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Watching for polar bears and fixing windows: Alaska brings neighborhood watch to villages

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 11:40

In the tiny Bering Strait island village of Diomede, "neighborhood watch" means residents band together and look out for polar bears while kids are walking to and from school.

That's very different from a neighborhood watch in Anchorage, where neighbors have phone trees and watch out for open garages and front doors. But as money has dwindled for rural policing, the Alaska State Troopers are hoping to adapt a popular national crime prevention program for the state's farthest-flung communities, in hopes of enhancing public safety and relationships with law enforcement.

As part of a new initiative, state officials are planning meetings and training across Alaska. Troopers and village public safety officers, or VPSOs, will travel and strategize with residents about ways to start a neighborhood watch, said Naomi Sweetman, program coordinator with the Department of Public Safety in the VPSO office. Even as budgets have shrunk, the state is investing in travel this year — the Legislature approved $1 million to the trooper and VPSO travel budget, in part to support the crime prevention effort.

[Do you smoke? Work for an oil company? Care about crime? Alaska lawmakers just passed bills that could affect you]

During the meetings, troopers and VPSOs will also educate community members on the principles of preventing crime through environmental design, Sweetman said. The practice, well-established in Anchorage policing, is based in part on making subtle physical changes to homes and businesses to deter criminals and troublemakers.

The two strategies — neighborhood watch and environmental crime prevention — are not meant to substitute for trooper or VPSO response, said Jonathon Taylor, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. They're also not meant to encourage vigilantism, Sweetman said, at a time when there have been high-profile cases of citizens in Anchorage chasing down stolen cars.

'Let Floyd GO!' How a guy who finds stolen vehicles became a folk hero to some crime-weary Anchorage residents

But Taylor said years of tight budgets have shifted long-running conversation about crime prevention to the forefront. Troopers and VPSOs can't be everywhere, he said. Meanwhile, people want to know what they can do to make their communities safer places to live.

Sweetman also said the strategies flow into a more effective way to do law enforcement.

"The reality is, police officers are much more effective when they have their community helping them," Sweetman said. "And we have abdicated as a society our responsibility for working with our officers."

Troopers plan to convene meetings in the coming months in villages but also in unincorporated areas on the road system, like the Mat-Su, where people are concerned about issues like illegal camping in parks and property crime, Sweetman said.

The first meeting took place in April at the Mat-Su trooper post outside Wasilla; a second happened Wednesday.

Sweetman said the troopers will proactively schedule meetings but will also respond to requests. She said the plan is to train troopers and residents together. Officials hope tighter community relationships with law enforcement can help tackle big problems like bootlegging and drug importation, Sweetman said.

There are about 350 troopers working in Alaska communities without their own police departments. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough and portions of the Valdez and Cordova census area alone make up about 20,000 square miles, roughly the size of West Virginia.

Gina Appolloni is the village public safety officer director for Kawerak Inc., the nonprofit arm of the Bering Straits Native Corp. She is based in Nome and oversees five VPSOs, who are responsible for public safety in 15 communities. Appolloni has done the job for almost a decade and a half. She once oversaw twice the number of VPSOs, she said.

More widespread community watch programs would ease pressure on the VPSOs, who have to be on duty all the time, Appolloni said.

But Appolloni said the standard neighborhood watch toolkit developed in the Lower 48 contains very little that applies in rural Alaska. Most of those programs teach techniques that involve pavement, lighting and working with local sheriffs and police, she said. In rural Alaska, there's none of that.

"If we recognize the obstacles right off the bat, address them, and tweak it to fit a rural community of 100 to 700 people, I think it will be more successful," Appolloni said

In some small communities, a neighborhood watch might include assisting elders to and from the grocery store, Sweetman said. Or walking around and making sure kids get home at curfew. Or going on walks around places that have been vandalized.

Instead of a phone tree, as in a tightly packed urban neighborhood, people in rural Alaska might be on VHF radios, Sweetman said.

She said every community might need something different.

In the Mat-Su, where there are already community watch programs, troopers plan to be more readily available to give information and advice, Sweetman said.

Patricia Fisher, the president of Meadow Lakes Community Council, called for town halls earlier this year because she was frustrated about property crime. Her home is in a big unincorporated area between Big Lake and Wasilla with a population of about 10,000.

Fisher has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years. She never used to lock her house or her car, but she's started to in the past year. There are no police, and the troopers are stretched thin, Fisher said.

She said there's been a lot of talk about civil area patrols but people weren't sure how to start. Trooper training and information would be extremely helpful, she said.

Sweetman said she expects the programs to ebb and flow. Some years a community will have a neighborhood watch, and then it won't, she said.

Suggestions about changes based on environmental design will also likely come down to money. In the Norton Sound village of Shishmaref, a community of about 600 people, residents were having trouble with vandalism. Boarded-up windows were a safety issue because they cut off a line of surveillance, Sweetman said. Sweetman and Appolloni, the Nome-based head of the Kawerak village public safety officers, traveled to Shishmaref to examine ways to fix the issue.

The trip ended with recommendations to install Plexiglas windows that are less vulnerable to vandalism. That hasn't happened yet, though, because there isn't money to do it, Appolloni said.

Sweetman said the fixes will have to be what community members and public safety officials decide make the most sense.

"It can look however the community needs it to look," Sweetman said.

Congress is in full revolt, must be midterm elections coming up

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 11:31

Republican congressional leadership in both houses have lost control of frantic members trying desperately to swim away from a burning ship. Consider all of these revolts against party leadership and the White House:

– A cadre of at least 20 House Republicans have signed the discharge petition to force a vote on the floor to provide a fix for the "Dreamers."

– In the Senate, three Republicans joined Democrats in voting down the evisceration of net neutrality.

– Also in the Senate, Republicans joined Democrats in finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump.

– The Washington Post reports, "Republican lawmakers are pushing back against President Trump's request for Congress to cut $15 billion from programs including children's health insurance and Ebola disaster relief, saying the vote could make them vulnerable to Democratic attacks in this year's midterm campaign … The dispute comes as House leaders face pressure from conservatives to take steps on other fronts that could excite the GOP base but create political problems for lawmakers in tough races as the midterm elections loom.

These efforts are not driven exclusively by moderates. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-Louisiana, for example, was among the three Republicans on net neutrality. These opportunistic undertakings also reveal that mainstream Republicans in both the House and Senate have actual power, if only they would use it more often.

If moderate and mainstream Republicans can stage a revolt on net neutrality or on behalf of Dreamers, why could they not pass bipartisan health care measures or reject some of Trump's most egregiously unfit nominees? Surely a bloc of 25 or so House Republicans and three or four moderates in the Senate could have demanded a more balanced and fiscally responsible tax bill. It is true that rebels have to pick and choose their battles, but they've been largely avoiding them altogether until now.

A few examples illustrate their missed opportunities:

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, promised a vote on health-care fixes; Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who now recognizes that if deficit projections are true, "it could well be one of the worst votes I've made," could have made the difference on the tax bill, forcing more tax relief be directed toward the non-rich, creating less debt and making the corporate tax reform actually a reform (broaden the base, remove deductions and lower rates).

If six more Republicans had joined the 54 senators who voted for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) fix, it would have made it past a filibuster. Sens. Corker, Shelley Moore Capito, W.Va., Marco Rubio, Fla., (who once upon a time sponsored the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration plan), as well as three Republicans who voted for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 and remain in the Senate (Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Dean Heller of Nevada) could have made the difference.

Likewise, House Republicans could use the very same procedure being deployed for DACA (a discharge petition) to shake loose a bill to protect the special counsel. (A Senate version passed the Judiciary Committee 14 to 7.)

We draw several conclusions from all of this.

First, it is hard but not impossible for less extreme members to counteract the radical rightward shift in the GOP. If they had used their numbers earlier in the Trump presidency, a frantic scramble might not now be required to create "Well, I tried!" situations to defend themselves in November.

Second, the White House has little to no sway with GOP members; the latter can't run on the Trump agenda, so they are trying to craft a different one, albeit too late. The harsh, anti-immigrant and frankly anti-populist (e.g., doing away with net neutrality) positions are not ones that can support an electoral majority.

Third, confidence in the tax cuts to save the GOP is at a low point. If a vote for the tax cuts were enough to secure the majority in both houses, you wouldn't see the batch of desperate tactics now.

Fourth, there is no reason these topics couldn't be addressed as a matter of regular order in the six months before the midterm elections. Ah, but the House and Senate don't seem ready to do anything much at all, except for voting on judicial nominations, between now and November. That in and of itself shows a remarkable lack of concern for the people's business.

Finally, if Democrats had the majority and could peel off the Republicans now in revolt, we might wind up with some effective bipartisan legislation on everything from infrastructure to DACA. Keep that in mind when voting in November.

Kushner family is close to getting a bailout for troubled flagship tower by a company tied to Qatar’s government

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 11:01

NEW YORK — The company controlled by the family of White House adviser Jared Kushner is close to receiving a bailout of its financially troubled flagship building by a company with ties to the government of Qatar, according to executives briefed on the deal.

Charles Kushner, head of the Kushner Cos., is in advanced talks with Brookfield Properties over a partnership to take control of the 41-story aluminum-clad tower 666 Fifth Ave. in Midtown, according to two real estate executives who have been briefed on the pending deal but are not authorized to discuss it. Brookfield is a publicly traded company, headquartered in Canada, one of whose major investors is the Qatar Investment Authority.

Kushner and his son Jared, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and one of his key advisers, bought the office tower, which is between 51st and 52nd streets, 11 years ago for a record-setting $1.8 billion. But the building today only generates about half its annual mortgage payment, and 30 percent of the 41-story tower is vacant.

In late 2016, Kushner and his son were close to a much different kind of deal with Anbang, a giant Chinese insurance company with ties to the country's ruling elite, and with a billionaire from Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani. That plan involved demolishing the existing building at 666 Fifth and erecting a $7.5 billion luxury super tower.

But the deal collapsed a year ago, amid criticism from legislators over the connection between Jared Kushner's political role and the family business. Jared Kushner left the family business after Trump's election and is now a key adviser to the White House.

The deal with Brookfield is likely to raise further concerns about Jared Kushner's dual role as a White House point person on the Middle East and a continuing stake holder in the family's company. Kushner earlier this year lost his top-secret security clearance amid concerns that foreign governments could attempt to gain influence with the White House by doing business with the Kushner Cos.

Although he resigned as chief executive of the company when he joined the White House in January 2017, Kushner retained most of his stake in the firm. He shed some of the assets — including his stake in 666 Fifth Ave. — by selling them to a trust controlled by his mother. His real estate holdings and other investments are worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics filings.

Brookfield has extensive ties to Qatar. The Qatar Investment Authority is the second-largest shareholder in Brookfield Properties, ranking only behind Brookfield's former parent company. And the Qatar fund and Brookfield have teamed up on several real estate deals in the United States and elsewhere in recent years, including Brookfield's retail and apartment complex, Manhattan West, now under construction on the West Side. Brookfield and Qatar also control the Canary Wharf office complex in London.

Brookfield, which will take over leasing and operating 666 Fifth, plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to give the 61-year-old building a major face-lift: stripping off the distinctive aluminum facade, installing floor-to-ceiling windows, renovating the lobby and installing new elevators, according to the executives.

If a deal is struck, Charles Kushner will buy out his old partner, Vornado Realty Trust, which owned 49.5 percent of the office space but were not interested in renovating the tower.

Kushner will pay Vornado $120 million to settle an $80 million high-interest loan Vornado provided for the office building six years ago. Vornado, however, will continue to own the building's valuable Fifth Avenue retail space.

The Kushner Cos. and Brookfield both declined to comment.

<b>Juneau</b> Assembly member Jesse Kiehl announces run for state senate

Juneau Hot Topics - Thu, 2018-05-17 10:56
Juneau Assembly member Jesse Kiehl announces run for state senate ... on Thursday morning for the most expected news of the political season. ... In a 10-minute speech, City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member ... Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.

Here’s your Alaska summer 2018 festival guide

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 09:36

Put your down jacket in storage and say good riddance to our dragging, blustery spring, Alaska: festival season is upon us.

From a mermaid festival in Seward to an electronic dance music oasis in Willow, not to mention mainstays like the Alaska State Fair and Salmonfest, there's something for just about everyone here. Celebrate summer with friends, family, live music and more at festivals happening all over the state.

Seward Mermaid Festival

May 18-20, Seward

Head to the Seward Mermaid Festival to learn about ocean conservation while having a good time. Enjoy live music from Blackwater Railroad Company and other local favorites, a mermaid and pirate pub crawl, food and art vendors and more. (sewardmermaidfestival.com)

Spenard Jazz Fest

May 19-June 3, Anchorage

Featuring musicians from Alaska and Seattle, the Spenard Jazz Fest is a celebration that will include jazz workshops, a bluesy breakfast and performances by Duende Libre, the John Damberg Latin Jazz Quintet, Melissa "Jazzmom" Fischer and more. Get your name on the list to score an invite to one of their exclusive house concerts. (spenardjazzfest.org)

Kodiak Crab Festival

May 24-28, Kodiak

The Kodiak Crab Festival began in 1958 and it's still kickin' today. Spend your Memorial Day weekend enjoying a parade, beer gardens, Alaska Native art, carnival rides, live music and performances and, of course, crab. (kodiakchamber.org/crabfestival)

Great Alaska Music Festival

May 26-27, Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer

The first Great Alaska Music Festival will bring up Grammy-winning, eight-piece country stars Asleep at the Wheel and prolific rock band Chris Robinson Brotherhood, fronted by Chris Robinson (formerly of the Black Crowes). Enjoy their dedicated "Children's Forest," complete with a chalk-art zone, climbing walls and sumo suits. The festival also includes a kite-flying exhibition and performances by aerial silk experts Cirque Boreal and local fire dancers. Tickets range from $70-$140 for day passes and $135-$243 for two-day passes. (greatalaskamusicfestival.com)

Fairbanks Folk Fest

June 2, Fairbanks

Head to Ester Community Park to jam out to the musical stylings of local folk musicians. Last year's fest featured more than 15 performers as well as arts and food vendors. (fairbanksfolkfest.weebly.com)

Fiddlehead Fern Festival

June 2-3, Girdwood

This family-oriented event at Alyeska Resort and the Sitzmark will feature two days of live music, local arts and crafts booths, cooking demos, a 5K Fun Run, kid's activities and more. Menu items will feature fiddleheads, and Alyeska Resort's chefs will host hands-on demonstrations and share techniques for cooking with fiddleheads. (alyeskaresort.com)

3 Barons Renaissance Fair

June 2-3 and 9-10, Anchorage

The Tozier Sled Dog Track will be transformed once again into the mythical land of Hilshire for the 25th anniversary of Anchorage's ren fair. Embark on quests to become either a knight or citizen of Hilshire as you tear into a turkey leg, gulp down some mead and enjoy performances at every corner. The first weekend is pirate-themed, and the second is fantasy-themed. Costumes are not required. Tickets range from $5-$8. (3barons.org)

Sitka Summer Music Festival

June 5-July 1, Sitka

For over 40 years, the Sitka Summer Music Festival has been bringing world-class musicians to Alaska for almost a month full of strings, keys and solos. Besides the musical performances by acclaimed classical artists Doris Stevenson, Alfredo Oyaguez and more, make sure not to miss the crab feed on June 16 and the dinner cruise on June 24. Ticket prices range based on which events you're looking to attend. (alaskaclassics.org)

Chickenstock

June 15-17, Chicken

Take the trip to Chicken to jam out to "music on the top of the world." The lineup for the 12th annual Chickenstock features Alaska artists including Steve Brown and The Bailers, The Dry Cabin String Band, Cotton Ginny, Ryan Bowers and The Brain Trust. Adult tickets are $80, youth age 6-18 are $35 and children 5 and under are free. (chickenstockmusicfest.com)

Kenai River Festival

June 8-10, Soldotna Creek Park

This free, three-day festival celebrates the Kenai River with a plethora of family friendly activities, including live music, kids activities, food booths and an artisans market. The traditional Run for the River is on June 9. (kenaiwatershed.org)

Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference

June 8-12, Homer

This writers camp at Land's End Resort brings together authors, editors and agents from all over the country for a long weekend packed with workshops, activities and more. Topics covered will include fiction sources and how to nurture them, dynamic and strategic dialogue and the genesis and development of a personal essay. Relax and refocus your creativity with some yoga and the Kachemak Bay boat cruise ($60). This year, the keynote speaker is Anthony Doerr, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his 2014 novel "All the Light We Cannot See."

The conference fee, including access to dinners and luncheons, is $425 through June 7 and $450 after that. (writersconf.kpc.alaska.edu)

Last Frontier Theatre Conference

June 9-16, Valdez

Award-winning artists, playwrights, actors and directors from all over the world will come together for the 26th annual theater conference. Enjoy workshops, readings, performances and the play lab: a developmental table read with instant feedback from the audience and a curated three-person panel. There will also be a fringe festival, a 10-minute play slam and more at this week-long symposium.

Day passes are $20. Full conference registration is $50. (theatreconference.org)

Alaska Hempfest

June 22-24, Wasilla

For three years, the Alaska Hempfest has been bringing Alaska together for a weekend festival concerning all things cannabis. The event is free to the public and includes a steampunk ball as well as the first Cannabis Quest, a competition between local growers and product makers. At Flag Day Fest Campground (700 South Full Curl Drive, Wasilla)

Tickets for the steampunk ball are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. (facebook.com/AlaskaHempfest)

Back to Bluegrass Festival

June 30-July 1, McGrath

This free, two-day event in Anderson Park supports radio station KSKO and promises some toe-tapping tunes, courtesy of Tanana Rafters, Saturday Cinders, Arctic Jungle and more. Local food and crafts will also be on sale. (facebook.com/backtobluegrass)

Downtown Summer Solstice

June 23, Anchorage

Come one, come all to Anchorage's Downtown Summer Solstice Festival. This free function includes live music, entertainment, food, family friendly activities and more. (anchoragedowntown.org)

Moose Pass Summer Solstice Festival

June 16-17, Moose Pass

Looking for a more low-key solstice celebration? Check out Moose Pass Summer Solstice Festival. Since its creation in 1978, the festival usually features a bake sale, beer garden, local vendor booths, kids games, an auction and a pie contest. (Search "Moose Pass Summer Solstice Festival" to find details on Facebook)

PrideFest

June 9-16, Anchorage

This weeklong celebration of Alaska's LGBTQ+ community includes a Drag Queen Story Time (4 p.m. Saturday, June 9, Z.J. Loussac Public Library), a pageant crowning Mister and Miss Gay Alaska (9 p.m. Saturday, June 9, Mad Myrna's), a film festival (5:30 p.m. Monday, June 11, Bear Tooth Theatrepub), the fourth annual Rainbow Run (6 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, Ship Creek) and performances from Ginger Minj of "RuPaul's Drag Race" (7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16, Williwaw) and human jukebox Deven Green (10 p.m. Saturday, June 16, Mad Myrna's). (alaskapride.org)

Solstice Brewfest

June 22-24, Denali

Solstice Brewfest is back and better than ever. The weekend festival is bringing up Grammy-nominated EDM musical act Cut/Copy and offers beer seminars, pairing dinners, competitions and more. (facebook.com/SolsticeBrewfest)

Midnight Sun Festival

June 24, downtown Fairbanks

The Midnight Sun Festival is a free festival that dominates downtown Fairbanks. Expect fun for the whole family, as last year's fest included 30 live performances, 150 vendors, gold panning and more. (downtownfairbanks.com)

Scottish Highland Games

June 30, Alaska State Fair grounds in Palmer

Don your kilts and tartans: it's almost time for the 37th annual Scottish Highland Games, presented by the Alaska Scottish Club. There will be tug of war, field events, piping and drumming groups, scotch tastings and a vendor area featuring all things Scottish. Tickets ranging from $5-$15, with discounts and package deals offered. (alaskascottish.org)

Forest Fair

July 6-8, Girdwood

Girdwood's Forest Fair promises exotic food, live music and handcrafted items from Alaska artists and entertainers from all over the state. You don't want to miss the Forest Fair parade (10 a.m. Saturday, July 7). Attendees have several camping options nearby. (girdwoodforestfair.com)

Soundwaves Music Festival

July 7, Bingle Camp, Fairbanks

Grab your swimsuit and pool floats and celebrate music, natural beauty and local community in Fairbanks. Bands, including headliner Big Fat Buddha, will be performing on a dock as the audience enjoys the show from the water. There will be food vendors and limited edition memorabilia. (facebook.com/soundwavesAK)

Bear Paw Festival

July 11-15, Eagle River

This annual festival has a schedule filled to the brim with food, vendors and amusing events. Don't miss out on the Golden Wheel Carnival, the Bear Paw Grand Parade at 11 a.m. on July 14, and The Slippery Salmon Olympics, in which teams of two swerve around orange traffic cones hauling a whole salmon and other objects. (bearpawfestival.org)

Copper River Salmon Jam

July 13-14, Cordova

Celebrate with the community of Cordova for a good cause. Rock out to Anchorage rock band Big Fat Buddha, enjoy fresh salmon and participate in educational and sporty family friendly events. Ticket sales benefit the Cordova Arts Council and support year-round cultural activities in Cordova. (www.copperriverwild.org)

Spectrum Music and Arts Festival

July 13-15, Sandy River Amphitheater in Willow

Spectrum was founded to be an oasis for electronic music. This year's lineup is still to be announced, but expect a wide array of EDM artists and producers. (spectrumfestivalalaska.com)

Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival

July 15-29, Fairbanks

Come out for a "summer camp for adults" at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. Create, connect and learn with acclaimed artists on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. This year's signature artist is local Sara Tabbert, whose wood carvings, paintings and prints can be seen all over the state.

Workshop options include dance training, Caribbean cuisine cookery, healing arts, glass fusion and more. (fsaf.org)

Southeast Alaska State Fair

July 26-29, Haines

The Southeast Alaska State Fair is celebrating 50 years of family fun with concerts, bake-offs, beach wrestling and more. Make sure you don't miss the grand parade or the most lovable dog contest. Four-day passes for $32 for adults and $24 for kids age 6-12. (seakfair.org)

Salmonfest

Aug. 3-5, Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds

Each year, over 6,000 people head to the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds for Salmonfest, a conservation-minded music festival promising "three days of fish, love and music." Previously known as Salmonstock, the event is featuring arts and food vendors and a musical lineup including Brandi Carlile, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Tim Easton, Apashe and Fruition. (salmonfestalaska.org)

Alyeska Blueberry Festival

Aug. 18-19, Girdwood

There's nothing sweeter than the family friendly Alyeska Blueberry Festival.  Binge on blueberries and wear something you won't mind staining as you enjoy  live music, fun runs, a pie-eating contest, blueberry treats, a blueberry creations contest and berry-picking on the Alyeska Resort grounds. (alyeskaresort.com/calendarevents/blueberry-festival)

Alaska State Fair

Aug. 23-Sept. 3, Palmer

Alaska's premier summer festival promises a week and a half of giant produce, indulgent fair food, carnival fare, a petting zoo, music and more. This year's concert series includes Stone Sour, the Goo Goo Dolls, country rocker Luke Combs, indie singer/songwriter Bishop Briggs with Lovelytheband, Midland, Three Dog Night and comedian Jim Gaffigan. Discounted tickets are available through Aug. 22. (alaskastatefair.org)

Seward Music and Arts Festival

Oct. 5-7, Dale R. Lindsey Alaska Railroad Intermodal Facility, Seward

Send off the festival season in Seward. Enjoy over 20 live music and dance performances, a diverse food court, a beer garden and a community art show. This year's theme is "Wilderness." (sewardfestival.com)

Coming soon: Bike to Work Day, a birthday party for the Anchorage Museum and ‘goat yoga’

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 09:28

Bike to Work Day

This Friday is the 14th Anchorage Bike to Work Day, and there's no better excuse to bust out the tire pump and get your ride ready for summer. Last year, about 4,000 people participated, and organizers say this year there will be more than 40 snack stations throughout the municipality, as well as some fix-it stations and "other shenanigans" (you can check out a map at goo.gl/Ye6MfX). 6-9 a.m. Friday. Search "Bike to Work Day 2018" on Facebook for updates.

Kaladi block party

Caffeine-fueled Alaska institution Kaladi Brothers Coffee is hosting a block party at Sagaya City Market. There will be free stuff and fun activities: free hot dogs and sliders, Irish music, games, bike inspections from Trek Store, pet adoption from Friends of Pets and a scavenger hunt. But here's the one that'll make you look twice: goat yoga. Yes, there will be goats. Will they walk atop yoga practitioners in mid-chaturanga? You'll have to find out Saturday. 2-5 p.m. For events details and schedule, search "Goat Block Party" on Facebook.

(Also: goat yoga is a thing. Here's an informative video about it)

A birthday party for Anchorage Museum

Anchorage Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary and International Museum Day with 1968-era pricing for Alaska residents: $2.17. Dress in 1960s attire, take a museum history tour and join in a "Happy Birthday" sing-along. There will be a birthday cake and a celebration at noon in the atrium. History tours at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. (meet at the bottom of the atrium staircase). 9 a.m-6 p.m. Friday. For more visit anchoragemuseum.org/visit/calendar. (625 C Street)

Metal concert

Pioneering metalcore band After The Burial will be in town for two shows. First is an all-ages event at Anchorage Community Works with local support from Atlas, QWLTS and The Artificer. 7 p.m. Friday. The second show is 21 and over at Koot's with Anchorage bands Distance Defined and Silhouettes. 9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets for both shows are $20 in advance at Mammoth Music and seetickets.us, $25 at the door.

Trevor

This play about a gentle chimpanzee who performed with the likes of Morgan Fairchild is described as a "moving exploration of family, flawed communication, and humanity." By "Orange is the New Black" writer Nick Jones. Tickets $23-25 at centertix.net. Opens 7 p.m. Friday, runs Thursday-Sunday through June 9 at Cyrano's. (3800 DeBarr Road)

Salmon season kickoff party

This season's first commercially harvested Copper River sockeyes will star in dishes by five premier Alaska chefs at this family friendly event. Live music will be provided by Blaze and Eric; children under 12 are free. 2 p.m. Saturday. 49th State Brewery (717 W. Third Ave.) Tickets $15 at brownpapertickets.com and at the door.

Cannabis Classic

Highlights of this year's Cannabis Classic Alaska include a bake-off and awards for growers and industry – including best sativa and indica, best edible, best retail store, best budtender and more. 6 p.m. Saturday at the Fiesta Room. See gocannabisclassic.com for event schedule and details. (420 W. 3rd Ave.)

A new music festival is coming to the Alaska State Fair grounds

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 09:09

A new, family-friendly music festival is making its debut on Memorial Day Weekend at the Alaska State Fair grounds.

The Great Alaska Music Festival will bring together a mix of local and national talent, including headlining band the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Robinson, who rose to Rock 'n' Roll fame as lead singer of The Black Crowes, is returning to Alaska after performing at The Sitzmark in March.

Also making the trip to Palmer is Asleep at the Wheel, a Grammy-winning eight piece country rock band, progressive bluegrass act Yonder Mountain String Band, famed jam group the Kyle Hollingsworth Band and Alaska-born, Washington, D.C.-based Frank Solivan accompanied by the Dirty Kitchen.

"Our mission from the beginning was to blend national acts with Alaska talent to really celebrate what makes Alaska music unique," said Ted Tilton, co-director of the festival.

Representing the Alaska music scene are the Super Saturated Sugar Strings, performers from the musical storytelling group Parlor in the Round, Girdwood's teenage singer-songwriter sensation Ava Earl and others.  Local artists will all join together on Saturday for a "superjam," a freewheeling, collaborative musical freestyle performance.

Music isn't the only thing on the schedule for the festival. A "children's forest" will be on site, with a chalk art zone, climbing walls and sumo suits. Food and art vendors will set up shop all over the fairgrounds and there will be a kite flying exhibition, performances by aerial silk experts Cirque Boreal, fire dancers, live stage painters, yoga classes for both adults and kids, onsite massage therapists and more.

"It's like you're going to Disney World," said Skip Lichter, co-director of the festival.

Great Alaska Music Festival

When: Saturday and Sunday, May 26-27

Where: Alaska State Fairgrounds, Palmer

How much: Tickets range from $70-$140 for day passes and $135-$243 for two-day passes. Children 12 and under are free with a paying adult. For more details, see greatalaskamusicfestival.com

Drug policies without compassion are doomed to fail

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 08:00

If you ask people what caused the opioid crisis ravaging our country, you'll no doubt hear that doctors are to blame for handing out painkiller prescriptions too liberally. That narrative makes sense: Over the past few decades, doctors have massively increased the amount of opioid prescriptions going to patients. Most heroin users report that they started off abusing prescription drugs.

But this gets at a basic misconception of the crisis. The epidemic is not really about prescription practices — or at least, if it was, it isn't any longer. It's about a lack of care for people who are dependent on the drugs. Unfortunately, policymakers are learning this the hard way.

In response to the surge in opioid overdoses, lawmakers across the country have clamped down on prescription practices. Today, every state and the District of Columbia have prescription drug monitoring programs, which allow law enforcement and sometimes doctors to prevent patients from "doctor shopping" from prescriber to prescriber to stock up on pills. In fact, the federal government has spent more than $100 million over the course of the past decade to help states develop these programs. Studies have shown that these programs have been successful in reducing doctor shopping, so they're generally popular.

Problem solved, right? Well, no. Opioid prescriptions have fallen in recent years, but nonetheless overdoses continue to skyrocket. In fact, a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine – which reviewed 17 studies about the effectiveness of prescription drug monitoring programs – shows that there is no strong evidence that such programs have worked to reduce opioid deaths.

Worse, this review also found that the drug-monitoring programs might have a troubling unintended consequence: a substitution effect. The fewer prescription drugs that abusers can get their hands on, the more likely they are to turn to more dangerous drugs. Three studies included in the review found that heroin overdose deaths increased after drug-monitoring programs were implemented.

This news is bound to frustrate people. Prescription drug monitoring is one of the few policies that both the Obama and Trump administrations touted as a potential solution to the crisis. But despite all the work done so far, the programs have come up short.

And that's because prescriptions aren't the problem. Sure, the epidemic might have had its roots in prescription painkillers. But the fact remains that the vast majority of people who use prescription opioids under medical supervision do not become addicted. The real danger is illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl. That doesn't mean we should do away with drug monitoring, but we need to stop thinking about the crisis as solely a supply problem.

Prescription drug monitoring "doesn't touch the demand side," said David Fink, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the Annals of Internal Medicine study. "We really need a public health approach. We need to take care of the people who are dependent."

This is the huge flaw with drug monitoring. Fink notes that people rarely ever talk about what doctors should do if they discover that one of their patients is doctor shopping. Too often, they simply drop such patients from their provider networks, without redirecting them to resources that could help them. The emphasis is on where the drugs are coming from, not on the people seeking them.

The real reform we need is expanded treatment. Yes, the Justice Department should go after people who bring heroin and fentanyl into our country. And yes, lawmakers should sue drug manufacturers and pharmacies that have diverted painkillers into drug rings. But let's be honest with ourselves: We're never going to end the supply of illicit opioids – even if we decide to pursue the death penalty for drug dealers, as the president wants.

Being tough on drugs means nothing if we're not also compassionate to those who have fallen victim to drug markets. A great example to follow is Virginia, which has used its Medicaid program to expand access to addiction treatment. Recent studies show that the state has already seen a substantial decrease in emergency department visits related to opioid abuse.

Congress and other state legislatures should follow suit. Now is the time for government officials to prove that they actually care about the issue. It's not just about drugs. It's about millions of people who deserve the health care they need to avoid an increasingly certain death.

Robert Gebelhoff is an assistant editor for The Washington Post's Opinions section. He has been with The Post since 2015 and his work appears on the PostPartisan blog.

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

Final Alaska budget deletes outside-funds authority for state gas line agency

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 07:23

The Legislature left plenty of items in Gov. Bill Walker's budget and added to others, but it took out a key provision in the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.'s effort to bring the Alaska LNG Project to fruition.

Lawmakers pulled language allowing the gasline agency to accept outside funds from investors, known as receipt authority, for the $43 billion project in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

AGDC President Keith Meyer said in a statement to the Journal that he and his team look forward to working with the Legislature on the important aspects of the project as it advances.

[Alaska's gas line corporation wants to raise cash from outside investors. Not so fast, says the state Senate.]

But lacking a substantial injection of new money could potentially challenge the ability of the corporation to stay on its desired schedule.

AGDC leaders expect to have $52.5 million at the start of the 2019 state fiscal year that starts July 1, according to documents from its May 10 board of directors meeting.

The state-owned corporation took over control of the Alaska LNG Project in January 2017 with $106 million remaining from prior gasline appropriations.

An austerity program instituted by AGDC leaders at that time has helped them under-spend on their budget by $35.7 million since, Finance Manager Philip Sullivan said at the meeting. As a result, the corporation should be able to continue operating on its existing funds through June 2019, according to Sullivan.

Senate Resources chair Sen. Cathy Giessel said in an interview that she believes AGDC can continue to advance the project's environmental impact statement being drafted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Senate Republicans by and large have been the most skeptical legislators about the administration's plan for the state-led gasline.

FERC is expected to issue a record of decision on the project in March 2020.

Meyer said May 10 — before the final operating budget was passed — that the corporation would soon initiate work drafting contracts for engineering, procurement and construction, or EPC, management firms to finish designing and build the project.

The different aspects of the complex project — a North Slope gas treatment plant, 807 miles of buried, 42-inch pipeline, a very large LNG plant and marine terminal — will likely require multiple firms with varying areas of expertise to complete, according to Meyer.

He has said AGDC has been in discussions with EPC firms for some time.

Additionally, AGDC will soon be getting ready for an equity offering, Meyer said May 10.

Giessel said she wouldn't expect the corporation to secure EPC firms with its remaining funding, adding that third-party receipt authority shouldn't be confused with financing for the corporation.

"AGDC has plenty of revenue to continue on with the FERC process," she said. "That's what they need to focus on."

With AGDC seeking non-recourse debt and equity to finance the vast majority of Alaska LNG from banks and third-party investors, many legislators are concerned granting the corporation the ability to accept those funds would be ceding most of lawmakers' oversight of the project.

Giessel said AGDC leaders have yet to answer questions regarding how much equity ownership the state will have to give up and for how substantial an investment return among others.

"These questions have to be answered before the Legislature gives up its appropriation authority on this project," she said.

The Legislature could revisit funding the project when it convenes next January if AGDC can provide more details on it, Giessel suggested.

AGDC spokesman Jesse Carlstrom wrote that as corporation officials work with Goldman Sachs and Bank of China to arrange third party funding they will continue to keep legislators informed on all aspects of the project.

"AGDC understands Alaska's lawmakers are committed to making decisions that are in the best interest of all Alaskans," Carlstrom said via email. "Throughout the remainder of 2018 and into 2019, AGDC will continue to present the Legislature with the information lawmakers need to make appropriate decisions for the responsible development of Alaska's vast amounts of proven, stranded, North Slope natural gas."

The House originally limited the receipt authority to $1 billion per year rather than the open-ended language in Walker's budget. However, some in the Legislature were still concerned the administration could use a procedural maneuver to request unlimited receipt authority through the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee outside of the regular session — a request the Legislature would have no authority to deny.

Giessel also noted the Legislature did approve AGDC to use $12 million previously committed to the smaller, in-state Alaska Standalone Pipeline, or ASAP, project for the larger Alaska LNG export plan as the corporation had previously requested.

House Resources co-chair Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said he shares AGDC's concerns about the appearance of the Legislature's hesitancy to support the project.

"Markets and investors may be squeamish that we wont even agree to accept someone else's money," Josephson said. "I've been told it puts AGDC in a light they don't want to be in."

He said Walker could call a special session to resolve the matter if he feels it warrants such an action, but Walker said after the session ended May 13 he had no intention to do so for any reason.

Josephson noted further that if the Legislature would have acted before this year to implement a fiscal plan and drastically reduce the multibillion-dollar budget deficits it covered with the state's savings for four years, lawmakers would have more flexibility to control the project.

"With $10 billion in savings we could've done it ourselves," Josephson added.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Draft complaint prompts mediation in Rogoff bankruptcy

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 07:09

The long-running bankruptcy case filed by former Alaska Dispatch News owner Alice Rogoff might be near an end after the public trustee found grounds for an official complaint of wrongdoing against her and all parties agreed to go into a mediation set for June 4 in Anchorage.

The purpose of the settlement conference is to find a resolution of the case without further litigation "by providing a forum for private and informal discussions," according to a filing May 10 issued out of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

It's a process that promises Rogoff little public exposure in a look at her financials or how much income she received that was not parceled in with the newspaper's holdings.

"Prior to the settlement conference, each party is to e-mail their confidential statement of position," wrote Judge Frederick Corbit, of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Washington. Afterwards, all the documents will be destroyed, he wrote.

The case remains in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Alaska Division, explained Christine Tobin-Presser, an attorney in the Seattle law firm of Bush Kornfeld LLP, who represents the public trustee. The mediator who agreed to oversee the process just happens to be out of Spokane, the Eastern Washington District of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, she said.

These moves indicate a settlement may be near. Rogoff originally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Aug. 12 before selling the Alaska Dispatch News to the Binkley Co. for $1 million on Sept. 11, 2017, after she purchased it in 2014 for $34 million from McClatchy Co. Under Binkley ownership, the historic daily newspaper was then changed back to the Anchorage Daily News. (The Binkley Co. has since acquired the Alaska Journal of Commerce in a deal that closed Feb. 23).

The bankruptcy was converted to Chapter 7 liquidation later in September to pursue assets that could be used to pay those still owed money. As of the deadline on March 19, a total of 29 companies or individuals submitted claims for bills they say are owed them, a collective total of just less than $9 million.

Rogoff listed herself as a creditor for up to $23 million owed.

Nacole Jipping, a court-appointed public trustee, examined Rogoff's finances to see how her financial decisions may have contributed to the bankruptcy. Jipping's role is to recover any monies possible to repay the debts left behind, and if she found fault with Rogoff's handling of finances that contribute to bankruptcy, her role calls for her to file that finding with the court.

Just prior to the mediation agreement, in late April, Jipping provided Rogoff with a draft complaint "setting forth a variety of asserted causes of action against the Rogoff entities and Northrim Bank."

Whatever Jipping found as error on Rogoff's part in her financial dealings isn't publicly available because it was filed confidentially in court documents, Tobin-Presser wrote in an email response to a Journal question.

Further, the complaint is still in draft form.

"We have not filed the complaint. It is not public at this time," Tobin-Presser wrote in an email.

As for the upcoming June 4 settlement conference, all communications there also are confidential, Corbit wrote in his order. Even paperwork submitted for the settlement conference will "be maintained in Judge Corbit's chambers and will be destroyed after the conference."

Confidentially claims on Rogoff's part have played a big part in the plodding progress thus far in the case.

Rogoff has maintained that her private finances are off-limits to this court examination in the manner that legally protects owners of limited liability corporations. How much she received through a 2005 separation and later, a 2017 divorce settlement with her former billionaire husband David Rubenstein is not "the court's business," her attorney James Lister has argued.

In March, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Alaska Division Judge Gary Spraker ruled that Rogoff's financial documents at Northrim Bank were not off limits. The bottom line of Spraker's March 21 decision is that Rogoff's finances are not confidential as it relates to the $13 million loan from Northrim Bank used to purchase the Anchorage Daily News from McClatchy Co.

In mid-April, Lister submitted an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals bankruptcy section asking the court to decide on whether Spraker erred in his ruling.

The 9th Circuit hasn't yet agreed whether to hear the appeal, Lister said.

"All I can say is that all the parties agreed to mediation but there is no certainty that what would happen would result in settlement," Lister said in a phone call with the Journal. "In the stipulation agreement, we asked to be issued a mediator to see if he can mediate the dispute. In the request for mediation, she (Jipping) has claims against Rogoff."

The appeals question remains separate and could become moot, depending on the outcome of mediation, Tobin-Presser said.

If the complaint against Rogoff is finalized, it would be available for public view, the attorneys said.

Naomi Klouda can be reached at naomi.klouda@alaskajournal.com.

Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons and opossum in class

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 06:58

OCALA, Florida — School Superintendent Heidi Maier is recommending that the Forest High School agri-science teacher who enlisted students to help him drown two nuisance raccoons and an opossum be fired.

"Marion County Public Schools is appalled" by teacher Dewie Brewton's actions, the school district said in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon. "Marion County's education standards — in fact, Florida's education standards — do not include activities for the destruction of live animals, nuisance or not. While law enforcement determines whether this teacher's actions were legal or not, his actions before students are entirely unacceptable and cause us great concern."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating. So is the Florida Department of Health.

"Regardless of the investigative outcomes, Superintendent Dr. Heidi Maier is recommending termination," the district statement says. The School Board will have the final say.

Brewton, who has been the school's FFA leader since 2006, was put on paid leave Tuesday. He is accused of drowning an opossum and two raccoons that were suspected of killing a chicken that his students were raising at the school.

A 14-second video, first released by WKMG-Channel 6 news in Orlando, has surfaced on web pages of many news outlets nationwide. The video shows students pouring water into large garbage cans, getting ready to kill the animals.

The raccoons, which had been caught in wire traps, were lowered into the water-filled cans.

The mother of a Forest freshman contacted authorities after her son came home Monday and told her what happened. The woman, whose name was not released, told Channel 6 that her son was upset.

"The raccoons tried to come up for air. (The teacher and students) had metal rods and they held them down with metal rods and when the raccoon would try to pop its head up they held water hoses in its face to drown it," the mother told Channel 6.

The Forest High School FFA Alumni Chapter came out in support of Brewton.

"He has always gone above and beyond his call of duty to ensure that his students had everything they needed," the chapter wrote on its Facebook page. "He has spent late nights, weekends and has provided around the clock support for his club and for his school."

The chapter calls Brewton "a man who would give everything he had to make sure that his children/students are taken care of."

The majority of comments on social media are far less positive. Dozens of comments on the Star-Banner's Facebook posting of the story state that Brewton was cruel.

"Isn't there enough violence in schools?" local resident Karen Black asked in a Facebook post, which the Star-Banner is quoting with her permission. "Now we're going to torture animals? How does that teach kids to treat humans with respect? Sickening."

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website, "live-captured nuisance wildlife must be released legally or euthanized humanely within 24 hours of capture or trap inspection."

For guidance on legal release, the website says:

"Native nuisance wildlife may be released on the property of the landowner where captured provided the release site and capture site are located on one contiguous piece of property. Native nuisance wildlife may be released off the capture site if the release site is a minimum of 40 contiguous acres, located in the same county as the capture site, and the person releasing the nuisance wildlife has in their possession written permission from the landowner of the release site allowing release on their property. Nuisance wildlife may not be released on federal, state, county, local or private lands without written permission of the landowner."

For guidance on allowable euthanasia, the agency links to the Report of the American Veterinary Medical Association Panel on Euthanasia. That document includes drowning on its list of unacceptable primary methods of euthanasia.

Special counsel Mueller’s investigation enters Year 2: What comes next - and how it could end

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 06:50

WASHINGTON - Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election turns a year old on Thursday. In 365 days, Mueller's team has charged 19 people, as well as three companies, and secured five guilty pleas. He is showing no signs of slowing down.

The milestone might not mean much to Mueller, but it has important public significance. History has shown that the public does not have unlimited patience with independent or special counsels, and Mueller faces a particular challenge maintaining the confidence of the citizenry, given the regular attacks he faces from President Donald Trump, who has decried the probe as a "witch hunt."

Here is a status check of Mueller's probe at the one year mark, and a look at what could happen next.

--Mueller was tasked with finding out if the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin. What has he found so far?

Mueller still hasn't answered the biggest question: Did the Trump campaign coordinate with Russia to influence the 2016 election? But he has secured guilty pleas from three former Trump campaign or administration officials: national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. All are now cooperating with Mueller's probe and presumably could tell him about coordination, if there was any. In their pleas, they have often admitted to being deceitful about contacts with Russians or those acting for Russian interests. Flynn, for example, admitted lying about his interactions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Papadopoulos conceded he made a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with foreigners claiming to have high-level Russian connections.

[A secret mission, a code name and anxiety: Inside the early days of the FBI’s Trump investigation]

Mueller has also indicted 13 people and three companies who were part of a Russian Internet troll operation that used online propaganda to push voters toward Trump. The Russians made contact with Trump campaign staffers in Florida, but they used fake identities. Mueller did not allege that Trump staffers were witting participants in the scheme.

--Isn't Mueller investigating a lot more than that?

Mueller's main mandate was to investigate possible coordination, but his probe has expanded. He charged Gates and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, for example, with crimes related to their business dealings and work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine long before the Trump campaign. He is looking, or has looked, at the business dealings of Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, though that case now seems largely centered in the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.

Mueller is also exploring whether the president obstructed justice on a number of fronts, especially in allegedly asking FBI Director James Comey to let go of the Flynn investigation; firing Comey shortly thereafter; and toying with firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his recusal from the Russia case. After Sessions recused himself from the case, his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, took over and appointed Mueller.

--Why is this taking so long?

Trump and his allies have long called for an end to the probe, and they were joined in recent weeks by Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence, who both said publicly they hoped the probe would conclude. But legal analysts say, compared with other special and independent counsel probes, Mueller is moving remarkably fast.

By comparison, it took nearly a year and a half for the independent counsel to bring charges in what is now known as the Whitewater scandal - which began by exploring Bill and Hillary Clinton's involvement in a suspicious real estate venture - against Arkansas' governor and two others. That case stretched on for nearly eight years, drawing in multiple independent counsels and exploring a wide range of allegations about the Clintons. They were never charged, and Bill Clinton was impeached, but not convicted and removed, for obstructing justice.

"Judged by historical standards, I think that the special counsel has amassed a remarkable record of achievement in the first year of his tenure," said David Kris, a former assistant attorney general for national security who now runs the Culper Partners consulting firm. "It's fast and it's productive, and there's obviously more to come."

--Are Trump's attacks working?

The president has attacked the special counsel team relentlessly - decrying it as a witch hunt, claiming its members are biased against him, and asserting that he did not collude with Russia. By and large, the public still supports the probe, but legal analysts say that will not last forever. Indeed, a Monmouth University poll found that the percentage of Americans who say the probe should continue has shrunk over time, though a majority still want Mueller to keep working.

Robert Ray, who served as independent counsel toward the end of the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton presidency, said that in his experience, an independent counsel has only about 18 to 24 months "with the benefit of public sentiment to appropriately conclude the investigation." But others say while Mueller might want to move quickly, he won't let polling dictate his actions.

"My answer to that is the special counsel does not stand for election," said Jacob Frenkel, who worked in the independent counsel's office in the late 1990s. "Polling and popularity never are a driving force behind a properly conducted special investigation."

--Will Trump sit for an interview?

This remains the big unanswered question. The special counsel recently gave Trump's lawyers the topic areas investigators want to broach with Trump, in hopes of convincing him to sit down and answer questions. Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, has suggested an interview is possible, but he has also said it was possible that Mueller would have to try to subpoena the president.

Ray said that investigators seeking an interview with Trump could be a sign their investigation is coming to a head - at least regarding Trump's possible role in coordinating with Russia. And he said that, if he were Trump's lawyer, he might advise the president to meet with Mueller under tightly controlled conditions, if only to expedite the probe's conclusion.

"I think he understands that in order to make Bob Mueller go away, it's going to have to happen," Ray said. "Once that's accomplished, the president can really ratchet up the pressure to bring this thing to closure. Without that, it's really difficult to force the conclusion of the investigation."

--What will happen as the election approaches?

The Justice Department has a longstanding tradition of not taking overt steps in an investigation close to an election that might affect the outcome of that election. Because of that, those inside and outside the Justice Department expect Mueller's probe might slow, or at least make fewer public waves, as November approaches.

There will be some processes that Mueller's team can't avoid. Manafort, for example, is scheduled to go on trial in July and again in September. But legal analysts say the Justice Department typically observes the tradition religiously - and perhaps will do so even more after the criticism Comey faced last October when he revealed to Congress that the FBI was again investigating Hillary Clinton over her email practices.

Barak Cohen, a former Justice Department public integrity prosecutor now in private practice at Perkins Coie, said he even recalled a case in which investigators prematurely ended a wiretap in a case involving state legislators - potentially leaving evidence on the table - so they could bring charges well before an election.

"We were very reluctant to take any overt action shortly before an election that might affect the election," Cohen said.

--What is next, and how does this end?--What is next, and how does this end?

Many in Washington ultimately expect Mueller to produce a report memorializing what he has found, in addition to laying out much of his work through criminal charges. Trump's fiercest critics hope Mueller's work ultimately leads to impeachment.

Legal analysts say, though, that Mueller is likely unconcerned with accomplishing a particular result - such as charging the president, or forcing his impeachment. Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director who worked under Mueller at the FBI, said Mueller's main aim was always to be thorough, and "if at the end of that investigation he's able to say, we found no evidence of collusion, kind of the core mission, I think Mueller would see it as, 'we've accomplished our mission.' "

That result might leave many disappointed, and Trump would almost certainly use it to claim he was right all along about the probe being a "witch hunt." Analysts say, though, that while Mueller is sensitive to public perception, it's almost impossible it would govern his conclusion. Because no matter what he decides, many people will be upset.

"Look, I think that whenever you conclude an investigation, you're not going to keep everybody happy with the result," Ray said. "No matter what you do, there are gonna be people on both sides who are going to be unhappy with whatever conclusion you come to."

Lawmakers approve legislation, funding to test backlog of rape kits - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Thu, 2018-05-17 06:40

Juneau Empire

Lawmakers approve legislation, funding to test backlog of rape kits
Juneau Empire
An effort to solve a backlog of untested evidence from rape cases across Alaska received a major boost from the Alaska Legislature this week, but public officials caution that the backlog will still take time to resolve. Before legislators adjourned ...

Glacier Valley music teacher wins Fulbright grant to travel to Scotland

Juneau Hot Topics - Thu, 2018-05-17 06:37
“I read in the newspaper that the Fulbright scholars at UAS (University of Alaska Southeast) had been announced and I thought maybe I had been ...

‘Ballistic blocks’ shoot from Hawaii volcano, may mark start of violent eruptions

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 06:24

VOLCANO, Hawaii – "Ballistic blocks" the size of microwave ovens shot from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano Wednesday in what may be the start of explosive eruptions that could spew huge ash plumes and hurl smaller rocks for miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Such eruptions, last seen nearly a century ago, have been a looming threat since Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, erupted nearly two weeks ago.

Explosions in Kilauea's crater sparked an aviation red alert due to risks the ash plume could blow into aircraft routes and damage jet engines.

More explosions are expected and may be more powerful, the USGS warned. These steam-driven blasts could send a 20,000-foot ash plume out of the crater, hurling 10- to 12-ton boulders up to half a mile and scattering pebble-sized rocks over 12 miles, the USGS has said.

This type of eruption has the potential to carpet the Big Island in much thicker ash than current dustings and possibly spread the powder and volcanic smog across the Hawaiian islands and farther afield if it enters the stratosphere.

"This morning dense ballistic blocks up to 2 feet across were found in the parking lot a few hundred yards from Halemaumau (Kilauea's crater)," the USGS said in a statement. "These reflect the most energetic explosions yet observed and could reflect the onset of steam-driven explosive activity.

A 4.2 magnitude earthquake at the volcano at 8.36 a.m. local time Wednesday prompted authorities to issue an alert reassuring rattled Big Island residents that there was no risk of a tsunami from the volcanic activity.

In the community of Volcano, just north of Kilauea's crater, business was way down and people were on edge.

In just a few hours residents had been shaken by an earthquake, dusted with ash and for the first time since the start of the eruption smelled the rotten-egg stench of toxic sulfur-dioxide gas.

"They're just in disarray and frantic," Adele Tripp, an employee at the Kilauea General Store, said of other residents. She said she had lived in Volcano for 30 years and was not personally concerned as she trusted scientists to tell her when to get out.

Smog from Kilauea drifted north up the island chain as the districts of Kau, Puna, and North and South Hilo were told by the National Weather Service to expect ashfall. Hawaii County Civil Defense said a dusting of ash was visible on property and advised residents to avoid exposure to the powdered rock, which can cause irritation to eyes and airways.

There was no effect on air carrier operations to Hawaii on Wednesday, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email.

Ash is a new hazard for Hawaii's Big Island, already grappling with volcanic gas and lava that has destroyed 37 homes and other structures and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 residents from a small area in the southeast Puna district.

Lava has burst from 21 giant ground cracks or fissures and torn through housing developments and farmland, threatening two highways that are exit routes for coastal areas.

Several fissures shot lava into the air on Wednesday but one flow advanced only 100 yards toward coastal Highway 137, which remains around a mile distant, County of Hawaii Civil Defense said in a statement.

No serious injuries or deaths have been reported from the eruption.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Hay)

APD: 2 wounded in downtown shooting, suspect in custody

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-05-17 05:25

Two people were shot, one suffering life-threatening injuries, in a downtown Anchorage confrontation late Wednesday that "may be drug-related," police said.

Police arrived at the scene of the shooting in the 600 block of East Fifth Avenue, near a Wells Fargo bank branch, around 8:45 p.m. and found a man and woman wounded and lying on the pavement, according to an Anchorage Police Department statement.

"Officers set up a perimeter, located the suspect, and took the suspect into custody to be questioned by detectives. No additional suspects outstanding at this time," the police statement said.

Medics took the wounded man to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. The woman was also treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

The suspect and victims were acquaintances, and "officers have cause to believe that this incident may be drug related," the statement said.

Police provided no further details on the investigation.

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