efforts on "purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida."

The indictment did not name the activist, but Miller said in an interview that the mention had set off a slightly unnerving guessing game in his state as to who the helpful Texan might be. It was not him, he said.

"Every organization in Texas that's been politically involved over the last few years is sort of eyeing the other ones," said Miller, whose group decided not to endorse the Heart of Texas rallies. "Mueller's team needs to clarify this." (A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.)

Sometimes the Russian efforts fell flat. Brown had challenged Blacktivist on Twitter because it seemed to be an out-of-town group, yet it was calling for a Baltimore rally to mark the anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained a fatal injury while in police custody. The pastor had no idea just how far out of town.

"The way you're going about this is deeply offensive to those of us who are from Baltimore and have been organizing here all our lives," Brown wrote to the stranger.

Seemingly chastened, Blacktivist replied, "This must be really wrong. I feel ashamed."

The pastor replied: "Post a public apology. Cancel the event and take your cues from those working locally."

The Heart of Texas group had more success with a Houston rally to "Stop the Islamization of Texas," which provoked an angry confrontation in May 2016. United Muslims of America, another Russian creation, called its own rally to "Save Islamic Knowledge" for the same time and place, outside the Islamic Da'wah Center.

A dozen people who turned out for the first event, some carrying rifles, Confederate flags and a banner saying "White Lives Matter," faced off across a street with a far larger crowd of counterprotesters. Police kept the crowds apart, and there was no trouble at the event, which was caught on video.

Later, on social media, some puzzled participants complained that no one from Heart of Texas, which had about 250,000 likes on Facebook, had shown up for the group's own rally.

But the online pitches reached a big audience. In written answers to questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee, Facebook said some 338,300 people saw the announcements of rallies promoted by the bogus pages — and 62,500 said they planned to attend one. Those numbers are modest against the background of the entire presidential campaign, but they show that the Russians were able not just to attract Americans to their ersatz groups but actually manipulate their actions.

"The fact that they got people to show up at real-world events is impressive," said Renee DiResta, the head of policy at Data for Democracy, a nonprofit that has studied the Russian activity. "What we have is an engine for reaching people and growing an audience, which is fantastic. But this shows that it can be used for very shady purposes."

(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)

Facebook's vice president for advertising, Rob Goldman, said on Twitter on Friday, "I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal" — a statement that Trump retweeted.

But Mueller's indictment repeatedly states that the Russian operation was designed not just to provoke division among Americans but also to denigrate Hillary Clinton and support her rivals, mainly Trump. The hashtags the Russian operation used included #Trump2016, #TrumpTrain, #MAGA and #Hillary4Prison, and one Russian operative was reprimanded for "a low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton," the indictment says.

A glance at the Russian posts supports the idea that they focus on candidates. Heart of Texas ran an unflattering portrait of Clinton with the tag "Pure Evil"; posted a fake photo of her shaking hands with Osama bin Laden; and paired her with Adolf Hitler as a supporter of gun control. Trump was shown surrounded by police officers wearing Trump hats and grinning outside a fake cage with Clinton inside.

While most of the Americans duped by the Russian trolls were not public figures, some higher-profile people were fooled. The indictment mentions the Russian Twitter feed @TEN_GOP, which posed as a Tennessee Republican account and attracted more than 100,000 followers. It was retweeted by Donald Trump Jr.; Kellyanne Conway, the president's counselor; Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser; and his son, Michael Flynn Jr.

They have expressed no regret that they were apparently taken in by the Russian operatives. Instead, since Friday's indictment, Donald Trump Jr., like his father, has pointed mainly to the fact that it did not accuse the president or his associates of assisting the Russian operation.

.

Readers write: Letters to the editor, February 19, 2018

Sun, 2018-02-18 20:36

Swamp is plenty full

Sooooooo. … The DC "swamp" got drained with this administration? Now we have a Great Lake sized pond filled with hugely entitled secretaries who travel high-class as they aren't treated nice with those of us who fly coach. Oh, and a VA executive who takes a questionable trip with his wife because it is critical to vets that he/she know all about tennis in England, Hummmmm? Swamp doesn't look so bad right now.

— Beverly Metcalfe
Anchorage

Guns certainly do kill people

You know the saying "Guns don't kill people, people do." If you believe this, then you need to educate yourself. Let's start with some facts: 62 percent of firearm deaths are suicides, 90 percent of attempted suicides with a gun will die while over 90 percent of those attempts by other means will live. Seven children are killed with guns in the U.S. a day. On average 96 people are killed with guns in the U.S. every day. There are 13,000 gun homicides a year in the U.S. For every one person killed with a gun, two more are injured.

Why is this happening here? Why are Americans 25 more times likely to be murdered by a gun than any other country? Because the gun lobbyists control our senators. Murkowski and Sullivan are not driven by the need to keep guns out of our children's hands or to keep us safe. No, they are servants to the NRA. In 2015 both senators voted to block efforts to pass a common-sense gun law right after the deadliest mass shooting. This somehow has turned into a political battle between the Democrats and the Republicans. It shouldn't be. Please, Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan, it is time to do the right thing and have a bipartisan conversation about some common-sense gun laws. I, for one, do not want to open the paper and read about another mass shooting in a school full of innocent children.

— Mary Ripp
Eagle River

Trump on Gold Star families

We have seen how Trump expresses appreciation to Gold Star families. His disgusting call to Ms. Johnson in which he reminded her that her husband had volunteered. Just the tender touch you would expect from the President of the United States.

Can we forget his treatment of the Kahns? Not only whose son volunteered but emigrants whose son felt he needed to show that his religion too believed in our stated ideals. At least the ideal many of use believe in.

Trump's contribution to the military? Bone spurs. Funny how our last two Republican presidents made sure they did not serve. Judge them by what they do, not what they preach.

— Gregory Schmitz
Anchorage

A UA program worth funding

As the governor, state Senate and state House weigh concerns about the revenue coming in versus spending going out, I hope they take the time to 1) familiarize themselves with how University of Alaska Research benefits the state of Alaska, 2) visit the people and laboratories that make up the University of Alaska Research machine and, 3) learn about the value added by funding the University of Alaska at the board of regents ask. University of Alaska Research laboratories, staff, faculty, and students further Alaska's natural resource economy through assisting mines with reaching their exploration and development goals (examples: Red Dog, Fort Knox, Pogo, Kensington, and Greens Creek).

The University of Alaska Research machine also provides a framework for hydrocarbon exploration in frontier basins like the Nenana Basin and frontier formations like the Nanushuk of the North Slope. University of Alaska Research has investigated the geothermal energy potential of Chena Hot springs and Pilgrim Hot Springs. University of Alaska Research has also assisted in natural hazard assessments (examples: earthquakes, slope for the infrastructure (ex. trans-Alaska pipeline, Goldstream Valley permafrost mapping). University of Alaska Research has benefited the timber industry, fishery industry, and the state's game management. University of Alaska Research has also helped further the food and military security of our state. Visit a large mine in Alaska and ask where folks were trained, and it will be clear University of Alaska Research is synonymous with workforce development. Next time you think you see the University of Alaska Research community with a hand out, shake it for we are all in this together.

— Jeff Benowitz
Fairbanks

In a business partnership with ‘the devil’? Here’s what to do.

Sun, 2018-02-18 20:12

Q: Sixteen months ago I lost my oil company job, but received enough severance to keep me afloat for more than a year. I'd always wanted to work for myself and felt this was my big chance. Even though I've never been a risk-taker, I started a small business.

I soon realized I needed an assistant because when I invested time in paperwork it took me away from the sales and marketing I needed to do. It scared me but I hired a part-time assistant and was quickly glad I'd decided to do so.

After three months, I learned how to do projections and didn't like what the figures showed. Even if I sold four times as much as I was selling, I'd not make enough of a profit to support myself before my savings ran out. The figures told the story: I either had to pay my suppliers less or charge my customers more.

I looked for lower-priced suppliers and tried to negotiate better deals, but struck out. When I raised prices, I got pushback and lost customers. I tried for a small-business loan, but the banker saw what I did and told me I had to find new vendors. Then, one of my neighbors introduced me to "Harvey." Harvey needed a job and agreed to work for me for a month. He handled the tough negotiations and it gave him a chance to find the caliber of job he wanted.

Harvey quickly became indispensable. He stayed on another month and after he set up my business with good deals with the right suppliers he began to help me sell to larger customers. I started to fear what would happen when he found his right job. That's when he made me a proposition. He wanted both a raise and a slice of my business.

I gave him both, fearing I wouldn't have a business without him. He wrote our agreement and at the time it looked good, because it simply gave him bonuses of both money and increasing shares of the business when our business and profits grew. In other words, if he made more money, it would be because I was making more money and the business was worth more.

That was a year ago. The aggressiveness I'd admired in Harvey when he negotiated with suppliers on my behalf doesn't feel so great when he turns it on me. He drove away my first assistant, who called him a bully. Her replacement gave notice last week. "Bully" is the nicest word she uses to describe him.

Now I feel I'm in partnership with the devil, and I don't know what to do. When I talk with Harvey he insists he's not the problem, but I know he is. I'm limited in my choices. I can pay him to leave, potentially crashing my business. I can sell him my share for almost nothing. Or I convince him to change — but can bullies change? Or, do I just endure?

A: Some say bullies can't change; that's not true. As evidence, many bullies turn on and off bullying behavior. In organizations, bullies often kiss up and kick down, presenting a charming, even subservient facade to senior managers and displaying attacking or intimidating behavior toward peers. In some marriages, a bully abuses his spouse, yet treats his children well.

Once you learn how bullies make their choices, you can act to change their behavior. Most bullies operate according to a risk/benefit ratio, which means if your bully believes he risks more than he wins by bullying you, he may change course.

Up until now, you've appeared an easy mark. You gave Harvey what he asked for, fearing you wouldn't have a business without him. You allowed him to drive away an employee. You now fear you're limited to no-win options, and Harvey undoubtedly senses this.

Visit a business attorney and outline what you've shared with me. You may have more options than you realize and you need this counsel. If you'd visited an attorney when Harvey first gave you his proposition involving increasing shares, you might have realized Harvey was flying you into a box canyon. At the least, your attorney can negotiate a more reasonable buyout for Harvey and you may learn that this doesn't crash your business. Your attorney can also negotiate a better exit package for you, if you choose to leave.

Finally, before you decide to "endure," ask yourself how you'll feel if you're in exactly this same position a year from now. If Harvey is indeed a bully, and not simply a skilled manipulator who possessed talents you lacked and needed, you'll increasingly lose your sense of self-worth if you stay enmeshed with him.

Russian athlete leaves Winter Olympics amid doping probe

Sun, 2018-02-18 19:42

A Russian Olympic medalist has left the Pyeongchang Winter Games on suspicion of doping, a Russian sports official said on Monday, in a case that could jeopardize the nation's efforts to draw a line under a years-long drug-cheating scandal.

Alexander Krushelnitsky, who competes in curling, one of the Games' least physically taxing sports, is suspected of testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance that increases blood flow and improves exercise capacity.

He is awaiting the results of analysis of his B sample, expected later on Monday, before a violation can be confirmed, a source familiar with the matter has said.

Asked for an update on Krushelnitsky's case, Russian Olympic delegation spokesman Konstantin Vybornov told Reuters on Sunday that he had surrendered his Games accreditation pending B sample results. Later, he said he had not referred to any individual athlete by name and would make no more comment.

Krushelnitsky won bronze with his wife in mixed-doubles curling at Pyeongchang. Suspicions of a doping violation have shocked the Russian team and also the sport of curling, where steady hands and sharp eyes outweigh physical fitness.

"We were all shocked when we found out yesterday. Of course we very much hope it was some kind of mistake," Russian curler Viktoria Moiseeva told reporters, adding that the team believed Krushelnitsky was innocent.

"With us it's not faster, higher, stronger; it's about being more accurate. I can't imagine what kind of drugs you could use in curling … so it's very hard to believe."

Russian curling federation president Dmitry Svishchev said Russian curlers had been tested on Jan. 22 before flying out to South Korea and the tests were negative.

"I have known these guys for many years. Only a crazy person takes banned substances before a competition, before the Olympics," Svishchev said on Sunday night when the news first broke. "It's a strange story. It raises a lot of questions."

Meldonium was banned in 2016 and led to Russian tennis player and former world number one Maria Sharapova being barred from competition for 15 months.

Russia has been accused of running a state-backed, systematic doping program for years, an allegation Moscow denies. As a result, its athletes are competing at Pyeongchang as neutral "Olympic Athletes from Russia" (OAR).

The Russians had been hoping that a clean record at Pyeongchang would persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow them to march at the Games closing ceremony on Feb. 25 with the Russian flag and in national uniform.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Monday that any doping violation, if confirmed, would be known around noon (0300 GMT). A decision would be made soon after that.

If confirmed, the violation would be considered by the IOC's OAR Implementation panel, the body in charge of monitoring the OAR team's behavior at the Games.

Krushelnitsky has not responded to a request for comment.

He and his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, won bronze in a game against Norway, which would take that medal if a doping violation were to be confirmed.

"I hope it's not true … for the sport of curling," said Norwegian team skipper Thomas Ulsrud.

"If it's true I feel really sad for the Norwegian team who worked really hard and ended up in fourth place and just left for Norway and they aren't even here."

Newly released documents haven't quelled JFK conspiracy theories; focus likely to move overseas

Sun, 2018-02-18 19:26

MINNEAPOLIS - Does the key to unlocking the enduring mystery of the Kennedy assassination lie abroad, in Belarus, Cuba or Mexico?

A review board created in the 1990s to declassify U.S. government assassination secrets tried to secure important information from those countries. It was unsuccessful.

But as the window for the 25-year-long declassification of John F. Kennedy assassination documents closes on April 26 - with experts warning that a smoking-gun document is unlikely to turn up in the remaining files to be released - pursuit of definitive answers is likely to shift overseas.

"The biggest cache of records that are still out there, the real treasure trove, are the Oswald KGB surveillance records," said John R. Tunheim, now a federal district judge in Minnesota, who from 1994 to 1998 headed the Assassination Records Review Board.

That bipartisan body was created after Congress passed a law in 1992 starting the clock for release of all JFK assassination records. The action was prompted by an outcry after Oliver Stone's hit movie "JFK" discredited the official version of Kennedy's assassination.

In the 1990s, Belarus was still home to a 5-foot-high stack of KGB surveillance documents on alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

The 20-year-old Marine defected to the Soviet Union soon after he was discharged in 1959 and was given a factory job in Minsk, the capital of what today is Belarus. He worked there until returning to the United States in 1962.

Tunheim and colleagues declassified tens of thousands of U.S. documents in those four years, and set a timetable for complete release of documents that had been redacted. Many have trickled out over the past 25 years under schedules set by the board.

Then last year came four large document releases by the National Archives. The veil was supposed to be fully lifted by October 2017, but President Donald Trump extended the deadline to April 26.

More than 34,000 documents were posted online by the National Archives last year, many with redactions. More than 22,000 documents still have not been released in full.

But most of those at least partially released have not been complete surprises, dampening anticipation of a big reveal by the end of April.

When Tunheim's panel began declassifying the documents almost 30 years after JFK's death, many were missing. Some of those had been under the control of the powerful CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton.

"I am convinced he destroyed everything because he knew it was coming. He knew he was going to get fired," Tunheim said in an interview in January. "I don't know how he did it but he got rid of just about everything before he was gone because there were huge gaps in the record."

That view is shared by Jefferson Morley, author of a new biography of Angleton called "The Ghost." In an interview, Morley called "defunct" the official version that Oswald was a lone-wolf gunman who came out of nowhere to kill an American president.

"Oswald was under counterintelligence surveillance from 1959 to 1963," Morley said. "Everywhere he went he touched CIA collection operations, code-named secret intelligence operations, whose product was delivered to Angleton."

In the 1970s, congressional hearings showed how the CIA had misled the Warren Commission, which issued its report in 1964. The CIA again came under fire for misleading the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Those missteps by the CIA, ostensibly aimed at hiding from public view how it carried out spy craft and meddled in the affairs of foreign governments, helped fuel today's theories of "conspiracy and cover-up," said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst with the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

Now, virtually every alternative theory of possible culprits and motive for the JFK killing seems to get new life with each release of documents.

Fidel Castro? Government documents show how the CIA sought to kill him, giving him a motive to retaliate. The mob? Files prove the agency worked closely with mobsters in Cuba and Chicago as they plotted to kill Castro. Texans in the CIA? Documents released last year showed that Earle Cabell, mayor of Dallas at the time of the killing, had been a CIA asset since 1956. His brother Charles was a top CIA official forced by Kennedy to resign less than a year before the assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

___

As time was running out on his review board _ which concluded its work on Sept. 30, 1998, with a lengthy report _ Tunheim traveled to Minsk in Belarus and tried to copy the entire Oswald surveillance record.

"I was going to pay $100,000 for copying charges, I probably would have been criticized over that but it was such a gem of a file," Tunheim said. "I have seen many of them; I've had a lot of them read to me."

But every time the review board came close to securing the Minsk files, tension with Belarus flared. Its leader then and now _ Alexandr Lukashenko _ is fiercely pro-Russian and has clashed with successive U.S. administrations.

"We could never get it in the time we had available," Tunheim said. "And that covers every damn thing that Oswald did over his three or so years in the Soviet Union. It's an amazing file and there is a copy of it somewhere in the Kremlin files someplace."

The review board did acquire about 500 pages of Minsk documents, many of them from author Norman Mailer, who had been there first and acquired some for use in his 1995 book "Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery."

What might the rest of those files contain? Much of it is likely mundane, but some JFK conspiracy theorists believe that Oswald was helping to train Cuban fighters while in Minsk. The files, now believed to be locked up in Russia, might also shed light on the KGB's efforts to monitor Oswald once he returned to the United States.

___

One of the review board's major accomplishments was releasing the files on Operation Mongoose _ a Kennedy administration plot to overthrow and possibly kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Once the Mongoose files were made public, Tunheim had copies delivered to the Cuban interest section, which worked out of the Swiss Embassy in Washington.

"The complete set of them, everything. We put together a box and said, 'Send it to Fidel, your president,' " Tunheim said.

The hope was that goodwill would beget goodwill.

"He wanted to meet but the State Department didn't allow it," the judge said, chalking it up to concerns that at the time no one wanted to run afoul of the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms.

The North Carolina Republican had co-authored legislation to toughen the Cuba trade embargo. Relations were also frayed by the 1996 downing by Cuba of civilian aircraft operated by the anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue.

Some lower level meetings took place in the Bahamas, and the Cuban government shared some documents but told Tunheim's team that it didn't have much since "defending the revolution" took so much effort.

"Castro intuited right away that CIA propaganda assets were trying to blame the assassination on Cuba, and the records we now have confirm that," said Morley, who is also editor of the website JFK Facts, Cuba's documents could shed light on anti-Castro groups, he said. "They heard lots of talk, coming from inside the anti-Castro movement. What they heard after the assassination would be very interesting to know, and important."

The JFK documents released by the National Archives last year confirmed the CIA activity designed to destabilize the Castro regime, and the extent of spying on the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City.

Much of the spying effort was led by Texan David Atlee Phillips, a Fort Worth native whose alleged relationship with Oswald has also been the subject of speculation by conspiracy theorists.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, on Oct. 4, 1975, reported that Phillips told a local gathering that he was "reasonably convinced" Oswald had acted alone.

But Cuban exile leader Antonio Veciana has maintained for years that Phillips, using the assumed name Maurice Bishop, was Oswald's handler, and that he saw the two together in Dallas a month before the assassination. Now elderly and in ill health, Veciana said in December that he stands by his account.

Phillips, who died in 1988, was a high-level CIA official in Cuba before and after Castro's arrival in power. Transferred later to Mexico, he was tasked with watching all traffic and calls into and out of the Cuban and Soviet embassies.

And that's where the United States' southern neighbor fits into Tunheim's view that important answers may still come from abroad.

___

Some of the most significant documents left classified for most of the past 25 years and released last year deal with Oswald's trip to Mexico City weeks before the Kennedy's assassination.

During that time, Oswald's calls to the Cuban and Soviet embassies are believed to have been recorded. Tunheim recalled being told by the CIA that the recordings were not thought of consequence at the time and were recorded over.

"We know they existed at some point in time. I also know that our deal with the Mexican government was that they got a copy of everything we recorded," Tunheim said. "I am convinced that that probably exists somewhere, whether someone has taken it home or it's in a closet or attic someplace."

Tunheim had seen documents showing that CIA leaders had either seen transcripts of or heard the recordings. He flew to Houston in 1998 to meet with CIA officials from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, asking them to see what they could dig up.

"They promised to follow up and I never heard another word from them," he said.

Among the calls that would be of most interest is the intercept of Oswald's Oct. 1, 1963, call with Valeriy Vladimirovich Kostikov, described in documents released last year. Kostikov was not only a consul general, the documents said, but also a KGB officer who had been part of Department 13 _ the sabotage and assassination unit.

Just hearing Oswald's voice would be important.

What little audio of Oswald that exists publicly comes from an interview he gave in New Orleans in a pro-Cuba protest. His limited on-camera footage features a brief denial that he killed Kennedy, calling himself "a patsy." Two days after the JFK assassination, Oswald was shot to death by Jack Ruby as he was led from his Dallas jail cell.

Trump’s proposed cuts would have a big impact on Alaska fisheries

Sun, 2018-02-18 16:55

The Trump Administration's proposed $4.4 trillion federal budget for next year takes some mean whacks to programs that affect fisheries.

Off the top, the spending plan unveiled Feb. 12 cuts the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by 20 percent to $4.6 billion. Among other things, NOAA manages the nation's fisheries in waters from 3 to 200 miles offshore, which produce the bulk of Alaska's seafood landings.

It's the cuts within the cuts that reveal the most.

NOAA Fisheries is facing a $110.4 million drop to $837.3 million, a 14 percent budget cut. That includes a $17.7 million decrease in fisheries science and management, a $5 million cut in data collection needed for stock assessments, a $5.1 million reduction in funding for catch share programs and a $2.9 million cut to cooperative research programs.

The proposals for NOAA law enforcement are even more severe – a decline of $17.8 million is a 25 percent budget reduction.

"The entire law enforcement reduction is coming from the agency's cooperative enforcement program and will eliminate funding for joint enforcement agreements with law enforcement partners from 28 states and U.S. territories," reported the Gloucester Times.

The National Weather Service, also under NOAA's umbrella, is facing a $75 million slice off its $1 billion budget. It will ax 355 jobs, more than a quarter of the National Weather Service staff, including 248 forecasters.

Trump also wants to cut $4.8 million from habitat and conservation programs, wiping out funding and grants for NOAA's fisheries habitat restoration projects.

The Trump plan proposes gutting $40 million from NOAA climate change programs, which would eliminate competitive grants for research and end studies on global warming in the Arctic, including predictions of sea-ice and fisheries in a changing climate

The national Sea Grant College Program, which conducts research, training and education at more than 30 U.S. universities, is again on the chopping block.

Funding for programs under the U.S. Geological Survey that monitor earthquakes and volcanoes would each drop by 21 percent. The USGS water-resources program, which includes the national stream-gauge network, would be reduced 23 percent.

Trump proposes to cut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget to $6.1 billion in 2019, its lowest level since the early 1990s and about 25 percent below the current mark.

The EPA budget also eliminates funding for climate-change research while providing $502 million for fossil energy research, an increase of nearly 24 percent.

Seafood sales also could be badly hurt by proposed deep cuts to food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Instead of shopping at grocery stores, under Trump's plan recipients would receive boxes of shelf-stable commodity items such as powdered milk, juices, pasta, peanut butter, and canned meats, fruits and vegetables.

"Seafood is the only major food group that is not considered a USDA commodity. If the new food delivery platform is going to put an emphasis on commodity goods, then that will leave out lean, heart-healthy seafood," said Linda Cornish, president of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership.

Closer to home, Trump also plans to stop federal funding for the Denali Commission, introduced by Congress in 1998 as an independent agency to provide critical utilities, infrastructure and economic support throughout Alaska. The plan calls for a $10 million cut out of $17 million, with the difference going to an "orderly closure."

The FY19 budget, which goes into effect on October 1, now goes before Congress.

Try your hand at fishing

Want to learn if the fishing life is for you? Interested greenhorns can apply by March 1 for a crew apprentice position starting this summer.

"Some of the positions will be a short day trip just to allow young people to try fishing, and some will be placed for a month or the whole season. It's going to depend on the needs of the skipper and what the crew member is looking for," said Alyssa Russell, communications director at the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association in Sitka. As with all crew, the rookies will get paid for their work, she added.

ALFA received $142,000 in matching grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the deckhand apprenticeship program. It is seen as a way to facilitate more Alaskans getting into fishing careers in an industry where the average age now is over 50.

The apprentice program began informally three years ago with salmon troller Eric Jordan, who has since introduced over 40 young people to fishing aboard his vessel. ALFA used Jordan's model to create a more official program that includes a curriculum of fishing safety and other protocols.

More skippers have signed on for several different fisheries this summer.
"We have trollers, longliners, gillnetters and seiners," Russell said.

The apprentice program is being centered in Southeast this year as a trial run, and will broaden to include other regions. But ALFA does not want to discourage others from getting involved right away.

"This model is exportable. If anyone is thinking about starting an apprenticeship this year we can be a resource at any time," she said.

Eric Jordan calls the apprentice program a win for everyone involved.

"Finding crew with some experience and who loves fishing in Alaska is so critical to the future of our industry," he said. "One of the things this program provides is the taste of it. The deckhands know they like it and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win."

Deckhand applicants must be at least 18 and preference is given to Alaska residents. Deadline to apply is March 1. Visit alfafish.org.

Saving rockfish

More than 30 different kinds of rockfish are found in Alaska waters, though fewer than 10 species are commonly caught by recreational fishermen, mostly in Southeast Alaska. The fish are slow growing and can live well past 100 years.

"For yellow eye (red snapper) the age of first sexual maturity can be anywhere from 15-25 years old. So that has important implications for when these fish are harvested, because many can be caught before they have the opportunity to reproduce even one time," said Sam Hochholter, a sport fish biologist with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.

Last month in Sitka, the state Board of Fisheries voted to protect the fragile fish by requiring that in two years all salt water sport anglers in Southeast must carry devices that safely release rockfish to the deep. On average, nearly 60,000 rockfish are caught in the Southeast sport fishery each year; about 5,000 are released.

When rockfish are reeled in, their swim bladders expand, causing lethal injuries from the rapid decompression. The air-filled bladders also keep the fish afloat, thrashing about the surface.

"When you break them out of deep water they don't have the ability to equalize the pressure," explained Ace Calloway, a retired charter skipper from Valdez. "The bladder expands and pushes the eyes out the sockets and the stomach out their mouth. It's a horrible looking sight. They basically suffer the same thing a diver does that comes up too fast – what we normally call the bends."

Callaway invented and patented a tool called the Black Tip catch and release recompression tool, that gently lowers rockfish to the sea floor. Studies in Alaska and Oregon have proven that rockfish quickly returned to the depths can result in over 95 percent survival.

A state web page called "proper deepwater rockfish release" provides quick and easy techniques on making and using simple devices, such as weighted jigs or plastic milk cartons.

A rockfish release rule has been on the books for Alaska charter boats for six years. It will go into effect for sport anglers in two years to allow for more public education and outreach.

Stunned by Florida school massacre, U.S. students demand tighter gun controls

Sun, 2018-02-18 15:54

PARKLAND, Fla. – Stunned by last week's bloodiest high school shooting in U.S. history, students across the country were mobilizing on Sunday for stronger gun laws, while Florida officials contemplated when to reopen their badly shaken school.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a former student is accused of murdering 17 people on Wednesday, joined others on social media to plan rallies, a Washington march and a national walk-out aimed at getting the attention of an adult population many say has failed to protect them.

"I felt like it was our time to take a stand, because, you know, we're the ones in these schools, we're the ones who are having shooters come into our classrooms and our spaces," said Lane Murdock of Ridgefield High School in Connecticut.

Murdock, a 15-old sophomore who lives 20 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children and six adults were shot dead five years ago, drew more than 36,000 signatures on an online petition Sunday morning calling on students to walk out of their high schools on April 20.

Instead of going to classes, she urged her fellow students to stage protests on the 19th anniversary of the mass shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Last week's massacre in Florida, which followed several other school shootings this year, inflamed the country's long-simmering debate between advocates for gun control and gun ownership.

Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, faces multiple murder charges in the deaths of 14 students and three staff members, and the wounding of more than a dozen others, in a rampage that eclipsed Columbine as the country's worst mass shooting at a high school.

The charges can bring the death penalty, but prosecutors have not yet said if they will seek capital punishment.

School officials in Broward County said on Sunday that they were aiming to have staff return to the Douglas High School campus by the end of the week. The school system's announcement did not say when classes would resume.

Cruz was reported to have been investigated by police and state officials as far back as 2016 after slashing his arm in a social media video, and saying he wanted to buy a gun. Authorities, however, determined he was receiving sufficient support, newspapers said on Saturday.

In addition, the Federal Bureau of Investigation admitted on Friday that it failed to investigate a warning that Cruz possessed a gun and the desire to kill.

President Donald Trump lashed out late on Saturday at the FBI for missing signs that could have prevented the shooting, and accused the agency on Twitter of "spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the (2016) Trump campaign."

The Douglas High School students are planning a "March for Our Lives" in Washington on March 24 to call attention to school safety and ask lawmakers to enact some form of gun control.

"You know, we're marching because it's not just schools, it's movie theaters, it's concerts, it's nightclubs," student Alex Wind said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "This kind of stuff can't just happen."

A rally is set for Tallahassee, the state capital, on Wednesday, where a lawmaker is seeking a legislative opening for a ban on the sale of assault weapons, including the AR-15 that Cruz is alleged to have used.

Democratic State Senator Linda Stewart, who represents Orange County, where 49 people were massacred at the Pulse nightclub in 2016, said she needs to gain support from three Republicans, who control the state legislature, to win passage of her measure but hopes to force a vote even if it fails.

"I think that putting them on record is what needs to be done right now," said Stewart, who said she plans to meet with Douglas High School students in the capital on Tuesday night.

Rare copy of Declaration of Independence survived Civil War hidden behind wallpaper

Sun, 2018-02-18 15:48

During the Civil War, the precious document was hidden behind wallpaper in a home in Virginia to keep Union soldiers from finding it.

Later, it sat in a closet in Kentucky, in a broken frame, unappreciated and stored in a cardboard box.

And later still it was stuck behind a cabinet in the office of an energy executive outside Houston.

It was a rare parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence, made in Washington in the 1820s for founding father James Madison, and apparently unknown to the public for more than a century.

Now, the copy, one of 51 that scholars are aware of, has resurfaced via its purchase last month by billionaire philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.

It is one of the exquisite facsimiles made from the original handwritten calf skin document crafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. Scholars say it bears the image of the Declaration that most people know, in part because the original is now so badly faded.

"This is the closest … to the original Declaration, the way it looked when it was signed in August of 1776," said Seth Kaller, a New York rare document appraiser who assisted in the sale. "Without these … copies you wouldn't even know what the original looked liked."

Two hundred of the facsimiles were ordered by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, a future president, who was concerned about the already-worn condition of the 40-year-old original.

Master engraver William Stone made the copies in his shop on Pennsylvania Avenue, and created an extra one for himself.

In 1824, the facsimiles were distributed to Congress, the White House, and various VIPs like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Madison. Each man got two copies.

In time, both of Madison's copies vanished from view, and it is only now that one has surfaced, Kaller said in a recent interview. "There was no idea that it had survived," he said.

The fate of the second Madison copy, and over 100 of the others, is not publicly known, he said.

When the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, it sent a working manuscript, also now lost, to a local printer to set in type.

The printer produced several hundred printed copies for Congress and other officials the next day, Kaller wrote in a historical pamphlet.

On July 19, Congress ordered a handwritten, or "engrossed," copy made on calf skin, to be signed by the members.

The job went to Timothy Matlack, a congressional aide who was known for his superb penmanship.

This hallowed version now resides in the National Archives, so washed out that many signatures, including Thomas Jefferson's, are either gone or barely visible.

It is largely through the foresight of John Quincy Adams that excellent copies of the original – exact except for a few interesting tweaks – survive today.

Kaller wrote that by 1820, the original had been handled, rolled, unrolled and marred by the efforts of earlier engravers to make decorative copies. "Every one of the worst things that could have happened to the original" had happened, he said.

(A grimy hand print was added to the damage many years later.)

John Quincy Adams gave it to Stone, and the engraver worked on copying it for about two years.

Kaller said he believes Stone likely first traced the original with tracing paper. He then used the tracing to hand-engrave an image of the Declaration on a copper plate, from which the facsimiles were then made.

But Stone may have made some minute textual changes, possibly to distinguish his copies from the original, Kaller wrote.

The ornate "T" in the "The" of the "The unanimous Declaration …" seems to have been slightly altered. In the Stone copies, a decorative diagonal line runs through the "T." The line does not appear to be in the original.

In the original, there seems to be a heart-shaped flourish where the T is crossed that's omitted in the Stone copy.

And Stone added a tiny imprint across the top of the page,"ENGRAVEDed by W.I. STONE, for the Dept. of State, by order of J.Q. ADAMS, Sect. of State, July 4th. 1823."

Before the newly resurfaced copy was found, it had been kept in a cracked frame, wrapped up inside a cardboard box in Michael O'Mara's office outside Houston.

It had been there for 10 years, and before that it had been in his parents' house in Louisville when he was growing up.

His family had once had it framed and put on the mantel piece. His parents knew it had been passed down through his family from Madison. But in the 1960s it was considered "worthless," O'Mara said.

When the frame cracked the document was taken down and stored in a bedroom closet.

"So for … 35 years, it sat in a box, wrapped up, in a broken frame, in my mother's house," he said in a recent interview. "There was just not a lot of sentiment or value put on it. … My mother couldn't have cared less about the family history."

The Declaration had been handed down to O'Mara's mother, Helen, who was the great-granddaughter of Col. Robert Lewis Madison Jr., a Civil War doctor who had served in the Confederate army and treated Robert E. Lee in the last years of Lee's life.

Research indicates that the physician had gotten the document from his father, Robert Lewis Madison Sr.

Madison Sr. was James Madison's favorite nephew, and had lived for a time in the White House when his uncle was president. He had likely received the document from President Madison.
Thus, the copy of the nation's founding declaration had passed through turbulent years of the country's evolution, including the war that almost destroyed the document's "united States of America."

O'Mara found in family papers a 1913 news article – the last known public mention of his Declaration – that told of its fate during the Civil War.

The family of Dr. Madison was then probably living in Lexington, Virginia, where the physician was a professor at the Virginia Military Institute before and during the war, according to VMI.

The clipping reported that the doctor's wife put the Declaration behind "the paper on the wall" to hide it from Union soldiers, should the house be searched.

In 1864, Union troops raided Lexington and burned VMI. But the Madison house apparently was unmolested, and the Declaration survived with only some moisture damage sustained while hidden.

O'Mara said that after his mother died in 2014, he began going through family papers. "I just happened to look over at this box, and I said, 'I've either got to put that in a frame and put it up in my office or I need to get rid of it if there's some historical value.'"

In 2016, his research led him to Rubenstein, who has purchased other historical documents, including Declaration copies. He emailed Rubenstein, who expressed interest.

The Declaration was authenticated, and then underwent conservation at the National Archives, O'Mara said.

"I agreed to buy it," Rubenstein said in a recent telephone interview, noting only that he had paid "seven figures" for it.

Madison, who was president from 1809 to 1817, had been a key player in the creation of the government. This was Madison's copy of the Declaration, and "when you look at it you can conjure up images of James Madison looking at it," Rubenstein said.

In 2014, Rubenstein announced the donation of $10 million to Montpelier, Madison's historic Orange, Virginia, home, for reconstruction, refurnishing and archaeology.

Madison's family occupied the plantation with its slaves for several generations, and he is buried there.

Co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based global private-equity firm, Rubenstein said he now owns five of the William Stone Declaration copies.

Four have been lent out for display. This copy will be, too, he said, first to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

"Ultimately, they'll always be on display," he said.

To a handyman who tried his best to make good

Sun, 2018-02-18 15:23

Originally published Aug. 12, 2012

Bill "Guillermo" Martinez arrived at my door for the first time looking like a person who'd recently disembarked a cruise ship. He had on a denim shirt, sweater vest and sandals. It wasn't until I looked closely that I noticed his clothes were covered with a fine spattering of paint.

Handymen from Craigslist had been coming for days. They all had baggage. There was the registered sex offender. And the twitchy guy who wanted to be paid upfront. Guillermo, whom I found through a friend, was of another breed. For starters, he was at least 75 years old, though he didn't look it. He had a shock of thick white hair, black eyebrows and a crooked smile. His skin was smooth as leather.

I took him to my crawl space. The two of us peered up at the rotting floor beneath my bathroom. I watched him calculate in his head. Could he fix it? Yes he could. He gave me a very good price.

"You don't have to hire me," he said as he was leaving. He had a thick Argentinian accent. "But I should tell you that when I read your last column, I had a feeling we would meet."

Coming from any other handyman, that would have sounded strange. From Guillermo, it seemed perfectly natural, as if we'd both stepped into a magical realist novel. Of course the 75-year-old Argentinian handyman had premonitions. Why wouldn't he?

Guillermo showed up early the next day, unrolling more drop cloths than necessary. He carried a fastidiously organized array of tools so covered in patina it was as if they'd arrived by time machine. He listened to two types of music while he worked: opera and Argentinian folk.

I'd just bought a 50-year-old duplex. His first job slid into another. And another. He rehabbed ancient windows. He tiled the kitchen. He carefully erased a long crack in my dining room wall.

Details preoccupied him. The distance between screws. Disturbances in paint texture. Jobs took longer than expected. Once I hired him to patch a piece of bathroom ceiling ruined by a leak. I arrived home and found the entire ceiling gone. He stood atop a ladder wearing a flimsy mask, an aria soaring out of his boombox. Flecks of insulation floated down around him, making the air iridescent. I asked what happened to the ceiling.

"It had to be done," he said like a surgeon discussing an emergency amputation. He didn't charge me for the work.

He always had a joke to tell. Usually something salty involving a priest and a nun with a long wind up and a punch line that was probably funnier in Spanish. He'd crack himself up so much that, by the end, he could barely get the words out. He also favored a handful of Argentinian idioms that were awkward in English. At least once on every job I would ask him how things were going and he would reply, "I am working like a midget."

If I was home, he'd tell me stories from the old days. How he became an American citizen decades earlier. Or the time he discovered he was doing masonry for a mobster. Or the man he knew in Argentina who turned out to be a fugitive Nazi. He lectured me frequently. It is important to suffer, because suffering makes you appreciate how good you have it, he'd say. A lucky person loves his work and does it well. Working keeps you young. His own father lived for a century.

He lunched every day at Taco King on Northern Lights and A Street, where he ate a single beef enchilada with rice and beans. One of the cooks there, a Mexican guy named Chava, accompanied him on jobs sometimes and helped him with heavy labor. Every winter, Guillermo went to Argentina until the snow melted. Years passed like that. He painted every room in my house.

Last spring, when he showed up to give me a bid, I was pregnant.

"You look like a rope with a knot tied in it," he said.

He had another premonition, he told me. It would be his last summer in Alaska. He was closing in on 80.

My dad hired him to build a shed. It soon became all he talked about. He analyzed Dad's expressions endlessly, trying to gauge whether he was pleased. He obsessed on every phase. The footing. The framing. The placement of the windows. One Sunday, I visited him in Dad's backyard. His hair was full of sawdust. He kept dreaming about falling from the shed roof, he said. The plywood went soft, he said. He couldn't find the beams.

He toiled on the project for most of the summer. When it was done, it was truly spectacular, like a house for elegant, miniature people. It had two doors and a dormer with a small window in it. Cedar shingles covered the outside. Sometimes he'd take a slow detour down my dad's street, he told me, just to admire it through the side yard.

August ticked away. One night, I started to have contractions around dinner time. They let up around 10 p.m. I heard a knock at the door. It was Guillermo. He asked to come in.

He'd been at the gas station the week before, he said, when the gas smell overcame him. Next thing he knew, he was in an ambulance, then an emergency room. Doctors suspected a brain tumor. He was agitated. I tried to calm him down but he kept talking in circles.

"Your son is coming to the world," Guillermo told me. "I am leaving."

He was going back to Argentina as soon as possible. This was goodbye.

"Maybe some day you will write about me," he said. "Maybe you will say I was a man who came to this country, who tried his best to make good."

I wrote that phrase down on the back of my electric bill. As he left, he slid a business card into my hand. It was another client of his, he said. I should meet her.

The next night, my son was born. Months later, I came across the business card and dialed the number. The woman on the other end of the line was a doctor in town. We decided to put together a care package to send to Argentina. She came by my house with her young son and a handful of children's drawings.

Guillermo worked for her for years, she said. After the gas station incident, he came to her house, where he had several projects going. He mentioned what happened. She suggested he get an MRI. He didn't see a doctor, so she ordered it for him. When she looked at the film, she saw a spot on his brain.

After work, she came home and he was painting a wall in her kitchen. She asked if he'd like to sit down. She tried to be gentle as she explained the MRI result. Be frank, he said to her. Was he going to die? It didn't look good, she told him.

"He just paused and said, 'Okay.' He seemed very accepting of it. More so than I had seen with anybody."

He finished every project he'd started in her house before he left for Argentina, she said.

I took our care package by Taco King, where I found Chava taking orders during the lunch rush. He wiped his hands and wrote a long note. I tucked in some pictures of my son and sent it on its way. Months went by.

Last week I heard from his daughter, Ana, that Guillermo had died. He told her about me, she said. He used the expression "Hacemos buenas migas" or "We make good crumbs." The idiom is a little awkward when translated into English, she said, but it meant we'd been good friends.

Iron Dog racers hit the trail for Big Lake start

Sun, 2018-02-18 14:58

Twenty-seven two-person teams hit the trail during the Iron Dog start at Big Lake on Sunday, Feb 18. Snowmachine racers will travel over 2,000 miles of wilderness from Big Lake to Nome and then on to Fairbanks to finish on Saturday.

Follow race updates at irondog.org.

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

Sun, 2018-02-18 14:34

Sacrificing wilderness is no answer for our children

Columnist Steve Meyer (Feb. 7) wrote that oil development should occur in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because it would help a struggling young person have what Mr. Meyer has. I fear that Mr. Meyer is misjudging the situation. The first beneficiaries of oil drilling will be some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Next in line is the North Slope Borough, which will gain additional taxing power to add to its already immense wealth. Then comes the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., sure to gain big contracts. Then we have the 35 percent of oil field workers who are not Alaskans, but who commute here and then do their banking in Houston or Tulsa. No doubt some of that oil money will filter down to Mr. Meyer's hypothetical young person, but that person will not be the primary beneficiary when that wilderness is destroyed.

Mr. Meyer states his opinion without considering that, once the leases are established and drilling begins, neither his opinion nor my opinion nor anyone else's opinion about the activity will matter in the least. The oil companies will pursue what is in their narrow self interests regardless of the viewpoints of the rest of us; that public land will cease to be public in any real sense. Mr. Meyer should also consider that the loss of this wilderness is only part of what we all stand to lose, as the Trump administration systematically sells off or leases what should belong to all of us.

When do we have enough? Most of Alaska's Arctic is already open for oil production. Very little has been protected. Some years ago the Prudhoe Bay fields encompassed some 600 square miles; I'm sure the number now is much larger. But in spite of the billions of barrels extracted in the past, the state is still nearing bankruptcy; and yet, as Mr. Meyer notes, we still refuse to tax ourselves. We have some serious problems, but they are not caused by the existence of wilderness, and the sacrifice of wilderness will not fix them.

— Clarence Crawford
Anchorage

Another example of NRA's work

A hearty congratulations to the NRA on another stunning victory of its "well regulated militia."

And to all the spineless politicians, including Murkowski, Sullivan and Young, who are totally intimidated by the NRA. Our kids may die but at least those political "leaders" will keep their jobs as long as they march in lockstep under NRA orders.

— Terry Johnson
Anchorage

Time for Seavey to back off

Here we go again. Dallas Seavey is going lower and lower in the eyes of public opinion. He is acting more and more guilty of doping his dogs. Now he has hired a lawyer to say he's not guilty. I hope he didn't pay too much for him, crooked lawyers cost and are a dime a dozen. Naturally Dallas is out of state preparing for a race, while he has his lawyer attacking all parties for him. The Iditarod has been around for a long time with no problems. Leave the board alone and the volunteers. Don't change a thing and don't let one bad apple destroy what took decades to build up.

— Roger Larson
Anchorage

Restrooms are no less safe

Once again Jim Minnery and his backers are distorting Christian values to promote intolerance in their attempt to convince Anchorage voters to repeal our anti-discrimination ordinance that protects members of our
LGBT community. They're trying to manipulate voters into fearing for our children's safety if transgender people are allowed to use the restrooms of their choice. We need not fear. APD has assured us that our public restrooms have not become less safe since the passage of our anti-discrimination ordinance in 2015. We should embrace our incredibly diverse population including our LGBT neighbors. We can learn from each other, live and work together without fear, encouraging each other to develop and share the talents we each possess.

— Debbie Corral
Eagle River

Make Mexico pay our bills

OK, I get it. We are too cheap (or perhaps we can be charitable, and just say "shortsighted") to be willing to pay taxes for basic upkeep of our roads and bridges. Politicians at both the state and federal level are afraid to lay the maintenance bill on the table for us. So, now we have a federal infrastructure "proposal" with only 20 percent funding. Where will the rest come from? The states are obviously not going to cough it up — or would have already. What to do? Well, duh! Let's make Mexico pay for it. In fact, let's have them pay for that narcissistic military parade too. I bet if we asked Mexico nicely, they might even dig in their closet and find one of those gaudy, 1962-style "Generalissimo" dictator uniforms with the giant epaulets. Now wouldn't our great president look impressive in that?

— Lou Nathanson
Anchorage

Say no to automatic weapons

Oh, my God. Not again in this country that I used to love. What is it going to take for America to realize that weapons of war, automatic or semiautomatic weapons, should only be available to military and law enforcement officials? May I suggest that Wayne LaPierre and his minions at the NRA, the president, and members of Congress who continue to refuse to act on reasonable gun laws volunteer to go to the school and clean up the carnage.

— Charlene Huhndorf
Ninilchik

No wonder Jenkins likes Citizens United so much

I'm not surprised Paul Jenkins likes Citizens United. Voter suppression and gerrymandering aren't enough to keep his Republicans comfortably in power. They still need the extra punch of unlimited, untraceable money.

— Paul Brickey
Anchorage

We don't all follow God's law

In response to Undra Parker "Transgender identity violates God's law" (Feb. 9):
News flash — not all of us in the Anchorage community are Christian.

Thanks to the Freedom of Religion listed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you are free to personally practice whatever religion you choose. However, that does not give you the right to force your religion on others, who are also free to practice any religion, which may or may not be Christianity. In addition, we as American citizens are also granted the right to secular laws free of influence from a particular religion. Go ahead and believe what you want about "broken bodies," but God's law is not U.S. law or Anchorage law.

— Lian Myers
Anchorage

Maybe gun manufacturers and NRA will use Russian funds

Thoughts and prayers are going out to the NRA, gun manufacturers and GOP candidates. The shooting of the children at the Parkland school is going to cause them all sorts of image problems. The NRA spent more than $17 million dollars on GOP candidates and $21 million on Trump the last election cycle. How are they going to survive? Gun manufacturers like Remington are declaring bankruptcy now that Obama, who was going to take away all the guns, is out of office. Where will they get their funding? I guess they will have to hit their Russian donors up for more money.

— Jay Cross
Big Lake

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

What has changed in the Russia investigation?

Sun, 2018-02-18 14:26

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein looked practically giddy at the podium on Friday when he announced a massive indictment of 13 Russians in connection with a plot out of a spy novel to manipulate the 2016 election results. And why shouldn't he be pleased? The indictment reflects painstaking investigatory work, laying bare a complex, well-funded and deliberate scheme to interfere with our democracy.

Rosenstein was able to explain in excruciating detail some of the evidence that would support the intelligence chiefs' certain conclusion that Russia meddled in our election. Sure, the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the rest of the intelligence community kept telling us this was the case; Rosenstein described allegations that show one part of how it was done. It doesn't rely on the credibility of former FBI director JamesComey or on the mainstream media or on Stephen Bannon. The FBI and the Justice Department have the goods, because they have a thousand details that so far have been hidden from view.

This should underscore several key developments.

First, Republicans' clumsy efforts to attack the FISA warrant for Carter Page or to smear Comey don't matter. House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes', R-Calif., plots and antics and concocted memo are irrelevant. The investigation, at least a good deal of it, rests on facts that are unknown to the House Republicans and are beyond dispute.

No Republican is going to stand up to say the indictment is a "hoax" or the allegations against these 13 Russians are "fake." We've argued for some time that their antics do not matter, in the end, because special counsel Robert Mueller III has the facts. This is the first real confirmation that our faith in the investigative powers of Mueller and his team was not misplaced.

Indeed, Republicans look precisely like the "unwitting" operatives in the indictment who reportedly lent assistance to the Russian operatives. Republicans' efforts to distract and distort the growing body of evidence make them unwitting (we hope) pawns in the Russians' efforts to deny their role. (If House Speaker Paul Ryan has any political survival skills, now would be a good time for him to yank Nunes off the Intelligence Committee.) And incidentally, Democrats might want to forget about their counter-memo now that the GOP and Nunes have been utterly discredited. They don't need to stab a corpse.

Second, Trump obviously has known for more than a year, if not the particulars, at least the substantive conclusion of our intelligence community. And yet he pretended as though there was no basis for the investigation. There was no Russia scandal, he insisted. On Friday he was reduced to claiming that the plot began before his presidential announcement (who cares?) and that he had been cleared of collusion (patently false).

Not only have his denials been thoroughly debunked, but his denials can now be seen as directly contrary to the facts he was being told, over and over again. Was he delusional? Or was he simply lying over and over again about the incontrovertible evidence of Russian interference?

Third, the indictment makes a finding of collusion more likely. You cannot collude if there is no one to collude with; now we know there was. The Lawfare blog explains:

"The fact that this indictment doesn't allege misconduct on the American side does not necessarily mean that Mueller lacks evidence to support such an allegation - or that he will not develop it in the future. This indictment deals with a limited subject matter: one aspect of the Russian operation-that involving social media influence measures - undertaken by non-governmental actors. It makes a point of not addressing the conduct of U.S. actors. That is neither inculpatory or vindicating. It is, rather, a deferral of the matter to another day.

"What this indictment does, rather, is establish part of the predicate for a later claim of collusion. That is, the indictment details part of what it was that any Americans might have been colluding with."

Fourth, we are reminded that we already know of collusion - or put it this way, collaboration between the Russians and the Trump campaign, both in the social media space and elsewhere:

- We know of the June 9, 2016, meeting organized after a Russian offered dirt on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Jr. enthusiastically accepted.

- We know George Papadopoulos made multiple contacts looking for a meeting with and/or dirt from the Russians. (The Moscow Project tells us: "George Papadopoulos met for the first of at least three times with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor and reported Russian intelligence asset, on March 14, 2016." He kept senior campaign officials apprised of the efforts to reach out to Russia.)

- We know he was not alone. Again, from themoscowproject.org: "By the end of June, at least eight individuals involved with the Trump campaign - George Papadopoulos, Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Michael Flynn, and Rick Dearborn - reportedly had contacts or meetings with at least 13 Kremlin-linked individuals - Josef Mifsud, the 'Female Russian National,' Sergei Kislyak, Felix Sater, Michael Cohen, Rob Goldstone, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze, Konstantin Kilimnik, Aleksander Torshin, Vladimir Putin, the individual who emailed Rick Dearborn, and potentially Oleg Deripaska."

- We know Carter Page during the campaign went to Russia in July 2016 to deliver a speech.

- We know the Trump team members retweeted Russian bots, helping to spread their anti-Clinton messages and divisive themes.

- We know WikiLeaks released "a steady stream of emails stolen from Democratic and Clinton campaign operatives. Trump eagerly embraced WikiLeaks during the campaign, publicly mentioning the website 164 times in the final month of the campaign alone" (the moscowproject.org).

- We know the remarkable events of Oct. 7, 2016: "That afternoon, at 4:03 p.m., The Washington Post published the explosive 'Access Hollywood' tape, behind-the-scenes footage from 2005 in which Trump bragged about groping women without their consent. Just 29 minutes later, WikiLeaks began publishing the contents of Podesta's email inbox. Whether there was explicit coordination between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks remains unknown" (the moscowproject.org).

The question is no longer whether there a Russian plot to interfere with our election or whether there was a high degree of synchronization between the Trump campaign and the Russian campaign for Trump. We now have to learn how extensive was the interplay and how cognizant of foreign influence were Trump and members of his team.

Likewise, we no longer have to wonder why Trump tried to get the FBI to lay off former national security adviser Michael Flynn or why he fired Comey or why he smeared the FBI or why he helped draft a misleading statement to explain the June 2016 meeting. In short, there is a clear motive to interfere with and obstruct the Russia investigation. The motive to obstruct is obvious: Trump did not want investigators to find and be able to present credible evidence of a Russian plot.

That failed on Friday. Nunes and screaming "hoax" won't save him. We will find out soon enough whether all of this amounts to knowing, criminal wrongdoing by the president, his family and/or his most senior advisers.

As to Trump's fidelity to the Constitution and violation of his oath, we don't need to ask whether the president has ignored an ongoing threat to the United States from continued Russian meddling or whether he is indifferent to that threat. Both are indisputably true. We saw on Friday that when the extent of the alleged Russian plot to interfere with the election (which he has been repeatedly briefed on but taken no action to thwart) came to light, he reacted not with any determination to stop the ongoing Russian assault but with a false claim of vindication. He makes the case better than anyone that he is abjectly unfit to serve as president.

For Team USA, it’s not quite a medal drought, but it’s certainly no Olympic reign

Sun, 2018-02-18 13:50

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Ted Ligety is an American skiing legend, winner of a pair of gold medals. Sunday, after the first of his two runs in the giant slalom – a disastrous trip down the hill as the defending Olympic champion – he said the following: "No explanation for that."

As we enter the final week of the Pyeongchang Winter Games, drape those words over the entirety of the United States contingent. The gold medals from Jamie Anderson and Red Gerard and Chloe Kim and Shaun White in snowboarding seem ages ago. The gold from Mikaela Shiffrin in giant slalom was, somehow, tempered by her miss of the medal stand in slalom, an event in which she essentially has lapped the field.

Beyond that, we wait.

What we have here – so far – is not a full-on American medal drought. But the crops need some coaxing. Through the end of the day Sunday in South Korea, Team USA had accumulated 10 medals in the nine days that hardware has been distributed here. The Netherlands (population: 17 million) had more. Austria, which has fewer people than New Jersey, had the same. Canada, which would have to spawn a few million people to match California, has many more. Russia – or, what Russian athletes are here after so many were banned for past doping violations – has 11.

Germany? It has nine golds alone. Norway? We can't even make out the red and blue on their uniforms from this far back. That would be 26 medals.

In the past four Winter Olympics, the U.S. has finished second, first, second and second in total medals. In each of those Games, Americans have won at least nine gold medals. Now, they stand tied for sixth in medals with France and Austria.

Enjoyment of the Olympics shouldn't be defined by American success, and even the slightest bit of pure nationalism seems kind of scary these days. But, in an athletic sense – and an athletic sense only – let's get jingoistic for just a moment. So many of the athletes we have grown accustomed to seeing draped in the flag instead have been draped in disappointment.

Lindsey Vonn skied like the Olympic champion she is, then made one fateful mistake that cost her a medal in super-G. Former Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis looked like an also-ran in the 1,500-meter speedskating, an event in which he owns two silver medals. Lindsey Jacobellis led for much of the final in snowboardcross, but was passed not once, not twice, but three times to finish fourth. Erin Hamlin produced the first medal for an American woman in luge four years ago, carried the flag in Opening Ceremonies here – and finished sixth in her race, then was left off the team relay.

It's not just the established stars, either. Let's play a little game: Match the quote with the athlete.

1. "I just don't know what it takes to make a perfect race."

2. "Fourth is definitely bittersweet."

3. "It was rough. Nothing really clicked together."

4. "My goal was definitely to try to be challenging for a medal here. … Way out of it now."

A. Freestyle skier Maggie Voisin

B. Ligety, in between giant slalom runs

C. Speedskater Joey Mantia

D. Figure skater Nathan Chen

Answers: It doesn't really matter. There's enough dejection to go around.

(Don't worry. I'll put the answers toward the end.)

This isn't a crisis, and no, the norovirus did not engulf the American team. We're not to 1988 standards, when a six-medal performance in Calgary resulted in the Steinbrenner Commission, which placed pressure on the USOC to start – oh, I don't know – winning medals.

It's reasonable to point out that eight Americans have finished fourth and nine more have finished fifth. (It's also reasonable to point out that there are no medals for fourth or fifth.) Either way, we're deep enough in competition here to evaluate the performance thus far.

In the history of the Winter Olympics – dating from 1924 in Chamonix, France – only Norway has won more medals than the U.S. The last time the Americans failed to finish either first or second in total medals was 1998 in Nagano, Japan. There, the U.S. won a total of 13 medals – same as in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway – and finished tied for sixth.

But after leading the medal count eight years ago in Vancouver with 37, an astonishing total, and following that up with 28 more in Sochi, the expectations for every American winter team are much higher. The addition of snowboarding certainly has helped. Five of the nine U.S. medals here have come from various snowboard disciplines – with the potential for more to come.

But what might reasonably be called "traditional" Winter Olympic sports? Not really. There have been no medals from long-track speed skating, only Shiffrin's gold from the slopes, a team bronze in figure skating, a silver from luger Chris Mazdzer – and nothing but slight stumbles and bumbles from just about every venue.

The United States Olympic Committee does not publicly state a goal for how many medals it hopes to win in a given Games. But this certainly wasn't its vision.

Take one measuring stick, the pre-Olympics predictions from the Associated Press. This isn't a science, of course, just an educated guess. But the AP asked each of its writers to pick the medals in the sport she or he covers. The total tally: 40, which seems overly optimistic even if the Americans were performing to full capacity here. Still, by the end of Sunday, the AP thought the U.S. would have 18 medals by this point – twice as many as it actually does.

(Time for our quiz answers: 1-C, 2-A, 3-D and 4-B.)

There is, however, some hopeful news: The coming week brings Vonn (and Shiffrin) in the downhill and Shiffrin (and Vonn) in the combined. The women's hockey team should battle Canada for a gold medal. Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser each could contend in women's bobsled. Freestyle skiing could produce a men's sweep in the halfpipe, led by defending gold medalist David Wise.

There's a week left. There are medals still out there. There's reason for optimism, but there's some work to do.

Barry Svrluga became a sports columnist for The Washington Post in December 2016. He arrived at The Post in 2003 to cover football and basketball at the University of Maryland, took on the Washington Nationals, spent time covering the Redskins, began going to the Olympics (and never stopped), covered golf and became the national baseball writer.

I am a child of domestic violence

Sun, 2018-02-18 13:25

I am a child of domestic violence.

As a boy, I couldn't fall asleep until I heard my father return from his nocturnal ramblings. I'd listen hard, trying to gauge his mood from the tone of his voice, trying to determine if it was safe to close my eyes. Some nights, it was.

Other nights, it was not. On those nights, I came hurtling from my bed to thrust myself between my parents, trying to push him off her.

So forgive me if I take the latest White House scandal personally. I don't know any other way to take it.

As you've surely heard, last week, Rob Porter, staff secretary to the lumpy sack of moldy oranges that serves as president of the United States, resigned after a report by a British news site, DailyMail.com, that he allegedly abused his two ex-wives.

Porter has denied the accusations, but his claims of innocence are undercut more than a little by photos of his first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye, which she says he gave her in the early 2000s on a trip to Italy. The other ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby, obtained an emergency temporary protective order against Porter in 2010. As reported by the Washington Post, the document finds that "reasonable grounds exist to believe that (Porter) has committed family abuse and there is probable danger of a further such offense."

[Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here's what you should know about abuse.]

The White House was informed of these allegations multiple times, beginning in January 2017. It did nothing. Not until the story became an international outrage was Porter forced to resign. He was followed out the door by speechwriter David Sorensen, whose ex-wife said he threw her against a wall and ground out a cigarette on her hand. Sorensen, too, professes innocence.

Last weekend, the lumpy sack spoke out, tweeting that "peoples (sic) lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation." The sack told reporters he wishes Porter well:

"It's an obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career. … As you probably know, he says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that."

One might ask where all this tender concern over the propriety of mere allegations was back when the lumpy sack was demanding the death penalty for five black and Latino boys falsely accused of rape. One might ask why the lumpy sack always sticks up for white conservatives — Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Corey Lewandowski, Roy Moore — credibly accused of abusing women (and, in Moore's case, girls). One might even ask when we can expect the sack to offer a word of comfort to Porter's ex-wives, whom he has ignored.

But those are social and political concerns and, again, this is personal.

You may not understand what that means if you have never tried to fulfill, with a boy's scrawny arms, a man's primal imperative to defend. Or if woman-in-peril movies do not, to this day, fill you with dread and make the walls close in. Or if you've never had to balance love for your father with contempt for him and all men who abuse women.

You may not understand it if you do not wish a front-row seat in a very hot place upon those who fail to take that abuse seriously. As in the lumpy sack and Chief of Staff John Kelly, who were planning to promote Porter despite what he allegedly did and despite the fact that the FBI denied him a security clearance.

For the record, the White House says it takes domestic violence "very seriously," and on Wednesday Trump belatedly said he is "totally opposed" to domestic violence, yadda, yadda, yadda. Take it for what it's worth. It's worth nothing to me, personally.

I had thought it impossible to have less respect for these people.

It turns out I was wrong.

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