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Multiple fatalities reported in active-shooter situation at Texas school

Fri, 2018-05-18 06:56

Police rushed to a high school in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday after an assailant with a gun wounded people in the latest shooting to rock a country still shaken by the massacre at a Florida high school in February.

The school district in Santa Fe, about 30 miles southeast of Houston, said the situation was "active, but has been contained." Local media reported that a suspect was in custody.

Multiple fatalities were reported, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"There have been confirmed injuries," the Santa Fe school district said in a statement.

A Santa Fe Police Department spokesman could not immediately confirm details. Local media said a medical Life Flight was dispatched to the school.

The latest possible shooting at a U.S. school underscored a renewed national debate over gun control and gun rights that has intensified after an assailant killed 17 students and staff on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Aerial video outside the school broadcast on local television showed police escorting lines of students out of the building and then searching them for weapons as many police cars and at least two ambulances with lights flashing stood by.

Sophomore Leila Butler told the local ABC affiliate that fire alarms went off at about 7:45 a.m. local time and students left their classrooms. She said some students believe they heard shots fired, and that she was sheltering with other students and teachers near campus.

Another sophomore, named only as Nikki, told ABC13 that: "Someone had walked in with a shotgun and a girl got shot in her leg."

Police wound man firing gun inside Trump Doral Miami hotel and 'yelling' about president

Fri, 2018-05-18 06:45

Gunman who opened fire, yelled about Trump inside Trump Doral hotel shot by officers, police say

Authorities in South Florida said a man who opened fire early Friday morning in the lobby of Trump National Doral Miami resort in Doral, Florida, was “yelling” about President Donald Trump before he was shot and wounded by police officers.

Police said it appeared that the gunman - who they identified as Jonathan Oddi, 42, of Doral - began shooting at the resort in order to lure officers there so he could ambush them.

“It appears he was trying to engage our police officers [in] some type of ambush-type of attack, trying to lure our police officers … into this gunfight,” Juan J. Perez, director of Miami-Dade police, told reporters at a briefing. “He did succeed, and he did lose, and that’s the bottom line.”

Perez said the gunman pulled the fire alarm, adding that this fueled his belief that Oddi was seeking to shoot law enforcement officers. When police from Doral and Miami-Dade responded, they engaged in a shootout with Oddi, who was shot in his legs by officers, Perez said. Oddi was taken to an area hospital in stable condition, he said.

No guests or employees were injured, and one officer suffered a broken wrist during the encounter, authorities said.

Perez cautioned that it was early in the investigation, and he said police did not know what the gunman’s “long term intentions” were and what else he could have done. But he said the prompt response by officers appeared to avert a more deadly attack.

“If not for the heroic efforts of the police officers that responded here today, this individual would have caused a lot of harm, and he was not able to do that,” Perez said.

Perez described a scene at the resort outside Miami that began with bizarre behavior before quickly turning dangerous.

The gunman came onto the property, took down an American flag from the rear part of the complex and draped it on a counter in the hotel lobby before he began yelling “anti-Trump, President Trump, rhetoric,” Perez said.

The luxury hotel is part of Trump National Doral Golf Club, an 800-acre resort owned by Trump outside Miami; the president purchased the golf course in 2012 for $150 million.

After yelling about Trump, the gunman then began to open fire in the lobby, prompting people to call police. The officers who headed to the property were confronted by a man wielding a handgun.

“He waited for our police officers in the front lobby to engage them,” Perez said.

Five officers - one from the Miami-Dade department, four from Doral - exchanged fire with him, Perez said.

Perez said his department is investigating the motivation and what led up to the shooting, with assistance from the Secret Service and the FBI. Authorities are considering the shooting a state crime so far, though they are investigating whether there were any federal crimes committed, he said.

The Secret Service said none of the people it protects were in the Miami area when the shooting occurred. The agency said in a statement that it was aware of the shooting and had dispatched special agents from its Miami field office to the scene.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Friday that it is investigating the officer-involved shooting part of what happened at the request of the Miami-Dade police. Video footage did capture what happened, but police have said they do not immediately intend to release it, citing the open investigation.

Court records showed that Oddi appeared to have a number of traffic infractions, but no other criminal history could immediately be found. It was not clear whether he had an attorney.

Perez said police are still investigating how the gunman was able to enter the resort. Authorities were at Oddi’s home Friday morning and preparing to search the property.

Doral Police Chief Hernan Organvidez said at an earlier news briefing that there was no need to evacuate the hotel because the threat was quickly dealt with, adding that the violent encounter lasted less than two minutes.

Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons who helps manage the company, tweeted a message of thanks to the police officers who responded to the shooting, “A huge thank you to the incredible men and women of the @DoralPolice Department and @MiamiDadePD. Every day they keep our community safe. We are very grateful to you!”

The Trump Organization declined to comment further Friday.


The Washington Post’s Julie Tate contributed to this story.

Buckle up, Alaska gardeners: It’s go time.

Fri, 2018-05-18 06:27

There is lots going on now that we have passed leaf-out day. If you read nothing else, know that cool temperatures or not, now is the time to visit nurseries and buy plants so you can start to harden them off. All plants grown indoors need a week to adjust to outdoors.

Having said that, there are some things you can plant right now. Let's start with potatoes. It is time to buy yours. Always make sure they are grown here in Alaska to prevent the introduction of unwanted Outside diseases. Once home, cut each up into several pieces, each with at least one eye. Set these aside for a few days.

With potatoes, as the eyes develop into plants, they are covered with soil or mulch, always leaving a few inches of green exposed. Potatoes will develop at the base of the hill and along the buried stalk. In the old days, everyone just made hills in their garden. A much better way is to use a barrel, trash can or cylinder made from chicken or similar wire. Put some soil on the bottom and then place the chips on top. As the plants grow, add soil or leaf mulch. At the end of the season, dump the container and collect the spuds.

Next, it is time to put peas into the ground. These are easy to grow so don't miss the opportunity. Sugar snaps, for my taste and money, are the best. There are lots of different varieties these days. Peas will usually need something to cling to and grow up on such as a wire fence. And, if they are hardened off, you should plant those sweet peas you started indoors.

Lettuces, too, should be planted. Instead of planting an entire packet of seeds which will "ripen" all at the same time, stagger your plantings to spread the harvest out. And, plant different kinds.

By the way, if you have not put mulch on your garden beds, now is the time to do so. This includes adding back the mulch you may have taken off earlier this spring to allow the soil to warm. The rule is simple: use a green mulch, i.e. grass clippings or straw, on annuals and brown mulches such as last fall's leaves on perennials, and around trees and shrubs. Plant through this mulch or pull it back just enough to expose the area you need to plant. The reason it should go on now is to block weed germination and growth and to feed those hungry soil microbes that will be feeding your plants.

Speaking of starting things, start a compost pile now or activate the one you have. You do not need to place it in a sunny location, as compost heat is created solely by the metabolism of the microbes in it. Nor do you need a fancy container. What you do need is a pile mass that is at least 3 cubic feet and a carbon to nitrogen ratio close to 30 to one. This requires the right mix of brown and green materials.

Here is a great tip: If you want to know how much of what material to mix to get the required ratio of brown to green material, use a compost calculator like the one located here:

Lots of people ask what to do about lawns and I will say it again: the only thing you should be putting on your lawn right now is water. This means getting those hoses out, hooked up and working – without leaks. Quick connectors are a must on all faucets, hose ends and tools. Now is when your plants and soil would appreciate your mixing in some hot water with that cold outdoor faucet.

Aeration is the only other thing you might consider doing to the lawn other than running over it with the mower to mulch up the winter debris. Do not bag this stuff up. It is microbe food and should be all your lawn needs if you leave the clippings down after each mowing.

As for moss in lawns, just know that here in Alaska, moss is inevitable. You can only prevent it by raising the soil pH with lime, but only after you kill the existing moss, which takes a tremendous amount of work. Since you can only raise the pH one point a year, at best, it can take a long, long time to fix a moss lawn. Personally, I am hoping I can get more moss. It stays green and doesn't need mowing. Once again, as Alaskans we need to adjust our thinking about what a perfect lawn should be.

Finally, finish cleaning up. Sweep that driveway. Get rid of the tree limbs that the mower can't mulch. Pick up the debris that blew out of the trash container. Retrieve the newspaper that got tossed into the shrubs. And, put away the snow shovels for goodness sake! We have spring things to do.

Jeff's garden calendar for the week of May 18

Alaska Botanical garden plant sale: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday for members only.

Plant a row for the hungry: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at Alaska Mill and Feed. You dedicate one row and feed the world!

Dandelions: They are in flower. Each one you pick and dispose of properly prevents hundreds upon hundreds of seeds from germinating. You won't win the war, but you will win a battle and perhaps feel better

Spraying for bark beetles?: I am not a believer. In the end, nature always wins and we do so much harm in the meantime.

Lemon elderflower loaf cake has a dash of elegance fit for a royal

Fri, 2018-05-18 06:12

It's official: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have great taste. Not that this comes as a surprise to, well, anyone. When I caught wind of their unconventional wedding cake choice of lemon and elderflower, as opposed to traditional fruit cake, I was completely won over. Elderflower is one of my favorite flavors, and when paired with lemon, it becomes delicate, understated perfection.

When I was very young, I was a patient at the City of Hope hospital in California. Once, Queen Elizabeth came to pay a visit to the patients there. I was so eager to meet the Queen that I practiced my curtsy over and over for days. I've had a fascination with the royal family ever since. To celebrate this Saturday's royal wedding in style here in Alaska, I've developed a pretty little lemon loaf cake with elderflower glaze. It's much simpler to make than an extravagant wedding cake, but it still has a touch of sophistication and a dash of whimsy.

Lemon elderflower loaf cake

Makes 1 loaf cake, serves 6-8

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sour cream

1 1/3 cups sugar, divided

3 eggs

3 lemons, zested

1 tablespoon St. Germain elderflower liqueur

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a standard 8-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt until combined. In another bowl, whisk together the sour cream, 1 cup of the sugar, the eggs, lemon zest and St. Germain until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until incorporated. Add the oil and whisk until a smooth batter forms. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared loaf pan. Bake 60 minutes, or until golden and cracked on top and set in the center. Allow the cake to cool 10 minutes before using the parchment paper to lift the cake out of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and the lemon juice. Cook until the sugar has completely dissolved. When the cake has cooled 10 minutes and has been removed from the pan, place it onto a cooling rack. Using a standard toothpick, prick small holes all over the top and sides of the cake. Pour the lemon sugar syrup evenly over the cake. Allow the syrup to soak in as the cake cools.

When the cake has cooled, whisk together the powdered sugar and St. Germain in a mixing bowl until a thick glaze forms. Drizzle the glaze over the cake. Slice and serve.

Lemon loaf cake recipe adapted from Ina Garten.

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

Fri, 2018-05-18 05:58

PAHOA, Hawaii — The electricity poles at the junction of Pohoiki Road and Leilani Avenue were split like matchsticks. Ohia lehua trees felled by the lava flows smoldered under the cloudy sky. The house where Ellen Garnett raised five children? Surrounded by mounds of hardened lava.

"Welcome to our ghost town," said Garnett, 56, as she held a gas mask to her face while venturing into Leilani Estates, the once serene rural outpost on Hawaii Island devastated by the eruption this month of the Kilauea volcano. "This is what paradise looks like when it turns into a little bit of hell."

An "explosive eruption" unleashed a cloud of hazardous ash 30,000 feet into the air Thursday, but even the day before, as Garnett and other evacuated residents made brief forays home, Leilani felt like an eerie lost city in the Polynesian jungle, its abandoned homes facing an onslaught not of vines but molten rock.

Doors left ajar pointed to the scramble by some homeowners who fled; the smell of rotting food emanated from refrigerators no longer supplied with electricity.

For the returnees, National Guard troops and reporters venturing into the area, it quickly became obvious why Leilani remained a no-go zone: Fissures continue to spew life-threatening gases, while rivers of lava hurl rubble a hundred feet into the air.

Still, nothing prepares one for the volcano's roar.

From a distance, the eruption resembles thunder. Up close, hot gases containing magma fragments and ash escape through the volcanic vents with the booming sound of a jumbo jet's engine, or for those more lyrically inclined, dozens of waves simultaneously crashing on a seashore.

Some here do not care much for Kilauea's din.

"That's the Earth farting, man," said Rufus Daigle, 69, a Louisiana-born poet who sells Divine Hawaiian coffee, cornbread, tropical fruits and books of his own verse at a roadside stand on Leilani's edge. "All I know is, that volcano is demanding some respect."

Authorities say it is highly unlikely that the eruption will endanger the other seven islands in Hawaii, including Oahu, the home of Honolulu and the state's most populated island. But people on Hawaii Island are bracing for the possibility that Kilauea could grow angrier in the days ahead.

The volcano is triggering earthquakes, including a 4.2-magnitude tremor on Wednesday. Officials issued a red alert for aviation as the ash cloud reached 30,000 feet on Thursday.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory warned that Kilauea could grow more explosive at any time, "increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent."

Garnett, a loquacious grandmother now ensconced at a shelter, nearly broke into tears when she described how the volcano was already reshaping her life. She moved from Southern California to Hawaii in 1999, lured by the relatively cheap housing prices on the Big Island.

After a divorce a few years ago, she got full ownership of her four-bedroom house, which was valued at about $200,000 before the eruption. With her mortgage paid off, she lived simply, subsisting on disability payments after being diagnosed with a disease affecting the central nervous system. She drives a battered 2003 Toyota Echo that she recently bought for $700.

"Who's going to want to buy my home now?" Garnett asked, emphasizing that she could not afford to buy insurance for volcanic activity. "I'm facing the prospect of losing all I have."

Garnett's hands were shaking as she guided her car through Leilani's deserted streets. The smell emanating from the lava was so strong that she rolled up the window and placed a gas mask on her face. A few chickens roamed near signs advertising bee removal and rubbish collection services.

"This place is surreal," Garnett said. "It'll never be the same."

Not far from Garnett's abandoned home, soldiers from the Hawaiian National Guard kept their distance from the rumbling fissures when they guided a group of journalists into the stricken subdivision.

"If it gets too hot, and I say run, you run," said Maj. Jeff Hickman of the National Guard. "If you start feeling faint, it's time to high-tail it out of here," he added, citing the release of sulfur dioxide, the colorless but pungent gas, smelling like a burning match, that can be lethal, especially for people with respiratory ailments or cardiovascular disease.

Journalists getting a glimpse of Leilani, including seasoned reporters who have covered disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes around the world, were agape upon hearing the roar of Kilauea. Some television presenters donned gas masks for their standups, accentuating Leilani's vulnerability.

Thursday's eruption, authorities said, was of relatively short duration and did not trigger the new evacuations and ash fall many had feared.

"The ash cloud went very high but wasn't that voluminous," said Dr. Michelle Coombs of the U.S. Geological Survey. "This is not a huge catastrophic event."

Gold Nugget Triathlon is a go, but with a new finish line

Thu, 2018-05-17 21:56

The Gold Nugget Triathlon has survived snow, cold, bears and moose.

But the beloved for-women-only race almost didn’t survive the new Muldoon interchange.

The complicated link between Muldoon Road and Glenn Highway nearly doomed the race, which on Sunday will celebrate its 36th edition with a new finish line about a mile away from the traditional finish line at Bartlett High.

“We actually contemplated having last year be the last Gold Nugget Triathlon,” said Lia Keller, the president of the race’s board of directors.

“It was very emotional. Diane Barnett, one of the race founders, said, ‘I don’t want the race to be so different that it loses how special it is.’ It took us a couple months of meetings for us to decide we can keep the best parts of the race.”

What they couldn’t keep was the finish line.

The race will still start at Bartlett, but Keller said the finish line was moved to Pena Park – across the highway from Bartlett -- because the Department of Transportation won’t let race organizers stop traffic to allow some 1,600 participants return to the Bartlett side of the Glenn Highway during the running portion of the triathlon.

While touted as a more efficient way to move vehicle traffic, the new interchange isn’t racer-friendly, Keller said.

“If you’re walking from one side to the other, you have to hit the crosswalk button something like six times,” she said. “It’s really good for the flow of cars but not for the flow of people. We’d have to make every racer stop at every crossing.”

Before the interchange was redesigned, the race used a tunnel to get racers across the highway and was allowed to stop one lane of traffic on the old Muldoon off-ramp to take them back to Bartlett.

This year’s race will end at Pena Park, which is part of Centennial Park and the site of several soccer fields. It’s on the south side of the Glenn Highway.

Bartlett, on the north side of the highway, is being called “Race Central” -- it’s where the race begins in the swimming pool, it’s where athletes transition from the swim to the bike, and it’s where athletes and spectators will find food vendors, photo booths, a bouncy house and other fun features, like a booth where, for a small fee, girls and women can get their hair braided before the race – a nice option on a windy day.

No parking will be allowed at Pena Park or Bartlett -- race officials suggest parking at Tikahtnu Commons or the old Sam’s Club -- so shuttle buses will run between the finish line and the high school.

Buses will run roughly every 15 minutes or so, although there is not set time table, Keller said. Racers, who need to return to Bartlett to retrieve their bikes and any gear left at the swim-to-bike transition. will get preference over spectators when it comes to filling the buses.

“We’re encouraging spectators to walk over,” Keller said. It’s about one mile if you’re walking from the high school to the finish line and shorter if you’re going from Sam’s Club to the finish line.

The new finish line means the race will be about half a mile shorter than usual – the 4.1-mile run is now 3.5 miles. The bike is still 12 miles and the swim is still 500 yards.

Keller said race organizers rejected other ideas to deal with life after the new interchange because they didn’t want to reduce the number of participants in an already limited field.

The Gold Nugget is one of Alaska’s most popular races, but entries are capped at 1,600 due to logistics – not many more bicycles can fit in the Bartlett parking lot, Keller said.

Moving the race to Chugiak, which happened in 2009 when the Bartlett pool was shut down, wasn’t an option because the pool there is smaller and can’t easily handle as many swimmers, Keller said.

Making the course longer may have produced options for getting back on the Bartlett side of the highway, but a longer course may have deterred participants who trained for a sprint triathlon.

“We even talked about starting people at two different pools,” Keller said.

“… This keeps the spirit of the race there.”

The oldest no-males-allowed triathlon in the country, the Gold Nugget Triathlon celebrates fitness, participation and sisterhood. It has encouraged scores of Alaska women and girls to learn how to swim, and it’s so popular that each year the race hits its limit of 1,600 participants minutes after online registration starts.

It’s a day-long event, with the first swimmers hitting the water at 9 a.m. and the last at 3 p.m. The top-seeded racers are the first ones in the pool, so the winner should cross the finish line sometime around 10 a.m.

A new champion will be crowned this year, because three-time defending champ Kinsey Laine moved out of state and won’t be back to defend her crown.

Also new this year: A “breastaurant” -- a 40-foot motorhome available to lactating mothers in the Bartlett parking lot from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sponsored by the Geneva Woods Birthing Center, it comes with power outlets for breast pumps and storage space in a refrigerator.

Anchorage’s Miller wins US Open qualifier

Thu, 2018-05-17 21:30

Anchorage golfer Jordan Miller made the big-time this week — he was the subject of a story in Golf Digest.

It was an all-too-familiar story for Alaskans, one that reminded us of how short our summers are, how cold this spring has been and what we do in the winter in order to play summer games like golf.

The story talked about how Miller, 31, hit golf balls inside a dome all winter and then battled cold and wind on Wednesday to win the U.S. Open qualifier at the Palmer Golf Course.

What it didn’t talk about was how Miller, a former Division I college golfer at Missouri-Kansas City, actually improved his game since moving to Alaska four years ago.

“My game is probably better than it was four or five years ago,” said Miller, a ConocoPhillips financial analyst from Oklahoma who kept playing after being transferred to Anchorage.

“I found a way to manage my game living up here,” he said. “It’s just kind of different than it is down south.”

Miller’s challenge was clear when he made the move north: “How do I not lose ground on something I’ve worked on since I was a kid?” he said.

He met the challenge by turning winter into a time to work on technical skills and fundamentals. During the six to seven months when outdoor golf isn’t possible in Alaska, Miller watches video to work on his set-up, does golf-specific workouts at the gym and hits tee-shots into a wall 90 feet away at the Fox Hollow dome.

The efforts have allowed Miller, the winner of the 2016 and 2017 Alaska state amateur stroke-play championships, to maintain a plus-1 handicap.

On Wednesday, Miller fired a two-under-par 70 to top a field of 11 golfers vying for a spot in the June 4 sectional qualifier in Daly City, California. He beat Adam Baxter of Anchorage by five strokes.

“Frankly, it was pretty miserable,” Miller said. “It was cold and windy — highs in the 40s and blowing 20 to 25 mph.”

The victory marked the second time in three years Miller has won the U.S. Open qualifier, which comes early in the Alaska golf season. He said he has modest expectations for next month’s sectional tournament in California, where he’ll face a much bigger field of golfers — probably none of whom spent the winter teeing up shots inside a dome like he did.

But Miller is happy with how his first competitive round of the season went.

“The ball was striking pretty solid, so a lot of what I was working on this winter is paying off,” he said. “My short game needs a lot of work. There’s not as much you can do for that in the winter — it’s different when you’re chipping and putting in the perfect vacuum of the dome.”

Wednesday’s results

Jordan Miller 70, Adam Baxter 75, Michael Oldenkamp 77, Marcus Dolejsi 78, James Cable 80, Brad Ross 81, Bill Engberg 82, Zach Cowan 82, Toru Inatsu 83, Rick Lesslie 85, Tyler Young 85.

Letter: End plastic in oceans

Thu, 2018-05-17 19:05

Putting plastic in the ocean needs to stop — sea animals are dying because of it. More than a million seabirds and 100,000 sea animals die every year. Plastic does not decompose on land — what makes anyone think it should in water?

It would help this problem to tax or not supply plastic bags in stores, or having a plastic return or "reward." That would make the Earth cleaner, because some people would want money and go around picking up and returning the plastic so it could be disposed of properly.

In the oceans, there are miles and miles of plastic just killing animals. Animals do not know what's good and bad for them. If they see the plastic, they often try to eat it and it gets stuck in their bodies and they die.

There are so many ways to stop this problem. Having a tax on bags would help, as would a "no plastic day" when no one uses any plastic that will hurt their environment. Even the small things will help.

Zyanya Burley
Eagle River

Letter: The Knik bridge again?

Thu, 2018-05-17 19:02

That darn Knik bridge plan is harder to kill than Rasputin! Another $4.5 million to keep the concept going — a typical Alaska boondoggle. Let's look at a few of its "benefits."

1. It's no quicker or shorter for most commuters.

2. If half of the Matanuska Valley motorists choose to use it, 10,000-15,000 vehicles will be dumped into the downtown area every morning. It's bad enough now.

3. Of the above, at least half will have to make their way to South or East Anchorage via the congested downtown traffic corridors.

4. If an accident happens on the bridge, it'll be interesting to see how emergency vehicles and medics get there to clean up the mess. Helicopters, maybe?

5. If (when) the accident happens, there are no detours. You'll just sit and wait as long as your gas holds out.

6. If you think the fog and frost are bad on the Glenn, you'll find it three times as often and twice as thick over the Knik Arm. This means more rear-enders and no shoulders for escape routes.

7. The numbers say it can never pay its own way, so guess who will?

8. The only folks who will profit in the long run are those who now own or control property in certain areas and those who will build subdivisions on that Knik/Goose Bay property.

9. To No. 8 above, add those who will get the billion-dollar construction contracts, mostly based out of state.

10. Well, aren't nine enough?

Don Neal

Where are the cranes?

Thu, 2018-05-17 18:57

A friend recently noted that he hadn't seen cranes on the Anchorage skyline this summer. It's because they are all south in Seattle, Portland, Denver, San Francisco and Vancouver. Despite $70-per-barrel oil, increased production, the prospect of development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and maybe even a new gas line, our economy remains flat, with no exciting indicators of impending improvement.

What's it going to take to get business to want to come back to Alaska? It's going to take a favorable business environment, and that has to include getting our extremely high health care costs under control. It made me sad to read about the teacher leaving our state because of low, non-competitive wages.

Unfortunately, Alaskan teacher benefit packages have become so expensive that the overall per-teacher cost is too prohibitive to allow for any competitive "raises" in salary. Instead, that money increasingly goes toward maintaining health care benefit packages. Wouldn't we, as parents, rather our teachers spend their limited spare time discussing how to improve Alaska education rather than fighting to maintain their health benefit packages? Public safety officers, ferry workers and public employees are also caught spending way too much time defending their health benefit packages — which, in turn, have compromised their salaries across the Alaskan economy.

A robust Alaskan economy is going to require more than simply reforming our health care system by making it more affordable, but we can't have one without the other. Alaska should take a balanced approach toward growth. It should be business friendly, with competitive health care costs and tax incentives. The state should continue to encourage aggressive development of oil, gas and other natural resources, promote tourism and also develop alternative energy sources. The state should encourage innovation to create new businesses, taking advantage of our geography and climate to develop businesses that would be less expensive to operate here than down south (e.g. cool temperatures for data storage). We need to accept that climate change is real and be prepared for the changes that come with it.

[Diversifying Alaska's use of space will help diversify economy after oil]

Alaska should be at the forefront of the Arctic. But none of that will come with any gusto unless we make health care more affordable here.

There are a number of proposals to reform our nation's health care payment system but the one that makes the most immediate sense to me, for Alaska, is one that would allow groups (eg. teachers associations and small businesses) or individuals, the option to buy into a Medicaid-like, state-administered program (call it AKHEALTH, if you like). There would be no copays, no out-of-pocket costs, few hassles and still very, very good care. There would be better coordination of care. And providers could, and would still be reimbursed at competitive rates. This could be phased in, eventually covering more groups, over five or more years.

Alaska Medicaid currently costs approximately $12,000 per person per year. Wouldn't you like to be able to buy that instead of what you have? The infrastructure is essentially already in place, it would not overly disrupt our existing system, and it would make health care affordable for people considering
moving to Alaska. Change is sometimes slow and incremental, but I think this would be a great move for our state. I urge our federal delegation to allow states to come up with innovative health plans like this that address local problems such as ours.

Alaska has terrific medical providers and hospitals. My personal experience of our health care system is that it is first rate. But the payment structure has truly become a nightmare and needs to be fixed. It is choking our economy. There are now companies that specialize in exporting health care from Alaska because of the high costs here. Good Alaska jobs are indirectly driving south along with them. Wouldn't it be better for our patients and our communities if people were able to stay home for their care? We would all be better off if our care could stay local. And, we just might see a few more cranes on the skyline again.

Alan Gross is a lifelong Alaskan, an orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman. He splits time between Petersburg and Anchorage.

Girl testifies that teens accused of killing David Grunwald hid in her shed — and partied

Thu, 2018-05-17 18:49

PALMER — The teenagers accused in the November 2016 killing of 16-year-old David Grunwald partied in a shed near Palmer for days after the murder.

That's according to videos and witness testimony Thursday in Palmer Superior Court from a 16-year-old girl who let them stay in the shed behind her house.

Four of the teens smoked marijuana with Grunwald in a camper behind Erick Almandinger's home, then pistol-whipped him using Almandinger's heavy Ruger .40-caliber pistol, drove him to the Knik River, and shot him once in the head, prosecutors say. Then they torched his 1995 Ford Bronco.

Almandinger, 18, is the first of four teens charged with killing him to stand trial.

Another accused in the crime, Devin Peterson, took a plea deal on charges he hid weapons and gave the others gas cans to burn the Bronco.

Witnesses on Thursday painted a picture of Almandinger and the others as a group of friends with little parental supervision, in and out of school and with easy access to drugs and alcohol.

Grunwald was killed the night of Nov. 13, 2016, authorities say.

Almandinger messaged the girl with the shed just before 4 a.m. the next morning, she testified. The girl was dating one of the boys. She said she was staying with friends of her father's in a nice neighborhood and not going to school regularly.

The Anchorage Daily News is not identifying her at the request of Superior Court Judge Gregory Heath.

All five charged in the crime — Almandinger, Peterson, Brad Renfro, Austin Barrett and Dominic Johnson — ended up in the shed by the night of Nov. 14, the girl testified. Initially, it was just Almandinger, Renfro and Johnson. They were cold and hungry. They left and came back.

Almandinger "brought a bunch of alcohol from his dad's house" as well as marijuana, she said. "They were just hanging out. Sitting, drinking and smoking. Hanging out like friends do."

By then, Alaska State Troopers investigators had already gone to Almandinger's family home to talk with him, according to the original complaint in the case. He wasn't there.

Prosecutors on Thursday played two videos the girl said were filmed in the shed.

One shows Almandinger, looking wasted and laughing hysterically, wrestling with somebody while rap music plays, then making what looks like a gang sign.

In the next, Almandinger looks dazed as a triangular stain spreads across the front of his jeans. Somebody asks if he's pissed himself.

At some point, the girl said, she messaged Almandinger to keep it down because they were too loud. She also got angry at him and one of her girlfriends, who was "fooling around" with Almandinger in the shed and came in with hickies on her neck.

"I got mad at them because I just didn't feel that was OK," she testified.

Almandinger told her he'd found a place to stay Nov. 16.

Alaska State Troopers ultimately rounded up the teens as they left Palmer's Valley Hotel in early December. Johnson offered to lead them to Grunwald's body.

That day, Dec. 2, they arrested Almandinger.

His father, Rodney, took the stand earlier Thursday. He said he was inside working on a stained-glass project for a client and didn't hear or see anything the night of the murder.

['No clue': Family of teen charged in Grunwald killing say they share public's shock]

He knew Erick wasn't in the house but didn't know where he was, Rodney Almandinger said.

Almandinger testified Thursday that his first indication something might be wrong came when Grunwald's mother, Edie, called looking for her son.

Edie Grunwald testified earlier in the week that she called when she heard David might be with Erick. But Rodney didn't know where David was — or Erick either, she said.

Then, Grunwald said, she called the troopers and called Almandinger back to tell him.

"I thought he'd be glad, as a concerned parent. His response wasn't quite what I expected," she said, repeating it: "'Aw, these kids are f—ed.'"

Almandinger testified Thursday that he meant both Grunwald and his son would be in trouble once they turned up.

Almandinger said he went to bed around 1 a.m. after trying unsuccessfully to reach Erick via Facebook Messenger. A response from his son came around 3 a.m.

He read it to the jury: "Hey, I'm sorry I'm not with any David to be honest. I'm with some friends and I won't be home tonight, sorry. Maybe I will be at school tomorrow hopefully if I can get a ride."

They talked sporadically back and forth, Almandinger testified, including when the torched Bronco turned up. His son continued to act like he didn't know anything. Erick came back to the house briefly on Nov. 14 with Johnson.

He came home to stay on Nov. 16, he said.

Why is America so divided? And can Alaska help?

Thu, 2018-05-17 18:39

These are the scariest times I remember for our country. I've never before worried about our ability to hold together.

America's strength comes from taking turns. In American politics you don't flip the game board and take the fight outside. You remember your adversary is American, too.

The divisiveness in today's politics is threatening that consensus and, for the first time since the Civil War, threatening the confidence that the nation is one. When enough people reject the validity of others as Americans, our democracy is dead.

I've been reading a lot about why this is happening and thinking about how it relates to Alaska. Are we exceptional? Are we above the ugliness?

[How the defeat of the bathroom bill shows historic change in Anchorage]

A lot of the analysis comes in the form of asking why Donald Trump won the presidency. That's not my question today, because the divisions long predate his election. But the vote did illuminate the issues, like the flash of a strobe light.

I don't think Trump is to blame for the problem, but he exploited it. The question is, why did that work?

I've found three credible explanations. They are not mutually exclusive.

The economic explanation has received the most attention. It fits with Trump's electoral map. He won states with workers who have not benefited from the economic recovery.

This idea is that widening income inequality has split America's social classes into distant camps. On the coasts, a tech-driven economic boom is on, but mid-American blue collar workers with less education have been left behind.

The division is real and has happened rapidly. In 2017, the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 77 percent of the nation's wealth, the most in our history. The top 20 richest individual Americans have as much wealth as the bottom half the population, 152 million people.

As David Cole wrote recently, the inventors of democracy didn't think it would work with extremes of rich and poor. It would become a war between the classes. America's founders absorbed these ideas from the Enlightenment philosophers and Aristotle.

But the electoral facts don't fit neatly with this theory. Trump voters' average incomes were higher than those of Hillary Clinton voters. Race was a better predictor of who would vote for Trump than class.

Writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates charge that the class idea is just a smokescreen for raw, resurgent racism. He produces evidence that Trump tapped into a white backlash against the election of President Obama and other changes in society.

In fact, race is only one element of the rapid social changes that threaten traditional roles and values.

Look what has happened in the last three decades: rapid advance of racial, gender and LGBT equality, migration from the global south, the economic rise of Asia, technology that devalues labor and rewards education, and the resulting realignment of economic and social winners.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. The loss of privilege feels like a loss of Americanness to some Americans, loss of Germanness to some Germans — as the reaction is happening in Europe. Maybe even Islamic extremists feel it, too, as they lash out violently against modernity.

A third line of analysis combines economic and racial identity. Writer Amy Chua uses the word "tribes" for these groups (a term I am not comfortable taking from its proper indigenous use), as she explains how America has evolved.

Chua says the divisions we see today are not new, we've always belonged to tribes of white, black, rich and poor. But until now, only one tribe ruled, the affluent whites. They held economic power and the electoral majority as well.

In Chua's view, the increase of minorities has made America like a developing nation with deep tribal divisions in which a minority tribe holds the wealth. That's a situation in which democracy has never worked.

Of course, most of us aren't members of tribes as in those in truly tribal nations. But there are unsettling similarities.

The equality of wealth that the founding fathers thought was essential to democracy — and that existed in the early United States — applied only to their own small set of the population, white land-owning men. The people they held as slaves didn't count.

By that light, American unity was never more than domination.

I don't buy all of any of these theories. But I buy enough to be discouraged.

Alaska offers a contrast. Alaska voted for Trump, but for none of the reasons these writers cite.

Here we vote for president like other Americans vote for sheriff. On local issues. Who will let us drill more oil?

Alaska has notable income equality compared to the rest of the U.S. We're too new for old fortunes and we don't have the industries — finance and tech — that create new fortunes. On the lower end, we have the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend providing a basic income.

Alaska has a nasty history of segregation and racial oppression, especially against Alaska Natives, but Native economic power has helped transform that.

Today, evidence of racial conflict is less than in many places in the country. Anchorage has some of the most racially integrated schools and neighborhoods in the U.S. Incidents like those that motivated the Black Lives Matter movement spawned community dialogue, but didn't flash into street protest.

[Anchorage may not be as diverse as you think. Or as equal racially.]

Alaska publicly grappled with racism in a big way in the 1990s under Gov. Tony Knowles. In Anchorage, Mayor Rick Mystrom, a Republican, remade his city's identity to be welcoming of diversity, just as an influx of immigrants was beginning a huge demographic shift.

There are simple lessons here.

Policy makes a difference in creating a fair economic system and connecting citizens. A strong economic safety net and a basic income can encourage the equality and "good fellowship" that Aristotle said was necessary for democracy.

And leadership makes a difference in matters of race.

America's story is about the struggle with prejudice. It's what we fought our Civil War over. Our survival may depend on resolving it.

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) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

Letter: Hey horse owners, how about shoveling some manure?

Thu, 2018-05-17 18:31

I'm a dog owner. When I walk my dog, I take bags in case one or more have to go poop. I was told this is actually a law in Anchorage. I'm not sure, but it is the considerate and responsible thing to do.

I have noticed that horse owners do not do this. They allow their "pets" to poop on the streets or in the parks where they ride.

Why do horse owners not clean up after their animals? This is a question I have often wondered about.

I am tired of scooping horse poop from the front of my street by my driveway. The owners could at least come back and dispose of the poop.

I have to imagine that if I continually let my dog poop in front of someone's driveway, or on the trails where they walked, I would be asked to clean up. I have often seen this discussion on the trails on the Hillside between dog owners and non-dog owners, but never with horse owners.

It just seems like there is no equity in this relationship.

Chad D. Gerondale

Mat-Su man accused of fraudulently selling furniture via Craigslist

Thu, 2018-05-17 18:19

A Mat-Su man is accused of selling furniture imported wholesale from China and falsely claiming it was "Italian leather," according to federal charges filed Wednesday.

Prosecutors allege that from July 2014 onward, Dmitry Kudryn and "other uncharged co-conspirators" fraudulently sold furniture purchased from China to Alaska buyers. Kudryn has been charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Kudryn bought at least $300,000 worth of wholesale furniture from Duoxieyi Sofa Co. in China, prosecutors say, which was delivered in bulk to his commercial property in Wasilla.

He then sold the furniture on Craigslist online under the guise that it was Italian-made.

Prosecutors say Kudryn misled buyers by saying that the furniture was "leftover samples" of "Italian leather furniture" being offered at a discounted price.

He said in Craigslist advertisements that the furniture, left over from home stagings, had been shipped from the Lower 48, and that each piece was worth $4,800.

Each piece of furniture from Duoxieyi Sofa Co. cost Kudryn around $1,050. He sold the furniture for $2,400 apiece in Alaska, court documents say.

Kudryn and others sold the furniture in Alaska "and elsewhere," Wednesday's indictment alleges.

Kudryn did not immediately return requests for comment.

Bringing the Wild West back to Alaska

Thu, 2018-05-17 16:19

Amid Alaska's deep recession with no end in sight, it is the city of Anchorage that suffers the most. Beyond losing jobs and longtime residents on a sharp curve downward, Anchorage has been afflicted by a spike in crime, including violent crime. Downtown Anchorage is dying slowly.

That is quite a conundrum for a place that fate seemed destined to reward as beautiful and prosperous forever, given what the natural world already provides. The remedy I'd like to suggest for Southcentral Alaska is one that has brought sudden, massive economic growth to places far less likely to succeed than Anchorage.

My recommended solution is to allow people to enjoy a peaceful hedonism that most nations still prohibit in theory. The Anchorage Strip would be just one district of the city. There, casinos, brothels, cannabis clubs, liquor and other human passions would be met for the going price.

Of course, Wild West hedonism in the big city is nothing new to Alaska, though it's largely suppressed now. Back in the day, Fourth Avenue was wilder than anything found in Las Vegas today. But the big party did not bring visitors to the city on its own. It was the fur, gold and oil that brought the money to Anchorage to spend.

So, what has changed since then that would make an Anchorage Strip a real success? Just addicting a large sector of the local population to gambling and associated pastimes is no plan for success, but failure instead.

The difference today is global travel on a large scale. That modernization combines with the shape of the globe to make Anchorage an ideal location for a good party, interrupting long flights across time zones. Each day, thousands upon thousands of Americans are flying from the East Coast to Japan, China and other points in Asia. The same is true for travelers in reverse, coming to Boston, New York or Washington, D.C. These are the people who have the money to truly enjoy a wild trip to Anchorage.

When Asia-North America flights to or from the East Coast used to require a stop for refueling, hundreds of thousands of passengers would pass through the North Terminal at the Anchorage airport with only handfuls of people ever leaving the terminal on the ground. This is because the globe is much more quickly flown across its top. The shape of the Earth still makes the Anchorage airport today the absolute global hub for airborne trade shipments of every sort. Anchorage lies no more than a 10-hour flight from 90 percent of the industrialized world's economies.

There are still plenty of big passenger planes that do not fly routes longer than 4,000 miles at a time. They follow the money. There are many, many well-off people on long trips who would stop by wild Anchorage for something new entirely if given the chance.

In Japan and China, brothels remain unlawful, unlike many parts of Asia. Both nations ban cannabis. Both are true for the East Coast, too. Gambling is outlawed in China. Yet the Chinese love to gamble. In the space of 20 years, the Macau gambling resort, located a one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong, has already become twice the size of Las Vegas in amounts wagered.

Traditionally illegal in Japan, a new casino district with restrained rules is coming online soon to compete with the all-powerful gangster class there. The new gambling district near Tokyo will be no match though for the appetite of the Japanese people.

So let the flood of air passengers to Anchorage's north terminal resume, this time with most getting off their plane to enjoy a new Alaska. Because the good times can start rolling anew in Anchorage, like nowhere else. Pass the few new laws needed to see if the casinos and high-rollers come on their own. There is little cost or risk to this high-reward plan.

Stephen Merrill is an Anchorage attorney and an author on sociology and politics making the case for libertarian government. He served as a Navy JAG Corps officer and then as a top-secret cleared intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve.

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 Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

Watch a historic announcement on the first Alaska Air flight piloted by 2 African-American women

Thu, 2018-05-17 16:16

On Mother's Day, passengers on Alaska Airlines Flight 361, from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, watched a special announcement from the pilot.

"As you are getting seated, I'd like to introduce myself and my crew," Capt. Tara Wright tells passengers in a video posted to Facebook on Sunday.

Wright introduces herself and First Officer Mallory Cave, saying, "Today is a fun day."

It was Mother's Day, Wright says, and her father's birthday. But there was something else, too.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); = id; js.src = ''; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Making Alaska Airlines history this morning! First Officer Mallory Cave and I serve as the very first all African-American female crew on Alaska Flt #361, San Francisco to Portland, OR.

Check out Alaska’s most popular baby names of 2017

Thu, 2018-05-17 15:07

Alaska's most popular baby names of 2017 are here.

The rankings are based on Social Security card application data, the Social Security Administration's website says.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Alaska was one of only two states where girl's name Aurora made the top 10. Aurora was the third most popular girl's name in Alaska last year. In New Mexico, it was 10th most popular.

Boy's name Maverick took the 41st spot for Alaska. Girl's name Piper came in 18th.

For both boys and girls, the top two 2016 names kept their reigning spots: James and Liam for boys, and Emma and Olivia for girls.

Four of the top 10 boy's names in 2016 — Owen, Joseph, Lucas and Mason — were replaced by Wyatt, Elijah, Benjamin and Samuel in 2017.

For girls, the names Elizabeth and Chloe in 2016's top 10 were replaced by Isabella and Evelyn in 2017.

Alaska's top 10 baby names for boys:

No. 1: James

No. 2: Liam

No. 3: Wyatt

No. 4: William

No. 5: Noah

No. 6: Oliver

No. 7: Logan

No. 8: Elijah

No. 9: Samuel

No. 10: Benjamin

And for girls:

No. 1: Emma

No. 2: Olivia

No. 3: Aurora

No. 4: Isabella

No. 5: Sophia

No. 6: Ava

No. 7: Evelyn

No. 8: Amelia

No. 9: Abigail

No. 10: Charlotte

Nationwide, Liam and Emma topped the list for boys and girls, respectively, followed by Noah and Olivia at No. 2, and William and Ava in third.

Find the full list of Alaska's 100 most popular baby names here.

North Korea is acting up because Trump has it cornered

Thu, 2018-05-17 14:30

North Korea's recent temper tantrum over U.S.-South Korean military exercises and its threat to pull out of its upcoming summit with President Trump are signs that Trump's North Korea strategy is working.

Over the past several months, Trump has boxed in Kim Jong Un. First, he ramped up economic pressure on Pyongyang while making clear that, unlike his predecessors, he was willing to take military action. Yet when Kim offered to meet face-to-face, Trump shocked everyone (probably including Kim) by reportedly accepting on the spot. Instead of rejecting the offer, or using it as a bargaining chip to elicit concessions, Trump said "yes" and put the two nations on a faster track to nuclear negotiations than anyone had anticipated.

Then, the president began shaping the parameters of an agreement — starting with making clear what kind of deal he would not cut. The North Koreans want a nuclear deal like the one President Barack Obama gave to Iran: sanctions relief up front, billions of dollars in cash, a weak inspection regime and sunset clauses on the back end. By withdrawing from the Iran deal last week, Trump sent Pyongyang a crystal-clear message: I don't cut deals like that.

[North Korea's dark history should frame any negotiations]

He then used his senior officials to lay out the parameters of the kind of accord he would cut. Kim wants to get paid for the promise of denuclearization. Appearing on "Face the Nation," national security adviser John Bolton played the bad cop and explained that that is not happening. Trump will only pay for actual denuclearization. The president, Bolton said, is looking for "a manifestation of the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons (that) doesn't have to be the same as Libya but it's got to be something concrete and tangible it may be that Kim Jong Un has some ideas and we should hear him out."

While Bolton set expectations for denuclearization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played the good cop and held out the twin carrots of security and prosperity if Kim agrees. "If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize," Pompeo said, "the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on par with our South Korean friends." That stunning offer is deeply destabilizing for Kim. If he goes to a summit with Trump and refuses to accept a deal that provides his country with prosperity on par with South Korea, then he can no longer blame the West for the misery of the North Korean people.

In other words, Trump and his national security team have put Kim in a corner, offering him peace, security and prosperity, but only if he first denuclearizes completely, verifiably and irreversibly. Little wonder that North Korea is lashing out.

[Learning from North Korea's history]

Kim might be looking for a pretext to get out of his meeting with Trump, and the military exercises provide a perfect excuse.

He may also be testing Trump to see how badly he wants the summit. Or he may be trying to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea in advance of the talks. He knows South Korean President Moon Jae-in is deeply invested in his "Sunshine Policy" with Pyongyang. If the North threatens a little rain, perhaps the South — which desperately wants the summit — will pressure Trump to cancel the military exercises or be more flexible at the bargaining table.

Trump needs to show Kim that he won't respond to threats by refusing to call off the exercises. Through back channels, he needs to reaffirm his willingness to provide North Korea with security and prosperity in exchange for immediate denuclearization but also make clear that if North Korea refuses, the alternative is not the status quo. Sanctions will be ramped up, and military action is possible. Above all, Trump should take North Korea's recent outburst as a signal that Pyongyang is feeling the heat.

A cornered animal roars, precisely because it is cornered. Stand firm, Mr. President, and don't let up the pressure.

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 Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

BP said to be in talks to take Conoco’s UK field in swap deal for some Alaska assets

Thu, 2018-05-17 13:37

BP and ConocoPhillips are in discussions for an asset swap deal that would see the U.K. energy major gain a greater foothold in a key project in the North Sea and the U.S. explorer get Alaskan assets, according to people familiar with the talks.

BP is considering taking Conoco's stake in the Clair field, in which BP already holds a 28.6 percent stake and is the operator, the people said, asking not to be identified because the talks are private. In exchange, Conoco is likely to take some of BP's assets in Alaska. BP describes Clair as "the largest undeveloped hydrocarbon resource" in the U.K.

The world's biggest oil companies, including BP, have largely been selling their aging North Sea assets as they move funds to areas where it's cheaper to produce oil and natural gas. Still, the area has seen a revival in recent years as new entrants infuse additional capital and fresh technology. BP itself has said it will focus on a few projects as it targets increasing output from the region.

No final decisions have been reached between the companies and talks could still fall apart. A BP spokesman declined to comment. Conoco is not looking to sell its U.K. North Sea assets, Chief Executive Officer Ryan lance said at the company's annual general meeting this week.

"Unless formally announced by the company, we don't comment on business development activity," Emma Ahmed, a spokeswoman for Conoco, said by email.

The people didn't say which Alaskan assets BP is putting on the table. The biggest of its fields there is Prudhoe Bay, which started production in in the 1970s.

Conoco has been reducing its exposure to the U.K. as fields age, and is keen to focus more on U.S. shale, one of the world's fastest-growing oil-producing regions. The Houston-based explorer said in April it intended to cut 450 jobs in Britain between Oct. 1 and April 2020 as it ceased output through its Theddlethorpe Gas Terminal.

Senate confirms Haspel to be first woman CIA director

Thu, 2018-05-17 11:58

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate confirmed Gina Haspel on Thursday to be director of the CIA, ending a bruising confirmation fight centered on her ties to the spy agency's past use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques.

Haspel, who will be the first woman director of the CIA, is a 33-year veteran at the agency currently serving as its acting director. As senators continued to vote, the tally was 51-43 in favor of her nomination in the 100-member chamber, where a simple majority was required for confirmation.

Haspel was approved despite stiff opposition over her links to the CIA's use of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning widely considered torture, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

An undercover officer for most of her CIA career, Haspel in 2002 served as CIA station chief in Thailand, where the agency conducted interrogations at a secret prison using methods including waterboarding. Three years later, she drafted a cable ordering the destruction of videotapes of those interrogations.

Republican Senator John McCain, who has been away from Washington all year as he battles brain cancer, urged the Senate not to vote for Haspel.

Tortured himself while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain said approving Haspel would send the wrong message, and the country should only use methods to keep itself safe "as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world."

Haspel also had strong support from Republican President Donald Trump's administration, many current and former intelligence officials and a wide range of lawmakers, including Democrats.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, which oversaw the nomination, supported Haspel.

"I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the president, who will speak truth to power if this president orders her to do something illegal or immoral, like a return to torture," he said in a Senate speech before the vote.