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Updated: 28 min 42 sec ago

The eerie song of Antarctic melting

1 hour 16 min ago

Research published last week by the American Geophysical Union documents a chaotic, low-frequency hum across the Ross Ice Shelf - a platform the size of France that floats off the coast of West Antarctica.

The pitches are caused by wind striking snow dunes, and it's an eerie sort of song. But, the researchers argue, it's also an early warning sign for one of the nightmare scenarios in climate change science: the disintegration of Antarctica's largest ice shelf, and consequent slide of glaciers into the ocean.

The song slows down when snow begins to melt in the ice shelf’s top layers. That’s already happened.

Listen:

The ice warbled to itself for centuries: a discordant song whose verses told the stories of cold winds and shifting snow dunes vibrating across Antarctica.

Sped up thousands of times into the frequency range of human hearing, it sounded as though the ice's warble faded to something like a dial tone - a moaning dirge that lasted for two of the warmest weeks on record for the polar continent. A song that warned of melting snow.

If the worst fears of climate scientists come true - if in some particularly warm month this century, the 500-mile-long Ross Ice Shelf collapses like a ruined border wall, allowing Antarctica's interior glaciers to flow past it into swelling oceans - we might see little of the calamity's beginning.

When a smaller ice shelf collapsed on the other side of West Antarctica in January 2002, we were blind.

“Scientists monitoring daily satellite images of the Antarctic Peninsula watched in amazement as almost the entire Larsen B Ice Shelf splintered and collapsed in just over one month,” NASA wrote in its memorial to that 10,000-year-old platform of ice.

"It collapsed between pictures of a satellite," Julien Chaput, a geophysicist at Colorado State University, told The Washington Post. "One picture, it was there. The next, it wasn't."

But the ice shelf was sick long before its spectacular death. As Chaput explained it, the early stages of disintegration are insidious and largely invisible to satellites.

Repeat heat waves cause the carpet of snow atop the ice shelf to melt and refreeze. With each refreeze, the snow gets harder. Eventually, it gets so hard that pools of water form on the snow's surface and trickle downward, carving tunnels in the snow to reach the ice beneath.

The ice weakens like a rotting boat hull under the meltwater's assault. It cracks. Only near the end is the extent of the damage obvious to satellites, when the entire shelf - ice, snow and all - breaks apart and dissolves into the ocean within days.

This is, to put it mildly, a lousy warning system for the end of the world as we know it.

But as Chaput and his team demonstrated in a paper published by the American Geophysical Union last week, a wounded ice shelf will sing about its troubles long before it shows them to us.

The discovery was "a complete accident," Chaput said. No one expected ice to sing.

Several years ago, a different team of researchers installed dozens of seismic stations across the Ross Ice Shelf. Like many climate scientists, they were concerned that if the France-size floating ice platform ever collapsed like Larsen B did in 2002, titanic glaciers behind it would be free to escape the mainland of Antarctica, eventually raising ocean levels by several feet.

"For now, the Ross Ice Shelf seems to be stable," Chaput said. "But that could change extremely rapidly and without warning."

The seismic stations were designed to measure what the Earth's crust and mantle are doing beneath the ice - massive vibrations on the scale of earthquakes.

But as Chaput reviewed the data set from late 2014 to 2017, he noticed something in the sine waves: a subtle song, vibrating through the top layers of snow.

"You had these pitches, these incredibly defined tones, persistent and defined at each station," he said. "They'd change all the time, with changes in air temperature and storm events and wind events."

Even the movement of a snow dune could alter the frequencies, Chaput said. It was as if the entire snow bed were grooved out like an old phonograph record, humming with the rustle of the atmosphere above.

The notes hovered around 5 hertz, about four times lower than human ears can detect. But Chaput could easily speed them up enough to hear - compressing days-long rhythms into minutes or seconds.

That's how he was able to hear what happened in early 2016 - when an especially warm summer came to Antarctica and the phonograph skipped.

Chaput didn't discover the great melt event of January 2016. As Chris Mooney wrote in The Washington Post, it disturbed scientists who learned of it at the time.

The two-week melt left nothing so obvious as a lake on the surface of the Ross Ice Shelf. Rather, it turned a patch of snow the size of Texas wet and slushy as the air temperature rose to above freezing. Scientists detected it at first through the presence of vapor clouds above the ice shelf, Mooney wrote, then used microwave satellites to confirm the damage.

But when in the music of the snow, the melting was impossible to miss.

At seismic stations across the ice shelf, the warbling vibrations grew quiet. Notes stretched out into a long drone at some locations, like a tornado siren going off. To Chaput, it sounded like a two-week-long groan.

"It doesn't sound super happy to me," he said.

The music of the ice, he explained, is made by wind passing over snow dunes and sending vibrations through trillions of compressed ice crystals in the snow bed - called a firn. "Snow is 80 percent air, with flaky bonds between crystals," Chaput said. "As they get weaker, the velocity a wave travels gets lower, so the tones go down. It both lowers and gets quieter."

All this might simply mean that Chaput found a depressing soundtrack for the melting of an ice cap. But as described in his paper, the music also holds potential as a measurement tool - something like a sonogram for the health of snow and ice in future warming evens, of which he expects many.

That doesn't mean we'll like what we hear.

The ancient warble of the Ross Ice Shelf returned shortly after the heat wave ended in late January, as watery snow refroze and crystals reforged their bonds. But at many of the listening stations, it no longer sounds the same. The warble now has something like a rasp.

"You can see the physical impact," Chaput said. "When it gets cooled again, the firn partially heals and rebounds in some ways, but not entirely."

He doesn't know whether the Ross Ice Shelf will regain its original structure and voice, or whether it's been permanently damaged, as the Larsen B Ice Shelf must have been long before it broke apart.

For now, however imperfectly, it continues to sing.

Saudi phone calls and a ‘body double’ after Khashoggi killing

2 hours 1 min ago

This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish broadcaster TRT World and made available on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, purportedly showing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.(CCTV/TRT World via AP)

ANKARA, Turkey — A man appearing to wear Jamal Khashoggi’s clothes left the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul following his killing there, according to a surveillance video, while a member of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s entourage made four calls to the royal’s office around the same time, reports said Monday.

The reports by CNN and a pro-government Turkish newspaper came just a day before Prince Mohammed's high-profile investment summit is to begin in Riyadh and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised that details of Khashoggi's killing "will be revealed in all its nakedness." Meanwhile, Turkish crime-scene investigators swarmed a garage Monday night in Istanbul where a Saudi consular vehicle had been parked.

All this yet again adds to the pressure Saudi Arabia faces over the slaying of the Washington Post columnist. The kingdom's claim on Saturday that Khashoggi died in a "fistfight" met international skepticism and allegations of a cover-up to absolve the 33-year-old crown prince of direct responsibility.

Turkish media reports and officials maintain that a 15-member Saudi team flew to Istanbul on Oct. 2, knowing Khashoggi would arrive for a document he needed to get married. Once he was inside the diplomatic mission, the Saudis accosted Khashoggi, cut off his fingers, killed and dismembered the 59-year-old writer.

CNN aired surveillance video Monday showing the man in Khashoggi's dress shirt, suit jacket and pants. It cited a Turkish official as describing the man as a "body double" and a member of the Saudi team sent to Istanbul to target the writer. The man is seen in the footage walking out of the consulate via its back exit with an accomplice, then taking a taxi to Istanbul's famed Sultan Ahmed Mosque, where he went into a public bathroom, changed back out of the clothes and left.

The state-run broadcaster TRT later also reported that a man who entered the consulate building was seen leaving the building in Khashoggi's clothes.

In the days after Khashoggi vanished, Saudi officials initially said that he had left the consulate, implying premeditation on the part of the Saudi team.

"After Turkish authorities and the media were allowed to inspect the consulate building in its entirety, the accusations changed to the outrageous claim that he was murdered, in the consulate, during business hours, and with dozens of staff and visitors in the building," Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Khalid bin Salman, a brother of the crown prince, wrote Oct. 8. "I don't know who is behind these claims, or their intentions, nor do I care frankly."

A separate report by newspaper Yeni Safak said Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a member of Prince Mohammed's entourage on trips to the U.S., France and Spain this year, made the calls from the consulate. The newspaper said the four calls went to Bader al-Asaker, the head of Prince Mohammed's office. It said another call went to the United States.

Yeni Safak cited no source for the information. However, pro-government newspapers have been leaking information about Khashoggi's killing, apparently with the help of Turkish security forces. Yeni Safak reported last week that Saudi officials cut off Khashoggi's fingers and then decapitated him at the consulate as his fiancée waited outside.

Officials in Saudi Arabia have not answered repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press in recent days, including on Monday. Saudi Arabia so far has not acknowledged or explained Mutreb's presence in Istanbul, nor that a forensics and autopsy expert was also on hand for Khashoggi's arrival at the consulate.

Last week, a leaked photograph apparently taken from surveillance footage showed Mutreb at the consulate, just ahead of Khashoggi's arrival. Mutreb's name also matches that of a first secretary who once served as a diplomat at the Saudi Embassy in London, according to a 2007 list compiled by the British Foreign Office.

By nightfall, Turkish police began searching an underground car parking garage in Istanbul's Sultangazi district. Surveillance video aired by TRT showed what Turkish security officials described as suspicious movement with the vehicles, including an image of a man moving a bag from one vehicle to another.

Meanwhile, Saudi state media reported that both Prince Mohammed and King Salman made calls to Khashoggi's son, Salah, early Monday. Statements from the agency said both the king and the crown prince expressed their condolences for Khashoggi's death.

A Saudi friend of Khashoggi who was in frequent touch with him before his death told the AP that Salah Khashoggi had been under a travel ban and barred from leaving the kingdom since last year as a result of his father's criticism of the government. The friend spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussion. The Saudi statements did not acknowledge the ban.

Five Turkish employees of the consulate also gave testimony to prosecutors Monday, Turkish media reported. Istanbul's chief prosecutor had summoned 28 more staff members of the Saudi Consulate, including Turkish citizens and foreign nationals, to give testimony. Some Turkish employees reportedly said they were instructed not to go to work around the time that Khashoggi disappeared.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Sunday told Fox News that Khashoggi's killing was "a rogue operation" and that "we don't know where the body is."

"The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority," he said. "There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up. That is unacceptable to the government."

However, leading Republicans and Democrats in Congress are saying Saudi Arabia should face punishment over Khashoggi's killing. President Donald Trump also had talked about possible punishment but said he didn't want to halt proposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia because, he maintained, it would harm U.S. manufacturers.

Britain, Germany and France issued a joint statement condemning the killing of Khashoggi, saying there is an "urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened."

In a statement Sunday, the governments said attacks on journalists are unacceptable and "of utmost concern to our three nations." They said the "hypotheses" proposed so far in the Saudi investigation need to be backed by facts to be considered credible.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday in Berlin that she supports a freeze on arms exports to Saudi Arabia. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier underlined that point Monday, calling for a joint European position as Germany "won't at this point approve any further arms exports because we want to know what happened."

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

BP’s Rocky Mountain high is threatened by a $39 million vote on drilling in Colorado

2 hours 21 min ago

BP’s new U.S. onshore oil headquarters in Denver serves as a testament to Colorado’s regal mountains, its expansive forests, its nature-loving culture.

Aspen trees line the BP club room, newly installed beer taps await local craft brews, multiple stone fireplaces invite cozy discussions about ski conditions, and a 52-foot pine tree, sliced in half, serves as a conference table.

Whether Coloradans want the tribute is another matter.

On Nov. 6, voters may spoil BP's welcome. That's when Colorado decides whether to limit drilling in an initiative that has drawn almost $39 million in campaign finance contributions. If passed, the proposition would cut the state's oil output by more than half and, perhaps, act as a potential blueprint for blocking development elsewhere.

BP moved its office from Houston weeks before the proposition hit the ballot. Colorado has been drawing drillers whose interest has been piqued by production that's climbed 10-fold since 2001 to a record 450,000 barrels a day in April. Along with Noble Energy Inc., Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and others, BP is now in the midst of a multimillion-dollar war over the state's environmental future.

"The long-term impact is quite significant," said Matt Andre, an energy analyst at S&P Global Platts. "It's about the precedent being set, and it working its way to other states."

At issue is Proposition 112, which requires that new drilling sites, processing plants and gathering lines be more than 2,500 feet from homes, schools and other "vulnerable" areas. In effect, it makes 54 percent of surface land inaccessible to producers.

If the measure passes, production could fall 55 percent by 2023, according to an S&P analysis. But Andre sees that as just a best-case scenario: "It assumes that people who can drill will drill," he said. "But you have to imagine that some people will move to other plays."

The stakes are extraordinarily high. By July, Colorado overtook Alaska to become the nation's sixth-largest oil producer. In 2016, the government estimated that the state had 1.3 billion barrels of proved oil reserves.

The vote's in a few weeks. In the meantime, the latest campaign filings show opponents to the proposition have put $37.8 million into defeating it, including $300,000 contributed by BP on Oct. 2, and about $6 million each overall from Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy.

That compares with just $921,000 raised by proponents. The latest polling by Height Securities showed support for the measure at 43 percent and opposition at 47 percent, based on a survey conducted Oct. 15 and Oct. 16.

These companies "don't just have to win," said Ethan Bellamy, a senior analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co Inc. "They have to win by a mile to take the risk overhang out of the stocks. If Proposition 112 wins, the stocks will get torched."

BP isn't the only company to show renewed interest in Colorado, even amid efforts to restrict development in the state. Wyoming gas producer Ultra Petroleum Corp. in September moved its headquarters from Houston to Denver, part of a plan to consolidate operations.

Even Noble, which last year shifted operations to Texas, has reallocated activity back to the Denver-Julesberg basin amid pipeline bottlenecks expected to slow growth in the prolific Permian Basin.

For Denver-based companies with operations outside the state, such as BP, opposing the ballot measure is a matter of principle. But for pure-play producers the proposition could be a significant blow. Independent explorers Extraction Oil and Gas, PDC Energy and SRC Energy all saw their shares fall after Colorado put Proposition 112 on the ballot.

Other heavily exposed companies include Highpoint Resources Corp., Bonanza Creek Energy Inc., Whiting Petroleum Corp., Anadarko and Noble, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence.

Some companies are doing what they can to mitigate the impact of the measure.

Highpoint, for instance, is evaluating the drilling of longer laterals, Chief Financial Officer Bill Crawford said. Others are rushing to secure drilling permits ahead of the vote. Extraction Oil & Gas anticipates having more than three years of drilling inventory permitted and "ready to go" if the measure passes, Chief Executive Mark Erickson said on a second-quarter earnings call.

Anadarko, which holds 400,000 acres in the D.J. basin, has already announced plans to trim new production in the region, even before the measure made it onto the ballot.

"There's uncertainty," said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst James Blatchford. "Anadarko might reduce activity in the DJ basin, but aren't likely to leave entirely."

A BP spokesman declined to comment on what impact if any, the measure might have on that company. BP opposes the proposition, like its fellow producers, and its Lower-48 unit plans to increase its share of oil production, amid low gas prices. But it hasn't announced new exploration in the state.

The company now operates more than 1,300 wells in the Colorado portion of the San Juan basin but is weighing selling those assets following its $10.5 billion acquisition of most of BHP Billiton Ltd.'s onshore U.S. fields. It also owns and operates a natural gas plant near the New Mexico border that can process as much as 280 million cubic feet a day.

Politically, BP is trying to straddle both sides. While the company opposes the ballot measure, it casts itself as broadly supportive of Denver's environmental goals.

"This is a city and a state that cares about the environment -- we see ourselves as a partner in that," said Dave Lawler, chief executive of BP's Lower 48 unit, in an interview last month. "This is one of the many steps of how we're transforming the company."

Lawler insisted that the Denver office is here to stay, regardless of the referendum’s outcome or the potential sale of BP’s holdings. The decision to relocate to Denver rested largely on the state’s “entrepreneurial mindset,” he said. “And in Denver, certainly, a technology emphasis that we want to be part of the company long-term.”

Fierce lobbying and charm offenses: How Saudi Arabia gained power in Washington

4 hours 38 min ago

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner stands among Saudi officials as President Trump talks with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a meeting in the Oval Office in March. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford (Jabin Botsford/)

WASHINGTON - In March 2018, the Saudi ambassador to Washington summoned a cadre of high-priced Washington lobbyists to his embassy to grapple with a delicate, double-pronged challenge.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was preparing for his first official visit to the United States, just four months after he consolidated power by ordering the detention of members of the royal family and business elite. At the same time, Congress was facing a vote on a bipartisan resolution seeking to end U.S. support for a Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of civilians since 2015.

During an afternoon meeting on March 12, Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Salman sat at the head of a long table in an embassy conference room, flanked by a whiteboard detailing the prince's itinerary. His assembled advisers included Norm Coleman, a former Minnesota senator; Marc Lampkin, a veteran Capitol Hill adviser who served on President Trump's transition team; and Democratic strategist Alfred Mottur, according to people familiar with the gathering.

Eight days after their meeting, the congressional resolution aimed at extracting the United States from what the United Nations labeled "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world" would be defeated - hours after Mohammed was warmly welcomed at the White House at the start of his nationwide tour.

Those twin successes reflected the power of a sophisticated Saudi influence machine that has shaped policy and perceptions in Washington for decades, batting back critiques of the oil-rich kingdom by doling out millions to lobbyists, blue-chip law firms, prominent think tanks and large defense contractors. In 2017, Saudi payments to lobbyists and consultants in Washington more than tripled over the previous year, public filings show.

The strength of the Saudi operation is now being tested amid a global condemnation of the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi earlier this month in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul - a death the kingdom belatedly acknowledged last week.

Beyond their spending in Washington, the Saudis have enjoyed a priceless advantage: a warm relationship with the president, who has done business with its wealthy citizens, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who developed a close bond with the crown prince as he crafted the administration's Middle East policy. The ties build on a long-standing relationship between past administrations and the Saudi royal family.


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday Oct. 16, 2018. Pompeo also met on Tuesday with Saudi King Salman over the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, who vanished two weeks ago during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP) (Leah Mills/)

The kingdom also cultivated opinion leaders through aggressive charm offensives. Powerful government figures - including deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, who was fired for Khashoggi’s killing - have visited Washington to court reporters and think tank analysts.

The Saudi ambassador regularly hosts intimate dinners in Washington and even occasional galas, such as a lavish event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium honoring this year's visit of the crown prince. The kingdom's lobbying team was dispatched to ensure that leading members of congressional foreign relations panels attended, public filings show.

Earlier this year, Saudi officials even offered Super Bowl tickets and chartered flights to the event to media stars such as Jake Tapper of CNN and Bret Baier of Fox News, according to Tapper and a Fox News spokeswoman. (Both said they turned the offers down.)

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not return multiple requests for comment.

A handful of lobbyists and think tanks have declared they will turn off the Saudi money spigot. Yet to be determined is whether that marks a tipping point in Washington's ties to Saudi Arabia or merely a lull before business returns to normal.

"The goodwill the Saudis have enjoyed in Washington, either because of lobbying efforts or their perceived value as an ally, is something to watch in the wake of the Khashoggi incident," said Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who says Congress has abdicated constitutional responsibilities by supporting the battle in Yemen without declaring war.

Coleman - a dean of the Saudi lobby in Washington and an influential GOP figure who also co-founded a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis. - said national interests are at stake if the U.S.-Saudi partnership does not endure.

"The relationship with Saudi Arabia is critically important, and its partnership in confronting the Iranian threat is critical for U.S. security, for security in the region, including the security of Israel," he said.

- - -

In the past two years, the Saudis have intensified their efforts to cement the U.S. relationship. The kingdom's spending on U.S. lobbying and consulting, which had dropped from $14.3 million in 2015 to $7.7 million in 2016, surged to $27.3 million last year, according to public records. More than 200 people have registered as agents on behalf of Saudi interests since 2016, according to lobbying documents posted by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Among those on the payroll have been some of Washington's top public relations and lobbying shops: the McKeon Group, helmed by Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; BGR Group, a firm founded by prominent Republicans Ed Rogers and Haley Barbour; the Glover Park Group, which was launched by Democratic political strategists including Joe Lockhart and Carter Eskew; and the now-defunct Podesta Group, the former firm of Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta.

Rogers and Eskew are both contributing opinion writers for The Washington Post. Last week, both of their firms announced they were dropping their representation of Saudi Arabia. The Post had told them they could not continue to write for The Post and lobby for Saudi Arabia, according to spokeswoman Kristine Coratti Kelly.

Separately, Saudi money - and funds from its close ally, the United Arab Emirates - have also flowed into think tanks throughout Washington, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Brookings Institution and the Middle East Institute. All three said last week that they are ending or reconsidering Saudi grants.

"One of the foreign policy truisms force-fed in Washington is that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a special, unbreakable relationship," said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and leading critic of the war in Yemen. "At least everybody who is smart and knows about foreign policy who walks into your office tells you that. But as it turns out, a lot of those people are getting gulf money."

One of the biggest beneficiaries of Saudi money has been the Middle East Institute, which touts itself as "an unbiased source of information and analysis on this critical region." The organization is chaired by Richard Clarke, who held senior national security positions during the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Between 2016 and 2017, the think tank received between $1.25 million and $4 million in funding from Saudi interests, according to its public disclosures.

In 2016, MEI received $20 million from UAE - which has backed the Saudi government's claims regarding Khashoggi's death - to renovate its headquarters.

The institute also has other ties to the kingdom. Michael Petruzzello - who took on the kingdom as a client after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and whose communications firm Qorvis MSLGROUP reported $6.3 million in lobbying fees from the Saudis in 2016 and 2017 - was a member of the MEI board until earlier this year, according to a spokesman for the institute. And Jack Moore, director of the Washington office of the North American subsidiary of the Saudi government-owned oil company, is currently on the board.

Petruzzello did not respond to requests for comment. Moore did not respond to a request through the institute.

Scott Zuke, a spokesman for the institute, said that it makes clear to donors that its scholars are independent. "We do not accept any donation from a government, individual, corporation or foundation that seeks to restrict our academic freedom," he said.

The pro-Saudi lobby in Washington ramped up its efforts after a major setback in fall 2016 - the success of a bill pushed by the Sept. 11 families, known as Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which allowed them to sue the Saudi government over its alleged support for the terrorist attacks. Of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks, 15 were Saudi citizens.

In passing the law, Congress overrode Barack Obama's veto for the first time in his presidency, despite arguments by administration officials that the measure could expose U.S. officials to similar lawsuits abroad.

The Saudi government, which has denied any ties to the 9/11 terrorists, kept lobbying against the law in early 2017, pushing amendments that supporters say would have gutted it. Military veterans were recruited by Saudi consultants to come to Washington to tell Congress the measure could open them up to potential litigation.

"The Saudis are very dirty in their fighting," said Terry Strada, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center and is one of the lead plaintiffs in the litigation against the kingdom. "Veterans were showing up in Washington using language identical to Saudi talking points. Let's face it, the only people they thought could go up against 9/11 families and be successful were veterans."

Some of the veterans were not told that Saudi interests were backing their visit, according to a complaint filed last year with the Justice Department by 9/11 families. The veterans were put up at the Trump International Hotel, one of the president's properties, and the kingdom ultimately paid the $270,000 tab, lobbying records show.

"It's an awesome trip and basically like a 5 star vacation :)" read one email invitation filed as part of the complaint.

David Casler, a retired Marine sergeant living in Sacramento, said he thought a nonprofit veterans group was paying to fly him to Washington and put him up in the Trump hotel. It wasn't until after he arrived in Washington that he figured out the Saudis were paying the bill, he said.

"We realized we were pawns," Casler said.

Petruzzello, who helped organize the veterans' campaign, did not return request for comment. He told Yahoo News last year that his firm followed lobbying laws, adding that allegations that veterans were deceived "rings hollow to me."

- - -

As the Republican presidential nominee, Trump called Obama's veto of JASTA "shameful" and "one of the low points of his presidency."

But he and his son-in-law were soon forging personal relationships with key Saudi allies and other Middle Eastern leaders. Early on, introductions were made thanks in part to Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a Trump friend of three decades who does business in the Middle East and has personal connections with powerful figures in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

Barrack declined to comment.

In May 2016, Barrack introduced Kushner to the influential UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, a major Saudi ally, according to a person with knowledge of the episode. And Barrack talked to Trump about meeting other regional leaders, including the emir of Qatar. And he talked up the promise of a powerful Saudi prince named Mohammed bin Salman, according to the person.

A few months after Trump's inauguration, Kushner and Mohammed met in person for the first time at a lunch in the White House's regal State Dining Room. They immediately hit it off, conducting so many one-on-one phone calls in the following weeks that some intelligence officials raised concerns that Kushner was freelancing diplomacy, The Post previously reported.

In the days preceding and after the prince's visit, the embassy's @ArabiaNow Twitter feed - run by Qorvis MSLGROUP, according to lobbying records - offered a sunny view of the oil-rich kingdom and its role in Yemen.

On March 10, 2017, @ArabiaNow tweeted, "Saudi Arabia steps up its assistance to care for ill and injured in Yemen," linking to a post detailing Saudi-led humanitarian assistance - claims that human rights activists dismiss as propaganda.

Around the same time, one of Mohammed's rivals was seeking his own gateway to the administration. In May 2017, the Saudi Ministry of Interior - at the time headed by Mohammed bin Nayef, then next in line for the throne - paid $5.4 million to a firm led by a Trump campaign adviser and Oregon winery owner named Robert Stryk, according to public filings.

Just one month later, when Mohammed was elevated by King Salman over Nayef, the deal abruptly ended due to "regime change in Saudi Arabia," according to lobbying documents Stryk filed. Stryk declined to comment.

A few months after the White House lunch, Kushner persuaded Trump to choose Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip over the objections of other administration officials, The Post has reported.

White House officials declined to comment except to refer to an interview Trump gave The Post on Saturday, in which he played down Kushner's relationship with the crown prince.

"Jared doesn't do business with Saudi Arabia They're two young guys. Jared doesn't know him well or anything," the president said. "They are just two young people. They are the same age. They like each other I believe."

The crown prince was not the only Saudi official making the rounds in Washington. In town the same week was Assiri - the Saudi intelligence official late fired over Khashoggi's killing - who told reporters that the Trump administration had pledged to increase U.S. intelligence sharing and defense cooperation.

Days later, Assiri wrote an op-ed published on FoxNews.com that hailed the importance of the U.S.-Saudi partnership in fighting terrorism. Assiri’s piece was entered into the congressional record by Rep. Edward Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Royce praised "General Assiri's support for intelligence sharing" and noted that "the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is central to the fight against terror," according to the congressional record.

It was at least the second swing through Washington by Assiri, who had also met with reporters in a May 2016 stop to discuss the war in Yemen. During that visit, Assiri was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies for a discussion about human rights concerns in Yemen, according to the think tank.

- - -

In March, facing the prince's upcoming visit and the Yemen vote, the Saudis' Washington machine whirred into action.

At the embassy, the ambassador laid out the schedule and list of cities and took suggestions on important people Mohammed should meet, according to people in attendance.

Coleman described the meeting as a routine planning session. Mottur confirmed he and Lampkin were in attendance on behalf of their firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Lampkin did not return a request for comment.

During the seven weeks leading up to the crown prince's visit and Yemen resolution vote, lobbyists reported 759 contacts with members of Congress, staffers, academics and reporters on behalf of the Saudi government, according to public records.

The kingdom was up against an unusual cross-party trio: Murphy, Lee and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, who together were pushing to end American involvement in Yemen.

The United States has sided with the Saudi-led coalition in a civil war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, arguing that the military campaign is a necessary part of the war on terrorism.

"People seem to have a hard time believing their eyes in Yemen," said Murphy, a critic of the air war. "The Saudis are clearly bombing civilian targets over and over, and people don't want to believe it, which tells you how powerful their relationships are in Washington."

Andrea Prasow, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Washington, recalled talking with a key congressional aide about civilian casualties in Yemen and realizing that the aide was simultaneously receiving texts from Otaiba, the well-connected UAE ambassador who is a key advocate for the Saudis.

The day of the March 20 vote, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made a rare appearance at lunches for both the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the Senate, according to staffers, appealing to Congress not to pass the resolution. "They called out the big guns," said one top Senate aide.

The resolution failed to advance, 44-55.

The same day, the Saudi crown prince arrived in Washington, kicking off a three-week public relations blitz in which he met with entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post.

His arrival was greeted with a piece on the website of the Middle East Institute by Fahad Nazer, identified as a guest contributor, who wrote: "The U.S. and the West should take note of the fundamental social changes taking place in Saudi Arabia and support Crown Prince Mohammed."

A link from Nazer's name goes to a short biography describing him as a "a columnist for the Saudi daily newspaper Arab News and a political consultant to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington."

"The views he expresses are strictly his own," it says.

Nazer received $91,000 in consulting fees from the kingdom in 2017, filings show. Nazer told The Post that he does not lobby the administration or Congress and that he has followed all the laws regarding his consulting work for the embassy.

Zuke, the MEI spokesman, said it publishes essays expressing differing viewpoints.

Many institutions are now rethinking their Saudi connections in the wake of the death of Khashoggi, who Turkish authorities have concluded was deliberately targeted by a 15-man squad of Saudi agents who killed and dismembered him inside the diplomatic mission.

"For think tanks, as well as universities and museums, taking Saudi money is going to leave a stain for some time to come," said Daniel Benjamin, director of the John Sloan Dickey Center at Dartmouth University, who has worked at Brookings and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

On Friday, CSIS said that it is not proceeding with a $900,000 grant from the Saudi government to provide skills development training for its embassy in Washington.

"We still believe that the United States has an interest in sustaining the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia," said CSIS spokesman H. Andrew Schwartz in an email. "Most of what the U.S. wants to achieve in the Middle East becomes more difficult in the absence of such a relationship. But at this time, given the circumstances surrounding Mr. Khashoggi's killing, CSIS has decided to reassess its own relationship with the Kingdom."

Similarly, the Brookings Institution told BuzzFeed last week it was terminating the only research grant it had from the Saudis - a six-figure sum "to provide an analysis and evaluation of the Saudi think tank sector."

The Middle East Institute last week called on the Saudi authorities "to act swiftly to bring out the truth about what happened to Mr. Khashoggi and to hold accountable those responsible."

The think tank said it would decline Saudi funding - but "keep the matter under active review pending the outcome of the investigation."

- - -

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown, Alice Crites, Karoun Demirjian and Missy Ryan contributed to this report.

Special counsel examines conflicting accounts as scrutiny of Roger Stone and WikiLeaks deepens

5 hours 57 sec ago

Roger Stone, former adviser to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 2017. (Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer) (Bloomberg/)

WASHINGTON - In recent weeks, a grand jury in Washington has listened to more than a dozen hours of testimony and FBI technicians have pored over gigabytes of electronic messages as part of the special counsel’s quest to solve one burning mystery: Did longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone - or any other associate of the president - have advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans to release hacked Democratic emails in 2016?

While outwardly quiet for the last month, Robert S. Mueller III's investigators have been aggressively pursuing leads behind the scenes about whether Stone was in communication with the online group, whose disclosures of emails believed to have been hacked by Russian operatives disrupted the 2016 presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the special counsel probe.

Stone, who boasted during the race that he was in touch with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, has said since that his past comments were exaggerated or misunderstood. Both he and WikiLeaks have adamantly denied they were in contact.

However, prosecutors are closely examining both public comments and alleged private assertions that Stone made in 2016 suggesting he had a way to reach Assange, the people said.

Last month, Randy Credico, a onetime Stone friend, told the grand jury that the Trump loyalist confided during the 2016 campaign that he had a secret back channel to WikiLeaks, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In a series of interviews with The Washington Post, Stone said his only connection to the group was through Credico, a liberal comedian who had hosted Assange on his New York radio program in 2016.

The special counsel’s prosecutors have also zeroed in on Stone’s relationship with conservative journalist and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, examining whether he served as a conduit between Stone and Assange, according to another person familiar with their interest. Corsi appeared before Mueller’s grand jury last month, and FBI agents have recently been seeking to interview Corsi’s associates, according to the person.

In addition, investigators have scrutinized Stone's communications with Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks, according to people familiar with the probe.

One apparent line of inquiry: whether Stone lied to Congress about his alleged contacts with WikiLeaks during the presidential race, according to the people.

The question of whether Trump associates were in contact with WikiLeaks is at the heart of Mueller's inquiry. According to charges filed by the special counsel in July, Russian military intelligence officers used an online persona called Guccifer 2.0 to distribute hacked Democratic emails through WikiLeaks. The Russian operatives also used Guccifer 2.0's Twitter account to send messages to Stone, who has said the exchanges were benign.

The online organization has said it had no contact with Stone. "WikiLeaks & Assange have repeatedly confirmed that they have never communicated with Stone," the organization tweeted in March 2017.

Stone told The Post that Credico "was my principal source regarding the allegedly hacked emails published by WikiLeaks," a claim Credico has denied. Stone added that one of his remarks in 2016 predicting that WikiLeaks was about to release information related to Clinton was informed by a another journalist's tip that he was forwarded by an associate.

Stone called Mueller's investigation illegitimate and said the special counsel, who has interviewed at least seven of his associates, is trying to pressure him to flip on President Trump.

"The special counsel pokes into every aspect of my social, family, personal, business and political life, seeking something - anything - he can use to pressure me, to silence me and to try to induce me to testify against my friend Donald Trump," Stone said in a recent videotaped fundraising appeal. "This I will not do. When I say I won't roll on the president, what I mean is I will not be forced to make up lies to bring him down."

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.

Questions about Stone's possible connection to WikiLeaks were stoked by encouraging comments he made after the group released thousands of hacked emails from key Democratic figures, beginning on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July 2016.

The following month, Stone began predicting that WikiLeaks would strike again before the election. In a widely reported speech to a Republican group in South Florida in early August 2016, Stone boasted: "I actually have communicated with Assange."

Then, on Aug. 21, he tweeted, "Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta's time in the barrel." Six weeks later, WikiLeaks began posting online emails stolen from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Stone now says his tweet was a reference to opposition research he got from Corsi about the business dealings of Podesta and his brother, Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta.

Two days after his Podesta tweet, Stone appeared on Credico's radio program. Credico asked whether an "October surprise" was coming and stated that Stone had "been in touch and indirectly with Julian Assange," according to a clip obtained by CNN.

"I don't want to intimate in any way that I control or have influence with the Assange because I do not," Stone responded on the show. "We have a mutual friend, somebody we both trust and therefore I am a recipient of pretty good information."

Stone now says he was referring to Credico. "I certainly couldn't out Randy on his own radio show, but the person I refer to is of course him," he told The Post. "He is in on the joke from the beginning."

As Election Day neared in 2016, Stone continued his predictions. On Sunday, Oct. 2, he tweeted, "Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #WikiLeaks." When there was no release on Wednesday, Oct. 5, he tweeted, "Libs thinking Assange will stand down are wishful thinking. Payload coming #Lockthemup."

Two days after Stone's "payload" tweet, WikiLeaks published the first tranche of Podesta's emails - and then dropped new batches nearly daily before the November vote.

When Stone came under scrutiny for his comments about WikiLeaks after the election, he said had no advance knowledge of the hacking and was just conveying information he had received from Credico.

In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017, Stone also identified Credico as his source on WikiLeaks, according to a person familiar with the communication.

Credico has repeatedly denied passing any information from WikiLeaks to Stone. Rather, he said he may have speculated about the group's tactics when he was with Stone. Credico has told allies that he believes Stone used him as a "decoy" to try to explain his claims of having a back channel to Assange.

Mueller's efforts to unentangle the conflicting accounts of Stone and Credico are complicated by the fact that both men are voluble showmen. They became friends in the early 2000s through a shared interest in liberalizing New York drug laws but have split bitterly amid scrutiny from the special counsel.

Stone said he believes Credico had sources connected to WikiLeaks and said Credico offered to get information from Assange's circle for him.

Two Stone associates, filmmaker David Lugo and attorney Tyler Nixon, also told The Post that Credico acknowledged in conversations last year being the source of material for Stone's statements and tweets about WikiLeaks.

Nixon said he would be willing to testify before the grand jury about a dinner in which Credico fretted that his liberal friends would be displeased that he was a source for the arch-conservative Stone. Lugo provided The Post with text messages in which Credico said: "I knew Rodger [sic] was going to name me sooner or later and so I told you that I'm the so-called back Channel."

An attorney for Credico declined to comment on Lugo and Nixon's claims.

For his part, Credico said he recalls that Stone claimed in a September 2016 conversation that he had a mystery WikiLeaks contact. Credico said that he wasn't sure at the time whether to believe him.

"I remember saying, 'Roger, I thought you had a back channel,'" Credico said. "He said something to the effect of, 'Yes, but I can't use him all the time.'" Credico relayed that account to the grand jury last month, according to a person familiar with his testimony.

Stone at first denied Credico's claim that he suggested having a conduit to reach WikiLeaks, calling his old friend a "perjurer" and saying he'd relish the opportunity to confront Credico in court.

Later, Stone acknowledged to The Post that he "obliquely" told Credico in an email that he had "a second source" of WikiLeaks information besides the New York comedian.

He told The Post that person was not a direct conduit to WikiLeaks. He said he was referring to information another associate passed to him from a journalist who wrote in a July 2016 email that he had heard WikiLeaks would be releasing information related to the Clinton Foundation.

Stone has also said that he was getting information about the Clintons in 2016 from Corsi. He told the House Intelligence Committee that his Podesta tweet was "based on a comprehensive, early August [2016] opposition research briefing" from Corsi.

Corsi gave a similar account in a March 2017 Infowars column in which he named himself as Stone's source for the Podesta tweet and confirmed Stone's timeline, saying they'd had detailed conversations about Podesta from Aug. 14, 2016, through Aug. 31, 2016.

Mueller is now examining their exchanges.

Corsi's attorney, David Gray, said in an interview last month that Corsi had been subpoenaed by the special counsel, who indicated he was interested in Corsi's communications with Stone in 2016 and 2017. Gray declined to comment last week.

Stone said he first encountered Corsi around 2015, when the author was writing about presidential politics for World Net Daily, a conspiracy-theory-oriented website. Later, both contributed to Infowars, where Stone still hosts a program streamed live over the Internet.

In an interview, Stone suggested that the special counsel may actually be interested in Corsi's relationship with Trump.

Corsi was a leading proponent of birtherism, the false conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. In 2011, he wrote the book "Where's the Birth Certificate?: The Case That Barack Obama is Not Eligible to be President."

Around that time, Trump took up the conspiracy theory, questioning Obama's citizenship and demanding that he release his birth certificate.

Stone said that during a conversation with Trump in 2011, "he said to me, 'Who is this guy, Jerome Corsi?'" Stone recalled.

Stone said he asked Trump why he was inquiring about Corsi.

"I've been talking to him," Stone recalled Trump saying.

Stone said that Corsi also met with Trump during the 2016 campaign. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow declined to comment.

Mueller, Stone added, may have been "more interested in those meetings than anything to do with me."

- - -

The Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.

Letter: A scary time for whom?

9 hours 15 min ago

President Donald Trump says that it's a scary time for men. Indeed? Would that be as opposed to "a scary time for women," which, by my estimation, has extended from at least the dawn of the agricultural revolution until today, and apparently (given recent events) for the foreseeable future?

It doesn't have to be this way. Women make up more than 50 percent of the population. All they need to do is vote!
Lou Nathanson
Anchorage

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Letter: Other senators need Murkowski’s courage

9 hours 19 min ago

In her floor speech posted on adn.com, Sen. Lisa Murkowski said: "There are only nine seats on the bench of the highest court in the land, and these seats are occupied by these men and women for their lifetime. And so those who seek one of these seats must meet the highest standard in all respects at all times."

Brett Kavanaugh met none of those metrics. His career is a case study in partisanship and judicial activism, with hostility toward workplace safety, collective bargaining, voting rights and reproductive civil rights. His testimony — belligerent, paranoid and dishonest — left no doubt of his lack of fitness for the Supreme Court. Sen. Lisa Murkowski did the right thing, and stood with Alaskans, by opposing Kavanaugh's confirmation. If only other senators had the courage to listen to their constituents instead of party bosses in Washington, D.C.
— Zack Fields
Anchorage

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Letter: Salmon need more protection

9 hours 27 min ago

Alaska's salmon habitat protection laws are laughably inadequate and have been for some time. Yet, even with evidence mounting, state lawmakers chose to cover their eyes rather than risk upsetting powerful forces in the resource extraction industries by taking reasonable measures to protect fish.

Finally fed up, more than 40,000 of us signed the "Stand for Salmon" initiative petition to put some balanced salmon habitat protection provisions on the November ballot.

Passage of Ballot Measure 1 would require developers of major projects to adhere to reasonable restraints essential to protecting salmon streams from utter destruction.

Now, industry and their allies in the Legislature are attempting sway public opinion against the ballot measure by using highly misleading ads and editorials designed to convince us that protecting salmon means grinding Alaska's economy to a halt. Don't let such hyperbolic propaganda scare you. Voting against our own best interests plays right into corporate hands. They don't care about salmon. Their only concern is protecting their profits.

Ballot Measure 1 may need fine-tuning. Complex law often does. But ask yourself:
Is the Legislature likely to agree to and pass better statutes after failing for decades to even come close? That Alaska's salmon are under mounting threat can be ignored no longer. It is up to us to protect the habitats where they spawn and rear.
— Hal Spence
Homer

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Letter: Alaska history needs revision

9 hours 35 min ago

In defense of professor Steve Haycox, I would like to affirm that Alaska's history needs revision. The first volume of our story was published by Hubert G. Bancroft in San Francisco, a decade after Alaska became a U.S. territory. All the archives, diaries, reports and documents were, at that time, in Russian. Bancroft did not know Russian and never came to Alaska. He depended on Ivan Petroff to provide translations from Russian archives, but Petroff gave him forgeries, Englsh "translations" of documents for which there are no Russian originals.

Only since the collapse of the Soviet Union have Russian Alaska historical documents been made available to American scholars. We are discovering that a majority of the "Russians" who came to Alaska were in fact Native Siberians; that Russians were forbidden to settle permanently here and Alaska Natives had to be trained to run the colonial schools, churches, hospitals and ships; that some tribes had a higher literacy rate than European Russia; that while the sea otter population had been decimated, the fur seal harvest on the Pribilof Islands was still producing millions of dollars in profit.

They sold sovereignty (the right to rule) Alaska to the U.S. to keep it out of British hands and insisted the land belonged to the Natives who lived here, resulting in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 104 years later. The Creoles (of mixed Siberian and Alaskan ancestry) were an important element in the development of the territory for a century after the 1867 sale. Our old Bancroftian histories need radical revision.
Thank you, Dr. Haycox.
— Rev. Michael J. Oleksa
Anchorage

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Letter: Murkowski a stateswoman

9 hours 38 min ago

I am very proud of our senior U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. During the contentious confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, she was a true stateswoman. One of the definitions of the word "statesman" in Webster's dictionary is "one who exercises political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship in the general interest."

Given all the anger on all sides of this process, our senator listened to her constituents and their opinions on the issue, did her research and due diligence and made a decision which she best felt served the interests of the state of Alaska, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the nation as a whole, rather than blindly following the edicts of the Republican Party.

Such leadership and bravery in the face of all the nastiness in politics today is certainly refreshing, and a lesson for all politicians to consider as they represent those who elected them. As a country, we have thrived on vigorous and civil discourse to move our country forward. I call on all Americans to remember we love our country first, and the hatred, vitriol and smear campaigns have no place in our democracy. Thank you, Sen. Murkowski, for a job well done.
— Donna Steinfort
Eagle River

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Letter: Murkowski must go

9 hours 40 min ago

Sen. Lisa Murkowski's speech on the Senate floor was the most pathetic and ridiculous excuse I've ever heard from someone who cannot do the job that we Alaska Republicans elected her to accomplish. She has betrayed the confidence and trust we placed in her when we elected her to her office.
Our expectation was that Sen. Murkowski, as she promised, would provide that slim margin of majority vote to advance the Republican agenda of economic growth, financial expansion, resource development and conservative court appointments. A cornerstone of Republican policy is having judges selected in the courts who interpret the law founded upon Constitutional precedence rather than those who legislate from the bench based upon their left-wing bias.

Sen. Murkowski took the bait, hook, line and sinker of the Democratic Party playbook regarding Justice Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. After Sen. Susan Collins' historic and extraordinary speech before the Senate chamber, our senator chose to deliver a mediocre, unmemorable and cowardly synopsis of why Justice Kavanaugh "is a good man, but not the right man for the court."

Sen. Murkowski has forever lost the support of myself and many other Republicans. The senator might be a "good woman, but she is not the right woman for the Senate." She should step aside, resign, and let another strong conservative Alaska woman take her place. We did not send Sen. Murkowski to the Senate to vote her "conscience," we sent her there to strongly support Republican initiatives and legislation. Perhaps she would have been very comfortable siding with the accusers at the Salem witch tribunals!
— John Jones
Chugiak

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Letter: Thank you, Sen. Murkowski

9 hours 43 min ago

First of all, thanks to Sen. Lisa Murkowski for honoring her pledge to Alaskans during the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. So few politicians follow through, and I for one appreciate it and will remember during the next election cycle.

Secondly, a couple of questions for Sarah Palin. Is her newfound visual acuity a result of viewing the future from Arizona or Alaska? Also, does this vision of the future actually see her finishing a term of office if elected or once again quitting as soon as she becomes relevant to start appearing on Fox News again?
— Alan Piccard
Anchorage

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Letter: We need real budget solutions

9 hours 45 min ago

Mike Dunleavy and others have been campaigning based upon restoring the Permanent Fund dividend. None of these candidates has told us where the money to do so will come from. Mr. Dunleavy's ads say that he intends to make further cuts in the state budget. I think that too many cuts have already been made. Legislators have cut: primary and secondary education; closed trooper posts and left positions vacant to save money; reduced court services to four-and-a-half days per week; cut back on prosecutors and not fully funded judges; cut back on the Marine Highway funding (causing problems for Alaskans who do not live on the road system); closed one prison and reduced funding for staffing in prisons; and cut funding to the Department of Transportation, resulting in reduced funding for road maintenance.

Mr. Dunleavy refuses to tell the voters how he will balance the state budget, other than to say he will increase oil production. It takes years to develop any new oil finds, and the current budget crisis has been around for at least three or four years. Legislators have spent billions of dollars out of savings to balance the budget without solving the crisis. Many legislators are saying they won't allow any taxes or replacement funding. The budget crisis is still upon us, and there is not a fix to this crisis at this point. Now candidates are proposing restoration of the dividend, but won't tell us where the money will come from.

How long will we, the voters, allow our elected officials to "kick the can down the road" and not do their jobs? When will we make them accountable to do the jobs that they collect a healthy salary of very limited money? Fire the ones who won't do their job and refuse to elect any new candidates who won't tell us where the money will come from. If you don't want any services, that is what you will get if things continue on the current path.
— Len A. Malmquist
Soldotna

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Ragged, growing caravan of migrants resumes march toward US

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 18:38

Central American migrants walking to the U.S. start their day departing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the border, about 5,000 Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the U.S. border early Sunday in southern Mexico. Their numbers swelled overnight and at first light they set out walking toward the Mexican town of Tapachula. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Moises Castillo/)

TAPACHULA, Mexico — A growing caravan of Honduran migrants streamed through southern Mexico on Sunday heading toward the United States, after making an end-run around Mexican agents who briefly blocked them at the Guatemalan border.

They received help at every turn from sympathetic Mexicans who offered food, water and clothing. Hundreds of locals driving pickups, vans and cargo trucks stopped to let them clamber aboard.

Besi Jaqueline Lopez of the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula carried a stuffed polar bear in a winter cap that seemed out of place in the tropical heat. It's the favorite — and only — toy of her two daughters, 4-year-old Victoria and 3-year-old Elisabeth, who trudged beside her gleaming with sweat.

A business administration graduate, Lopez said she couldn't find work back home and hopes to reach the United States, but would stay in Mexico if she could find employment here.

"My goal is to find work for a better future for my daughters," she said.

In dozens of interviews along the journey, they have said they are fleeing widespread violence, poverty and corruption in Honduras. The caravan is unlike previous mass migrations for its unprecedented large numbers, and because it largely began spontaneously through word of mouth.

Guatemala's migration agency confirmed that another group of about 1,000 migrants crossed into the country from Honduras on Sunday.

After praising Mexico for its no-nonsense response when police at a southern border bridge pushed the migrants back with riot shields and pepper spray, U.S. President Donald Trump again hammered Democratic Party opponents over what he apparently sees as a winning issue for Republicans a little over two weeks ahead of midterm elections.

After blaming the Democrats for "weak laws" on immigration a few days earlier, Trump said via Twitter: "The Caravans are a disgrace to the Democrat party. Change the immigration laws NOW!"

"Full efforts are being made to stop the onslaught of illegal aliens from crossing our Souther (sic) Border," he said in another tweet. "People have to apply for asylum in Mexico first, and if they fail to do that, the U.S. will turn them away. The courts are asking the U.S. to do things that are not doable!"

Hundreds of migrants from the caravan did just that — applied for refugee status in Mexico in the southern city of Ciudad Hidalgo. By Sunday evening, the Interior department reported that it had received more than 1,000 requests.

But a far bigger group forded the Suchiate River from Guatemala to the Mexican side individually and dozens at a time, and resumed the trek at first light, marching 10 abreast on the highway.

"Si se pudo!" they chanted in Spanish — "Yes, we did!"

The throng grew even larger than when the migrants arrived at the border bridge, swelling overnight to 5,000.


Central American migrants walk north toward Tapachula, after departing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the Guatemala-Mexico border, about 5,000 Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the U.S. border early Sunday in southern Mexico. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Moises Castillo/)
Central American migrants walking to the U.S. start their day departing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the border, about 5,000 Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the U.S. border early Sunday in southern Mexico. Their numbers swelled overnight and at first light they set out walking toward the Mexican town of Tapachula. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Moises Castillo/)
A group of Central American migrants wade across the Suchiate River, on the the border between Guatemala and Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. After Mexican authorities slowed access through the border bridge to a crawl, hundreds of migrants began boarding rafts or wading across the river and crossing into Mexico illegally. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Moises Castillo/)
A group of Central American migrants cross the Suchiate River aboard a raft made out of tractor inner tubes and wooden planks, on the the border between Guatemala and Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. After Mexican authorities slowed access through the border bridge to a crawl, hundreds of migrants are boarding the rafts or wading across the river and crossing into Mexico illegally. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Moises Castillo/)
Central American migrants reach the shore on the Mexican side of the Suchiate River after wading across, on the the border between Guatemala and Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. After Mexican authorities slowed access through the border bridge to a crawl, hundreds of migrants are boarding the rafts or wading across the river and crossing into Mexico illegally. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (Moises Castillo/)
A group of migrants rests at the central park in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. About 2,000 Central American migrants who circumvented Mexican police at a border bridge and swam, forded and floated across the river from Guatemala decided on Saturday to re-form their mass caravan and continue their trek northward toward the United States. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros) (Oliver de Ros/)

It was not immediately clear where the additional travelers came from since about 2,000 had been gathered on the Mexican side Saturday night. But people have been joining and leaving the caravan daily, some moving at their own pace and strung out in a series of columns.

Their destination Sunday was the city of Tapachula in Chiapas state. Under a blazing sun, small groups of 20 to 30 paused to rest in the shade of trees on the side of the road, and by afternoon the caravan had evolved into long lines of walkers straggling for miles.

Jesus Valdivia, of Tuxtla Chico, Mexico, was one of the many who pulled his pickup truck over to let 10 or even 20 migrants hop in at a time, sometimes causing vehicles' springs to groan under the weight.

"You have to help the next person. Today it's for them, tomorrow for us," Valdivia said, adding that he was getting a valuable gift from those he helped: "From them we learn to value what they do not have."

Passing freight trucks were quickly boarded by dozens of migrants, and straining tuk-tuks carried as many as a half-dozen.

Brenda Sanchez of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, who rode in Valdivia's truck with three nephews ages 10, 11 and 19, expressed gratitude to "God and the Mexicans who have helped us."

She even had kind words for Mexican police: "We are very grateful to them because even though they closed the doors to us (at the border), they are coming behind us taking care of us."

Federal police monitored the caravan's progress from a helicopter and had a few units escorting it. Outside Tapachula, about 500 black-uniformed officers briefly gathered along the highway on buses and in patrol units, but they said their orders were to maintain traffic and not to stop the caravan. They moved on toward the city before the caravan reached them.

As the migrants passed through villages on the outskirts of Ciudad Hidalgo, locals applauded, shouted encouragement and donated supplies.

Maria Teresa Orellana, a resident of Lorenzo, handed out sandals. "It's solidarity," she said. "They're our brothers."

Mexico's Interior Department said in a statement that federal and Chiapas state authorities were providing assistance to migrants, including legal counseling for those who applied for asylum. It released a video showing workers doling out food, medicine and medical treatment.

In comments to reporters after a rally in Elko, Nevada, on Saturday night, Trump said of Mexico's response: "I just want to say, on behalf of the American public, that we appreciate what Mexico is doing. They've really stepped up, and it will not be forgotten."

Trump also repeated: "I will seal off the border before (the migrants) come into this country, and I'll bring out our military, not our reserves."

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he was suggesting to Trump that the United States, Canada and Mexico seek an agreement to invest in development in Central America and southern Mexico, which is home to many of that country's poor.

"In this way we confront the phenomenon of migration, because he who leaves his town does not leave for pleasure but out of necessity," said Lopez Obrador, who takes office Dec. 1.

Mexican authorities had refused to allow the caravan mass entry from Guatemala, instead accepting small groups to process asylum requests and handing out some 45-day visitor permits. An estimated 1,500 were still on the Guatemalan side of the Suchiate, hoping to enter legally.

But police could do little if anything in the face of the throngs who avoided the official entry point and crossed the notoriously porous border elsewhere.

Migrants marching north Sunday said they gave up on Mexico because the application process was too slow, and most wanted to continue to the United States anyway.

"We're warriors, we got to get to the place we got to get to. We're gonna keep on going and we're not gonna stop," Luis Puerto, 39, of Colon, Honduras, said in English.

For Puerto, that place is North Carolina, where he has a wife and two daughters. He said he was recently deported from the United States after a brush with the law that he did not specify.

"We are going to get to the border of the U.S.," he said. "I am not going to stop. I don't care if I die."

___

Associated Press writers Sonia Perez D. in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, and Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Chronic lateness is chronically annoying

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 18:26

Dear Amy: We have an ongoing problem occurring in our family. I have one daughter-in-law who is chronically late for everything. If we are supposed to be somewhere at two, that is when she starts getting ready.

Her mother is also always late, so I know it is a learned problem.

My son has discussed this with her, but nothing has changed. Without being an interfering mother-in-law, I would like to address this with love. Do you have any helpful suggestions for me?

-- Prompt In-Law

Dear Prompt: In my (very prompt) family, we dealt with one chronically late member by simply starting things on time, and tolerating the late family member, who basically seemed to run on a different time zone. When this family member hosted events, we turned up when she asked us to.

I believe that tolerating this while not letting it interfere too much with your own plans (and happiness) is the way to respond to this -- with love. So is simply telling the truth: "Dear, you always seem to be running late. This can be hard on the rest of us. Will you try harder to be prompt for family events?"

Always take separate transportation, and accept that in this regard, she is unreliable.

I find chronic lateness disrespectful, but I also realize that it doesn't seem to be personally directed.

I'm sure readers will weigh in with ideas for how to re-train someone who is always late.

Dear Amy: What do you think about a “meal train” that asks for meal delivery to someone who recently underwent a surgery (or had a baby)?

The "someone" in this case is a woman whose child goes to the same afterschool activity as my son. I sometimes chatted with her, but do not know her well. Her friend set up a meal train for her family during the two weeks she is recovering from surgery. The signup sheet is circulated in our afterschool activity group. Each meal is supposed to cover all four family members. She has a husband and two teenage children, and they are well-off.

We live in a big city where one can easily get takeout food and food delivery, so it would not be difficult for them to order their favorite food from favorite places.

I can understand if this woman indicates what she likes to eat/snack on, and friends/social groups bring a box of something for her to consume during her recovery. But a whole meal for a family of four is way too much to ask in terms of the time and work involved.

I have to admit that cooking is not my favorite activity, but I don't want to simply ignore the signup sheet. What's your take on this?

-- Lost in the Kitchen

Dear Lost: When a person is indisposed, grieving, ill or has just had a baby, others often ask, “How can I help?” Cooking and delivering dinner for a family is one great way to help. Even if the family has the means and wherewithal to have food delivered, cooking and delivering a dinner from your own kitchen is a kindness.

If you want to contribute in some way without cooking, you might send a basket of teas or coffees, and a package of sweets to go with them. However, you should not feel pressured to do this. You don't have to board this particular "train," but you shouldn't feel put-upon by others' efforts.

Dear Amy: A woman signing her question “Widowed” asked how long she should continue to wear her wedding band -- or if she should move it to her right hand -- after recently losing her husband of 41 years. Your answer, telling her to take her time (because removing the ring after 41 years might make her feel lost) was perfect.

After my partner died and was cremated last December, the hospital gave me his wedding band and a leather bracelet he had worn. I put those in a little dish alongside his ashes in an urn in my bedroom.

I continued to wear my ring, and after about seven months, I looked at his ring by itself in that dish and thought it looked lonely. I took off my band that day and placed it alongside his. Now when I pass by the urn and see our rings together, it gives me a measure of comfort.

She will know when it feels right.

-- Been There

Dear Been There: Yours is a sweet tribute to lasting love. My condolences.

Road rage driver avoids jail time for pointing BB gun

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 18:13

FAIRBANKS — An Alaska woman who menaced a family with a BB gun during a road rage incident will avoid jail time.

Betty Jean Holder, 49, of North Pole was initially charged with two counts of felony assault, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

In a plea arrangement, she pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault. She was sentenced to a year in jail, which was suspended, and two years of probation.

Holder in June 2017 contacted Alaska State Troopers and reported that a vehicle had nearly collided with hers. She told an investigator she followed the second vehicle for a short distance and flipped her middle finger at the driver.

Three hours later, the other driver, who had his teenage daughters with him, told a different story.

He reported to troopers that he and Holder stopped at an intersection and that she gestured at him as he started to drive through.

He backed up and made a sarcastic gesture indicating Holder should go first, he said. He also began recording video.

The video showed Holder standing outside her vehicle holding what appeared to be a black semi-automatic handgun. The BB gun had "SIG Sauer" on the side with a model number of P226 and looked almost identical to a real SIG Sauer pistol, prosecutors said.

"What? Are you scared?" Holder is recorded saying.

One of the teens is recorded saying there were children inside the man's vehicle.

Holder replied, "Good," and pointed the gun directly at the camera, according to the criminal complaint.

The man immediately drove through the intersection. His 16- and 13-year-old daughters told troopers they believed Holder was pointing a real handgun and that they were going to be shot.

Holder acknowledged getting out of her vehicle but denied pointing the BB gun toward the camera. She had the BB gun and a stun gun in her vehicle for self-defense, she said.

Holder was ordered to attend an anger management assessment and to forfeit the BB gun. She will be banned from possessing a firearm until she concludes probation. She also was ordered not to contact the victims.

The secrets of the royal ravenmaster at the Tower of London

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 17:36

LONDON - There are some weird gigs associated with the British royal household. There’s a keeper of the queen’s stamps. Who knew? There’s a piper to the sovereign and a grand carver and a royal clock winder.

And then there's the ravenmaster, Christopher Skaife, charged with caring for the seven corvids that reside at the Tower of London, the 11th-century walled fortress that today is one of Britain's most popular tourist sites.

Every tour, every article, every book mentioning the Tower ravens includes the legend about how King Charles II issued a royal decree to protect the ravens forevermore, after being warned that if the birds ever flew the palatial coop, "the Tower itself will crumble to dust and a great harm will befall the kingdom."

Great story, total codswallop, says Skaife, who has pored through the archives and found zip. The first mention of ravens at the Tower appears not in the 1600s, when Charles reigned through the years of plague and fire, but during the Victorian age, when gothic revival was all the rage and Charles Dickens kept a raven as a pet.

Still, Skaife is obsessive in his care of the birds, who are now celebrities, regardless of the misty myths. He has found himself dangling from a weather vane atop a high turret trying to recover a wayward raven. He treats them to dog biscuits soaked in blood. They offer him the occasional rat's tail in return.

I met up with the ravenmaster on a drizzly Saturday morning. He was wearing his everyday uniform: a flat-brimmed hat and dark blue tunic with a scarlet insignia honoring the queen. He is a big, brawny fellow, a former machine-gunner, who after 24 years of service in the British army became a Yeoman Warder, one of 37 elite guards who may carry swords but today serve as keepers of tradition - and tour guides.

"Well, well," he said, pointing upward. "There's Merlina, right on cue."

On the roof of the half-timbered Queen's House within the Tower complex, a big black raven sat, eyeballing damp visitors as they trundled across the bridge over the waterless moat.

The ravenmaster has spent the past 11 years around these birds, living at the Tower with his family - a life he details in a newly published autobiography. He is sweet on all his ravens, but especially Merlina. (First named Merlin; ravens are notorious for how difficult it is to determine their sex.)

She can be a bit standoffish, Skaife said, admiringly. "Likes to do her own thing."

He explained that the ravens residing at the Tower these days come from bird breeders.

They are wild but "humanized."

They are free but not free.

At night, Skaife coaxes them into airy enclosures (safe from their nemeses, foxes, which ate two ravens in 2013).

In the morning, he releases them from their dormitories, in order, from the least to the most dominant. They take up their territories and waddle-hop the premises with a movement Dickens compared to "a very particular gentleman with exceedingly tight boots on, trying to walk fast over loose pebbles" - one of many nice bits Skaife has scattered across the pages of his book.

Up close, the ravens look like enormous crows dipped in oil. They're positively iridescent, with tool-like claws and beaks "like a Swiss army knife," Skaife said. When they do a mouse, a few surgical snips, a hard tug, and fur is peeled away as a glove from a hand.

What do they do all day? They perch on benches. They play with the magpies. They rummage the trash bins.


Ravenmaster Christopher Skaife is charged with caring for the ravens that reside at the Tower of London. Photo for The Washington Post by Laura Hynd (Laura Hynd/)

Skaife said the ravens, like most Brits, have a weakness for potato chips, which they scavenge and then wash in puddles if the flavoring - say, cheddar and onion - is not to their liking.

"They'll grab a sandwich," Skaife said. "From a child."

One raven, Poppy, will allow herself to be petted by Skaife. But he warns the public to stand back. These are not docile pets - and the ravenmaster bared the scars of nasty bites.

The ravens can fly, but not very well and not too far, at least not very often. They flap up to the rooftops and battlements.

Previous caregivers trimmed the feathers so as to deny them flight. One day a raven named Thor climbed up some repair scaffolding on the White Tower, the oldest structure. When Skaife reached out to capture him from the heights, Thor leaped but did not soar and landed with a thud.

"He died in my arms," the ravenmaster said.

After that, Skaife vowed to trim as little as possible. He calls it "feather management," just a snip, more in the long, warm days of summer and less in the cold, dark winter.

And yet, they've escaped.


"I'm not a scientist," Skaife said. "I'm just a silly old man who looks after ravens." Photo for The Washington Post by Laura Hynd (Laura Hynd/)

A bird named Munin - from Norse mythology, where ravens play an outsize role - once flew from the Tower down the Thames River toward the Royal Observatory and the Greenwich meridian line, where the day begins.

A local birdwatcher managed to get Munin into a gym bag. He guessed she belonged to the Tower because of the bracelet on her leg - and the sad fact that although there are 13,000 raven pairs in Britain, they have been extirpated from the London area (although they are slowly expanding their range again).

"Oh, look at that," Skaife said on the morning of my visit, as the male raven Harris joined Merlina on the gable. "A bit of bonding going on?" The ravenmaster arched an eyebrow: "Something to keep an eye on."

Ravens mate for life, more or less, he explained. But at the Tower things can get complicated. Ravens like literal pecking orders. Their courtship rituals can include preening, croaking, puffing, tail fanning and attack. And ravens are choosy partners. In the wild, before they find one another, young ravens live in a large flock called a "conspiracy" or an "unkindness," which are great words for crossword puzzles.

"They're surprisingly like us," Skaife observes in his book. "They are versatile, adaptable, omnivorous. They are capable of great cruelty and great kindness."

In legend, “they are harbingers of doom, yet they are protectors and creators,” he writes.

Ravens are associated with carrion - and so with battlefields and execution grounds. That makes them a good fit for the Tower, which is of most interest to visitors these days as the macabre setting of torture (the rack is on display) and execution (by gallows and ax, mostly, although Queen Anne Boleyn was dispatched by sword right around the spot where the ravens spend the night).

The Tower has served as fortress, palace, prison, home of the Royal Mint and Royal Armory, and the storehouse of the crown jewels. At one point, it contained a menagerie, with elephants, bears and baboons. Back then, as today, the Yeoman Warders were touts. There were a few pence to be made in telling tall tales - about the gallows and queens on the chopping block and ravens, too.

Skaife understands this well. “I sometimes think that the Tower is just a vast storehouse of the human imagination,” he observed, “and the ravens are its guardians.”

Alaska’s weird, warm fall: a boon for farmers, but ‘really scary’ for people who depend on Arctic ice

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 17:26

Kristi Trimmer spent the afternoon harvesting seed pods and vegetables at her plot in the C Street Community Garden on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Because of the late fall weather Trimmer said she was able to harvest radish pods, carrots, beets, parsley, thyme, chamomile and spinach seeds for an additional three weeks. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Berries still fresh on the tundra in Nome.

Green lawns and lilac blooms in Anchorage.

Several weeks into October, there was no ice at all in the St. Lawrence Island village of Savoonga, where the Siberian Yupik word for the month translates to "freezing-up time."

"It's not freezing up," said Delbert Pungowiyi, Savoonga tribal president. "Normally, we'd be able to cross the rivers and lakes."

For some, the weirdly warm weather is a novelty — an extended season for leisurely walks and frost-free windshields, where usually there are two weeks of yellow leaves and mild temperatures before the icy grip of winter descends.

But for others, the lack of subfreezing temperatures and no snow as Alaskans head into the normally brisk Halloween season is unsettling.

Nome was 13 degrees above normal for the first half of October.


Webcam view of Norton Sound from Nome on Sunday afternoon. (Nome Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Longtime resident Sue Steinacher was still picking cranberries and crowberries on the tundra days ago. There's been no hard frost to deflate them.

But she wonders what that bodes for winter.

"For me the biggest concern is the ice and how lack of ice so badly impacts our villages, both in terms of shoreline erosion and being able to hunt safely," Steinacher said. "Without ice, then you have to travel much further and you're at risk of being caught in rough seas because there isn't the ice to hold the seas down."

Balmy Last Frontier

This fall in Alaska is strangely normal — for the Lower 48.

Actually, it's colder down there.

[Support local journalism in Alaska. Subscribe to the Anchorage Daily News and adn.com]

Climatologist Brian Brettschneider compiled a graphic showing weather stations across North America with temperatures lower than Anchorage's: The map shows a dense web of blue dots all the way down to central Texas.

The lowest temperature in Anchorage, Alaska, through October 15th is 38°F. Here's a map of places that have seen a lower temperature than Anchorage (37°F or colder). #akwx @AlaskaWx @DaveSnider @NWSAnchorage pic.twitter.com/rv5Iy7BlMh

— Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49) October 15, 2018

Alaska, meanwhile, is accumulating a series of stunning weather factoids related to the absence of cold.

Anchorage is setting record high temperatures and is already days past the record for latest freeze of the year. Fairbanks is experiencing its latest snow-free fall. Kotzebue set a record for days without frost in mid-October.

[Unusually warm September is obliterating Anchorage records]


Roseanne Leydon makes a cast while fishing at DeLong Lake on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Leydon said, “I’m a fishing fanatic. It’s really nice, warm enough to be out here for hours.” (Bill Roth / ADN)

Forecasters warn that Alaska's "freakishly nice" fall weather has resurrected the warm-water "Blob" in the North Pacific Ocean, leading to the possibility of stormy wintry weather for the Lower 48 if it persists.

Most of the state is "running way above normal" this month, said climatologist Rick Thoman. A massive high-pressure system camped out over the Bering Sea last month gave way to a low-pressure system that dumped heavy rains on the Gulf of Alaska and brought more mild weather to much of the state.

The record-breaking warmth is part of a much longer trend that started five years ago, Thoman said.

"Not every month, but the vast majority since June 2013 have been warm," he said.

'Really scary'

For Arctic coastal residents eager for the annual fall formation of sea ice to carry hunters and protect erosion-prone shorelines, the weather is a grim reminder that a changing climate may be here to stay.

Sea-surface temperatures in the Chukchi and Bering seas are "exceptionally warm," Thoman said. On the Bering, what ice there is is going to be thinner, and more vulnerable to breakup. A very late freeze-up is likely on the Chukchi.

"Our way of life is literally melting right before our eyes," said Pungowiyi, who is headed to a London international maritime conference this month to report on climate change from the front lines.

He pointed to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey that showed what the Nome Nugget newspaper described as a "shocking" loss of the cold pool of water off St. Lawrence Island that normally holds cod to warmer waters in the southern Bering Sea.

"It's really scary," he said.


The view Sunday from Kivalina on the Chukchi Sea coast in Northwest Alaska. (FAA weather cam)

No snow in the Golden Heart City

Snow finally fell in Fairbanks this weekend. The National Weather Service recorded about a tenth of an inch at the airport on Saturday — enough to count as "measurable snowfall" — and about a half-inch in North Pole. Temperatures just above freezing melted most of what fell.

That marked the latest snowfall on record for the Interior city that usually gets about 10 inches of snow in October.

The average first snow day is Oct. 1.

The snow-free terrain marked a disturbing milestone for Carl Benson, a professor emeritus in geology and geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, where he's taught since 1960. In earlier years, he'd be doing research in the real thing outside.

"In the past we used to have a pretty good snow cover by now," Benson said. "We had research projects that certainly would be started by October."

The balmy fall season in much of the state isn't just a warm day or a warm month, he said. "When you piece all these together, things have changed."

Utqiagvik was 9 degrees above normal for the first half of the month.

Photographer Bill Hess lives in Wasilla but for decades has made frequent trips to Utqiagvik. He was there this month when a whaling captain and crew member died in an accident towing a bowhead home and returned for their memorial services.


Harvard Brown and his daughter, Bergeta, were among the members of the Quuniq Crew preparing to feed the Utqiagvik community from the first bowhead whale of the fall season Monday, Oct. 8 2018. Normally, snow covers the ground by late September in Alaska’s farthest-north city, which used to be called Barrow. (Photo by Bill Hess)
In October 1988, Barrow residents used poles to push blocks of ice, carved by chain saws, under the ice surface to form breathing holes for gray whales in the Beaufort Sea icepack off Point Barrow.  The two-week whale-rescue effort gained worldwide media coverage. (Bill Roth / ADN)
October 1988: A California gray whale surfaces in a breathing hole near rescuers that were cutting holes into the ice pack off Point Barrow. (Bill Roth/ ADN)

Hess said people even in their grief were talking about how warm it was.

"When I first started hanging out regularly in Barrow over 32 years ago, by the third week of September the ground was always covered in snow that would stay till May or even June," he wrote in a message Thursday. "Subzero temps by now."

Good growing weather

Anchorage set a record for the latest first freeze on Oct. 16. The municipality was 9 degrees above normal for the month through mid-October.


Graph by the National Weather Service shows daily temperatures in Anchorage this month have been well above normal. The dark blue bars are the daily high and low temperature each day; pink is the record high; green is the average temperature high-low range for each day; light blue show record lows. (National Weather Service)

Residents in Anchorage and Mat-Su still have green grass growing on lawns and flowers outside.

Anchorage gardeners report lilacs blooming not once but twice this unseemly long fall. They're wondering when to pick the peas and carrots.


Kristi Trimmer harvested the last of her seven varieties of carrots that she grew in the C Street Community Garden on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The "absolutely unbelievable" long growing season saw longtime Palmer farmer Ben VanderWeele still harvesting strawberries into October — red leaf and romaine lettuce, too. The Matanuska Valley's notoriously sweet carrots are thriving this year.

The past years of warmer temperatures make for a growing season that's three weeks longer than when VanderWeele planted his first seeds decades ago.

"They said you have to have all your crops out the first of September," he said. "You get the north winds and it never thaws again."

Rick Cramer, general manager at Hilltop Ski Area, is taking the long view when it comes to October's strangely warm spell.

"What's weird about it?" he joked. "One thing Alaska has always done, it's got a mind of its own. It's gonna do what it's gonna do."

Cramer said he doesn't start looking at the weather forecast to see when snow-making can start until Halloween. That's when he starts expecting at least a little snow.

Until then, he's making the best of the warm weather.

"And everybody's going to be telling me come that 20-below day that it's too cold out," he said.

A 14-year-long oil spill in Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in US history

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 17:13

A gas transmission pipeline cuts the landscape in St. Bernard Parish, La., on July 21, 2018. Pipelines run from the Gulf to refineries in coastal Louisiana. Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount (Bonnie Jo Mount/)

NEW ORLEANS - An oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it now verges on becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history.

Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century. With no fix in sight, the Taylor offshore spill is threatening to overtake BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever.

As oil continues to spoil the Gulf, the Trump administration is proposing the largest expansion of leases for the oil and gas industry, with the potential to open nearly the entire outer continental shelf to offshore drilling. That includes the Atlantic coast, where drilling hasn't happened in more than a century and where hurricanes hit with double the regularity of the Gulf.

Expansion plans come despite fears that the offshore oil industry is poorly regulated and that the planet needs to decrease fossil fuels to combat climate change, as well as the knowledge that 14 years after Ivan took down Taylor's platform, the broken wells are releasing so much oil that researchers needed respirators to study the damage.

"I don't think people know that we have this ocean in the United States that's filled with industry," said Scott Eustis, an ecologist for the Gulf Restoration Network, as his six-seat plane circled the spill site on a flyover last summer. On the horizon, a forest of oil platforms rose up from the Gulf's waters, and all that is left of the doomed Taylor platform are rainbow-colored oil slicks that are often visible for miles. He cannot imagine similar development in the Atlantic, where the majority of coastal state governors, lawmakers, attorneys general and residents have aligned against the administration's proposal.

The Taylor Energy spill is largely unknown outside Louisiana because of the company's effort to keep it secret in the hopes of protecting its reputation and proprietary information about its operations, according to a lawsuit that eventually forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan. The spill was hidden for six years before environmental watchdog groups stumbled on oil slicks while monitoring the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a few miles north of the Taylor site in 2010.

The Interior Department is fighting an effort by Taylor Energy to walk away from the disaster. The company sued Interior in federal court, seeking the return of about $450 million left in a trust it established with the government to fund its work to recover part of the wreckage and locate wells buried under 100 feet of muck.

Taylor Energy declined to comment. The company has argued that there's no evidence to prove any of the wells are leaking. Last month, the Justice Department submitted an independent analysis showing that the spill was much larger than the one-to-55 barrels per day that the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center (NRC) claimed, using data supplied by the oil company.

The author of the analysis, Oscar Garcia-Pineda, a geoscience consultant who specializes in remote sensing of oil spills, said there were several instances when the NRC reported low estimates on the same days he was finding heavy layers of oil in the field.

"There is abundant evidence that supports the fact that these reports from NRC are incorrect," Garcia-Pineda wrote. Later he said: "My conclusion is that NRC reports are not reliable."

In an era of climate change and warmer open waters, the storms are becoming more frequent and violent. Starting with Ivan in 2004, several hurricanes battered or destroyed more than 150 platforms in just four years.

On average, 330,000 gallons of crude are spilled each year in Louisiana from offshore platforms and onshore oil tanks, according to a state agency that monitors them.

The Gulf is one of the richest and most productive oil and gas regions in the world, expected to yield more than 600 million barrels this year alone, nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. oil production. Another 40 billion barrels rest underground, waiting to be recovered, government analysts say.

About 2,000 platforms stand in the waters off the Bayou State. Nearly 2,000 others are off the coasts of its neighbors, Texas and Mississippi. On top of that are nearly 50,000 miles of active and inactive pipelines carrying oil and minerals to the shore.

And the costs are high.

For every 1,000 wells in state and federal waters, there's an average of 20 uncontrolled releases of oil - or blowouts - every year. A fire erupts offshore every three days, on average, and hundreds of workers are injured annually.

BP has paid or set aside $66 billion for fines, legal settlements and cleanup of the 168 million-gallon spill - a sum that the oil giant could, painfully, afford. But many companies with Gulf leases and drilling operations are small, financially at-risk and hard-pressed to pay for an accident approaching that scale.

One of them was Taylor Energy.

Taylor Energy was a giant in New Orleans.

Owned by Patrick Taylor, a magnate and philanthropist who launched an ambitious college scholarship program for low-income students, it was once the only individually owned company to explore for and produce oil in the Gulf of Mexico, according to his namesake foundation.

Taylor made what was arguably his most ambitious transaction in 1995, when he took over an oil-production platform once operated by BP. Standing in more than 450 feet of water, it was about 40 stories tall. Its legs were pile-driven into the muddy ocean floor and funnels were attached to 28 drilled oil wells.

At its peak, the oil company helped make Taylor and his wife, Phyllis, the richest couple in the Big Easy.

That investment was obliterated on Sept. 15, 2004, when Hurricane Ivan unleashed 145 mph winds and waves that topped 70 feet as it roared into the Gulf. Deep underwater, the Category 4 storm shook loose tons of mud and buckled the platform.

The avalanche sank the colossal structure and knocked it "170 meters down slope of its original location," researcher Sarah Josephine Harrison wrote in a postmortem of the incident.

More than 620 barrels of crude oil stacked on its deck came tumbling down with it. The sleeves that conducted oil from its wells were mangled and ripped away. A mixture of steel and leaking oil was buried in 150 feet of mud.

Less than two months after the storm, Patrick F. Taylor died of a heart infection at 67, leaving a fortune for philanthropy and a massive cleanup bill.

Taylor Energy reported the spill to the Coast Guard, which monitored the site for more than half a decade without making the public fully aware of the mess it was seeing. Four years after the leak started, in July 2008, the Coast Guard informed the company that the spill had been deemed "a continuous, unsecured crude oil discharge" that posed "a significant threat to the environment," according to a lawsuit between Taylor Energy and its insurer.

Taylor Energy made a deal with federal officials to establish a $666 million trust to stop the spill.

It would be a delicate, risky operation. Taylor and the contractors it hired were asked to somehow locate wells in a nearly impenetrable grave of mud and debris, then cap them. Failing that, it could create a device to contain the leak.

But they were forbidden from boring or drilling through the muck for fear that they would strike a pipe or well, risking the kind of catastrophe on the scale of the BP disaster a few miles south. That precaution slowed the pace of the salvage operation.

"We had no idea that any of that was going on," said Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

Taylor Energy spent a fortune to pluck the deck of the platform from the ocean and plug about a third of the wells. It built a kind of shield to keep the crude from rising.

But no matter what it did, the oil kept leaking.


Scott Eustis of the Gulf Restoration Network views the Gulf of Mexico during a flight out of New Orleans on July 21, 2018. Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount (Bonnie Jo Mount/)

In 2010, six years after the oil leak started, scientists studying the BP spill realized something was amiss with the oil slicks they were seeing.

"We were flying to monitor the BP disaster and we kept seeing these slicks, but they were nowhere near the BP spill," said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, which monitors the water from boats and planes.

Satellite images confirmed the oddity.

"It was there all the time, longer than the BP spill," said John Amos, founder and president of Sky Truth, a nonprofit organization that tracks pollution.

Under the Oil Pollution Act, companies are obligated to report hazardous spills to the NRC, which maintains a database of chemical pollution.

No law compels the companies or the federal government to raise public awareness, but the Clean Water Act clearly calls for citizen involvement.

Environmentalists took Taylor Energy to court.

In their lawsuit, the conservationists called the agreement between Taylor Energy and the federal government a secret deal "that was inconsistent with national policy."

That policy, they argued, was made clear in the Clean Water Act, which mandates "public participation in the . . . enforcement of any regulation." Citizen participation, the act says, "shall be provided for, encouraged and assisted."

Taylor Energy and the Coast Guard - which is part of a Unified Command of federal agencies that includes the Interior Department, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency - did not live up to the policy. In fact, the public wasn't made aware of the spill even after a private firm tested fish in the area and submitted an assessment to Taylor Energy in 2009 that said "there is an acceptable risk to humans if fish from the . . . area are consumed."

"Taylor has failed to provide the public with information regarding the pace and extent of the oil leaks and Taylor's efforts to control the leaks," the lawsuit said.

It would take another three years before the government revealed an even deeper truth. Taylor Energy had been playing down the severity of the spill. An Associated Press investigation in 2015 determined that it was about 20 times worse than the company had reported.

Taylor Energy had argued that the leak was two gallons per day; the Coast Guard finally said it was 84 gallons or more, and was almost certainly coming from any of 16 wells.

"There's a fine for not reporting, but none for underreporting," Amos said. "If it's only three gallons a day, who cares, that's a trivial problem."

- - -

Nearly a decade after the oil platform went down, the government determined that the actual level of oil leaking into the Gulf was between one and 55 barrels per day. Now, the new estimate dwarfs that: up to 700 barrels per day. Each barrel contains 42 gallons.

Despite that finding, NOAA is still in the early stages of a resource assessment of marine life that could explain the impact of the Taylor Energy spill, and is more than three years behind a deadline to issue a biological determination of the BP spill's impact on marine life.

In July, Earthjustice, a nonprofit legal organization that represents conservation groups, sued NOAA for failing to produce a timely study.

Like Eustis, Amos said Atlantic coast residents should be wary. But in that region, where beaches and tourism enrich nearly every state, distrust over offshore leasing and drilling is bipartisan.

Governors, state lawmakers and attorneys general lashed out at the administration's proposal. New Jersey passed a law that forbids oil and infrastructure in state waters three miles from shore, crippling any effort to run pipelines from platforms to the shore. Other states passed similar laws.

In the Carolinas, where Hurricane Florence's winds topped 150 mph and produced a monster 83-foot wave as it neared landfall, governors who represent both political parties implored Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to rethink the plan.

Meanwhile, in the Gulf, Taylor Energy was down to a single employee - its president, William Pecue.

At a 2016 public forum in Baton Rouge, Pecue made the case for allowing the company to walk away from its obligation to clean up the mess. Taylor Energy had been sold to a joint venture of South Korean companies in 2008, the same year it started the $666 million trust. A third of the money had been spent on cleanup, and only a third of the leaking wells had been fixed. But Pecue wanted to recover $450 million, arguing the spill could not be contained.

"I can affirmatively say that we do believe this was an act of God under the legal definition," Pecue said. In other words, Taylor Energy had no control over the hurricane.

But Ivan was no freak storm.

It was one of more than 600 that have been tracked in the Gulf since records were kept in the mid-1800s, according to NOAA.

Fourteen years after the Taylor spill, and 10 years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the federal government still doesn't know the spills' full impact on marine life. And there is no economic analysis showing the value of the oil flowing into the sea and potential royalties lost to taxpayers. Activists also want an analysis to determine if oil is ruining marshland and making its way to beaches.

"Even though oil did not reach a lot of these beaches [during the BP spill], the fact that the public heard about it, it killed the beach economy for quite some time," Sarthou said. "You don't want to go to a beach with tar balls or oil washing up."

At the time, Sarthou was unaware that Garcia-Pineda was conducting a study in the Gulf that would show the spill was far worse than imagined - up to 10 times worse than what the federal government was reporting.

As the saga in the Gulf plays out, wary officials on the Atlantic coast are anxiously watching President Donald Trump's proposal to offer federal offshore leases.

It would take at least a decade for Atlantic drilling to start. The industry would first want to conduct seismic testing to determine the amount of oil and gas in the ground. Depending on the results, companies would bid for the leases. Interior has yet to approve seismic testing, which some studies say harms marine life, including large mammals such as dolphins and whales.

Oil and gas representatives say energy development off that coast could provide South Carolina with $2.7 billion in annual economic growth, 35,000 jobs and potentially lower heating costs for residents struggling to pay their bills.

During a federal informational hearing in South Carolina to explain the Trump administration's plan in February, Mark Harmon, the director of a state unit of the American Petroleum Institute, stressed that point. "Ultimately, it means the potential for jobs and reinvestment in the community," he said.

Once the oil industry gains a foothold in a region, it's game over, said Chris Eaton, an Earthjustice attorney.

“A major part of the economy starts to change” as jobs with pay approaching $100,000 transform a tourism market to oil. “If it gets going, that train isn’t going to stop,” he said. “Let’s talk about what’s happening in the Gulf before we move into the Atlantic.”

Barney Gottstein, who grew the family grocery business along with Alaska, dead at 92

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 14:28

Barney Gottstein died at 92 on Oct. 21, 2018. (Undated photo provided by the Gottstein family)

Barney Gottstein, a pioneering Alaska businessman who helped turn his family's business into grocery and real estate empire in the Last Frontier, died Sunday at 92, his family said.

Gottstein's family roots stretched back to Anchorage's tent city days, when his father, Jacob B. "Jake" Gottstein, sold cigars to railroad camp workers. He later  opened a wholesale grocery and dry goods company, J.B. Gottstein & Co.

Barney Gottstein was born in 1925 Des Moines, Iowa, where both his parents were from. But he grew up in Anchorage in the 1930s when it had a population of just 2,500, "with fox and potato farms and a dairy" nearby his downtown home, according to an obituary written by his family.

In college, he hoped to become an aeronautical engineer but was told by counselors in college that airplane manufacturers wouldn't hire him because he was Jewish, his family said. He enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II, and served in the Army Air Corps, has family said.

He switched his major to business and returned to Alaska to expand J.B. Gottstein & Co., the family business, to supply grocery stores around the state, said his son Jim Gottstein.

In a pivotal move, he partnered with Larry Carr, the owner of Carrs grocery stores.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, during a period of rapid growth and change in Alaska, their company expanded to become one of the biggest Alaska-owned businesses, with extensive real estate holdings as well as a grocery business the owners sold in 1990. Larry Carr passed away in 2011.

Today, the Carr-Gottstein name is on buildings around town, from downtown Anchorage to the campus of Alaska Pacific University and a South Anchorage park.

Gottstein continued to work into his 90s, his son said.

He served as the chair of the Alaska Board of Education and quietly sponsored scholarships for students, his son said. He was proud of his activism for Israel and was also a major donor to Democratic Party causes in Alaska.

While he traveled, spending time at homes in Israel and on Maui, Anchorage was always home and where he hosted weekly family dinners for his sprawling clan for 40 years, Jim Gottstein said.

The Anchorage of his later years bore little resemblance to the one he grew up in, with the fox farms and a dairy downtown.

Gottstein is survived by his wife and seven children.

A service for Gottstein will be held at 1 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 22 at Congregation Beth Sholom at 7525 E. Northern Lights Boulevard, following by a burial at the Anchorage Cemetery.

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