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Mumps disease hits <b>Juneau</b> for first time in 20 years

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2018-02-18 15:45
There has been one confirmed case of the disease in Juneau as of Thursday, and three other possible cases, Juneau Public Health Center nurse manager Alison Gaines said. The first case was diagnosed in January, with the most recent suspected case appearing this past week, Gaines said.

To a handyman who tried his best to make good

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 15:23

Originally published Aug. 12, 2012

Bill "Guillermo" Martinez arrived at my door for the first time looking like a person who'd recently disembarked a cruise ship. He had on a denim shirt, sweater vest and sandals. It wasn't until I looked closely that I noticed his clothes were covered with a fine spattering of paint.

Handymen from Craigslist had been coming for days. They all had baggage. There was the registered sex offender. And the twitchy guy who wanted to be paid upfront. Guillermo, whom I found through a friend, was of another breed. For starters, he was at least 75 years old, though he didn't look it. He had a shock of thick white hair, black eyebrows and a crooked smile. His skin was smooth as leather.

I took him to my crawl space. The two of us peered up at the rotting floor beneath my bathroom. I watched him calculate in his head. Could he fix it? Yes he could. He gave me a very good price.

"You don't have to hire me," he said as he was leaving. He had a thick Argentinian accent. "But I should tell you that when I read your last column, I had a feeling we would meet."

Coming from any other handyman, that would have sounded strange. From Guillermo, it seemed perfectly natural, as if we'd both stepped into a magical realist novel. Of course the 75-year-old Argentinian handyman had premonitions. Why wouldn't he?

Guillermo showed up early the next day, unrolling more drop cloths than necessary. He carried a fastidiously organized array of tools so covered in patina it was as if they'd arrived by time machine. He listened to two types of music while he worked: opera and Argentinian folk.

I'd just bought a 50-year-old duplex. His first job slid into another. And another. He rehabbed ancient windows. He tiled the kitchen. He carefully erased a long crack in my dining room wall.

Details preoccupied him. The distance between screws. Disturbances in paint texture. Jobs took longer than expected. Once I hired him to patch a piece of bathroom ceiling ruined by a leak. I arrived home and found the entire ceiling gone. He stood atop a ladder wearing a flimsy mask, an aria soaring out of his boombox. Flecks of insulation floated down around him, making the air iridescent. I asked what happened to the ceiling.

"It had to be done," he said like a surgeon discussing an emergency amputation. He didn't charge me for the work.

He always had a joke to tell. Usually something salty involving a priest and a nun with a long wind up and a punch line that was probably funnier in Spanish. He'd crack himself up so much that, by the end, he could barely get the words out. He also favored a handful of Argentinian idioms that were awkward in English. At least once on every job I would ask him how things were going and he would reply, "I am working like a midget."

If I was home, he'd tell me stories from the old days. How he became an American citizen decades earlier. Or the time he discovered he was doing masonry for a mobster. Or the man he knew in Argentina who turned out to be a fugitive Nazi. He lectured me frequently. It is important to suffer, because suffering makes you appreciate how good you have it, he'd say. A lucky person loves his work and does it well. Working keeps you young. His own father lived for a century.

He lunched every day at Taco King on Northern Lights and A Street, where he ate a single beef enchilada with rice and beans. One of the cooks there, a Mexican guy named Chava, accompanied him on jobs sometimes and helped him with heavy labor. Every winter, Guillermo went to Argentina until the snow melted. Years passed like that. He painted every room in my house.

Last spring, when he showed up to give me a bid, I was pregnant.

"You look like a rope with a knot tied in it," he said.

He had another premonition, he told me. It would be his last summer in Alaska. He was closing in on 80.

My dad hired him to build a shed. It soon became all he talked about. He analyzed Dad's expressions endlessly, trying to gauge whether he was pleased. He obsessed on every phase. The footing. The framing. The placement of the windows. One Sunday, I visited him in Dad's backyard. His hair was full of sawdust. He kept dreaming about falling from the shed roof, he said. The plywood went soft, he said. He couldn't find the beams.

He toiled on the project for most of the summer. When it was done, it was truly spectacular, like a house for elegant, miniature people. It had two doors and a dormer with a small window in it. Cedar shingles covered the outside. Sometimes he'd take a slow detour down my dad's street, he told me, just to admire it through the side yard.

August ticked away. One night, I started to have contractions around dinner time. They let up around 10 p.m. I heard a knock at the door. It was Guillermo. He asked to come in.

He'd been at the gas station the week before, he said, when the gas smell overcame him. Next thing he knew, he was in an ambulance, then an emergency room. Doctors suspected a brain tumor. He was agitated. I tried to calm him down but he kept talking in circles.

"Your son is coming to the world," Guillermo told me. "I am leaving."

He was going back to Argentina as soon as possible. This was goodbye.

"Maybe some day you will write about me," he said. "Maybe you will say I was a man who came to this country, who tried his best to make good."

I wrote that phrase down on the back of my electric bill. As he left, he slid a business card into my hand. It was another client of his, he said. I should meet her.

The next night, my son was born. Months later, I came across the business card and dialed the number. The woman on the other end of the line was a doctor in town. We decided to put together a care package to send to Argentina. She came by my house with her young son and a handful of children's drawings.

Guillermo worked for her for years, she said. After the gas station incident, he came to her house, where he had several projects going. He mentioned what happened. She suggested he get an MRI. He didn't see a doctor, so she ordered it for him. When she looked at the film, she saw a spot on his brain.

After work, she came home and he was painting a wall in her kitchen. She asked if he'd like to sit down. She tried to be gentle as she explained the MRI result. Be frank, he said to her. Was he going to die? It didn't look good, she told him.

"He just paused and said, 'Okay.' He seemed very accepting of it. More so than I had seen with anybody."

He finished every project he'd started in her house before he left for Argentina, she said.

I took our care package by Taco King, where I found Chava taking orders during the lunch rush. He wiped his hands and wrote a long note. I tucked in some pictures of my son and sent it on its way. Months went by.

Last week I heard from his daughter, Ana, that Guillermo had died. He told her about me, she said. He used the expression "Hacemos buenas migas" or "We make good crumbs." The idiom is a little awkward when translated into English, she said, but it meant we'd been good friends.

Iron Dog racers hit the trail for Big Lake start

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 14:58

Twenty-seven two-person teams hit the trail during the Iron Dog start at Big Lake on Sunday, Feb 18. Snowmachine racers will travel over 2,000 miles of wilderness from Big Lake to Nome and then on to Fairbanks to finish on Saturday.

Follow race updates at irondog.org.

Readers write: Letters to the editor, February 18, 2018

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 14:34

Sacrificing wilderness is no answer for our children

Columnist Steve Meyer (Feb. 7) wrote that oil development should occur in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because it would help a struggling young person have what Mr. Meyer has. I fear that Mr. Meyer is misjudging the situation. The first beneficiaries of oil drilling will be some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. Next in line is the North Slope Borough, which will gain additional taxing power to add to its already immense wealth. Then comes the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., sure to gain big contracts. Then we have the 35 percent of oil field workers who are not Alaskans, but who commute here and then do their banking in Houston or Tulsa. No doubt some of that oil money will filter down to Mr. Meyer's hypothetical young person, but that person will not be the primary beneficiary when that wilderness is destroyed.

Mr. Meyer states his opinion without considering that, once the leases are established and drilling begins, neither his opinion nor my opinion nor anyone else's opinion about the activity will matter in the least. The oil companies will pursue what is in their narrow self interests regardless of the viewpoints of the rest of us; that public land will cease to be public in any real sense. Mr. Meyer should also consider that the loss of this wilderness is only part of what we all stand to lose, as the Trump administration systematically sells off or leases what should belong to all of us.

When do we have enough? Most of Alaska's Arctic is already open for oil production. Very little has been protected. Some years ago the Prudhoe Bay fields encompassed some 600 square miles; I'm sure the number now is much larger. But in spite of the billions of barrels extracted in the past, the state is still nearing bankruptcy; and yet, as Mr. Meyer notes, we still refuse to tax ourselves. We have some serious problems, but they are not caused by the existence of wilderness, and the sacrifice of wilderness will not fix them.

— Clarence Crawford
Anchorage

Another example of NRA's work

A hearty congratulations to the NRA on another stunning victory of its "well regulated militia."

And to all the spineless politicians, including Murkowski, Sullivan and Young, who are totally intimidated by the NRA. Our kids may die but at least those political "leaders" will keep their jobs as long as they march in lockstep under NRA orders.

— Terry Johnson
Anchorage

Time for Seavey to back off

Here we go again. Dallas Seavey is going lower and lower in the eyes of public opinion. He is acting more and more guilty of doping his dogs. Now he has hired a lawyer to say he's not guilty. I hope he didn't pay too much for him, crooked lawyers cost and are a dime a dozen. Naturally Dallas is out of state preparing for a race, while he has his lawyer attacking all parties for him. The Iditarod has been around for a long time with no problems. Leave the board alone and the volunteers. Don't change a thing and don't let one bad apple destroy what took decades to build up.

— Roger Larson
Anchorage

Restrooms are no less safe

Once again Jim Minnery and his backers are distorting Christian values to promote intolerance in their attempt to convince Anchorage voters to repeal our anti-discrimination ordinance that protects members of our
LGBT community. They're trying to manipulate voters into fearing for our children's safety if transgender people are allowed to use the restrooms of their choice. We need not fear. APD has assured us that our public restrooms have not become less safe since the passage of our anti-discrimination ordinance in 2015. We should embrace our incredibly diverse population including our LGBT neighbors. We can learn from each other, live and work together without fear, encouraging each other to develop and share the talents we each possess.

— Debbie Corral
Eagle River

Make Mexico pay our bills

OK, I get it. We are too cheap (or perhaps we can be charitable, and just say "shortsighted") to be willing to pay taxes for basic upkeep of our roads and bridges. Politicians at both the state and federal level are afraid to lay the maintenance bill on the table for us. So, now we have a federal infrastructure "proposal" with only 20 percent funding. Where will the rest come from? The states are obviously not going to cough it up — or would have already. What to do? Well, duh! Let's make Mexico pay for it. In fact, let's have them pay for that narcissistic military parade too. I bet if we asked Mexico nicely, they might even dig in their closet and find one of those gaudy, 1962-style "Generalissimo" dictator uniforms with the giant epaulets. Now wouldn't our great president look impressive in that?

— Lou Nathanson
Anchorage

Say no to automatic weapons

Oh, my God. Not again in this country that I used to love. What is it going to take for America to realize that weapons of war, automatic or semiautomatic weapons, should only be available to military and law enforcement officials? May I suggest that Wayne LaPierre and his minions at the NRA, the president, and members of Congress who continue to refuse to act on reasonable gun laws volunteer to go to the school and clean up the carnage.

— Charlene Huhndorf
Ninilchik

No wonder Jenkins likes Citizens United so much

I'm not surprised Paul Jenkins likes Citizens United. Voter suppression and gerrymandering aren't enough to keep his Republicans comfortably in power. They still need the extra punch of unlimited, untraceable money.

— Paul Brickey
Anchorage

We don't all follow God's law

In response to Undra Parker "Transgender identity violates God's law" (Feb. 9):
News flash — not all of us in the Anchorage community are Christian.

Thanks to the Freedom of Religion listed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you are free to personally practice whatever religion you choose. However, that does not give you the right to force your religion on others, who are also free to practice any religion, which may or may not be Christianity. In addition, we as American citizens are also granted the right to secular laws free of influence from a particular religion. Go ahead and believe what you want about "broken bodies," but God's law is not U.S. law or Anchorage law.

— Lian Myers
Anchorage

Maybe gun manufacturers and NRA will use Russian funds

Thoughts and prayers are going out to the NRA, gun manufacturers and GOP candidates. The shooting of the children at the Parkland school is going to cause them all sorts of image problems. The NRA spent more than $17 million dollars on GOP candidates and $21 million on Trump the last election cycle. How are they going to survive? Gun manufacturers like Remington are declaring bankruptcy now that Obama, who was going to take away all the guns, is out of office. Where will they get their funding? I guess they will have to hit their Russian donors up for more money.

— Jay Cross
Big Lake

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter under 200 words for consideration, email letters@adn.com, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to commentary@adn.com.

What has changed in the Russia investigation?

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 14:26

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein looked practically giddy at the podium on Friday when he announced a massive indictment of 13 Russians in connection with a plot out of a spy novel to manipulate the 2016 election results. And why shouldn't he be pleased? The indictment reflects painstaking investigatory work, laying bare a complex, well-funded and deliberate scheme to interfere with our democracy.

Rosenstein was able to explain in excruciating detail some of the evidence that would support the intelligence chiefs' certain conclusion that Russia meddled in our election. Sure, the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the rest of the intelligence community kept telling us this was the case; Rosenstein described allegations that show one part of how it was done. It doesn't rely on the credibility of former FBI director JamesComey or on the mainstream media or on Stephen Bannon. The FBI and the Justice Department have the goods, because they have a thousand details that so far have been hidden from view.

This should underscore several key developments.

First, Republicans' clumsy efforts to attack the FISA warrant for Carter Page or to smear Comey don't matter. House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes', R-Calif., plots and antics and concocted memo are irrelevant. The investigation, at least a good deal of it, rests on facts that are unknown to the House Republicans and are beyond dispute.

No Republican is going to stand up to say the indictment is a "hoax" or the allegations against these 13 Russians are "fake." We've argued for some time that their antics do not matter, in the end, because special counsel Robert Mueller III has the facts. This is the first real confirmation that our faith in the investigative powers of Mueller and his team was not misplaced.

Indeed, Republicans look precisely like the "unwitting" operatives in the indictment who reportedly lent assistance to the Russian operatives. Republicans' efforts to distract and distort the growing body of evidence make them unwitting (we hope) pawns in the Russians' efforts to deny their role. (If House Speaker Paul Ryan has any political survival skills, now would be a good time for him to yank Nunes off the Intelligence Committee.) And incidentally, Democrats might want to forget about their counter-memo now that the GOP and Nunes have been utterly discredited. They don't need to stab a corpse.

Second, Trump obviously has known for more than a year, if not the particulars, at least the substantive conclusion of our intelligence community. And yet he pretended as though there was no basis for the investigation. There was no Russia scandal, he insisted. On Friday he was reduced to claiming that the plot began before his presidential announcement (who cares?) and that he had been cleared of collusion (patently false).

Not only have his denials been thoroughly debunked, but his denials can now be seen as directly contrary to the facts he was being told, over and over again. Was he delusional? Or was he simply lying over and over again about the incontrovertible evidence of Russian interference?

Third, the indictment makes a finding of collusion more likely. You cannot collude if there is no one to collude with; now we know there was. The Lawfare blog explains:

"The fact that this indictment doesn't allege misconduct on the American side does not necessarily mean that Mueller lacks evidence to support such an allegation - or that he will not develop it in the future. This indictment deals with a limited subject matter: one aspect of the Russian operation-that involving social media influence measures - undertaken by non-governmental actors. It makes a point of not addressing the conduct of U.S. actors. That is neither inculpatory or vindicating. It is, rather, a deferral of the matter to another day.

"What this indictment does, rather, is establish part of the predicate for a later claim of collusion. That is, the indictment details part of what it was that any Americans might have been colluding with."

Fourth, we are reminded that we already know of collusion - or put it this way, collaboration between the Russians and the Trump campaign, both in the social media space and elsewhere:

- We know of the June 9, 2016, meeting organized after a Russian offered dirt on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Jr. enthusiastically accepted.

- We know George Papadopoulos made multiple contacts looking for a meeting with and/or dirt from the Russians. (The Moscow Project tells us: "George Papadopoulos met for the first of at least three times with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor and reported Russian intelligence asset, on March 14, 2016." He kept senior campaign officials apprised of the efforts to reach out to Russia.)

- We know he was not alone. Again, from themoscowproject.org: "By the end of June, at least eight individuals involved with the Trump campaign - George Papadopoulos, Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Michael Flynn, and Rick Dearborn - reportedly had contacts or meetings with at least 13 Kremlin-linked individuals - Josef Mifsud, the 'Female Russian National,' Sergei Kislyak, Felix Sater, Michael Cohen, Rob Goldstone, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze, Konstantin Kilimnik, Aleksander Torshin, Vladimir Putin, the individual who emailed Rick Dearborn, and potentially Oleg Deripaska."

- We know Carter Page during the campaign went to Russia in July 2016 to deliver a speech.

- We know the Trump team members retweeted Russian bots, helping to spread their anti-Clinton messages and divisive themes.

- We know WikiLeaks released "a steady stream of emails stolen from Democratic and Clinton campaign operatives. Trump eagerly embraced WikiLeaks during the campaign, publicly mentioning the website 164 times in the final month of the campaign alone" (the moscowproject.org).

- We know the remarkable events of Oct. 7, 2016: "That afternoon, at 4:03 p.m., The Washington Post published the explosive 'Access Hollywood' tape, behind-the-scenes footage from 2005 in which Trump bragged about groping women without their consent. Just 29 minutes later, WikiLeaks began publishing the contents of Podesta's email inbox. Whether there was explicit coordination between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks remains unknown" (the moscowproject.org).

The question is no longer whether there a Russian plot to interfere with our election or whether there was a high degree of synchronization between the Trump campaign and the Russian campaign for Trump. We now have to learn how extensive was the interplay and how cognizant of foreign influence were Trump and members of his team.

Likewise, we no longer have to wonder why Trump tried to get the FBI to lay off former national security adviser Michael Flynn or why he fired Comey or why he smeared the FBI or why he helped draft a misleading statement to explain the June 2016 meeting. In short, there is a clear motive to interfere with and obstruct the Russia investigation. The motive to obstruct is obvious: Trump did not want investigators to find and be able to present credible evidence of a Russian plot.

That failed on Friday. Nunes and screaming "hoax" won't save him. We will find out soon enough whether all of this amounts to knowing, criminal wrongdoing by the president, his family and/or his most senior advisers.

As to Trump's fidelity to the Constitution and violation of his oath, we don't need to ask whether the president has ignored an ongoing threat to the United States from continued Russian meddling or whether he is indifferent to that threat. Both are indisputably true. We saw on Friday that when the extent of the alleged Russian plot to interfere with the election (which he has been repeatedly briefed on but taken no action to thwart) came to light, he reacted not with any determination to stop the ongoing Russian assault but with a false claim of vindication. He makes the case better than anyone that he is abjectly unfit to serve as president.

For Team USA, it’s not quite a medal drought, but it’s certainly no Olympic reign

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 13:50

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Ted Ligety is an American skiing legend, winner of a pair of gold medals. Sunday, after the first of his two runs in the giant slalom – a disastrous trip down the hill as the defending Olympic champion – he said the following: "No explanation for that."

As we enter the final week of the Pyeongchang Winter Games, drape those words over the entirety of the United States contingent. The gold medals from Jamie Anderson and Red Gerard and Chloe Kim and Shaun White in snowboarding seem ages ago. The gold from Mikaela Shiffrin in giant slalom was, somehow, tempered by her miss of the medal stand in slalom, an event in which she essentially has lapped the field.

Beyond that, we wait.

What we have here – so far – is not a full-on American medal drought. But the crops need some coaxing. Through the end of the day Sunday in South Korea, Team USA had accumulated 10 medals in the nine days that hardware has been distributed here. The Netherlands (population: 17 million) had more. Austria, which has fewer people than New Jersey, had the same. Canada, which would have to spawn a few million people to match California, has many more. Russia – or, what Russian athletes are here after so many were banned for past doping violations – has 11.

Germany? It has nine golds alone. Norway? We can't even make out the red and blue on their uniforms from this far back. That would be 26 medals.

In the past four Winter Olympics, the U.S. has finished second, first, second and second in total medals. In each of those Games, Americans have won at least nine gold medals. Now, they stand tied for sixth in medals with France and Austria.

Enjoyment of the Olympics shouldn't be defined by American success, and even the slightest bit of pure nationalism seems kind of scary these days. But, in an athletic sense – and an athletic sense only – let's get jingoistic for just a moment. So many of the athletes we have grown accustomed to seeing draped in the flag instead have been draped in disappointment.

Lindsey Vonn skied like the Olympic champion she is, then made one fateful mistake that cost her a medal in super-G. Former Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis looked like an also-ran in the 1,500-meter speedskating, an event in which he owns two silver medals. Lindsey Jacobellis led for much of the final in snowboardcross, but was passed not once, not twice, but three times to finish fourth. Erin Hamlin produced the first medal for an American woman in luge four years ago, carried the flag in Opening Ceremonies here – and finished sixth in her race, then was left off the team relay.

It's not just the established stars, either. Let's play a little game: Match the quote with the athlete.

1. "I just don't know what it takes to make a perfect race."

2. "Fourth is definitely bittersweet."

3. "It was rough. Nothing really clicked together."

4. "My goal was definitely to try to be challenging for a medal here. … Way out of it now."

A. Freestyle skier Maggie Voisin

B. Ligety, in between giant slalom runs

C. Speedskater Joey Mantia

D. Figure skater Nathan Chen

Answers: It doesn't really matter. There's enough dejection to go around.

(Don't worry. I'll put the answers toward the end.)

This isn't a crisis, and no, the norovirus did not engulf the American team. We're not to 1988 standards, when a six-medal performance in Calgary resulted in the Steinbrenner Commission, which placed pressure on the USOC to start – oh, I don't know – winning medals.

It's reasonable to point out that eight Americans have finished fourth and nine more have finished fifth. (It's also reasonable to point out that there are no medals for fourth or fifth.) Either way, we're deep enough in competition here to evaluate the performance thus far.

In the history of the Winter Olympics – dating from 1924 in Chamonix, France – only Norway has won more medals than the U.S. The last time the Americans failed to finish either first or second in total medals was 1998 in Nagano, Japan. There, the U.S. won a total of 13 medals – same as in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway – and finished tied for sixth.

But after leading the medal count eight years ago in Vancouver with 37, an astonishing total, and following that up with 28 more in Sochi, the expectations for every American winter team are much higher. The addition of snowboarding certainly has helped. Five of the nine U.S. medals here have come from various snowboard disciplines – with the potential for more to come.

But what might reasonably be called "traditional" Winter Olympic sports? Not really. There have been no medals from long-track speed skating, only Shiffrin's gold from the slopes, a team bronze in figure skating, a silver from luger Chris Mazdzer – and nothing but slight stumbles and bumbles from just about every venue.

The United States Olympic Committee does not publicly state a goal for how many medals it hopes to win in a given Games. But this certainly wasn't its vision.

Take one measuring stick, the pre-Olympics predictions from the Associated Press. This isn't a science, of course, just an educated guess. But the AP asked each of its writers to pick the medals in the sport she or he covers. The total tally: 40, which seems overly optimistic even if the Americans were performing to full capacity here. Still, by the end of Sunday, the AP thought the U.S. would have 18 medals by this point – twice as many as it actually does.

(Time for our quiz answers: 1-C, 2-A, 3-D and 4-B.)

There is, however, some hopeful news: The coming week brings Vonn (and Shiffrin) in the downhill and Shiffrin (and Vonn) in the combined. The women's hockey team should battle Canada for a gold medal. Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser each could contend in women's bobsled. Freestyle skiing could produce a men's sweep in the halfpipe, led by defending gold medalist David Wise.

There's a week left. There are medals still out there. There's reason for optimism, but there's some work to do.

Barry Svrluga became a sports columnist for The Washington Post in December 2016. He arrived at The Post in 2003 to cover football and basketball at the University of Maryland, took on the Washington Nationals, spent time covering the Redskins, began going to the Olympics (and never stopped), covered golf and became the national baseball writer.

I am a child of domestic violence

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 13:25

I am a child of domestic violence.

As a boy, I couldn't fall asleep until I heard my father return from his nocturnal ramblings. I'd listen hard, trying to gauge his mood from the tone of his voice, trying to determine if it was safe to close my eyes. Some nights, it was.

Other nights, it was not. On those nights, I came hurtling from my bed to thrust myself between my parents, trying to push him off her.

So forgive me if I take the latest White House scandal personally. I don't know any other way to take it.

As you've surely heard, last week, Rob Porter, staff secretary to the lumpy sack of moldy oranges that serves as president of the United States, resigned after a report by a British news site, DailyMail.com, that he allegedly abused his two ex-wives.

Porter has denied the accusations, but his claims of innocence are undercut more than a little by photos of his first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye, which she says he gave her in the early 2000s on a trip to Italy. The other ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby, obtained an emergency temporary protective order against Porter in 2010. As reported by the Washington Post, the document finds that "reasonable grounds exist to believe that (Porter) has committed family abuse and there is probable danger of a further such offense."

[Rob Porter is my ex-husband. Here's what you should know about abuse.]

The White House was informed of these allegations multiple times, beginning in January 2017. It did nothing. Not until the story became an international outrage was Porter forced to resign. He was followed out the door by speechwriter David Sorensen, whose ex-wife said he threw her against a wall and ground out a cigarette on her hand. Sorensen, too, professes innocence.

Last weekend, the lumpy sack spoke out, tweeting that "peoples (sic) lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation." The sack told reporters he wishes Porter well:

"It's an obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career. … As you probably know, he says he's innocent, and I think you have to remember that."

One might ask where all this tender concern over the propriety of mere allegations was back when the lumpy sack was demanding the death penalty for five black and Latino boys falsely accused of rape. One might ask why the lumpy sack always sticks up for white conservatives — Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Corey Lewandowski, Roy Moore — credibly accused of abusing women (and, in Moore's case, girls). One might even ask when we can expect the sack to offer a word of comfort to Porter's ex-wives, whom he has ignored.

But those are social and political concerns and, again, this is personal.

You may not understand what that means if you have never tried to fulfill, with a boy's scrawny arms, a man's primal imperative to defend. Or if woman-in-peril movies do not, to this day, fill you with dread and make the walls close in. Or if you've never had to balance love for your father with contempt for him and all men who abuse women.

You may not understand it if you do not wish a front-row seat in a very hot place upon those who fail to take that abuse seriously. As in the lumpy sack and Chief of Staff John Kelly, who were planning to promote Porter despite what he allegedly did and despite the fact that the FBI denied him a security clearance.

For the record, the White House says it takes domestic violence "very seriously," and on Wednesday Trump belatedly said he is "totally opposed" to domestic violence, yadda, yadda, yadda. Take it for what it's worth. It's worth nothing to me, personally.

I had thought it impossible to have less respect for these people.

It turns out I was wrong.

Official sees rising interest in Alaska oil after discoveries, Congress opens ANWR

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 13:25

Companies showed strong interest in Alaska prospects at a big conference in Texas early this month, and it wasn't just the Sarah Palin impersonator chanting "Drill baby, drill!" that grabbed their attention, conference-goers said.

Recent discoveries on the western North Slope oil fields, and the newly opened Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the eastern edge, are offering long-term opportunities companies seek before investing in Alaska, said John Hendrix, chief oil and gas adviser to Gov. Bill Walker.

"You won't invest if it's a one-off deal," he said.

Hendrix and other state officials highlighted Alaska's oil fields at North American Prospect Expo, billed as an annual industry marketplace where deals are made. The event was held five days early this month in Houston, Texas.

The Alaska Division of Oil and Gas rented a booth. So did several Alaska lease holders, including a  small-time speculator with flamboyant promotional pitches, Dan Donkel.

Hendrix said: "I went to NAPE last year, and this was probably three times better, the uptick in people talking about Alaska, the buzz."

Hendrix said he met with at least six oil companies with the financial heft to invest in Alaska, from independents to majors, at their booths or offices. They wanted to know about geological structures that have led to new discoveries, and other details.

He would not name the companies, but said the state is continuing to talk with them.

There was a sense of excitement about the discoveries over the last couple of years, including ConocoPhillips' Willow and Armstrong Oil and Gas' Pikka, he said. The discoveries and other data sparked the U.S. Geological Survey in December to sharply boost the western region's estimated oil potential.

[Federal report finds 'huge' increase in North Slope oil potential.]

The companies were more cautious about the opportunities in ANWR, opened to development by Congress in December with a requirement that a lease sale be held within four years. The companies see development there as a longer-term prospect, he said.

Donkel, a longtime Alaska lease investor who lives in Florida, rented a booth at the conference to promote what he says are several promising leases located on state land and water near ANWR.

Donkel hired a Sarah Palin impersonator,  Patsy Gilbert from Florida, to talk up the opportunities in Alaska. He'd also hired her back in 2010, for the NAPE conference that year.

This year, Donkel handed out red hats declaring "Make Alaska Great Again," and shared geologic data and other details highlighting the oil potential at his leases near ANWR.

The data hints at what lies across the border at ANWR, he said.

"We were the most popular booth," said Donkel, 60. "Many major players came by."

"Explore Alaska!!! Oil in the billions. Gas in the trillions," signs over his booth declared.

About 15 years ago, Donkel made a lucrative deal in Cook Inlet, after selling leases he owned at the Redoubt Shoal field to Forest Oil, according to a 2002 article in Petroleum News.

One tract Donkel promoted at the Texas conference was won by Andy Bachner in the state's December lease auction, according to Bachner, a lease speculator from Fairbanks.

Bachner said the offshore tract, near ANWR, contains the Stinson well drilled by ConocoPhillips' predecessor ARCO in 1990. The accumulation was originally reported to hold 150 million barrels. But the discovery could be larger, Bachner said.

The well's distance from infrastructure was a big impediment to development when it was discovered. But ExxonMobil two years ago completed the nearby Point Thomson field on state land, with a new pipeline to deliver oil to market, Bachner said.

"The geology has never changed," Bachner said. "The politics and the access to get it of there has changed immensely."

Why the ML&P sale makes sense

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 13:19

Chugach Electric buying ML&P; will be on the Anchorage election ballot. This is an issue that has been talked about for decades in Anchorage and one that I am very happy to support for many reasons.

I am a local government watcher. Everyone has hobbies and mine is local government. I have attended community councils since the 1970s and have attended thousands of Anchorage Assembly meetings as well as many work sessions and other Assembly meetings.

An issue that is always present is that there's not enough time for community councils or the Anchorage Assembly to hear or deal with all the issues. Good governance needs to be provided but a factor in Anchorage is that we own ML&P;, AWWU, Solid Waste Services (including the Anchorage landfill), the Port of Anchorage, Merrill Field, the Anchorage Community Development Authority, which includes Easy Park (the Parking Garages and parking meters), the museum and the performing arts center, the convention centers and Sullivan Arena, and Anchor Rides (the bus system). Anchorage government has a lot on its plate.

Over and over, issues with one or more parts of government are delayed for lack of time. The Anchorage Assembly meets on every other Tuesday and must complete its business by 11 p.m. unless there is a vote of the body to extend, but then only until midnight. There are special meetings from time to time but this affects not only the Anchorage Assembly but also the administration and the public. Years ago the Anchorage Assembly met until the wee hours of the morning but that caused complaints from the press and citizens who were substantially locked out of the process.

That brings me to the sale of ML&P; to Chugach Electric. ML&P; has consumed a lot of government time that could have been spent on other issues. We have bought the Beluga Gas Fields, a portion in the 1990s and a portion recently. The first purchase took many meetings before the Anchorage Assembly to convince them that it was a good idea. The second purchase was easier because of the success of the first. Then there was the issue of ML&P;, during a previous administration, trying to move its headquarters to the Glenn Square Mall. And finally there was the issue of building the new power plant on the Glenn Highway. This is/was the straw that broke the camel's back and the need to finally divest ourselves of this utility. It is my opinion that we did not need this power plant, but built it because Chugach Electric had built a new plant. A portion of the new plant Chugach built is even owned by ML&P; but because they built one, we had to build one. This $300 million-plus plant has caused rates to rise. Also because we are now overextended, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska will not allow ML&P; to pay municipal utility service assessment payments, to Anchorage. This puts a burden on Anchorage taxpayers.

The Anchorage Assembly ultimately made the decision to allow the power plant to be built. But did they have the time for due diligence?  When the elected board of Chugach Electric makes a decision they are dealing with just Chugach Electric.  When the Anchorage Assembly makes a decision like this, it is just one of the thousands of things on their plate on a given night. I believe a dedicated board of directors is better able to operate a multibillion-dollar utility than the Anchorage Assembly that actually dedicates very little time to any issue. It comes down to the head of ML&P; or the Mayor saying, "Just trust me." Sometimes the Assembly should not show or have that trust but they don't have the time or the tools to do anything else.

The other side of this issue is, we have seven electrical utilities in the railbelt. We have seven utilities serving a small population with all of the overhead required to run those seven businesses. It has long been talked about, to save money, provide efficiencies and to provide better service these seven should be one. I think this step to combine ML&P; and Chugach is just the first step in the future of combining the electrical utilities from Homer to Fairbanks. I look forward to that day when a professional Board of Directors overseen by the RCA will make decisions they are qualified to make.

Tom McGrath, retired previous owner of Frigid North Electronics Co., has been involved in local politics for 40 years as an observer and commentator as well as serving on various boards and commissions.

Mumps disease hits <b>Juneau</b> for first time in 20 years

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2018-02-18 13:09
The Department of Public Health sent a notice Monday to the Juneau School District and to licensed daycares alerting them to the recent outbreak. Early symptoms are similar to that of a regular cold, but those who believe they have mumps should call their doctor and set up an appointment, Tiffany said.

Mumps disease hits <b>Juneau</b> for first time in 20 years

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2018-02-18 12:48
The disease is almost never fatal, the Juneau Empire reported . "I think the perception is that mumps is not such a ... The Department of Public Health sent a notice Monday to the Juneau School District and to licensed daycares alerting them to the recent outbreak. Early symptoms are similar to that of a ...

Mumps disease hits <b>Juneau</b> for first time in 20 years

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2018-02-18 12:45
The Juneau Empire reports Juneau Public Health Center nurse manager Alison Gaines says there has been one confirmed case of the disease in Juneau as of Thursday. She says there also have been three other possible cases. She says the first case was diagnosed in January, with the most recent ...

JDHS sweeps Lady Kings

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2018-02-18 11:26
The Juneau-Douglas boys team defeated Ketchikan 54-46 Saturday night at the Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium in Ketchikan. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the Crimson Bears (9-11, 2-4 SEC) and avenged a 69-64 loss the day before to the Kings. Erik Kelly led the team with 17 points ...

'They are laughing their asses off in Moscow': Trump takes on the FBI, Russia probe and 2016 election

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 09:45

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - President Donald Trump questioned the intensifying special counsel's investigation of his campaign and administration while attacking his own national security adviser, the Federal Bureau of Investigation he controls, Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, Democrats in Congress, CNN and others in a nine-hour span of tweets that included profanity and misspellings.

Posting from his Florida estate, he seemed most aggrieved that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's team had unearthed 13 indictments against Russians on Friday - and alleged that they could have swayed the 2016 election to benefit Trump.

Trump has chafed at accusations he had any help for more than a year, resisting calls to decry Russia's efforts to interfere and take more action against the adversary while firing and threatening to fire law enforcement officials investigating him and frequently ranting on Twitter.

"I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said 'it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.' The Russian 'hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!" he posted around 7:30.

[Trump criticizes FBI for failure to probe tip on Fla. shooter, says ‘too much time’ spent on Russia]

About 30 minutes later, he added: "If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!"

Trump, ensconced at Mar-a-Lago, has so far stayed away from the golf course even though the weather has been sunny and almost 80 degrees - in what aides describe as showing respect for the 17 killed in a mass school shooting in Florida this week.

The president has instead spent much of his time watching television and tweeting, aides said. After a string of tweets Saturday afternoon, he dined with journalist Geraldo Rivera and the president's two adult sons before returning to his quarters for more posts.

He seemed to wake up Sunday morning again fired up.

Trump has pushed for changes at the DOJ and FBI, accusing leaders of being biased against him, and has grown angered that he cannot have more control at the Justice Department.

"Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!" he wrote.

Attacking the FBI for missing a tip on the shooter - a significant blunder for the bureau that it admitted Friday - while funerals are still ongoing for victims, and making the attack about himself, was a remarkable move. It seems unlikely that the special counsel's investigation, a separate office that works independent of the main Justice Department, had anything to do with the missed tip.

Whether there was any collusion with Russia is still part of Mueller's investigation. On Friday, Mueller described an elaborate internet system designed to interfere in the election, with workers creating ads, staging rallies, traveling to the United States and being told to support Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. That indictment said "unwitting" Americans were involved but did not accuse any Americans of a crime.

Trump has wavered publicly on whether Russia interfered to benefit him, even though all the intelligence agencies of the United States has conclusively said Russia did. After H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, said Saturday that Russia was to blame, Trump mocked him publicly, calling attention to ethical issues of Clinton's and conspiracy issues he has fanned. He has, at times, clashed with McMaster and finds McMaster to be too professorial, aides have said.

"General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!" Trump said.

Trump often refers to Clinton, who lost the electoral college to Trump while winning 3 million more popular votes, "Crooked H." The "dirty dossier" is the extensive set of accusations, in a dossier written by British spy Christopher Steele, about Trump's dealings in Russia. It makes salacious claims and was funded by Democrats, among others, and has become part of the special counsel's investigation. "Uranium" seemed to refer to unsubstantiated accusations against Obama and Clinton unethically, or illegally, selling uranium to Russia - a flash point of the right.

Speeches and emails seem to refer to paid speeches by Clinton and the fact she worked off a private email server in her basement in Chappaqua, New York, as secretary of state. The Podesta Company is a now dissolved lobbying firm, led by Democrat powerhouse Tony Podesta, who is now under investigation.

He also revived a news story about Obama sending $1.7 billion to Iran in a separate tweet and said it should have been investigated. The payment was the settlement of a long-standing arbitration claim.

It was unclear what any of those had to do with Russian meddling the election.

He further attacked "Finally, Liddle' Adam Schiff, the leakin' monster of no control," the Democrat he often sees on television talking about the House Intelligence Committee's investigation. He noted that Schiff said Obama should have done more on Russian interference Saturday. "Thanks Adam," he wrote.

In the end, the tweets seemed distilled to this, which he posted around 8 a.m.:

"The Democrats, lead by their fearless leader, Crooked Hillary Clinton, lost the 2016 election. But wasn't I a great candidate?"

All 65 passengers, crew feared dead in Iranian plane crash

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 09:19

DUBAI - All 65 passengers and crew were feared dead in a plane crash in central Iran on Sunday after the domestic flight came down in bad weather in a mountainous region.

A spokesman for Iranian carrier Aseman Airlines had told state television everyone was killed, but the airline then issued a statement saying it could not reach the crash site and could not “accurately and definitely confirm” everyone died.

The airline had also initially said 60 passengers and six crew were on board the twin-engined turboprop ATR 72 that was flying to the southwestern city of Yasuj. But it later said there were a total of 65 people on board, as one passenger had missed the flight.

The Aseman-operated plane crashed near the town of Semirom after taking off from Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, emergency services spokesman Mojtaba Khaledi told ISNA news agency.

As night approached, bad weather prevented helicopters searching the probable crash site but emergency workers were scouring the mountainous area by land, the television said.

“It is getting colder and darker and still no sign of the plane,” said a television reporter accompanying rescue teams searching snow-covered areas in Mount Dena which has more than 40 peaks higher than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet).

Media reports said the plane disappeared from radar screens 50 minutes after taking off from Mehrabad airport in the southwest of the capital. It mainly handles domestic flights.

Worried relatives of passengers gathered at Yasuj airport.

“I kept telephoning all morning but they (the relative) wouldn’t answer. So I called my brother and he said they will get here, it (the plane) is not behind schedule yet,” a young woman told a reporter for state television.

“I told him it is raining here. He said no (meaning, don’t worry). He called later and said the plane had crashed.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani issued messages of condolences. The president asked the transport minister to lead an investigation into the crash.

Iran has suffered several plane crashes in the past few decades. Tehran says U.S. sanctions have long prevented it from buying new aircraft or spare parts from the West. The crashed ATR was 25 years old, officials said.

A deal with world powers on Iran’s nuclear program has lifted some of those sanctions, opening the way for Iranian airlines to update their creaking fleets.

Aseman signed a deal last year to buy at least 30 Boeing 737 MAX jets. National carrier IranAir has ordered 80 planes from Boeing and 100 from Airbus.

Based in the southern French city of Toulouse, ATR is a joint venture between Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo

Earlier air disasters include the crash of a Boeing 727 passenger plane in 2011 which killed 78 people in the northwest of Iran, and the 2009 crash of a Caspian Airlines Tupolev aircraft bound for Armenia which killed all 168 people on board.

One of Iran’s worst air accidents happened in February 2003 when an Iranian Ilyushin-76 troop carrier crashed in southeast Iran, killing all 276 Revolutionary Guard soldiers and crew.

Life in Bethel: Richness and despair, sometimes all in a single day

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 09:02

I came to Bethel on a sunny Thursday in August 2014 with seven checked bags and set up my home office in a duplex on what some call Mission Lake Road and others know as Schwalbe Street. I stayed three years, as long as they let me, with the assignment of telling stories about what it means to live in rural Alaska. Sometimes I felt I came close to getting that story right. But I usually felt I was just on the other side of understanding.

So many things I never got to the bottom of. Why are there so many short-legged dogs in Western Alaska? Why do so many Bethel residents live on Chinese takeout? Why isn't there a solid village economy?

Some new people never give Bethel a chance. They see dusty roads and rotting old vehicles, tiny homes gray with age and neglect, wooden pallets piled in front yards. They get off the jet, look around and book the next flight out.

Settle in, though, and you'll experience richness and resourcefulness, tragedy and despair, sometimes all in a single day. The bigger world is far away. I saw the lure of a life built around the outdoors, the beauty of simple things. The joy of a hunt, the taste of a just-picked berry, the gratitude for the stranger who pulled my car out of the ditch. It's constant and up close.

['Who I am': For some Alaskans, fall moose hunting is woven into their being]

Whether they were in a vehicle or on foot, people who drank too much couldn't make the turn in front of my place. One time a drunken man stole a van and then drove it across my driveway before crashing into my neighbor's boat.

One fall evening, a couple held on to each other walking down the gravel road until they came to the turn. The woman sat in the street. A crowd gathered. "I love you, babe," she told her man. "Love ya too," he said right back. Someone called police to get her out of the road. The officer arrived and she pulled herself together. They continued on, leaning into each other.

That's the way it often went. I began to know the faces and names of those who had lost so much, but continued on. I heard the stories of a drowned brother, a drunken mother, a violent boyfriend. I saw heartache and love, failings and forgiveness.

[At the edge of survival: Bethel's homeless shelter and those it serves]

Life and seasons

In Bethel and the nearby villages, life revolved around the season: moose and wild greens, salmon and seal, all kinds of birds and berries. Walk along Bethel's protective seawall in summer and you'll find people jigging for pike. In winter, head down the ice road to Napaskiak. You'll see wooden branches marking and holding long nets lowered through holes cut through the ice for whitefish. And as soon as it's allowed each summer, skiffs take to the Kuskokwim River with driftnets for salmon.

I had no boat, no net and no gun, but plenty of friends who shared their catch. The KYUK radio station general manager brought me moose, fish and, once, a pair of geese, frozen whole, with feathers, heads and feet.

Most of us relied on city trucks to deliver water and we rationed what we got for worry of going dry. A daily shower turned out to be unnecessary. Even in someone else's house, you didn't always flush the toilet.

In the near-wilderness, so far from Anchorage and urban distractions, I tried things I had never done before because they were fun, accessible and challenging. Dance class. Mask making. Sewing. College Yup'ik. Pottery class.

[In Aniak, Slaviq brings a week of starring and songs for Orthodox Christmas]

On Saturday mornings in the undersized Bethel college gym, the sounds of "slap-stomp, slap-stomp" took over. Welcome to Ben and Sarah's jump rope class. With someone's playlist of fast tunes keyed up, we faced each other and jumped, each with our own rope. Regulars were from all quarters: nurses and a fix-it man, newcomers and Bethel-borns, a judge and an English professor (Ben), job experts and a psychologist (Sarah). No judgment, we insisted, and it was sort of true.

The kind of people I always wanted to be friends with landed in Bethel or were from the area all along. People always up for an adventure and pushing themselves to learn and grow. People doing good for each other. Quirky souls. Sometimes Bethel seemed like a combination of camp and college, the way people dropped in and made do, the way store-bought things weren't so important.

At a potluck, someone might bring seal stew and if you were lucky, akutaq (also called Eskimo ice cream). With Crisco, sugar, tundra berries and ideally whitefish, it is harder to hand-whip into a silky froth than you think. At a party once, the hostess put out a delicacy of herring eggs, which tasted like little pops of sea. Late that night, she offered us raw bowhead whale from up north. We dipped red bloody bites in seal oil and tasted a life ancient and wild.

[How Bethel came together to help an elder]

Darkness and light

Some things were unbearably sad. Tragedy etched itself into life. In a village, a toddler drowned in a bucket that the family used for handwashing because they had no running water.

A young man from Hooper Bay killed himself, then his close friend did the same. Family and friends circled around the girlfriend of the second man. She asked for time alone, locked the door and turned a rifle on herself. By the time this round of suicides ended, four were dead.

I learned to see loss differently. In some of the darkest stories, there was good. Three winter travelers headed home by four-wheeler one December night on the frozen Kuskokwim River. Only they were drinking. Only the river wasn't all frozen.

['That one time that always gets you into trouble': Rescuers share their stories at conference in Bethel]

After a pilot spotted four-wheeler tracks leading into an open hole on Kuskokuak Slough, search-and-rescue teams from Bethel, nearby Kwethluk and beyond mobilized. They tested the ice for safety, drove by truck and snowmachine onto the river and used chain saws to cut holes for big dragging hooks. A state trooper stopped by on a snowmachine, but the searchers were mainly local Native volunteers.

As I watched on that gray day, they pulled one of the three from the slushy water. They prayed in Yup'ik, giving thanks for finding him.

Lisa Demer worked as a reporter and, early on, as an editor for the Anchorage Daily News for 23 years. She recently left for a new job at the Rasmuson Foundation.

Here's the true economic cost of the uncertainty created by the Alaska Legislature - Alaska Dispatch News

Legislative News - Sun, 2018-02-18 08:43

Alaska Dispatch News

Here's the true economic cost of the uncertainty created by the Alaska Legislature
Alaska Dispatch News
Posturing and rigidity by members of the Alaska Legislature has cost the private economy perhaps half a billion dollars a year in investment that could have sped recovery from the recession, according to a new report. Business people have said for two ...

Rare, ‘weird-looking’ 70-pound frozen fish washes ashore in Haines

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 08:37

HAINES — As the tide ebbed down the beach outside his house Friday, Harry Rietze discovered a mysterious sea creature that one scientific paper described as "a puzzling fish with soft bones."

The brown, frozen animal Rietze found is a ragfish, and little is known about them. A few have washed up on beaches in Gustavus and Juneau, according to recent news reports, but they're a rare find. Commercial trawlers, seiners and gillnetters sometimes catch them off the southern coasts of California, north to the Bering Sea and in waters off Japan.

Because they live at great depth, few ragfish are found on beaches, according to a 2003 scientific paper written by George Allen, professor emeritus in the fisheries department at Humboldt State University. Southeast Alaska is the exception.

"A surprisingly large number of adults have been hand-collected from the beaches of bays and inlets of southeastern Alaska," Allen wrote in the paper published by the Marine Fisheries Review. "Other recoveries from beaches in southeastern Alaska were made by school children on field trips and by young boys on fishing trips near Kake and Petersburg."

Allen drew on scientific literature, studies and accounts from fishermen dating back to 1880 as sources for his paper. Ragfish have come to scientists primarily through fishermen and citizens who deliver them to fisheries management personnel, museum curators and ichthyologists. In 1998 and 1999, state and federal fisheries biologists in Juneau and Petersburg provided researchers with 16 ragfish records.

Other specimens have been found in the stomachs of sperm whales and Steller sea lions.

Even the ragfish's diet is mysterious. In one study, when the contents of 34 ragfish stomachs were examined, 65 percent of them were empty.

"Specific comments on material seen in six stomachs were: 'yellowish material at the lower end of the intestine,' or 'runny orange liquid,'" Allen wrote.

A unique feature of the ragfish is the name itself. While fishermen bestow a plethora of names upon uncommon fish, the name "ragfish" was widely used with one exception. Whalers in the 1930s utilized a different moniker when describing the fish to curious scientists.

"Dr. Robbins is confident that the 'bastard halibut' of the whalers is identical (to) the brown ragfish," Allen wrote.

Rietze first thought the beached fish was a halibut. He also found eggs about 50 feet to the right of the frozen ragfish carcass. The comet-shaped eggs, orange balls with translucent, tapered tails, were clustered throughout a bed of seaweed.

"This thing spawned on the beach," Rietze said. "I found some little orange eggs. I grabbed one and it smelled like a salmon egg and it had a little membrane around it, like a little tail, which is nothing like a salmon egg."

Not much is known of their spawning habits, although a study was done in 1990 about the early life history of fish in Southeast Alaska. Researchers found a large portion of ragfish eggs near sub-marine canyons, and they were most abundant in the entrance to Chatham Strait and the north edge of Dixon Entrance. Scientists estimated spawning to occur in late winter and early spring.

"Whether ragfish spawning behavior is social or occurs as isolated pairs or at least in small groups is not known, but females appear to discharge eggs in a single short burst, suggesting mating in small groups or by isolated pairs," Allen wrote.

Swarms of seagulls spent the last few days eating the eggs, perhaps to the dismay of a lonely male ragfish still swimming around Letnikof Cove.

Juvenile ragfish change significantly as they grow into adults, according to Allen. But even the descriptions of young and adult ragfish differ and converge. Both juvenile and adult ragfish heads have been described as "trout-like" and "calf-like."

"Head profiles may thus vary with the eye of the illustrator and the audience," Allen wrote. "Another researcher summarized, 'All that is known about the remarkable metamorphosis of this species from juvenile to adult is the change itself.'"

The aesthetic appeal of the fish is also subjective. While many consider the fish ugly, one fisherman refused to turn his find over to researchers.

"The fisherman was not willing to donate the specimen to science as it was aesthetically pleasing to him," Allen wrote of one researcher's account. "Indeed, beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Rietze said his specimen "was definitely weird-looking." He's keeping it in his freezer at Haines Packing and it weighs 70 pounds.

Rietze plans to see if the American Bald Eagle Foundation wants to exhibit his ragfish.

This story was republished with permission from the Chilkat Valley News.

‘Financial strain’ of Williwaw a factor in bankruptcy case involving company that owns Anchorage bars

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 08:36

Money troubles for the company that owns a cluster of bars in downtown Anchorage are tied in part to the ambitious restaurant and venue complex Williwaw, according to a document filed in federal bankruptcy court last week.

A group of creditors says the company that owns Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse, Flattop Pizza and Pool, and Bootleggers 8 Star Saloon owes them more than $2.7 million combined, according to bankruptcy filings.

In a bankruptcy petition filed in federal court in December, the creditors said the company, Hook Line and Sinker, Inc., "is generally not paying its debts as they become due," and they are requesting bankruptcy relief. The creditors listed on the petition are Collin Szymanski, Carl Brady, and Arctic Refrigeration & AC, Inc., according to the filings. Together, they are owed more than $800,000, records show.

Salamatof Native Association, Inc., an Alaska Native corporation in Kenai, joined in on the creditors' filing in bankruptcy court earlier this month. Hook Line and Sinker owes Salamatof — Williwaw's landlord — $1.9 million for four promissory notes Hook Line and Sinker had guaranteed, according to bankruptcy filings.

The bankruptcy petition is basically a lawsuit, said David Bundy, an attorney representing Hook Line and Sinker. The goal of the filing could be to compel the company to file for bankruptcy, or to shut it down, or get paid, he said last week.

"Creditors do this for all sorts of reasons," he said.

In a document filed in bankruptcy court on Thursday, Bundy wrote that "Humpy's current difficulties can be attributed to several causes," including Williwaw, which opened in 2015.

"Increased competition in downtown Anchorage, the impact of a slow local economy in general, and the financial strain imposed by Williwaw start up and mobilization costs, can all be cited," according to that filing. The space used to be occupied by Covenant House, which serves homeless youths.

The group of bars owned by Hook Line and Sinker are all clustered around West Sixth Avenue and F Street, just across the street from Williwaw. The four owners of that company also own another company called Fish or Cut Bait LLC, which owns and operates Williwaw.

[Popular Anchorage bar SubZero abruptly closes Saturday]

Williwaw has had some challenges since it opened. Susynn Snyder, venue and entertainment director there, said that's in part because of how many different things the sleek project set out to do. The space is a venue for concerts, meetings and other events, and is home to upscale speakeasy Blues Central, a SteamDot cafe, Birch bar and loft, and a rooftop bar.

Now, Snyder said, "we mostly have become a venue hall," hosting 644 events last year. The business has made adjustments to its staff and offerings accordingly. A lot of those changes have been in the menu.

"Before, we were trying to be everything to everyone," Snyder said. "We had wok bowls, entrees, and our kitchen just couldn't keep up."

Now, the restaurant offers more bar appetizers and no longer serves lunch. Williwaw also rents out its loft space more often.

It's not always clear on Google which parts of the space are open when, Snyder said, and that can make for confusion.

"Alaskans are like, 'Oh, what's going on?'" Snyder said. "There's a lot of complexity to it. And when you have that many spaces, you're kind of catering to different genres of people."

Still, she said she feels better about "where Williwaw is today" than she did when the business first opened, and that Anchorage needs such a venue.

"Williwaw is something special," she said.

Snyder also said in a text message that the owners wanted to put out the following statement: "Williwaw acknowledges the recent public reports regarding pending legal issues against Humpy's brought on behalf of creditors associated with the Williwaw project." The statement also said the venue is open and will remain open.

"We are actively negotiating an amicable non-judicial resolution of the Humpy's petition," the statement said.

[Williwaw complex in downtown Anchorage contains bar, restaurant, coffee shop, 'speak-easy']

An attorney representing the creditors did not want to speak to a reporter last week. Dylan Buchholdt, a co-owner of Hook Line and Sinker named in the creditors' court filing, did not return a call seeking comment.

When asked why Hook Line and Sinker has been unable to pay, Bundy said "lots of companies run into financial problems."

Szymanski and his company Mantech Mechanical, Inc., also filed a separate lawsuit in November in Anchorage Superior Court against Hook Line and Sinker, Fish or Cut Bait, and the individual owners, alleging money was still owed related to work done on the Williwaw project. A judge last week entered final judgments in favor of the plaintiffs, for a balance of nearly $690,000, according to the state court system's website.

On Friday in federal bankruptcy court, Judge Gary Spraker granted an extension to Hook Line and Sinker, allowing the company to have until Thursday to file a response to the creditors.

This type of "involuntary" bankruptcy case — initiated by creditors instead of filed by the company itself — is "very rare," said Anchorage-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee Nacole Jipping.

Snyder said employees at Williwaw are doing "everything we can every day" to keep the doors open, that the business has no intention of closing and has events booked through the end of the year.

"I've been working six days a week to make sure that (closing) doesn't happen," she said, "and to make sure that it is a viable business."

Share of Alaskans working in state’s oil industry shrinks to lowest in decades

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-02-18 08:35

The share of Alaskans working in the state's oil and gas industry fell to new lows in 2016 after seven years of decline, leaving more of the valuable work to out-of-state employees, state data shows.

Nearly two of the industry's five workers lived Outside that year, the last year studied, worrying state officials.

"It's kind of troubling," said Greg Cashen, deputy commissioner at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, on Monday.

Alaskans' share of the industry's jobs was rising until 2009, when Alaskans comprised 72 percent of the workforce. But by 2016, they held 63 percent of industry jobs, the agency reported in January.

That's a significant change, said Dan Robinson, the agency's chief of research and analysis.

Alaskans' share of the workforce is the lowest since 1991, the earliest year on records provided by the department.

Robinson said an even smaller percent of Alaskans could be working at the remote North Slope oil fields.

Workers can drive daily to offices in Anchorage where many companies keep state headquarters. But Slope workers commute by plane for multi-week assignments in the field before getting a similarly long break, he said.

The long rotations give people an opportunity to live Outside and fly to Alaska for work.

"They just have the freedom to live anywhere that you and I don't," said Robinson.

The 2016 finding, based on Permanent Fund dividend applications, comes as Alaska posts the nation's highest unemployment rate, 7.3 percent in December.

The nonresident problem extends beyond oil and gas, officials said. Overall, one in five workers commuted to Alaska, especially for seasonal work in fishing and construction or mining and oil field jobs, according to the report.

Alaska's petroleum workforce is a small part of overall employment. But the sector is closely tracked in part because of its large paychecks. Experts say those wages have positive ripple effects on the economy when they're spent at Alaska stores and restaurants. Industry employees average $135,000 a year in income, more than double the statewide number.

In 2016, $526 million flowed to 5,900 petroleum workers who lived Outside, about $89,000 on average. Those numbers include full-time and temporary employees.

Carl Giesler, chief executive of small producer Glacier Oil and Gas, said the nonresident share increased during the boom years after 2009, when oil prices were high, because there weren't enough skilled Alaskans to keep up with growth.

He believes the nonresident share kept growing after the oil price collapse in 2014, sparking thousands of layoffs and a recession, because some contractors left Alaska for Lower 48 opportunities.

For some work, the industry must look Outside for services, he said.

"It's not like (oil companies) don't want to use people from Alaska, but in some cases, they just don't have a choice," he said.

Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said she's not surprised the trend has continued.

Major oil producers have slashed budgets and boosted specialized work during the downturn, including for long-distance horizontal drilling to reach remote targets.

"They are bringing in specialized folks" from Outside for that and other work, she said.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said the high-paying jobs offer workers mobility. Some may be choosing to sell houses in Alaska and move to states where the cost of living is lower and economic stability more certain.

"We don't get exit interviews from people leaving Alaska," she said. "It's a problem. Alaskans need these good-paying jobs."

Scott Eickholt, business manager for Alaska Laborers Local 942 in Fairbanks, whose members provide construction and maintenance for Slope fields, blames industry cutbacks.

Prudhoe Bay operator BP is awarding contracts to companies hiring non-union employees, replacing better-compensated union workers, he said.

[Norcon to cut 147 jobs after losing North Slope contract]

The Laborers union has a 12-month residency requirement that's rarely waived, so about 95 percent of members are Alaskans, he said. The union has seen sharp losses in Prudhoe Bay jobs, and some 200 of its best-trained workers await work in the industry, he said.

"We are Alaskans sitting here and watching people from out of state fly over our heads to work jobs that Alaskans should be working," Eickholt said.

The problem of high nonresident rates in the industry has perplexed state leaders for decades, he said. "Now, here we are in a time of struggle without the tools to fix it," he said.

Natalie Lowman, a spokeswoman with ConocoPhillips Alaska, said construction this winter at the Greater Moose's Tooth 1 project on the Slope will require about 700 positions.

"More than 500 of those are union positions through union contractors," she said. "They include teamsters, pipefitters, operators, laborers and IBEW — predominantly from the Fairbanks hall."

Eickholt said he's grateful some laborers will get part of that work, but the union's overall employment numbers will remain well below recent years' numbers.

Lowman said 84 percent of ConocoPhillips Alaska employees live in state. A BP Alaska spokeswoman said 76 percent of its employees live here. Both companies say they encourage their contractors to hire Alaskans.

Kakivik Asset Management and CCI Industrial Services will conduct Prudhoe Bay pipeline inspections as part of a contract with BP starting April 1.

They will employ non-union workers, replacing a mostly union workforce of 261 employed by New Jersey-based Mistras Group.

The companies hire the most qualified candidates, said Sheila Schooner, their spokeswoman. But they prioritize the hiring of Alaskans and Native shareholders of the companies' parent, Bristol Bay Native Corp.

Their Alaska hire rate is 76 percent, she said.

"We think if more Alaskan companies had work in Alaska, there would be more Alaskan residents working in the state," she said.

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