Companies showed strong interest in Alaska prospects at a big conference in Texas early this month, and it wasn't just the Sarah Palin impersonator chanting "Drill baby, drill!" that grabbed their attention, conference-goers said.
Recent discoveries on the western North Slope oil fields, and the newly opened Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the eastern edge, are offering long-term opportunities companies seek before investing in Alaska, said John Hendrix, chief oil and gas adviser to Gov. Bill Walker.
"You won't invest if it's a one-off deal," he said.
Hendrix and other state officials highlighted Alaska's oil fields at North American Prospect Expo, billed as an annual industry marketplace where deals are made. The event was held five days early this month in Houston, Texas.
The Alaska Division of Oil and Gas rented a booth. So did several Alaska lease holders, including a small-time speculator with flamboyant promotional pitches, Dan Donkel.
Hendrix said: "I went to NAPE last year, and this was probably three times better, the uptick in people talking about Alaska, the buzz."
Hendrix said he met with at least six oil companies with the financial heft to invest in Alaska, from independents to majors, at their booths or offices. They wanted to know about geological structures that have led to new discoveries, and other details.
He would not name the companies, but said the state is continuing to talk with them.
There was a sense of excitement about the discoveries over the last couple of years, including ConocoPhillips' Willow and Armstrong Oil and Gas' Pikka, he said. The discoveries and other data sparked the U.S. Geological Survey in December to sharply boost the western region's estimated oil potential.
The companies were more cautious about the opportunities in ANWR, opened to development by Congress in December with a requirement that a lease sale be held within four years. The companies see development there as a longer-term prospect, he said.
Donkel, a longtime Alaska lease investor who lives in Florida, rented a booth at the conference to promote what he says are several promising leases located on state land and water near ANWR.
Donkel hired a Sarah Palin impersonator, Patsy Gilbert from Florida, to talk up the opportunities in Alaska. He'd also hired her back in 2010, for the NAPE conference that year.
This year, Donkel handed out red hats declaring "Make Alaska Great Again," and shared geologic data and other details highlighting the oil potential at his leases near ANWR.
The data hints at what lies across the border at ANWR, he said.
"We were the most popular booth," said Donkel, 60. "Many major players came by."
"Explore Alaska!!! Oil in the billions. Gas in the trillions," signs over his booth declared.
About 15 years ago, Donkel made a lucrative deal in Cook Inlet, after selling leases he owned at the Redoubt Shoal field to Forest Oil, according to a 2002 article in Petroleum News.
One tract Donkel promoted at the Texas conference was won by Andy Bachner in the state's December lease auction, according to Bachner, a lease speculator from Fairbanks.
Bachner said the offshore tract, near ANWR, contains the Stinson well drilled by ConocoPhillips' predecessor ARCO in 1990. The accumulation was originally reported to hold 150 million barrels. But the discovery could be larger, Bachner said.
The well's distance from infrastructure was a big impediment to development when it was discovered. But ExxonMobil two years ago completed the nearby Point Thomson field on state land, with a new pipeline to deliver oil to market, Bachner said.
"The geology has never changed," Bachner said. "The politics and the access to get it of there has changed immensely."
Chugach Electric buying ML&P; will be on the Anchorage election ballot. This is an issue that has been talked about for decades in Anchorage and one that I am very happy to support for many reasons.
I am a local government watcher. Everyone has hobbies and mine is local government. I have attended community councils since the 1970s and have attended thousands of Anchorage Assembly meetings as well as many work sessions and other Assembly meetings.
An issue that is always present is that there's not enough time for community councils or the Anchorage Assembly to hear or deal with all the issues. Good governance needs to be provided but a factor in Anchorage is that we own ML&P;, AWWU, Solid Waste Services (including the Anchorage landfill), the Port of Anchorage, Merrill Field, the Anchorage Community Development Authority, which includes Easy Park (the Parking Garages and parking meters), the museum and the performing arts center, the convention centers and Sullivan Arena, and Anchor Rides (the bus system). Anchorage government has a lot on its plate.
Over and over, issues with one or more parts of government are delayed for lack of time. The Anchorage Assembly meets on every other Tuesday and must complete its business by 11 p.m. unless there is a vote of the body to extend, but then only until midnight. There are special meetings from time to time but this affects not only the Anchorage Assembly but also the administration and the public. Years ago the Anchorage Assembly met until the wee hours of the morning but that caused complaints from the press and citizens who were substantially locked out of the process.
That brings me to the sale of ML&P; to Chugach Electric. ML&P; has consumed a lot of government time that could have been spent on other issues. We have bought the Beluga Gas Fields, a portion in the 1990s and a portion recently. The first purchase took many meetings before the Anchorage Assembly to convince them that it was a good idea. The second purchase was easier because of the success of the first. Then there was the issue of ML&P;, during a previous administration, trying to move its headquarters to the Glenn Square Mall. And finally there was the issue of building the new power plant on the Glenn Highway. This is/was the straw that broke the camel's back and the need to finally divest ourselves of this utility. It is my opinion that we did not need this power plant, but built it because Chugach Electric had built a new plant. A portion of the new plant Chugach built is even owned by ML&P; but because they built one, we had to build one. This $300 million-plus plant has caused rates to rise. Also because we are now overextended, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska will not allow ML&P; to pay municipal utility service assessment payments, to Anchorage. This puts a burden on Anchorage taxpayers.
The Anchorage Assembly ultimately made the decision to allow the power plant to be built. But did they have the time for due diligence? When the elected board of Chugach Electric makes a decision they are dealing with just Chugach Electric. When the Anchorage Assembly makes a decision like this, it is just one of the thousands of things on their plate on a given night. I believe a dedicated board of directors is better able to operate a multibillion-dollar utility than the Anchorage Assembly that actually dedicates very little time to any issue. It comes down to the head of ML&P; or the Mayor saying, "Just trust me." Sometimes the Assembly should not show or have that trust but they don't have the time or the tools to do anything else.
The other side of this issue is, we have seven electrical utilities in the railbelt. We have seven utilities serving a small population with all of the overhead required to run those seven businesses. It has long been talked about, to save money, provide efficiencies and to provide better service these seven should be one. I think this step to combine ML&P; and Chugach is just the first step in the future of combining the electrical utilities from Homer to Fairbanks. I look forward to that day when a professional Board of Directors overseen by the RCA will make decisions they are qualified to make.
Tom McGrath, retired previous owner of Frigid North Electronics Co., has been involved in local politics for 40 years as an observer and commentator as well as serving on various boards and commissions.
'They are laughing their asses off in Moscow': Trump takes on the FBI, Russia probe and 2016 election
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - President Donald Trump questioned the intensifying special counsel's investigation of his campaign and administration while attacking his own national security adviser, the Federal Bureau of Investigation he controls, Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, Democrats in Congress, CNN and others in a nine-hour span of tweets that included profanity and misspellings.
Posting from his Florida estate, he seemed most aggrieved that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's team had unearthed 13 indictments against Russians on Friday - and alleged that they could have swayed the 2016 election to benefit Trump.
Trump has chafed at accusations he had any help for more than a year, resisting calls to decry Russia's efforts to interfere and take more action against the adversary while firing and threatening to fire law enforcement officials investigating him and frequently ranting on Twitter.
"I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said 'it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.' The Russian 'hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!" he posted around 7:30.
About 30 minutes later, he added: "If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!"
Trump, ensconced at Mar-a-Lago, has so far stayed away from the golf course even though the weather has been sunny and almost 80 degrees - in what aides describe as showing respect for the 17 killed in a mass school shooting in Florida this week.
The president has instead spent much of his time watching television and tweeting, aides said. After a string of tweets Saturday afternoon, he dined with journalist Geraldo Rivera and the president's two adult sons before returning to his quarters for more posts.
He seemed to wake up Sunday morning again fired up.
Trump has pushed for changes at the DOJ and FBI, accusing leaders of being biased against him, and has grown angered that he cannot have more control at the Justice Department.
"Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!" he wrote.
Attacking the FBI for missing a tip on the shooter - a significant blunder for the bureau that it admitted Friday - while funerals are still ongoing for victims, and making the attack about himself, was a remarkable move. It seems unlikely that the special counsel's investigation, a separate office that works independent of the main Justice Department, had anything to do with the missed tip.
Whether there was any collusion with Russia is still part of Mueller's investigation. On Friday, Mueller described an elaborate internet system designed to interfere in the election, with workers creating ads, staging rallies, traveling to the United States and being told to support Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. That indictment said "unwitting" Americans were involved but did not accuse any Americans of a crime.
Trump has wavered publicly on whether Russia interfered to benefit him, even though all the intelligence agencies of the United States has conclusively said Russia did. After H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, said Saturday that Russia was to blame, Trump mocked him publicly, calling attention to ethical issues of Clinton's and conspiracy issues he has fanned. He has, at times, clashed with McMaster and finds McMaster to be too professorial, aides have said.
"General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!" Trump said.
Trump often refers to Clinton, who lost the electoral college to Trump while winning 3 million more popular votes, "Crooked H." The "dirty dossier" is the extensive set of accusations, in a dossier written by British spy Christopher Steele, about Trump's dealings in Russia. It makes salacious claims and was funded by Democrats, among others, and has become part of the special counsel's investigation. "Uranium" seemed to refer to unsubstantiated accusations against Obama and Clinton unethically, or illegally, selling uranium to Russia - a flash point of the right.
Speeches and emails seem to refer to paid speeches by Clinton and the fact she worked off a private email server in her basement in Chappaqua, New York, as secretary of state. The Podesta Company is a now dissolved lobbying firm, led by Democrat powerhouse Tony Podesta, who is now under investigation.
He also revived a news story about Obama sending $1.7 billion to Iran in a separate tweet and said it should have been investigated. The payment was the settlement of a long-standing arbitration claim.
It was unclear what any of those had to do with Russian meddling the election.
He further attacked "Finally, Liddle' Adam Schiff, the leakin' monster of no control," the Democrat he often sees on television talking about the House Intelligence Committee's investigation. He noted that Schiff said Obama should have done more on Russian interference Saturday. "Thanks Adam," he wrote.
In the end, the tweets seemed distilled to this, which he posted around 8 a.m.:
"The Democrats, lead by their fearless leader, Crooked Hillary Clinton, lost the 2016 election. But wasn't I a great candidate?"
DUBAI - All 65 passengers and crew were feared dead in a plane crash in central Iran on Sunday after the domestic flight came down in bad weather in a mountainous region.
A spokesman for Iranian carrier Aseman Airlines had told state television everyone was killed, but the airline then issued a statement saying it could not reach the crash site and could not “accurately and definitely confirm” everyone died.
The airline had also initially said 60 passengers and six crew were on board the twin-engined turboprop ATR 72 that was flying to the southwestern city of Yasuj. But it later said there were a total of 65 people on board, as one passenger had missed the flight.
The Aseman-operated plane crashed near the town of Semirom after taking off from Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, emergency services spokesman Mojtaba Khaledi told ISNA news agency.
As night approached, bad weather prevented helicopters searching the probable crash site but emergency workers were scouring the mountainous area by land, the television said.
“It is getting colder and darker and still no sign of the plane,” said a television reporter accompanying rescue teams searching snow-covered areas in Mount Dena which has more than 40 peaks higher than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet).
Media reports said the plane disappeared from radar screens 50 minutes after taking off from Mehrabad airport in the southwest of the capital. It mainly handles domestic flights.
Worried relatives of passengers gathered at Yasuj airport.
“I kept telephoning all morning but they (the relative) wouldn’t answer. So I called my brother and he said they will get here, it (the plane) is not behind schedule yet,” a young woman told a reporter for state television.
“I told him it is raining here. He said no (meaning, don’t worry). He called later and said the plane had crashed.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani issued messages of condolences. The president asked the transport minister to lead an investigation into the crash.
Iran has suffered several plane crashes in the past few decades. Tehran says U.S. sanctions have long prevented it from buying new aircraft or spare parts from the West. The crashed ATR was 25 years old, officials said.
A deal with world powers on Iran’s nuclear program has lifted some of those sanctions, opening the way for Iranian airlines to update their creaking fleets.
Aseman signed a deal last year to buy at least 30 Boeing 737 MAX jets. National carrier IranAir has ordered 80 planes from Boeing and 100 from Airbus.
Based in the southern French city of Toulouse, ATR is a joint venture between Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo
Earlier air disasters include the crash of a Boeing 727 passenger plane in 2011 which killed 78 people in the northwest of Iran, and the 2009 crash of a Caspian Airlines Tupolev aircraft bound for Armenia which killed all 168 people on board.
One of Iran’s worst air accidents happened in February 2003 when an Iranian Ilyushin-76 troop carrier crashed in southeast Iran, killing all 276 Revolutionary Guard soldiers and crew.
I came to Bethel on a sunny Thursday in August 2014 with seven checked bags and set up my home office in a duplex on what some call Mission Lake Road and others know as Schwalbe Street. I stayed three years, as long as they let me, with the assignment of telling stories about what it means to live in rural Alaska. Sometimes I felt I came close to getting that story right. But I usually felt I was just on the other side of understanding.
So many things I never got to the bottom of. Why are there so many short-legged dogs in Western Alaska? Why do so many Bethel residents live on Chinese takeout? Why isn't there a solid village economy?
Some new people never give Bethel a chance. They see dusty roads and rotting old vehicles, tiny homes gray with age and neglect, wooden pallets piled in front yards. They get off the jet, look around and book the next flight out.
Settle in, though, and you'll experience richness and resourcefulness, tragedy and despair, sometimes all in a single day. The bigger world is far away. I saw the lure of a life built around the outdoors, the beauty of simple things. The joy of a hunt, the taste of a just-picked berry, the gratitude for the stranger who pulled my car out of the ditch. It's constant and up close.
Whether they were in a vehicle or on foot, people who drank too much couldn't make the turn in front of my place. One time a drunken man stole a van and then drove it across my driveway before crashing into my neighbor's boat.
One fall evening, a couple held on to each other walking down the gravel road until they came to the turn. The woman sat in the street. A crowd gathered. "I love you, babe," she told her man. "Love ya too," he said right back. Someone called police to get her out of the road. The officer arrived and she pulled herself together. They continued on, leaning into each other.
That's the way it often went. I began to know the faces and names of those who had lost so much, but continued on. I heard the stories of a drowned brother, a drunken mother, a violent boyfriend. I saw heartache and love, failings and forgiveness.
Life and seasons
In Bethel and the nearby villages, life revolved around the season: moose and wild greens, salmon and seal, all kinds of birds and berries. Walk along Bethel's protective seawall in summer and you'll find people jigging for pike. In winter, head down the ice road to Napaskiak. You'll see wooden branches marking and holding long nets lowered through holes cut through the ice for whitefish. And as soon as it's allowed each summer, skiffs take to the Kuskokwim River with driftnets for salmon.
I had no boat, no net and no gun, but plenty of friends who shared their catch. The KYUK radio station general manager brought me moose, fish and, once, a pair of geese, frozen whole, with feathers, heads and feet.
Most of us relied on city trucks to deliver water and we rationed what we got for worry of going dry. A daily shower turned out to be unnecessary. Even in someone else's house, you didn't always flush the toilet.
In the near-wilderness, so far from Anchorage and urban distractions, I tried things I had never done before because they were fun, accessible and challenging. Dance class. Mask making. Sewing. College Yup'ik. Pottery class.
On Saturday mornings in the undersized Bethel college gym, the sounds of "slap-stomp, slap-stomp" took over. Welcome to Ben and Sarah's jump rope class. With someone's playlist of fast tunes keyed up, we faced each other and jumped, each with our own rope. Regulars were from all quarters: nurses and a fix-it man, newcomers and Bethel-borns, a judge and an English professor (Ben), job experts and a psychologist (Sarah). No judgment, we insisted, and it was sort of true.
The kind of people I always wanted to be friends with landed in Bethel or were from the area all along. People always up for an adventure and pushing themselves to learn and grow. People doing good for each other. Quirky souls. Sometimes Bethel seemed like a combination of camp and college, the way people dropped in and made do, the way store-bought things weren't so important.
At a potluck, someone might bring seal stew and if you were lucky, akutaq (also called Eskimo ice cream). With Crisco, sugar, tundra berries and ideally whitefish, it is harder to hand-whip into a silky froth than you think. At a party once, the hostess put out a delicacy of herring eggs, which tasted like little pops of sea. Late that night, she offered us raw bowhead whale from up north. We dipped red bloody bites in seal oil and tasted a life ancient and wild.
Darkness and light
Some things were unbearably sad. Tragedy etched itself into life. In a village, a toddler drowned in a bucket that the family used for handwashing because they had no running water.
A young man from Hooper Bay killed himself, then his close friend did the same. Family and friends circled around the girlfriend of the second man. She asked for time alone, locked the door and turned a rifle on herself. By the time this round of suicides ended, four were dead.
I learned to see loss differently. In some of the darkest stories, there was good. Three winter travelers headed home by four-wheeler one December night on the frozen Kuskokwim River. Only they were drinking. Only the river wasn't all frozen.
After a pilot spotted four-wheeler tracks leading into an open hole on Kuskokuak Slough, search-and-rescue teams from Bethel, nearby Kwethluk and beyond mobilized. They tested the ice for safety, drove by truck and snowmachine onto the river and used chain saws to cut holes for big dragging hooks. A state trooper stopped by on a snowmachine, but the searchers were mainly local Native volunteers.
As I watched on that gray day, they pulled one of the three from the slushy water. They prayed in Yup'ik, giving thanks for finding him.
Lisa Demer worked as a reporter and, early on, as an editor for the Anchorage Daily News for 23 years. She recently left for a new job at the Rasmuson Foundation.
HAINES — As the tide ebbed down the beach outside his house Friday, Harry Rietze discovered a mysterious sea creature that one scientific paper described as "a puzzling fish with soft bones."
The brown, frozen animal Rietze found is a ragfish, and little is known about them. A few have washed up on beaches in Gustavus and Juneau, according to recent news reports, but they're a rare find. Commercial trawlers, seiners and gillnetters sometimes catch them off the southern coasts of California, north to the Bering Sea and in waters off Japan.
Because they live at great depth, few ragfish are found on beaches, according to a 2003 scientific paper written by George Allen, professor emeritus in the fisheries department at Humboldt State University. Southeast Alaska is the exception.
"A surprisingly large number of adults have been hand-collected from the beaches of bays and inlets of southeastern Alaska," Allen wrote in the paper published by the Marine Fisheries Review. "Other recoveries from beaches in southeastern Alaska were made by school children on field trips and by young boys on fishing trips near Kake and Petersburg."
Allen drew on scientific literature, studies and accounts from fishermen dating back to 1880 as sources for his paper. Ragfish have come to scientists primarily through fishermen and citizens who deliver them to fisheries management personnel, museum curators and ichthyologists. In 1998 and 1999, state and federal fisheries biologists in Juneau and Petersburg provided researchers with 16 ragfish records.
Other specimens have been found in the stomachs of sperm whales and Steller sea lions.
Even the ragfish's diet is mysterious. In one study, when the contents of 34 ragfish stomachs were examined, 65 percent of them were empty.
"Specific comments on material seen in six stomachs were: 'yellowish material at the lower end of the intestine,' or 'runny orange liquid,'" Allen wrote.
A unique feature of the ragfish is the name itself. While fishermen bestow a plethora of names upon uncommon fish, the name "ragfish" was widely used with one exception. Whalers in the 1930s utilized a different moniker when describing the fish to curious scientists.
"Dr. Robbins is confident that the 'bastard halibut' of the whalers is identical (to) the brown ragfish," Allen wrote.
Rietze first thought the beached fish was a halibut. He also found eggs about 50 feet to the right of the frozen ragfish carcass. The comet-shaped eggs, orange balls with translucent, tapered tails, were clustered throughout a bed of seaweed.
"This thing spawned on the beach," Rietze said. "I found some little orange eggs. I grabbed one and it smelled like a salmon egg and it had a little membrane around it, like a little tail, which is nothing like a salmon egg."
Not much is known of their spawning habits, although a study was done in 1990 about the early life history of fish in Southeast Alaska. Researchers found a large portion of ragfish eggs near sub-marine canyons, and they were most abundant in the entrance to Chatham Strait and the north edge of Dixon Entrance. Scientists estimated spawning to occur in late winter and early spring.
"Whether ragfish spawning behavior is social or occurs as isolated pairs or at least in small groups is not known, but females appear to discharge eggs in a single short burst, suggesting mating in small groups or by isolated pairs," Allen wrote.
Swarms of seagulls spent the last few days eating the eggs, perhaps to the dismay of a lonely male ragfish still swimming around Letnikof Cove.
Juvenile ragfish change significantly as they grow into adults, according to Allen. But even the descriptions of young and adult ragfish differ and converge. Both juvenile and adult ragfish heads have been described as "trout-like" and "calf-like."
"Head profiles may thus vary with the eye of the illustrator and the audience," Allen wrote. "Another researcher summarized, 'All that is known about the remarkable metamorphosis of this species from juvenile to adult is the change itself.'"
The aesthetic appeal of the fish is also subjective. While many consider the fish ugly, one fisherman refused to turn his find over to researchers.
"The fisherman was not willing to donate the specimen to science as it was aesthetically pleasing to him," Allen wrote of one researcher's account. "Indeed, beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
Rietze said his specimen "was definitely weird-looking." He's keeping it in his freezer at Haines Packing and it weighs 70 pounds.
Rietze plans to see if the American Bald Eagle Foundation wants to exhibit his ragfish.
‘Financial strain’ of Williwaw a factor in bankruptcy case involving company that owns Anchorage bars
Money troubles for the company that owns a cluster of bars in downtown Anchorage are tied in part to the ambitious restaurant and venue complex Williwaw, according to a document filed in federal bankruptcy court last week.
A group of creditors says the company that owns Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse, Flattop Pizza and Pool, and Bootleggers 8 Star Saloon owes them more than $2.7 million combined, according to bankruptcy filings.
In a bankruptcy petition filed in federal court in December, the creditors said the company, Hook Line and Sinker, Inc., "is generally not paying its debts as they become due," and they are requesting bankruptcy relief. The creditors listed on the petition are Collin Szymanski, Carl Brady, and Arctic Refrigeration & AC, Inc., according to the filings. Together, they are owed more than $800,000, records show.
Salamatof Native Association, Inc., an Alaska Native corporation in Kenai, joined in on the creditors' filing in bankruptcy court earlier this month. Hook Line and Sinker owes Salamatof — Williwaw's landlord — $1.9 million for four promissory notes Hook Line and Sinker had guaranteed, according to bankruptcy filings.
The bankruptcy petition is basically a lawsuit, said David Bundy, an attorney representing Hook Line and Sinker. The goal of the filing could be to compel the company to file for bankruptcy, or to shut it down, or get paid, he said last week.
"Creditors do this for all sorts of reasons," he said.
In a document filed in bankruptcy court on Thursday, Bundy wrote that "Humpy's current difficulties can be attributed to several causes," including Williwaw, which opened in 2015.
"Increased competition in downtown Anchorage, the impact of a slow local economy in general, and the financial strain imposed by Williwaw start up and mobilization costs, can all be cited," according to that filing. The space used to be occupied by Covenant House, which serves homeless youths.
The group of bars owned by Hook Line and Sinker are all clustered around West Sixth Avenue and F Street, just across the street from Williwaw. The four owners of that company also own another company called Fish or Cut Bait LLC, which owns and operates Williwaw.
Williwaw has had some challenges since it opened. Susynn Snyder, venue and entertainment director there, said that's in part because of how many different things the sleek project set out to do. The space is a venue for concerts, meetings and other events, and is home to upscale speakeasy Blues Central, a SteamDot cafe, Birch bar and loft, and a rooftop bar.
Now, Snyder said, "we mostly have become a venue hall," hosting 644 events last year. The business has made adjustments to its staff and offerings accordingly. A lot of those changes have been in the menu.
"Before, we were trying to be everything to everyone," Snyder said. "We had wok bowls, entrees, and our kitchen just couldn't keep up."
Now, the restaurant offers more bar appetizers and no longer serves lunch. Williwaw also rents out its loft space more often.
It's not always clear on Google which parts of the space are open when, Snyder said, and that can make for confusion.
"Alaskans are like, 'Oh, what's going on?'" Snyder said. "There's a lot of complexity to it. And when you have that many spaces, you're kind of catering to different genres of people."
Still, she said she feels better about "where Williwaw is today" than she did when the business first opened, and that Anchorage needs such a venue.
"Williwaw is something special," she said.
Snyder also said in a text message that the owners wanted to put out the following statement: "Williwaw acknowledges the recent public reports regarding pending legal issues against Humpy's brought on behalf of creditors associated with the Williwaw project." The statement also said the venue is open and will remain open.
"We are actively negotiating an amicable non-judicial resolution of the Humpy's petition," the statement said.
An attorney representing the creditors did not want to speak to a reporter last week. Dylan Buchholdt, a co-owner of Hook Line and Sinker named in the creditors' court filing, did not return a call seeking comment.
When asked why Hook Line and Sinker has been unable to pay, Bundy said "lots of companies run into financial problems."
Szymanski and his company Mantech Mechanical, Inc., also filed a separate lawsuit in November in Anchorage Superior Court against Hook Line and Sinker, Fish or Cut Bait, and the individual owners, alleging money was still owed related to work done on the Williwaw project. A judge last week entered final judgments in favor of the plaintiffs, for a balance of nearly $690,000, according to the state court system's website.
On Friday in federal bankruptcy court, Judge Gary Spraker granted an extension to Hook Line and Sinker, allowing the company to have until Thursday to file a response to the creditors.
This type of "involuntary" bankruptcy case — initiated by creditors instead of filed by the company itself — is "very rare," said Anchorage-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee Nacole Jipping.
Snyder said employees at Williwaw are doing "everything we can every day" to keep the doors open, that the business has no intention of closing and has events booked through the end of the year.
"I've been working six days a week to make sure that (closing) doesn't happen," she said, "and to make sure that it is a viable business."
The share of Alaskans working in the state's oil and gas industry fell to new lows in 2016 after seven years of decline, leaving more of the valuable work to out-of-state employees, state data shows.
Nearly two of the industry's five workers lived Outside that year, the last year studied, worrying state officials.
"It's kind of troubling," said Greg Cashen, deputy commissioner at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, on Monday.
Alaskans' share of the industry's jobs was rising until 2009, when Alaskans comprised 72 percent of the workforce. But by 2016, they held 63 percent of industry jobs, the agency reported in January.
That's a significant change, said Dan Robinson, the agency's chief of research and analysis.
Alaskans' share of the workforce is the lowest since 1991, the earliest year on records provided by the department.
Robinson said an even smaller percent of Alaskans could be working at the remote North Slope oil fields.
Workers can drive daily to offices in Anchorage where many companies keep state headquarters. But Slope workers commute by plane for multi-week assignments in the field before getting a similarly long break, he said.
The long rotations give people an opportunity to live Outside and fly to Alaska for work.
"They just have the freedom to live anywhere that you and I don't," said Robinson.
The 2016 finding, based on Permanent Fund dividend applications, comes as Alaska posts the nation's highest unemployment rate, 7.3 percent in December.
The nonresident problem extends beyond oil and gas, officials said. Overall, one in five workers commuted to Alaska, especially for seasonal work in fishing and construction or mining and oil field jobs, according to the report.
Alaska's petroleum workforce is a small part of overall employment. But the sector is closely tracked in part because of its large paychecks. Experts say those wages have positive ripple effects on the economy when they're spent at Alaska stores and restaurants. Industry employees average $135,000 a year in income, more than double the statewide number.
In 2016, $526 million flowed to 5,900 petroleum workers who lived Outside, about $89,000 on average. Those numbers include full-time and temporary employees.
Carl Giesler, chief executive of small producer Glacier Oil and Gas, said the nonresident share increased during the boom years after 2009, when oil prices were high, because there weren't enough skilled Alaskans to keep up with growth.
He believes the nonresident share kept growing after the oil price collapse in 2014, sparking thousands of layoffs and a recession, because some contractors left Alaska for Lower 48 opportunities.
For some work, the industry must look Outside for services, he said.
"It's not like (oil companies) don't want to use people from Alaska, but in some cases, they just don't have a choice," he said.
Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said she's not surprised the trend has continued.
"They are bringing in specialized folks" from Outside for that and other work, she said.
Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said the high-paying jobs offer workers mobility. Some may be choosing to sell houses in Alaska and move to states where the cost of living is lower and economic stability more certain.
"We don't get exit interviews from people leaving Alaska," she said. "It's a problem. Alaskans need these good-paying jobs."
Scott Eickholt, business manager for Alaska Laborers Local 942 in Fairbanks, whose members provide construction and maintenance for Slope fields, blames industry cutbacks.
Prudhoe Bay operator BP is awarding contracts to companies hiring non-union employees, replacing better-compensated union workers, he said.
The Laborers union has a 12-month residency requirement that's rarely waived, so about 95 percent of members are Alaskans, he said. The union has seen sharp losses in Prudhoe Bay jobs, and some 200 of its best-trained workers await work in the industry, he said.
"We are Alaskans sitting here and watching people from out of state fly over our heads to work jobs that Alaskans should be working," Eickholt said.
The problem of high nonresident rates in the industry has perplexed state leaders for decades, he said. "Now, here we are in a time of struggle without the tools to fix it," he said.
Natalie Lowman, a spokeswoman with ConocoPhillips Alaska, said construction this winter at the Greater Moose's Tooth 1 project on the Slope will require about 700 positions.
"More than 500 of those are union positions through union contractors," she said. "They include teamsters, pipefitters, operators, laborers and IBEW — predominantly from the Fairbanks hall."
Eickholt said he's grateful some laborers will get part of that work, but the union's overall employment numbers will remain well below recent years' numbers.
Lowman said 84 percent of ConocoPhillips Alaska employees live in state. A BP Alaska spokeswoman said 76 percent of its employees live here. Both companies say they encourage their contractors to hire Alaskans.
Kakivik Asset Management and CCI Industrial Services will conduct Prudhoe Bay pipeline inspections as part of a contract with BP starting April 1.
They will employ non-union workers, replacing a mostly union workforce of 261 employed by New Jersey-based Mistras Group.
The companies hire the most qualified candidates, said Sheila Schooner, their spokeswoman. But they prioritize the hiring of Alaskans and Native shareholders of the companies' parent, Bristol Bay Native Corp.
Their Alaska hire rate is 76 percent, she said.
"We think if more Alaskan companies had work in Alaska, there would be more Alaskan residents working in the state," she said.
Posturing and rigidity by members of the Alaska Legislature has cost the private economy perhaps half a billion dollars a year in investment that could have sped recovery from the recession, according to a new report.
Business people have said for two years that political uncertainty is holding back the state economy by discouraging investment. Without knowing what to expect in taxes, spending cuts or other economic shocks, businesses held back on capital expenditures for expansion or new ventures.
But that concern always seemed vague and unmeasurable, allowing legislators to behave as if delay had no cost.
In a November opinion piece in the ADN, Senate President Pete Kelly portrayed inaction as a virtue and hotel stays during special sessions as a form of heroism. He claimed an uptick in oil revenues had vindicated his side's decision to dig in its heels and resist moves for additional revenues.
"In the last two years, senators have spent more than a year living in Juneau hotels and sleeping in rented beds, but we will not be more easily leveraged just because we are tired," Kelly wrote.
But the hotel bills were the least of the cost.
New national research cleverly measures the economic harm of uncertainty in state politics, creating a yardstick to estimate the cost of Alaska's indecision, according to a report released last week by Mouhcine Guettabi of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"The perception has been that doing nothing is potentially costless, or at least I have heard that said," Guettabi said. "This says that is probably wrong."
It's difficult to measure something that didn't happen—in this case, investments that businesses didn't make—but economists found several ways to do it at the national and state level, finding patterns in the relationship of political uncertainty and investment.
A study applicable to Alaska's situation, Guettabi said, looked at business capital investment around the U.S. in the quarter before gubernatorial elections, compared to investment in similar periods without elections.
In a paper published last April, Candace Jens of Tulane University reported that investment declined 5 to 15 percent, on average, in the months before states chose new governors, and that lag continued after the election if the winner was not an incumbent, when uncertainty about policy choices remained.
Jens had found the invisible tax caused by political uncertainty. Using her percentages, Guettabi calculated Alaska's private economy has lost capital spending worth $200 million to $600 million a year during the period of the unsolved deficit.
But Alaska's uncertainty tax is probably larger, because our uncertainty is much more severe.
"The uncertainty that is ongoing right now is far more than anything an average state in an average election goes through," Guettabi said.
These are a big numbers for our small economy, equating to many jobs. But they only begin to capture the full economic impact of uncertainty. When capital expenditures don't happen, the business ventures they would support don't happen. Guettabi's report doesn't count those losses.
To put this in context, it appears the economic damage done by legislative procrastination exceeds the potential impact of the broad-based taxes Kelly's majority spent that time killing. (This is my conclusion, not Guettabi's.)
Alaska's current total tax burden on citizens is zero.
According to numbers Guettabi provided, Alaska taxation, state and local combined, all-in, averaged only $1,049 per person in 2015, an amount more than offset by our Permanent Fund dividends. We were lowest taxed of all states. The national average was $3,062.
The senseless cost of inaction goes beyond resistance to taxes.
Gov. Bill Walker pointed out late in 2015 that only Alaska Permanent Fund earnings could cover most of the deficit.
The math made it inevitable. No other potential source of revenue was large enough to do the job.
In 2016, the Senate passed a bill that would have used fund earnings to bridge much of the budget gap, but the House Finance Committee, then controlled by Republicans, turned it down.
In 2017, both the House and Senate passed bills to use the fund, but disagreement on taxes to cover the rest of the gap blocked a deal.
Observers expect the Legislature to pass a similar Permanent Fund measure this session. Really, there will be no choice, as other savings are almost gone.
Many business leaders and economists say a Permanent Fund-based solution will largely calm political uncertainty in the private sector. As could have happened in 2016.
The wait was for nothing.
I wish I could say a Permanent Fund-only solution would will calm my own uncertainty. But too many questions will remain.
First, the Permanent Fund alone won't be able to sustainably spin off the money the state needs. Unless the Legislature shows more restraint than has been evident up to now, Alaska could risk a calamity with a drained Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve, according to studies by a fund consultant and by Guettabi.
Second, even after taking earnings from the fund, a smaller but still sizable deficit will remain, and that acknowledged deficit leaves aside the hidden deficits in deferred maintenance, growing pension payments, escalating health care costs, and shell-game budgeting.
Without a tax plan to truly close the gap and raise more money to cover increasing needs, Alaska will be unable invest in its people and future growth.
Alaska's economy is still declining. Businesses are closing. People are leaving. When that stops, the recession will be over, possibly next year.
But what then? Lack of decline isn't the same as growth. State austerity, with no end in sight, is a plan for permanent mediocrity.
Third, uncertainty may become a permanent feature of Alaska politics unless voters stand by leaders willing to make tough decisions.
As I wrote earlier this month, Walker has paid a high price for his honesty and courage in addressing the fiscal gap. His main opponents have not. Mike Dunleavy and Mark Begich have each offered unrealistic, unbalanced or incomplete fiscal plans.
We get what we vote for. Ultimately, this all comes back to Alaskans.
The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.
President Donald Trump late Saturday night criticized the FBI for failing to act on a tip that might have prevented the recent massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and said the bureau was devoting too much time to its investigation of his presidential campaign.
"Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter," Trump said in a Tweet. "This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!"
The president's comment marks the first time he has weighed in on the bureau's failure to investigate a Jan. 5 tip about 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who this week was charged with shooting and killing 17 people at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The FBI acknowledged the tip on Friday, saying a person close to Cruz had warned a call taker on the bureau's general tipline that the young man had a desire to kill and might attack a school. The bureau said that information was not passed to agents in the field for investigation - an apparent breach of protocol.
The resources devoted to the Russia case should not have had any direct effect on the FBI's response in Florida because the tip about Cruz, although reported to a call-center supervisor, never reached agents who would do an investigation, officials have said.
Still, the incident comes at a precarious time for the FBI. Conservative lawmakers already had been reviewing the bureau's handling of two hotly charged political matters: the probe of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election; and the now-closed investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
On Friday, the chairs of three powerful congressional committees that oversee the bureau sent letters demanding briefings on the FBI's Florida misstep, while others lambasted the bureau for its apparent failure.
"The fact that the FBI is investigating this failure is not enough," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement. "Both the House and Senate need to immediately initiate their own investigations into the FBI's protocols for ensuring tips from the public about potential killers are followed through. Lawmakers and law enforcement personnel constantly remind the public that 'if you see something, say something.' In this tragic case, people close to the shooter said something, and our system utterly failed the families of seventeen innocent souls."
The FBI declined to comment on the various congressional requests.
While lawmakers and federal law enforcement officials assessed their response, state authorities were left to prepare for one of the state's highest-profile prosecutions in recent memory. Michael Satz, the state attorney for Broward County, said Saturday that the incident was "the type of case the death penalty was designed for," though his office would not formally announce whether it will seek such a sentence so families had time to mourn.
The incident comes at a precarious time for the FBI. Conservative lawmakers already had been reviewing the bureau's handling of two hotly charged political matters: the probe of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election and the now-closed investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Trump has been highly critical of investigators' actions in both of those cases, and some in the bureau have worried his persistent attacks might do lasting damage to the premier federal law enforcement agency's reputation.
Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott seized on the FBI's failure to investigate Cruz and called Friday for FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign.
"Seventeen innocent people are dead and acknowledging a mistake isn't going to cut it," Scott said in a statement.
Scott's call, though, did not immediately seem to gain wide traction. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi a Republican who, like Scott, is an ally of Trump, said on Fox News, "The people who had that information and did not do anything with it, they are the ones that need to go."
Republican leaders who oversee the FBI, while highly critical of the bureau, also did not immediately call for the director to step down.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chair of the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Wray demanding that the bureau brief the committees by no later than March 2 on why the agency did not act on a January tip about the suspected shooter and his propensity for violence. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also asked that the bureau brief his committee staffers by the end of next week.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., said of the governor's call for Wray to resign: "He does not want to talk about gun control, so he is attacking the FBI."
On Friday night, Trump praised the FBI during a visit with law enforcement officials who responded to the shooting.
"We had a lot of FBI guys down here quickly. So great job; thank you very much," Trump said to an FBI special agent who was among those at the Broward County Sheriff's Office.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Saturday on Fox News: "Director Wray obviously understood that there were mistakes made at the FBI. He made that clear; he took responsibility for it."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had directed his deputy attorney general, the No. 2 law enforcement official in the country, to look into the matter.
The bureau has in recent years faced significant scrutiny over whether it responds forcefully enough to possible threats. Agents had previously investigated the man who gunned down 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016 but ultimately concluded they could take no action against him. The FBI also had prior contact with the man charged with killing five people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last year. He had walked into an FBI field office and made bizarre, though not threatening, statements.
Officials believe the Jan. 5 tip about Cruz was passed from a call taker to a supervisor, but it was not forwarded, as it should have been, to agents in the field. The FBI's call center in 2017 received more than 766,000 calls, though law enforcement officials said they do not believe the lapse here was one due to too much volume, but rather a failure to appropriately assess the particular tip.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said police had received about 20 calls for service in recent years regarding Cruz, whom neighbors knew to be troubled. He had been expelled from school, and the administration there sent an email to teachers with a vague suggestion of concern about him.
Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender representing Cruz, said that multiple government agencies failed to prevent what was an avoidable tragedy.
"It is the most horrific crime I've ever seen," Finkelstein said. "And I am overwhelmingly saddened that every single system failed, which means to me we don't have a system. . . . If this person didn't get anybody's attention, nobody will."
The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.
An AR-15 once again made an appearance at a mass shooting, this timeon Wednesday at a Parkland, Florida, high school. The suspect in the shooting, Nikolas Cruz, 19, bought the semiautomatic rifle about a year ago, according to a law enforcement official.
These AR-style rifles have appeared in some of the deadliest mass shootings in the last few years, including a concert in Las Vegas, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a church in Texas and an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Here's what you need to know about its history and use.
– What does "AR" in "AR-15" stand for, and what are its origins?
"AR" stands not for assault rifle but for Armalite rifle, named after the company that developed it. It was first used during the Vietnam War as an alternative to the M-14 rifle, which was heavy, difficult to control and outmatched by the AK-47. In the late 1950s, the gun manufacturing company Colt bought the rights to the rifle but had difficulty selling it to the U.S. military.
Then-Chief of the Air Force Curtis LeMay took a liking to the weapon after a Colt salesman offered him a chance to shoot some watermelons with the gun at a Fourth of July celebration. LeMay ordered 80,000 of them but was rejected by multiple government agencies as well as Congress, which didn't want to spend money on a new weapon when the M-14 was already in production. LeMay continued to press for its use and even appealed to President John F. Kennedy (who rebuffed him).
In the 1960s, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara halted the production of the M-14, and the rifle finally made its debut on the battlefield in Vietnam as the M-16 assault rifle.
– What are some defining characteristics of the rifle?
The military's M-16 originally was fully automatic, meaning it fired several rounds with each pull of the trigger. Its civilian counterpart, the AR-15, is semiautomatic — the user must pull the trigger to fire each shot.
The AR was designed for speedy reloading in combat situations and can fire dozens of rounds in seconds. The rifle's butt, or the stock, has a large internal spring that absorbs the shock of each firing. The low recoil makes it easier to shoot and is more accurate than earlier military weapons. It can also be easily customized by adding scopes, lasers and more.
– Who can buy an AR-15?
It depends on your home state. In Florida, an AR-15 can be bought by anyone over the age of 18 with a clean record. There is no waiting period. (Handgun purchases typically require a three-day waiting period for anyone over 21.) While it is legal to own fully automatic weapons, they are heavily regulated. Some states prohibit ownership of semiautomatic rifles with certain characteristics, such as the AR-15.
– What are the laws surrounding assault weapons?
Gun advocates maintain that semiautomatic weapons such as the AR-15 should not be classified as "assault weapons" because they are not fully automatic and because the guns have recreational uses, such as hunting and target shooting.
Gun-control advocates say that distinction is arbitrary and that the weapons are just as dangerous because they are designed to kill a large number of people quickly. They note that the AR-15 has a high muzzle velocity which, combined with the small .223 round, produces a violent ricochet through an animal body if it hits bone.
Bolt-action rifles with cartridges loaded in 30.06, a common deer-hunting caliber, fire a round that travels slower with more blunt force, though the muzzle velocity varies for lighter and heavier rounds.
In 1994, an assault-weapons ban signed by President Bill Clinton outlawed the AR-15. But the law had a lot of loopholes, and gun manufacturers circumvented it by modifying the weapons. The ban expired in 2004, and sales of the gun increased during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. The NRA labeled it "America's most popular rifle."
Lawmakers were not interested in picking up the effort to ban assault rifles until 2012, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation to ban assault weapons following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The effort eventually failed.
Now, gun-violence experts want to see the 1994 ban restored, and lawmakers are calling for new legislation. A new bill introduced by Feinstein and supported by 22 other Democratic senators would ban selling and manufacturing 205 "military-style assault weapons." The bill also calls for a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
– Alex Horton contributed to this report.
Senior Night turned into equal-opportunity night for the UAA women's basketball team, which got points from everyone in the lineup to sail past Saint Martin's 95-60 Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center.
Hannah Wandersee, a junior center, racked up 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocks to help the fourth-ranked Seawolves improve to 24-2 overall and 17-1 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
Seniors Rodericka Ware and Shelby Cloninger poured in 15 and 13 points, respectively, and the team's other senior, Kaitlyn Hurley, supplied four rebounds, two points and two assists.
Playing in front of a crowd of 1,088, UAA shot better than 50 percent through the first three quarters and finished with a 49.3 percentage. Wandersee was 9 of 12, Cloninger was 6 of 10 and Ware was 5 of 8, with all of her shots coming from 3-point range.
Kian McNair hit half of her eight attempts to finish with 11 points, five steals, four rebounds and four assists. Yazmeen Goo also had five swipes to go along with seven assists and six points.
UAA raced to a 29-15 lead and kept Saint Martin's (7-19 overall, 3-15 GNAC) at bay with superior rebounding and tough defense. The Seawolves crashed the boards for a 40-26 advantage that included seven rebounds from Tennae Voliva and six from Sala Langi, and they came up with 17 steals.
Saint Martin's got big games from Mercedes Victor (20 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Makenna Schultz (19 points, 4 assists) but couldn't overcome 25 turnovers or UAA's rebounding prowess.
The Seawolves play their remaining regular-season games on the road — Thursday at Northwest Nazarene and Saturday at Central Washington — but they'll be back in Anchorage for the March 1-3 GNAC tournament.
Not long after Marat Mindiyarov started working at the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on Friday, he began hearing about the coveted "Facebook Department." There, workers could earn more money and work alongside a younger, hipper crowd. But to gain entry, job candidates had to prove they could seamlessly insinuate themselves into the American political conversation.
The English-language test, which Mindiyarov said he took in December 2014, included a question about vegetarianism and another about Hillary Clinton and the prospect that the Democratic front-runner would win the U.S. presidential election.
Mindiyarov, 43 and a teacher by training, wrote that Clinton had a good chance of winning, and that it would be a remarkable feat, making her the country's first female president.
His bosses were not impressed.
"You didn't pass the test," the woman who administered the exam told him later that day, he said, although it wasn't clear if his shortcoming was imperfect English or failing to bash Clinton. Either way, Mindiyarov remained stuck with the less-glamorous job of commenting on articles posted to Russian websites and quit three months later from a job he compared to something from "1984," the dystopian novel by George Orwell.
"Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line," Mindiyarov said.
The accounts of Mindiyarov and other former Russian trolls – along with a National Security Agency assessment and details from the 37-page indictment against the Internet Research Agency, two other companies and 13 individual Russian associates – underscore the sophistication and ambition of a program that only now is coming into focus four years after its creation.
The secretive, multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign, which U.S. officials said was called the "Translator Project," sought to undermine Clinton, bolster Donald Trump and turn Americans against each other – all from the remove of thousands of miles away, in an office building in St. Petersburg.
Allegedly leading this effort was Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, often called "Putin's chef" because of his close ties to President Vladimir Putin. U.S. intelligence officials concluded in December that Putin's top aides had to approve, if not directly oversee, Prigozhin's operation, according to a classified NSA report, parts of which were shared with The Washington Post.
The NSA report also said that the Internet Research Agency, which ran online disinformation campaigns in Russia itself and in foreign nations such as Ukraine and the United States, used polls from American organizations to identify issues important to voters here.
The tentacles of the "Translator Project" reached deeply into American political life as at least 80 employees of the Internet Research Agency worked with unwitting Trump supporters to organize rallies, stoke concerns about Clinton's honesty and health and suppress the turnout of key voting blocs, including African-Americans, according to the indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller III.
The campaign unfolded in a way that largely evaded public notice at the time, as Russians used American social media platforms, American payment systems and stolen American identities, birth dates and Social Security numbers to infiltrate American debate at its most unpredictable and intense.
The Russians involved in the campaign executed it with almost perfect pitch – learning to mimic the way Americans talk online about politics so well that real Americans with whom they interacted found them in no way suspicious.
Such deception did not happen by accident. Russian trolls worked hard to sound like Americans and camouflage their political messages in other content.
"The first order of business was not to be unmasked," said Lyudmila Savchuk, 36, a former employee of the Internet Research Agency who, like Mindiyarov, was not among those named in the indictment. "Their top specialty was to slip political ideas inside a wrapping that was as human as possible."
– – –
Prosecutors alleged that the operation was launched in May 2014 – before U.S. political figures had formally declared their candidacies – giving Russians time to master how ordinary Americans think and talk and what they like and dislike. The trolls compiled reports on Internet metrics similar to those used by many American companies to figure out which Russian-created memes and posts were viewed and shared most, and by whom.
Those working on the disinformation campaign paid particular attention to what issues would outrage Americans, making them more likely to go to the polls, and which were likely to cause them to grow disillusioned and stay home. Russian trolls were even provided with a list of American holidays, prosecutors said, so they could craft appropriate content to follow the rhythms of an American year.
All of this ran through an operation that closely resembled a modern American campaign, with budgets, data analysts and design teams. Trolls received guidance on the ratio of text to graphics in posts, how to effectively use video and how to manage multiple accounts for maximum impact.
The NSA report in December said that the Internet Research Agency "clearly sought to identify topics resting on the fault lines of American politics – such as the Second Amendment, same-sex marriage, and the economy – as well as issues often characterized as sensitive or contentious – such as racism and religion – almost certainly to drive a wedge between segments of the U.S. population."
The Internet Research Agency's analytics workers separated social media content into four categories: "govnostrana," which the NSA translated as "crap country"; "personality," or negative information about individuals; "precision strike," exploiting specific events; and "spam."
Former employees said little was left to chance.
Mindiyarov, the teacher, said he was paid about $700 a month to work a 12-hour shift, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. – two days on, two days off. His job was to write comments to append to Russian-language news items, toiling in a room with 20 computers and the window blinds closed, and required to hit post quotas.
Sometimes, he said, he and his colleagues would engage in a group troll in which they would pretend to hold different views of the same subject and argue about it in public online comments. Eventually, one of the group would declare he had been convinced by the others. "Those are the kinds of plays we had to act out," he said.
– – –
Prosecutors said three Russians, including two charged in the indictment, spent more than three weeks in the United States in 2014 and visited 10 states to gather intelligence for the disinformation campaign, which appeared to evolve over time.
After a grass-roots activist in Texas advised them to concentrate their efforts on "purple states," such as Colorado, Virginia and Florida, prosecutors say the Russians began discussing among themselves the need to target such swing areas.
Russians first used ads purchased on social media and media contacts to announce rallies in New York City in June and July 2016 – a place where their efforts might get attention but was hardly an electoral battleground.
But by late August, they were concentrating on the crucial swing state of Florida. That month, the Russians allegedly used the impostor Facebook group "Being Patriotic" to get Americans to organize a wave of pro-Trump rallies in the state. The events drew light crowds but thousands of others learned of the effort online, giving the illusion of a groundswell of volunteer support for Trump all over Florida.
Several Americans who agreed to participate in events organized by the Internet Research Agency said the Russians posed convincingly as Americans – especially because they did not ask the Americans to do or say anything they were not already doing, a sign of how effectively the Russian effort learned to echo Trump's own campaign themes.
"I was supporting Donald Trump anyway. I didn't need persuading," said Max Christiansen, 28, a lawyer in Jupiter, Florida, who volunteered to host a get-together after seeing a request for volunteers posted online by "Being Patriotic."
When Sherrie Hyer, 63, a retired sales representative from the Villages community in Sumter County, Florida, got a message through Facebook from a stranger in August 2016 asking her if she would organize a pro-Trump rally later that month on a particular street corner in Oxford, Florida, she was neither surprised nor concerned.
Hyer had been politically active both online and in real life for years.
She had been involved with tea party groups and had previously organized a pro-Trump march through her retirement community that included a caravan of dozens of golf carts.
On the day of the rally, she called a number she had been provided as a contact for the organizing group. The group had not put forward any people to join her group, and she was wondering if the man would be coming to his own rally. In unaccented English, he apologized and said he could not attend, she recalled.
In the end, Hyer convinced 35 or 40 of her own friends to come out and wave signs. The Russian-affiliated group had not needed to provide any people or suggest any messages. All of that came from Hyer and her friends – even the orange prison jumpsuit with the word "Clinton" scrawled on the back and the blond Hillary Clinton wig that Hyer said she wore to the rally.
Though prosecutors allege that the Russians bought similar costumes and paid unwitting Americans to wear them at other such events, Hyer said she bought her own Clinton prison uniform from Goodwill, had worn it to previous Trump events and dressed in it for this event without any outside suggestion.
"There was no Russians at my rally. I knew everyone there," she said. "I would have done it for Trump anyway. There was still a lot of excitement and Russians had no part of that. This wasn't a trick for me."
The UAA men's basketball team claimed sole possession of sixth place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference on Saturday by holding on for a 66-64 road victory over Simon Fraser.
The win was a big one because the top six teams advance to the GNAC tournament March 1-3 in Anchorage. With two regular-season games remaining, UAA is 9-9 in conference play, one game ahead of UAF and Northwest Nazarene, which are both 8-10.
UAA and UAF entered the weekend tied for sixth place, but the Seawolves earned a split of their two roads games while the Nanooks lost both of theirs.
The Seawolves (13-13 overall) jumped to a huge lead early in Burnaby, British Columbia. They built leads of 13-0 and 17-5 only to see Simon Fraser (10-16 overall, 4-14 GNAC) claw its way back into the game.
UAA led 37-32 at the half and never managed to open up a comfortable gap in the second half.
The Clan, who did UAA a favor earlier in the week by beating the Nanooks, looked like they might again play the spoiler. They tied the game 63-63 on Othniel Spence's open 3-pointer with 45.5 seconds left.
UAA regained the lead on Malik Clements' turnaround jumper with 32 seconds left. The Seawolves got the ball back when D.J. Ursery grabbed the rebound on a Simon Fraser miss and drew a foul to earn a trip to the foul line with 13.1 seconds left.
Ursery hit the first free throw but missed the second, leaving UAA with a 66-63 lead. With time running out, Simon Fraser's Michael Provenzano launched a 3-pointer that hit the front of the rim.
But the Clan came up with the long rebound and got one final chance when Tyrell Lewin was fouled with three-tenths of a second left. He made his first free throw and intentionally missed his second one, and although Simon Fraser got the rebound, Provenzano's desperate 3-point attempt was hurried and off-target.
Four players reached double figures for UAA. Brian Pearson led the way with 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, followed by Clements with 14 points, Drew Peterson with 13 points and Ursery with 10 points to go along with eight rebounds. Josiah Wood chipped in nine points and five assists.
Spence's 19 points and five assists and Keder Salam's 18 points and five rebounds powered Simon Fraser.
UAA plays its final regular-season games on the road. The week begins with a huge game against UAF Tuesday in Fairbanks, where a win by the Nanooks would put the Alaska teams back in a tie. On Saturday, UAA travels to Montana for a game against Montana State-Billings.
The 100-mile Susitna 100 fat-tire bike race was decided by .01 of a second Saturday.
Josh Chelf defeated Tim Berntson by the narrowest margins to win the annual trail race in the Susitna Valley. The race started and ended at the Happy Trails Kennel in Big Lake.
Chelf won in 9 hours, 7 minutes, 01 second. Berntson was an eyelash behind in 9:07:02. Pacing the women was Laura Fox, whose time of 10:35:01 put her in fourth place overall.
In the Little Su 50K, Will Ross and Tazlina Mannix picked up narrow victories in the bike division.
In the men's competition, Ross finished the 31 miles in 2:15:49 to edge David Arteaga (2:16:07) and Jason Lamoreaux (2:16:15). In the women's competition, Mannix and Kinsey Loan finished eighth and ninth overall, with Mannix finishing in 2:23:21 for a nine-second win over Loan.
The 50K ski titles went to Ashley Van Hemert (4:31:33) and Keith Blanchette (6:38:15). In the 50K run, John Hellen set the pace in 4:42:46, with Kat Roch topping the women by placing third overall in 5:33:43.
The 100-mile run and ski were still in progress Saturday evening.
Racing under a sunny sky, Tanner Sticka and Piper Sage claimed age-group victories in both giant slalom races Saturday at the Alyeska Cup in Girdwood.
Sticka and Sage swept the Under-16 age-group races, while the U-19 victories went to four different skiers.
Sage, the overall winner of the second race, earned the girls' giant slalom state championship. Hunter Eid, who won one of the U-19 races and was second in the other, claimed the boys' state championship.
Overall victories in the first race went to UAA racers Li Djurestal and Erik Cruz. Kevin Leach joined Sage as an overall winner in the second race.
The Alyeska Cup race series, sponsored by Anchorage Fracture and Orthopedic Clinic, continues Sunday with U12 and U14 giant slalom races.
Giant slalom No. 1
U16 — 1) Sage, Piper, Alyeska Ski Club (ASC), 1:50.17; 2) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:51.39; 3) Von Wichman, Randi, ASC, 1:51.43; 4) Liles, Ava, ASC, 1:53.54; 5) Griggs, Johanna, Juneau Ski Club (JSC), 1:53.87.
U19 — 1) Kane, Kennedy, ASC, 1:54.36; 2) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:57.80; 3) Maroney, Miki, ASC, 1:59.44; 4) Maroney, Madi, ASC, 1:59.61; 5) Ingrim, April, 2:00.79.
Overall — 1) Djurestaal, Li, UAA, 1:44.95; 2) Field, Charley, UAA, 1:46.29; 3) Burgess, Georgia, UAA, 1:46.54; 4) Sage, Piper, ASC, 1:50.17; 5) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:51.
U16 — 1) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:48.62; 2) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:50.30; 3) Hildreth, Sage, ASC, 1:50.35; 4) Rand, Evan, ASC, 1:53.87; 5) Quigley, Nolan, ASC, 1:54.17.
U19 — 1) Eid, Hunter, ASC; 1:45.53; 2) Seaver, Eli, ASC, 1:48.82; 3) Ostberg, Adam, ASC, 1:56.77; 4) Mandich, Joshua, ASC, 2:06.17.
Overall — 1) Cruz, Erik, UAA, 1:43.77; 2) McDonald, Conor, UAA, 1:44.43; 3) Soetaert, Michael, UAA,1:45.35; 4) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:45.53; 5) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:48.62.
Giant slalom No. 2
U16 — 1) Sage, Piper , ASC, 1:51.09; 2) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:54.41; 3) Griggs, Johanna, JSC, 1:56.76; 4) Kragt, Hannah, ASC, 1:59.40; 5) Abts, Sarah, ASC, 2:01.51.
U19 — 1) Buck, Sydney, ASC, 1:59.02; 2) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:59.74; 3) Ingrim, April, 2:00.43; 4) Maroney, Miki, ASC, 2:02.05; 5) Maroney, Madi, ASC, 2:02.12.
Overall — 1) Sage, Piper, ASC, 1:51.09; 2) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:54.41; 3) Griggs, Johanna, JSC, 1:56.76; 4) Buck, Sydney, ASC, 1:59.02; 5) Kragt, Hannah, ASC, 1:59.40.
U16 — 1) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:50.48; 2) Hildreth, Sage, ASC, 1:53.25; 3) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:53.50; 4) Rygh, Noah, ASC, 1:54.04; 5) Rand, Evan, ASC, 1:55.02.
U19 –1) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:47.52; 2) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:48.01; 3) Lane, Conner, ASC, 1:50.65; 4) Eriksson, Austen, ASC, 1:50.88; 5) Seaver, Eli, ASC, 1:52.19.
Overall — 1) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:47.52; 2) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:48.01; 3) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:50.48; 4) Lane, Conner, ASC, 1:50.65; 5) Eriksson, Austen, ASC, 1:50.88.
Teams from across Alaska in grades 7-12 designed and built robots to compete head to head in the Alaska State Championship FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition at the UAA Sports Center on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. The robots compete on a 12-foot by 12-foot field accomplishing various tasks. Teams can move on to regional and world championships.
The modern Olympics began with the 1896 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. The winter version emerged a couple decades later in Chamonix, France, making this year's Pyeongchang Games the 23rd version.
Some of the sports in this nearly 100-year history have been fleeting. Others have been absurd. Some have been both – like ski ballet, an exhibition sport in 1988 and 1992.
But only six sports have been on every Winter Games program.
American Jackson Haines is considered the father of modern figure skating. A ballet dancer in the mid-1800s, he adapted his techniques to the ice, and figure skating was born. The sport actually debuted at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, and appeared again at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics before migrating to the winter program in 1924.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Canadians invented hockey (in the 19th century). The sport made its Olympic debut in the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, before moving to the Winter Games in 1924. The Canadians dominated men's hockey until the Soviets came onto the scene in 1956. Women's hockey was added to the Olympic program at the 1998 Nagano Games.
The Dutch began speedskating in the 13th century, as a way for villages to communicate with one another. By 1894, there were speedskating world championships. And, in 1924, the sport joined the Winter Olympics. The Netherlands has absolutely dominated the sport since, a trend that's continued in Pyeongchang.
Cross-country skiing dates back thousands of years as a mode of transportation. Racing started to become more organized in the 1800s, and the sport came to the Olympics in 1924. Norway is traditionally the sport's strongest country, with more Olympic medals, and more golds, than any other nation. Bill Koch is America's only cross-country medalist, winning silver at the Innsbruck Games in 1976.
In 1860, Norwegian Sondre Norheim ski jumped, without poles, over a rock. With that, modern ski jumping was born, and his 30 meter flight stood as a record for three decades. The sport joined the Olympics in 1924, with only one event. It's since expanded, and there are four ski jumping events in Pyeongchang.
This sport is a combination of cross-country skiing and ski jumping (done separately, not on top of one another). The event joined the Games in 1924 and, for the first twelve years, Norway collected every possible medal. It wasn't until after World War II that the podium started to diversify, if only slightly.
Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I'm a very organized, schedule-driven person. When I know what to expect and know what I'm walking into, I'm happy and relaxed. For a long time, this was easy; I was single, and so, I suppose, the master of my own universe. I've been seeing "Mike" for a few months now and I will admit one of the first things that drew me to him was his free-spirited, easy-going nature.
Here's the issue: Mike is constantly making plans on our behalf, including last-minute plans, or changing the plans at the last minute, or committing us to things without telling me, and it makes me crazy. Here's an example. His sister was coming through town from the Valley, and he forgot to tell me until that afternoon, when he said we were having dinner with her and her husband. Well I had planned to hit the gym right after work, so I had to bag that to get to dinner on time. And then on the way, Mike mentioned he'd texted a handful of mutual friends who all wanted to meet us afterward for drinks and maybe a show at another bar that didn't even start until 10 p.m.
I waited until the next day to try and explain to Mike why this upset me. He really doesn't get it. All he heard was he screwed up, and he got really defensive. His point was, we knew we would be hanging out, and that had always been the plan, so what did it matter that the plan shifted to include dinner, and other people? That really wasn't my point. My point was I like to be prepared and I like to know the plan and it makes me anxious when life is happening to me and I have little input or time to get ready for things.
Can I make him understand this is an issue? Right now he just sees me as an uptight control freak. I don't want this to be the thing that takes down this relationship. I am really falling for this guy. Help?
As one Type A to another, I feel your pain. A lot of folks think us A-listers get stressed when we don't know the plan simply because we can't stand to not be in control, and while there may be occasional truth there, it's more than that. We like to be efficient. We like to make the absolute best use of the minute, the hour. We completely hate to waste time. When a person we love lays out a well-thought-out plan, our hearts swell with gratitude and joy.
Right now, your heart is feeling bruised, confused, and even discounted. Try to explain to your dude that there's so much more here than simply making sure you have the right outfit for the occasion. A recent Huffington News post offered advice to those daring to date an A; I'd suggest giving that a read to ground you in the things you want Mike to understand about your differences. Perhaps the most essential one comes at the article's conclusion, when the author reminds us that not only do Type As not expect everyone to be like them, they're in fact glad for the differences. This sentiment rings true in your letter, too. You are grateful for the balance and energy your boyfriend brings to the table. You just wish he was more sensitive about those differences.
Speaking of which: you've spent a lot of time stewing about how Mr. Boyfriend isn't thinking about your needs. But what about his? The same Huffington Post writer penned a second article offering advice to those lovelorn Type As romancing Type Bs — for instance, what you perceive as chaos may be his own approach to organization. I would suggest giving this piece a read as well, as you remember that relationships are based on compromise and meeting in the middle, and the solution to your communications struggles will likely lie some where between A and B.
After A and B comes C – which in this case can stand for communication and compromise.
Sounds like you've got a good handle on communication. You rode the night out, tried your best to let everyone have their fun and maybe even enjoyed yourself a little, and then made sure to talk with him about your feelings the next day. Well done. He, obviously, can work on his communication about the little things and what's going on in his world better with you, though. This is not a big lift and he's definitely not a lost cause.
Because there's compromise. You guys are such polar opposites in regards to planning and personality that you'll both have to make some individual changes to get this relationship to work without constant stress and frustration.
Yes, he'll have to be much better about appreciating the way you tick and be better about keeping you in the loop on all the places his brain is racing around to. And he'll have to work at not springing surprise plans and curveballs on you on a regular basis. He's clearly is a people pleaser, and since you clearly rank among his favorite people he'll take this to heart and try harder to communicate and compromise.
But you have to try harder, too. Do you really want to take the spontaneity out of your relationship and life? Or surgically remove the fun factor from Mike? Of course not. So sometimes you're just going to have to take a deep breath, shrug your shoulders, let Mike be Mike, appreciate that Mike is Mike and that's kinda enjoyable, and roll with it. A deviation from your regularly scheduled life or one missed night at the gym shouldn't derail you, disappoint you or send your blood pressure through the roof. Even Type As can grow from, and maybe even enjoy, a little randomness every once in a while.
I'm a newish stay-at-home mom finding it hard to connect with my spouse, my friends and my "old" life. I have no family support system and none of my friends have offered or shown any interest in helping with my little one. My whole life has turned upside down (not unexpected) but I guess it's my other relationships that have me surprised.
I'm no longer invited to anything friend-wise and the few things I have been invited to were mere hours beforehand with no time to secure a sitter. My husband complains that he hates his job, he doesn't help much with our child — she's very attached to me, which is a sore point — and is irritated that I'm "always tired and angry." I am always tired and usually frustrated that I have no time for myself. He tells me to ask for help and then when I ask, the response is, "OK but [little one] is going to cry the whole time." I don't resent my child, but it's hard to stay positive and upbeat when I feel like only my life has changed.
My husband's answer is for me to hire a nanny or get involved with a mom's group but that doesn't solve anything with my current circle.
Actually, it probably would.
Your "current circle" problem is a specific one likely rooted in your more general problem of being out of balance at home. That's also true of the other specific problems you name: no time for yourself, lonely, always tired and angry, marriage faltering, father not bonding with child — even the husbandly chore-dodging and work-griping.
Your husband's suggestion to hire help is a deceptively significant start to solving it all. Just a few weekly shifts for a part-time caregiver can give you some time to yourself, which can give you some rest, which can give you some energy, which can remind you who you still are with all the roles and requirements stripped away. Hiring help can also get this core self out the door on a date with her husband or dinner with friends or just on a long walk where your soul goes aaaaaaaaaaaa.
A better rested, less angry, more you version of you can say calmly to your husband, when he complains the baby "is going to cry the whole time": "You're right, she will. That means we need to swap roles more, though, not less. We let things get out of whack. It'll take some time and work for both of us to fix this, but soon she'll figure out how brilliant her dad is." Commit to building his confidence with the baby and yours without.
The best way not to slide back into your current imbalance is to make these standing appointments, and keep them. Pick a weekend morning where he's solo parent; a date night; an out-with-friends (or solo) weeknight.
Happier people make more cooperative partners make better parents.
And, employees. Few people think clearly when they're stressed, so easing home tension can ease his work tension.
And just by getting out with your friends more regularly, you can develop a better understanding of their place in life — and develop expectations of them accordingly. If I gather correctly that you're the first with a baby, then I hope you'll see: A baby is so far from their reality that it's no wonder they haven't "offered or shown any interest in helping"! People new to babies (and a few veterans even) tend to see one as a fine reason to run the other way. It's not personal, it's just … alien.
And it's OK to talk about that. Sympathetically, for best results: "I realize you're not in a baby-friendly place." And, if true: "I doubt I'd be myself if I didn't have one." Think of your friends individually, versus as a group, and identify the most flexible. That friend might be open to coming over, holding the baby, enjoying your company while rolling with small-kid disruptions.
A mom group is a fine idea, too, in place of this or (ideally) in addition to. Nothing beats shared experience, laughs and child care.
Please note that all elements of the solution I'm proposing involve more time with others. Somewhere in our societal evolution, a "stay-at-home" parent stopped being communal and became an island of two, parent and child — and that's so counter to what keeps most of us healthy. Parents — whether working for pay or not — are most effective when serving as the leader of a team of people who care for and about their children, and that includes people who care for and about the parents themselves.
So even if you reject this or that suggestion I've made, or if hiring a caregiver is not workable financially, then make sure whatever steps you do take hinge on easing your isolation. "Island" living is wearing all of you down, and it's not how things need to be.
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor at The Washington Post and none as a therapist. The column appears in over 200 newspapers. Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.