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Despite the Olympic glow, half of Korea remains in darkness

Sat, 2018-02-17 18:18

WASHINGTON — Watching the media fawning over the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Olympics, I recalled a picture that my old boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, kept under the glass of a table in his office — a satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night. At the bottom, awash in light, is the free and democratic South. Meanwhile, the North is in complete darkness, save for a tiny pinprick of light in Pyongyang. The two countries, Rumsfeld would often point out, have the same people and the same natural resources. Yet one is glowing with the light of freedom, innovation and enterprise, while the other is enveloped in the total darkness of human misery.

Keep that darkness in mind while watching the North's Olympic charm offensive over these two weeks. Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un, is not the "North Korean Ivanka." She is the vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, a senior leader of the most brutal repressive totalitarian regime on the face of the Earth. As one defector told The Washington Post last year, "It's like a religion. From birth, you learn about the Kim family, learn that they are gods, that you must be absolutely obedient to the Kim family."

Any perceived disloyalty to the Kim family can result in a visit in the middle of the night from the Bowibu — the North Korean secret police — that could send not just the offender, but three generations of his or her relatives, to a forced labor camp for life. North Korea's system of "re-education" camps, which was recently mapped by satellite by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, is the most extensive in the world. Under three generations of Kims, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have been imprisoned and killed in these camps. Inmates undergo the most brutal forms of torture imaginable, including being hung on hooks over open fires, while pregnant women are tied to trees while their babies are cut out of their bellies.

Yet the camps are simply prisons within a larger prison. The entire country is one giant gulag. Thanks to widespread malnutrition, North Koreans are between 1.2 and 3.1 inches shorter than South Koreans. And thanks to economic mismanagement, 97 percent of the roads are unpaved. According to my American Enterprise Institute colleague, Nicholas Eberstadt, up to a million North Koreans died of starvation in the famine that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. "It was the only time in history that people have starved en masse in an urbanized, literate society during peacetime," he notes. North Korea's people starve while the regime pours its resources into its messianic quest to deploy nuclear missiles capable of reaching and destroying American cities.

Even among the elites there is no safety. Last year, North Korea's vice premier for education was executed for not keeping his posture upright at a public event. Defense Minister Hyong Yong Chol was pounded to death with artillery fire for the crime of falling asleep at a parade. And if you wonder why those North Korean cheerleaders stay in such perfect sync, maybe it's because they saw 11 North Korean musicians lashed to the barrels of anti-aircraft guns which were fired one by one before a crowd of 10,000 spectators. "The musicians just disappeared each time the guns were fired into them," one witness declared, "Their bodies were blown to bits, totally destroyed, blood and bits flying everywhere. And then, after that, military tanks moved in and they ran over the bits on the ground where the remains lay."

This is the brutality that Kim Yo Jong represents. Yet despite this cruel reality, the media could not help fawning over the North Korean delegation. Reuters declared Kim Yo Jong the "winner of diplomatic gold at Olympics." CNN gushed how, "With a smile, a handshake and a warm message in South Korea's presidential guest book, Kim Yo Jong has struck a chord with the public." NBC even tweeted a photo of the North Korean cheerleaders with the heading "This is so satisfying to watch." Seriously? NBC failed to mention that in 2005, 21 cheerleaders were sent to a prison camp for speaking about what they saw in South Korea.

Instead of normalizing the regime, this should be an opportunity to educate the massive Olympic audience about the realities of life in North Korea under the murderous Kim crime family that is pursuing the ability to threaten American cities with nuclear destruction.

Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy and contributes to the PostPartisan blog. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Trump had affair with Playboy model: New Yorker report

Sat, 2018-02-17 18:04

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump had an affair with a Playboy model at the same time he was in a relationship with a porn star and the National Enquirer tabloid paid the model $150,000 to prevent her story being made public, the New Yorker reported on Friday.

The magazine’s account of the relationship was based on notes handwritten by the model, Karen McDougal, who was Playboy’s 1998 Playmate of the Year. The New Yorker reported that McDougal confirmed that she had written the notes.

The account had similarities with descriptions that adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, and other women have given of sexual encounters with Trump, including private dinners and offers to buy them real estate.

The magazine reported that American Media Inc, publisher of the National Enquirer, paid McDougal $150,000 in 2016, soon after Trump became the Republican presidential nominee, for exclusive rights to her story, which it never published.

The article noted that American Media head David Pecker has described Trump as a “personal friend.”

It reported that McDougal declined to discuss details of her relationship with Trump for fear of violating her agreement with American Media.

American Media told Reuters in a statement that the suggestion it “engages in any practice that would allow it to hold influence over the President of the United States, while flattering, is laughable.”

The New Yorker reported that American Media said it did not publish McDougal’s story because it did not find it credible.

The payment to McDougal by American Media was originally reported by the Wall Street Journal on November 4, 2016.

Trump allegedly began his affairs with McDougal and Clifford roughly three months after his wife Melania Trump gave birth to his youngest son Barron.

The White House did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The New Yorker reported that a White House spokesperson said in a statement that Trump denies having had an affair with McDougal and called it, “more fake news.”

Trump has denied having an affair with Clifford.

Earlier this week, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he paid Clifford $130,000 from his personal funds during the 2016 presidential election campaign but said he was working alone and it was not a campaign expense.

Other women have accused Trump of making unwanted sexual advances toward them over the years. Trump has denied the accusations.

Reuters has not independently confirmed any of the accusations.

Inquiry found Florida suspect was no danger

Sat, 2018-02-17 17:54

PARKLAND, Fla. — A Florida social services agency conducted an in-home investigation of Nikolas Cruz after he exhibited troubling behavior nearly a year and a half before he shot and killed 17 people at his former high school in Florida, a state report shows.

The agency, the Florida Department of Children and Families, had been alerted to posts on Snapchat of Cruz cutting his arms and expressing interest in buying a gun, according to the report. But after visiting and questioning Cruz at his home, the department determined he was at low risk of harming himself or others.

The report is the latest indication that Cruz was repeatedly identified by local and federal agencies as a troubled young man with violent tendencies. The FBI conceded Friday that it had failed to investigate a tip called into a hotline last month by a person close to Cruz identifying him as a gun owner intent on killing people, possibly at a school. The local police were called to Cruz's house many times for disturbances over several years.

Cruz also worried officials at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, who on at least one occasion alerted a mobile crisis unit to get him emergency counseling, according to the state report.

Broward County Public Schools disciplinary records obtained Saturday by The New York Times show Cruz had a long history of fights with teachers, and was frequently accused of using profane language with school staff. He was referred for a "threat assessment" in January 2017, the last entry in his record, two months after the Department of Children and Families closed its separate investigation into Cruz's worrisome behavior.

Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender, whose office is representing Cruz, said the report was further evidence that Cruz needed serious help long before the shooting, but did not get enough of it.

"This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter," Finkelstein said. "If this isn't a person who should have gotten someone's attention, I don't know who is. This was a multisystem failure."

The state agency investigated whether Cruz intended to harm himself in September 2016, when he made the alarming social media posts after an argument with his mother. Cruz, who had depression, was upset over a breakup with a girlfriend, his mother, Lynda Cruz, told investigators. The report does not say who called in the complaint, which was given "immediate" priority.

The report shows that investigators closed the case about two months later. The agency determined that the "final level of risk is low" — an analysis that one of Cruz's counselors at his school felt was premature — because his mother was caring for him, he was enrolled in school and he was receiving counseling. By the time of the shooting, however, Cruz had lost at least two of those elements: His mother was dead, and he had left Stoneman Douglas High School. It is unclear if he was still seeing a counselor.

On Wednesday, Cruz, 19, showed up at Stoneman Douglas and unleashed more than 100 rounds from a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle he purchased last February, five months after the state investigation closed. As of Saturday morning, two Broward hospitals were still treating one patient in critical condition and four in fair condition, according to Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman.

The office of Finkelstein, the public defender, suggested that it had offered prosecutors a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"Everybody knows he is guilty. What we are saying is, let's put him away for life," Finkelstein said. "We are not saying the death penalty is not justified; we are saying, let's not put this community through the trauma and pain of a trial knowing that, three years down the road, one juror could keep him from being put to death."

In Florida, the death penalty requires a decision by a unanimous jury.

Michael J. Satz, the state attorney, said prosecutors would announce their position on the death penalty "at the appropriate time."

"This certainly is the type of case the death penalty was designed for," Satz said in a statement. "This was a highly calculated and premeditated murder of 17 people and the attempted murder of everyone in that school."

Cruz's school disciplinary records show he attended at least six schools, including Cross Creek School, a school for students with emotional problems; Dave Thomas Education Center, an alternative high school for at-risk youths; and an adult education center. He was first identified as developmentally delayed in 2002, when he was 4 years old.

In incidents that began in 2012, when Cruz was 13, he was disciplined for being disobedient and unruly. In 2013, the records suggest, he was counseled for making a false 911 call.

He was suspended several times in the 2016-17 school year, his last year at Stoneman Douglas, and was frequently reported for prolonged and unexplained absences. In September 2016, he was suspended for two days for fighting, only to return and get suspended again nine days after the fight, this time for hurling profane insults.

That same month, the Department of Children and Families began its investigation into Cruz. The investigation, first reported by The Sun-Sentinel of South Florida on Friday, was obtained by The Times on Saturday. The state agency had petitioned a court Friday to make the confidential records public, but the court has yet to do so.

"Based on the information at this time, this individual had no involvement with Florida's child welfare system, including foster care," Jessica Sims, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, said in a statement. Cruz was investigated as an adult, and the investigation appeared aimed at determining whether he was being neglected.

Agency investigators identified Cruz, who had turned 18 a few days earlier, as a "vulnerable adult due to mental illness." In addition to depression, Cruz had autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the report said. He was regularly taking medication for the ADHD. It was unclear whether he was taking anything for the depression, according to the report.

After the argument with his mother, an investigator visited the family's home in Parkland, which was clean, clutter-free and did not present any foul odors. The investigator did not see the cuts on Cruz's arms: He was wearing long sleeves.

"Mr. Cruz stated that he plans to go out and buy a gun," the report states. "It is unknown what he is buying the gun for."

His mother denied that she and her son had argued. She told the investigator that Cruz did not have a gun, though he did have an air gun she would take away from him when he did not follow rules about shooting only at backyard targets.

His mother, who died in November, told investigators she attributed Cruz's behavior to "a breakup with a girl." Lynda Cruz "stated that she and the girl's mother told the kids they had to end the relationship because it was unhealthy for everyone," the report said. Neither the girl nor her mother are named in the report.

A year before, it was discovered that Cruz had a Nazi symbol and a racial slur on his book bag. His mother said that when she confronted her son about it, Cruz purported to not know what the sign meant, and she said the family had never expressed negative sentiments toward people of other races. She made him clean it off his bag.

The report noted that a mental health center had been contacted in the past to detain Cruz under Florida's Baker Act, which allows the state to hospitalize people for several days if they are a threat to themselves or others. The center determined that he was not such a threat. Had Cruz been involuntarily committed, state law could have prohibited him from buying a firearm.

The mental health counselor, from Henderson Behavioral Health, had also visited Cruz at home and had him sign a safety contract.

Despite the assessment, a school counselor remained concerned.

"She said Henderson found him stable enough not to be hospitalized," the Department of Children and Families investigator wrote of the school counselor. "She stated that the concern she and the other staff had was to ensure that the assessment of Henderson was not premature."

Henderson Behavioral Health would not comment Saturday. Neither the mental health counselor nor the school counselor could be reached.

According to the report, investigators also tried to speak to a school police officer, who declined to cooperate.

The Department of Children and Families would have had no way to know if Cruz's behavior became more erratic after losing his mother because the agency is not automatically notified of a caretaker's death, said George Sheldon, a former department secretary.

"It's hard to second-guess because we don't know everything that the department knew at the time, but clearly this young man was showing serious signs of a mental health disorder, something that does not pop up overnight," said Sheldon, who left the department in 2011 and now oversees a nonprofit foster-care agency in Miami. "He was troubled and about to explode. And the results were devastating."


Alaska’s hot-shooting Ruthy Hebard makes mark on NCAA record book

Sat, 2018-02-17 17:23

The latest 30 for 30 isn't a sports documentary. It's the shooting streak that put Ruthy Hebard in the NCAA record book Friday night.

Hebard, the can't-miss kid from Fairbanks, set a new standard for perfection by extending her three-game shooting streak to 30 consecutive field goals without a miss for the No. 9 Oregon Ducks.

Hebard, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, connected on all 12 of her shots from the field Friday in ninth-ranked Oregon's 80-74 double-overtime win over USC in Eugene, Oregon.

That performance came five days after she went 12 for 12 to boost Oregon past Washington State 90-79. Two days before that, she went 13 for 15 and hit her final six attempts in a 76-63 win over Washington.

In those three games, the West Valley graduate totaled 86 points on 37 of 39 shooting.

By sinking 30 shots in a row, Hebard broke the previous NCAA record of 28 straight set in 1998 by Southern Utah's Myndee Kay Larsen. The men's record is also 30 straight, set in 2016 by Yale's Brandon Sherrod.

Hebard has made so many baskets in a row that she lost track of her streak Friday against the Trojans. "I actually thought I missed two, but hey, I'll take it," Hebard said in a pac12.com interview.

Hebard does her damage in the paint, whether she's being double-teamed or wide open. She's been perfect in five games this season – she was 10 for 10 against Texas A&M;, 7 for 7 against Eastern Washington, 9 for 9 against Arizona State and 12 for 12 against both Washington State and USC. The 12-for-12 efforts established a single-game record for the Ducks.

A three-time Alaska Player of the Year for the Wolfpack, Hebard averages 18.1 points and 8.6 rebounds and has 40 blocks and 36 steals in 27 games for the Ducks. She has hit 201 of 300 shots from the field for a 67.0 shooting percentage, and she reached the 1,000-point threshhold for career points in the win over Washington State.

The NCAA record for single-season shooting percentage is 72.4, set by Larsen in 1998. The career record is 70.3 percent, set by UConn''s Tamika Williams (1999-2002.

As a freshman, Hebard shot 58.8 percent to rank 15th nationally in shooting accuracy.

She'll try to extend her streak Monday when the Ducks, who are 24-4, travel to Los Angeles for a Pac 12 showdown with seventh-ranked UCLA. That game is scheduled to be aired locally on ESPN2, cable channel 35, at 6 p.m.

ISER: recession hitting downstream industries

Sat, 2018-02-17 16:46

A pair of new reports from the University of Alaska Anchorage indicate job losses are slowing but Alaska's recession might not be over and current state spending levels might not be out of line when other factors are considered.

Alaska's recession didn't officially start until sometime in the latter half of 2015, but economic contraction in the state seemed almost inevitable when oil prices began falling about a year earlier in August 2014.

The lag was simply the time it took for oil companies and the State of Alaska to change spending habits and start budgeting for the new circumstances.

Alaska's workforce peaked at about 353,100 workers in June 2015 and in the two subsequent years lost 9,250 jobs, or 2.6 percent of total employment, according to the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research, or ISER.

More specifically, statewide employment declined by more than 6,800 jobs between June 2015 and June 2016 and again fell by more than 2,400 jobs in the following year to June 2017.

The June-to-June tracking helps reflect the impact of state budgets on the economy, as the state fiscal year and its corresponding budget appropriations start July 1.

The state Labor Department estimates Alaska lost about 3,600 jobs overall in 2017.

Unsurprisingly, the initial job losses were predominantly in the closely tied oil and gas, construction and professional and business service sectors. Alaska's construction and professional service industries rely heavily on spending by North Slope oil companies to generate their work.

According to ISER, the natural resource and mining sector — oil and gas — lost 3,260 jobs from June 2015 to June 2016. The following year the industry lost 1,280 jobs.

Overall oil and gas employment was down 26 percent from 2014 to 2017.
Similarly, Alaska contractors shed about 1,650 jobs in the 12 months following June 2015 and another nearly 1,200 jobs the following year.

Professional and business service companies — largely engineering, architecture, law and other consulting firms — shrunk by 1,660 jobs in 2015-16 and 600 in 2016-17, ISER estimates.

The construction and professional service have been hit doubly hard during the recession as state capital spending mirrored the oil price decline. Alaska's oil revenue-driven capital spending boom peaked in fiscal year 2013 at nearly $2.1 billion in unrestricted General Fund revenue.

The litany of projects that money supported also led to ample work for small construction and design firms. By 2016 state-funded capital projects had dried up with an unrestricted General Fund capital budget of just $127 million that year. And though it takes several years for capital appropriations to flow to the projects and through the economy, construction industry analysts say the state spending downturn is now being felt.

The job losses have been sharp, but are moderating, as ISER notes in the pragmatically titled study published Feb. 5, "What Do We Know to Date About the Alaska Recession and the Fiscal Crunch?"

However, study author, ISER Economist and Assistant UAA Professor Mouhcine Guettabi wrote that the relative health of other industries provides evidence the recession is maturing rather than outright ending.

"(The) accommodation and food services, leisure and hospitality and information (sectors) were still positive in 2016 but lost jobs in 2017, while retail trade lost twice as many jobs in 2017 as it did in 2016," Guettabi wrote. "The fact that these few last sectors have lost jobs in 2017 means that as expected, the recession has spread to the sectors most sensitive to a household's finances which have been affected due to the initial round of losses and the uncertainty of what is to come."

The only sectors to add jobs both years were health care and local government. Health care jobs grew by 2,350 over the two-year period tracked by ISER.

Local government employment could represent "considerable future downside" if state community assistance and pass-through funding programs are targeted in additional state budget cuts, according to Guettabi.

The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. is projecting the consumer spending contraction will result in 2018 job losses in the leisure and hospitality and retail sectors worse than they were in 2017 for Anchorage. At the same time, AEDC is forecasting oil and gas employment in the city to be flat this year, with construction and professional and business services losing about 200 jobs each — far fewer than recent years.

AEDC expects the recession at least in Anchorage, which is a bellwether for the state, will peter out late this year or early in 2019 provided a solution to the state's budget deficits is reached this year.

[Anchorage job losses expected to continue this year, but get smaller]

AEDC and numerous other Alaska economists have attributed the recession in large part to the state's ongoing multibillion-dollar budget deficits. Budget cuts have led to a loss of about 1,700 state government jobs in the period measured by ISER, in addition to the private industry impacts of the capital budget reductions.

Lawmakers' inability to reach agreement on how to close the last roughly $2.5 billion of the deficit has curtailed private investment as well because business leaders don't want to take risks until they know what state taxes and other aspects of Alaska's financial lands will look like for years to come, AEDC CEO Bill Popp and others insist.

To that end, Guettabi concludes that based on other studies and previous recessions the uncertainty surrounding the state government's long-term budget situation is costing Alaska somewhere between $200 million and $600 million per year in private investment.

"The decline in spending due to policy uncertainty would indicate that waiting is not a costless option. In fact, the losses due to uncertainty are important and similar in magnitude to the ones the economy would experience due to a tax or further government cuts," Guettabi wrote.

Government spending comparison

Critics of Alaska's government spending routinely argue the state's budget is way higher on a per-capita basis than the rest of the country. Budget defenders rebut that the critics are ignoring Alaska's uniquely high cost of living, to which government is not immune, and providing services to more than 200 communities not accessible by road justifies most of the state's expenses.

Which is it?

ISER's brief report titled, "How Does Alaska's Spending Compare?" published Feb. 9, concludes the answer is somewhere in between.

According to ISER, the state and local governments spent $19,946 per person in 2015. The national average at the time was $8,811. Without the unusual expenses of Permanent Fund dividends and oil tax credits — each unique to Alaska — the spending dropped to $16,363 per Alaskan.

However, when adjusted for cost of living differences, Alaska was down to $12,733 per person. That $12,733 is still well above the national average but seems to fall in line with other oil producing states with small, rural populations; Wyoming spent $14,564 and North Dakota was at $10,845 per resident on an adjusted basis.

The report notes that the state and local spending figures include federal grant money, which Alaska gets at twice the rate of the rest of the country, and is very difficult to parse out.

In 2016, Alaska received federal grants totaling $4,374 per person, compared to the national average of $2,067 per person.

Federal money accounted for $3.4 billion of the state's total $10.3 billion 2018 fiscal year budget.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

Handyman knew how to craft friendships

Sat, 2018-02-17 16:38

Originally published Aug. 12, 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He just paused and said, ‘Okay.’ He seemed very accepting of it. More so than I had seen with anybody.”

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

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

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

Denali National Park welcomes its first, and last, luxury hotel

Sat, 2018-02-17 16:11

One of the most luxurious lodges in Alaska, and one of the most remote anywhere, has just opened on a rocky glacier outcropping, or nunatak, smack in the middle of Denali National Park. From its wraparound windows, the resort's guests-a maximum of 10 at any given time-can watch the aurora borealis dance around the sky or survey an endless horizon of jagged peaks blanketed in untouched snow. The only thing between them and the nearest summit is a sheer vertical rock wall that's twice the height of Dubai's Burj Khalifa skyscraper.

It took more than a decade to secure the final permits to build Sheldon Chalet. Construction took three additional years. In the time it takes to get there from Los Angeles, you could almost fly to Tokyo: Arrival includes a six-hour flight to Anchorage, a two-hour drive to the tiny but charming town of Talkeetna, and an hour-long helicopter ride to Don Sheldon Amphitheater, a 35-square-mile valley carved by glacial ice in the shadow of North America's tallest mountain.

All that is a drop in the bucket compared to the 50 years of family history that make Sheldon Chalet so special for Alaska.

Robert Sheldon, who built Sheldon Chalet with the help of his wife, Marne, and sister Kate, lost his father, Don-a trailblazing Alaskan pilot-when he was just 4: "I only have a couple of memories with my father, and the earliest one was taking off from the village strip in Talkeetna on a very small airplane, zooming through the puffy white clouds."

Bob Reeve, Robert's maternal grandfather, was also a pilot; like Don Sheldon, he made his name as an Alaskan pioneer.

[A pilot's love for the mountains built a house on Denali. Now it's at the center of a family dispute.]

Reeve landed in Valdez in 1932, 27 years before Alaska was declared the 49th U.S. state. He used his experience charting routes for Pan Am throughout South America to create Reeve Aleutian Airlines, a leading-edge Alaska carrier that connected tiny towns across the territory with their counterparts across the Bering Sea. He also built a series of remote mountain huts-some of the state's first tourism infrastructure.

Don Sheldon, meanwhile, came from a farming family in Ohio, but his son says he "wanted to go for the easier life of hunting and trapping in Alaska." As the story goes, "He very quickly learned that, in Alaska, you could fly an hour or walk a week." He'd eventually survey the region with photographer and cartographer Brad Washburn, a contemporary of Ansel Adams. This meant identifying places where planes could land amid the jagged peaks, building landing strips, and even developing specialized aircraft for the job.

"All the flying that happens around Denali National Park today can be traced back to his efforts," Marne Sheldon said. "It's what has allowed for present-day tourism in Alaska."

When Don Sheldon died in 1975, the governments of Alaska and the United States considered naming a mountain in the Alaska Range for him. It wasn't enough, they decided, opting instead to designate a 35-square-mile amphitheater filled with dozens of peaks.

The primary landing strip in Denali National Park-built by the elder Sheldon to facilitate explorations with Washburn-is a half-mile from Sheldon Chalet. "That's the provenance of the interest in this area," explained Marne Sheldon, who ran point on logistics as the hotel took shape. Everything from the drawer pulls to the heating system had to be flown to that landing strip by helicopter or fixed-wing plane, and the family is among the lucky few who have special dispensation to fly there, thanks to their long history in the area.

That history also explains how Sheldons earned commercial rights in such a protected place. Back in the 1950s, well before Denali was a national park, the family scooped up five acres of land under the Homestead Act; it included the glacial outcropping that would be called Sheldon Nunatak. Their final land permit, though, got caught in the cross hairs of the state's ratification-it took until 1971, the year Robert was born, to come through.

Don Sheldon and his wife, Roberta, started small, with a basic operation for passionate mountaineers and explorers. Don had bigger plans but died before he could execute them. Everything the younger Sheldons knew of their parents' onetime aspirations came from a National Geographic television clip from the '70s in which he referenced a broader vision for tourism on the nunatak, as well as a prototype travel brochure for "Mountain House #1."

Roberta Sheldon never spoke again of the dreams she had shared with her husband; instead, she poured her affection into preserving the small-town charm of her adopted home, Talkeetna, roughly one hour outside Denali.

"We were sorting through a warehouse full of stuff in Talkeetna after Roberta died in 2014," Marne Sheldon recalled, "when I came across an odd roll of paper." Inside were decades-old blueprints for a hexagonal structure on Sheldon Nunatak: Mountain House #1.

Sheldon Glacier is an upgraded vision of that decades-old vision. Guests arrive via helicopter-a ride that takes them zooming through narrow slots in the surrounding canyons-and are greeted with Champagne and Alaska seafood hors d'oeuvres. "It's extravaganza upon arrival," Marne Sheldon said. "One of my favorite things is seeing people's faces when they land-their brains can't quite comprehend what their eyes are seeing. They need a few breaths to take it all in."

Inside is a living room called the Commons, anchored by a special Finnish fireplace that doubles as a high-efficiency, clean-combustion heating system. A family-style dining space is built around a beautiful birchwood table handcrafted in Talkeetna. The rooms are sparsely designed, with faux fur throws and panoramic views, to keep guests' focus squarely on the beauty outdoors. The Sheldons want the property to be carbon-neutral and believe they're close to accomplishing this, thanks to generous solar panels and a runoff-powered water supply.

"It's simple but elegant," Marne Sheldon said. "Pretty much everything was challenging" when it came to building the state's first luxury highland lodge. Guests are encouraged (but not required) to travel to Sheldon Chalet in groups or via buyouts, as three bathrooms must serve five bedrooms-a concession that several high-end hotels in Alaska have made because of the difficulty of building larger structures in such extreme environs. "The simple things in life, like running water, are actually quite luxurious when you're 6,000 feet up on a glacier," she said.

During aurora season, mid-September through early March, days are spent "flightseeing" around the national park, snowshoeing, ski touring, and visiting remote hot springs. (You can also build an igloo.) During "Adventure Season," from early March through mid-July, additional thrills include rappelling, glacier trekking, visiting a mastodon boneyard and fishing.

Evenings can include warm-ups in the rooftop sauna, stargazing sessions and elegant meals by Alaskan chef Dave Thorne, who used to cook for Justin Timberlake, Keith Urban, and Kings of Leon when they were on tour. Dishes such as barbecued Alaskan oysters with roasted poblano and pepita chutney are more often paired with Anchorage Brewing Co. beers than with big California reds.

"My mom and dad were people worth remembering, but their desire for this property had nothing to do with their own legacy. They just wanted other people to experience this place that's majestic beyond anything else on the planet," Robert Sheldon said.

He's also in it for the big picture. "Alaska has been in a recession for four years, but tourism is a bright spot," he said. "Hopefully, this shows that we can still do great things for the state of Alaska."

– Nightly rates from $2,300 per person include accommodations, food and beverages, and helicopter transfers.

Olympic gold medalist Ester Ledecka is the fastest snowboarder on two skis. Wait, what?

Sat, 2018-02-17 15:41

BUKPEONG, South Korea – We are trained to watch for the reaction, and when an Olympic champion stops herself at the bottom of a ski hill, we have seen them all. Both hands to the helmet. Doubled over at the waist. Ski poles raised, and sometimes twirled. Jot them down and report it out, because we will equate whatever action transpires with pure, unadulterated joy.

What, then, to make of an athlete named Ester Ledecka, a 22-year-old Czech woman who stopped herself Saturday at the base of the hill at the Jeongseon Alpine Centre? The clock showed that she had taken the lead in the Olympic super-G, besting Austrian star Anna Veith by one one-hundredth of a second. The crowd, disbelieving, yelled and stared at Ledecka, encouraging her to emote.

Here's the thing: She is a snowboarder by trade. She is here to compete in the parallel giant slalom on one plank, not two. This result, beating Lindsey Vonn and Tina Weirather and Lara Gut and the best skiers in the world was not possible. So Ledecka did . . . nothing.

"I was looking at the board and I thought, 'Are they going to put a couple more seconds up there?'" Ledecka said afterward. "And I was just waiting and watching and waiting until they would change the time. And nothing was happening, and everybody were screaming. I was looking. Now, it's weird."

Welcome to the Olympics, where on a beautiful winter day, the autotrons of the Alpine skiing world can be upstaged – flat-out beaten, really – by a remarkable athlete who splits her time between two worlds that rarely overlap. If she sticks to the original plan to compete in the parallel giant slalom, which begins Thursday, she will become the first person to compete in both skiing and snowboarding at the Olympics.

Not just the same Olympics. Any Olympics.

"It takes a lot of effort to become a professional skier," said Justin Reiter, an American who represented the United States in snowboarding four years ago in Sochi and now serves as Ledecka's snowboard coach. "It takes a lot of effort to become a professional snowboarder. And she does both with ease."

Let's put this plainly: This is absurd. It can't happen. That Ledecka is even here trying to compete in these two sports – and to be sure, they are vastly different – is beyond unlikely. People put their lives into pursuing the Olympics in one or the other. There's just not time – not in the day, not in a month, not in a calendar year – to do both.

"All I can say is I wish I had as much athleticism as she does to be able to win at two sports in the same Olympics, because I'm only good at one sport, and that's ski racing," said Vonn, the Olympic gold medalist who tied for sixth Saturday. "So the fact that she's able to beat all of us and be a snowboarder is pretty darn impressive. At the Olympics, a lot of weird stuff happens."

But this isn't weird for one day in one event. This is weird, period. Weird, and beautiful.

[Thirty-six minutes after the gold medal was won, the Olympics happened]

"I love this surprise that sport can provide," said Italian Sofia Goggia, another contender.

So let's unpack how this can happen, both for a career and for the day, because there may not be a more unlikely outcome at these Pyeongchang Games. If there is, I hope I'm there, because it'll make North Carolina State over Houston and Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson and the 1980 U.S. hockey team over the Russians seem quaint.

For starters, it's exceedingly difficult to overstate the difference between snowboarding and skiing – in function, for sure, but in style and mind-set and upbringing as well. Ledecka was asked about the overlap between those worlds, and she mustered: "It's down a hill, both of them." People laughed. But really, that's the extent of it.

And Ledecka started her career as a snowboarder, plain and simple. She is accomplished in that area – twice a gold medalist at the world championships – and is considered a medal contender in snowboarding here. Reiter, her snowboard coach, trains with her in Europe when she's working on snowboarding, then hands her off to a pair of ski coaches when she floats into that world.

Managing one foot in each of two worlds involves managing a schedule and managing energy. But Reiter also believes Ledecka's mind is suited for both.

"If you give her the most mundane task, she won't step away from it until she's mastered it," Reiter said. "The way she's processing things is very slow, and then it builds to race speed. And once it's locked, it's completely automatized. She's smarter and more creative than a robot, but she can replicate moves over and over again far better than I've ever seen anyone."

And yet, skiing at the highest level is a relatively new development. She has, in her career, 19 World Cup starts. Her one top-10 finish came in December, seventh in a downhill at Lake Louise, Canada. In super-G – which has more turns than downhill, but still generates high speeds – she had never finished higher than 19th.

And then, this? Yeah, sure, Ledecka has occasionally skied fast in training runs, her competitors said. That's fine. It doesn't change the fact that this has to be one of the greatest upsets in the history of Olympic skiing. Or the Olympics, period.

The way the Alpine fields are set, the top 20 skiers in the world slot into the first 20 spots. Veith, who won gold in super-G four years ago in Sochi, had already celebrated an apparent victory by the time Ledecka took the hill, the 26th starter.

When Ledecka came to each split – where the skiers are measured in how they relate to the leader's run – the numbers were displayed on the giant scoreboard at the foot of the hill. If they're behind, the scoreboard shows red. If they're ahead, it shows green.

Wait. Ledecka was outpacing Veith?

"When you see green lights," Reiter said, "your heart starts to race."

At the finish, there was Ledecka's time: 1:21.11 seconds. Veith had skied in 1:21.12.

Seriously?

"For me, the first reaction was like, 'Is this possible?'" Veith said. "And then, 'Yes, it is.'"

As Ledecka stared, officials never added seconds to her time. She stared some more. Still 1:21.11. It meant one thing, and that was gold.

When Ledecka arrived at her post-race news conference, mandatory for medal winners, she declined to take off her ski goggles.

"I was not as prepared as the other girls that I would be at the ceremony," she said, "and I don't have no makeup."

That's how, on a perfect Saturday on a mountain in South Korea, a snowboarder won a gold medal in skiing at the Olympics. Given that bit of ridiculousness, we have little choice but to tune in to the parallel giant slalom finals in a week. Because over there, they'll certainly be asking, "Does this skier really think she's going to beat all of us?"

In an Anchorage professor’s letters to his family, the reality of racism is revealed

Sat, 2018-02-17 14:39

We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet: Letters to my Filipino-Athabascan Family

E.J.R. David; State University of New York Press; 200 pages; 2018; $24.95

Years ago when my children were young, my wife was out of town for spring break. Rather than stay home, I packed them off to Seattle to see my family. I remember the trip well, but not so much the flight. We walked through check-in and security without a hitch. I gave it no further thought.

Anchorage author E.J.R. David has a different memory. On a return trip from Bozeman, Montana, to Anchorage with his son, he was required at check-in to go back and get his wife, who was remaining behind for a few days, and have her confirm the child was his.

"On the one hand, I'm glad they made sure that my child — any child — is protected from being abducted," he writes in his new book "We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet." "On the other hand, however, I wonder if they ask every adult traveling with a child that same question, and if they make every adult traveling with a child go back and get consent and confirmation from the other parent."

The answer is no, and it matters because it addresses the heart of his book's subject matter. I walked right through one of the nation's busiest airports with two kids aged six and eight and headed to the middle of Alaska without question. The difference is, I'm white and born in America, while David came to this country from the Philippines as a teenager. We're both citizens with no criminal records, but he has darker skin and an accent. Undoubtedly there are white men who have been treated the way David was, but with a scruffy beard and two kids in tow, I was given a free pass.

David attended high school in Utqiagvik and is now married to a woman of Athabascan heritage. "Trembling" is a collection of letters he wrote to his wife and three children addressing his experiences as a person of color and his concerns for them living in a country where racism remains pervasive and they will continue to be singled out in subtle ways like that mentioned above.

This is an intensely personal book and one that will provoke intensely personal responses from its readers. David, a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage, has specialized in studying the intergenerational impacts on indigenous peoples who have been colonized. Born in a country that was once held by the United States and married to an Alaska Native woman, he sits at the intersection of his own research, and here turns his attention to how the issues he studies have made him who he is.

In an approach akin to the African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates' 2015 book "Between the World and Me," written as a letter to his son about the struggles of growing up black and never fully part of the dominant culture, David is baring his soul to his family and the public.

He explores the history of America's occupation of the Philippines, which was not the benevolent act our history books paint it as, and discusses how it left his people with an ingrained sense of inferiority that he still carries long after the island nation was granted its freedom. He likens the Filipino experience to Native Americans, many of whom feel that they are still living under occupation.

David writes about the many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that minorities are shown their second-class status in this country, indignities in daily life that white people don't face. It is because we don't directly experience these things that many white people simply fail to recognize the differences in how we are treated, the story of the airplane flights above being a perfect example.

In the letters to his children he explores the pitfalls that lie ahead for them, dangers he knows on an academic level from having access to the research data. As both Filipino-Americans and Alaska Natives, his children fall into two groups that experience lower-than-average wages, higher likelihood of incarceration, higher likelihood of being shot by the police, lower life expectancy, higher likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors with drugs, alcohol and gangs, higher possibility of being sexual abuse victims … the list goes on.

David expresses considerable hopelessness in this book. It's difficult reading for those of us who are white, and easy to dismiss with the canard that we live in a post-racial society. But most of these letters were written under the cloud of the 2016 presidential race. Early in the book David states what isn't generally admitted in polite company: "The Republican front runner to become the next president of our country is winning because of — again, because of and not in spite of — his explicitly racist and bigoted views against immigrants, against people who are like me."

Given an abundance of candidates — some of them quite qualified — the Republican Party and then the country itself chose to replace its first African-American president with the only candidate who took openly racist positions. In a postscript, penned after the election, David writes, "What scares me is that bigotry seems to be the norm instead of an exception."

Still, in the closing pages of this emotionally wrenching work by a husband and father who knows his family will always face hurdles in America owing solely to their mixed ethnicity, he somehow still finds reason for hope, and finds it in his children, telling them:

"I wanted you to live in this world because I still see that our Peoples have plenty to contribute to heal this world, and the contributions and healing can come through you. I wanted so badly for you to be here in this world despite its ugliness, because deep down, I still believe that this world has a chance."

Yeah, the U.S. women’s XC ski relay finish was a disappointment. But don’t hold it against them.

Sat, 2018-02-17 14:33

Like a bunch of my friends around Anchorage, I struggled to stay conscious until 12:30 a.m. Saturday, waiting for the American women to compete in the cross-country skiing relay race at the Olympics.

It's been 42 years since the U.S. won its last, and only, Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. A lot of us thought that could change early Saturday, and some even expected it.

Instead — spoiler alert — the Americans fell out of contention 10 minutes into the hour-long race. I fell asleep, waking up half an hour later as Norway and Sweden duked it out on the homestretch for gold. The U.S. women finished fifth.

The result was a disappointment, not just for the American fans who watched but for the four athletes themselves. Sophie Caldwell, whose shaky first leg left the U.S. far behind the leaders, stood with tears in her eyes during an interview with her teammates afterward, Minnesota's Star Tribune newspaper reported.

The Olympics aren't over and the Americans' cross-country skiing hopes aren't completely extinguished: the women still have what might be their best shot at a medal in Wednesday's team sprint.

But if you watch that race on television, or read about afterwards, it's worth keeping in mind the increasingly blurry line between hopes and expectations.

Americans are conditioned to winning at the Olympics.

[Girdwood's Keegan Messing wraps up his Olympics with a 12th-place finish — and a smile]

We won the most medals at the 2016 and 2012 summer games, and trailed only hosts Russia at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The relentless Olympic hype also creates a sense of inevitability. Days before the relay, the U.S. women sat down with Katie Couric — Katie Couric! — who, between highlights of podium finishes, promised to put glitter on her cheeks in solidarity with the team.

"Cross-country skier Jessie Diggins is 'sparkly.' She also is poised to break a long Olympic drought," read one headline in the Washington Post.

Okay, we get it: the Americans actually have a chance at their first cross-country skiing medal in decades. But consider their competition in Saturday morning's relay.

Norway, the winners, had won 107 cross-country skiing medals before the start of this year's games. Sweden had 74. Russia, which got third Saturday, had 110, including the medals from the Soviet Union era.

They know how to do this — how to deliver when the pressure is on.

Diggins, in her three individual races, has placed fifth, fifth and sixth. The women who beat her, collectively, had already won 17 medals before the start of this year's games.

Yes, the U.S. has racked up impressive results and podium finishes over the past few years, and its women's cross-country ski team is arguably the best it's ever been.

But it's a big step to go from occasionally cracking the top three on the international circuit to winning the races that everyone else — like the Norwegians, Russians and Swedes — has circled on their calendars for the past four years.

Full disclosure: I used to report on cross-country skiing and I've known these women for a long time. They work hard. I like them.

But after nearly a decade of writing about the sport, I've come to appreciate how cross-country skiing ultimately doesn't bend to winning personalities or neat storylines.

In 2010, I was in Vancouver covering the Olympics there. I was 22 years old. My editor and I were both convinced that Kris Freeman, a longtime American racer, was going to medal in the men's individual race.

Freeman had overcome diabetes and trained as hard as anyone that we knew. He was deserving. How could he not come home from that race with a medal?

The answer was straightforward: Because 58 other men that day skied faster than he did.

We should be excited that the American women, including a big crop of Alaskans, have risen to the top echelon of their sport. And it's okay to hope for some medals — otherwise, what's the point of watching?

But until those medals start coming, it's probably still early to start expecting them.

In the meantime, you can do what the athletes do themselves: appreciate the effort, excitement and fun that comes with shooting for the podium.

"Chasing the dream, believing wholeheartedly, and giving all your best is something I'll cherish forever," one of the relay team members, Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen, wrote after the race Saturday. "This team is so much larger than a result, a medal, or a number."

Nathaniel Herz is an Anchorage Daily News reporter. He covered cross-country skiing at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. before joining the ADN, he reported for fasterskier.com

Optimism for 90-day Alaska legislative session begins to fade

Sat, 2018-02-17 14:11

The optimism that this year would be different than the previous three is starting to wear off just four weeks into the legislative session.

Most legislators are still saying, at least publicly, that they are confident this year's work can be done in 90 days and not drag into June or July as has become the norm during the continuous political battle over how to fix the state's multibillion-dollar deficits.

However, Democrat House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon said he is predicting more of the same ahead given unwavering opposition from Senate Republicans to his caucus' proposed budget fixes.

"I see more gridlock and I see more stalemate coming up," Edgmon said during a Feb. 13 press briefing.

While he said he also started the session with optimism that the Legislature would reach a long-term fiscal plan in its allotted time, his pessimistic comment was in response to what came out of a Senate Majority press conference a day earlier.

Republican Senate President Pete Kelly said Feb. 12 that he would like to see the House Majority's tax proposals "in the garbage can." During a January talk in Anchorage with Edgmon about their respective priorities before the start of the session Kelly said the talk of a broad-based tax would be met with "mocking laughter" from Senate leaders.

For his part, Edgmon said the House Majority is willing to compromise and discuss the appropriate amount of future Permanent Fund dividends, government service levels and a draw from the Permanent Fund earnings to pay for government.

He said well before the session that the House coalition would not again push for an income tax this year after the Senate wasted little time voting down the tax the House passed last session.

"I think to draw those sharp lines sand this early in the session does not lend to compromise," Edgmon added.

Other prominent officials in the capitol have said they do not see a quick resolution to the session as each side's stance on how to resolve the deficit has not materially changed.

Republicans have continued stressing that further budget cuts and maximizing a sustainable draw from the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund could balance the state's finances without the need for a personal income tax.

According to Kelly, lawmakers need to start changing their rhetoric away from emphasizing a fiscal crisis because the state now has enough revenue to close the budget gap in a few years.

"Now with oil prices and production we're in the grasp of a balanced budget," he said.

Republican Majority Leader Sen. Peter Micciche said based on Gov. Bill Walker's budget proposal for a roughly $4.6 billion unrestricted General Fund budget, the Legislature could get within $300 million of balancing the budget this year based on higher than projected oil prices and production that is inching upwards as well.

"With just a buck or two (of higher oil prices) in the next couple years we'll be balanced," Micciche said.

His assertions also presume the Senate-passed version of Senate Bill 26, which would set a 5.25 percent of market value, or POMV, draw from the Earnings Reserve for three years and drop the draw to 5 percent thereafter.

However, the governor's budget does not include funding for the state's annual oil and gas tax credit obligation because his administration is proposing to sell bonds to fully pay off the credits in an $800 million lump sum now that the program has ended.

Without passing the credit-bonding legislation or finding some other resolution, the Legislature will likely be forced to add at least $206 million — the statutory minimum formula payment — to the budget.

Micciche has also said the Department of Health and Social Services needs to focus on Medicaid utilization as a means to substantively curb the state's ever-growing health care bill.

Homer Rep. Paul Seaton, Finance co-chair and one of three Republicans caucusing with the Democrat-led House Majority, acknowledged Feb. 13 that there is going to be a draw from the Earnings Reserve this year, as the $2.4 billion in the state's savings accounts are not likely to cover the deficit alone.

Additionally, administration and nonpartisan Legislative Finance officials insist the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which will have approximately $2.1 billion at the start of next fiscal year, should always hold at least $1 billion, ideally more, to cover expenses in an emergency and for cash flow management.

Democrats have noted future budgets would have to increase by more than $100 million per year to keep up with inflation at current service levels while Senate leaders insist the Legislature can beat inflation with further cuts.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, introduced legislation to increase the key base student allocation formula by $100 per student Feb. 9. He contends K-12 education has lost $90 million of funding since 2015 through cuts and the impacts of inflation.

A Carnival cruise in the South Pacific descended into a violent mess

Sat, 2018-02-17 13:05

A Carnival cruise devolved into near-anarchy during its 10 days in the South Pacific, with some passengers locking themselves inside their cabins, others kicked off the ship and security guards brawling with vacationers in a bare-knuckles melee.

Carnival said it would investigate what happened after a video surfaced, showing the guards punching, kicking and threatening passengers during the worst of the fighting Friday. But the cruise line is already blaming "a large family group" for instigating the violence, which some passengers said escalated for days before security could contain it.

The trouble started after the Carnival Legend, which can carry more than 2,000 people, set sail from Melbourne to New Caledonia last week – though there are disputes of exactly when and why it all began.

"This is all over a thong [flip-flop sandal] – not a foot, a thong being stepped on," a passenger told the radio station 3AW, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The thong's trampler apologized, the man said, but its owner threatened retaliation, and the groups began to feud.

Others, however, said a single family of about two dozen people seemed intent on provoking conflicts – spitting in the pool, screaming in the smoking area and fighting with passengers and staff over any provocation.

"They were looking for trouble from the minute they got on the ship," Kellie Peterson told 3AW. "Anyone and everything. They even picked on a 16-year-old boy because they thought he looked at them."

After several days at sea, chaos broke out on the pool deck. It's not clear what caused the dispute, though one passenger told News.com.au that it went on for 45 minutes, some of which was recorded. Children watched from behind a row of sun chairs as dozens of adults shouted on the far end of the deck. A man got into a brief shoving match with a uniformed staff member – a prelude of the melee to come.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Carnival confirmed "several instances [of] extremely unruly behavior" on the ship.

Some passengers described it more as a state of constant fear.

Peterson told 3AW that security warned her, her husband and their three young children not to travel the decks alone. Lisa Bolitho said she and her son simply locked themselves inside their cabin, according to the Australian Associated Press.

"We've all made several complaints, saying kids were scared," Bolitho said. "The captain said, 'What do you want me to do about it – throw them overboard?' "

The skirmishes escalated for several days at sea, passengers said, until a massive brawl broke out in the ship's nightclub early Friday morning.

As on the pool deck, it's unclear what provoked it. Carnival said the aggressive family group "physically attacked other guests."

As seen in one passenger's video, a man in a blue T-shirt pins a man in tangerine shorts to the bar floor while people around them scream and jostle. A woman throws herself on top of the pair, at which point several black-shirted security guards begin to punch and kick the people on the floor.

While some passengers defended the guards' actions, others said they behaved like thugs. Guards waved broken bottles at passengers to intimidate them, Michael Haddara told the Herald, and "put handcuffs around their hands, as knuckle dusters."

"No camera!" a staff member screamed at a man taking video of the nightclub brawl, after another worker tried to swat the camera from his hand.

Before the video ends, a security guard balls his fist and draws his arm back as if to punch a woman in the face, but he lowers his fist at the last moment.

"The actions seen on the video by our security team are not in line with our Carnival values and policies," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "We are conducting a full investigation and will take appropriate corrective action as necessary."

News.com.au published photos it said came from the fight's aftermath, showing a man bruised and bloodied across his face and back. David Barkho, who was not on the ship, said his son called him from the nightclub at 1 a.m., as people lay bleeding around him.

"He said, 'Please Dad, please, call the federal police,' " Barkho told 3AW. "I could hear a lot of screaming, crying in the background."

The police were, in fact, called to meet the ship off the coast of Eden, a couple hundred miles east of Melbourne.

Until the ship docked, 9News reported, several aggressive passengers were locked in their cabins in a form of house arrest. Other passengers complained of a crackdown and said guards confiscated phones and deleted videos of the violence.

At Eden on Friday, police boarded to remove 23 people, the Australian Associated Press reported – all apparently members of the same family group. Some had been ordered removed; others left voluntarily. No one was immediately charged, though Carnival said it's cooperating with authorities in their investigation.

Other passengers gathered on the Legend's deck, booing and clapping as the family was loaded into a police boat. One of them appeared to be wearing a head bandage, and all looked defiant.

"Losers!" a woman cried out from the ship. A man on the police boat raised a middle finger in response.

On Saturday, Carnival said, the Legend docked back in Melbourne, 10 days after leaving port.

"We sincerely regret that the unruly conduct and actions of the passengers removed from the ship may have prevented other guests from fully enjoying their cruise," read the company's statement, which did not go into details about the incident.

As a goodwill gesture, Carnival said, passengers who made it through the cruise have been offered a 25-percent-off coupon for their next one.

Trump’s top security adviser says Russian meddling is ‘incontrovertible’

Sat, 2018-02-17 12:41

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Saturday that evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election was "now really incontrovertible" after indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three companies.

Speaking at an international security conference in Munich, Germany, McMaster lent credence to a widening scandal that President Donald Trump has routinely dismissed as a hoax.

"The evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain," McMaster said. The U.S. was becoming "more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion," he said.

The indictment announced Friday describes a vast, secret, social-media campaign financed by a Russian entrepreneur with ties to President Vladimir Putin that worked to harm Hillary Clinton's candidacy and promote Trump.

These are the first criminal charges related to election meddling brought in the Mueller investigation. Deputy Attorney General Gen. Rod Rosenstein said there was no allegation in the indictment of an American citizen participating willingly in the scheme.

In a Twitter post, Trump claimed that the charges prove his campaign "did nothing wrong."

At the same Munich meeting with McMaster on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the accusations against his countrymen as "just blabber."

Space weather: Havoc caused by the sun

Sat, 2018-02-17 12:07

Space weather affects snowplow drivers carving through Thompson Pass in a whiteout, Iowa farmers dropping seeds of corn and wedding planners who release white doves during the ceremony.

These and other customers subscribe to daily forecasts from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Rodney Viereck works there. He and his teammates monitor eruptions on the sun, especially those spat in our direction and covering those 93 million miles in as fast as eight minutes. Viereck is sort of a weatherman of deep space, trying to predict what happens in the airless infinity beyond the 30-mile shell of our atmosphere.

Viereck spoke about his job recently in his hometown of Fairbanks. His colleagues in Boulder use computer models, readings of Earth's magnetism and spacecraft one million miles away to monitor blasts of solar radiation. They send out warnings to airline pilots, hopeful aurora viewers and managers of electrical grids.

Part of the National Weather Service, the Space Weather Prediction Center is also staffed 24 hours a day. Researchers get busy when the sun erupts a fountain of particles and the explosion happens to be aimed at Earth. They pay special attention to solar flares, blasts of protons and other forms of geomagnetic storms.

The aurora is a good tracker of solar unrest. When frenetic particles shot from the sun tickle the gases in the ionosphere from 60 to 100 miles over our heads, they glow aquamarine. Those same energetic specks flood the ionosphere, sometimes disabling the stable layer off which high-frequency radio signals bounce.

When a big solar storm happens, HF radios don't work. Airline pilots use HF radio when flying over the North Pole, where there are no ground stations for line-of-sight operation. All the major airlines subscribe to forecasts from the Space Weather Prediction Center. When pilots know a big solar storm is predicted, they sometimes alter their routes.

Solar storms can knock Global Positioning System satellites offline. Some farmers use precision GPS in their tractors; it enables them to track a straight line through plowed fields and drop a seed within an inch of where they want it, then deliver water and fertilize to that exact spot.

Snowplow drivers in places like Thompson Pass use GPS to keep them on the road when the world is white on white. And that wedding planner subscribes to solar storm warnings to make sure his doves, which navigate in part using the Earth's magnetism, will return after they flap away.

The "most critical" users of the center's free forecasts are power grid managers, Viereck said. Bursts from the sun soak power lines with induced current. Since most power grids operate at their capacity, managers dial down their output when they know a large solar storm is coming.

"Every single power grid across the country is a customer," Viereck said.

Giant solar storms have not happened often, but one in March 1989 shut down Hydro-Quebec's electricity transmission system, leaving six million people in the dark for nine hours. People in Texas and Florida saw red aurora during that event.

Viereck mentioned the "Carrington Event" of 1859, when people in Cuba saw the aurora and those in Queensland, Australia, saw its mirror image. Telegraph systems around the world failed. Some equipment administered a mild shock to operators with their fingers on the controls.

If a similar storm were to strike Earth today, "everything across the U.S. could be affected," Viereck said. A solar storm of similar size to the Carrington Event just missed our planet in 2012.

Viereck, who is 59, experienced many aurora nights as a boy growing up in Fairbanks, but he chose his career because he was good at math and physics and it seemed a natural path. In February 2018, he returned to Fairbanks to sell his mother's house, cabin and car. She died in October 2017.

Viereck's mother, Teri, had a variety of interests represented by two books she authored and co-authored: "Edible Plants of Alaska" and "Meditation: The Complete Guide." Rodney's late father Les was a respected ecologist who studied and protested the proposed creation of a northern Alaska harbor using nuclear bombs as excavators. He was the author of "Alaska Trees and Shrubs."

When it was time to think about a career, Rodney looked above the trees. Admiring the people and camaraderie at UAF's Geophysical Institute, he took a summer job there as a teenager, cataloging video from aurora-watching all-sky cameras.

He liked that job. He soon became a graduate student and earned a degree in space physics. He remembers the seven years at the Geophysical Institute — from his first scientific job until the printing of his Ph.D. — as some of the best of his life.

The Geophysical Institute exists in large part because of the aurora. In 1946, members of Congress voted to establish a "geophysical station" at a high-latitude site, because something associated with the aurora was interfering with high-frequency radio signals.

Space weather forecasting is about 50 years behind terrestrial weather forecasting, Viereck said. Right now, space-weather models do slightly better than human forecasters, just like it was when models were introduced a few decades ago as a tool for predicting snowstorms and heat waves.

Mass shootings have started to look, sound and feel the same – and that’s a problem

Sat, 2018-02-17 11:56

Remove the captions from the photos and put the images in front of anyone in the United States, and they will know instantly what they are looking at.

The police cruisers and yellow tape tell you that it is a crime scene; other details are the tip-off that it is a uniquely American kind. Often, there will be photographs or footage captured from above, a cue that some terrible event has spurred producers to scramble their live news helicopters. We will see a building in the frame, at first eerily still. Then pours forth a line of shaken workers, or moviegoers, or shoppers, or small children, marched single-file, hands held high or on the shoulders of the person in front of them, scared to death but at this moment focused on showing that they are not the gunman who has just opened fire inside.

Such a scene is particularly familiar to us: We work for a nonprofit news organization that should not need to exist, one whose sole job is to report on guns and gun violence in the United States. Early on — around the seventh of the 25 major active shooter incidents that our site, the Trace, has covered during its 2 1/2 years in operation — it struck us that the events have an almost formal visual language. "Mass shootings are a public health epidemic whose ubiquity has begun to produce its own aesthetic" is how the writer Alice Gregory put it in an essay we published after a husband and wife, armed like paramilitaries, murdered 14 people at an office holiday party in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015.

You can go back 30 years and find examples of the genre that, but for the clothes and the hairstyles, could have been taken this week. There is a photo from the aftermath of the January 1989 massacre in Stockton, California, in which a man wielding an AK-47 sprayed at least 107 rounds on the children and teachers assembled on an elementary school playground. The image could be from Jonesboro, Arkansas, in March 1998 or Marysville, Washington, in October 2014, or Marshall County, Kentucky, last month. Or from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. The scene is the same: Mothers and fathers hug — clutch — children who'd been feared hurt or dead.

The lockdown lifts. Dusk falls. Photographers snap candids of sobbing pairs and contemplative witnesses standing alone.

There are flickering candles at nighttime vigils.

There are hands locked in resolute prayer circles.

The genre expands to fit the times; the newest entry is the shot of the cellphone screen showing text messages that could have been (or were) final words. And it is the familiarity of it all, the creeping normalcy, the expectedness, that has led the FBI's former resident expert on the subject to conclude that America "has absolutely become numb to these shootings," the tiny sliver of our country's much larger gun violence problem that once seemed to break through but no longer does. As the cycle takes hold again, we hear or read the harrowing experience of yet another survivor, yet another bystander. We watch as nothing seems to change, again. Both lose the power to shock.

[I survived a mass shooting. My life has never been the same.]

But numb is not quite right. People on both sides of the gun issue are deeply saddened by this latest mass shooting. Some gun owners are also angry to feel blamed, and more fiercely protective than ever of the guns they have been convinced could be taken away. Advocates of stricter gun laws are mad that the narrow agenda of the National Rifle Association may again overwhelm the common ground that they have found on the issue with their co-workers, fellow congregants, and friends.

Instead of inured, maybe people are just exhausted. They are worn out and worn down by mass shootings that have by some measures have become more frequent and have indisputably become more deadly, with five of the 10 worst in modern U.S. history occurring during the past 26 months.

If the school shooting in Parkland produces a different outcome, it will be because of the way the teenagers who lived through it enabled the rest of us to get closer to what they endured. The spree that left 17 people dead and another 14 injured brought with it the usual progression of images and news accounts. But on their social media accounts, the Florida students also created a separate record, unmediated and unsanitized by journalism's conventions.

"THERE ARE GUNSHOTS" 2:24 p.m. February 14, 2018

"I am in a school shooting right now …" 2:59 p.m.

"oh my god we're in a closet i can't believe this is happening" 3:11 p.m. February 14, 2018

"Never been more scared ever in my life. I hope everyone that's in my school and around my school is okay." 3:17 February 14, 2018

"THE SWAT EVACUATED US AND LIKE 3 PEOPLE I KNOW WERE SHOT IN OUR BUILDING AND THERE WAS BLOOD EVERYWHERE I CANT BREATH RIGHT NOW BUT IM SAFE" 3:37 p.m. February 14, 2018

"I JUST WANT TO KNOW IF EVERYONE IS SAFE CAUSE IM SHAKING THERE WAS LIKE PEOPLE IVE SEEN BEFORE JUST DEAD IN THE HALLS I CANT CALM DOWN AT ALL THIS WAS THE MOST TERRYFYING THIS IVE EVER SEEN" 3:48 p.m. February 14, 2018

After the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, a grainy, soundless security camera recording emerged showing the killers stalking the cafeteria. It is chilling viewing. But from Stoneman Douglas, we got high-resolution videos with vivid audio that will steal your breath, and then your sleep.

The videos are graphic and disturbing. Blood and victims are briefly visible in some. They may be most terrifying for what you hear.

On Snapchat, a student cowering with classmates under their desks records as the gunman, unseen, lets off more than a dozen deafening shots from the hallway or the next classroom over. The sound of those blasts stays with you. The screams of the children, even more so. They are in terrible danger. It is way too close.

A separate, minute-long video pans a classroom as police officers wearing purple medical gloves carry away a student who appears to have been injured. Motionless legs splay out from behind a podium. The camera rocks as wailing students, some shoeless, are led into the hallway. They pass broken glass and backpacks flung in panic and at least one body. Their bawling grows louder as they reach the door and exit into the impossible blue sky of a South Florida afternoon.

Another student captured the moment SWAT team members came to his classroom to take them to safety. Officers in riot gear enter, flashlights shining, gun barrels pointing, and ask the teenagers to show their hands. Arms shoot up. Someone whimpers. You watch as one pair of hands shakes uncontrollably, like they may never stop.

In the hours afterward, the rote choreography will resume. Politicians will tweet thoughts and prayers. The president of the United States will talk about mental illness and avoid mention of firearms or gun laws. He will hint at warning signs missed, tweeting that students who attended Stoneman Douglas with the alleged gunman "knew he was a big problem" in a way that seems to imply they should have done more to prevent the slaughter.

Some of those students will not be having any of it.

One boy, a senior who recorded his own footage of his rattled classmates, was interviewed on cable news the day after the shooting. "We're children," he says. "You're, like, adults. Take action, work together, come over your politics, and get something done."

Burnett is editorial director of the Trace, a nonprofit news site that covers gun violence. Van Brocklin is a reporter for the Trace, where she covers shooting survivors. Originally published by The Washington Post. 

Man arrested in Anchorage in homicide and robbery investigations

Sat, 2018-02-17 11:11

A man who police were looking for in connection to a January homicide in East Anchorage has been arrested, police said.

Aarron Settje, 32, was arrested on outstanding homicide and robbery warrants after tipsters told police they spotted Settje in the Target on West 100th Avenue, according to police.

Settje was a "person of interest" in the Jan. 13 homicide of 33-year-old Kortez Brown in East Anchorage. Brown had been found with a gunshot wound on the 8000 block of 36th Avenue.

[Anchorage man sought in connection to January homicide now wanted for robbery]

In early February, police said Settje shoplifted from the Sportsman's Warehouse on Old Seward Highway. Police are still searching for Stephen Settje, another person wanted in that robbery investigation.

Another person police had been looking for in connection with Brown's killing was arrested in January.

Should veterans be allowed to use medical marijuana for PTSD? Trump administration says no.

Sat, 2018-02-17 11:03

WASHINGTON — Frustrated with traditional therapies for chronic pain and post-combat stress disorders, a growing number of military veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are turning to medical marijuana for their treatment, a move that has put them at sharp odds with the Trump administration.

The White House has resisted calls from Democrats in Congress, pro-reform activists and even the American Legion, the nation's largest wartime veterans service organization, to support research into whether marijuana can help veterans, apparently fearing that any move by the Department of Veterans Affairs to study its effectiveness will be another step toward nationwide legalization.

The VA thus become the latest flashpoint in the national debate over marijuana legalization, pitting proponents of greater study or medical use against an administration that has tried to halt or roll back a steady movement toward greater tolerance of marijuana.

"We all understand that if the VA is able to prescribe medical cannabis and they determine this is the right way to go, then all of a sudden it is available in all 50 states and territories and the calculus changes dramatically," said Rep, Tim Walz, D-Minn., a 24-year Army veteran who is the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

In December, VA Secretary David J. Shulkin refused a request by Democrats on the House committee to launch a study of marijuana's effects on chronic pain and post-combat stress, asserting that federal law "restricts VA's ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana or to refer veterans to such projects."
In a letter to the Democrats, Shulkin claimed a review of previous research found links between marijuana use and suicide, mania and psychotic symptoms.

"The VA is saying, 'We don't even want to investigate whether medical marijuana is valid," said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., another member of the House committee. "But veterans continue to suffer in large numbers and we should be exploring all the possible alternatives out there."

Post-traumatic stress disorder, a sometimes severe psychological condition that stems from exposure to combat and other disturbing events, afflicts an estimated 9 percent of VA patients and at least 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, according to the VA.

VA doctors treat PTSD, as the disorder is known, with therapy and prescription drugs, as well as yoga, acupuncture, and other nontraditional therapies.
But some soldiers say those treatments are inadequate or produce undesirable side effects. Some former service members move on to abuse alcohol or illegal drugs, and even attempt suicide.

Twenty-six states, including California, offer access to medical marijuana for patients who obtain a physician's recommendation. Neither the VA nor the Defense Department, however, uses marijuana therapy or allows their healthcare providers to recommend it for medical purposes.

Under federal law, marijuana is still classified in the same category as heroin, and repeated efforts since the 1970s to reclassify it have failed.
The American Legion, with about 2 million members, traditionally has been a conservative voice on social and political issues. But it stepped up its push for the VA to undertake research into the medical benefits of marijuana after commissioning a poll last year that found 92 percent of veteran families favor more study.

At the group's national convention last August, it adopted a resolution calling on the VA to allow its physicians and other health providers to discuss the use of medical marijuana with veterans, and to recommend it in states where it is legal — steps that are prohibited at the VA.

Dan Schmink, a 31-year-old former Army infantryman, said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a herniated disc in his back after a combat tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, one of the most violent periods of the war.
After leaving the Army and returning home to Arizona in 2009, Schmink received opioid painkillers from the VA for his back pain. He resisted taking prescription medication for his depression, insomnia and bouts of hyper-alertness, which are frequent symptoms of traumatic stress.

Attending nursing school, he found himself unable to cope with routine daily situations. "I'd sit in the back in class and keep my eyes down to avoid talking with anybody," he said in a telephone interview. "I drank a lot. Sometimes that was the only way to turn it off."

After a friend offered him marijuana — which he says he had never tried before _ his back pain eased and he felt less anxious. In 2012, Schmink got a prescription for medical marijuana and began smoking it regularly.

"I didn't have the hyper-awareness. I wasn't having hundreds of thoughts at once," he said. "You got to a really good meditative state."

When he told his VA psychologist he was using marijuana, the reaction was "completely negative," Schmink said. A notation was put in his medical record and he was placed on a watch for possible substance abuse.

Another VA doctor was more receptive, allowing Schmink to ask questions about cannabis use. But when he sought another prescription for medical marijuana, the doctor refused, saying it was against the law.

Now living in San Diego, Schmink says he smokes marijuana every morning, and has figured out the right dose to avoid lethargy and anxiety. "It's allowed me to become more of the person I was before I went into the service and started playing war," he said.

Demonstrating the benefits of marijuana with scientific data has proven more difficult, in part because of the VA's reluctance to participate, researchers say.
The challenge has been clear in Phoenix, where researchers have been unable to complete a $2.1-million clinical trial that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011. It is the first study to try to determine whether marijuana can effectively treat PTSD.

For the findings to be statistically valid, the researchers needed to enroll 76 combat veterans who had suffered post-traumatic stress symptoms, were resistant to other treatment protocols and were not abusing marijuana. But only 38 — half the total — have agreed to participate so far.

Marcel Bonn-Miller, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who is overseeing the study, said the research has been slowed, in part, because the Phoenix VA hospital refused to allow its doctors and therapists to mention the study to patients or let researchers put up fliers seeking participants, citing federal restrictions on marijuana research.

That forced researchers to comb through social media and make telephone cold calls to search for potential participants. The study required the patients to visit a private Phoenix clinic 10 times over 18 weeks, followed by six months of follow-up visits.

Asked about the study, Curt Cashour, a spokesman for the VA in Washington, said that federal law restricts the agency's "ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such research projects." But researchers, he added, are "free to work with veterans service organizations and state veterans officials who may not face such restrictions."

Bonn-Miller said the VA is confused about federal restrictions on marijuana research. But the Phoenix study is politically explosive because it could establish for the first time whether marijuana has beneficial effects for veterans, he said.
"If (the VA) were to cooperate it would make things easier," said Bonn-Miller. "The VA can't recommend, give or prescribe cannabis for veterans, regardless of whether it's legal in the state or not, but research is a separate thing."

Here’s when seasonal airlines like JetBlue and Condor will be back in Alaska for summer

Sat, 2018-02-17 10:51

If you're looking for a good deal on an airline ticket, it helps if there's more than one airline flying the route. Travelers in Anchorage and Fairbanks are lucky, since Alaska is very popular with travelers in the Lower 48. That means that the biggest airlines are adding flights for the summer.

The next time you stroll through the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, you might think it's dominated by Alaska Airlines. After all, the entire "C" Concourse has nothing but Alaska flights: nonstops to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Honolulu and points around Alaska.

But if you take a walk down the "B" Concourse, there are all sorts of different logos on the wall. Delta Air Lines flies twice each day between Anchorage and Seattle and once a day to Minneapolis. Right now, the Atlanta-based airline is ramping up for a big summer.

"We're committed to our partnership with the state of Alaska," said Tony Gonchar, Delta's vice president for Seattle. "Overall, we're seeing a 4 percent increase in available seats this summer. That's primarily because we're adding a sixth daily nonstop flight between Anchorage and Seattle for the summer."

Delta will also operate two flights from Fairbanks to Seattle, three daily flights from Anchorage to Minneapolis, one from Fairbanks to Minneapolis, a daily flight from Anchorage to Atlanta and four weekly flights from Anchorage nonstop to Salt Lake City. The airline will fly a 737 once a day from Juneau to Seattle, while offering regional jet service (on Embraer 175 aircraft) from Ketchikan to Seattle and from Sitka to Seattle.

Compare that to Alaska's 19 daily summertime flights between Anchorage and Seattle. On the drive out to the airport, you can see a giant airplane hangar being constructed: Alaska Air is spending about $50 million to accommodate two Boeing 737 "MAX 9" aircraft side-by side. The hangar is 105,000 square feet and will be completed by the end of the year, according to Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines vice president for Alaska.

Alaska's 737s are doing more flying within the state, since Horizon Air is pulling its Q400 prop-planes. Since the 737s have more seats, there will be about 28 percent more available seats between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

While both Alaska and Delta are ramping up service in Anchorage, they are also adding capacity and infrastructure in Seattle. Alaska Air is building out the "N Gates" at Sea-Tac — you can't miss the big construction project when you fly through. In addition to that, Alaska is super-sizing its lounge in the N terminal — making it 15,000 square feet, with a rooftop view. When completed, the North Terminal will host 20 gates.

Delta's big push in Seattle is to bring more domestic traffic in to feed the international flights operated by Delta and its partners: Aeromexico, KLM, Air France and Virgin Atlantic. "Sea-Tac still is the nation's fastest-growing airport," said Delta's Gonchar. "The new international arrivals terminal will double the throughput. There won't be any waiting for customs. And a new skybridge between the "S" gates and the "A" Concourse means travelers will not have to go through security again," he said.

Right now, United Airlines offers one flight per day: a nonstop from Anchorage to Denver. That changes on March 8, when United resumes its daily nonstop flight from Anchorage to Chicago. Jonathan Guerin, Sr., United's senior manager of public relations, shared the additional flights the airline will add on June 7:

– Daily Anchorage-San Francisco nonstop

– A second daily Anchorage-Chicago nonstop

– Daily Fairbanks-Chicago nonstop

– Daily Anchorage-Houston nonstop

– Saturday-only Anchorage-Newark nonstop beginning June 9

American Airlines is returning to Anchorage on June 6, offering a nonstop flight from Anchorage to Los Angeles/LAX. The next day, June 7, American resumes its seasonal daily nonstop between Anchorage and Dallas on a 757. "All of our 757s will be retired within a couple of years," said Vasu Raja, American's vice president of network and schedule planning. Newer, single-aisle aircraft like the 737MAX will take over some of the old 757 routes. On June 8, American will resume its daily 737 service from Anchorage to Phoenix.

JetBlue Airways is returning to serve Anchorage from both Portland and Seattle, starting May 25. Count on JetBlue to offer great prices. Right now, there's a $94 one-way fare from Anchorage to Seattle. Delta has matched the rate.

Sun Country Airlines is resuming its nonstop flights from Minneapolis on May 18. Starting May 26, Sun Country will be offering two nonstop flights to Anchorage. Sun Country moves from weekend-only to daily flights on Friday, June 1. The second daily flight only will operate on Saturdays throughout the summer, according to Jim Szczesniak, airport manager at TSAIA.

Air Canada has some nice prices on its daily nonstop from Anchorage to Vancouver, B.C., starting May 11. The one-way fare is $183. Air Canada is a member of the Star Alliance with United Airlines. It's the closest thing United frequent flyers have to a nonstop to Seattle!

Icelandair, a mileage partner with Alaska Airlines, starts twice-weekly nonstop service from Anchorage to Reykjavik on May 14. Condor, the German airline that flies from Anchorage nonstop to Frankfurt, starts flying twice a week on May 19. On June 9, Condor increases its flights to three times a week. Condor also is an Alaska Airlines mileage partner.

Yakutia Airlines flies once each week from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in Russia between July 16 and Sept. 3. The plane continues on to Yakutsk. The airline operates a 737-800 on the route and is popular with anglers who love to float the rivers on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Particularly in the summer, Anchorage and Fairbanks enjoy air service that is more typical for a destination three or more times its size. That means more options and better prices for travelers.

Pain turns political in Parkland after school shootings

Sat, 2018-02-17 10:43

PARKLAND, Fla. – On a day when Parkland began burying its young dead, a dozen people stood on a street corner holding up "More Gun Control" signs as passing drivers honked and shouted in support.

"Look what we started," said Carlos Rodriguez, 50, who was on his way to work when he stopped to join the protest. "Look at all these people. One match started a whole forest fire."

This most peaceful and orderly of places has been devastated by the most violent and chaotic of acts. And amid the horse trails, bike paths and gated communities of a city that prides itself on "country elegance," the response to a shooting Wednesday that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been a raw, growing and furious burst of activism and demand for change.

"We're not a politically charged community – this is new, because we've had enough," said Grace Solomon, a city commissioner who is organizing a large group of parents and students to travel to Tallahassee, the state capital, and then to Washington to demand "common-sense gun legislation."

"Parkland families have really involved parents; they are not going to take this sitting down," Solomon said. "We have an army of moms who are tired of having their kids assaulted. Democrats and Republicans are coming together to find common ground we can bring to Tallahassee."

Parkland, founded in 1963 on the swampy fringe of the Everglades, has long been a place of gentle ease with great schools, a well-educated and affluent population of about 32,000 people. It had no stores until the 1990s and still has only four stoplights – including one that just got left-turn arrows in the past couple months.

Its violent crime rate is a tiny fraction of the rate statewide, and city spokesman Todd DeAngelis said police are more likely to be called for a trespassing alligator than for a murder.

Even its politics have a scrupulously fair balance: Although officials said the city tends to lean Democratic, like all of Broward County, President Donald Trump won one local precinct by 16 points in the 2016 election and narrowly lost four others.

But one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history has hit this city with a ferocity that has changed the calculation.

Every community responds differently to the mass shootings that have become so frequent in the United States. Dancing showgirls and chapel-wedding newlyweds were back in the streets of Las Vegas soon after a gunman sprayed bullets across a music festival in October, signaling a quick return to normalcy. In small-town Texas, a somber religiosity defined the aftermath of a church massacre that killed 26 in November.

But Parkland has responded with a call to activism – angry teachers, parents and teenagers demanding stricter guns laws, more government money for school security and better treatment for mental illness.

"This going to energize a lot of people to vote this year," said Carl Hiaasen, the best-selling novelist and journalist, who grew up in Plantation, just south of Parkland. "People are angry."

At a vigil Thursday night in the palm-lined heart of Parkland, people broke into a spontaneous and enraged chant of "No more guns! No more guns!" Many were students, who are organizing on social media and calling for young people to lead the political charge.

Annabel Claprood, 17, was in Spanish class Wednesday when she looked down at her phone. It was 2:32 p.m. – the moment, she says, she became a lifelong advocate of gun control and new campus safety laws. At that moment, the shooting started. She took shelter in her room and heard every shot.

Now, the 17-year-old has decided to travel to Tallahassee to begin pushing for new campus safety laws.

"They said every time something like this happens it's not going to happen again, but it's happening again and again, so we obviously are doing something wrong," Claprood said.

"You should not have a gun at the age of 18," said Claprood, who said it makes no sense that at 18 you can buy a gun but not drink alcohol.

Florida has relatively few restrictions on gun ownership. Unlike California, for example, Florida does not require background checks for private gun sales. It does not regulate sales of assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines (although federal law requires assault-weapon buyers from a licensed dealer to be at least 18). State laws also prohibit cities from passing gun restrictions.

Ashley Kurth, a culinary arts teacher at the high school, said her cooking class had just finished deep-frying shrimp when the gunfire began. She quickly locked the doors to her classroom and huddled with 65 students on the floor for 2 1/2 hours until a SWAT team broke a window to rescue them.

Less than 24 hours later, Kurth was consoling grieving teachers and students before a vigil at Pine Trails Park, a public recreational facility with turf playing fields, an amphitheater and high-end playground equipment. Many people arrived on bicycles or golf carts, using the community's winding network of paved paths.

Kurth, 34, said she woke up the morning after the shooting wanting to sever her lifelong ties to the Republican Party.

"Yesterday's incident opened my eyes and changed my views in a lot of ways," she said Thursday. "Before, I used to think, 'OK, let's be moderate.' But living through that, and experiencing that, and seeing the aftermath of what that was, something has to be done."

Asked about Trump's response to the shooting, Kurth sighed.

"You know, I know he does his best with what he can, but at the same time, I am disheartened a little bit to hear, once again, we are going to focus on the mental illness and getting these people help," she said.

"What are you going to do about the people who are sane and out there with their right to bear arms that decide one day they just had enough?" she added.

Sarah Lerner, 37, an English teacher, said she believed young people were going to force change on the gun issue.

"Whether you are a right-wing Republican or a super-left liberal, we all want the same thing," she said. "No one should be afraid to go to school, and we all want to live in a safe community, and I believe this community is going to unite to make that happen."

Beam Furr, the mayor of Broward County, which includes Parkland, said he was eager to give young people a chance to push for new gun legislation.

"Those students who were at Douglass, they're good kids, smart students. They don't want this shooting to be their most enduring memory of high school," he said. "Several of them have told me they want the memory to be something that they helped change. To let that be their legacy."

Since the shooting, many people in Parkland who never expected to be involved in politics are suddenly finding themselves jumping right in.

"I am not a politician. [But] this made me angry. This happened in my back yard. I didn't know how easy it is to get a gun in Florida," said Caesar Figueroa, 43, who had two children at the school during the shooting. They lost a teacher and two friends.

"I really want to make a difference," he said, calling for more stringent background checks for gun buyers. "I want to get involved and speak out."

Jim Weiss, who has written a book about Parkland's history, said Parkland's activism comes from anger and confusion about how something so horrible could happen in a place so proud of its gentle nature.

"People are outraged that something like this could happen in the safest city in Florida," said Weiss, 72. "This puzzle is missing some pieces. You know the way it should look, but you can't find those last pieces. And those pieces are about weapons and dollars for treating mental health."

The Washington Post's Renae Merle contributed to this report.

What are we losing when we stare in the mirror and stop listening to each other?

Sat, 2018-02-17 10:31

There's a solitary little brown bird that has spent his winter in and around the boat shop. I'm guessing it is a he, but I have respected his privacy. He has an ongoing love affair with himself. He spends a lot of time on our freezer, where there's an old mirror tucked away with just enough room for him to stand on the chest door and look at himself. He pecks at it a bit. He sings a little song. He fluffs himself up and tries to impress the bird in the mirror. My mailman says he's a winter wren. (The bird, not my mailman. I'd be worried otherwise.)

I watch this little guy a lot. He reminds me of social media. Staring into a flat surface, a little bit shiny, while he's prancing and puffing in front of his own image — thinking it's something entirely different.

The government's investigation has resulted in thirteen indictments against Russian individuals and three corporations for attempting to tamper in our elections. "They are charged by a grand jury with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Five of them are charged with aggravated identity theft. According to the indictment, they posed as Americans and created online personas to 'sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. election.'"

The reports are telling us more than $1.2 million a month was being spent by a foreign nation to manipulate Americans on social media sites.

How in the world did they spend that kind of money? I mean, there's the whole "What were they thinking?!" and "How dare they!" But how did it take that much money to trick Americans who stare into the digital image of themselves to hit a thumbs up button?

It's like that little bird.

Peck. Peck. Peck.

Tweet. Tweet. Tweet.

The mission to "sow discord" was waged on all fronts. How to pit the Bernie Sanders supporters against the Hillary Clinton folks. Trust me, I didn't think that argument needed any help, but it was seeded and tended to by Russians. "According to the indictment, the Russians were paying Americans to participate in rallies or perform tasks at them. One American was paid to build a cage on a flatbed truck; another was paid to portray Clinton in a prison uniform."

The contentious primary for the Republicans was also a target. See? It wasn't just your imagination that this last campaign was more angry than others.

This week, after the school shooting in Florida that took 17 more souls from our world, the computer bots were at it again. Thousands of comments — "pro-gun" posts — flooded the cyber waves. What do they get from that? Why would an enemy want us fighting with each other? So far we've just fought with each other about the mass shootings that keep happening, and haven't found any agreement other than we're sick of "thoughts and prayers" from the people who could make a difference.

Oh. Well, I guess when we're fighting with each other, we're doing the injury to  ourselves. There's a time-saver for those who would do us harm.

I'm trying to get out of the comfort bubble when taking in news. It's not easy. You know what I'm talking about. Who wants to spend time with that one guy who stands a little too close, talks loud and smells like freedom? No one wants to hear that one lady talk about her personal rights and how every conversation gets back to the details of her natural childbirth. I get it! I don't either. But how much are we losing if we just peer into our ideological mirror and not stretch our capacity to listen? They can't all be Russian cyberbots. I promise to try if you will.

One Russian businessman who was on the list of indicted, Evgeny Prigozhin, wasn't worried about the case against him. "Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see," he told a Russian news agency.

He has a point. So does that little brown bird in the boat shop. I'll be glad when spring shows up so he can find a lady bird and build a nest.

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