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Tumult engulfs open Senate seat as governor's second choice withdraws his name

Juneau Hot Topics - Thu, 2018-02-15 16:07
Tom Braund is seen in a 2010 Facebook photo. Braund was named by Gov. Bill Walker late Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 to an Alaska Senate seat vacated by Mike Dunleavy. Less than 18 hours later, Braund withdrew his name from consideration. (Screen capture). Tom Braund is seen in a 2011 ...

City considering having YMCA run <b>Juneau&#39;s</b> pools

Juneau Hot Topics - Thu, 2018-02-15 16:07
Swim instructor Patty Morgan leads Glacier Valley Elementary School students in teacher Elizabeth Kent's fourth and fifth grade class through swimming instruction at the Dimond Park Aquatic Center last week. The students are from left: Corinne Rather, CJ Terrill, Gracie Brooks and Jordan Casulcan.

Pentagon targets ‘non-deployable’ troops for removal in new effort

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 14:42

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has launched a new effort to remove U.S. troops from the ranks who are considered unable to deploy, a sensitive decision that could push thousands of people out of the military.

The decision is in keeping with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' guidance to put the readiness of the military to fight first, according to a memo released Thursday by the Pentagon. With few exceptions, service members who are considered unable to deploy for 12 months will be processed for "administrative separation," said the memo, signed by Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Service members can be considered unable to deploy for a variety of reasons, including physical injuries, mental-health concerns, legal action and poor physical fitness. Wilkie, speaking before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel and readiness, said Wednesday that about 13 to 14 percent of the military – an estimated 286,000 troops – are presently considered unable to deploy.

"The situation we face today is really unlike anything we have faced, certainly in the post-World War II era," he said.

[Missile defense gets major boost in funding bill, with big Alaska impact]

A fraction of the full population of non-deployable service members ultimately will probably be targeted for separation, but the new rules, first reported by Military Times, will force others to lose weight, seek required physical exams and obtain approval from their doctors to return to deployable status.

Exceptions to the new rules will be granted to women who are pregnant or recently had a child, the memo said. Service secretaries also can seek waivers to keep individuals who they deem worthy, including troops wounded or injured in military operations.

"Our wounded, ill, and injured service members remain a top priority and will continue to be given the best medical care available," said Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

The decision was announced about a week before Mattis is expected to make his recommendations to the White House on how the military should handle transgender military service. Transgender service members have been allowed to serve openly in the military since the Obama administration allowed it in 2016, but President Donald Trump has indicated that he is against it.

Mattis formed a panel to review the issue last fall, and was directed by the White House to issue his recommendations to the president this month.

Gleason said the new policy on non-deployable service members applies equally to transgender troops, meaning that even if one pursued gender reassignment surgery, they must be ready to deploy within a year.

Wilkie said in the memo that the new guidelines were released on an interim basis, with a permanent policy to be released later. The military services have until Oct. 1 to begin removing service members, but they can start doing so immediately, the memo said.

Senior military leaders have expressed concern about the number of non-deployable service members for years. A 2011 study by several colonels at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, found that the service had seen a steady rise in non-deployable soldiers in the past few years.

"The non-deployable population – especially permanently non-deployable soldiers – places a drag on the manning system," the study said. "Because these soldiers are unable to deploy to operational assignments in theater, units require additional manpower to offset non-deployable soldiers to achieve combat effectiveness."

Hoonah man arraigned for selling thousands of opioid pain pills - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Thu, 2018-02-15 14:35

Hoonah man arraigned for selling thousands of opioid pain pills
Juneau Empire
According to a release from the State of Alaska Department of Law, charging documents in the case allege that Cakmis trafficked thousands of pills of a pain medication called Tramadol throughout Alaska and the United States. Tramadol is newly ...

Ski resorts are going into the energy business

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 14:32

A lot of businesses have to rely on a supplier. But if you're in the ski resort business, there's probably no supplier more important than your energy supplier. The problem is that energy is expensive – and some of it is not so good for the environment. That's why more and more ski resort businesses are getting into the energy business. Not only is that good for their carbon footprint – it's also good for the bottom line.

It takes a lot of power to operate a resort, what with lifts to run, snow to make and vehicles to fuel. Which is why ski resorts are oftentimes the largest customers for their local utility providers, particularly during the winter months. That buying power has created opportunities.

For example, the Aspen Skiing Co. in Colorado generates 24 million kilowatt hours of energy a year – enough to power their mountains and 2,400 homes – and now they're doing much of it themselves through utilities that they own.

Smaller resorts, like the Mount Abram Ski Area in Maine, are collecting energy through hundreds of solar panels. Colorado's Vail Resorts says they'll be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and another resort – Squaw Valley in Olympic Valley, California – plans to be 100 percent powered by reusable energy by the end of the year. These resorts are dramatically cutting their energy costs by either using their own collected power or selling it back to their utility companies.

"If they want to be able to survive as a ski resort, maintain the levels of snow that are critical, we have to get off of fossil fuels," Marta Stoepker, who works on the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign said in this Powder Magazine article. "They [ski resorts] have a vested interest in this."

Power storage is also in big demand. Batteries are handy for resorts when there isn't enough room (or money) to build their own grids. Some of these companies – such as Squaw Valley – use batteries to back up the collection of their solar power and which then helps them to better counteract the surges and volatility of power demand caused by the stopping and starting chairlifts and snow making machines.

"This is very real," Andy Wirth, Squaw Valley's chief executive said in the Powder Magazine report. "This is also very affordable. So why wouldn't we take advantage of that?"

Hoonah man arraigned for selling thousands of opioid pain pills

Juneau Hot Topics - Thu, 2018-02-15 14:26
A Hoonah man is facing charges of trafficking thousands of opioid pain pills throughout Alaska and beyond. Nickolas Cakmis, 39, was arraigned in Anchorage on Wednesday after a joint investigation by the United States Postal Inspector, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of ...

Jalapeno popper macaroni and cheese: A childhood favorite grows up

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 14:14

Our picky-eating 10-year-old daughter's favorite food is macaroni and cheese. Except there's one critical caveat. It must come from a blue box. A blue box with a packet of cheese powder. You know the ones. If I offer her the organic version she can tell the difference immediately and pushes it away. If I make a batch of macaroni and cheese from scratch, with cheese that doesn't come in powder form, she turns her nose up at it and won't touch it, no matter how creamy and delicious it is. Despite all of my attempts to convert her, I have lost the macaroni and cheese battle. For now. I still hold out hope that one day when she is grown she might appreciate the sheer ecstasy that is a bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese.

In my cookbook, which hits the shelves on Tuesday, I share about growing up with food insecurity and the ways in which foods like macaroni and cheese from a blue box kept me going. I talk about my need to nourish people, most especially my children. And I discuss the bittersweet irony of my daughter choosing blue boxes of macaroni and cheese over anything her cookbook author mom might make for her.

This recipe for jalapeño popper macaroni and cheese is in the book, too. It's a grown-up version of macaroni and cheese — comfort food with a kick, as I like to say — for those in the house who actually appreciate a good macaroni and cheese made from scratch. I'm hopeful many of my readers will enjoy it, too.

P.S. Come see me at the Bear Tooth in Anchorage on Monday, Feb. 26, from 4:30-6:30 p.m., where I will be signing books. There will be copies of "The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook" available at the event.

Jalapeno popper macaroni and cheese

From "The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook"

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups whole milk, divided

3 cups elbow macaroni

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons butter

1 large jalapeño, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

3 ounces cream cheese

1/4 cup panko crumbs, toasted

In a Dutch oven or large pot over high heat, stir together the water, 1 cup of the milk, the pasta and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring often to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, continuing to stir often, for 9 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook the jalapeño pepper for 2 minutes, or until fragrant and tender. Turn off the heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup milk with the cornstarch and garlic powder. Add to the pasta mixture, stirring until it begins to thicken. Add the cheddar and cream cheese and mix until creamy and smooth. If the mixture is too thick, gradually add more water to make it creamier. Add the jalapeño and butter and toss to combine. Season with more salt as needed. Sprinkle the top of the macaroni with the toasted panko and serve promptly while hot.

Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email maya@alaskafromscratch.com and your inquiry may appear in a future column.

Alaska Senate votes to regulate out-of-state prescription drug wholesalers - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Thu, 2018-02-15 14:02

Juneau Empire

Alaska Senate votes to regulate out-of-state prescription drug wholesalers
Juneau Empire
The House voted 38-0 on Wednesday to formally change the name of the Alaska Safe Children's Act to Bree's Law. House Bill 214 now goes to the Senate for consideration. The Safe Children's Act was inspired by the death of Bree Moore, a 20-year-old woman ...

Alaska Senate votes to regulate out-of-state prescription drug wholesalers

Juneau Hot Topics - Thu, 2018-02-15 13:52
The Alaska Senate has approved a new bill that allows the Alaska Board of Pharmacy to regulate wholesale prescription drug distributors, even if they are located outside of the state. Senate Bill 37 passed the Senate in an 18-0 vote Wednesday and now advances to the House for consideration.

Republican Senate appointee who compared women to dogs and suggested execution of abortion providers withdraws from consideration

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 13:09
(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = 'https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.12'; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));Posted by Tom Braund on Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Alaska Gov. Walker's second choice to fill a vacant Mat-Su state Senate seat, Tom Braund, has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Braund announced his withdrawal in a letter to Walker at midday Thursday.

The Alaska Republican Party said it was replacing its suggestion of Braund with a Palmer woman, Vicki Wallner.

Wallner says she's a retired small-business owner. She's also the founder of a Facebook group called Stop Valley Thieves and a strident critic of Senate Bill 91, a 2016 criminal justice overhaul bill that Walker signed into law.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Original story:

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has appointed a man to the state Senate who, on his Facebook page, has compared women to dogs, accused Sen. Lisa Murkowski of treason and suggested that medical workers who perform abortions should be "executed with scissors cutting their hearts out."

Walker announced late Wednesday that he'd chosen Tom Braund of Sutton to fill the state Senate seat left vacant by Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy, who resigned last month to run for governor.

Braund, a 71-year-old Republican who says he's worked as a police officer and in the Marine Corps, was one of three candidates for the seat recommended by Republicans from Dunleavy's Mat-Su district.

Senate Republicans, who must vote to confirm Walker's appointment, rejected the governor's first choice: Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Randall Kowalke, another Republican who wasn't on the list of suggested candidates.

Walker's spokesman, Austin Baird, wouldn't endorse Braund as qualified for the job. The governor, in a prepared statement, didn't either, saying he still thought Kowalke was "the best candidate" for the seat.

"But I now believe Senate Republicans will continue to reject anyone I appoint, no matter how qualified, unless that person's name is on the list provided to me by the Republican Party," said Walker, an independent. "As such, I have appointed Thomas Braund to fill the vacancy."

Braund couldn't immediately be reached by phone.

But in a series of Facebook messages Thursday morning, he said he was busy trying to resolve a "critical issue." When a Daily News reporter referenced questions and concerns about some of his Facebook posts, Braund responded that people's concerns were "good."

"That means I scare them," he wrote. "Some of them need to be scared; they're on the wrong side."

He added: "Social media is just that, social. How much of it is true, how much is humor, how much is spin."

A spokesman for Senate Republicans, Daniel McDonald, said in a prepared statement that the group would meet to consider Braund's appointment "soon."

"Until they do, we have no comment on the candidate," McDonald said.

Within minutes of his appointment Wednesday, some of Braund's posts began circulating on social media and within the state's political circles.

Among them was one from December with the heading "Theory of why some men have dogs and not wives." Below was a list of 14 points including one that said "if a dog smells another dog on you, they don't get mad. They just think it's interesting."

The post ended: "To test this theory: Lock your wife and your dog in the garage for an hour. Then open it and see who's happy to see you!"

A separate 2017 post came in response to a campaign to defund the reproductive health organization Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions. Braund, in his reply, wrote: "Got to get a godly Legislature."

"If I had the reins, this would be murder and the abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out. Oh, I forgot, they don't have hearts," he wrote.

And in 2016, Braund posted a link to a conservative news website's story about legislation in Congress to ease restrictions on abortion, attacking Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the process.

"Sen. Murkowski, violating your oath of office is treason," Braund wrote.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = 'https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.12'; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

MY position on Life and Abortion. Clear it up any?

Posted by Tom Braund on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Braund also posted a "position statement" on abortion last month in which he said life begins at conception.

"How do I know? I remember being in the womb and can testify that I could think, feel, see and hear," he wrote.

By picking Braund, Walker passed over a sitting GOP state representative, George Rauscher of Sutton, who was also on the local Republicans' list of suggested candidates.

Braund and the third candidate on the list, teacher Todd Smoldon, lean more toward Republicans' Tea Party faction and away from Walker's centrist politics.

But Baird, Walker's spokesman, said Rauscher "disqualified himself" when a sign appeared on his Capitol office door that referenced a former Democratic legislator alleged to have slapped a Juneau woman in his hotel room.

Afterward, the former Democratic legislator, Zach Fansler of Bethel, sent the woman a text message that said he was sorry for venturing into "kink BDSM" — a reference to sexual practices involving bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism.

Afterward, a sign was posted on Rauscher's door that said: "BDSM FREE ZONE."

"Bottom line, Rep. Rauscher disqualified himself from being appointed to anything by Gov. Walker when he made light of a violent attack of a woman by a former state lawmaker," Baird said in a phone interview. "More than ever, the state Capitol needs people who will maintain a level of political decorum rather than trying to score political points."

Rauscher, in a phone interview, said the poster was "a statement that hiding behind BDSM as a reason for hitting a woman is wrong and has no place here amongst us."

If Walker took issue with the sign, Rauscher added, "that probably should have been addressed in a conversation."

"I didn't realize it was a joke, but I think everything that you say can be construed in a different way," Rauscher said. "It was a Sunday afternoon. It was up there for 40 minutes."

Asked whether Walker believes that Braund is qualified to serve in the Legislature, Baird responded with a prepared statement that challenged Senate Republicans to make that decision.

"Tom Braund is a candidate that fits the criteria Senate Republicans established when they rejected Randall Kowalke," Baird wrote. "They will have final say on whether or not Mr. Braund is qualified."

&#39;Chionomisia&#39; for the win

Juneau Hot Topics - Thu, 2018-02-15 12:56
“Hi Tara, I'm an assistant editor at Alaska Magazine and I'm reaching out because I read your piece from earlier this year in the [Juneau] Empire about snow being a floathouse's kryptonite. Our March issue is themed 'snow' and I thought it'd be cool to write a little piece for the front of Alaska Magazine ...

Immigration bills fail in the Senate, casting doubt on fate of ‘dreamers’

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 12:39

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate failed to advance any legislation to protect "Dreamer" immigrants on Thursday, falling short of the 60 votes needed to move forward on four proposals including one backed by President Donald Trump and two bipartisan measures.

The series of votes came after Trump slammed the leading bipartisan proposal as "a total catastrophe," and the White House threatened to veto the bill, which had been considered the most likely to get through a deeply divided Senate.

The outcome concluded a week of Senate consideration on immigration and left in limbo the future status of 1.8 million young adults brought to the United States illegally as children. They had been protected from deportation under an Obama-era program that Trump has ordered to end by March 5.

Trump has said any immigration bill to protect Dreamers should also include funds to build a border wall with Mexico, end the visa lottery program and impose curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants.

He had urged support for a measure by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, but that bill gained only 39 votes in support. A narrow bill focusing just on Dreamers and border security, by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, failed on a 52-47 vote.

The leading bipartisan measure, crafted by a group led by Republican Senator Susan Collins, would have protected the Dreamers and also included a $25 billion fund to strengthen border security and possibly even build segments of Trump's long-promised border wall with Mexico.

But the White House had criticized the bill, saying it would weaken enforcement of current law and produce a flood of illegal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also had blasted it.

"This amendment would drastically change our national immigration policy for the worse by weakening border security and undercutting existing immigration law," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The bipartisan bill failed on a 54-45 vote.

A fourth measure, focused on punishing "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts, also fell short of 60 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had set a deadline for the Senate to pass an immigration measure by the end of this week. In light of the failure, some immigration advocates have considered trying to push a "Band-Aid" approach providing temporary protections for Dreamers.

Although the protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are due to start expiring on March 5, federal judges have blocked that from taking effect amid ongoing litigation.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Katanga Johnson and Makini Brice)

‘He died a hero’: Beloved football coach among 17 dead in Florida school shooting

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 12:20

It is with Great sadness that our Football Family has learned about the death of Aaron Feis. He was our Assistant Football Coach and security guard. He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot. He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories pic.twitter.com/O181FvuHl3

— MS Douglas Football (@MSDEagles) February 15, 2018

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach and security guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was among the 17 people shot and killed Wednesday at the Parkland high school.

According to Douglas football coach Willis May, Feis' family was notified around midnight Wednesday or very early Thursday morning. In a news conference late Wednesday night, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel referenced a football coach dying, but did not give a name.

Social media accounts throughout the day called Feis a hero, saying he was shot while helping a student. May said he heard directly from a student that Feis jumped between her and the shooter, to push her out through a door and out of the line of fire.

"It is with Great sadness that our Football Family has learned about the death of Aaron Feis," the Douglas football team's Twitter account posted early Thursday morning. "He was our Assistant Football Coach and security guard. He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot. He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories."

Feis, in his capacity as a school security guard, responded to the original call on the school's security radio walkie-talkies. Someone asked on the radio if the loud sounds heard were firecrackers, according to May, who also carries a radio.

This, ladies and gentlemen, if the face of a hero. Coach Aaron Feis was injured protecting a student in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and, at last report, is in critical condition. He is a friend to all students that know him. He was always so nice to me when I went to school there, and I know he is close with my brother and his friends. Please, take a moment to send healing prayers for him.

A post shared by Angelica Losada (@jelly_lo) on Feb 14, 2018 at 2:42pm PST

"I heard Aaron say, 'No, that is not firecrackers.' That's the last I heard of him," May said.

May was in his football office at the time of the shooting and went into a lockdown mode with four football players and two coaches from Nichols College, who were recruiting at the school when Mays heard "Code Red" over the intercom. He added they later saw the shooter outside the office window, trying to blend in with students evacuating.

As for Feis, May talked about a man he worked with and cared for deeply.

"Big ol' teddy bear," May said of Feis. "Hardcore — he coached hard. Real good line. He did a great job with the [offensive] line. He took pride with working with those guys. Loyalty — I trusted him. He had my back. He worked hard. Just a good man. Loved his family. Loved his brother — just an excellent family man."

Can everyone please take a second to pray for my coach today he took serval bullets covering other students at Douglas . pic.twitter.com/8AMG7t6tpH

— Charlie Rothkopf (@RothkopfCharlie) February 14, 2018

Earlier in the day, Douglas junior lineman Charlie Rothkopf tweeted a picture of Feis with the text: "Can everyone please take a second to pray for my coach today he took serval bullets covering other students at Douglas."

It was one of many social media tributes to Feis that floated around Wednesday in the aftermath of the shooting.

"He was a great guy," said sophomore Douglas lineman Gage Gaynor. "Everyone loved him. Shame he had to go like this. Always gave his all to making us better. Definitely learned a lot from him."

In addition to coaching linemen, Feis served as the school's junior varsity football coach for eight years, according to his bio on the football team's website. He also played a role in football operations and was the team's college recruiting coordinator.

He resided in Coral Springs and leaves behind a wife, Melissa, and a daughter, according to his bio.

Invasion of the Russian election bots

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 12:14

WASHINGTON — If you want to know whether Democrats will take back the House and/or Senate in November, just ask Russia.

Or rather, ask the Russian trolls who have triumphed in disseminating real "fake news" to influence U.S. elections. They credibly did so in 2016 by creating a more-favorable electoral environment for Donald Trump. And, reportedly, they're determined to make trouble again in the 2018 midterms.

In the meantime, Russian "bots" — applications that perform an automated task — were helping Trump once again by creating momentum for the Feb. 2 release of the so-called "Nunes memo," the four-page brief from the House Intelligence Committee chairman alleging surveillance abuses by FBI investigators.

To do this, Russian operatives created a #ReleaseTheMemo campaign on Twitter, which quickly went viral and created a sense of urgency and import to the committee's findings — at least those by Republican members. Trump, who has final authority over such things, refused to approve release of a Democratic rebuttal. Apparently, the latter was far more detailed than the Republican version and, according to the administration, could be harmful. Perhaps.

But, also, Trump likely wanted the Nunes memo released for its value in casting doubt on the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. And, undoubtedly, Trump and his Republican supporters want to end the investigation as soon as possible, discrediting the agency in the process. Not that the agency needed much help. With two agents exchanging romantic texts and emails that also included expressed contempt for Trump, it would be fairly easy for the predisposed to conclude that the entire investigation was contaminated.

Thus far, the memo has succeeded only in damaging trust between the FBI and Congress, possibly hindering future sharing of classified material. As Senate Intelligence Committee member Angus King, I-Maine, pointed out Tuesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," the Senate and House panels are the only watchdogs of U.S. intelligence agencies. If the FBI or the CIA refuse to share, "then nobody's watching."

The extent to which Russia's cyberantics have manipulated American thought is of no small concern or consequence. But when nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from social media, the potential reach of bad actors is incalculable. Facebook and YouTube lead the pack in sheer numbers of users, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study. Sixty-six percent of U.S. adults use Facebook, with 45 percent getting news on the site.

YouTube can boast that 58 percent of U.S. adults watch its clips, but only 18 percent rely on the video emporium for news. Relatively few adults use Twitter — just 15 percent — but nearly all who do (74 percent) get their news from the little blue bird. Although its base is far smaller than Facebook, its viral capacity is incalculable. One need only think of the global reach of the #MeToo movement that spread in a matter of virtual nanoseconds.

No one has better understood this infectious power than Trump. Crazy like a fox, he knows that he can imprint on the minds of his followers far more quickly than he could by traditional means — and without accountability. While President Obama used Twitter to fundraise and convey campaign information, Trump uses his account to advance his opinion, taunt his enemies, exact revenge and, strategically, to misinform. Sort of the way Russia does.

No wonder he admires Russia President Vladimir Putin, with whom he spoke by phone on Monday. What do you suppose they talk about? The "Russia investigation?" Hashtags for future mind-melding ops? Midterm elections?

They're just around the corner. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, testifying Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that Russia considers its efforts to disrupt the 2016 election a success and likely sees 2018 as another opportunity. While congressional leaders are hoping to pressure social media groups into becoming more responsible, the burden for fail-safing our democratic election process falls to citizens to become more discerning as news consumers.

Unfortunately, the minds of social-media users are likely becoming more, not less, malleable. Demographically, the largest increase in news users on social media has been among older, nonwhite, less-educated people, according to Pew. Except for the nonwhite part, this would seem a boon to the GOP, whose constituents, though whiter than the DNC's, tend to be older and slightly less educated than Democrats.

Trump once exclaimed, "I love the poorly educated!" Doubtless, Russia does, too.

How an awkward evening with a transgender woman opened my eyes to my own prejudice

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 12:11

I spent an awkward evening with a transgender woman last week, hoping to learn her story for a column on the Anchorage bathroom ballot measure. What I learned instead was the extent of my own prejudice.

Now I feel even more strongly about defeating Proposition 1. These folks need protection, not exclusion.

The proposition would limit use of single-sex public bathrooms and locker rooms to people with birth certificates with the matching gender, reversing part of an equal rights ordinance we have lived under since 2015.

[Anchorage 'bathroom bill' will appear on the April 2018 ballot]

Both major candidates for mayor and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce have come out against the proposition. Some other places that passed similar legislation soon repealed it, most famously North Carolina, as they faced economic calamity from business and tourism boycotts.

Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll has said the department wouldn't post officers to check IDs at bathrooms, which seems obvious.

Those are plenty of reasons to vote no. But supporters have a powerful weapon, too. They have the power of uncomfortable feelings about people we don't understand.

I get that, as much as I wish I didn't. I was raised to believe we're all equal and to treat everyone with respect. But an uncomfortable feeling is still there, as much as I fight it.

I met Andrea Redeker, 47, through the Fair Anchorage campaign, which opposes the proposition. We talked across a table at a coffee shop one evening after dinner.

But the conversation wouldn't flow.

Redeker was nervous and I wasn't doing my job as well as I normally do. I've been at this a long time and I can almost always make a connection.

She explained that being transgender is not a choice. But her story made the point better than her explanation. Redeker's life has been terribly hard.

She was a manly construction company owner, skydiver and husband until, struggling with depression, and after two suicide attempts, she gave in to a lifelong need to be a woman.

Some Proposition 1 supporters say transgender people are mentally ill, but that makes no sense. Like others who have transitioned, Redeker said she felt authentic and whole for the first time only after she had made the switch. Mental illness doesn't produce feelings of health and well-being.

She showed me a picture of herself as a burly, broadfaced man. I asked about her previous name.

"That is a question you never ask a transgender person," she said. "It is called dead-naming, and it is in horribly bad taste."

I asked what else is in bad taste.

"Sooner or later you're going to ask me what's down there," she said. "We don't talk about that, because it's nobody's business."

The coffee shop closed and the interview wasn't complete. I offered to continue at my house, but Redeker refused. I realized that her decisions are constantly conditioned by fear. She said she has been physically attacked.

[Finding room for religious rights and LGBT rights to coexist in Anchorage]

We ended up at the Spenard Roadhouse, sitting across a little two-top bar table as if we were on a date. I felt like people were looking at me. I didn't like it.

Maybe this weird feeling was the tiniest dose of the anxiety Redeker feels when she is in public.

"Sometimes I'm easily detectable, sometimes I'm not," Redeker said.

She said the longer she spends with people, the more details they notice. She can't avoid the stereotypically male mannerisms she developed over a lifetime.

"I was socialized as a man, unfortunately," she said.

I suspect our conversation stumbled partly because of my reaction to that.

I'm not aware of speaking differently to men and women, but family members have heard me and can guess the gender of a person on the phone by hearing only my side of the conversation.

I bought Redeker a Bloody Mary. I had a beer. But my unconscious brain didn't know how to click into the gender of the person I was talking to.

Redeker called me cisgender, meaning the opposite of transgender. I tried not to wince.

I didn't choose the cisgender label and I don't like it — I just want to be me. Which everyone feels, I suppose, but in the past only minorities were named by others while my majority defined "normal."

Am I normal? I have stereotypically masculine and feminine qualities that are not exactly like anyone else's. Few of us are boring enough to fit right in the middle of society's expectations. Normality, if it exists, must be a range that encompasses a variety of people on a continuum of differences.

But society constantly moves that range as we learn more about different kinds of people — as more human beings are included.

In 1976, the first time Anchorage fought over a gay rights ordinance (as the issue was then called), opponents expressed open disgust, hounding gays and lesbians from the community. Forty years later, anyone saying those same things would probably be labeled a bigot and excluded from the mainstream.

A group of African-American pastors recently came out in favor of Proposition 1, taking offense at the comparison of the 1960s civil rights movement to today's movement for transgender rights. But maybe the racist whites of the past felt as uncomfortable around blacks as some do now around people such as Redeker.

All she wants is to go to the bathroom.

"There's a lot of times when trans people will not use the bathroom because they're fearful of what will happen to them," Redeker said. "I'm not free to move around Anchorage, because I'm tethered to bathrooms. … I'm constantly in fear that somebody is going to react strongly to seeing me."

The bathroom bill is unenforceable, but the symbolism is powerful. It tests the decency and fairness of those of us who still feel prejudice. Are we real in holding our American principles, or is equality only for those with whom we are comfortable and familiar?

I hope to change as I get to know more transgender people. But my vote won't depend on that.

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

How to watch Alaskans compete live at the Olympics

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 11:58

Here's how you can watch live coverage of the Alaskans at the Winter Olympics. Alaska is 18 hours behind South Korea, so any event that begins before 6 p.m. in South Korea happens on the preceding day in Alaska.

All times are Alaska times. Some events will also be re-aired at other times; check nbcolympics.com for all listings.

Keegan Messing

Friday, Feb. 16 — Singles figure skating: Men's singles long program, 4 p.m. (NBC)

Ryan Stassel

Saturday, Feb. 10 — Men's slopestyle qualifying, 5:15 a.m. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Feb. 10 — Men's slopestyle qualifying, 11 a.m. (NBC)

Saturday, Feb. 10 — Men's slopestyle final, 4 p.m. (NBCSN)

– Coverage: Mistakes cost Anchorage's Ryan Stassel a spot in the slopestyle finals

Tuesday, Feb. 20 — Men's big air qualifying, 4 p.m. (NBC)

Friday, Feb. 23 — Men's big air final, 4 p.m. (NBC)

Rosie Mancari

Thursday, Feb. 15 — Women's snowboardcross, 4 p.m. (NBC)

– Coverage: Anchorage snowboarder Rosie Mancari's Olympics end with training accident

Cross country skiing

Eleven Alaskans plus one UAA skier will compete in cross country. The U.S. team includes Kikkan Randall, Sadie Bjornsen, Rosie Brennan, Caitlin Patterson, Rosie Frankowski, Erik Bjornsen, Scott Patterson, Reese Hanneman, Logan Hanneman and Tyler Kornfield. The Australian team includes Jessica Yeaton of Anchorage and UAA junior Casey Wright.

Friday, Feb. 9 — Women's skiathlon, 10:15 p.m. (NBCSN)

– Coverage: History for Norway's Bjoergen but no medal for US in Olympic cross-country opener

Saturday, Feb. 10 — Men's skiathlon, 9:15 p.m. (online only)

– Coverage: Ski racer Scott Patterson of Anchorage finishes 18th in Olympic debut

Monday, Feb 12 — Men's and women's classic sprint qualifications, 11:30 p.m. (online only)

Tuesday, Feb. 13 — Women's classic sprint heats, 2 a.m.; men's classic sprint heats, 2:25 a.m (NBCSN)

– Coverage: Olympic medal drought continues for US women in cross-country skiing

Wednesday, Feb. 14 — Women's 10K skate, 9:30 p.m. (online only)

– Coverage: 3 American skiers in top 16 but none on Olympic podium in women's 10K

Thursday, Feb. 15 — Men's 15K skate, 9 p.m. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Feb. 17 — Women's 4x5K relay, 12:30 a.m. (online only)

Saturday, Feb. 17 — Men's 4x10K relay, 9:15 p.m. (online only)

Tuesday, Feb. 20 — Men's and women's team sprint semifinals, 11 p.m. (online only)

Wednesday, Feb. 21 — Men's and women's team sprint finals, 1 a.m. (online only)

Friday, Feb. 23 — Men's 50K classic, 8 p.m. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Feb. 24 — Women's 30K classic, 9:15 p.m. (online only), 10 p.m. (NBCSN)

NBC: GCI channels 652 (HD), 2 (SD)

NBCSN: GCI channel 697 (HD), 39 (SD)

Check nbcolympics.com or local channel schedules to confirm broadcast times.

Fortify fund, protect dividend, support schools - Alaska Dispatch News

Legislative News - Thu, 2018-02-15 09:19

Fortify fund, protect dividend, support schools
Alaska Dispatch News
So, why now? With back-to-back billion-dollar budget deficits, exhausted state savings accounts, minimal budget cuts, and no pathway to new revenues, it has become clear that some in Juneau believe that the Permanent Fund is the state's proverbial ...

and more »

Fortify fund, protect dividend, support schools

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 09:15

The Alaska Legislature is back in session and the stakes couldn't be higher. We still haven't seen a realistic budget that solves our $2.2 billion deficit. We still haven't adequately addressed our public safety issues. We still haven't seen a plan for diversifying Alaska's economy and securing our financial future. Every day I hear from Alaskans who are rightfully impatient and concerned.

As an optimist, however, I look for opportunities during these difficult times. And I believe that if we start approaching our fiscal issues by a matter of principle, not politics, we will find solutions. That is why I believe now is the time to ensure that the Permanent Fund dividend, or PFD, is a promise not only today, but to future generations. The PFD is not only a critical source of income for so many Alaska families, but also a reflection of our shared values and our common investment in our state's resources.

The PFD pulls 25,000 Alaskans out of poverty every year, reducing the statewide poverty rate by nearly a third. At the same time, economists realize that cutting the dividend, in many ways the economic engine of our state — particularly for small businesses — is one of the most harmful approaches to closing the budget deficit.

So, why now? With back-to-back billion-dollar budget deficits, exhausted state savings accounts, minimal budget cuts, and no pathway to new revenues, it has become clear that some in Juneau believe that the Permanent Fund is the state's proverbial "cookie jar." Aside from going against the spirit of what the Permanent Fund means to Alaskans, stealing from the cookie jar has not gotten Alaska closer to a sustainable fiscal future. Even after the governor and the Senate Majority supported taking more than $2,000 from every Alaskan, we are stuck in the exact same fiscal dilemma we faced three years ago.

[Permanent Fund dividend needs protection]

If we want to protect the PFD, how do we get there? The only way to truly protect the dividend is through a constitutional amendment. The good news is this puts the power where it belongs — in the voters' hands, by a vote of the people.

And for those who wonder if permanently protecting the PFD can be a part of a sound, fiscal plan for the future, the answer is absolutely. In fact, I believe that the process of permanently protecting the PFD should also include a guaranteed investment in pre-K-12 education because you cannot simply cut your way to a stronger, more secure economy. If you want to grow the economy, you must make smart investments.

A part of my proposed permanent PFD protection plan, the state would allocate:

– 50 percent of the Permanent Fund annual earnings to the individual PFD. This would likely mean Alaskans would be a guaranteed a PFD between $1,500 and $1,800 each year.

– 10 percent of earnings for inflation-proofing.

– 40 percent of annual earnings to pre-K-12 education offsetting use of general funds.

To be clear, this is only about using annual earnings on the fund. The actual fund itself would remain intact and untouched — unlike many of the plans being thrown about today. Initially, the 40 percent allocated for education would not be enough to fully fund education needs on its own, but over time it could.

There is no better equalizer in any community than access to a quality education. Access to quality education provides the foundation for a strong economy and ensures a vibrant, homegrown workforce. We have the ability to start our kids on the right foot, prepare them for the future, and create a stronger economy. The reason Alaska's constitution clearly says that the state of Alaska has a responsibility to provide a basic education is because it makes sense and it is the right thing to do.

I support a constitutional amendment to permanently protect the PFD because I believe Gov. Jay Hammond was right when he explained, "Of one thing I'm sure … as go dividends, so goes the Permanent Fund. Cap, reduce, or eliminate the PFD and the fund will follow suit." We must protect the PFD today if we want to secure our future for tomorrow.

Mark Begich is a former U.S. senator and former mayor of Anchorage.

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.

Alaska gets more money than expected under federal reinsurance program - Alaska Dispatch News

Legislative News - Thu, 2018-02-15 08:51

Alaska Dispatch News

Alaska gets more money than expected under federal reinsurance program
Alaska Dispatch News
The first disbursement from the federal government to help cover Alaska's high-cost individual insurance market pool was announced Feb. 9 at $58.5 million for 2018, an amount higher than projected. The funds come after the state was approved for what's ...

Alaska gets more money than expected under federal reinsurance program

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-02-15 08:45

The first disbursement from the federal government to help cover Alaska's high-cost individual insurance market pool was announced Feb. 9 at $58.5 million for 2018, an amount higher than projected.

The funds come after the state was approved for what's known as an "innovation waiver" under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act that will allow it to continue the Alaska Reinsurance Program, or ARP, created by the Alaska Legislature in 2016.

Lori Wing-Heier, the director of the Alaska Division of Insurance, said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or CMS calculation of $58.5 million means Alaska's portion will be smaller than expected at $1.5 million.

[States look to Alaska as Senate attempts to shore up individual health insurance markets]

After consecutive years of nearly 40 percent premium increases and down to just one company offering insurance in the individual market, the Legislature established the program to reinsure claims for Alaskans with high-cost medical conditions and isolate the higher costs from the majority of people in the insurance pool.

The creation of the ARP led to a smaller premium hike in 2017 and a decrease in premiums of more than 20 percent in 2018 for about 18,000 Alaskans in the individual market.

The Division of Insurance filed for the 1332 waiver in December 2016 to use the federal savings from reduced Affordable Care Act premium tax credits to help offset the price of the reinsurance program. The savings in premium subsidies are key as the waiver must be budget neutral.

The Legislature used $55 million from existing insurance policy taxes to cover the cost of the program in 2017.

Under the waiver, the ARP will receive $332 million in federal appropriations over five years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Treasury Department announced in July 2017. At the time, it was estimated that the CMS would kick in about $48 million to match with the state's $11 million portion in 2018.

"The CMS award was more than we were expecting, reducing the amount that the state will need to contribute for CY2018," Wing-Heier wrote in an email.

The money will be disbursed over a calendar year, rather than an Alaska fiscal year, which begins July 1. The federal fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

"The ARP is set at $60 million (maximum) for the individual market and the award was $58.5,"she wrote.

But Wing-Heier cautions that this is the estimated amount and subject to a true-up at the end of the calendar year.

"But we are not expecting any significant deviation from the award when the true-up occurs," she wrote.

In the meantime, since applying for the waiver and receiving it, Alaska's insurance pool enrolled on the individual market has settled at about 17,357 people, said Steve Kipp, vice president of corporate communications with Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield. Premera is Alaska's lone remaining insurance company serving the individual market.

That number includes those who enrolled during the open enrollment period from Nov. 1-Dec. 15, Kipps said.

Premera, in announcing its 2018 rates last August, filed insurance rates that were 21.6 percent less than the previous year's insurance plans. Then in September, the rates were lowered more, an overall 26.5 percent, after Premera found a significant reduction in the use of medical services and due to lowered costs in the reinsurance program. The reduced services also allowed Premera to refund $25 million back to the state.

Gov. Bill Walker announced the CMS award Feb. 9, lauding the reinsurance program, a unique program built by the Alaska Division of Insurance, the Alaska Legislature and the federal government.

"We have created an innovative solution to stabilize the market, which other states are now attempting to replicate," Walker said. "We are committed to developing smarter solutions like the Alaska Reinsurance Program so that all Alaskans have access to affordable health insurance."

Alaska's small population — and therefore small individual insurance market pool — creates challenges, Wing-Heier acknowledged. The smaller the pool, the fewer people there are to absorb the costs.

"But while premiums in the individual market are rising sharply in most states, because of the reinsurance program Alaskans saw only a modest rate increase in 2017 and a 22 percent decrease in the average individual market plan in 2018," Wing-Heier said.

It was the first time the average rate had decreased under the current federal health care law in Alaska, where high health care and premium costs have been an ongoing concern as some of the highest in the nation. Rate increases were nearly 40 percent in 2015 and 2016, but stabilized in 2017 with a 7 percent increase after the ARP was created.

The president of Premera's Alaska office said at the time it was too soon to assume the lower rates are the start of a trend.

"However, we believe the state's reinsurance program without question has contributed to a more stable and affordable individual health insurance market," Jim Grazko said in a statement.