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Former ‘Top Chef’ contestant and James Beard-nominated chef takes over Muse restaurant. So: how’s the food?

Wed, 2019-07-17 09:00

Spicy Spot Prawn Pasta at Muse on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

While I have always had a fond spot for Muse, the playfully chic dining space in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, it has been some time since I found myself recommending it with confidence. Despite a location that is both tourist- and locals-friendly, the spot has had its ups and downs over years of semi-regular management and menu overhauls. In short, Muse has never seemed to hit its stride for very long. So I had high hopes when I learned that Laura Cole, of 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern in Denali National Park, was primed to take over the kitchen and bring her uniquely Alaskan vision to the often foundering space.

I got my first taste of the restaurant’s new iteration on a recent First Friday when I treated myself to a little dinner before a performance in the museum’s atrium. It’s a capricious menu, changing often with the availability of local and seasonal ingredients, so I unhesitatingly ordered the artichoke soup ($9). I’m always delighted at seeing artichokes featured on local menus because my love for artichokes is exactly proportional to my dislike for preparing them.

Because artichokes are such a woody, earthy ingredient, I worried that I was making a heavy choice for a warm summer evening, so I balanced my starter with a pint of cold, dry cider from Alaska Cider Works because … science? But I needn’t have worried. This soup is so cleverly conceived – light and bright and pleasantly grassy – it tasted as if it had come to my table by way of the garden. A generous drizzle of lemon oil made the bowl fresh and fragrant, and a small heap of deep red tendrils of micro-greens (called “bull’s blood” according to the server) floated on top and did the two-part job of adding texture and slowly turning the soup into a lovely shade of rose. This transformation of the dish as you eat it feels like a metaphor for the a la minute nature of truly seasonal cooking. Apologies for waxing poetic; artichokes do that to me.

For my entrée, I opted for the spicy spot prawn pasta ($20) with house made lemon-infused semolina pasta, greens, and prosciutto in a lobster broth vodka cream sauce. It’s one of the best dishes I’ve had all year. The shrimp are plump and sweet inside with a perfect smoky char on the outside. The lobster broth is rich and flavorful but not heavy. Crisp little shards of prosciutto add salt and texture. It’s a stunning, comforting dish and I hope it will stay on the menu long enough for a return visit.


Kalamata olive flatbread at Muse, in the Anchorage Museum (Photo by Mara Severin)

I returned the following week for a late lunch with my daughter. She, a recent vegetarian, wanted the Picnic Salad ($14) which comes with greens dressed in a house made ranch sauce, apple matchsticks, crisped prosciutto, a chicken skin chip and a fried egg on top. We asked them to hold the prosciutto – to my lasting regret. This is a nice dish but the prosciutto was really needed for texture against the silkiness of the spinach, and the softness of the egg. There’s always a danger in “customizing” a dish especially in such an assured kitchen as this one. Lesson learned. Happily, I got to keep the crispy, pleasantly greasy chicken chip for myself.

We also shared two “snacks” (according to the menu). The deliciously assertive Kalamata olive flatbread ($12) – a sort of “pizza” topped with fresh mozzarella, greens, and pickled onions – as well as the smashed Alaska potatoes ($9) topped with arugula, thick shavings of Parmesan cheese, and a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar. These were excellent dishes to share – hearty and generously portioned.


Pork belly entree at Muse Restaurant, in the Anchorage Museum (Photo by Mara Severin)

But the star of the meal (alas, sampled only by me) was my pork belly. The pork is meltingly tender and served on a satiny parsnip puree accented with a drizzle of the gastrique, which I at first mistook for honey. Pickled grapes stud this dish providing a pop of acid to balance the overall earthiness of the protein and vegetables. This is a rustic, perfectly executed dish with thoughtful, unexpected details which, to me, perfectly encapsulates the kind of cooking going on in the Muse kitchen.

One final note: I don’t often analyze, in writing at least, the overall value of each restaurant I review. Dining out in Alaska is expensive: a $16 hamburger is routine, a plate of halibut can cost upward of $40. But I was struck by the pricing on the Muse menu (at least at the times when I visited). The two most expensive entrees were marked at $22 each – one for a NY strip steak and one for a lamb dish, which strikes me as an unexpected bargain. Not many restaurants offer an elegant dining experience with attentive service and generous portions at prices that can be described as reasonable and restrained.


Chef Laura Cole prepares flank steak at Muse on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

Chef Cole, a recent Top Chef alum (Season 15) with two James Beard Award nominations under her belt, boasts an impressive culinary pedigree. And while her food is thought-provoking and nuanced, it’s also playful and approachable -- like, perhaps, a museum exhibit that really resonates. I hope it gets the audience it deserves.

Muse Restaurant

Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center

Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (last seating at 5 p.m.) and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on First Friday (last seating at 8 p.m.)

625 C Street; 907-929-9210

All day a la carte brunch on Sundays

****

$$



Northernmost inhabited site on Earth hits record high temperature

Wed, 2019-07-17 07:50

Temperature differences from normal during June globally, according to NASA.

Boosted by a historic heat wave in Europe and unusually warm conditions across the Arctic and Eurasia, the average temperature of the planet soared to its highest level ever recorded in June.

According to data released Monday by NASA, the global average temperature was 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.93 Celsius) above the June norm (based on a 1951-to-1980 baseline), easily breaking the previous June record of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.82 Celsius), set in 2016, above the average.

The month was punctuated by a severe heat wave that struck Western Europe in particular during the last week, with numerous all-time-hottest-temperature records falling in countries with centuries-old data sets.

Notably, 13 locations in France surpassed their highest temperature ever recorded. The heat wave’s highest temperature of 114.6 degrees Fahrenheit (45.9 Celsius), posted in Gallargues-le-Montueux, was 3.2 degrees above the old record, set during an infamous heat wave in July and August 2003.


People cool off in the fountain of the Trocadero, as the Eiffel Tower is visible in background, in Paris, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) (Alessandra Tarantino/)

NASA is the second institution to confirm that it was Earth’s hottest June, as the Copernicus Climate Change Service had already determined that June 2019 was the warmest such month on record for Europe and globally.

June featured unusually mild conditions in the Arctic, particularly in Greenland, where the melt season got off to an early start.

July is picking up right where June left off. Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist based in Berkeley, California, tweeted that the month so far ranks as the hottest on record narrowly ahead of 2017, the previous record holder.

"If this July turns out to be the warmest July (it has a good shot at it), it will be the warmest month we have measured on Earth!" tweeted Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

Like June, July has featured some notable high-temperature extremes, including in Nunavut, Canada, the northernmost permanently inhabited location on Earth. It hit a record high of 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit (21.0 Celsius) Sunday, breaking the previous record of 20 Celsius.

Alert, Nunavut, the world's most northerly community, is in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave. https://t.co/tRH6xYj5p1

— CBC News (@CBCNews) July 16, 2019

In addition, Alaska last week posted its hottest two days on record, highlighted by a temperature of 90 degrees in Anchorage for the first time.

The June monthly record and July’s toasty first half raises the odds that 2019 could make a run for a top-three finish for warmest year, rather than top five. According to data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, a trend that scientists have tied mainly to human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Measles confirmed in unvaccinated Kenai Peninsula teen who traveled Outside

Wed, 2019-07-17 07:40

In this March 27, 2019 file photo, a woman receives a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., north of New York City. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) (Seth Wenig/)

An unvaccinated teenager from the Kenai Peninsula has become the first Alaskan in years with measles, state health officials announced this week.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Thursday confirmed measles in the teen, who recently traveled to Arizona by way of Seattle.

The case makes Alaska the 29th state to have a confirmed case of measles in 2019.

The only people at immediate risk are those who may have been exposed and are not already immune to measles either by adequate immunization or from having the disease in the past, health officials say.

The last confirmed case of measles in an Alaskan was in 2015 in Fairbanks, in a man recently returned from Mongolia. The previous case was confirmed in 2000. Measles was also confirmed in an out-of-state cruise passenger last year, but that didn’t lead to other cases in Alaska.

The teen involved in the latest case developed symptoms of measles more than 10 days after arriving in Alaska in early July, the state says. There were at least two places some people may have been exposed: Froso’s Family Dining in Soldotna, on July 8-9 and July 11-13, and Urgent Care of Soldotna and Central Peninsula Hospital on July 14.

The patient has been isolated at home since then and is recovering, officials say.

[Unaware he had measles, a man traveled from New York to Michigan, infecting 39 people]

People who think they may have been exposed should find out if they have been vaccinated or have evidence of measles immunity and call a health care provider immediately if they develop an illness with fever or illness with unexplained rash, the state says. To avoid possibly spreading measles to other patients, officials recommend not going to a clinic or hospital without calling first to tell them you want to be evaluated for measles.

Measles symptoms could appear starting from seven days after the first exposure to twenty-one days after the last exposure, according to a state measles information website. Rash is most likely to appear 10 to 12 days after an exposure.

Measles is a highly contagious virus. The disease was declared officially eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. The majority of U.S. cases of measles now come from unvaccinated travelers visiting from abroad, officials say.

[How today’s political polarization has fueled the measles outbreak]

Worldwide, about 90,000 people die from the virus annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The agency says that one dose of measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective; two doses are 97 percent effective.

Drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán gets life sentence in U.S. federal court

Wed, 2019-07-17 06:37

In this Jan. 19, 2017, file photo provided by U.S. law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. (U.S. law enforcement via AP, File)

NEW YORK — The Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been sentenced to life behind bars in a U.S. prison, a humbling end for a drug lord notorious for his ability to kill, bribe or tunnel his way out of trouble.

A federal judge in Brooklyn handed down the sentence Wednesday, five months after Guzman's conviction in an epic drug-trafficking case.

The 62-year-old drug lord, who had been protected in Mexico by an army of gangsters and an elaborate corruption operation, was brought to the U.S. to stand trial after he twice escaped from Mexican prisons.

Before he was sentenced, Guzman complained about the conditions of his confinement and told the judge he was denied a fair trial. He said U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan failed to thoroughly investigate claims of juror misconduct.

"My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching," Guzman said in court through an interpreter. "When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite."

The sentence — life plus 30 years — was pre-ordained. The guilty verdict in February at Guzman’s 11-week trial triggered a mandatory sentence of life without parole . Cogan also ordered Guzman to pay $12.6 billion in ill-gotten proceeds — money his drug-trafficking organization made distributing cocaine and other drugs around the United States.

The evidence showed that under Guzman's orders, the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in court papers re-capping the trial. They also said his "army of sicarios" was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.

The defense argued he was framed by other traffickers who became government witnesses so they could get breaks in their own cases.

Guzman has been largely cut off from the outside world since his extradition in 2017 and his remarks in the courtroom Wednesday could be the last time the public hears from him. Guzman thanked his family for giving him "the strength to bare this torture that I have been under for the past 30 months."

Wary of his history of escaping from Mexican prisons, U.S. authorities have kept him in solitary confinement in an ultra-secure unit at a Manhattan jail and under close guard at his appearances at the Brooklyn courthouse where his case unfolded.

Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government's "Supermax" prison in Florence, Colorado, known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies." Most inmates at Supermax are given a television, but their only actual view of the outside world is a 4-inch window. They have minimal interaction with other people and eat all their meals in their cells.

While the trial was dominated by Guzman's persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn't testify.

But evidence at Guzman's trial suggested his decision to stay quiet at the defense table was against his nature: Cooperating witnesses told jurors he was a fan of his own rags-to-riches narco story, always eager to find an author or screenwriter to tell it. He famously gave an interview to American actor Sean Penn while he was a fugitive, hiding in the mountains after accomplices built a long tunnel to help him escape from a Mexican prison.

There also were reports Guzman was itching to testify in his own defense until his attorneys talked him out of it, making his sentencing a last chance to seize the spotlight.

At the trial, Guzman's lawyers argued that he was the fall guy for other kingpins who were better at paying off top Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials to protect them while the U.S. government looked the other way.

Prosecution descriptions of an empire that paid for private planes, beachfront villas and a private zoo were a fallacy, his lawyers say. And the chances the U.S. government could collect on a roughly $12.5 billion forfeiture order are zero, they add.

The government’s case, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said recently, was “all part of a show trial.”

Congressman files articles of impeachment against Trump despite pushback from Democratic leaders

Wed, 2019-07-17 05:37

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., walks to the House Chamber, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

WASHINGTON - Rep. Al Green filed articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Tuesday night, triggering a contentious vote in the coming days to confront an issue that has bitterly divided the Democratic Party.

The Texas congressman, who notified Democratic leaders of his decision on Tuesday, said the House must impeach Trump for racist remarks suggesting four minority congresswoman "go back" to their ancestral countries as well as other comments made in the past. The four Democrats - Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan - are all citizens; three were born in the United States.

"Donald John Trump has, by his statements, brought the high office of the President of the United States in contempt, ridicule, disgrace and disrepute, has sown discord among the people of the United States, has demonstrated that he is unfit to be President, and has betrayed his trust as President of the United States to the manifest injury of the people of the United States, and has committed a high misdemeanor in office," Green read from his resolution on the House floor Tuesday night."

Green's move will force House Democrats to deal with the issue in the near term because of the privileged nature of the resolution. Under House rules, Democratic leadership can decide to try to table the impeachment articles, effectively killing them for now and risk criticism from the party's liberal base; refer them to the House Judiciary Committee for possible consideration; or allow the vote to proceed.

If leaders do nothing, Green can force a vote on the impeachment articles in two legislative days.

The move comes as more than 80 members of the House have called for launching an impeachment inquiry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has resisted, however, encouraging her chairmen to keep investigating the president for potential abuse of power and obstruction of justice.


President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Washington. Trump is accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon/)

The matter is likely to divide the caucus, which has grappled for months with the question of what to do about Trump. Even impeachment proponents seemed divided about whether it is wise to force the issue now.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he would support an immediate move to impeach the president, even voting against Democratic leaders should they try to refer the matter to committee to sideline the debate.

"In all probability, I'd vote against it, because I'm prepared to vote," he said of the possibility of leadership moving to table or refer the resolution to committee. "My district wants me to vote for the immediate impeachment of Donald Trump."

But others, like Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a strong impeachment backer, hesitated.

"We're trying to keep the caucus together as we respond to the most lawless administration of our lifetimes," Raskin said. "I'm enough of a political pragmatist to believe that you call votes when you think you can win them, not when you think you can lose them."

Certain to be wary are moderates and lawmakers from districts that Trump won in 2016 who have long feared blowback for such a vote.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who leads the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, said, "I don't think that we have completed the process or the investigations that we need to, to take that step at this time." Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., a freshman from a swing district, said he would vote against the resolution.

"I don't think we're there yet. I don't think it's healthy," he said of Green's effort.

Leaders, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois, were resigned to the likelihood that they could not stop the vote, even if they wanted to.

"I can't control what another member does, so it looks like that's going to happen and we're just going to have to deal with that," Bustos said.

Leadership officials said Pelosi would likely refer the articles of impeachment to the Judiciary Committee or table them, though her office has not weighed in on the matter. Some Democratic aides, however, worry that Pelosi could struggle to find the votes to refer to the panel because it would take a majority of her caucus. Republicans, according to a senior GOP leadership aide, are not likely to help deliver those votes.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Some have questioned the timing of Green's move. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to receive testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller next Wednesday, perhaps the most high-profile hearing in decades. Impeachment proponents hoped Mueller would spark new supporters, but they're not sure Trump's racist tweets will have the same effect.

Leadership, meanwhile, advanced a resolution condemning Trump's attacks on their colleagues, alleviating some of the pressure that party leaders were under to respond to the president's sharp words about the four congresswomen.

House Rule Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a close Pelosi ally, tried to keep the focus on the former, which was slated to pass Tuesday night.

"Look, this is an important vote we're going to have today," he said. "This is the first time that I can recall that we're actually . . . condemning the president for his words, which were racist, and it's disgusting," he said. "This is not normal. This is so divisive."

Rep. Cedric Richardson, D-La., said that if Green forces the matter, "I'm going to vote for it." But Richardson wondered whether it was "the most strategic thing right now without a game plan."

“I just don’t think that impeachment is going to happen before Mueller testifies, before we gain more evidence and all those other things,” he said.

Bethel hospital opens outpatient clinic in first phase of new facility

Wed, 2019-07-17 05:26

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital, center, and the Community Health Services Building, top right, are seen from the air on Thursday, August 28, 2014, in Bethel. (ERIK HILL / ADN)

BETHEL - A Southwest Alaska health care system has opened an outpatient clinic in the first phase of a new hospital launch.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. opened the clinic Monday at the tribal organization’s new regional facility in Bethel, KYUK-AM reported Tuesday.

The organization will open the facility in phases throughout the year, officials said.

Inpatient services are scheduled to open in two to three weeks, while dental and behavioral health is expected to follow in November.

The ability to add more staff was one of the reasons YKHC needed a new hospital, said Jim Sweeney, vice president of hospital services.

Having sufficient staff will enable dentists and medical staff to deliver health care beyond Bethel more often, Sweeney said.

"Our goal is really to bring the patient services as close to home as possible," Sweeney said. "So we want to serve people here in Bethel, but we also want to go out to the villages."

The facility's behavioral health unit will allow patients with critical mental health issues to be treated rather than being flown to Anchorage, said spokesman Mitchell Forbes.

"You're leaving your home, leaving your family, leaving your support system," Forbes said. "So for us being able to provide services in-region is about improving the quality of our patient care and patient experience."

YKHC plans to renovate its older hospital at the site and connect the two buildings. The corporation also plans to demolish the north wing of the old hospital and build a gathering space for patients, officials said.

Newly released federal data unmasks epidemic that led to 76 billion opioid pills

Tue, 2019-07-16 21:20

Oxycodone pills are displayed, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) (Mark Lennihan/)


America’s largest drug companies saturated the country with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012 as the nation’s deadliest drug epidemic spun out of control, according to previously undisclosed company data released as part of the largest civil action in U.S. history.

The information comes from a database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the United States - from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city. The data provides an unprecedented look at the surge of legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic, which has resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths from 2006 through 2012.

Just six companies distributed 75 percent of the pills during this period: McKesson, Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart, according to an analysis of the database by The Washington Post. Three companies manufactured 88 percent of the opioids: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt; Actavis Pharma; and Par Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Endo Pharmaceuticals.

Purdue Pharma, which the plaintiffs allege sparked the epidemic in the 1990s with its introduction of OxyContin, its version of oxycodone, was ranked fourth among manufacturers with about 3 percent of the market.

The volume of the pills handled by the companies skyrocketed as the epidemic surged, increasing about 51 percent from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. By contrast, doses of morphine, a well-known treatment for severe pain, averaged slightly more than 500 million a year during the period.

Those 10 companies along with about a dozen others are now being sued in federal court in Cleveland by nearly 2,000 cities, towns and counties alleging that they conspired to flood the nation with opioids. The companies, in turn, have blamed the epidemic on overprescribing by doctors and pharmacies and on customers who abused the drugs. The companies say they were working to supply the needs of patients with legitimate prescriptions desperate for pain relief.

[Distributors, pharmacies and manufacturers respond to DEA data about opioid sales]

The database reveals what each company knew about the number of pills it was shipping and dispensing and precisely when they were aware of those volumes, year by year, town by town. In case after case, the companies allowed the drugs to reach the streets of communities large and small, despite persistent red flags that those pills were being sold in apparent violation of federal law and diverted to the black market, according to the lawsuits.

Plaintiffs have long accused drug manufacturers and wholesalers of fueling the opioid epidemic by producing and distributing billions of pain pills while making billions of dollars. The companies have paid more than $1 billion in fines to the Justice Department and Food and Drug Administration over opioid-related issues, and hundreds of millions more to settle state lawsuits.

But the previous cases addressed only a portion of the problem, never allowing the public to see the size and scope of the behavior underlying the epidemic. Monetary settlements by the companies were accompanied by agreements that kept such information hidden.

The drug companies, along with the DEA and the Justice Department, have fought furiously against the public release of the database, the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Order System, known as ARCOS. The companies argued that the release of the "transactional data" could give competitors an unfair advantage in the marketplace. The Justice Department argued that the release of the information could compromise ongoing DEA investigations.

Until now, the litigation has proceeded in unusual secrecy. Many filings and exhibits in the case have been sealed under a judicial protective order. The secrecy finally lifted after The Washington Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, waged a year-long legal battle for access to documents and data from the case.

On Monday evening, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster removed the protective order for part of the ARCOS database.

Lawyers for the local governments suing the companies hailed the release of the data.

"The data provides statistical insights that help pinpoint the origins and spread of the opioid epidemic - an epidemic that thousands of communities across the country argue was both sparked and inflamed by opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies," said Paul Farrell of West Virginia, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

In statements emailed to The Post on Tuesday, the drug distributors stressed that the ARCOS data would not exist unless they had accurately reported shipments and questioned why the government had not done more to address the crisis.

"For decades, DEA has had exclusive access to this data, which can identify the total volumes of controlled substances being ordered, pharmacy-by-pharmacy, across the country," McKesson spokeswoman Kristin Chasen said.

A DEA spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday "due to ongoing litigation."

Cardinal Health said that it has learned from its experience, increasing training and doing a better job to "spot, stop and report suspicious orders," company spokeswoman Brandi Martin wrote.

AmerisourceBergen derided the release of the ARCOS data, saying it "offers a very misleading picture" of the problem. The company said its internal "controls played an important role in enabling us to, as best we could, walk the tight rope of creating appropriate access to FDA approved medications while combating prescription drug diversion."

While Walgreens still dispenses opioids, the company said it has not distributed prescription-controlled substances to its stores since 2014. "Walgreens has been an industry leader in combating this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work," said Phil Caruso, a Walgreens spokesman.

Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS, said the plaintiffs' allegations about the company have no merit and CVS is aggressively defending against them.

Walmart, Purdue and Endo declined to comment about the ARCOS database.

A Mallinckrodt spokesman said in a statement that the company produced opioids only within a government-controlled quota and sold only to DEA-approved distributors.

Actavis Pharma was acquired by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in 2016, and a spokeswoman there said the company "cannot speak to any systems in place beforehand."


o

The Post has been trying to gain access to the ARCOS database since 2016, when the news organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the DEA. The agency denied the request, saying some of the data was available on its website. But that data did not contain the transactional information the companies are required to report to the DEA every time they sell a controlled substance such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

The drug companies and pharmacies themselves provided the sales data to the DEA. Company officials have testified before Congress that they bear no responsibility for the nation's opioid epidemic.

The numbers of pills the companies sold during the seven-year time frame are staggering, far exceeding what has been previously disclosed in limited court filings and news stories.

Three companies distributed nearly half of the pills: McKesson with 14.1 billion, Walgreens with 12.6 billion and Cardinal Health with 10.7 billion. The leading manufacturer was Mallinckrodt's SpecGx with nearly 28.9 billion pills, or nearly 38 percent of the market.

The states that received the highest concentrations of pills per person per year were: West Virginia with 66.5, Kentucky with 63.3, South Carolina with 58, Tennessee with 57.7 and Nevada with 54.7. West Virginia also had the highest opioid death rate during this period.

Rural areas were hit particularly hard: Norton City, Virginia, with 306 pills per person; Martinsville City, Virginia, with 242; Mingo County, West Virginia, with 203; and Perry County, Kentucky, with 175.

In a country of 306 million, the companies distributed enough pills to supply every adult and child with 36 each year.

The database is a virtual road map to the nation's opioid epidemic that began with prescription pills, spawned increased heroin use and resulted in the current fentanyl crisis, which added more than 67,000 to the death toll from 2013 to 2017.

The transactional data kept by ARCOS is highly detailed. It includes the name, DEA registration number, address and business activity of every seller and buyer of a controlled substance in the United States. The database also includes drug codes, transaction dates, and total dosage units and grams of narcotics sold.

The data tracks a dozen different opioids, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, which make up three-quarters of the total pill shipments to pharmacies.

Under federal law, drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies must report each transaction of a narcotic to the DEA, where it is logged into the ARCOS database. If company officials notice orders of drugs that appear to be suspicious because of their unusual size or frequency, they must report those sales to the DEA and hold back the shipments.

As more and more towns and cities became inundated by pain pills, they fought back. They filed federal lawsuits against the drug industry, alleging that opioids from the companies were devastating their communities. They alleged the companies not only failed to report suspicious orders, but they also filled those orders to maximize profits.

As the hundreds of lawsuits began to pile up, they were consolidated into the one centralized case in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. The opioid litigation is now larger in scope than the tobacco litigation of the 1980s, which resulted in a $246 billion settlement over 25 years.


o

Judge Polster is now overseeing the consolidated case of nearly 2,000 lawsuits. The case is among a wave of actions that includes other lawsuits filed by more than 40 state attorneys general and tribal nations. In May, Purdue settled with the Oklahoma attorney general for $270 million.

In the Cleveland case, Polster has been pressing the drug companies and the plaintiffs to reach a global settlement so communities can start receiving financial assistance to mitigate the damage that has been done by the opioid epidemic.

To facilitate a settlement, Polster had permitted the drug companies and the towns and cities to review the ARCOS database under a protective order while barring public access to the material. He also permitted some court filings to be made under seal and excluded the public and press from a global settlement conference at the outset of the case.

In June 2018, The Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail asked Polster to lift the protective order covering the ARCOS database and the court filings. A month later, Polster denied the requests, even though he had said earlier that "the vast oversupply of opioid drugs in the United States has caused a plague on its citizens" and the ARCOS database reveals "how and where the virus grew." He also said disclosure of the ARCOS data "is a reasonable step toward defeating the disease."

Lawyers for The Post and the Gazette-Mail appealed Polster's ruling. They argued that the ARCOS material would not harm companies or investigations because the judge had already decided to allow the local government plaintiffs to collect information from 2006 through 2014, withholding the most recent years beginning with 2015 from the lawsuit.

"Access to the ARCOS Data can only enhance the public's confidence that the epidemic and the ensuing litigation are being handled appropriately now - even if they might not have been handled appropriately earlier," The Post's lawyer Karen Lefton wrote in her Jan. 17 appeal.

The lawyers also noted that the DEA did not object when the West Virginia attorney general's office provided partial ARCOS data to the Gazette-Mail in 2016. That data showed that drug distribution companies shipped 780 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone into the state between 2007 and 2012.

On June 20, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio sided with the news organizations. A three-judge panel reversed Polster, ruling that the protective order sealing the ARCOS database be lifted with reasonable redactions and directed the judge to reconsider whether any of the records in the case should be sealed.

On Monday, Polster lifted the protective order on the database, ruling that all the data from 2006 through 2012 should be released to the public, withholding the 2013 and 2014 data.

- - -

The pain pill epidemic began nearly three decades ago, shortly after Purdue Pharma introduced what it marketed as a less addictive form of opioid it called OxyContin. Purdue paid doctors and nonprofit groups advocating for patients in pain to help market the drug as a safe and effective way to treat pain.

But the new drug was highly addictive. As more and more people were hooked, more and more companies entered the market, manufacturing, distributing and dispensing massive quantities of pain pills.

Purdue ended up paying a $634 million fine to the Food and Drug Administration for claiming OxyContin was less addictive than other pain medications.

Annual opioid sales nationwide rose from $6.1 billion in 2006 to $8.5 billion in 2012, according to industry data gathered by IQVIA, a health care information and consulting company.

Individual drug company revenues ranged in single years at the epidemic's peak from $403 million for opioids sold by Endo to $3.1 billion in OxyContin sales by Purdue Pharma, according to a 2018 lawsuit against multiple defendants by San Juan County, New Mexico.

Over the past two decades, Florida became ground zero for pill mills - pain management clinics that served as fronts for corrupt doctors and drug dealers. They became so brazen that some clinics set up storefronts along I-75 and I-95, advertising their products on billboards by interstate exit ramps. So many people traveled to Florida to stock up on oxycodone and hydrocodone, they were sometimes referred to as "prescription tourists."

The route from Florida to Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio became known as the "Blue Highway." It was named after the color of one of the most popular pills on the street - 30 mg oxycodone tablets made by Mallinckrodt, which shipped more than 500 million of the pills to Florida between 2008 and 2012.

When state troopers began pulling over and arresting out-of-state drivers for transporting narcotics, drug dealers took to the air. One airline offered nonstop flights to Florida from Ohio and other Appalachian states, and the route became known as the Oxy Express.

A decade ago, the DEA began cracking down on the industry. In 2005 and 2006, the agency sent letters to drug distributors, warning them that they were required to report suspicious orders of painkillers and halt sales until the red flags could be resolved. The letter also went to drug manufacturers.

Even one distributor that doesn't follow the law "can cause enormous harm," the 2006 DEA letter said.

DEA officials said the companies paid little attention to the warnings and kept shipping millions of pills in the face of suspicious circumstances.

As part of its crackdown, the DEA brought a series of civil enforcement cases against the largest distributors.

The corporations to date have paid nearly $500 million in fines to the Justice Department for failing to report and prevent suspicious drug orders, a number that is dwarfed by the revenue of the companies.

But the settlements of those cases revealed only limited details about the volume of pills that were being shipped.

In 2007, the DEA brought a case against McKesson. The DEA accused the company of shipping millions of doses of hydrocodone to Internet pharmacies after the agency had briefed the company about its obligations under the law to report suspicious orders.

"By failing to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that it received from rogue Internet pharmacies, the McKesson Corporation fueled the explosive prescription drug abuse problem we have in this country," the DEA's administrator said at the time.

In 2008, McKesson agreed to pay a $13.25 million fine to settle the case and pledged to more closely monitor suspicious orders from its customers.

That same year, the DEA brought a case against Cardinal Health, accusing the nation's second-largest drug distributor of shipping millions of doses of painkillers to online and retail pharmacies without notifying the DEA of signs that the drugs were being diverted to the black market.

Cardinal settled the case by paying a $34 million fine and promising to improve its suspicious monitoring program.

Some companies were repeat offenders.

In 2012, the DEA began investigating McKesson again, this time for shipping suspiciously large orders of narcotics to pharmacies in Colorado. One store in Brighton, population 38,000, was ordering 2,000 pain pills per day. The DEA discovered that McKesson had filled 1.6 million orders from its Aurora, Colorado, warehouse between 2008 and 2013 and reported just 16 as suspicious. None involved the Colorado store.

DEA agents and investigators said they had amassed enough information to file criminal charges against McKesson and its officers, but they were overruled by federal prosecutors. The company wound up paying a $150 million fine to settle, a record amount for a diversion case.

Also in 2012, Cardinal Health attracted renewed attention from the DEA when it discovered that the company was again shipping unusually large amounts of painkillers to its Florida customers. The company had sold 12 million oxycodone pills to four pharmacies over four years.

In 2011, Cardinal shipped 2 million doses to a pharmacy in Fort Myers, Florida. Comparable pharmacies in Florida typically ordered 65,000 doses per year.

The DEA also noticed that Cardinal was shipping unusually large amounts of oxycodone to a pair of CVS stores near Sanford, Florida. Between 2008 and 2011, Cardinal sold 2.2 million pills to one of the stores. In 2010, that store purchased 885,900 doses - a 748 percent increase over the previous year. Cardinal did not report any of those sales as suspicious.

Cardinal later paid a $34 million fine to settle the case. The DEA suspended the company from selling narcotics from its warehouse in Lakeland, Florida. CVS paid a $22 million fine.

As the companies paid fines and promised to do a better job of stopping suspicious orders, they continued to manufacture, ship and dispense large amounts of pills, according to the newly released data.

"The depth and penetration of the opioid epidemic becomes readily apparent from the data," said Peter Mougey, a lawyer for the plaintiffs from Pensacola, Florida. "This disclosure will serve as a wake-up call to every community in the country. America should brace itself for the harsh reality of the scope of the opioid epidemic. Transparency will lead to accountability."

- - -

The Washington Post’s Aaron Williams, Andrew Ba Tran, Jenn Abelson, Aaron C. Davis and Christopher Rowland contributed to this report.

Distributors, pharmacies and manufacturers respond to DEA data about opioid sales

Tue, 2019-07-16 21:14

A yearlong legal battle waged by The Washington Post and HD Media, publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, resulted in a ruling Monday releasing government data tracking sales of billions of opioid pills in the U.S. from 2006 to 2012.

The data in the Drug Enforcement Administration's Drug Automation of Reports and Consolidated Order System, known as ARCOS, reveals what each company knew about the number of pills it was shipping and dispensing and precisely when they were aware of those volumes, year-by-year, town-by-town.

Lawsuits against the drug companies now say they allowed some of the highly addictive drugs to reach the streets of communities large and small, despite persistent red flags that those pills were being sold in apparent violation of federal law and diverted to the black market.

The Post on Tuesday asked opioid distributors, pharmacies and manufacturers to respond to information contained in the database. The paper also asked them to respond to three major allegations made by plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits:

1. That your company helped fuel the opioid epidemic by manufacturing, distributing or dispensing hundreds of millions of pain pills.

2. That your company along with other companies conspired to flood the nation with opioids.

3. That your company failed to report suspicious orders to the DEA and filled those orders to maximize profits.

The Post also asked for comment from the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, an industry trade group.

These were their public statements to The Post:

- - -

DISTRIBUTORS

AmericansourceBergen: "Broadly providing retroactive DEA data to plaintiffs' law firms solely for litigation purposes offers a very misleading picture regarding efforts being made around diversion. This data has never previously been given to anyone outside DEA, and therefore has not been available to inform the order monitoring programs and decision-making of distributors like AmerisourceBergen.

"After providing daily order reports to DEA, distributors such as AmerisourceBergen have at no time been privy to how this information was used by DEA, despite consistently seeking guidance on how to most effectively walk the tightrope of providing access to needed, FDA-approved medications while playing a role - however limited, given lack of interaction with patients - in combating the diversion of these same medications.

"Only recently did DEA share any of this data with distributors or manufacturers, when it was compelled to through the passage of the SUPPORT Act in late 2018 to make limited information from the database available to distributors.

"The fact that our market share of these controlled substances seems to be far smaller than our total market share is a testament to the fact that our controls played an important role in enabling us to, as best we could, walk the tight rope of creating appropriate access to FDA approved medications while combatting prescription drug diversion."

Cardinal Health: "Cardinal Health is an intermediary in the pharmaceutical supply chain and plays an important but limited and specific role: to provide a secure channel to deliver medications of all kinds from the hundreds of manufacturers that make them to our thousands of hospital and pharmacy customers licensed to dispense them to patients, and to work diligently to spot, stop and report suspicious orders of medications.

"Cardinal Health is proud to operate a constantly adaptive and rigorous system to combat controlled substance diversion. We have learned from our experience and the threats the pharmaceutical supply chain faces, and as a result our anti-diversion program today is stronger and more effective as it continues to evolve. We have increased the size of our anti-diversion team, including bringing in personnel with additional regulatory, pharmaceutical, and law enforcement experience. We have developed an analytical model to evaluate our pharmacy customers, assigned threshold ordering limits to them, created a centralized database to store and track data on customers and orders, and enhanced policies and procedures for anti-diversion personnel. Over the years, we have trained thousands of our people on anti-diversion practices. Our people operate in good faith, our goal is to get it right, and we have stopped suspicious orders for the shipment of hundreds of millions of dosage units of controlled substances over the last decade.

"As we fulfil our role in the closed supply chain, we are in full compliance with all applicable federal and state laws, which include the requirement to report to state and federal regulators those orders deemed suspicious, despite there being only vague guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration on what constitutes an unusual, or suspicious, order.

"We report those suspicious orders to state boards of pharmacy and to the DEA, but we do not know what these government entities do with those reports, if anything. Distributors have no law enforcement power and, unlike the regulators which oversee and regulate the manufacture, distribution, prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances, cannot stop physicians from writing prescriptions for medication nor take unilateral action to block DEA- and state-licensed pharmacies' ability to dispense medication.

"Cardinal Health shares the judgment of top policymakers that too many prescriptions have been written for too many opioid pills over the past decade, a trend that began with changes in the medical community's attitudes toward managing pain. The DEA, the only entity with the ability to limit production of prescription opioids as it sets an annual quota of the amount allowed to be manufactured, also until recently continuously raised these annual production quotas. From 2006 to 2014, the DEA's authorized quota rose 140%. Thus, the quantity of opioid pills sold is a direct reflection of the number of prescriptions written by healthcare providers and filled by licensed dispensers, neither of which wholesale distributors can influence.

"Cardinal Health cares deeply about the opioid epidemic and takes seriously our commitment, in cooperation with everyone else in the prescription drug supply chain - state and federal government regulators, pharmaceutical manufacturers, doctors and other healthcare providers, insurers and pharmacies - to find and support solutions to this national challenge.

"In addition, Cardinal Health will continue, as we have for over a decade, to make a meaningful difference by raising awareness about the dangers of overprescribing and actively supporting efforts to address it. We also will continue to vigorously defend ourselves in all opioid-related legal matters."

McKesson Corp.: "As the ARCOS data demonstrates, McKesson has consistently disclosed controlled substance transactions to the DEA. For decades, DEA has had exclusive access to this data, which can identify the total volumes of controlled substances being ordered, pharmacy-by-pharmacy, across the country.

"McKesson distributes prescription opioids and other medications in response to orders placed by state-licensed and DEA-registered pharmacies, and those pharmacies may only dispense these medications to patients with a valid prescription written by a government-licensed health care provider.

"The allegations made by the plaintiffs are just that - allegations. They are unproven, untrue and greatly oversimplify the evolution of this health crisis as well as the roles and responsibilities of the many players in the pharmaceutical supply chain. Any suggestion that McKesson influenced the volume of opioids prescribed or consumed in this country would reflect a misunderstanding of our role as a distributor."

- - -

PHARMACIES

CVS: "The plaintiffs' allegations about CVS in this matter have no merit and we are aggressively defending against them. The fact is that we are committed to the highest standards of ethics and business practices, including complying with all federal and state laws governing the dispensing of controlled substance prescriptions.

"We are also dedicated to helping reduce prescription drug abuse and diversion. We have stringent policies, procedures and tools to help ensure that our pharmacists properly exercise their professional responsibility to evaluate controlled substance prescriptions before filling them.

"Over the past several years, we have taken numerous actions to strengthen our existing safeguards to help address the nation's opioid epidemic. This includes millions of hours training our pharmacy teams about responsibilities and best practices regarding controlled substances.

"When reviewing information in the ARCOS database about CVS, it is important to keep the following in mind for context:

"We did not, and still do not, distribute Schedule II controlled substances such as oxycodone and fentanyl. We only distribute Schedule III-V controlled substances to our retail pharmacies.

"CVS Pharmacy is one of the two largest retail pharmacies in the nation. During the covered time period of 2006-2012, CVS had an average market share of over 18% for all retail prescriptions dispensed in the country. During those last two years, our market share for all retail prescriptions dispensed nationally was 20-21%.

"We dispensed over 4.2 billion retail prescriptions during that time period and opioid medications were a very small percentage of that total.

"Pharmacies dispense medication, including controlled substances, to patients who have authorized prescriptions written by doctors, physicians and other prescribers."

Walgreens: "Walgreens pharmacists are highly trained professionals committed to dispensing legitimate prescriptions that meet the needs of our patients. Walgreens has not distributed prescription controlled substances since 2014 and before that time only distributed to our chain of pharmacies. Walgreens has been an industry leader in combatting this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work."

Walmart: Declined to comment.

- - -

MANUFACTURERS

Actavis Pharma: "Teva acquired Actavis in 2016 and cannot speak to any systems in place beforehand. I can also not confirm any of your statistics without more specificity on medicines, locations and additional detail.

"That said, overall, generic medicines automatically replace branded medicines at the pharmacy with absolutely no influence from Teva. Teva has not conspired, failed to report suspicious orders or contributed to the abuse of opioids in the U.S. in any way. We maintain a comprehensive and robust system to prevent suspicious orders from ever entering the market."

Endo Pharmaceuticals: "Regarding the lawsuit, it is Endo's policy not to comment on current litigation. Our comments regarding the topic of opioids can be found on our website. In the letter, Endo states:

"Since its founding as a family business in 1920, Endo has evolved into a generics and specialty branded pharmaceutical company whose products help millions of patients lead healthier lives. We are deeply concerned about the opioid abuse crisis, a public health challenge unprecedented in scope, severity and complexity. We believe this crisis can only be solved through intensive collaboration among the multiple stakeholders involved in our healthcare system.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has worked to balance access to pain care medications for appropriate patients while aggressively mitigating the risks of opioid abuse. Endo supports these efforts and has taken parallel actions. Since our new Executive Leadership Team began working together in September 2016, Endo voluntarily stopped promoting opioid products to healthcare professionals and eliminated the Company's entire pain product salesforce. Endo also voluntarily withdrew Opana® ER from the market, discontinued the research and development of new opioid products and implemented additional anti-diversion measures, including product serialization aimed at thwarting counterfeiting and theft to protect patient safety.

"While we are proud of Endo's actions, neither we nor any other single actor can solve the opioid abuse crisis. Instead, any solution must be multifaceted and consider not only the product supply chain, but also individual risk factors and other factors affecting utilization decisions, together with scientific, legislative and regulatory measures, training, treatment and education. Criminal trafficking of opioids (including heroin and fentanyl), illegal Internet sales and importation must also be addressed. Finally, the legitimate access needs of the millions of patients suffering from acute or chronic pain who rely on opioid medications must be considered. We remain committed to working collaboratively and proactively on a comprehensive solution to the opioid abuse crisis and to continuing Endo's longstanding mission of improving patients' lives."

Mallinckrodt: "The Drug Enforcement Administration determines the total quantity of Schedule II opioids needed each year to meet legitimate medical, scientific and research needs in the U.S. Our DEA registrant company, SpecGx LLC, cannot and does not produce more opioids than the annual limit set for the company by the DEA. SpecGx sells only to DEA-approved distributors and other entities, who are themselves registered with and monitored by the DEA. In addition, through its ARCOS database, DEA monitors the flow of these DEA controlled substances from their point of manufacture through commercial distribution channels to point of sale or distribution at the dispensing/retail level.

“Mallinckrodt has for years been at the forefront of preventing prescription drug diversion and abuse, and has invested millions of dollars in a multi-pronged program to address opioid abuse. Those efforts include the purchase and donation of nearly two million drug disposal pouches, and working with policymakers, community leaders, law enforcement and industry partners to ensure the responsible use of pain medication and preventing unused medications from ending up in the wrong hands. The company will continue to support these efforts. For more information on Mallinckrodt’s work to combat prescription drug abuse and misuse, please visit www.mallinckrodt.com/solutions (mallinckrodt.com).”

Purdue Pharma: "We have no further comment on the release of the ARCOS data beyond what was stated in our brief.

"Purdue Pharma vigorously denies the claims brought forth in the MDL, which are based on mischaracterizations and allegations we believe are without merit. We are confident in the strength of our legal arguments, and will continue to defend ourselves in the litigation."

- - -

TRADE GROUP

Healthcare Distribution Alliance: “The ARCOS data show that distributors have consistently reported sales of opioid-based medications, along with the quantity of the order and the identity of the receiving pharmacy to the DEA. Distributors only recently received access to the full set of data with information about the total shipment of opioid medicines a particular pharmacy received from all distributors. The DEA has been the only entity to have all of this data at their fingertips and it could have used the information to consistently monitor the supply of opioids and when appropriate, proactively identify bad actors. Unlike the DEA, distributors have no authority to stop physicians from writing prescriptions, nor can they take unilateral action to halt pharmacies’ ability to dispense medication.”

Fun things to do this week around Anchorage

Tue, 2019-07-16 20:16

The One Where Poor People Live Comfortably in Manhattan — It’s time to put your trivia knowledge to the test and compete in this quiz that covers all 10 seasons of “Friends.” Trivia winners will receive a cash prize. Hosted by Williwaw and Geeks who Drink. The event is for those 21 and older and registration is required. $5. 3 p.m. Saturday July 20, Williwaw Social, 609 F St. (williwawsocial.com)

Total Loss: A Comedy Show About Death — Boston comedian Will Martin will present a half comedy and half tribute show about something everyone has in common: death. No cover. 7:30-10 p.m. Saturday July 20, Koot’s, 2435 Spenard Rd. (koots.com)

Mat-Su Valley Fiber Festival — This festival features everything great about animal fiber and will feature goats, sheep, rabbits and vendors, as well as a cavy show, or a presentation of small rodents. Free admission. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday July 20, Alaska State Fairgrounds, 2075 Glenn Hwy. (Details on Facebook)

Apollo 11 Anniversary Event — The UAA Planetarium teamed up with the Anchorage Museum and other lunar fanatics to create a celebration of the moon landing featuring hands-on activities like constructing rockets or moon craters. There will also be films about the Apollo missions and current NASA missions. Free. 12-4 p.m. Saturday July 20, UAA Planetarium, 3101 Science Cir.

West End Block Party — This block party and Visit Anchorage business exchange celebrates summer with a beer and margarita garden, live music from H3, face painting and art activities. There will also be cheap eats and picnic fare from Snow City and Captain Cook. Free admission. 4-8:30 p.m. Wednesday July 24, Snow City Cafe, 1034 W Fourth Ave. (Details on Facebook)

Live After Five Featuring The Hannah Yoter Band Alaska-based group, The Hannah Yoter Band, will play a mix of country, folk and bluegrass at this concert series. There will also be food, beer and family-friendly activities. Free. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday July 25, Anchorage Town Square, 544 W Fifth Ave.

Experts in charitable giving say donations from Alaskans can’t make up funding losses caused by vetoes

Tue, 2019-07-16 19:26

Experts in charitable giving in Alaska say that there is no way private donors, corporations and foundations can fill the massive gap caused by the loss of state funding related to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes.


Diane Kaplan, president and CEO of Rasmuson Foundation (Courtesy Rasmuson Foundation)

Diane Kaplan, president and CEO of Rasmuson Foundation, the largest private funder in the state, said that the total of all the private funding available, including from individual donors, corporate donors and foundations, amounts to an estimated $80 million.

“The gap we’re talking about is $1.6 billion,” she said, referring to the difference between revenue and spending that the governor and the Legislature have been wrestling with. “It’s a drop in the bucket.”

In late June, Dunleavy announced $444 million in line-item budget vetoes affecting a wide swath of programs, from the University of Alaska to Medicaid to preschool to the arts.

[Impasse continues as Alaska lawmakers push different visions for budget, Permanent Fund dividend]

In Alaska’s contentious budget discussion, some, including the governor, have suggested that as government funds for nonprofits recede, private donors might step in to replace them. In a news conference on Monday, for example, Dunleavy suggested that along with other city revenue, private donors might ease the impacts of major cuts to homeless services in Anchorage. But Kaplan and others in the Alaska nonprofit world have collected data about both how Alaskans give and how much it’s possible to raise in-state. They say the private pockets aren’t deep enough to cover the massive losses.

“It’s a ridiculous suggestion,” Kaplan said.

The governor’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment from the governor.

Alaskans tend to give time, not money

Charitable giving in Alaska is influenced by unique factors that limit how much money can be raised and how fast, said Laurie Wolf, who heads up The Foraker Group, which works with nonprofits across the state.

[Read more coverage on the governor’s vetoes and the legislature]

The tradition of cash philanthropy in Alaska is young, and there isn’t a lot of what’s called “generational wealth," which might come from a family that accrued wealth several generations ago and is in the habit of giving. Residents also tend to be more transient, Wolf said, which might also keep them from making a significant donation. The world of corporate and foundation giving, like the state’s population, is small.

“On the corporate and foundation side, we just don’t have that many. It’s not New York City,” she said.

Another factor is that Alaskans don’t tend to donate money to charity as much as residents of other states. According to a Foraker study from 2017, of Alaskans who itemized their income taxes, 16% showed charitable donations. The U.S. average is 24%. That number does not include contributions by people who don’t itemize or people who give to people or organizations that are not nonprofits. On the other hand, Alaskans have some of the highest rates of volunteering in the country, she said. And the tradition of giving tangible things, like subsistence foods, to neighbors and family is strong and can’t be quantified.

“We have more space to grow in giving back in a financial way to the things we care about,” Wolf said. “Sometimes people confuse time and money. We’re super good at giving our time, we don’t understand how it’s different than money.”


Foraker Group president and CEO Laurie Wolf meets with vice president of programs Chellie Skoog on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 in Wolf's office. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

[Dunleavy budget vetoes will result in Alaska job losses, economists say]

Corporations can’t carry all the weight either, she said.

“Every company is telling us the requests far outnumber the amount that they are giving,” she said. “Could corporations give more money, they could if they wanted to, but they still couldn’t fill the gap. ... That’s not a realistic expectation.”

Another important consideration is that state monies leverage other matching monies, like federal or private donations, she said. Losing state dollars means losing other funds.

“We leverage each other’s gifts to make the Alaska we want. If you take out a piece of that, it unravels," Wolf said.

‘We haven’t seen a plan’

There is deep concern among nonprofits that the state lacks a plan for the overnight loss in services that nonprofits provide for children, mentally ill people, domestic violence survivors, homeless people, low-income seniors and people in supported housing, Wolf said.

“You can stop funding things, but people don’t disappear, children need to go to preschool so their parents can go to work, we still have seniors, we still have people who experience mental illness, we still have people who experience homelessness,” Wolf said.

[Anchorage’s biggest homeless shelter closes during the day, braces for drastic budget cuts]

It’s unknown whether the governor considered the practical problems caused by the vetoes, she said, and whether there is a contingency beyond the hope private donors will come forward.

“We haven’t seen a plan,” she said.

Jason Grenn, spokesman for United Way of Anchorage, said that nonprofits have pulled together in the wake of the vetoes, looking for innovative ways to deliver services that might help soften some of the blow. Even a modest increase in donations requires time and building relationships, he said. The problems with funding losses, however, are immediate.

“Showing the real-life impacts of all of these different budget cuts, you might see a shift, I hope anyway, for people’s capacity for giving, but it’s not something that’s filled in overnight,” he said.

Foraker has worked with governors for 19 years, Wolf said, but this administration would not meet with her agency in advance of the vetoes so that they could develop contingencies. Kaplan also said that her organization reached out to the governor’s office early in the budget process about projects funded jointly by the foundation and the state, but got no response.

“We said, ‘Governor, let’s work together, what do you want to continue, what do you want to change, what ideas do you have?’ ” she said "There was nothing, he hasn’t been willing to meet with us.”

Many of the programs nonprofits run save money by preventing expensive problems and reduce human suffering, Wolf said. For example, when mentally ill people people lose housing, as some will because of cuts, they end up on the street and are more likely to use emergency services, which costs the public.

“The problems don’t go away," she said. "They just get more expensive.”

Pick.Click.Give isn’t enough

Some have suggested that if Alaskans are given $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend checks, they might contribute at high levels through Pick.Click.Give, a program that allows people to pick individual organizations and donate part of their checks. Kaplan said that Pick.Click.Give generates $2.7 million, which is spread among 628 organizations.

“To make up for the cuts, every Alaskan, including children and babies, would have to donate their entire PFD,” she said.

Some people dealing with immediate losses related to service cuts like those to Medicaid dental care, for example, have turned to private individual fundraisers, like GoFundMe. Grenn and Kaplan said that suggestion isn’t sustainable on a large scale.

“I don’t think anyone would advise that your health care plan would be to pop up on social media and ask strangers for money,” Grenn said.

Kaplan cited 11,000 low-income seniors who lost benefits with the vetoes.

“Are all 11,000 going to do a GoFundMe? Do they even know how to do a GoFundMe?” she said. “I don’t think so. These are people who are barely scraping by in housing and some percentage are going to lose their housing.”

Wolf said the extreme situation for nonprofit organizations may change the charitable giving habits of some Alaskans, which is positive.

“If people are inspired to give more to these organizations, based on this budget and these conversations, great," she said. "But it’s not enough.”

Alaska Native groups criticize Sen. Reinbold for ‘inflammatory’ Facebook post

Tue, 2019-07-16 18:42

Lora Reinbold at the Republican Party of Alaska gathering at the Top of the World restaurant at the Hilton Anchorage on Nov. 8, 2016. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

Three of Alaska’s largest Native organizations have called on state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, to publicly retract statements she made recently on Facebook that they described as ill-informed and inflammatory.

In a letter dated Monday, the Alaska Federation of Natives, Alaska Regional Association and the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association expressed dismay at Reinbold’s post.

“Senator Reinbold we respect you as (an) elected public official. However, the position comes with a wide platform that requires the responsible dissemination of information,” reads the letter, which is signed by Alaska Federation of Natives president Julie Kitka; Alaska Regional Association executive director Kim Reitmeier; and Alaska Native Village Corporation Association executive director Hallie Bisset. “Your July 11 Facebook post failed to meet this standard. We urge you to study the other sides of the issues you raised, and to consider updating your Facebook post.”

Reinbold’s original post — which has since been modified — questioned Alaska Native corporations, which she claimed receive state and federal subsidies yet fail to care for Alaska Natives.

“Why do these corporations (that were given tremendous money and land, basically free, partly to help allow the oil pipeline to be built) need so many state subsidies still?” Reinbold wrote. “Are the native corporations taking care of the native people as they agreed to? How much in taxes do they pay to the state coffers with the billions of dollars of revenue they generate? Unlike the average citizen, the Regional corps get rights to resources below their land.”

Reinbold later updated the post by removing the words “basically free,” changing “state” to “state/federal” and changing “as they agreed to” to “as they should.” She also added an “addendum” in which she said she admitted a lack of knowledge on the complicated Native claims laws passed by Congress in the 1970s.

“I didn’t intend to offend anyone,” she wrote. “Yes I admit I was young when (ANCSA) and ANILCA took place -- my history is rusty.”

She went on to say her questions were valid in light of the fact Native corporations have “entered into our budget battle publicly” and that many Alaskans have questions about “Native rights/privileges 8A contracts and equal protections for all regardless of race.”

“When powerful wealthy native corporations go public and claim to still need state (and federal) subsidies, its our responsibility to ask tough questions- even when we are chided. Every dollar government spends was taken from the private sector and should be prioritized, spent wisely and accounted for,” she wrote.

On Tuesday, Reinbold she had already corrected her post and was too busy with ongoing budget negotiations to comment further.

“That’s a discussion for another day,” she wrote in a text message. “Today we must focus (on) funding PFD and crime bills and get a capital budget.”

In their letter, the three Native groups said they receive no subsidies from the state, and that there is no agreement in the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act requiring them to provide social services to Native people — though they do, indeed, provide a variety of services through a variety of charitable organizations.

“Native corporations improve the life outcomes of Alaska Natives through affiliated and non-affiliated non-profits,” they wrote in the letter, which was also sent to the Alaska State Senate and Alaska House of Representatives. “ANCs do this because of a strong sense of pride in Native ownership and corporate responsibility. This does not, however, abdicate the State’s Article VII constitutional responsibilities to provide for the public education, public health, and public welfare of Alaskans, including Alaska Natives.”

The letter went on to criticize Reinbold’s assertion Native corporations were given land “basically free,” a statement the groups called “incorrect and inflammatory.” Instead, the letter says the corporations — which were created under ANCSA — received $947 million from the U.S. government in exchange for relinquishing their aboriginal rights to the land.

The groups also told Reinbold her comments about the taxes paid by Native corporations were off base, and pointed out that 85% of Native corporations’ income is returned to their respective villages. The groups concluded the letter by inviting Reinbold to meet with them to better understand the state of Alaska Native corporations and Alaska Native land claims.

According to AFN, the group represents all of Alaska’s 12 regional for-profit and 12 regional nonprofit organizations, as well as 172 village for-profit corporations and 191 of Alaska’s federally represented tribes — in total, one in five Alaskans.

When signed into law, ANCSA divided Alaska into 12 regions and settled Alaska Native land claims by creating a system of regional corporations made

up of shareholders from local villages and tribes. The settlement paid Alaska Natives nearly $1 billion, with the regional and village corporations selecting some 44 million acres of land with which to start their companies.

According to the Alaska Resource Development Council, Alaska’s Native corporations now employ 58,000 people worldwide, including 16,000 in Alaska. The corporations include some of Alaska’s largest, including Utqiagvik-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp., which employs 12,000 people around the world and is the state’s largest Alaska-owned company.

DV.load("https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6204582-Reinbold-Letter.js", { responsive: true, container: "#DV-viewer-6204582-Reinbold-Letter" }); Reinbold Letter (PDF)
Reinbold Letter (Text)

Gov. Dunleavy is getting his way so far. But at what price?

Tue, 2019-07-16 18:09

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks and answers questions about his recent budget vetoes at the start of a meeting with members of his cabinet in Anchorage on July 15, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The Alaska Legislature’s failure to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes would be an interesting topic for a political science class if the consequences were not so devastating.

Dunleavy has followed the path of minority rule, and minority rule in a democracy is always of interest to students of politics. How do you justify minority power over the majority and what mechanisms are available to implement it?

In classrooms, students routinely are taught the importance of protecting minority rights. American history, students learn, is replete with controversies over the limits of majority rule. The U.S. Constitution itself was born of one of these controversies. In 1789, how could tiny Rhode Island protect itself from the behemoth next door, Massachusetts? Equal representation in the Senate was one way.

The history of the struggle to end slavery can be seen as a protracted battle over of the property rights of the slave-holding minority. Slaveholders built an intricate intellectual and legal structure to maintain their minority power, backed by force. The American majority stripped them of their slaves not after debate but through violence - the Civil War.

In Alaska, Gov. Dunleavy has the mechanism for minority rule over the budget - the veto - but does not have a majority of the Legislature behind him, nor a majority of the public. Legislators say they have received thousands of messages damning Dunleavy. Civic and business leaders have spoken out against the cuts to the university, Medicaid, public schools, the arts and old folks’ benefits. I would wager the majority of paid lobbyists, so often trashed for everything that smells in Juneau, are against the vetoes. They have too many clients who directly benefit from government spending and the stable political system Gov. Dunleavy upended.

The governor's oft-repeated justification for the cuts is: There is no choice. Government doesn't have the money to do what it did in the past.

Governments always have a choice, no matter how unpalatable. Subsidizing oil companies is a choice. Rejecting all forms of state taxation is a choice. Demanding a $3,000 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend while laying off thousands of workers is a choice. Gov. Dunleavy has said that it is fine by him if the cuts shackle government - and that is what he intends to do, while championing the genius of the free enterprise system as the solution to our difficulties. Whatever free enterprise can do, it will never respond rapidly enough to rescue teens whose college plans have been ruined.

Don't misunderstand; The governor has Alaskans who agree with him - maybe a third of the Legislature and a chunk of public opinion perpetually riled up about big government. In the 2018 election, the Governor received 51.44 of the vote. It is a good guess there are people who picked Dunleavy who now think "I voted for the guy because he was the best choice at the time. I didn't expect him to eliminate my job."

By governing via veto, Gov. Dunleavy has abandoned persuasion for coercion, and he has magnified his weaknesses in the rest of the legislative process. He can't pass Constitutional amendments by himself. He can't appropriate money by himself. Non-budgetary legislation he introduces will face a new level of scrutiny and hostility from burned lawmakers.

Governors understand that they will make enemies. Bill Walker knew this when he reduced the amount of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. But governors rarely set out to make enemies as Dunleavy has.

I have heard people say Gov. Dunleavy is a tool of the Koch brothers, the right-wing billionaires. There is some evidence for this, given Dunleavy’s relationship with the Koch-created group Americans for Prosperity.

But however close Dunleavy is with the brothers, it is clear that he understands two of the core Koch beliefs, rarely expressed publicly by the Koch family members themselves but commonly heard from the university and think-tank intellectuals who have joined the Kochs.

First, to succeed, you must use the legislative rules to maximum advantage and then change the rules to your advantage through Constitutional amendments.

Second, killing major state-funded programs is never popular with a majority of voters. Too many people (“takers, not makers,” in Koch-speak) benefit from student loans, Medicaid, power cost subsidies. A referendum on dismantling the university would never pass. Gov. Dunleavy knew this when he began his veto review. The cries of pain were expected, even those of establishment Republicans like Senate President Cathy Giessel.

Gov. Dunleavy has had his way, but he has paid a price - to his reputation, to public respect for his office. He has been especially hurt by his inability to either show (or fake) empathy for the people he is damaging.

In candidate Dunleavy's 2018 election-pamphlet statement, he concluded "Too many politicians have squandered the trust of the people with broken promises on the PFD, taxes, the budget, and other issues. I am committed to earning that trust back, the only way I know how; by keeping promises and commitments."

At the moment, Gov. Dunleavy's trust department is earning a rate of return of about zero.

Michael Carey is an Anchorage Daily News columnist. He can be reached at mcarey@adn.com.

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. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens dies at 99

Tue, 2019-07-16 17:44

FILE - In this April 30, 2014 file photo, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens prepares to testify on the ever-increasing amount of money spent on elections as he appears before the Senate Rules Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Stevens, the bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court's leading liberal, died Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after suffering a stroke Monday. He was 99. (AP Photo, File) (Uncredited/)

WASHINGTON — John Paul Stevens, the bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court’s leading liberal, died Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after suffering a stroke Monday. He was 99.

During nearly 35 years on the court, Stevens stood for the freedom and dignity of individuals, be they students or immigrants or prisoners. He acted to limit the death penalty, squelch official prayer in schools, establish gay rights, promote racial equality and preserve legal abortion. He protected the rights of crime suspects and illegal immigrants facing deportation.

He influenced fellow justices to give foreign terrorism suspects held for years at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base the right to plead for their release in U.S. courts.

Stevens served more than twice the average tenure for a justice, and was only the second to mark his 90th birthday on the high court. From his appointment by President Gerald Ford in 1975 through his retirement in June 2010, he shaped decisions that touched countless aspects of American life.

He remained an active writer and speaker into his late 90s, surprising some when he came out against Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation following Kavanaugh's angry denial of sexual assault allegations. Stevens wrote an autobiography, "The Making of a Justice: My First 94 Years," that was released just after his 99th birthday in April 2019.

At first considered a centrist, Stevens came to be seen as a lion of liberalism. But he rejected that characterization.

“I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all,” Stevens told The New York Times in 2007. “I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative.”


FILE - In this May 29, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama awards former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House, in Washington. Stevens, the bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court's leading liberal, died Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after suffering a stroke Monday. He was 99. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Carolyn Kaster/)

The way Stevens saw it, he held to the same ground, but the court had shifted steadily to the right over the decades, creating the illusion that he was moving leftward.

He did change his views on some issues, however. He morphed from a critic of affirmative action to a supporter, and came to believe the death penalty was wrong.

His legal reasoning was often described as unpredictable or idiosyncratic, especially in his early years on the court. He was a prolific writer of separate opinions laying out his own thinking, whether he agreed or disagreed with the majority's ruling. Yet Stevens didn't consider his methods novel. He tended toward a case-by-case approach, avoided sweeping judicial philosophies, and stayed mindful of precedent.

The white-haired Stevens, eyes often twinkling behind owlish glasses, was the picture of old-fashioned geniality on the court and off. He took an unusually courteous tone with lawyers arguing their cases, but he was no pushover. After his fellow justices fired off questions, Stevens would politely weigh in. "May I ask a question?" he'd ask gently, then quickly slice to the weakest point of a lawyer's argument.

Stevens was especially concerned with the plight of ordinary citizens up against the government or other powerful interests — a type of struggle he witnessed as a boy.

He voiced only one regret about his Supreme Court career: that he had supported reinstating the death penalty in 1976. More than three decades later, Stevens publicly declared his opposition to capital punishment, saying that years of bad court decisions had overlooked racial bias, favored prosecutors and otherwise undermined his expectation that death sentences could be handed down fairly.


Justice John Paul Stevens chats with his wife, Elizabeth Monday, Jan. 12, 1976 in Washington, in his chambers prior to joining his colleagues for his first working session on the Supreme Court bench. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2009 file photo, the Supreme Court poses for a portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington. Seated, from left are: Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. Standing, from left are: Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak. File ) (Charles Dharapak/)

One of his harshest dissents came when the court lifted restrictions on spending by corporations and unions to sway elections. He called the 2010 ruling "a rejection of the common sense of the American people" and a threat to democracy.

As he read parts of that opinion aloud, Stevens' voice wavered uncharacteristically and he repeatedly stumbled over words. For the 90-year-old who'd worried he wouldn't know when to bow out, it was a signal. "That was the day I decided to resign," Stevens said later. He also disclosed in his autobiography that he had suffered a mini-stroke.

The retirement of Stevens, known as a defender of strict separation of church and state, notably left the high court without a single Protestant member for the first time.

"I guess I'm the last WASP," he joked, saying the issue was irrelevant to the justices' work. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court in 2017, was raised Catholic, but attends a Protestant church.

A great-grandfather, Stevens eased into an active retirement of writing and speaking, still fit for swimming and tennis in Fort Lauderdale, where he and his second wife, Maryan, kept a home away from Washington.

He is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth and Susan, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Stevens’ first wife, Elizabeth, second wife, Maryan, and two children died before him.


Judge John Paul Stevens, lower right, then a nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States, holds his grand-daughter Christy Jedlicka, 3, as he poses with members of his family in his home Nov. 29, 1975 in Burr Ridge, Ill. His wife Elizabeth, lower left, holds grand-daughter Katie Jedlicka, 4. Other members of family behind them are, from left; son-in-law Edward Jedlicka, daughter Katherine Jedlicka, daughter Elizabeth Stevens, 14, and daughter Susan Stevens, 13. (AP Photo) (Anonymous/)
U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens, second from left, Lewis F. Powell Jr., third from left, and Byron R. White, second from right, listened to former Secretary of state Alexander Haig address 3,500 lawyers at the American Bar Association convention in San Francisco, CA, Monday, August 9, 1982. The two men on the far right and left are unidentified. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) (Eric Risberg/)

Bluster, cooperation mark China’s Arctic summit

Tue, 2019-07-16 17:17

FILE - This July 22, 2006 file photo, provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, shows the Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaking ice in the Arctic Ocean near Barrow, Alaska. The U.S. will assert its sovereignty in the Arctic, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Friday, even as Russia, China and other nations stake claims and expand their use of the icy waters for military exercises and transit. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Prentice Danner, File)

Two major events occurred in or about the Arctic last month. The first was the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council held in Rovaniemi, Finland in early May. The second was the Arctic Circle China Forum held in Shanghai, China, a self-described ‘near-Arctic nation.’ At both events, the Arctic activities of the United States, Russia and China dominated the headlines, making now a good time to look at how these three powers are jockeying for influence on the international stage.

According to several persons present at the Finland-hosted Arctic Council Ministerial who flew directly to Iceland’s Arctic Circle meetings conducted in Shanghai several days later, the U.S. Secretary of State “shocked” the typically diplomatic biannual Ministerial by hurling bullying and cantankerous remarks on the eve of the Ministerial. Secretary Mike Pompeo reserved his particular ire for Russia, China and even, Canada. Whether his remarks reflected envy of China’s growing Arctic presence, or a spillover of the U.S. ‘trade war’ to demonize China while being “tough on Russia” is not clear. However, the Secretary did refer to China’s massive multi-billion dollar Polar Belt and Road investments as a prelude to “territorial aggression.”

The U.S. Secretary also objected to the use of the phrase, “climate change” in the Arctic Council’s Ministerial Statement. Pompeo’s objection meant that for the first time, no joint statement was issued by the Arctic Nations since the Arctic Council’s 1996 founding as an intergovernmental forum dedicated to cooperative Arctic science, environmental protection and related activities among all Arctic states, indigenous peoples and, now, “observer states,” such as China.

The effects of Pompeo’s lashing out at U.S. Arctic allies, even adversaries – certainly, not enemies – in a region long known as a “zone of peace,” resonated at the Shanghai-Arctic Circle meetings several days later. Opening remarks by Wang Hong, Director of China’s State Oceanic Administration of the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources and other high-level officials, may have been hitting back as they described China’s interest in the science of Arctic warming that is impacting Chinese weather patterns. The high levels officials insisted that China’s massive investment across Russia’s Northern Sea Route, environmentally controversial Polar Belt and Road initiative, would “be green,” irrespective of sessions with titles such as “Paving the Belt and Road.”

Arctic Circle Founder, former Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, expanded upon the Chinese representatives’ pledge to address climate change to the some 500 delegates from more than 20 countries in what he heralded as an “historic meeting" – the first dedicated exclusively to Arctic issues in China. With his seeming Gorbachev-Reagan-in-Reykjavik sensibility, President Grimsson thanked the Chinese officials for their concern about Arctic climate matters. Then, he proceeded to describe the changes in climate and weather patterns, particularly experienced in the Arctic region, as being accelerated by the burning of carbon fuels. The President remarked that “China’s reliance on” coal-fired generator plants contributes to a “circular pattern” of Arctic warming, that then contributes to destructive weather patterns worldwide.

The “bluster” on climate from Secretary Pompeo, flies in the face of most recent reports that express concern about climate change ranging from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Congressionally required Fourth National Climate Assessment, the IPCC Global Warming Special Report 2018, and, sufficient concern to the convening of a coalition of 39 central banks, about half the global economy, study on the effects of climate change on financial markets.

The former President thanked the Chinese officials for working with Iceland for, thus far, installing some 70 geothermal plants across China to replace coal-based electricity. Given the memorandum of understanding signed between Iceland and China suggests the possibility of more conversions from coal to geothermal – such as occurred in Iceland some 70 years ago, is likely. Iceland’s Director General of Orkustofnun, the nation’s National Energy Authority,

Gudni A. Johannesson, told this observer that “the air quality situation is quite serious in China” – more than 200,000 people reportedly die annually of respiratory diseases caused by a combination of pollution by coal-fired electrical plans and petro-chemicals, often located in the outskirts of communities.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, flying in from Finland to Shanghai, was well received in her remarks that promoted a spirit of cooperation in the region. The senator, who has noted the U.S. need for functional icebreakers, deep-draft ports and other Arctic infrastructure, expressed concern for climate impacts and responded to a question from a panel presenter, noting that she would bring the issue of geothermal energy development to Washington to determine any congressional interest.

The Arctic Circle China meetings seemed to stand for the twin principles of coexistence and cooperation. President Grimsson’s ethic – that of a small Island nation unafraid to face the largest Arctic, or near Arctic- nations and demand, perhaps by the power of presence, the maintenance of a stable and environmentally protected region, irrespective of new rules, different governance models of nations operating in the Arctic, or conventional notions of security. If nothing else, the Arctic Circle – China meeting offered an option of no–one being left outside of the Arctic discourse where explosive growth is unfolding in a region where a new Mediterranean-sized ocean is opening at the top of the world at the North Pole.

Despite the bombast by the U.S. Secretary, U.S. Ambassador David Balton, former representative of the United States to the Arctic Council, expressed an optimistic view. The former Ambassador said in a telephone interview that “efforts to strengthen international governance of the Arctic will continue.”

Whether or not the cooperative model will continue to evolve raises a series of unfolding and vital questions, not the least of which is to keep external geopolitics from seeping in. And, climate, in all of its meanings, in check.

Anita L. Parlow is a recent Fulbright scholar in Iceland, Team Lead for the inaugural Woodrow Wilson Polar Code Roundtable Project, and advisor for the Harvard–MIT Arctic Fisheries Project. Parlow has advised corporations, NGOs and international agencies on Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental and Community Risk.

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. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

U.S. Army Alaska welcomes new commander

Tue, 2019-07-16 16:48

Maj. Gen. Peter B. Andrysiak Jr. accepts the U.S. Army Alaska flag from Lt. Gen. Gary J. Volesky during Maj. Gen. Andrysiak's change of command ceremony July 16, 2019. (Jeff Parrott / ADN) (Jeff Parrott/)

Soldiers from United States Army Alaska welcomed a new commander Tuesday morning in a ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

In front of a crowd of senior military leaders, family and friends, Maj. Gen. Peter B. Andrysiak Jr. accepted the U.S. Army Alaska flag and responsibility for the soldiers under his new command from Lt. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commanding general of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

Incoming commander Andrysiak is a United States Military Academy graduate and has been in the Army for more than 29 years. He has led soldiers at nearly every stage of his career, and his previous deployments include Rwanda, Kuwait, two tours to Iraq and three tours to Afghanistan.

A previous commander of the 2nd Engineer Brigade at JBER, Andrysiak returns to Alaska with his wife, Casey, and their two children, MacKenzie and Max. The family was last stationed in Hawaii, where he served as the U.S. Army Pacific chief of staff.

“I can’t tell you how good it is to be back in Alaska,” Andrysiak, addressing the crowd, said of his return.

“Alaska is a very special place, and your warmth and support to the military is unrivaled.”


Incoming U.S. Army Alaska Commander Maj. Gen. Peter B. Andrysiak addresses soldiers and guests during a change of command ceremony July 16, 2019. (Jeff Parrott / ADN) (Jeff Parrott/)
Members of the 9th Army Band march across Pershing Field at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Jeff Parrott / ADN) (Jeff Parrott/)

As the U.S. Army Alaska commander, Andrysiak will supervise units located at JBER and Fort Wainwright, to include two brigade combat teams, several battalions and the Northern Warfare Training Center.

“We look forward to renewing old friendships and making new ones,” Andrysiak said. "We are deeply honored to be rejoining this amazing team in the land of the midnight sun.”

The outgoing commander, Maj. Gen. Mark J. O’Neil, is retiring after more than three decades of service. O’Neil has served in a variety of leadership positions — including in special operations — since joining the military in 1986. He has deployed to peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and deployed 15 times in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Addressing the soldiers he led for the last two years for a final time, O’Neil said, “Today’s ceremony is about you.”

“I am grateful to have served with each of you,” he said, looking out to the formation.

“I challenge each and every one of you in this formation, and beyond, to never stop investing in each other," he said. “Own your responsibility to improve and continue to take care of each other, that’s what it means to be an Arctic warrior."

A $3,000 PFD? Forget about it.

Tue, 2019-07-16 16:13

From right to left, Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage; Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla; and Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, await the final results of a special session adjournment vote Thursday, June 13, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)

Let’s bust one myth right now: Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s $444 million in vetoes would not fund a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend. To be precise, the $444 million he vetoed comes out to approximately $600 per Alaskan who receives a PFD. As we have heard from literally thousands of Alaskans, it would be incredibly short-sighted to destroy the university, crash our economy and defund public education for a one-time $3,000 PFD payout. But that calculus is even more obvious when we consider the costs and benefits accurately: In exchange for the sweeping devastation Dunleavy’s vetoes would cause, each Alaskan’s PFD check would only be $600 larger.

Good luck replacing your paycheck, health insurance or university scholarship with $600.

The governor continues to claim that the Legislature should appropriate funds for a super-sized $3,000 PFD. Yet he has provided no plan, no balanced budget proposal to get there. There is no way to fund a $3,000 PFD without draining the Permanent Fund itself, unless we substantially raise oil taxes. Under Gov. Dunleavy’s plan, we would drain the Earnings Reserve by 2025 and have $0 PFDs after that. It would be insane to drain our trust fund for a short-sighted payout, as I wrote in a previous op-ed.

The governor’s budget plan is simple: Devastate our economy, defund essential public safety and law enforcement programs, and cripple our future through wholesale elimination of early childhood education programs. Meanwhile, Gov. Dunleavy would drain Alaskans’ savings in the Permanent Fund and lose out on the investment earnings that are the rightful inheritance of my daughter’s generation. Naturally, his vetoes have drawn widespread condemnation. I have received thousands of letters, emails, and phone calls in opposition to the governor’s vetoes, and dozens of Alaska’s most prominent business and non-profit organizations have urged us to override the cuts. But many people oppose Dunleavy’s vetoes thinking the trade-off is a $3,000 PFD, and the mathematical reality is far worse.

Here’s another way to put $444 million in perspective: That is almost the precise amount of additional revenue the Legislature could generate through a modest adjustment to per-barrel tax credits claimed by the oil industry. Specifically, reducing the per-barrel credit to the amount industry requested — $5 per barrel — would save the state nearly a half-billion dollars. That’s enough to negate the need for every single veto of Gov. Dunleavy’s and have a $1,600 PFD payout. Quick history refresher: When the oil industry and its allies rewrote oil taxes with Senate Bill 21 in 2013, industry lobbyists asked for a $5 per-barrel tax credit (among many other changes). At the last minute, a House floor amendment increased the per-barrel credit to $8 per barrel at modest oil prices. Back in 2013, prices were high and many legislators didn’t realize how much money this amendment would cost. Now we know it’s massively expensive, and a simple change back to $5 per barrel would save nearly a half-billion dollars in revenue and protect essential jobs and public infrastructure.

Unfortunately, Gov. Dunleavy has categorically opposed even small changes to per-barrel oil tax credits. Rather than a modest tax credit change back to what the oil industry itself requested to fund a $1,600 PFD, or a $1,000 PFD consistent with the amounts we’ve paid historically, he would prefer to wreck the state’s economy.

Fortunately, the Legislature is working together across party and caucus lines to defend our economy, institutions established by the Alaska Constitution and indeed the lives of many of our neighbors. It is incredibly inspiring to see legislators from all regions and backgrounds pulling together to override these vetoes. For the sake of Alaska, I hope we prevail.

Zack Fields (D-Anchorage) represents the Downtown, Fairview, South Addition, Government Hill, and Eastridge neighborhoods in the Alaska House of Representatives.

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. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

From 2001: 3 arrested in shooting of Stebbins mayor

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:38

NOTE: This story was originally published Nov. 30, 2001.

Alaska State Troopers have arrested one man and two teens in Stebbins in what they say was a plot to kill the village mayor and his wife and rob their general store.

Mayor Robert Ferris, 55, survived being hit in the face with a .22-caliber bullet fired through his window late Saturday night. Robert Tea, 20, Richard Martin, 16, and Travis Snowball, 14, are charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Stebbins is a village of about 550 people on Norton Sound, about 120 miles southeast of Nome. John Merculief, the village public safety officer, said he can't remember such a serious crime in the 20 years he's lived there.

''People just can't believe it, that juveniles this young would go to that extent, to shooting another person with a rifle,'' Merculief said.

According to charging documents filed by Nome district attorney John Vacek, Tea is accused of giving the two teens a .22-caliber rifle and helping Martin tape a shampoo bottle to the muzzle as a makeshift silencer. Then Martin and Snowball went to Ferris' house, which doubles as the town's general store, and Martin knocked on the window, the documents state.

When Ferris opened the window, charging documents state, Snowball shot him in the face. Then the two teens fled, scared by what they had done, the documents state.

Ferris was recovering at home Thursday after several days at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. The bullet is lodged near his spine, but Ferris said he didn't immediately realize he had been shot. He thought at first that someone had hit him with a rock.

''A .22 rimfire does not have a whole lot of energy,'' he said. ''It's logical I wouldn't get knocked down.''

Ferris said he didn't learn he had been shot until hospital X-rays revealed the bullet, he said. It is too close to his spine to be safely removed, doctors told him, but leaving it there won't do him any harm.

''For being unlucky enough to be shot in the head, I couldn't have been luckier,'' Ferris said.

Martin and Snowball were arrested on Sunday after Tea told troopers the two had told him about their plot to kill the Ferrises and rob them for money to buy drugs, charging documents state. Tea was arrested on Wednesday after Martin told troopers he was in on the plot, the documents state.

Snowball and Tea were already being investigated for an August burglary of Ferris' store, said Vacek, the Nome prosecutor. Authorities believe Snowball broke into the store and split the stolen money with Tea, Vacek said.

Tea served as a village police officer in Stebbins for several months last year, Ferris said, though he had a criminal record.

''I was not very fond of that idea in the first place,'' Ferris said, but ''in a place like this you take any help you can get.''

Tea served short jail sentences for convictions of assault and cruelty to animals in 1999 and 2000, said Bruce Richards, a special assistant with the state Department of Corrections.

Village police officers are employed by the village and are distinct from village public safety officers, who are trained and supported by the Alaska State Troopers, said Stebbins VPSO Merculief.

Ferris said Tea ''didn't do much of a job as a cop'' but was not under pressure to resign when he quit the job last year.

Snowball lived with his adoptive father some of the time and with Tea and his wife some of the time, said Jean Ferris, Robert Ferris' wife and city administrator.

''His adoptive mother died several years ago,'' she said. ''He's had kind of a hard life.''

Neither Snowball's father nor Tea's wife would comment when reached by telephone Thursday.

Tea and Martin are being held at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome, Tea in lieu of $50,000 cash-only bail and Martin in lieu of $25,000 cash-only bail. Martin was waived into adult court because of the seriousness of his crime, Vacek said.

Snowball is being held at the Nome Youth Facility. His name was released under a 1998 law that allows authorities to identify juveniles charged with certain serious felonies, Vacek said.

Ferris came to Stebbins in 1968 from Vermont, married Jean in 1969 and opened a store in 1970. He has served on the city council and as mayor on and off for the past 30 years. Merculief said he is popular.

''He loans people his personal tools without questioning, and sometimes he'll loan money to people in time of need,'' Merculief said.

Reporter Jeff St. John can be reached at jstjohn@adn.com and 907-257-4205.



Alaska congressional delegation urges budget compromise to protect federal funding

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:33

Rep. Don Young, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan in Anchorage on May 30, 2017. (Marc Lester / ADN archive) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

Alaska’s congressional delegation urged lawmakers and the governor to prioritize Alaskans and find a way through an unprecedented budget divide that threatens federal funding.

In separate statements, the three members of the delegation said they’re working to protect federal funds that are key to the Alaska economy.

The state’s lawmakers have yet to complete a capital budget amid a continued battle over Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s $444 million in vetoes to the state operating budget.

[Impasse continues as Alaska lawmakers push different visions for budget, Permanent Fund dividend]

Alaska’s senior senator provided a statement Monday urging a cautionary approach to the cuts, at a time when some lawmakers still see hope of restoring funding eliminated by the vetoes.

“While budget reductions are needed, how these cuts are implemented is important too," Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a prepared statement. "These are difficult decisions that require sober discussion. I urge all members of our Legislature to productively engage - together as Alaskans - with the governor and his team to quickly resolve the uncertainty that is facing so many. Alaskans deserve no less.”

Murkowski’s office said the senator is working with federal agencies to protect federal funds that could be jeopardized by the impasse in Alaska. That includes looking at funding timelines and alternate methods of delivering the money to the state, her office said.

In one scenario, the state could lose $1 billion in federal transportation construction aid if the capital budget isn’t approved by the end of the month.

[At hearing, Alaskans call for compromise to protect state services]

Rep. Don Young said in a short statement that Alaskans are having much-needed conversations about the budget. He said an end to the stalemate is important.

“I’m hopeful that the governor and Legislature can move us forward,” Young said. “That’s in the best interest of the people of Alaska. When it comes to federal funding, Alaskans know that I’ve always put them first, and will continue to do so as their sole representative in Congress.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office issued a short statement calling on Alaska politicians to find a way forward on the capital budget. As with Young’s statement, Sullivan’s office did not mention the budget cuts.

“Senator Sullivan is optimistic that the Legislature and the governor reach an agreement soon on funding the capital budget, to ensure that hard fought matching federal funds - like the hundreds of millions of infrastructure funding secured by the Alaska Congressional delegation - can be used for the benefit of all Alaskans,” his office said.

Former Alaska governors have also urged the state’s political leaders to cooperate and compromise.

House condemns Trump ‘racist’ tweets in extraordinary rebuke

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:22

From left, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., respond to base remarks by President Donald Trump after he called for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All four congresswomen are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. Omar is the first Somali-American in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — In a remarkable political repudiation, the Democratic-led House voted Tuesday night to condemn President Donald Trump’s “racist comments” against four congresswomen of color, despite protestations by Trump’s Republican congressional allies and his own insistence he hasn’t “a racist bone in my body.”

Two days after Trump tweeted that four Democratic freshmen should "go back" to their home countries — though all are citizens and three were born in the U.S.A. — Democrats muscled the resolution through the chamber by 240-187 over strong GOP opposition. The rebuke was an embarrassing one for Trump, and he had appealed to GOP lawmakers not to go along, but there were four Republican votes for the resolution.

The measure carries no legal repercussions for the president and the vote was highly partisan, unlikely to cost him with his die-hard conservative base.

[Sen. Murkowski: ‘No excuse’ for Trump’s comments about Democratic lawmakers]

Before the showdown roll call, Trump characteristically plunged forward with time-tested insults. He accused his four outspoken critics of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and added, “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!” — echoing taunts long unleashed against political dissidents rather than opposing parties’ lawmakers.

The president was joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and other top Republicans in trying to redirect the focus from Trump's original tweets, which for three days have consumed Washington and drawn widespread condemnation. Instead, they tried playing offense by accusing the four congresswomen — among the Democrats' most left-leaning members and ardent Trump critics — of socialism, an accusation that's already a central theme of the GOP's 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

Even after two-and-a-half years of Trump's turbulent governing style, the spectacle of a president futilely laboring to head off a House vote essentially proclaiming him to be a racist was extraordinary.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, walks out of the House Chamber, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

Underscoring the stakes, Republicans formally objected after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said during a floor speech that Trump’s tweets were “racist.” Led by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, Republicans moved to have her words stricken from the record, a rare procedural rebuke.

[Four minority congresswomen condemn Trump attacks decried as racist]

After a delay exceeding 90 minutes, No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland ruled that Pelosi had indeed violated a House rule against characterizing an action as racist. Hoyer was presiding after Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri stormed away from the presiding officer's chair, lamenting, "We want to just fight," which he apparently aimed at Republicans. Despite Hoyer's ruling, Democrats flexed their muscle and the House voted afterward by party-line to leave Pelosi's words intact in the record.

Some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers have agreed that Trump's words were racist, but on Tuesday party leaders insisted they were not and accused Democrats of using the resulting tumult to score political points. Among the few voices of restraint, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump wasn't racist, but he also called on leaders "from the president to the speaker to the freshman members of the House" to attack ideas, not the people who espouse them.

"There's been a consensus that political rhetoric has gotten way, way heated across the political spectrum," said the Republican leader from Kentucky, breaking his own two days of silence on Trump's attacks.

Hours earlier, Trump tweeted, "Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don't have a Racist bone in my body!" He wrote that House Republicans should "not show 'weakness'" by agreeing to a resolution he labeled "a Democrat con game."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, one of Trump's four targets, returned his fire.

"You're right, Mr. President - you don't have a racist bone in your body. You have a racist mind in your head and a racist heart in your chest," she tweeted.

The four-page Democratic resolution said the House "strongly condemns President Donald Trump's racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color." It said Trump's slights "do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America."

All but goading Republicans, the resolution included a full page of remarks by President Ronald Reagan, who is revered by the GOP. Reagan said in 1989 that if the U.S. shut its doors to newcomers, "our leadership in the world would soon be lost."

Republican leaders lobbied GOP lawmakers hard to oppose the resolution.

McCarthy called the measure "all politics," and No. 3 House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming said the four Democrats "are wrong when they attempt to impose the fraud of socialism on the American people."

The showdown came after years of Democrats bristling over anti-immigrant and racially incendiary pronouncements by Trump. Those include his kicking off his presidential campaign by proclaiming many Mexican migrants to be criminals and asserting there were "fine people" on both sides at a 2017 neo-Nazis rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.

And the strong words in Washington come as actions are underway elsewhere: The administration has begun coast-to-coast raids targeting migrants in the U.S. illegally and has newly restricted access to the U.S. by asylum seekers.

Trump's criticism was aimed at four freshman Democrats who have garnered attention since their arrival in January for their outspoken liberal views and thinly veiled distaste for Trump: Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who came to the U.S. as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family.

The four have been in an increasingly personal clash with Democratic Speaker Pelosi, too, over how assertively the House should be in trying to restrain Trump's ability to curb immigration. But if anything, Trump's tweets have served to ease some of that tension, with Pelosi telling Democrats at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, "We are offended by what he said about our sisters," according to an aide in the room who described the private meeting on condition of anonymity.

That's not to say that all internal Democratic strains are resolved.

The four rebellious freshmen joined Rep. Steven Cohen of Tennessee and a handful of others who wanted the House to vote on a harsher censure of Trump's tweets. And Rep. Al Green of Texas was trying to force a House vote soon on whether to impeach Trump — a move he's tried in the past but lost, earning opposition from most Democrats.

At the Senate Republicans' weekly lunch Tuesday, Trump's tweets came up and some lawmakers were finding the situation irksome, participants said. Many want the 2020 campaigns to focus on progressive Democrats' demands for government-provided health care, abolishing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and other hard-left policies.

"Those ideas give us so much material to work with and it takes away from our time to talk about it," Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said of the Trump tweets.

___

AP reporters Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire and Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed.

Looking at budget cuts’ impact on Alaska fisheries

Tue, 2019-07-16 14:24

Just under $1 million was cut from the commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes, leaving it with an $85 million budget, half from state general funds.

“To give the governor credit, he recognized the return on investment,” said Doug Vincent-Lang, Fish and Game commissioner. “It’s a theme I had all the way through the Legislature that we take a $200 million budget of which about $50 million is unrestricted general funds and we turn that into an $11 billion return to our state. And I think he got that.”

Vincent-Lang added that Dunleavy also did not veto the travel budget for the Board of Fisheries and its advisory committees.

It’s indefinite still how the budget cuts will play out, and Vincent-Lang said he is trying to avoid staff cuts to the 700 commercial fisheries positions.

“I suspect we may have some but we will try to do that through vacancies and a variety of other things as we have retirements,” he said.

Also set to get axed is funding for research projects, such as salmon inseason sampling and Tanner crab surveys at Prince William Sound, and five salmon weirs at Kodiak and Chignik. Salmon counting is likely to be reduced at the Yukon River’s Eagle and Pilot Station sonars, along with various stock assessment surveys for groundfish.

“I’ve asked my staff to look at their overall program, and not necessarily cut the projects, but take the ones that have the least impact on the management of our fisheries across our state in terms of economic value back and cut those,” he explained, acknowledging that the cutbacks could lead to more cautious management.

“Clearly, any time you reduce your forecast ability you become more precautionary in your inseason management approach until you can become more certain,” he said.

Vincent-Lang said the state hopes to form local partnerships to help fund shortfalls, “like the Bristol Bay Science Initiative and Yukon River tribal groups to try to find ways that we can replace that money to ensure that we minimize the impact to our ongoing management programs.”

Those partnerships “are the path forward” for Alaska’s fishing industry to jointly fund research, he stressed.

“If we are going to be continually dependent on state general funds, that presents a challenge,” he said. “We need to look for ways to partner with different groups to get a diversified funding stream.”

Partnership also will be important to fund Fish and Game’s special areas management, which is facing a $280,000 budget cut for its oversight of 12 game refuges, 17 critical habitat areas and three wildlife sanctuaries. Vincent-Lang said using hunting dollars with matching grants in some areas will help make up for that budget shortfall.

“The rest of the department, like the sportfish and wildlife divisions, are largely funded by federal funds that are dedicated to those activities and we match them with hunting and sport fishing license dollars. There’s very little state general funds in those divisions,” he explained.

The Habitat and Subsistence Divisions will remain under the auspices of Fish and Game, despite reports that two director-level positions and associated funding would move to the Office of Management and Budget. Vincent-Lang said those two positions were open when he took the job and he opted not to fill them.

“I didn’t want to lose actual staff members in those divisions that were equal to a director position,” he explained. “If a director position cost $200,000 I would have lost three or four staff members in both divisions to make up for that. I willingly gave up those two positions to OMB because they needed them, but the activity they were doing remains under the supervision of ADF&G.”

The total budget for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is $200 million.

College produces state workers

Several hundred of Alaska’s fishery managers are graduates of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, an arm of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The college offers degree programs in fisheries, marine biology and oceanography, and of its nearly 1,000 graduates over half have come out of the fisheries program and work in the state.

“That is a remarkable number. I don’t know any other fishery department in the country that can say half of their graduates still work in their home state,” said Brad Moran, dean of the college, adding that the college has seen steady year-over-year increases in enrollment of undergraduates.

Moran is awaiting the fallout from Gov. Dunleavy’s evisceration of the university budget. The College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, which has a staff and faculty of about 140, also operates campuses in Juneau and Kodiak and its collaboration with Alaska Sea Grant extends its reach to a dozen more locations. Moran said nothing is safe.

“There’s not any faculty, staff, student or location that will not be impacted should the veto for the university budget not be overridden, “he said. “That has to be crystal clear. There is nothing that will be left untouched,”

With the number of incoming state dollars driven by the university, Moran said he just doesn’t get it.

“It’s been shown that for every dollar the state spends, we’re bringing in about $6 university-wide to the state. I don’t see how you cannot say that’s a great turn on investment,” Moran said.

Moran pointed to the college-operated research icebreaker Sikuliaq, homeported at Seward, as an example.

“We are entrusted to operate a $200 million federal asset in that vessel, which is owned and paid for by the National Science Foundation. All of the funding for that ship is externally coming into the state. That’s only one example of state dollars driven by the university,” Moran said.

He added that Alaska’s university teachers and researchers are at the forefront in the world in terms of rapidly changing ocean and Arctic conditions.

“All require basic research and those investments from the federal government are leveraged by the state one dollar on six,” he emphasized.

“You can always look for economies of scale and improvements in cost efficiency,” Moran added. “What you cannot do is drop the hammer overnight to this extent and expect an organization to deliver the same kind of value to the state. But we will do our very best.”

Alaskans Own delivers

Alaskans Own, a Sitka-based seafood delivery service, is celebrating 10 years of providing local fish not to Outsiders, but to other Alaskans - the majority of whom can’t get their hands on the best fish out there.

“It’s a crazy statistic that just 1% of the seafood that is caught in Alaska stays in Alaska, so 99% is exported,” said Natalie Armstrong, outreach assistant for Alaskans Own, a Community Supported Fishery project of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

The CSF follows a more well-known agriculture model that bridges the gap “from farm to table.”

“We’re bridging the gap from ocean to table and connecting more communities to their seafood,” Armstrong said.

Alaskans Own has over 300 subscribers who from May to October can choose different sized packages of portioned halibut, salmon, lingcod, shrimp, sablefish and more. The fish is shipped to hubs in Sitka, Anchorage, Seattle, Juneau and Fairbanks and also to Outside customers.

“Anyone can choose what they want. They can get a mixed bag or 40 pounds of coho and we ship it right to their door,” Armstrong said.

A fleet of 100 boats fish for the CSF, and all profits go to the Fishery Conservation Network, an ALFA offshoot that partners fishermen with scientists in local research projects.

Armstrong is hopeful other Alaska fishing towns will create CSFs to promote their small boat fleets and protective fishing practices.

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