Plans to turn an old Alaska state ferry into a floating hotel in Portland, Oregon, have been abandoned, and the ship will instead be sold to a company in Dubai, a state official said Thursday.
"The Portland bidder dropped out," said Aurah Landau, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. "They were having some permitting issues."
In September, the state announced that the M/V Taku had been sold to the Portland company for $300,000, after three companies bid on the ship.
After the Portland bidder withdrew in November, the state returned to the other two companies and gave them a second chance to bid.
Jabal Al Lawz Trading Est., based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, emerged with the highest bid, at $171,000, Landau said.
Landau wasn't sure what the fate of the vessel would be once it was turned over to the new owner. "The state's focus has been very much on getting the best value," Landau said.
Jabal Al Lawz Trading Est. did not immediately respond to an email about the sale.
For more than 50 years, the Taku operated as part of the Alaska Marine Highway System.
But the 352-foot ship designed to carry 350 passengers was deemed too costly to maintain and exceeded the needs of the ferry system, DOT said. The vessel was taken out of service in June 2015 and remains at a mooring facility in Ketchikan.
Landau said the sale would be finalized by the end of December.
After 174 years, "A Christmas Carol" continues to enthrall. This story of redemption and love unlocks the tear ducts every December. Even if you've seen it before. Even if you can recite entire passages by heart.
Why are we still emotionally sucker-punched by the denouement?
"The magic in it," says Art Rotch, creative director for Perseverance Theatre, which will bring its production to Anchorage for the fourth year in a row.
Theater is a kind of ritual, he says, and the holiday season increases our desire for ritual. But "A Christmas Carol" isn't just an annual tradition. It's about our collective search for meaning.
"As the holiday has become more and more commercialized, this story reminds us what it's really about," Rotch says.
Not every annual tradition is fraught with deeper truths. Sometimes they're just fun, like the tree-lighting in Town Square or the obligatory photo with Santa. Most local arts activities help people develop their own holiday traditions, with a heavy emphasis on Christmas concerts and "The Nutcracker."
But a few productions break the mold, such as the concert by acclaimed a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, a uniquely Alaska take on "The Nutcracker" and a poignant drama based on the true story of World War I holiday cease-fires.
That last — "Our Friends, the Enemy" – was adapted by Alaska writer Codie Costello from a one-man show by Alex Gwyther. Now it's a three-person drama about the 1914 "Christmas truce," when British and German soldiers temporarily laid down their weapons to celebrate together.
"It's very much a story of hope … and also a way to think about giving," says Costello, who will direct the piece for Cyrano's Theatre Company.
"These men took a risk and they gave themselves to each other. They shared stories, played games, sang songs. It's a reminder that we're all human, and we're all connected."
While "Our Friends" is aimed at audiences of about 13 and up, due to its mature subject matter, most of the other holiday entertainments in town are family friendly. Bring your kids, bring your grandkids or bring yourself to one or more of the following productions, either to relive specific elements of your own past or to experience a sense of wonder and delight that transcends age.
(And if you're attending "A Christmas Carol," don't forget the tissues.)
"A Christmas Carol": Perseverance Theatre brings the timeless holiday tale back to Anchorage once again. The play opens with a pay-what-you-can preview on Thursday, Dec. 14, and continues through Friday, Dec. 29 at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays, with an additional show at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23. Tickets are $37 and $44, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
"A Christmas Carol": This Valley Performing Arts production does something different with the classic holiday tale by introducing author Charles Dickens as narrator, stagehand and actor. This is based on the author's public readings, which were more like performances than straight recitations. Show times are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 17 at VPA, 251 W. Swanson, Wasilla. Tickets are $19, $17 for seniors and students. (907-373-0195)
"Let Nothing You Dismay": In this comic farce by Topher Payne ("Perfect Arrangement"), a young couple waiting for their child to be born on Christmas Eve becomes overwhelmed by a stream of unexpected — and uninvited — relatives and friends. The show continues through Dec. 17 at Anchorage Community Theatre, 1133 E. 70th Ave. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $17, $15 for seniors, military personnel and students, and $13 for students. (907-344-4713)
"Our Friends, the Enemy": This drama is based on the true story of the 1914 Christmas Truce, when German and British soldiers temporarily stopped shooting in order to celebrate the holiday together. The show continues through Dec. 24 at Cyrano's, 3800 DeBarr Rd. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, except for 3 p.m. Dec. 24. Tickets are $25, with a $2 discount for seniors, active duty military members and students, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
"Christmas Knight": TBA Theatre presents this medieval fantasy about a knight who stages a Yule feast with troubadours to tell Christmas tales. The stories come to life in the telling. The play will be presented through Dec. 17 at Grant Hall on the Alaska Pacific University campus. Show times are 7 and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $11, $9 for seniors, military personnel and students, at $6 for children 12 and under. (907-677-7529)
"Christmas In Spenard": It ain't exactly art, but it's a holiday tradition just the same. Mr. Whitekeys and company present a song-and-dance show full of silly slides, sleazy costumes and topics that may not be suitable for work (note: this will be the last Whitekeys production until December 2018, as he's taking a year off). Show times are 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays until Dec. 21 at the Hard Rock Cafe, 415 E St. Tickets are $19 and $23, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
Dance and acrobatics
"The Nutcracker": Anchorage Ballet presents the holiday fairy tale about a girl who receives an enchanted gift at Christmas and is swept away to a magic world. Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $33.50 to $43.75, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
"The Alaskan Nutcracker": This production from Sonja's Studio of Dance has the same basic "Nutcracker" story but with a uniquely Alaska feel: auroral colors, a Waltz of the Fireweed, a dog sled, an Uncle Moose Jaw instead of Uncle Drosselmeyer and more. Show times are 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Glenn Massay Theater, 8295 College Dr., Palmer. Tickets are $15, $10 for students. (907-746-9300)
Cirque De Chanukah: This year's event will feature a stunt basketball and unicycle show by Champions Forever in their Alaska debut. There will also be a giant ice menorah kindling ceremony, Israeli falafel stand (and latkes, doughnuts and other treats) and activities for the family: a Chanukah chocolate gelt factory, a station to build your own fidget dreidel and an electric LED menorah wiring workshop. $10 for adults, $5 for children and students. Tickets at lubavitchjewishcenter.org/holidays or at the door. 5-8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Egan Convention Center.
Baby Loves Disco: Holiday Pajama Jam
Why shouldn't kids have their own dance party? DJ Spencer Lee has teamed up with Williwaw for another holiday-themed family friendly dance party. The jam is recommended for kids 10 and under and will feature a mix of '70s, '80s and '90s music as well as today's hits. DJs Spencer Lee and Victamore will prepare the soundtrack; all you need to do is get in your pajamas and dancing shoes. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. $12.50/each for family four-pack, $15 individual; free for non-walking babies. 11 a,m.-1 p.m. Sunday, Bear Tooth Theatrepub, 1230 W. 27th Ave. (beartooththeatre.net)
Since 1995, dozens of tubas, baritones and other big brass instruments – some of them decked out for the holidays – have serenaded Alaska audiences for a free Christmas concert. This year, TubaChristmas will be at 12 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Lorene Harrison Lobby, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Free.
Christmas with the Alaska Chamber Singers: A mix of secular and sacred music plus a reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales," with carols that support different parts of the Dylan Thomas poem. Performances take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8 and 9, at First Congregational Church, 2610 E. Northern Lights Blvd., and at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10 at St. Andrew Church, 16300 Domain Ln., Eagle River. Tickets are $35, with a $5 discount for seniors, military personnel and students, available at the door and at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
9th Army 'Arctic Warrior' Band: The U.S. Army band from Elmendorf-Richardson will perform two free "Sounds of the Season" holiday concerts for the Eagle River and Anchorage communities. Doors open for both concerts at 6:15 p.m., and seating at the family friendly events will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Friday at Community Covenant Church at 16123 Artillery Road in Eagle River and 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Atwood Concert Hall at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts in Anchorage. Free.
Family Holiday Pops: The Anchorage Concert Chorus mixes songs old and new, from traditional carols and hymns to selections from the popular music library (including but not limited to Simon and Garfunkel, Lennon and McCartney and Andy Williams). "A Visit From St. Nicholas" will be read, and after the concert, kids can visit with old St. Nick and his wife in the lobby. Show time is 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $32.50 to $48, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
Sweet Honey in the Rock: The all-female, African-American a cappella ensemble presents "Celebrating the Holydays," a collection of hymns and spiritual songs from a variety of cultures. The women perform a mix of blues, gospel, reggae and jazz in four-part harmony. The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $32.50 to $66, available at CenterTix. (907-263-2787)
Christmas with the Nelsons: Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, sons of Ricky Nelson, promise a blend of Everly Brothers-style harmonies and Smothers Brothers-style comedy for their Christmas program. Tickets $25-$60. 7-10 p.m. Thursday, and Friday, Dec. 21-22, at The Center (email@example.com; 4855 Arctic Blvd.)
Mat-Su Concert Band Holiday Concert: There will be many holiday favorites, including Shostakovich's Festive Overture Op. 96. Expect a singalong of favorite Christmas carols too. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Glenn Massay Theater, 8295 E. College Dr., Palmer. Tickets are $15, $7 students, free to children 5 and under. (907-360-0628)
Anchorage Museum Holiday Concert: It's "Wells Fargo Free Day" on Sunday, Dec. 17, so you don't have to pay to get in. From 1-4 p.m. you'll hear seasonal sounds from the Alaska Children's Choir, the Anchorage Concert Chorus and the Anchorage Mandolin Orchestra. From 2-4:30 p.m., visiting artist Sebastian Masuda, who did the giant Hello Kitty in the current "Art of Fandom" exhibit, will help people make art pieces and letters to put into a time capsule. And if your kids need a break, head to the area under the stairs to watch holiday programs like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol."
Donna Freedman, a former Anchorage Daily News reporter and reviewer, blogs about money and midlife at DonnaFreedman.com.
Serge Lekanof's story is like many that reach the larger world though Alaska State Troopers' dispatches, the details flattened by official language. A young man in a village. A gathering with alcohol. He wandered out into the hazards of the cold and wilderness and disappeared. Some time later his body was found.
But for the 60 or so mainly Aleut villagers who live on the Bering Sea island of St. George, where Lekanof was one of only a half-dozen 20-something men, the discovery of his body on a beach below a steep cliff last Friday brings vivid grief.
"He was a contributor," said Patrick Pletnikoff, the mayor. "Folks in the community, we liked him."
St. George is a treeless island surrounded by a steep, rocky coastline, 750 air miles west of Anchorage. There is a store and a Russian Orthodox church and a scattering of weathered houses on a grassy slope. Just a few days ago, it snowed, blanketing everything with white.
Over recent years, the population has decreased and the school closed. There are only a few full-time jobs and many people struggle to make ends meet, Pletnikoff said. Diesel fuel is $7 a gallon. Food comes in by plane but often gets delayed. Elders rely on young men, including Lekanof, to hunt and fish and bring them birds, seals and halibut.
Lekanof was the second of five siblings. He and his brother Nathaniel spent his high school years on the neighboring island of St. Paul so he could attend school, said Mina-Ayesha Blair, who hosted the boys there. Lekanof served in the Army but returned to the village after a short tour, she said. His true love was science. Ever since high school, he'd been tapped to help out visiting scientists. He spent days observing seals, whales, birds and kelp along the beaches of the 35-square-mile island.
"He was an excellent research assistant," said Michelle Ridgway, a marine ecologist from Juneau. "He was a fun-loving, gentle, soft-spoken guy, always willing to lend a hand."
In 2014, Lekanof played a pivotal role in the discovery of a new beaked whale species, Berardius beringiae, on the island, Ridgway said. The whale's body appeared on an almost inaccessible beach at the bottom of a sheer cliff, she said. The water was so rough and the tides so extreme that its body kept appearing and disappearing before it could be examined. Lekanof figured out how keep it from getting taken by the tide.
"He helped first secure this whale skull and carry it across the very rough beach," she said.
The whale skull is now held by the Smithsonian, Ridgway said. Lekanof's body was found on the same beach, she said. As of Thursday evening, because of the cliff and the tide, villagers were still working to recover his remains.
No friend or family member thinks Lekanof was suicidal, Blair said. He also wasn't known to party often. Beer and wine are legal in St. George but, like all groceries, alcohol isn't always available.
"I suspect that nobody in St. George knows what happened," Pletnikoff said.
The trail along the cliff where he was found has become unstable, Pletnikoff said. The highest tide has gotten higher over the last generation, and the storms are worse, he said. People say it has to do with climate change, Pletnikoff said. The waves eat at the cliffs in a way they didn't used to, forcing water into the rock.
"You can be a foot or two back, but at any time they can give," he said.
Lekanof pieced together temporary work like most of the men his age in the village, Pletnikoff said. He had a common frustration that there weren't enough jobs.
"For youngsters I think it would be pretty difficult. There's not many activities that are available for young people to engage in," Pletnikoff said. "The young lady population is not very large, probably two or three. Opportunities for getting together to raise families are very limited. That creates a big social problem."
Lekanof spent a lot of time with his older brother Nathaniel, 26, listening to music, playing video games and watching their favorite show, "The Big Bang Theory." The two of them liked to ride all the roads on their four-wheelers, Nathaniel said.
"He did have a couple friends he liked to hang out with too," Nathaniel said. "We all grew up together."
A couple of VPSOs and a state trooper came out Wednesday to help get his brother's body from the beach, he said, but his father told him he couldn't go to the cliff. The village is preparing for Serge's funeral. They have a brother at Mt. Edgecumbe boarding school in Sitka who can't get home and a sister in Anchorage, waiting to go into labor. Wood was brought over from St. Paul to make his brother's cross for the cemetery. Someone is at work on a casket.
"People been stopping by, some families been generous to make food for my parents," Nathaniel said.
The brothers' favorite ride took them 5 miles to the harbor, he said. There's a black sand beach, one of the only real beaches on the island. Their father has a bowpicker anchored out there. Last summer, he and Serge took it a half-mile out to fish for halibut, Nathaniel said.
"I'll miss talking to him," he said.
This is an installment of Cautionary Tales, an ongoing series about lessons learned the hard way in the Alaska outdoors.
The itchiness felt odd.
A buddy and I were picking our way through a slick boulder field near Reed Lakes at Hatcher Pass — mentally, it felt like parkour, but visually, I was a soggy mess of sprawled-out limbs — when my right knee brushed against a rock. I didn't think much of it at the time, save for a nagging itch that begged for a good scratch.
We hustled downhill on that misty day still high on our trip to Bomber Glacier, the site of a 1957 B-29 Superfortress crash whose wreckage remains on the glacier. Once we reached my car, our packs dropped to the ground and we celebrated another trip well done.
It was time to shed our rain gear and get into dry clothes. And that's when I saw the blood smeared all over my leg — around my knee, along my shin. It was a crime scene. A passer-by looked over and repeated the same expletives I had muttered a few seconds earlier.
My rain pants were great at being waterproof. Breathable, not so much. My leg had been marinating in blood for the past hour. The source: a tiny cut on my upper knee less than a centimeter wide that couldn't clot under such swampy circumstances.
I have a knack for drawing first blood on hikes with friends.
This is not something I'm proud of. Rather, I've accepted the historical data as proof of a bona fide trend.
You would think I'd have learned by now the virtues of checking out minor annoyances — say, an itchy knee — before they escalate into something worse.
A trip to Manitoba Cabin the winter after that bloody surprise at the Reed Lakes trailhead would prove otherwise.
I'd signed up for a three-day avalanche course based out of Manitoba, at Mile 48 on the Seward Highway southwest of Turnagain Pass. A hot spot in my ski boot started rubbing my left heel the wrong way while we were out in the snow on Day 1.
For all the times I've encouraged others to take care of such issues sooner rather than later, I was stubborn enough to let this one go. A mistake.
By the time I skied back to the cabin, I was wincing from the pain. I peeled off my layers to unveil a quarter-sized blister on the right side of my left heel. It had burst on its own, a mixture of blood and pus darkening my woolen sock.
The next two days, I gingerly hobbled around on skis, sharply inhaling each time my left foot moved. I'm already the slowest person when it comes to skinning uphill, so there was no damage to my pride on that front. But going so slowly skiing downhill? That hurt in more ways than one.
Addressing smaller problems early on keeps them from festering into larger hurdles that can derail a trip or impair your mobility. That hot spot in my boot seems like no big deal at first. Then it becomes a blister. Then I limp to ease the pain. Then I'm putting more strain on one side of my body, increasing the potential for a real injury.
The best measure is prevention. I've repeated my folly so many times that I've started taping my feet where those hot spots exist before I leave the house. Climbing tape works, or medical tape. I've had trouble getting moleskin to stick. Multisport adventurer Luc Mehl has sworn by Leukotape in the past.
As for my bloody knee, there was no major harm done in that instance. But the fact that I didn't even know I had a minor injury is a point of concern. I need to know what's going on with my body so I make the best decisions based on what's actually happening, not what I think is happening.
You might read this and think, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know better." And you do, and you always take the right steps to take care of your body when you're out on the trails.
I'm happy to know that people like you exist. But this column is a gentle nudge to those readers like me who still think, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know better," and don't follow through on what we know we should do.
Because we're the ones you'll find limping in the mountains later on.
Vicky Ho is the night homepage editor at the Anchorage Daily News. An avid hiker and skier, she's also a mediocre runner, terrible biker and part-time employee at a local outdoor retailer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @hovicky or Instagram @hovcky.
The Richardson Highway reopened Thursday evening after crews cleared an avalanche that had blocked the only road to Valdez earlier this week.
At 5:30 p.m., the road was open from Mile 12 to 55, which had been blocked off after a 200-foot-long avalanche covered a section of the road, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
Driving conditions Thursday were "very difficult," DOT said in a written statement. "Heavy snow, mixed with rain, is causing ice to form on the road."
A snowstorm had swept through the area, dumping 45 inches of snow on Thompson Pass overnight Wednesday.
In the past five days, 76 inches of snow — more than 6 feet — has fallen on Thompson Pass, the National Weather Service Alaska Region said in a Facebook post.
Another 2 feet of snow was forecast to dump on the pass through Friday.
The Anchorage Police Department is searching for a man suspected of sexually assaulting a woman in a dressing room stall in an East Anchorage mall.
The woman was assaulted Dec. 1 in Burlington at the Northway Mall, according to police. She was changing clothes in the dressing room when a man in the next stall started taking pictures of her from above the partition, police spokeswoman Renee Oistad wrote in an alert.
When she left the stall, she found him naked from the waist down and masturbating, Oistad wrote. He tried to grab the woman, and she yelled out for help, according to Oistad. Then the suspect grabbed his clothes, "exited the dressing room, sexually assaulted the victim and ran off," Oistad wrote.
The suspect was described as a man in his 20s, between 5 feet 3 inches tall and 5 feet 5 inches tall,"with a very pointy nose," Oistad wrote.
Anyone with information is asked to call police at 907-786-2614 or contact Anchorage Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP to remain anonymous.
Rep. Trent Franks to resign, acknowledging ethics probe into a ‘discussion of surrogacy’ with former female subordinates
WASHINGTON – Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican who is among the most conservative members of the House, said he would resign his seat after House officials learned that he had asked two female employees to bear his children as surrogates.
Franks' announcement came as the House Ethics Committee said it would create a special subcommittee to investigate Franks for conduct "that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment."
His resignation, which Franks said is effective Jan. 31, will end the ethics investigation.
Franks said in his statement that the investigation concerns his "discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable."
While Franks' statement left the circumstances of the "discussion" murky, three Republicans familiar with the allegations said that he had asked the staffers, who worked for him at the time but have since left his office, if they would serve as surrogate mothers for his children. A spokesman for Franks did not respond to a request for comment on that claim.
In his statement, Franks said he never "physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff."
"However, I do want to take full and personal responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable," Franks said, adding, "I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress."
Franks explained in his statement that he and his wife have long struggled with infertility. After having twins with a surrogate, the couple sought additional children, he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan's office said in a statement Thursday that Ryan, R-Wis., had been briefed on "credible claims of misconduct" by Franks last week, after the House general counsel was contacted about the allegations and investigated them.
Franks did not deny the allegations when Ryan confronted him, according to the speaker's statement. Ryan told Franks he should resign, and said he would refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee, his statement said.
"The speaker takes seriously his obligation to ensure a safe workplace in the House," the statement said.
The Franks revelations came on the same day that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., resigned his seat following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and as the House Ethics Committee opened a separate probe into Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas.
The committee initially launched an investigation into Farenthold in September 2015, but it was "significantly delayed" because the committee could not get "key witnesses other than Representative Farenthold" to testify, according to the committee's statement.
Farenthold's former communications director, Lauren Greene, accused Farenthold in 2014 of making sexually charged comments designed to gauge whether she was interested in a sexual relationship. Greene filed suit through the formal complaint process with Congress's Office of Compliance.
It was revealed last week that Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle the lawsuit. Farenthold has denied wrongdoing in the case.
This week, Greene spoke publicly about her experience for the first time since making the accusation. In interviews with CNN and Politico, she described the significant professional backlash she faced after filing a lawsuit against Farenthold.
Greene's attorney told Politico on Thursday that the House Ethics Committee has requested that Greene cooperate with the investigation and appear before the panel. The Ethics Committee had requested to interview her over a year ago, but she declined, wanting to move on from the matter, her attorney Les Alderman told Politico.
Farenthold said in a statement Thursday that he is "relieved" the House Ethics Committee will continue investigating the matter, saying he is "confident this matter will once and for all be settled and resolved."
Franks has served in the House since 2003 and is known as a fierce opponent of legal abortion, recently sponsoring a bill banning abortions after 20-week gestation that passed the House. He is also an outspoken critic of the Senate's filibuster rule, blaming it for blocking conservative bills.
Franks is also a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a hard-right faction that has often clashed with Republican leaders.
He considered a run for Senate in 2012 but dropped out suddenly. He continued as chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
While Franks was on the floor Thursday voting on a stopgap funding bill and other measures, he appeared to be consoled by a number of fellow Republicans. At one point, Franks and four colleagues locked arms and bowed their heads in an apparent prayer.
Franks said he was compelled to resign after concluding that he would be unable to endure the ethics probe "before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation."
"Rather than allow a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most, this morning I notified House leadership that I will be leaving Congress as of January 31st, 2018," he said. "It is with the greatest sadness, that for the sake of the causes I deeply love, I must now step back from the battle I have spent over three decades fighting."
Arizona's 8th Congressional District, which stretches northwest of Phoenix, leans Republican by 13 points, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. President Donald Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the district by 21 points last year; Franks did not face a Democratic opponent.
Under Arizona state law, a special election must be called if there is a vacancy more than six months before a regularly scheduled election.
Names of potential Republican successors include Kimberly Yee, a state representative currently running for state treasurer, and Phil Lovas, a former state representative, according to multiple Arizona GOP operatives.
The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.
PALMER — About 300 teachers packed a Mat-Su school board meeting Wednesday night to voice frustrations over a contract stalemate amid skyrocketing health care costs.
Many at the regular meeting held at Matanuska-Susitna Borough District headquarters in Palmer were dressed in black and held yellow signs saying "Respect=Fair contract."
Mat-Su teachers, like their counterparts in Anchorage, are working without a contract. The multi-year negotiated agreements that both districts operate under ended June 30. Anchorage teachers rejected an offer last week.
But there's no contract to reject in Mat-Su — or room for negotiations.
The district and teachers union declared an impasse Nov. 9, according to district spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey. That means mediation starting late December or early January.
"There is no more coming to the table," Morrissey said in an interview Thursday.
Health insurance is at the center of the debate because it costs the district $40 million a year, second only to teacher salaries, officials say.
Teachers want the district to "move toward the middle" in future negotiations, Tim Walters, president of the Mat-Su Education Association teachers union, told the board Wednesday night.
Walters characterized the district's current offer as teachers working as hard as they do now — or harder — for three days less pay. He also said the district wants teachers to pay another $2,100 in annual insurance premiums, plus any potential increases next year.
District officials, however, say have not yet calculated any cost increases. Premiums will be released in spring by the Public Education Health Trust, the NEA-Alaska program that provides health insurance for Mat-Su teachers.
In another point of contention, the district has requested that the trust release aggregate claims data — a collection of health expenses in categories, according to information on the district's negotiations update web page.
The data, the district site continues, "is NOT a reporting of health records by (a) person. It is NOT a summary of personal identifiable records for you or your dependents."
Nonetheless, several teachers accused the district of trying to get private health information to see if adopting a self-insured model pencils out for Mat-Su.
Dianne Shibe, an English teacher at Colony High School and teachers union vice president, accused the district of sabotaging negotiations to force the trust to provide health information that's unethical for it to release.
"They're holding the negotiations hostage," Shibe said.
School board members Wednesday night pressed the trust's chief financial officer, Rhonda Kitter, to release the claims information to help the district make sure they're getting a good deal.
The health trust does not give out information on claims, Kitter said firmly during several exchanges.
"We want to know if you really are, and you may be, the best thing we could ever look for," said school board member Ole Larson, referring to the trust. "But we don't know that. What would be wrong with giving us claims data and seeing if the Public Health Trust is the best thing?"
District administrators can "easily" get a quote from Premera or any other potential insurers without the information, Kitter responded.
"You don't need claims data to shop around," she said later, to another board member's question.
The district has made no decisions on future health insurance options, Morrissey said Thursday.
The Mat-Su district operates 47 school sites with nearly 19,000 students in the state's fastest growing area, a borough the size of West Virginia with more than 100,000 residents.
The district's poverty rate rose 30 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to superintendent Monica Goyette.
Numerous teachers told the board they're juggling the standard teacher's workload but also buying furniture and supplies, coming in early and working late, and juggling extra duties.
Wendy DeGraffenried, school nurse at Wasilla Middle School, created an after-school program to teach students about emotions and give them mindfulness strategies.
DeGraffenried also serves on the school's trauma-sensitive team. Students suffering from serious problems show up in her office. She trains other teachers.
None of it is easy, she said. "There is no reason that us, as adults, cannot take the suffering that we potentially are looking at and come to the table."
WASHINGTON – Congress passed a short-term spending bill Thursday, avoiding a partial government shutdown in the coming days but setting up a more heated spending fight later this month.
The measure to extend government funding until Dec. 22 passed the House and Senate by comfortable margins. President Donald Trump indicated he will sign the stopgap deal, averting a partial government shutdown that had been set to take effect at 12:01 Saturday morning.
Congressional leaders of both parties went to the White House Thursday afternoon to begin talks with Trump on a long-term spending pact.
"We're all here today as a very friendly, well-unified group, well-knit-together group of people," Trump said at the top of the Oval Office meeting. "We hope that we're going to make some great progress for our country. I think that will happen, and we'll appreciate it very much."
But there are clear obstacles to any deal. Trump himself cast doubt Wednesday, telling reporters that Democrats "want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime." A shutdown over the issue, he said, "could happen."
The short-term deal passed in part because it maintained the status quo on government spending levels and policies. Both parties are preparing for a spending and policy fight as they eye a longer-term deal.
The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hard-line conservatives who have bucked GOP leaders on past government spending bills, warned that any bipartisan deal on spending risked a Republican revolt later this month.
"It takes two bodies to put something into law, and the president's agreement to a caps deal does not mean that it is fiscally the best thing for the country," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said. "I want to avoid a headline that says President Trump's administration just passed the highest spending levels in U.S. history."
The statements have cast a pall over the high-stakes spending talks Thursday, which are expected to be an initial step in a weeks-long dance over funding the government and resolving several other partisan standoffs.
Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress, but they cannot pass spending bills alone. In the Senate, a 60-vote supermajority is required to pass most major legislation, and Republicans control 52 seats. That means negotiating with Democrats, who have pushed to maintain their own domestic spending priorities, as well as policy initiatives on immigration, health care and more.
Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., laid out a host of Democratic demands, ranging from funding for veterans and to fight the opioid crisis to passage of a bill that would grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of "dreamers" – immigrants brought without documentation to the United States as children.
Pelosi sent mixed signals on how far Democrats would go to secure their priorities, saying on one hand that "Democrats are not willing to shut government down" but on the other that they "will not leave" Washington for the holidays without a fix for dreamers.
The main source of the Democrats' leverage, however, is the GOP desire to hike military spending to more than $600 billion in 2018.
Under a 10-year budget deal struck in 2011, Congress may appropriate a maximum of $549 billion for defense programs and $516 billion for nondefense programs next year. Republican leaders have floated a $54 billion boost in defense next year and a $37 billion boost in nondefense spending; Democrats have thus far demanded equivalent increases for both.
"We need a strong national defense, but we also need a strong domestic budget," Pelosi said Thursday.
Joining the White House meeting Thursday were Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.
Mattis and Mulvaney are seen on Capitol Hill as the pivotal figures in an internal clash within the Trump administration over whether to cut a deal with Democrats to hike domestic spending to secure an increase in the military budget. Mattis has pushed internally to work with Democrats to secure a bigger military budget, while Mulvaney has argued for pursuing a harder line.
The stopgap bill set for a House vote Thursday does not change existing spending levels, and defense hawks have resisted calls to pass temporary bills into the new year, arguing that the military needs a boost.
But conservatives see it differently: They want to provoke a confrontation with Democrats and break a cycle of bipartisan deals that has led both military and nondefense discretionary spending to rise in lockstep. They are also wary of a year-end spending bill becoming a legislative "Christmas tree" that could include relief for dreamers and other Democratic priorities.
That, Meadows said, would be "not only problematic, but it will be met with such resistance that we haven't seen on the Hill for many, many years."
Meadows said he is pushing Ryan to "do short-term spending until we break the defense-nondefense connection." He said GOP leaders have expressed openness to drafting a funding bill later this month that funds the military through the remainder of the fiscal year while leaving the remainder of the federal bureaucracy subject to a weeks-long extension.
Ryan declined Thursday to confirm any such deal; Pelosi said it would be a nonstarter for Democrats. Were the House to pass such a bill, the Senate would likely send back a bipartisan measure that would include provisions that conservatives dislike. But that could win votes from House Democrats, sidelining the conservatives.
"We're going to take the speaker at his word that he's going to fight," Meadows said, adding, "If all we do is pass a bill and watch the Senate change it, and then agree to higher spending, that is not a fight."
Anchorage Daily News photographers and contributors capture slices of life from the Anchorage area and across Alaska in November 2017.
A late-blooming skier who built a resume to match her popularity, a volleyball coach whose influence raised the level of the game across Alaska, a climber's historic ascent of the world's tallest mountain peaks and an international winter sports festival will be inducted next year in the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
Holly Brooks, a popular coach whose work inspired her to revive her racing career, is a two-time Olympic cross country skier who helped the U.S. women's ski team transform itself from participant to powerhouse on the international stage.
She was a member of a relay team whose bronze medal at a 2012 World Cup race signaled America's emergence on a scene long dominated by Scandinavians and Russians.
Virgil Hooe, the Yoda of Alaska volleyball, helps girls become better players at every gym he visits.
He enjoyed unparalleled success during a long run at Service High — one of three Anchorage high schools that won state titles with Hooe on the bench — and in 1984 he established the Midnight Sun club program that has honed the talents of players from all over the state.
In 1994, Dolly Lefever became the first American woman, and the third in history, to climb the Seven Summits — the tallest peak on each of the seven continents.
A quiet quest that didn't involve big-name sponsors or a publicity firm, Lefever bagged one peak after another during an eight-year, self-funded effort that culminated with her ascent of Australia's Mount Kosciusko in March 1994.
Since 1970, the Arctic Winter Games has drawn northern and arctic athletes to a week-long, multi-sport international competition held every two years. Dozens of sports are contested, ranging from Native games to snowshoe biathlon to basketball and hockey.
Featuring primarily high school-aged athletes, the games have been held 24 times including six times in Alaska, most recently in 2014 when they were hosted by Fairbanks.
The four inductees will be honored at a ceremony in April. Brooks and Hooe will be honored as individuals, Lefever's Seven Summits achievement will be enshrined as a moment, and the Arctic Winter Games will be honored as an event.
Brooks grew up in Washington but became a world-class skier after she moved to Anchorage to coach the West High ski team.
She was 27 and working with masters-level skiers at Alaska Pacific University when she got the bug to pursue elite-level racing in 2009. The next year, with seemingly all of Anchorage cheering for her at the Olympic Trials at Kincaid Park, she skied her way onto the Olympic team.
Having made the improbable switch from high school coach to World Cup racer, Brooks spent four years with the national team, Brooks skied in two Olympics, registered eight top-10 finishes in World Cup and World Championship races and won two national championships.
The pinnacle of her ski career came in 2012 when she helped the American women turn heads by winning a World Cup relay medal.
Brooks retired from the national team after the 2014 Winter Olympics and spent the next season competing in ski marathons. She won two races on the world loppet tour, including her second American Birkebeiner title, and finished third overall among women in the 2014-15 marathon season.
Brooks is an accomplished mountain runner who has won Seward's Mount Marathon race two times. She run a consulting and coaching business and remains a popular figure at Alaska ski and running races.
The architect of Alaska volleyball, Hooe has influenced thousands of players over the decades.
His Midnight Sun club program spurred the growth of volleyball throughout the state, providing exposure and instruction that has helped many girls move on to college volleyball.
Hooe has been a winner everywhere he has gone. As a head coach he won one state title at West High and 10 at Service High, and he was a key assistant coach during South's run to six state titles.
He spent the 2016 season as an assistant coach at UAA, where his daughter Morgan Hooe, an All-American setter, played four years. The Seawolves finished as the national runner-up that season.
After retiring as a high school coach two years ago, Hooe continues to share his expertise by showing up at various Anchorage high schools to run drills and demonstrate skills.
Dolly Lefever and the Seven Summits
When Lefever reached the top of Australia's Mount Kosciusko in 1994, she became one of 18 people who had scaled the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents.
Many more have accomplished the feat since, but Lefever's effort is notable because she was the first American woman — and because she did it on her own.
An Anchorage midwife, Lefever climbed when she could afford to, using her own gear and seldom using a guide. She traveled thousands and thousands of miles and spent about $55,000 over an eight-year span to achieve the feat.
Along the way, she became the first Alaska woman to climb Asia's Mount Everest, which at 29,028 feet is the world's tallest mountain. She also climbed North America's Denali (20,310), South America's Aconcagua (22,835), Africa's Kilimanjaro (19,340), Europe's Elbrus (18,510), Antarctica's Mount Vinson (16,860) and Australia's Mount Kosciusko (7,300).
Lefever was 47 when she completed the Seven Summits, getting three of them in a one-year span — Everest, Vinson and Kosciusko.
While she was in Australia for the final summit, a woman named Sandy Pittman was making a high-profile, well-funded attempt to become the first American woman to do the Seven Summits. The wife of a millionaire, Pittman had climbed everything but Everest and had attracted significant sponsorships and national media attention.
Lefever's quest came with little fanfare outside Alaska. When Lefever returned to Anchorage after her Australia climb, she contacted the American Alpine Club with news of her achievement. Pittman was still on Everest, and in fact did not reach that mountain's summit until another expedition in 1996.
Arctic Winter Games
"The Olympics of the Arctic" are held every other year in an arctic community. The 2016 games were in Greenland; the 25th edition will be next year in the Northwest Territories' South Slave region.
Former Alaska Gov. Wally Hickel was among those who founded the Arctic Winter Games. The intent was to create a friendly competition where far-north cultures could be shared and celebrated.
The Arctic Winter Games showcase athletes from northern and arctic nations. At the beginning the field included a mix of adults and teens, but for the last two decades or so it has been a gathering of primarily high school-aged athletes.
The sports range from indigenous games like the one-foot high kick and the knuckle hop, to northern-climate sports like snowshoeing, skiing and mushing, to mainstream sports like basketball and hockey.
Over the years, some 10,000 Alaskans have competed at the Arctic Winter Games.
Beth Bragg is the Anchorage Daily News sports editor and a member of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame's selection panel.
Police are looking for three people "of interest" in a shooting that left one man dead in East Anchorage over the weekend.
Brandon Irlmeier, 20, was fatally shot Saturday, his body found near Sixth Avenue and Oklahoma Street around 11 p.m. as police responded to a call about two men with guns in the area.
The three people sought by police were in the area at the time of the shooting, spokesman MJ Thim said in a written statement. They were last seen walking on Sixth Avenue toward Turpin Street.
Police believe they are males in their late teenage years or in their early 20s.
Two of the people wore backpacks, and one wore red high-top shoes. The person without the backpack had an orange hat, Thim wrote.
"Detectives believe these males have information to solve this crime," Thim wrote.
Anyone with information is asked to call police dispatch at 907-786-8900 (dial "0" for an operator), or leave an anonymous tip at Anchorage Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP.
The incident was one of three shootings in Anchorage last weekend that left two people dead. Police believe the incidents are not related, and are also seeking persons "of interest" in Sunday's fatal shooting in South Anchorage.
Yoga in the Gallery
Practice yoga in the midst of some of the most fabulous art Alaska has to offer at the Anchorage Museum's new Art of the North galleries. This 50-minute class is open to all levels of expertise and is a guided class focusing on mindfulness, meditation, breathing and moving postures of both yang-style vinyasa and yin yoga. Bring a mat; limited extra mats available. $18; members receive a 10-percent discount. 12:10-1 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, Anchorage Museum, 625 C St. (anchoragemuseum.org)
Baby Loves Disco: Holiday Pajama Jam
Why shouldn't kids have their own dance party? DJ Spencer Lee has teamed up with Williwaw for another holiday-themed family friendly dance party. The jam is recommended for kids 10 and under and will feature a mix of '70s, '80s and '90s music as well as today's hits. DJs Spencer Lee and Victamore will prepare the soundtrack; all you need to do is get in your pajamas and dancing shoes. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. $12.50/each for family four-pack, $15 individual; free for non-walking babies. 11 a,m.-1 p.m. Sunday, Bear Tooth Theatrepub, 1230 W. 27th Ave. (beartooththeatre.net)
Pearl Harbor Day Dinner
Party like it's Dec. 6, 1941, at the Wings of Freedom Hangar. This night of dancing, fun and fundraising will have a vintage Hawaiian theme. The event will mix live entertainment and historical education about the attack on Pearl Harbor, subsequent Alaska invasion and the Aleutian Campaign. $50-$90 for individual tickets; $350 for table of eight. 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Wings of Freedom Hangar, 2400 E. Fifth Ave. (brownpapertickets.com)
The Biggest Damned Hat: Tales From Alaska's Territorial Lawyers and Judges
Alaska's history is full of colorful characters, including prospectors, settlers, heroes and criminals. Right alongside them were judges and lawyers working to establish the rule of law in the territory, and later, the state. Alaska Justice Forum editor Pam Craven shares stories from her new book "The Biggest Damned Hat." Free. 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Mountain View Library, 120 Bragaw St. (facebook.com/tundravision)
Anchorage International Film Festival
AIFF's closing weekend continues with screenings of animation, feature films, documentaries and short films from international and local filmmakers. Screenings include "Catching Sight of Thelma & Louise," "Tribal Justice" and Martini Matinee at Bear Tooth Theatrepub featuring eight short films. Friday-Sunday, various locations. Check website for details. (anchoragefilmfestival.org)
Moose Hide Tanning and Sewing in the Dene Way
Learn about traditional moose hide tanning and sewing from Dena'ina Athabascan Alaska Native artist Joel Isaak and Ahtna Athabascan and Paiute Alaska Native artist Melissa Shaginoff. The duo will explain the materials and techniques used to tan and sew moose hide. Included with admission. 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 15; artist presentations at 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Anchorage Museum, 625 C St. (anchoragemuseum.org)
Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre
Mr. Hogget and Mrs. Abigail Windsor cordially invite you to attend the midnight wedding of Jewel Opal Hogget to Robert Quinton Windsor. This fundraiser for the Birchwood Community Patrol will feature a dinner service at 5:30 p.m, followed by a theatre performance at 6:15 p.m. $35 for adults; $20 for children 10 and under. 5:30-8 p.m. Friday, Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center, 22424 N Birchwood Lp, Chugiak. (email@example.com)
6th Annual Wonderfully Made Christmas Bazaar
One of the largest holiday bazaars in Anchorage, Wonderfully Made features arts, crafts and gifts made locally by artists all across the state. More than 100 vendors will showcase their work. Come to finish your gift shopping and stay for the concession stand and gourmet coffee from the Mission Espresso Bar. Free. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Cornerstone Church, 10431 Brayton Dr. (facebook.com/WonderfullyMadeChristmasBazaar)
WASHINGTON – FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency's integrity and independence in response to skeptical questioning Thursday from Republicans who repeatedly suggested its personnel are biased against President Donald Trump.
Wray spent the morning being grilled at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee about how FBI personnel – particularly a senior counterintelligence agent now the subject of an internal ethics investigation – handled sensitive probes of Trump and his former political rival, Hillary Clinton.
The agent, Peter Strzok, was removed in July from the investigation being run by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russian agents during last year's election.
Strzok, the top agent on that probe, was removed after supervisors learned he exchanged pro-Clinton and anti-Trump texts with a senior FBI lawyer with whom he had an affair, according to people familiar with the matter.
Strzok's alleged conduct is now the subject of a probe by the Justice Department's inspector general. Lawmakers tried to make Wray explain exactly what Strzok's role was in the Trump and Clinton investigations, but Wray declined to provide an answer, citing the ongoing investigation.
The revelations about Strzok prompted Trump to tweet this past weekend that the FBI's reputation was in tatters.
Asked by the panel's senior Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, whether that was true, Wray delivered a lengthy defense of the bureau.
"Congressman, there is no shortage of opinions out there. What I can tell you is that the FBI I see is tens of thousands of agents, analysts and staff working their tails off keeping Americans safe," Wray said. "The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of dignity and professionalism and respect. . . . Now do we make mistakes? You bet we make mistakes, just like everybody who's human makes mistakes."
He said that once the inspector general's review of FBI conduct has concluded, "we will hold our folks accountable, if that's appropriate."
Republicans said Wray needed to prove to them that the FBI was proceeding without picking political favorites.
"It does appear to me that, at the very least, the FBI's reputation as an impartial, nonpolitical agency has come into question," said the panel's chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. "Even the appearance of impropriety will devastate the FBI's reputation."
Goodlatte and other Republicans are pressing the Justice Department to appoint a second special counsel to investigate the FBI's handling of Clinton-related matters, including an investigation into her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
Nadler warned Wray that he was under attack from Republicans and urged him to publicly rebut criticism from the president.
"I predict that these attacks on the FBI will grow louder and more brazen as the special counsel does his work and the walls close in around the president," Nadler said. "Your job requires you to have the courage in these circumstances to stand up to the president."
Much of the early questions at the hearing concerned Strzok, a senior agent who played a central role in the FBI's Russia investigation until late July, when Mueller learned of the messages and removed him from the case.
Strzok's communications with senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page are now being investigated by the Justice Department's inspector general. Page had also worked on Mueller's team, but she left that post two weeks before Strzok's departure for what officials have said were unrelated reasons.
In a remarkable moment, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, read aloud from a list of FBI officials, asking Wray after each name whether that person had shown political bias in their work. After every name, Wray vouched for the person's character, though he acknowledged he did not know everyone Gohmert named.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he suspected that Strzok played a central role in requesting surveillance of people close to Trump, adding, "If that happened, that is as wrong as it gets."
In the wake of revelations about Strzok, conservative lawmakers and activists have intensified their attacks on the FBI, saying his alleged conduct and other issues, such as political donations by lawyers working under Mueller, show the probe is biased against the president. Law enforcement officials note that Mueller is a registered Republican and has been praised for more than a decade as one of the most trusted law enforcement officials in the country.
Democrats defended the FBI from Republican attacks. They also got assurances from Wray that no one was trying to interfere with Mueller's work.
"As I sit here today, there's been no effort that I've seen to interfere with special counsel Mueller's investigation," Wray said, adding that Trump called him once to congratulate him on the day of his installation as FBI chief but that he has not had any "substantive" one-on-one conversations with the president.
Wray became FBI director four months ago after Trump fired Wray's predecessor, James Comey, leading to Mueller's appointment as special counsel. Wray has inherited the political fallout over the Clinton and Trump probes, and he has tried to keep a low profile and steer the agency clear of public political fights.
Thursday's hearing made clear that his task is getting harder.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said Wray was "walking into contempt of Congress" after the director repeatedly declined to answer questions about Strzok.
And while some Republicans have called for a second special counsel to investigate FBI conduct, others have argued that Mueller's probe should be shut down or given a time limit to complete its work. Democrats attacked Republicans for suggesting unethical conduct had infected the decision-making process at the FBI.
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said Thursday's hearing showed the need to pass legislation protecting Mueller from being fired.
Some Republicans on the panel picked bigger fights with Wray, criticizing how the FBI conducts surveillance and threatening to vote against renewal of a legal authority due to expire at the end of this year. Wray has made renewal of that authority, called Section 702, a main legislative priority – intelligence officials have long considered it a critical investigative tool to detect and disrupt nascent terrorist plots as well as to gather foreign intelligence.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, heaped scorn upon the FBI's arguments for the authority, accusing the bureau of withholding key information about how the program works.
Using a mocking tone, Poe said he has been told: "It's classified. I can't tell you that." Poe said that if he was not given further details about Section 702 surveillance, he would vote against its renewal.
Wray said the FBI regularly shares information with congressional intelligence committees.
At times, Wray sought to turn the conversation away from the current and past probes and talk instead about future threats. He said the department several months ago set up a "foreign influence" task force made up of agents from the cyber, counterintelligence and criminal divisions to "sniff out" efforts to interfere with the 2018 elections. The task force is working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that election systems are secure, he said. It also coordinates with foreign counterparts and with the U.S. intelligence community.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Alaskan Joe Balash to a top position at the Interior Department on Thursday, generating immediate concern from a conservation group over his past efforts to unlock the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to mineral exploration.
Balash will serve as assistant secretary for land and minerals management under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Balash, a former Alaska natural resources commissioner under Gov. Sean Parnell, had previously fought for an Alaska-led plan to allow modern seismic studies in the 19 million-acre refuge where oil exploration has been off limits for decades. Such seismic studies might be permitted under the Trump administration.
More recently, Balash, who moved to Alaska in the 1980s, served as chief of staff to Sen. Dan Sullivan. During Balash's confirmation hearing before the Senate in September, he pledged to work on speeding permits and allowing responsible drilling and mining on some federal lands. He said he will also work to improve recreational access to federal holdings.
In his new role, Balash will oversee the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The entities play vital roles in mineral exploration and development on federal lands and waters.
Balash was confirmed by a 61-38 vote in the Senate.
His past efforts to encourage mineral exploration in ANWR and in other controversial areas of Alaska prompted the Alaska Wilderness League to issue a statement saying in his new role he must be more considerate of wildlife and wilderness resources.
"All Americans count on this position to act responsibly when it comes to drilling, mining and other development decisions on our public lands, which are held in stewardship by the Interior Department for this and future generations," said Adam Kolton, the group's executive director.
Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said Balash will work extremely hard and help meet Zinke's goal of making America "energy dominant."
"He will seek and listen to the views of diverse stakeholders in reaching fair decisions," Moriarty said.
The Anchorage School District has cancelled all after-school activities set for Thursday because of "deteriorating weather and road conditions."
Freezing rain is causing dangerous driving conditions, according to the Anchorage Police Department.
"The Seward Highway is EXTREMELY slick around the Potter Scales. Please take it slow while driving," police said in an alert.
A winter weather advisory from the National Weather Service is in effect until 10 p.m. Thursday. Ice accumulation of about one-tenth inch is expected.
Travel is expected to be especially difficult during this evening's commute, the weather service said.
The freezing rain is expected to be intermittent all day. Some areas of the Anchorage Bowl will be above freezing and may see rain, not sleet.
"However, rain on top of icy local roads will make for hazardous driving conditions," the weather service said.
For the latest on road conditions, call 511.
The flu is going around something fierce. Two members of our family were really sick last week, which amounted to school absences, missed play rehearsals and skipped hockey practices. To my complete dismay, all of our routines and schedules flew out the window and normal life came to a grinding halt. There were many sleepless nights filled with coughing, tossing and turning. I bought gobs of cough drops and boxes of tissues.
I made a pot of turkey noodle soup and we hunkered down together on the couch. I'm happy to report that I've successfully nursed them both back to health with a good dose of love and home cooking. I'm sad to report that now I'm the one who's sick, and I'm writing under the influence of DayQuil. Read at your own risk.
Feeling under the weather, the last thing I wanted to do was cook this week. What I really wanted was a homey, comforting plate of Swedish meatballs swimming in cozy gravy made by my Swedish aunt. One problem: I don't have a Swedish aunt. Luckily, I happen to know somebody who knows somebody who does.
My chef and food writer friend, Karista, once published a recipe for Swedish meatballs that she got from her friend Maria, who really does have a beloved Swedish aunt named Dagmar. And being that Maria is a food writer with a Scandinavian background, I thoroughly trust that she knows what she's talking about when it comes to a perfect, time-honored Swedish meatball.
Using her aunt Dagmar's recipe as a guide, I made my way into the kitchen. The result was a pan full of moist, tender meatballs flavored with shallots and a warming touch of allspice. While the meatballs were baking in the oven, I made the quick pan gravy. It's creamy and subtle, a perfect companion for the meatballs. Traditionally, this dish is served with a side of lingonberry jam, but cranberry sauce is a great alternative, and I happened to have some on hand. Thanks to Maria's aunt Dagmar, I'm feeling better already.
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup warm milk
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons shallots
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
For the gravy:
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup warm milk
2 1/2-3 cups beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
chives, finely chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the bread crumbs and warm milk to moisten. Add the pork, beef, shallots, beaten eggs, salt, pepper, and allspice. Using your hands, work the mixture together until everything is well combined. The mixture will be loose and quite moist. Using a medium cookie scoop, portion the meatballs, rolling them into balls using the palms of your hands. Place the meatballs onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake the meatballs for 15-20 minutes, until browned and cooked through.
While the meatballs are baking, prepare the gravy. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter. Whisk in the flour until it all comes together and forms a roux. Continue cooking the roux for about 2 minutes, to cook out the floury taste. Vigorously whisk in the warm milk and 2 1/2 cups of the beef broth until smooth and combined. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the gravy to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the other half cup broth as needed to thin out the gravy (you may not need it). Turn off the heat and stir in the sour cream. Add more salt and pepper as needed to taste.
Remove the meatballs from the oven and, using a spatula, transfer them to the pan of gravy. Stir the meatballs gently to coat. Garnish with finely chopped chives, if using. Serve with lingonberry jam on the side. Recipe adapted from Karista's Kitchen.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.
About this time two years ago, Eva Gerstung, a 32-year-old airport security screener, bought a drink for the person behind her in the Starbucks drive-through at Dimond Boulevard and the Old Seward Highway in Anchorage.
Gerstung's job puts her in contact with lots of strangers. She's learned that a little kindness goes a long way.
"If you're pleasant and happy they will leave the situation in a better mood," she said.
In the car behind her: Abbey Valentine, 36. The trip for peppermint hot chocolate was the first time she'd gone out since she'd lost her 15-year-old chocolate beagle, Molly.
"The person never knew what I was going through and that I was already having an awful day," she wrote in a thank-you note she recently sent to the Daily News. "I picked up my hot chocolate, pulled away and started crying."
Ever since, Valentine, who works at the Division of Motor Vehicles, has tried to do something nice for someone every week, she said.
"It was nice to realize that the world isn't such an awful place on one of my darkest days," she said.
Over the past week, readers like Valentine have been sending in thank-you notes to strangers who have done kind things, small and large. (We shared Valentine's note early on Facebook and that's how we found Gerstung.)
We got more notes than we could publish, but here's a sample:
The sweetest grandmother "came right over"
While my wife was having surgery at Providence hospital, I was in charge of caring for our 2-year-old. I am a carpenter and can build an entire house from foundation to finish, but trying to change and feed my daughter is another story. While in the cafeteria at Providence, I was having a very difficult time feeding her, and the sweetest grandmother saw my challenge and came right over and offered to help. She was wonderfully amazing and made a stressful situation (for me) delightful. After we had finished, she returned to her table and my daughter, who is usually very shy, on her own walked over and gave her a high-five. That grandmother is a superhero and deserves a cape and recognition! Thank you, grandma!!
"The ATV plunged into water about 2 feet deep…"
I was out hunting caribou on the trails out of Eureka Lodge on the Glenn Highway. I am inexperienced and do not know the trails or pitfalls in this area. My friend and I decided to take my father-in-law's side-by-side up a trail that looked less traveled, in hopes of getting away from traffic. The ice in the area proved fairly thick and dependable, but even so, we stopped and scouted some of the crossings before driving over them. One crossing we didn't scout proved thin and the ATV plunged into water about 2 feet deep. Getting out was impossible without help, and we had gotten wet. The day was wearing on and my friend let me know that we had to go back on foot. The thought of leaving my father-in-law's ATV mired overnight left me in distress. Within five minutes of arriving back at the vehicles, two hunters in their side-by-sides came off the trail. I asked them if they would help me out. They were so kind. We left immediately to get it unstuck. They tried several different things because I was stuck fast. They ribbed me about it being my father-in-law's rig, and kept trying until we got it free. I asked them for their contact information so I could pay them back but they wouldn't hear of it. Thank you, gentlemen. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your kindness.
"The most compassionate person I have ever met"
My mom passed away three weeks ago. She was my best friend and I miss her so much. She was in the renal unit at Providence, and when we found out she was at end of life, the palliative care team was called in to see to her needs and ours. Linda was the most compassionate person I have ever met. She not only anticipated everything my mother needed, but she also made sure everyone in our family had what we needed to get through our grief. I have worked in the medical field for 29 years and I have never met anyone as amazing as her.
"I was knocked unconscious, then couldn't get out of my vehicle…"
I was in a bad car accident on Tudor and Boniface in January. I was knocked unconscious, then couldn't get out of my vehicle after I came to. When out of the vehicle, the other guy was just standing by his car not worried about me even though he caused the accident. My phone was not accessible, and nobody was stopping to help either of us. All of a sudden a nice older man stopped and asked me if I was OK. He let me use his cellphone to contact my family to let them know I was in an accident. After the police and firemen arrived, it seems as though he disappeared. I like to tell people that he may have been an angel who saved me from a worse accident, who helped keep me calm and offered me help. He's somewhere out there and I want to thank him.
— JoLean Fultz
"I completely forgot their trash…"
Last week, my neighbors were in Seattle and I told them I would take their very full trash bin to the curb while they were gone. I have a new baby, and after four months on maternity leave, it was time to send him to daycare. He would have one trial week before I went back to work permanently. Trash day fell on daycare trial day two, and needless to say, I was so stressed and teary that morning that I completely forgot their trash. When I finally remembered (well after the 7 a.m. trash pickup time), I panicked and ran outside. The neighbor's trash was out! But how? I checked the security cameras in front and saw the driver stop his truck, get out and pull the neighbor's full trash can down from its place by their garage. I was so grateful for what this man did.
— Kara Monroe
"He came on his own time to see if we OK…"
Our water line froze and then the pipes broke where the city line meets our house line. We had to call (Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility) to come out to turn off the water. We then had to try to find a plumber that wasn't busy with other projects. The whole process took several days to resolve. Jeremy, the guy from AWWU, came by the house on his own time to make sure we were OK and see if we needed anything. He even gave us his personal cell number to call him so we wouldn't have to go through additional hassles when it was time for the fix and to turn the city line back on. Jeremy's concern and kindness meant so much to us at such a stressful time.
"My boss and I were driving in circles…"
Thank you to the person who was leaving his parking lot spot during a busy cold day in downtown Anchorage. My boss and I were driving in circles, this person saw us, waved and said, "Take my spot, I have time left for you guys."
—Erick Cordero Giorgana
"I somersaulted off the Seward Highway and into a half-frozen bog …"
There were numerous people who stopped on that icy night two years ago, shortly before Thanksgiving, when I had somersaulted our Ford Excursion off the Seward Highway and into a half-frozen bog. The car was crushed on the passenger side, over and under the engine in front, and thoroughly flattened in back — essentially everywhere except right where I was sitting in the driver's seat. I was alone in the car because we had decided at the last minute that my husband would drive to Girdwood separately, with our two kids.
The first woman who stopped I know, but I never acknowledged the next person, a man who loaned me his cellphone and then helped me pick up the scattered remnants of our Thanksgiving ingredients and gear for the long weekend. I was in such a state of shock that my brain started processing things as if I were watching them in a movie. Other people stopped, asked if we needed help, and then on their own set up flares and directed traffic.
The next day, I went to pick up a framing order from Obeidi's and the owner gave it to me for free, for no reason I could tell. I never mentioned the accident. Two days later, we decided we would try to go to the Shootout after all, to see my son perform at half-time with his hip-hop group. A couple walked up to us in line and handed us two tickets, then another couple handed us two more, so we could attend for free as a family.
I don't know why they picked us, but I do know the kindness came at just the right time in a horrific week. Between the help from my friends that week and the surprising kindness of strangers, I felt the strength of our "Alaska family" that was there when we needed it, though we didn't have the words to ask.
"I had accidentally dropped my keys in a road drain…"
I was just walking into the hospital and a woman said, "Excuse me, I think you dropped something." Turned out I had accidentally dropped my keys and they fell into a road drain. A Providence employee stopped to see if he could help and was going to call the facilities department. As we were standing there, another man came by who asked if he could help. He had a flashlight and could see my keys on the frozen ground several feet below us. He went to his work truck and brought over a very long string with a strong magnet attached. He quickly retrieved my keys, I repeatedly thanked him for saving my day, gave him a big hug and was on my way.
"You came like a beautiful woolly angel"
You didn't know us, but you saved our lives. Four women did Arctic to Indian this spring. We were abandoned by the group we had started with, and I, the sweeper, was left with the job of shepherding two first-time skiers and one novice to Indian (not something I have ever done before, or planned on doing).
These chicks were game, and so tough. We had a great time until the last descent into Indian. One girl had fallen so many times that after 20 miles she was covered with bruises. She knew that she couldn't make it down the final few miles of narrow, icy trail with her skis on. The obvious solution was to walk down. Imagine our panic when we realized that the cheap binding on her rental ski had frozen solid and locked the boot to the ski.
We were exhausted and wet with sweat, but doing OK until we stopped. The sun went down, the temperature dropped and the wind rose. We were trapped and exposed on the side of the mountain. We couldn't go on, but we couldn't stay either. For nearly half an hour, nearing hypothermia and desperation, we wrestled with that horrible binding. In hindsight we should have just taken her foot out of the boot and made a signal fire with those execrable skis.
Then you came like a beautiful woolly angel, the last off the mountain. You gorgeous man, you had a Jetboil. You stopped, boiled water for us, and poured it over that twice-cursed binding. We got the ski off, got moving and made it home safer and wiser, and singing your praises.
Doug, you saved our lives. I'm naming my first kid after you. Boy or girl, I don't care.
"Small sweet surprises that life can sometimes bring"
I had been having a rough day. A rough week. A rough few years. You must've seen that in my face and my red teary eyes when I stopped in to Fire Island to treat myself to a sandwich I wasn't even hungry for. Because you slipped me a cookie. Chocolate chip. On the house. I ate both in their entirety and thought about the small, sweet surprises that life can sometimes bring. Even in the midst of calamity. Thank you.
"My daughter had just found out that her dad's cancer was a bad one …"
Thank you to the wonderful customer in Fred Meyer on Abbott. You asked my daughter at the cheese kiosk about the olives and let her know you had just finished chemo. My daughter had just found out that her dad's cancer was a bad one and chemo/radiation is the next step. She cried and you comforted her and prayed with her. You are a wonderful person and this mom is so grateful for strangers like YOU.
I have been helped by too many people to mention
I am an old lady who uses a cane. I have been helped by too many people to mention individually, but here are some things: Strangers ask me if need help getting to my car when the parking lot is icy; a group of young people at the entrance of Dimond Center saw me struggling to get up a snow berm to the sidewalk — after helping me onto the sidewalk, one said that they knew I could never make it, so they all came to help; doors are held for me — once by a 6-year-old boy; strangers offer to put my groceries in my car for me; and several times when in a store and I thought I was going to fall, individuals have held me up and gotten me to a place where I could sit. The list goes on and on. Thank you for all the kind things you have done for me. May your kindness be returned to you a thousandfold.
At Benihana, a truly magnificent "random act of kindness"
Several years ago my family of four went to Benihana to celebrate my daughter's 12th birthday. We went all-out and everyone ordered a meal in the $25-$30 range along with specialty drinks. We all had a great time and we enjoyed watching the food prepared by a talented and outgoing teppanyaki chef. When it came time to pay, our server informed us that our entire bill and tip was picked up by another family who wished to remain anonymous. The server stated that the family did not know us. We were amazed that someone would be so generous and giving to complete strangers."
— Deb Fiske
"My son slammed his fingers in his car door …"
At the Muldoon Fred Meyer, my son slammed his fingers in his car door. A kind lady saw what happened, yelled to us that she had a first-aid kit and ran over to give us gauze and bandages to tide us over until we could get him to the ER. My son still talks about the "angel" that helped him. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
"After paying all my bills and a tank of gas, I had 6 or 7 dollars …"
I had just started living on my own: months of ramen and other cheap, boring food. After paying all my bills and a tank of gas, I had a whole 6 or 7 dollars left till next payday. I decided to splurge on some McDonald's. You paid for my meal in the drive-thru. Those of us who have been really, really broke know just how grateful I was that day. I've paid it forward many times since. It's not much, but hopefully I made someone's day like you did mine.
"We were rescued by a family with four-wheelers …"
Last year hunting caribou along the Denali Highway, we found ourselves facing a difficult ordeal. The caribou we shot went down with the first shot but — every hunter's nightmare — after a moment, it got up and ran off. By the time we caught up with it where it finally went down, it was too far for the two of us, well into our 70s, to ever pack it back to our truck before dark. We were in for a very long and difficult night. In a story too long to tell here, we were rescued by a family with four-wheelers that helped my husband get the caribou back to the road and into our truck. He tried to pay them but they wouldn't have it. "If you really want to thank us, just pass it on," they said. We drove home warm in the glow of the kindness of strangers.
"A beer magically appears"
I'm legally blind and frequently use a low-vision cane. Just as frequently, someone I don't know notices my cane and proves to be the kind of stranger you want to meet — a kind one. On the bus, someone offers me their seat. On the sidewalk, I get a little extra space as we pass. At a concert, someone hooks an arm through mine as we descend steep stadium stairs that don't have a handrail. A beer magically appears in front of me at the bar. A gentle hand finds my elbow to guide me onto a busy subway car. The mob in a crowded mall parts like the Red Sea to let me through. So. To all the strangers who act like friends, thank you. We can all use a little help sometimes.
— Casey Brogan
"You offered us the opportunity to snowshoe"
To Adam from the dog park: I shared with you personal struggles my boyfriend and I have been facing in fall/winter here in Alaska. It was a natural conversation that showed me genuine kindness and care. You offered us the opportunity to snowshoe on Campbell Creek with you this winter and numerous other activities you and your wife partake in during the trying darkness. I thank you deeply and believe wholeheartedly your kindness is changing the world.
— Emma Herrera
[Inspired to write your own thank you? (It doesn't have to be to a stranger.) Submit a thank you note here.]
Imagine you are a narwhal. You are cruising through chilly Arctic water when you sense a threat. Most animals, when alarmed, either lash out at their attacker or flee. You, narwhal – the unicorn of the sea – aren't most animals.
You won't fight. Yes, you have a long tusk growing out of your face. Your tusk, a canine tooth that stretches into a spiral five feet or longer, isn't much of a weapon. Narwhal tusks are sensory organs filled with nerves, not dull spears for jabbing at predators or fending off rivals. If an orca swam nearby, you'd slink into deeper water or twist beneath ice floes where the larger whales cannot follow.
This threat is unusual. It's noisy and unfamiliar. Instead of the usual flight response, your body reacts oddly.
You dive, flipping your flippers as fast as they can go. Meanwhile, your heart rate plummets. It's as if your heart wants you to freeze in place, similar to the way young rabbits and deer play possum. (Biologists, borrowing from Greek, call this acting-dead defense "thanatosis.") Yet the rest of you wants to escape. This conflict cannot be good for your cardiovascular health.
The researcher who discovered this reaction almost ignored it. Biologist Terrie Williams of the University of California at Santa Cruz, who studies the physiology of large mammals, spent two summers collecting heart-rate and flipper-activity data from wild narwhals in Greenland.
The whales were stranded or caught in nets. Before cutting the whales loose, scientists outfitted the animals with a monitoring device. Immediately the narwhal bodies showed this conflicting response.
"My first inclination was to throw out the first couple of hours," Williams said. "The animals were doing something weird. It was clear it wasn't a normal dive response." Only later did she realize the weirdness was in the whales' reaction to humans.
Williams had developed the device, a combination EKG monitor, accelerometer and depth meter, to study marine mammals; she first tested it on retired dolphins that had been trained to work with the Navy. The machine was adapted for narwhals, made more rugged for colder and deeper water. Collaborating with Greenland's Institute for Natural Resources, Williams and her colleagues stuck the monitor to wild whales with suction cups.
A few days later, the monitor fell off and floated to the surface, where Williams and her teammates located it via VHF and satellite signals. They repeated the process for a total of nine whales.
This was the first time anyone had measured heartbeats in narwhals, Williams said. As the scientists report in a paper published Thursday in Science, the whales' heart rates plummeted from a resting rate of 60 to about three or four beats per minute.
Meanwhile, despite their sluggish hearts, the narwhals moved their flippers as fast as they could go. Williams likened the conflicting signals to narwhal hearts to the taxing experience of human triathletes: "Stress plus cold water in the face plus exercise." (Triathletes are twice as likely to die during a race as marathoners, at a rate of about 1.5 deaths per 100,000 triathlon participants.)
Williams said it was unclear, at this stage, whether this depressed blood flow plus increased exercise was dangerous to narwhals. She hypothesized that the response probably restricts oxygen to the whales' brains; this might, for instance, explain the disorientation rescuers observe when they try to return beached whales to the sea. The animals are also in danger of overheating, Williams said, if the slow circulatory systems fail to redistribute heat equally around their bodies.
The paper "provides a new angle on the vulnerability of narwhals to anthropogenic disturbance, which is linked to the sweeping environmental changes we are observing across the Arctic," said Kristin Laidre, an ecologist at University of Washington who studies whales and bears in Greenland.
Earth is home to about 123,000 adult narwhals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Historical threats include killer whales and subsistence hunting by Arctic communities.
Human intrusion and depleted sea ice are looming. "With climate change, we are on a trajectory for a very different Arctic in the coming decades," said Laidre, who was not involved with the Science paper. "This will mean a new reality for narwhals. A better understanding of human impacts is essential for conservation of this species given what the future looks like."
Until recently, sea ice blocked the Arctic from heavy boat traffic and offshore oil and gas development. That's changing.
Narwhals do not move quickly, but they evolved to escape dangers that came from a single source. In a more crowded ocean, polluted by ship noise, "you have novel kinds of threats out there that may not be a point source," Williams said. "Maybe in time evolution will catch up, but it's not there now."
Anchorage police were seeking two men "of interest" and an older white Cadillac sedan on Thursday in connection with the fatal shooting of a man during a fight Sunday night at 68th Avenue and Lake Otis Parkway in South Anchorage.
The victim was identified as Joshua Statham, 26. Officers found him alive just before 11 p.m. He was taken to a hospital by ambulance and died there.
The men police were seeking were caught on security cameras inside the Holiday station at 68th and Lake Otis before the shooting nearby. The Cadillac was parked outside.
"The male wearing the dark jacket was driving the vehicle. The male wearing a fur hooded jacket was not in the vehicle and left on foot," police said in a Thursday alert.
"Detectives believe these men have information to solve this crime."
Police asked that anyone with information in the case call dispatch at 907-786-8900 (press "0" for an operator) or, to remain anonymous, 907-561-STOP or go online at anchoragecrimestoppers.com.