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Letter: Climate change is a natural process

Sun, 2018-05-20 13:23

Is there climate change? Of course. Earth's climate has always been in a state of change. Alaska was once a sub-tropical area that became an arctic environment.

Puny man cannot stop or slow this change. One volcano eruption can put tons of greenhouse gases into the environment. Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas produced by every animal that breathes air. It is used by plants and is needed by them to grow and the plants turn this CO2 back into oxygen that we animals breathe in order to live.

If you want to really make a difference, plant trees, disconnect the natural gas and electricity to your house, throw away your vehicle keys and walk everywhere.
Charles Brobst
Anchorage

Letter: Let’s show some compassion on refugees

Sun, 2018-05-20 13:22

The president's decision to jail parents and take away their children for trying to gain asylum in our country reveals a level of sadism that beggars the imagination.

Every parent who has ever loved a child knows in his heart how wrong this is. Surely, this can't be what political conservatism is all about. Remember which of our legislators support this kind of cruelty – punishing the parents by taking away their children. America is losing its soul!

Royal Kiehl
Anchorage

Alaska rural health care providers ‘in limbo’ amid budget cuts from FCC program

Sun, 2018-05-20 12:40

A clash between a federal agency and telecommunications companies over funding for rural health care providers has landed at least one Alaska hospital in a tough spot.

Growth in demand for money from the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Health Care program — which helps facilitate health care delivery in rural and remote parts of the U.S. — has led to funding cuts to the program in recent years.

At the Cordova Community Medical Center, the situation means there's a risk of internet and data services being shut off.

Losing such services would be calamitous for all kinds of businesses, but health care providers are unique. They rely on that connectivity for electronic health records, essential for treating patients. In Cordova, the hospital doesn't have a radiologist so staff there transmit images to a radiologist in the Lower 48. The payroll system at the medical center is cloud-based.

"The impact would be devastating," said Scot Mitchell, the medical center's CEO. "We can still provide health care services without internet or telephone — we have emergency contingency plans to do that if our service was to go out because of a disaster or something. But for a long-term outage, that would be very devastating. …  It's almost impossible to do business without the internet."

The FCC's rural health care program provides eligible health care entities with funding for telecommunications and broadband services. In funding year 2016, money to program recipients was cut by about 7 percent. That was the first time in the more than 20 years the program has been around that demand exceeded the money available. The following year, cuts were bigger.

More entities, specifically skilled nursing facilities, have also become eligible for the program in recent years, without an increase in the $400 million cap for the program.

[Alaska emergency rooms start sharing information, with focus on those who use them the most]

The FCC dollars pay the majority of the Cordova hospital's bills to its provider, Alaska Communications. Since that funding was cut by the FCC, Alaska Communications has been fronting the money. Now, it can't afford to any longer.

"[D]espite not receiving payment for your telecommunications services, Alaska Communications has used its own cash to pay third parties to keep you in service — at the cost of reducing our workforce and reducing employee compensation," Alaska Communications senior vice president of finance Laurie Butcher said in a May 2 letter to Mitchell. "We cannot sustain our business this way."

The letter asks the medical center to pay its $964,370 bill in full by June 30. If not, Alaska Communications will disconnect the hospital's rural health care service on July 1.

The medical center's monthly bill from Alaska Communications is just over $80,000, Mitchell said, but with the program's funding, the medical center only pays about $1,000 of that.

"This has turned into more than just a problem," said Leonard Steinberg, senior vice president of legal, regulatory and government affairs at Alaska Communications. "It's been a very painful exercise for our company because we really believe in the mission of providing telecommunications services for rural health care services. We've bent over backwards in many cases to provide services to rural health care providers around the state."

The situation has even drawn the attention of FCC chairman Ajit Pai. A May 8 letter to Alaska Communications CEO Anand Vadapalli, Pai wrote that the company "may not deny or cut off service to any of its existing rural healthcare provider customers." Steinberg said the law Pai cited in that letter also entitles telecommunications companies to funding to pay the difference between rates for rural health care providers and rates for other customers.

[Nome's new hospital boosts health care access in rural Alaska]

The shortfall isn't just affecting Alaska Communications. In a prepared statement, a spokeswoman for Alaska telecom company GCI said the company "has been working with rural providers, the FCC, and the Alaska congressional delegation to develop a solution to maintain this critical source of support" for health care in rural Alaska.

"The steep reduction of federal Rural Health Care funding for Alaska hospitals and clinics is troubling," spokeswoman Heather Handyside said in an email. "Rural providers rely on telehealth services to keep Alaskans healthy and to save lives."

GCI has not proposed reducing or terminating service to any of our customers, Handyside said.

The problem of funding for the FCC's rural health care program isn't new — that's been going on for more than a year. But the situation at the Cordova medical center highlights the potential impact, said Becky Hultberg, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

"I think ultimately it's in everyone's interest that we resolve the problem between the telecom companies and the FCC, because health care providers are caught in the middle," Hultberg said. Most providers are not having their service cut off, she said.

[Alaska's only psychiatric emergency room is overflowing. It's a sign of a system breaking down.]

The program has been around since 1997 and was created with a set of rules and a budget that hasn't kept up with changing technology, said Steinberg.

"Who ever thought about the cloud 20 years ago?" he said. "The needs for bandwidth today are so dramatically different that it's silly to even think about updating the budget just for inflation."

Alaska's congressional delegation has been trying to find a solution. In a statement emailed by his press secretary, Rep. Don Young said he's been working with the FCC, telecom companies and health care providers in Alaska for more than a year.

"It is incredulous that Alaskans have not received our allocation of money for programs that have been enabling rural health clinics to save Alaskan lives for over 20 years," he said in the statement.

Karina Petersen, a spokeswoman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in an email that the senator has also been trying to resolve the issue.

"The FCC is currently evaluating how the Rural Health Care program is managed, but until that is finalized Alaskan participants are in limbo, which is a real problem because rural health clinics provide critical tele-medicine services for remote Alaskan communities," Petersen wrote.

A May 14 letter addressed to Pai and signed by Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and 29 other senators urged the FCC to increase the program's funding cap. In a hearing before a U.S. Senate committee on Thursday, in response to a question about whether he would support raising the cap, Pai said, "I can say that I do support increasing the program."

Mitchell hopes the matter is resolved by the end of June. But, he said, if that doesn't happen, the medical center has been working with Alaska Communications to find another provider for phone and internet service.

"We're trying to work with all parties involved," he said, "to make sure we can provide health care to the people of Cordova."

Trump to ask Justice Department to look into campaign surveillance claims

Sun, 2018-05-20 11:11

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would ask the Justice Department to look into whether his 2016 presidential campaign was infiltrated or surveilled by the FBI or the department under the Obama administration.

Trump‘s simmering anger over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s year-old Russia probe appeared to spill over into a series of well-worn recriminations in several tweets, including that the investigation was politically motivated and had its roots in the administration of his Democratic predecessor.

Federal investigators are looking into whether Russia tried to sway the election and if it worked with the Trump campaign to do so. Trump has denied any collusion and repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump had escalated his attacks on the Justice Department on Friday, suggesting that the FBI may have planted or recruited an informant in his 2016 presidential campaign.

It was not clear what kind of response Trump was seeking from the Justice Department, since investigations are usually kept secret. The department did not have an immediate response to Trump‘s tweet.

In his earlier tweets on Sunday, Trump reprised his attacks on Hillary Clinton, his Democratic challenger in 2016, and maintained that the Democrats were not submitted to the same scrutiny by the FBI.

Trump also implied that the special counsel investigation of whether foreign governments tried to influence the presidential campaign was designed to hurt Republicans in the November congressional elections.

“Now that the Witch Hunt has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the World, they should easily be able to take it into the Mid-Term Elections where they can put some hurt on the Republican Party,” he wrote.

Trump, who has long complained the Russia probe has overstepped its bounds, referred to reports that his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., met in August 2016 with an envoy representing the crown princes of United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The New York Times said on Saturday the meetings were an indication that other countries besides Russia may have offered help to Trump’s presidential campaign. It said Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv and elsewhere regarding possible foreign help to the campaign.

Trump Jr. and other aides met with Gulf emissary offering help to win election

Sun, 2018-05-20 11:09

WASHINGTON — Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.

The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Donald Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.

Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Trump.

The company, which employed several Israeli former intelligence officers, specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media.

It is unclear whether such a proposal was executed, and the details of who commissioned it remain in dispute. But Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting, and after those initial offers of help, Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers — meeting frequently with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser. At the time, Nader was also promoting a secret plan to use private contractors to destabilize Iran, the regional nemesis of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

After Trump was elected, Nader paid Zamel a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million. There are conflicting accounts of the reason for the payment, but among other things, a company linked to Zamel provided Nader with an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Trump’s victory.

The meetings, which have not been reported previously, are the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign in the months before the presidential election.

The interactions are a focus of the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who was originally tasked with examining possible Trump campaign coordination with Russia in the election.

Nader is cooperating with the inquiry, and investigators have questioned numerous witnesses in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv and elsewhere about what foreign help may have been pledged or accepted, and about whether any such assistance was coordinated with Russia, according to witnesses and others with knowledge of the interviews.

The interviews, some in recent weeks, are further evidence that the special counsel’s investigation remains in an intense phase even as Trump’s lawyers are publicly calling for Mueller to bring it to a close.

It is illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in U.S. elections, and it is unclear what — if any — direct assistance Saudi Arabia and the Emirates may have provided. But two people familiar with the meetings said Trump campaign officials did not appear bothered by the idea of cooperation with foreigners.

A lawyer for Trump Jr., Alan Futerfas, said in a statement that “prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it.”

The August 2016 meeting has echoes of another Trump Tower meeting two months earlier, also under scrutiny by the special counsel, when Trump Jr. and other top campaign aides met with a Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. No evidence has emerged suggesting that the August meeting was set up with a similar premise.

The revelations about the meetings come in the midst of new scrutiny about ties between Trump’s advisers and at least three wealthy Persian Gulf states. Besides his interest in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Mueller has also been asking witnesses about meetings between White House advisers and representatives of Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s bitter rival.

A lawyer for Zamel denied that his client had carried out any campaign on Trump’s behalf. “Neither Joel Zamel, nor any of his related entities, had any involvement whatsoever in the U.S. election campaign,” said the lawyer, Marc L. Mukasey.

“The DOJ clarified from Day 1 that Joel and his companies have never been a target of the investigation. My client provided full cooperation to the government to assist with their investigation,” he said.

Kathryn Ruemmler, a lawyer for Nader, said, “Mr. Nader has fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation and will continue to do so.” A senior official in Saudi Arabia said it had never employed Nader in any capacity or authorized him to speak for the crown prince.

Prince, through a spokesman, declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Advisers to the Court

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, the king’s main adviser, had long opposed many of the Obama administration’s policies toward the Middle East. They resented President Barack Obama’s agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, his statements of support for the Arab Spring uprisings and his hands-off approach to the Syrian civil war.

News outlets linked to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fiercely criticized Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, when she was secretary of state, and diplomats familiar with their thinking say both princes hoped for a president who would take a stronger hand in the region against both Iran and groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nader had worked for years as a close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, and Zamel had worked for the Emirati royal court as a consultant as well. When Trump locked up the Republican presidential nomination in early 2016, Nader began making inquiries on behalf of the Emirati prince about possible ways to directly support Trump, according to three people with whom Nader discussed his efforts.

Nader also visited Moscow at least twice during the presidential campaign as a confidential emissary from Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, according to people familiar with his travels. After the election, he worked with the crown prince to arrange a meeting in the Seychelles between Prince and a financier close to President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Companies connected to Zamel also have ties to Russia. One of his firms had previously worked for oligarchs linked to Putin, including Oleg V. Deripaska and Dmitry Rybolovlev, who hired the firm for online campaigns against their business rivals.

Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, was once in business with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty in the special counsel investigation to charges of financial crimes and failing to disclose the lobbying work he did on behalf of a former president of Ukraine, an ally of Putin. Rybolovlev once purchased a Florida mansion from Trump.

Nader’s visits to Russia and the work Zamel’s companies did for the Russians have both been a subject of interest to the special counsel’s investigators, according to people familiar with witness interviews.

A String of Meetings

Zamel and Nader were together at a midtown Manhattan hotel at about 4 p.m. on the afternoon of Aug. 3 when Nader received a call from Prince summoning them to Trump Tower. When they arrived, Stephen Miller, a top campaign aide who is now a White House adviser, was in Trump Jr.’s office as well, according to the people familiar with the meeting.

Prince is a longtime Republican donor and the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and Prince and Nader had known each other since Nader had worked for Blackwater as a business agent in Iraq in the years after the U.S. invasion. Prince has long-standing ties to the Emirates, and has frequently done business with Emerati Crown Prince Mohammed.

Prince opened the meeting by telling Trump Jr. that “we are working hard for your father,” in reference to his family and other donors, according to a person familiar with the meeting. He then introduced Nader as an old friend with deep ties to Arab leaders.

Nader repeatedly referred to the Saudi and Emirati princes as “my friends,” according to one person with knowledge of the conversation. To underscore the point, he would open his mobile phone to show off pictures of him posing with them, some of which The New York Times obtained.

Nader explained to Trump Jr. that the two princes saw the elder Trump as a strong leader who would fill the power vacuum that they believed Obama had left in the Middle East, and Nader went on to say that he and his friends would be glad to support Trump as much as they could, according to the person with knowledge of the conversation.

Zamel, for his part, laid out the capabilities of his online media company, although it is unclear whether he referred to the proposals his company had already prepared. One person familiar with the meeting said that Nader invited Trump Jr. to meet with a Saudi prince — an invitation the younger Trump declined. After about half an hour, everyone exchanged business cards.

“There was a brief meeting, nothing concrete was offered or pitched to anyone and nothing came of it,” said Mukasey, the lawyer for Zamel.

By then, a company connected to Zamel had been working on a proposal for a covert multimillion-dollar online manipulation campaign to help elect Trump, according to three people involved and a fourth briefed on the effort. The plan involved using thousands of fake social media accounts to promote Trump’s candidacy on platforms like Facebook.

There were concerns inside the company, Psy-Group, about the plan’s legality, according to one person familiar with the effort. The company, whose motto is “shape reality,” consulted a U.S. law firm, and was told that it would be illegal if any non-Americans were involved in the effort.

Zamel, the founder of Psy-Group and one of its owners, has been questioned about the August 2016 meeting by investigators for the special counsel, and at least two FBI agents working on the inquiry have traveled to Israel to interview employees of the company who worked on the proposal. According to one person, the special counsel’s team has worked with Israeli police to seize the computers of one of Zamel’s companies, which is in liquidation.

In the hectic final weeks of the campaign and during the presidential transition, several of Trump’s advisers drew Nader close. He met often with Kushner, Flynn and Stephen Bannon, who took over as campaign chairman after Manafort resigned amid revelations about his work in Ukraine.

In December 2016, Nader turned again to an internet company linked to Zamel — WhiteKnight, based in the Philippines — to purchase a presentation demonstrating the impact of social media campaigns on Trump’s electoral victory. Asked about the purchase, a representative of WhiteKnight said: “WhiteKnight delivers premium research and high-end business development services for prestigious clients around the world. WhiteKnight does not talk about any of its clients.”

After the inauguration, both Zamel and Nader visited the White House, meeting with Kushner and Bannon.

At that time, Nader was promoting a plan to use private contractors to carry out economic sabotage against Iran that, he hoped, might coerce it to permanently abandon its nuclear program. The plan included efforts to deter Western companies from investing in Iran, and operations to sow mistrust among Iranian officials. He advocated the project, which he estimated would cost about $300 million, to U.S., Emirati and Saudi officials.

Last spring, Nader traveled to Riyadh for meetings with senior Saudi military and intelligence officials to pitch his Iran sabotage plan. He was convinced, according to several people familiar with his plan, that economic warfare was the key to the overthrow of the government in Tehran. One person briefed on Nader’s activities said he tried to persuade Kushner to endorse the plan to Crown Prince Mohammed in person on a trip to Riyadh, although it was unclear whether the message was delivered.

Asked about Nader’s plans to attack Iran, the senior Saudi official said Nader had a habit of pitching proposals that went nowhere.

Nader was also in discussions with Prince, the former head of Blackwater, about a plan to get the Saudis to pay $2 billion to set up a private army to combat Iranian proxy forces in Yemen.

Since entering the White House, Trump has allied himself closely with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. His first overseas trip was to Riyadh. He strongly backed Saudi and Emirati efforts to isolate their neighbor Qatar, another U.S. ally, even over apparent disagreement from the State and Defense departments.

This month, Trump also withdrew from an Obama administration nuclear deal with Iran that both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had campaigned against for years, delivering them their biggest victory yet from his administration.

Letter: The coastal trail is a mess

Sun, 2018-05-20 10:39

Walking on the coastal trail last week, starting out on the Elderberry Park side, I noticed how terrible the sidewalks and the appearance of the trail looked. Weeds are growing out of the cement sides. Leaves are piled so high in places, it takes up part of the trail. There's graffiti on the sides of the tunnels, and the cement walls are cracked. Trash is strewn on the trails. The asphalt in many places is a hazard. Trees grow in places where you can hardly see Cook Inlet anymore.

Believe me, we do not need any more cottonwood trees.

This is an important part of our community and a popular walking and running trail in all seasons. The tourists love the view, but in looking at how ill-kept the trail is, it is an embarrassment to our city. Somewhere, our city fathers have forgotten why we voted to have the trails put in. It is a big draw to families, runners, dog walkers, tourists, sunset watchers and photographers to have a decent kept trail. What's the problem?

Patricia Wells
Eagle River

Lava spatter hits Hawaii man and shatters his leg in first known injury from Kilauea volcano

Sun, 2018-05-20 10:29

Hawaii officials on Saturday reported the first known injury related to heightened volcanic activity from Kilauea after a Big Island resident was hit by lava spatter while standing on a third-floor balcony.

That person, identified only as a homeowner on Noni Farms Road, shattered his leg from his shin to his foot when lava spatter struck him, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, according to Reuters.

Lava spatters “can weigh as much as a refrigerator and even small pieces of spatter can kill,” the spokeswoman told Reuters.

Neither the mayor’s office nor the Hawaii County Civil Defense Center immediately responded to requests for additional information early Sunday morning.

Noni Farms Road is a residential road that lies to the east of the Leilani Estates neighborhood in Pahoa, where the majority of the attention has been focused ever since Kilauea’s volcanic activity increased dramatically three weeks ago.

[The earth cracked open. Walls of lava encroached. That’s just life on a Hawaiian volcano.]

To date, at least 23 fissures have formed along a northeast-southwest line in the rift zone, most in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens neighborhoods. Lava emerging from the vents has destroyed dozens of homes.

Late Saturday, a fast-flowing stream of lava pouring from one of the active fissures also reached Highway 137, which hugs the island’s eastern coast.

The lava shut down about a 4-mile section of the highway, between Kamaili and Pohoiki roads, blocking one of the main escape routes for the area’s coastal residents. Officials said late Saturday that the lava had entered the ocean, and advised all people to avoid the area because of a new hazard: laze.

Laze occurs when hot lava meets the ocean, sending a plume of hydrochloric acid and steam - along with fine glass particles - into the air.

Laze plumes travel with the wind and can shift directions without warning, the county civil defense agency said.

The activity capped off a week of devastation, as The Washington Post’s Kristine Phillips reported: Before dawn Thursday, a big explosion sent a plume of ash about 30,000 feet into the sky.

On Friday, several fissures, including one that just formed, spewed fresh lava from Kilauea’s summit, destroying 40 structures in the morning, the center said. By afternoon, lava had isolated 40 homes in the area. Four people were airlifted by county and National Guard helicopters.

“With fresher, hotter magma, there’s the potential that the lava flows can move with greater ease and therefore cover more area,” Janet Babb, a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, told Hawaii News Now.

Resident Ikaika Marzo likened the sound of lava to as many as 20 jets taking off at once in people’s back yards.

“It’s huge grenades going off,” he told Hawaii News Now. “It shakes the whole community.”

On April 30, the floor of the Puu Oo Crater, on the volcano’s East Rift Zone, collapsed, sending its pool of lava back underground. Days later, after several small earthquakes, the magma pushed its way back to the surface on the east side of the island’s Leilani Estates neighborhood, creating the first of many fissures to come.

Hot steam - and noxious sulfur dioxide gases - have risen from the vents, before magma broke through and splattered into the air.

Thousands of Big Island residents who were living near the lava flows have already evacuated.

The Washington Post’s Kristine Phillips contributed to this report.

How an Alaska elder who reached the top of North America teaches lessons of joy

Sun, 2018-05-20 09:53

Tom Choate greeted me with a silly grin and a goofy pun, not what I expected when I set up an interview to learn about his seemingly impossible mountaineering feat.

Choate climbed Denali five years ago, at 78, almost exactly 50 years after the first time he climbed the mountain.

He trudged up the mountain very slowly, but nearing the top, he found he was passing younger climbers who had not acclimatized to the elevation. At the very top, a freak lightning storm sent many climbers fleeing. One was burned by electricity.

Choate bided his time and made it to the top.

No one older than Choate ever climbed the mountain. No one had as long a career on the mountain, climbing it in each of five decades.

Choate is justifiably proud. But he's also full of fun, sincerely humble, and makes himself the butt of his jokes. He said he was skeptical of the whole idea of climbing the mountain as an old man with a bum foot.

[At 94, she answers phones and manages changing rooms at an Anchorage Walmart. But that's not the surprising part.]

We have an extraordinary tradition of older Alaskans who remain active outdoors.

They're in the mountains, swimming, cycling, or crossing the city on the Tour of Anchorage ski race. Twelve racers 70 or older finished that event this year, each going at least 25 kilometers (one went 50). The amazing Reno Deprey finished with a smile at age 87.

Like Choate, these athletes are at it for the love of the sport. They're done proving themselves, done trying to build an image for the world. Something much more affirming keeps them going.

When I asked how he managed his climb, Choate said, "The key to it is not stopping."

I asked an elder mountain runner how he keeps from getting hurt. He said that by now he knows his limits.

I realized not respecting my own limits is how I've always gotten hurt.

Talking to these people, I learned how I want to age. In fact, I learned how I wish I had lived all along. How sweet would life be if, at a young age, you could let go of the powerful twin drives, egoistic competition and self-doubt?

The great sports writer Roger Angell considered this at age 95 in a moving essay published in the New Yorker in 2015.

"A majority of us people over seventy-five keep surprising ourselves with happiness," he wrote. "We've outgrown our ambitions."

But Angell noted that this quality has the perverse effect getting old people ignored, as if contentment means you don't matter. He illustrated the point by recalling an after-dinner conversation with a group of friends who were younger men, still in their 60s.

"There's a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they've just left it. What? Hello? Didn't I just say something? Have I left the room?" he wrote.

"Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty. When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we're invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You've had your turn, Pops; now it's ours," he wrote.

Interesting, isn't it, our tendency to patronize the old as we do the young? It's as if, like children, their joy disqualifies them, indicating they can't understand the true toughness of life. As if they don't know adulthood's difficult struggle for goals and status.

But of course they do. They're just done with it.

That's what I see in elders I pass in our community ski races, cheering me on with a smile. To enjoy the race regardless of where you place is a metaphor for a good life.

[How an old boat is teaching me to put down the burden of the past]

Age also provides perspective. Choate may not have been as capable as many climbers on Denali, but I suspect he knew more about the mountain than any of them. That allowed him to manage the challenges to bring the summit within reach of his older body.

He first climbed the mountain in 1963, when very few people had stood on its peak. There was no safety net in those days.

Choate, a retired biology professor, had already been climbing for years. He fell in love with Denali and the national park in 1954. He would have climbed it earlier, but earthquake fissures made the Muldrow Glacier impassable for several years, blocking the old-time approach route.

The team in 1963 started from Wonder Lake, crossed both peaks of the mountain, and descended the Kahiltna Glacier to the bottom, ending on foot in Talkeetna.

Choate said the four climbers on that trip fell in cravasses 75 times. After a few falls, he realized it wasn't a big deal, because he could trust his climbing partners and their ropes.

He went back over fifty years and four more climbs. His main emotion, on his last climb, was affection and nostalgia.

"I fell in love with the mountain so much that I just love the chance of going back to these familiar places," he said.

But the mountain has also changed.

"There's no doubt climate change has been very dramatic on the mountain," Choate said. "Each time I go back, the glacier seems like it has less snow, and there's more cravases, and further up the mountains there's a little less snow and a little more steep ice."

He explored and researched penguins in Antarctica, climbed in the Himalayas and the Andes, and spent years on mountains in New Zealand and Africa. His resume is complete.

I asked how he has stayed fit into old age.

He said he's not fit.

"Because I'm an unfit old goat doesn't mean I don't have the ambition to try stuff," he said. "You don't have to be an athlete. You have to be determined to go through a little pain."

My interview with Choate airs Thursday on Outdoor Explorer on Alaska Public Media.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

U.S., China putting trade war on hold, Treasury’s Mnuchin says

Sun, 2018-05-20 08:31

WASHINGTON - The U.S. trade war with China is “on hold” after the world’s largest economies agreed to drop their tariff threats while they work on a wider trade agreement, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday.

Mnuchin and U.S. President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said the agreement reached by Chinese and American negotiators on Saturday set up a framework for addressing trade imbalances in the future.

“We are putting the trade war on hold. Right now, we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to execute the framework,” Mnuchin said in a television interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

On Saturday, Beijing and Washington said they would keep talking about measures under which China would import more energy and agricultural commodities from the United States to close the $335 billion annual U.S. goods and services trade deficit with China.

During an initial round of talks this month in Beijing, Washington demanded that China reduce its trade surplus by $200 billion. No dollar figure was cited in the countries’ joint statement on Saturday.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not return a request for comment on Mnuchin’s statement.

Kudlow told CBS “Face the Nation” it was too soon to lock in the $200 billion figure. “The details will be down the road. These things are not so precise,” he said.

Beijing agreed to take measures to substantially reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China and offered to make structural reforms, such as lowering tariffs and non-tariff barriers, that will allow the United States to export goods worth billions of dollars more, Kudlow said earlier on ABC’s “This Week.”

Trump was in a “very positive mood about this,” Kudlow said.

However, he said there was no trade deal reached.

“There’s no agreement for a deal,” Kudlow told ABC. “We never anticipated one. There’s a communique between the two great countries, that’s all. And in that communique, you can see where we’re going next.”

One next step will be dispatching Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to China to look at areas where there will be significant increases, including energy, liquefied natural gas, agriculture and manufacturing, Mnuchin and Kudlow said.

Mnuchin said the United States expects to see a big increase of between 35 percent and 40 percent in agricultural exports to China this year alone and a doubling of energy purchases over the next three to five years.

“We have specific targets. I am not going to publicly disclose what they are. They go industry by industry,” Mnuchin said.

Saturday’s statement made no mention of whether there would be a relaxation of paralyzing restrictions on Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp imposed last month by the U.S. Commerce Department.

The action was related to violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea and banned American companies from selling semiconductors and other components to ZTE, causing the Shenzhen-based company to cease operations.

Trump said last week he had directed Ross to put ZTE back in business, but Kudlow said any changes would be minimal.

“If any of the remedies are altered they are still going to be very, very, tough, including big fines, compliance measures, new management, new boards,” he said. “Do not expect ZTE to get off scot-free. Ain’t going to happen.”

Texas school shooter killed girl who turned down his advances and embarrassed him in class, her mother says

Sun, 2018-05-20 07:53

SANTA FE, Texas -- As he heard the gunshots approaching down the hall Friday morning, Santa Fe High School student Abel San Miguel, 15, hid with a few classmates in the art class storage closet.

He wasn’t sure if he was going to survive. Through the door, he could see the barrel of a shotgun. Then the shooter began shooting through the door, killing at least one student inside, and grazing Abel’s back.

When the shooter left the room briefly, Abel and others left the closet and tried to barricade the door. But the shooter pushed it open, spotted a student he knew, and with anger said, “Surprise!” before shooting the student in the chest.

“I’m still trying to process everything,” Abel said in an interview.

As more details emerged about the shooting that left 10 people dead and 13 injured at the Houston-area school, the student who authorities said confessed to the attack was being held in isolation Saturday as officials identified the victims.

The family of the 17-year-old suspect, junior Dimitrios Pagourtzis, is “as shocked and confused as anyone else by these events that occurred,” according to a statement released to the media.

“We are gratified by the public comments made by other Santa Fe High School students that show Dimitri as we know him: a smart, quiet, sweet boy,” the family statement said. “While we remain mostly in the dark about the specifics of yesterday’s tragedy, what we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love.”

One of Pagourtzis’ classmates who died in the attack, Shana Fisher, “had 4 months of problems from this boy,” her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, wrote in a private message to the Los Angeles Times on Facebook. “He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no.”

Pagourtzis continued to get more aggressive, and she finally stood up to him and embarrassed him in class, Rodriguez said. “A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn’t like,” she wrote. “Shana being the first one.” Rodriguez didn’t say how she knew her daughter was the first victim.

The gunman repeatedly taunted students during the attack, according to another harrowing account posted to Facebook by one survivor’s mother.

[Santa Fe school had a shooting plan, armed officers, and practice. And still 10 people died.]

After scrambling to escape the shooter’s blasts in the art room, Isabelle Van Ness, covered in dust from rounds hitting her classroom walls, could hear the shooter in a next-door classroom yelling, “Woo hoo!” while shooting, according to her mother, Deedra Van Ness.

“The gunman then comes back into their room and they hear him saying ... are you dead? Then more shots are fired,” Deedra Van Ness wrote. “By this time, cell phones all over the classroom are ringing and he’s taunting the kids in the closet asking them ... do you think it’s for you? do you want to come answer it? Then he proceeds to fire more bullets into the closet and tries to get in.”

Police arrived within 10 minutes later as Isabelle hid among the bodies of her classmates, and she could hear the shooter reloading after an “exchange” with police, her mother wrote.

Soon after, the shooter surrendered. “She and her friends had been in the same room with the gunman the ENTIRE TIME,” her mother wrote. “As the media announces the names of the confirmed dead, Isabelle falls apart. ... She had prayed that her friends lying around the school were just injured and the confirmation of their deaths was crushing.”

The dead included two teachers, Glenda Perkins and Cynthia Tisdale, along with Shana Fisher and seven of her classmates: Kimberly Vaughan, Angelique Ramirez, Christian Riley Garcia, Jared Black, Christopher Jake Stone, Aaron Kyle McLeod and Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan.

Two bombs that Pagourtzis allegedly brought to the school Friday were “intended to be IEDs,” improvised explosive devices, but turned out to be “nonfunctional,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said Saturday.

Pagourtzis, a football player who had allegedly posted images of guns and a T-shirt with the words “Born to kill” on social media in the weeks before the shooting, is being held without bond while facing charges of capital murder and aggravated assault on a public servant.

His schoolmates were allowed to return to parts of the school Saturday to retrieve their abandoned belongings.

One student wrote on Twitter: “as i walked into the school today to grab my things all I felt was emptiness. the entire vibe of the school was sad. you could look at the doors and see where they had to use [sledge]hammers to get into the doors. ... i never want to be there again.”

After surrendering to police at the school, Pagourtzis waived his right to remain silent and confessed to the shooting, authorities said. According to a probable-cause statement, Pagourtzis said that “he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told.”

The judge questioned the teenager at his initial court appearance Friday. Pagourtzis answered the questions, admitting to the shooting, but said little else, Henry said.

Officials also upped the number of injured at Friday’s shooting to 13 from 10. One of the wounded, school police Officer John Barnes, remained in critical but stable condition Saturday after nearly dying from blood loss, according to police officials.

“This guy ran toward danger. I can’t thank him enough,” Henry said in an interview. “He’s a hero in my book.”

A close friend, Capt. James Dale of the Houston Police Department, said Barnes might lose his right arm.

“We want to know exactly what went on in there,” Dale said. “All we know is he was the first one in there and he was shot in both arms.”

Walter Braun, chief of the Santa Fe Independent School District Police Department, declined to answer questions about the police response to the shooting or whether the department had seen any warning signs from Pagourtzis before the massacre.

“Our officers went in there and did what they could,” Braun said at a news conference. “They did what they were trained for, and went in immediately.”

Though the school is now believed to be free of explosives, all district schools will remain closed until at least Tuesday as officials sort through the crime scene.

Officers have been bringing in students 10 at a time to gather belongings from parts of the school that were not closed off, Braun said.

With assistance from the Red Cross, officials have set up an assistance center at a local Methodist church where affected families can receive emotional support, community services and food.

“This is the second time in eight months that we’ve gone through tragedy,” Rep. Randy Weber, the area’s Republican congressman, said at a news conference, noting Hurricane Harvey’s assault on the area last summer.

“We will pull together,” Weber said. “We will grieve together, we will love one another, we will work together. We did it after Harvey, still doing it after Harvey. We’ll do it after this.”

Santa Fe school had a shooting plan, armed officers, and practice. And still 10 people died.

Sun, 2018-05-20 07:47

SANTA FE, Tex. - They, like so many others, thought they had taken the steps to avoid this.

The school district had an active-shooter plan, and two armed police officers walked the halls of the high school. School district leaders had even agreed last fall to eventually arm teachers and staff under the state’s school marshal program, one of the country’s most aggressive and controversial policies intended to get more guns into classrooms.

They thought they were a hardened target, part of what’s expected today of the American public high school in an age when school shootings occur with alarming frequency. And so a death toll of 10 was a tragic sign of failure and needing to do more, but also a sign, to some, that it could have been much worse.

“My first indication is that our policies and procedures worked,” J.R. “Rusty” Norman, president of the school district’s board of trustees, said Saturday, standing exhausted at his front door. “Having said that, the way things are, if someone wants to get into a school to create havoc, they can do it.”

The mass shooting - which killed 10 people and wounded 10 others in this rural community outside Houston - again highlighted the despairing challenge at the center of the ongoing debate over how to make the nation’s schools safer. It also hints at a growing feeling of inevitability, a normalization of what should be impossible tragedies.

The gunman in Santa Fe used a pistol and a shotgun, firearms common to many South Texas homes, firearms he took from this father, police said. So there were no echoes of the calls to ban assault rifles or raise the minimum age for gun purchases that came after the shooting three months ago in Parkland, Florida.

Most residents here didn’t blame any gun for the tragedy down the street. Many of them pointed to a lack of religion in schools.

“It’s not the guns. It’s the people. It’s a heart problem,” said Sarah Tassin, 61. “We need to bring God back into the schools.”

Texas politicians are pushing to focus on school security - the hardening of targets.

Gov. Greg Abbott, R, said he planned to hold roundtable discussions starting Tuesday on how to make schools even more secure. One idea he and other state officials mentioned was limiting the number of entrances to the facilities. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said Congress eventually would consider legislation focused on “hardening targets and adding more school metal detectors and school police officers.”

But the horror in Santa Fe shows that there are limits there, too.

Norman said he saw school security as a way to control, not prevent, school violence. And the school district had some practice. In February, two weeks after the Parkland shooting, Santa Fe High went into lockdown after a false alarm of an active-shooter situation, resulting in a huge emergency response. The school won a statewide award for its safety program.

“We can never be over-prepared,” Norman said. “But we were prepared.”

His school board approved a plan in November to allow some school staff members to carry guns, joining more than 170 school districts in Texas that have made similar plans. But Santa Fe was still working on it, Norman said. People needed to be trained. Details needed to be worked out, such as a requirement that school guns fire only frangible bullets, which break into small pieces and are unlikely to pass through victims, as a way to limit the danger to innocent students.

All of these efforts, Norman said, are “only a way to mitigate what is happening.”

The search for red flags about the alleged gunman’s intentions continued Saturday - another familiar hallmark of school shootings.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the 17-year-old student who police said confessed to the shooting, was being held without bond at a jail in Galveston. Wearing a trench coat, he allegedly opened fire in an art class, moving through the room shooting at teachers and students, and talking to himself. He approached a supply closet where students were barricaded inside, and he shot through the windows saying “surprise,” said Isabelle Laymance, 15.

The gunman shot a school police officer who approached him, then talked with other officers, offering to surrender. The entire episode lasted a terrifying 30 minutes, according to witnesses and court records.

The Pagourtzis family released a statement Saturday saying they are “shocked and confused” by what happened and that the incident “seems incompatible with the boy we love.”

Nicholas Poehl, the Galveston attorney for Pagourtzis, said his client appeared “pretty dazed” when he met with him Saturday and that it would take time for him to learn what happened.

The alleged gunman’s classmates and parents said they saw no signs of trouble before the shooting, though some said he had seemed somewhat depressed in recent months.

Bertha Bland, whose grandson is good friends with Pagourtzis, said she knew the teenager well and described him as “an outstanding kid” and a good student.

Scott Pearson, whose son played football with Pagourtzis, described him as a quiet, normal kid. He didn’t talk to him much when he took him home from football practices, but he never got the impression that he was dangerous. He noticed that Pagourtzis regularly wore a trench coat but didn’t think much of it.

“Kids do weird stuff,” Pearson said. “I don’t understand when my son wears a hoodie out in 90-degree heat, either.”

Pagourtzis improved as a football player between sophomore and junior years, moving from second to first string as a defensive tackle on the junior varsity squad, according to Rey Montemayor, an 18-year old senior quarterback.

Pagourtzis spent a lot of time in the weight room.Eventually Pagourtzis, who wore number 69, was doing reps of 185 pounds on the bench press. “He worked hard,” Montemayor said. “Even got stronger than me.”

On the team, Pagourtzis was well liked and respected, even though he mostly kept to himself, ear buds in his ears in the hallways and in the locker room. He was “very normal, cool,” Montemayor said. “He would joke around but was also quiet - not an open book.”

Local and federal officials revealed little new information about the shooting or the investigation on Saturday. So far, investigators have not found any link to terrorism or political extremism in the suspect’s background that would offer a motive for the attack, according to a person close to the investigation.

The evidence recovered in the first day of the probe suggests that the suspect was a disturbed young man without any particular ideology, though it is still early in the investigation and new facts could emerge, the person said.

Authorities here said police reacted as they should have to the shooting incident, praising the initial response, which included two school police officers trying to intervene, though they have not yet provided details of the interaction that led to the teen’s surrender. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry described the quick actions of the school police officers as “very critical.”

Santa Fe Independent School District Police Chief Walter Braun said at a news conference that the police officer wounded in the shooting was in “critical but stable condition” at a hospital. He said his officers “did what they were trained for. They went in immediately.”

Some students, escorted by police, were briefly allowed back on the school campus to retrieve backpacks and their vehicles. But the high school remained cordoned off as a crime scene.

The town did not come to a standstill as it dealt with the aftermath of the shooting: People still ran errands and had yard sales and barbecues. The community library closed “out of respect for the victims,” but organizers of a library benefit sale decided to hold their event as planned in the lobby and parking lot. The Santa Fe High baseball team was still scheduled for a playoff game Saturday night.after canceling one on the day of the shooting.

The shooting didn’t seem to rattle beliefs or prompt the calls for change that followed the Parkland shooting. Norman Franzke, 69, whose granddaughter safely escaped Santa Fe High, noted that guns have been part of the culture here for generations. When he attended, students kept shotguns on racks in their pickups, ready for hunting after school.

“I don’t think this will change the mentality of this community,” Franzke said. “There may be some changes in how kids enter and leave school. But even then, he was a student, so he would still have had access.”

At Red Cap restaurant, a popular diner down the road from the high school, the sign outside no longer advertised fried green tomatoes and Boudin balls. It had been changed to read “Prayers for Santa Fe.”

Inside, Tassin, who works at Red Cap, teared up as she thought about all the teens and their parents who stop in there. She considers them family. But she didn’t blame guns for Friday’s shooting. She didn’t blame mental health. She didn’t know where to lay blame. There had been so many school shootings. And now, at Santa Fe High.

Something was going on, she said. But she didn’t know what.

The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Julie Tate, Alice Crites and Jennifer Jenkins in Washington contributed to this report.

At CIC track championships, the action was hot even if the weather wasn’t

Sat, 2018-05-19 20:53

Saturday was better suited for late-season football than late-season track and field, a chilly, breezy day that made you cringe in empathy anytime you heard an official issue the "sweats off" command at the Cook Inlet Conference track and field championships.

Temperatures were in the 40s and a steady wind blasted runners on the final turn on Dimond High's 400-meter oval. Jumpers asked for, and were granted, permission to compete while wearing sweat pants.

No one was more prepared for the elements than Matthew Ross, a junior at Service High. He stayed warm by wearing a warm, fuzzy bathrobe that belongs to his mother, plus a whole lot more underneath it.

"Seven layers," he said.

A minute or two before he took the track for the 800-meter race, Ross peeled off layer after layer, dropping one item on top of another to form a sizeable heap of polyester, fleece and down.

"That's probably 30 pounds of clothing," he said, and then he described each item in the order in which he wears them over his Service High track singlet.

"This is a T-shirt I won at Dave & Busters," Ross began. "This is a hoodie I bought for $20 on a Chinese website. This is my Borealis Bullseye (riflery team) jacket. This is a Patagonia jacket I got for Christmas last year and I love it. This is my snowboarding jacket — it's waterproof."

And then there is the piece de resistance: a long, fuzzy, pink bathrobe he procured from his mother's closet.

Ross, who finished seventh in the eight-man 800 finals, said if he overdresses while warming up for a race, he stays warm once he sheds all of those layers and starts running. "Today was the perfect temperature," he said.

Not many others would have agreed with that assessment. But even if the weather was chilly, the action was hot.

The Chugiak boys and South girls claimed team titles by knocking off the defending champions.

Chugiak, led by triple-winner Daniel Bausch, earned its first CIC boys championship since 1996 by beating two-time defending champion Bartlett.

South, powered by sprinters Sarah Robinson and Paige Searles, edged two-time defending champion Chugiak by two points to claim its second team title in four years.

Robinson and Searles finished 1-2 in the 100 and the 200 for the Wolverines. Robinson won both races to help South put the team title out of Chugiak's reach going into the final event of the day, the 1,600-meter relay.

The West girls won that relay behind a powerful anchor leg from sophomore Ta'Zhay Wyche. West and Bartlett were neck-and-neck when Wyche took the baton and quickly pulled away to give the Eagles a four-second victory over the Golden Bears.

Wyche was coming off a milestone victory in the 400 meters. She won in 59.88 to beat top-seeded Damecia Jones of Bartlett, who had the fastest time in preliminaries but settled for second place in the finals with a time of 1:00.04.

"She's been beating me the whole season, so in the last 50 meters I just gave it my all," Wyche said. "I finally beat her."

Nobody could beat Bausch, the Chugiak junior who won the 3,200 in 9:30.63  Friday and added wins in the 1,600 (4:21.76) and 800 (1:58.94) Saturday.

Bausch, the CIC's dominant distance runner this season, said he was unhappy with his 3,200 race, which he won by less than three seconds.

But he was happy with both of his Saturday races, especially the 800, where he posted a personal-best about an hour after winning the 1,600.

Bausch said he is eager to run the 1,600 at the Bryan Young Invitational meet in Kodiak in two weeks, but his coach would rather put him in the 1,600 relay at that meet.

"She told me I wasn't allowed to run the 1,600 at the Bryan Young meet unless I could run around a 1:59 in the 800," Bausch said. "She said, 'You've gotta show me you can run fast when you're tired.' ''

Bausch rose to the challenge, getting the time his coach wanted and a third victory for the Mustangs.

Eagle River also boasted a triple-winner. Freshman Emily Walsh won Friday's 3,200 and Saturday's 1,600 and 800, holding off a challenge from South's Ava Earl in the 1,600 to win by eight-tenths of a second to complete the hat trick.

Seven athletes finished with two individual wins apiece, including South sprinter Robinson.

Chugiak boasted two double-winners — Emma Nelson (triple jump, high jump) and Brooklynn Gould (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles) for the girls, and Mason Wadsworth (high jump, 110 hurdles) for the boys.

Other double-winners were Dimond's Alissa Pili (shot put, discus), Bartlett's Thomas Sio (shot put, discus) and East's Colton Herman (100, 200).

Wadsworth's bid for a third win was derailed by Daryl Bushnell of East, who beat Wadsworth in the 300 hurdles by less than half a second.

The hurdle race happened not long after Bushnell ran a 200-meter leg for East's third-place 800 relay team.

"I took a 10-minute nap and recharged everything," he said.

Bushnell, a senior, said he became a hurdler as soon as he tried track as a seventh grader.

"It was running and jumping, and I thought, 'Oh, that seems fun,' " he said. "It came naturally. My second race in seventh grade, I hit a hurdled and tripped and fell and still came in second-place."

Gould, who swept the hurdle races for Chugiak, said she became a hurdler when a high school coach saw her run in middle school.

"My middle school coach didn't want me to do hurdles because he was afraid I'd get hurt," she said. "I did one race in middle school and the hurdle coach at Chugiak saw me."

The coach attended the same church as Gould's family and quickly converted Brooklynn into a hurdler.

"I ended up doing really well," Gould said. "It's kind of my thing."

SWAT team called to East Anchorage neighborhood after report of shots fired

Sat, 2018-05-19 18:52

Update, 6:47 p.m.: Two females have exited the apartment building on the 5200 block of East 26th Avenue, police said in an advisory around 6:30 p.m. Saturday, but others are still inside.

"Several people remain inside the apartment and continue to ignore (officers') commands to exit," the statement said. "As a result, officers with SWAT were requested and have taken over."

The two females are in custody and being questioned, said police spokesman MJ Thim.

The road closure continues and police are asking residents to avoid the area and stay indoors.

Original story:

Police were investigating a report of shots fired in the 5200 block of East 26th Avenue on Saturday afternoon, police spokesman MJ Thim said.

People connected to the shots fired were refusing to come out of an apartment complex in the area, Thim said. East 26th Avenue was closed to traffic at Carroll Place, near Boniface Parkway, while the investigation is underway.

The report came in around 2 p.m., Thim said. Police have not found any shooting victims, he said, and at this point it is "just a shots fired investigation."

Officers with the police Crisis Negotiation Team and K-9 Unit were also on the scene Saturday, Thim said, and negotiations have begun.

"We believe there are multiple people inside this apartment that are connected to the shots fired, but they are refusing to come out," Thim said. "We want people to stay inside as we work the investigation."

Thim did not have an exact number of how many people were involved, but did say it was more than one person.

Saari, Hjelm sail to victories in Bear Valley 5K

Sat, 2018-05-19 18:11

Matias Saari and Nicole Hjelm took top honors at the Bear Valley 5K, which marked its 25th anniversary Saturday.

Saari paced a field of 183 finishers with a time of 20 minutes, 56 seconds. He enjoyed a healthy lead over runner-up Ben Ward, who edged Ian Moore by 15 seconds to take second place in 22:16.

Hjelm finished 10th overall and took the women's win in 25:23, more than two minutes ahead of Jen Jolliff, whose 27:42 put her six seconds ahead of Heidi Jensen in the race for second place.

Top 10 men — 1) Matias Saari 20:56, 2) Ben Ward 22:16, 3) Ian Moore 22:31, 4) Jonny Hughes 22:56, 5) Jim McDonough 23:04, 6) Dan Myers 23:40, 7) Kyle Fischer 24:44, 8) Bryce Bethard 24:45, 9) Rich Suddock 25:01, 10) Eli Robinson 25:26.

Top 10 women — 1) Nicole Hjelm 25:23, 2) Jen Jolliff 27:42, 3) Heidi Jensen 27:48, 4) Abby Robinson 28:14, 5) Ingrid Reese 29:14, 6) Kristy Marchant 29:49, 7)Keilo Wilson 30:35, 8) Shelby Wilson 30:26, 9) Cariana Kay 30:29, 10) Liz Stadnicky 31:44.

The earth cracked open. Walls of lava encroached. That’s just life on a Hawaiian volcano.

Sat, 2018-05-19 17:46

PAHOA, Hawaii – The earth cracked open beneath Leilani Estates in middle-of-the-night darkness, glowing crimson against a black sky.

Salvador Luquin awoke on his 50-acre ranch to acrid smoke billowing from the ground and a family, including two young daughters, that needed to get somewhere safe. There also were 140 head of livestock and horses on his hilly property that, as one crack spidered into many, were threatened by gas and fire.

It took three days and many friends to get the animals to safety – to a county-run equestrian center near Hilo, to a ranch for the livestock in the south. The girls, Camila and Isabella, ended up with mom and dad in Luquin's Mexican restaurant, sleeping on air mattresses under tables.

"We all know that when we buy a piece of land here, you are on a big piece of lava rock that could pop open at any time," said Luquin, 56, who arrived from Los Angeles in 1982 to visit a friend and never left. "But the volcano also makes new land, and suddenly you have something new and beautiful."

[Another Kilauea eruption shatters the quiet in a Hawaii 'ghost town']

On this eastern edge of the nation's southernmost state, the people who live here are accustomed to – and awed by – their volcanic real estate, perched on the side of an angry mountain that rises out of the Pacific. But this eruption of Kilauea, which began May 3 and shows no sign of abating, is the most severe in the community's long collective memory.

Several thousand residents of the Big Island's southeast corner, far from the tourist destinations of the Kona Coast, have been displaced from their modest homes and patches of land owned for generations by the same, sprawling families. It is a region blessed by its serendipitous geography and cursed by the laws of gravity when Kilauea acts up – as it has on a nearly continuous basis for the past quarter-century.

No one has died in this eruption. No one who owns land intends to leave.

For many Native Hawaiians, this moment on the lava is simply Pele, the volcano goddess who features in murals along the main street here, coming to collect a bit back from the bargain many know they made when they settled here.

Live on the black rock and amid the skinny palms. Abide by the hang-loose "aloha" ethic. But know that at any moment you will be forced to wonder whether all you have will be lost in slow motion to creeping walls of lava.

Island life is risky in its remoteness, and the thousands who have chosen this island for their home have long known that in times of emergency they probably will have to save themselves. Friends take in evacuated families, delivery companies rescue pets, restaurants donate meals for hundreds of people and helicopter companies offer cut-rate flyovers to those who had to abandon homes.

A fantasy for some on the mainland, this island – magma and all – is to many just home.

"I wouldn't even know where to go," said Pauline McLaren, 77, who left her home of 15 years in the town of Kapoho a few miles from here on the eastern coast.

Her neighborhood is famed for its tide pools, crystal clear and full of life. Now she lives in a pair of tents on a soggy athletic field behind Pahoa's community center, transformed into a shelter.

"Pele is my home girl," reads a bumper sticker on a car parked near McLaren's patch of grass.

[Ash fallout alert issued after Big Island volcano erupts in 6-mile-high plume]

On a recent afternoon, between heavy rain showers, McLaren reclined on a plastic lounge chair, reading in shorts and slippers a mystery called "Ricochet" by Sandra Brown. Pookie and Beau, her mixed-breed rescues, watched strangers approach warily.

A severe storm struck several years ago, sealing her and Eddie, her husband of four decades, in their neighborhood for weeks without power. This time the eruption rattled the couple's big landscape windows, the result of the frequent banging as vents thrust out steam and gas that serves as a nerve-jangling score to life here now.

"We were thinking about putting the place on the market; it's just too big for us now as we get old," McLaren said. Would she leave the island? No, but perhaps move away from the volatile bottom of Kilauea's funnel.

"We'd move to Volcano," she said, laughing and pointing uphill, where the town sits on the edge of Kilauea's 4,000-foot peak.

Old Pahoa Road, lined with pizza places and head shops, health-food stores and cultural museums, connects the community center with the highway junction at the entrance to the evacuated neighborhoods.

Teams of National Guard troops operate the checkpoints, Humvees blocking the lanes in and out. Beyond them, the roads are empty. The palms, ferns and spreading monkey pod trees are withering in the fumes pouring from fissures that now number 22.

Downed power lines hang in webs at intersections with 10-foot-high walls of black lava sometimes appearing in the near distance, blocking roads.

The noise around the most active fissures is deafening, a constant roar as they release gas high in toxic sulfur dioxide. The sulfur scent is potent. When members of the National Guard head into the neighborhoods, they measure air quality with handheld meters.

"I've never been this close," said Kuulei Kanahele, a researcher at a local cultural foundation, who joined a tour of Fissure 6 on a recent morning.

Kanahele began a traditional chant in celebration of the lava, raising her voice above the sizzle and blast. She learned it at her hula school. "The power of this, it's just amazing," she said.

In a vacant lot at the highway crossroads, residents have set up a center for donations – food and diapers, shampoo and clothing, crates of water and cereal. The volunteers who work there call it Pahoa's "city of refuge."

"Do you have a place to put critters?" asked Asa Hanson, a local businessman who is using his delivery truck to evacuate animals.

Chasity Quihano, a supervisor at the center, began to make arrangements for a small number of pets to arrive. Her sister and three children have evacuated from the neighborhood, but her mother, though warned to do so, has declined to leave what Quihano calls "our family land."

"That's just part of our culture, part of who we are," she said.

['Pele's the boss': Hawaiians ride out uncertainty as lava devours more Big Island homes]

Princess Kuahiwinui, also volunteering at the donations center, lives in a family compound with five brothers and sisters. She runs a weekly night market, and despite the conditions, has kept it going through the eruption with far fewer customers.

Despite the uncertainty of life on the volcano, Kuahiwinui said, there is a determination to keep it all as normal as possible. Her 12-year-old daughter, Kuupua, has not missed a class at Pahoa High and Intermediate School across from the donations center.

"The bus still comes every morning at 6 a.m.," she said. "You never know what's going to happen here. The earth may open up and we all fall into the water. But it's impossible to leave."

Lee Begaye is a special-education teacher at Pahoa High, home of the Daggers. He fled his home on the night of May 4 after police banged on his door. When he looked outside, lava streams bursting from Fissure 3 shot above the tree line, streaking the night blackness and hissing in the quiet.

Friends in Hilo, about 20 miles north of here, have taken in Begaye and his partner. Every day he commutes to school, which had its first cancellation Thursday when Kilauea erupted at its summit, producing a towering ash plume and a civil-defense warning for everyone to stay inside with the windows shut.

School officials have held assembly sessions to discuss the emergency with students. The air quality is the immediate concern. Two students have passed out on the campus because of the air.

"The students are staying calm, but many truthfully are staying home," said Begaye, who has taught there for 12 years. "But I do believe the school is providing a sense of normalcy, routine. That seems important right now."

For those who have had children in recent years, the eruption has forced a reevaluation of life here. Families on the mainland have been calling their grown children, asking them to move back to the Pacific Northwest or Southern California.

"They're like, 'What are you doing over there?' And I tell them that I have a job and a mortgage to pay, a life here," said Shellyne Anderson, who has lived here for 25 years. "I tell them that I don't think so, no, I won't be coming back."

But Anderson, whose family is in Aberdeen, Washington, has a 7-year-old daughter named Jewel. In two weeks, she is scheduled to have a heart procedure in Honolulu, and with the air here potentially poisonous, she is considering a return to Washington state to help with Jewel's recovery.

"I have to take more precautions than I did for her," said Anderson, 35, who works in Luquin's food truck. "But it's scary to leave your home in this situation for any amount of time."

The road into Luquin's ranch and a second home he has inside Leilani Estates that is even more threatened is empty on a recent afternoon. Smoke from lava-scorched trees, mixing with the steam and gas arising from fissures, hangs heavy over the roads. It is known as "vog."

"It's eerie in here," said Kirstin Heid, an equestrian expert and Luquin's partner of a dozen years. The two train horses in two now-abandoned rings on their land, and they graze Black Angus on the surrounding pasture.

Luquin wants to return to the ranch, blown this day by a clearing breeze. But there are cracks running under their home, and Heid said she does not intend to return until the frequent earthquakes shaking the region stop "shifting my house."

Heid's phone rang as she pulled her pickup into the ranch's long driveway.

"How does it smell out there?" asked Isabella, the couple's 8-year-old.

"Not too bad," Heid responded. "Have you eaten anything?"

"I mean, what are you doing there?" Isabella asked, ignoring her mom's question. "Are you getting things? I need to think about what I want you to bring."

"If you have to think about it, you really don't need it," Heid told her.

The call ended, and Heid set off to inspect her house.

Luquin walked the grounds, discussing post-eruption plans to line an old cinder quarry pit to turn it into a pond for fish. To him, the eruption is just a periodic nuisance, one he has managed several times over the years, if not to this extent.

"I love this place, the peace of it after a day at the restaurant," he said. "I just find it to be a relief, even though that might sound strange right now."

He said he doesn’t want a relationship – so why is he acting like my boyfriend?

Sat, 2018-05-19 17:17

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

There's this guy I've been hooking up with for a while now. In the beginning I told him I wanted more and he would just avoid it. Then one day, I decided I wouldn't let him avoid my feelings any longer, and I told him I wanted to know if he wanted a relationship with me. He told me he wasn't ready for or looking for a relationship at that point.

Well, that was two to three months back and we have still continued to have a physical but no-strings-attached relationship. When I asked for more from him, he said if I wanted more, I should move on and we should end things, and stay friends. Maybe I should have taken him up on that, but instead I kept seeing him.

Things seem to have changed though. Now he stays at my house at least a couple of nights a week. It's starting to feel like a relationship and I'm confused. I don't mean to get down to details but the sex has become a lot more intimate and he says things to me that sound loving and even possessive, suggesting he doesn't want anyone else to be with me, and vice versa. I don't know what to do. I'm afraid to say anything, because I don't want things between us to end. But I'm afraid if I don't say anything he might not realize how much I still care and he might think I don't want him like that anymore.

Please help me! I'm conflicted. Does he really want a relationship and is afraid, or what's the deal?

Wanda says: 

Usually, guys say what they think and ask for what they want. As a species, dudes are generally too basic for game-playing, and so literal that there's rarely much to read between the lines. I don't mean to suggest they're over-simplified creatures; anyone who's tried to date a man knows that's far from the truth. What I mean is, they generally are pretty straightforward. When we try to guess what they're really thinking, we often forget they've already told us their thoughts; when we try to read intention into their behaviors, we forget they've already explained their position.

Your man-friend told you a couple months ago he doesn't want a relationship, and I totally get why the sleepovers and sexy talk are causing bewilderment. But anchor back to his original words and his original intent: he doesn't want a serious relationship right now.

I know that sucks to hear and I know you wish it was different. I've been there, and I'm betting most people have. The most likely scenario here is that you've found a guy who was super stoked that even after he admitted he didn't want commitment, the cool girl he was hanging with not only hasn't booted him, but has let him take up increasing space in her life. It's a win-win for him — all the benefits of the girlfriend experience without having to actually have a girlfriend. Ugh.

[Wayne and Wanda: When casual dating gets complicated]

Yes, there's of course a chance he's had a change of heart, and if you've really hit a wall here, you could lob one last Hail Mary and tell him again how you feel. It could be the push he needs to take the relationship plunge — or the words that push him away. I understand how scary that decision is, but remember, your most important relationship and commitments are with yourself. You sound like a really nice and compassionate person whose current situation is bringing confusion, not comfort, and who isn't having her needs fulfilled. Are you really OK with that?

Wayne says:

Grunt! Groan! Wayne want tacos! And football! And partner who read Wayne's simple mind! … Oh, thanks for clarifying that we men aren't complete communication cavemen, Wanda. No offense to cavemen. Especially those Geico cavemen. Excellent spokespeople.

Two more great communicators: our letter-writer, who once upon a time clearly expressed a desire for a committed relationship; and the man without strings who clearly replied that he didn't want to be tied down. OK, not the response we were hoping for, but at least everyone was honest.

A few months of sex go by and our letter-writer expressed their relationship requirements again. And their friend with benefits again explained that his benefits package still does not include a committed relationship clause and that further inquiries about his FWB package could result in FWB termination.

After a few more months of sex, of course everyone's feeling more comfortable and intimate – the two of you are practically living together! And this is what he's continually said he's in this for — sex, fun and no commitment.

My question to you, letter-writer: Why are you now asking us what he wants? Ask him! He'll tell you exactly what he wants. He always does. The real issue is that you don't let his honesty and rejection keep you from ending things and chasing what you really want: a boyfriend, not a bed buddy.

Don't ever stop communicating your needs, with him or anyone else. Just don't be shocked if he tells you, for like the millionth time, that he doesn't want a relationship. I truly hope that he suddenly does, but if not I suggest you both live your respective truths and move on.

Want to respond to a recent column, point out a dating trend, or ask Wanda and Wayne for wisdom regarding your love life? Give them a shout at wanda@adn.com.

The Alaska Legislature did its job. But the process is still broken.

Sat, 2018-05-19 17:09

The best thing that can be said about the Legislature this year is that its members finally took an unpopular but necessary vote to close a considerable portion of Alaska's mammoth budget deficit. That shouldn't be undervalued; the passage of a percent-of-market-value plan that will use earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund to help cover the cost of state services is the single biggest step legislators could take to help balance the budget.

But lawmakers also shouldn't break their arms patting themselves on the back for doing so — before taking that hard vote, the Legislature punted on the issue in 2015, 2016 and 2017, waiting until the statutory and constitutional budget reserves were drained before deciding how to address the issue in a smarter way than just spending from savings every year.

The hard work of balancing the budget is far from over; in fact, the hardest choices may be yet to come. Barring an influx of revenue from higher oil prices or increased production, next year's budget deficit will likely be close to a billion dollars. With services already cut substantially from pre-recession levels, it will be near impossible to solve the deficit through further reductions, absent major structural changes in state funding for formula-driven services such as health care and education. Those changes would reduce services that are crucial to tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of Alaskans. Some legislative leaders, believing such steps are necessary, are already looking down this path.

The other option will be changes that increase state revenue, the most obvious of which — and most derided by Alaskans and lawmakers alike — are taxes. But whether those taxes take the form of changes to the state's oil tax structure or individual taxes on income or sales, they will decrease investment beneficial to the state's economy. That decrease in investment and spending could deepen the state's recession. There are no easy answers.

The worst news about the legislative session, from a public accountability standpoint, is that it was business as usual. For folks who don't watch Juneau particularly closely, what that means is that for months at the beginning of the session, the pace of work is slow and gamesmanship is high. Important pieces of legislation are held hostage in committees to extract concessions from their sponsors' caucuses, then released in a flood in the final few days when legislative leaders come to terms on the budget or other must-pass bills.

A particularly egregious example of hostage-taking this year included Senate Bill 76 from Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, which would have given Alaska's alcohol laws a much-needed overhaul. The bill was held for months in the House Labor and Commerce Committee. It only emerged after Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, herself a former bar owner, grafted on a disastrous amendment to restrict serving sizes at breweries and distilleries that ended up killing the bill altogether.

[How an effort by bar owners to limit sales by craft breweries and distilleries sank a widely supported overhaul of Alaska's alcohol laws]

Elsewhere, House Rules Committee co-chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, held a statewide workplace smoking ban bill hostage for the entire session before the volume of public outcry became too strong to ignore.

These were only two of many bills that went unheard for most of the session, many of which had only perfunctory hearings, before being dealt with in a rush as the clock ticked down to adjournment. Many didn't get the public hearings they needed and deserved. In most cases, Alaskans were only dimly aware of the bills, if they'd heard about them at all.

This is a broken process, and there's no easy fix. Legislators will continue to hold up bills and use them as leverage to further their caucus' own ends. They will abuse the process of regular order to stifle debate on measures they don't support. The only way to mitigate the phenomenon at all is to apply public pressure — quickly, consistently and unremittingly. Even then, it's not a sure thing, but it's the best tool available.

As legislators return to their districts, let them know you paid attention to what happened in Juneau. Give them kudos for the work they did that you supported, and offer criticism for their failures. Let them know there's an election this fall, and how they vote affects how you do. The process in Juneau isn't healthy, but it's our shared responsibility to hold lawmakers accountable for their actions. Without that feedback from the public, nothing in the Legislature is likely to improve anytime soon.

The views expressed here are those of the editorial board of the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

1 dead, 1 injured in cougar attack east of Seattle

Sat, 2018-05-19 17:02

One man is dead and another has been taken to Harborview Medical Center after they were attacked by a cougar while riding bicycles around 11 a.m. Saturday in the woods in the Snoqualmie-North Bend area, said the King County Sheriff's Office.

Using a hound-dog tracker, agents for the state's Fish & Wildlife Police shot and killed the cougar a little before 3 p.m., said Capt. Alan Myers, with the agency.

In the last 100 years, according to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, there has been only one other fatal attack in the state. Fifteen others, before Saturday, were nonfatal.

The injured man, 31, called for help on his cellphone, said Sgt. Ryan Abbott. He was in serious condition, but awake and alert, according to a Harborview spokeswoman.

Abbott said the attack took place near North Fork Road Southeast and Lake Hancock Road, a Snoqualmie address.

In the first hours after the attack, the dead man's body was not retrieved because of concern about the cougar on the loose.

In the last 100 years in North America, according to the agency, roughly 25 fatalities and 95 nonfatal attacks have been reported. But more cougar attacks have been reported in the Western United States and Canada over the past 20 years than in the previous 80 years.

The agency says a high percentage of cougars attacking domestic animals or people are 1- to 2-year-old cougars that have become independent of their mothers.

It adds, "When these young animals, particularly males, leave home to search for territory of their own, and encounter territory already occupied by an older male cougar, the older one will drive off the younger one, killing it if it resists. Some young cougars are driven across miles of countryside in search of an unoccupied territory."

Vehicle strikes pedestrian in Midtown Anchorage

Sat, 2018-05-19 16:47

Two vehicles collided in Midtown Anchorage on Saturday afternoon and one struck a pedestrian, a police spokesman said.

That pedestrian, a man, was taken to a hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries, said Anchorage police spokesman MJ Thim.

The vehicles collided at West 36th Avenue and C Street, and one of them "spun around" and hit the man, Thim said. One of the drivers also had minor injuries, Thim said.

The crash prompted police to close the eastbound lanes of West 36th at C Street for about three hours.

Police are still trying to determine who had the right of way, Thim said.

Lung disease leaves this 70-year-old breathless, but it won’t keep her out of the Gold Nugget Triathlon

Sat, 2018-05-19 16:25

After completing her first Gold Nugget Triathlon in 2009 when she was 61 years old, Anne Kessler made it a goal to keep doing the race until she was 70.

"I call it my annual physical," she said. "Last year I flunked big-time. This year I'm going to pass with the help of some accommodations."

Kessler, who turned 70 this year, skipped last year's race after being diagnosed with an interstitial lung disease called chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

The condition, caused by allergens, takes her breath away — literally. When she hikes, bikes or does similar activities, scarring in her lungs limits the amount of oxygen that goes into her bloodstream and leaves her dangerously short of breath.

To compensate, Kessler wears a small, 6-pound backpack containing a portable oxygen concentrator (POC). The battery-operated device takes in air, filters out most of the nitrogen and delivers nearly pure oxygen into a long, narrow tube that Kessler breathes through.

Kessler received permission from Gold Nugget organizers to use the POC during the 12-mile bike and 3.5-mile run of Sunday's race.

During the 500-yard swim at the Bartlett High pool, Kessler will leave her backpack behind. She paid an extra fee to get an entire lane to herself, which will allow her to go at her own pace and make frequent stops.

"I used to swim in high school and college so the swim isn't worrisome, but there's no way I could wear my POC in the pool," Kessler said. "I'll go two laps and then stop for a full minute to catch my breath.

"So I'll add five minutes to my swim time, just to survive."

Kessler said she came up with the two-lap plan by using a fingertip oxygen monitor during workouts. She learned that after two laps her oxygen level would drop to 86 (88 or lower means it's time to use oxygen, she said). After a one-minute break, it would be up to 91 (above 90 is good, she said, although 95 or higher is preferred).

When in use, Kessler's POC backpack vibrates and emits a low, steady hum. "You have to really focus on getting in sync with the machine," she said.

Kessler's specific type of interstitial lung disease is caused by allergens — doctors suspect the culprit was either mold or bird feathers — and in her case is not reversible. But she can manage it with Prednisone and, when needed, the POC.

The POC allows her to remain active. Kessler likes to hike, bike and ski, and it was because she is active that she realized something was amiss a little more than a year ago.

"She found out through hiking," husband Steve Kessler said. "She couldn't keep up with anybody and she had to take breaks all the time."

Kessler spoke with a doctor, and X-rays and a CT scan revealed the disease a month before last year's Gold Nugget Triathlon.

"I missed the race," she said. "There were too (many) adjustments to make. And I went through denial. So I didn't do it.

"By January my life had settled down and I thought, 'Well, I'm going to try it.' ''

Kessler is confident she will complete the triathlon, although she isn't promising any speed records. She's pretty sure she'll have to stop at least once during the 12-mile bike, and she plans to walk, not run, the final 3.5 miles.

Kessler said that in the years since her first Gold Nugget Triathlon, she has fantasized about someday breaking into the top five in her age group. Before her diagnosis, she thought her best bet for such a result would come when she moved into the 70-74 age group, which has fewer participants than most others.

"I thought maybe when I'm 70 I could be in the top five, but now I don't care," Kessler said. "I want to finish, to say this (disease) didn't stop me."

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