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Updated: 2 hours 22 min ago

NTSB blames flightseeing pilot, employer safety 'culture' for crash near Ketchikan that killed 9

2 hours 31 min ago

A floatplane pilot for a Ketchikan-based air tour operator and the company's safety "culture" were directly responsible for the 2015 crash that killed him and eight cruise-ship passengers, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tuesday.

Meeting in Washington, D.C., the board's four current members unanimously found that the cause of the June 25, 2015, crash was Promech Air pilot Bryan Krill's "decision to continue visual flight into an area of instrument meteorological conditions that resulted in geographic disorientation and controlled flight into terrain."

The de Havilland Otter slammed into a mountainside near Ella Lake, roughly 20 miles northeast of Ketchikan, on its return from Misty Fjords National Monument in what an NTSB final report called "deteriorating weather conditions" and overcast skies. It was carrying a group of passengers on a shore excursion from the Holland America Line's MS Westerdam.

The board also blamed the crash on a Promech company culture that "tacitly endorsed flying in hazardous weather and failed to manage the risk associated with the competitive pressures affecting Ketchikan-area air tour operators." The company's lack of a formal safety program and its inadequate protocol for releasing flights for departure were also cited.

After about two hours of discussion during Tuesday's meeting, NTSB staff proposed citing Promech's approach to safety — in which some pilots reported being pressured to fly despite poor weather — as a contributing factor to the crash. Robert Sumwalt, the board's acting chair, asked that those issues be upgraded to a causal factor of the crash, which members unanimously approved.

"Promech and at least one other operator that was willing to take more weather-related risks were both able to fly more revenue passengers than two other more conservative operators who cancelled flights that day," the NTSB said in a statement on the findings Tuesday.

Speaking by phone after the hearing, Sumwalt said that Promech's actions resonated with board members, who didn't meet as a group to discuss the crash until Tuesday.

"My philosophy is that people don't make errors in a vacuum and there's oftentimes organizational issues, that they are part of a system — it's just too easy to say, 'The pilot screwed up,' and I want to understand these underlying issues," Sumwalt said.

During the hearing, investigator William Bramble described a series of incidents reported to the NTSB by Promech pilots, including one in which the head of Promech expressed "frustration" when a plane returned to Ketchikan from Rudyerd Bay by a safer "long route" that took five minutes longer than the "short route" on which Krill's plane crashed.

Pilots also said that Promech's assistant chief pilot told other pilots that they would have to bend the rules because they were flying in Alaska.

"It suggests that, although some of the managers may have been talking the talk, they were not collectively walking the walk of setting good expectations for safety-oriented behaviors," Bramble said.

Promech's Alaska operations were purchased in 2016 by Taquan Air, a competing carrier in Ketchikan. Four Promech employees are now employed by Taquan, and none in leadership positions, according to George Curtis, director of operations for Taquan Air. He noted that all new employees must go through training on Taquan's policies and procedures, "regardless of past experience."

Taquan offered its condolences Tuesday to friends and family of those killed in the crash.

"This is a heavy reminder that passenger safety is our No. 1 responsibility, as well as the importance of safety protocol during flight operations in Alaska's constantly changing weather landscape," Taquan officials said in a statement. "Taquan Air acknowledges the issues the NTSB has identified and will continue to conduct flight operations that propagate our company culture of safety."

Taquan had canceled all of its own tour flights due to weather on the day of the Promech crash, according to NTSB documents.

Members of the board questioned about a dozen NTSB staff members who were on hand to discuss various elements of the crash, including Alaska-based investigators Brice Banning and Shaun Williams.

During Tuesday's hearing, Banning was asked what it would take to prevent frequent "nuisance" alerts from planes' terrain avoidance and warning systems, which likely led to their being manually disengaged in the Promech crash as well as a fatal Wings of Alaska crash near Juneau weeks later.

"To be completely honest, I don't know," Banning said. "I know that we need to limit the nuisance alerts so that pilots will quit inhibiting this equipment that could very likely prevent an accident like this."

Board members also discussed competitive and time pressures among air tour operators in Ketchikan, including the fact that Promech's flights were running too late on the day of the crash to return by the 12:30 p.m. "all-aboard" time for Westerdam passengers to leave Ketchikan. Missing the deadline meant Promech would have to transport the passengers to their ship's next port of call at its own expense.

"Lives depended on the pilot's decision making," Sumwalt said in the NTSB statement. "Pilot decisions are informed, for better or worse, by their company's culture. This company allowed competitive pressure to overwhelm the common-sense needs of passenger safety in its operations."

Curtis, director of operations at Taquan, said that for his company, flights that might cut close to the all-aboard time are usually coordinated with cruise ship personnel.

"Generally the ship will wait. If the ship must leave on time and our estimated return time is expected to exceed the all aboard time the flight is cancelled," Curtis said in an email Tuesday.

The board adopted nine new safety recommendations to the FAA, focused on improving general safety culture and information sharing among Ketchikan air tour operators as well as setting new training requirements.

Tuesday's findings also reiterated previous recommendations that carriers like Promech be required to implement formal safety management systems, as well as install cockpit voice and video recorders in aircraft, after the fatal Promech flight was only partially recorded on passengers' smartphones.

An additional recommendation asked the Cruise Lines International Association's Safety Committee to consider mitigating time pressures on air tour operators conducting shore-excursion flights.

Sumwalt, a former airline pilot with 14,000 flight hours and 32 years of experience, said that his call for Promech's culture to be considered a causal factor in the crash was personal.

"I had just met with family members who lost loved ones on this tragedy and as I was speaking I was looking directly at family members in the audience," Sumwalt said. "Our goal is to ensure that other people don't have to undergo the tragedy that these folks have undergone."

The board will convene an Alaska meeting this summer on a crash that killed all three people aboard on a flight near Togiak in October. The meeting is tentatively set for August in Anchorage.

UAA nordic skiing signs 2 Alaskans, Jenna DiFolco and Tracen Knopp

2 hours 54 min ago

UAA nordic ski coach Andrew Kastning on Tuesday announced two Alaska athletes — Jenna DiFolco of West Valley in Fairbanks and Tracen Knopp of Colony in Palmer — have each signed a National Letter of Intent to join the Seawolves next season.

DiFolco finished third in the girls Skimeister standings at the state high school championships this season and won four of six races in the Besh Cup to earn the No. 1 ranking in the under-18 division.

Knopp took sixth in the boys Skimeister standings and fifth in the Besh Cup standings.

"They have the right attitude and willingness to work hard, while making the difficult jump to NCAA skiing," Kastning said in a news release. "I look forward to helping them improve and grow in the years to come."

State judo championships: Here are the medalists

2 hours 57 min ago

Jay Watts of Capital City Judo in Juneau won two divisions over the weekend in the 2017 Alaska State Judo Championships at UAA's Wells Fargo Sports Complex.

Watts won the senior men's 161-pound division and the masters 185-pound division for athletes 35 and older.

Rachel LaForest of Mat-Su won the senior women's 145-pound division and finished third in the 172-pound division.

Here's are the medalists in adult and older youth divisions:

2017 Alaska State Judo Championships

at UAA's Wells Fargo Sports Complex

Women's open 35 and older — 1) Ashley Johnson, Anchorage Dojo; 2) Stefanni Coxwell, Sterling Judo Club.

Senior women's 121 pounds — 1) Mackenzie Harvey, Mt. View Judo; 2) Elisabeth Vassar, Greatland Martial Arts. Senior women's 145 pounds — 1) Rachel LaForest, Mat-Su; 2) Heidi Reyes, Anchorage Dojo. Senior women's 172 pounds — 1) Ana Goins, Sterling Judo; 2) Heidi Reyes, Anchorage Dojo; 3) Rachel LaForest, Mat-Su.

Senior men's 161 pounds — 1) Jay Watts, Capital City; 2) Christopher Kukay, Greatland; 3) Grant Birmingham, Legacy. Senior men's 198 pounds — 1) Dorian Mellon, Mountain View; 2) Richard Stout, Legacy; 3) Justin Breese, Black Bear. Senior men's 220 pounds — 1) Joey Faletagoai, Legacy; 2) Michael Pitaro, Capital City; 3) Zach Fenton, Anchorage Dojo. Senior men's 220 pounds-plus — 1) John Faletagoai, Legacy; 2) Triston Wasik, Greatland Martial Arts; 3, Christopher Coulson, Capital City.

Men's 35 and older 185 pounds — 1) Jay Watts, Capital City; 2) Justin Breese, Black Bear Judo; 3) Richard Stout, Legacy. Men's 35 and older 215 pounds — 1) Michael Pitaro, Capital City Judo; 2) Richard Zebruck, Shiroumakai; 3) Bob Ermold, Sterling Judo.

Juvenile A U-15 girls 106 pounds — 1) Marina Lloyd, Capital City; 2) Megan Roche, Shiroumakai. Juvenile A girls U-15 128 pounds — 1) Cassandra Jensen, Shiroumakai; 2) Robyn Sutcliffe, Mat-Su; 3) Makalah Reyes, Anchorage Dojo. Juvenile girls B U-15 139 pounds — 1) Lindsey Beans-Polk, Yukon Kuskokwim Judo Club; 2) Judy Russell, Shiroumakai.

Juvenile boys A U-15 88 pounds — 1) Daniel Tonner, Shiroumakai; 2) Axel Madson, KUC Campus. Juvenile boys A U-15 128 pounds — 1) Gavin Mellon, Mountain View; 2) Leif Nelson, Yukon Kuskokwim; 3) Garrett Gaydos, Mountain View. Juvenile boys A U-15 141 pounds — 1) Samuel Beans-Polk, Yukon Kuskokwim; 2) Garyn Kelso, Mountain View; 3) Logan Juvan, Mountain View. Juvenile boys B U-18 145 pounds — 1) Carol Malagodi, Mountain View; 2) Steven Sutcliffe, Mat-Su. Juvenile boys B U-18 178 pounds — 1) Dorian Mellon, Mountain View; 2) Steven Ireland-Haight, Capital City; 3) Rowen Kingston, Shiroumakai.

Former Goose Creek correctional officer gets 8 months for smuggling drugs into prison

2 hours 58 min ago

A former corrections officer was sentenced to eight months in federal prison for his role in smuggling drugs into Goose Creek Correctional Center last year, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alaska.

Adam Jason Spindler, 33, will have to fulfill three years of probation and three weeks of community service when released. He also handed over a vehicle and was ordered to pay a fine of $1,400 as part of his conviction, prosecutors said.

Spindler faced a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Court records show he pleaded guilty in August to single counts of drug conspiracy and possession of illegal drugs with intent to distribute.

[Goose Creek correctional officer smuggled drugs into prison over 3 months: federal plea agreement]

The former Wasilla-based prison guard agreed on multiple occasions between March and May 2016 to smuggle drugs into Goose Creek for several inmates, according to assistant U.S. attorney Andrea Hattan, who handled the case. Spindler obtained the drugs by meeting with inmates' "drug associates" in the community, Hattan said.

One inmate Spindler schemed with was Edward Wayne George, aka "Bigs." George was housed in a section of the Goose Creek where Spindler worked, and he gave Spindler his girlfriend's cellphone number to coordinate bringing drugs into the prison for distribution to other inmates, prosecutors said. In a 20-day span, Spindler contacted George's girlfriend about 35 times, they said.

"Spindler got the drugs into the prison by hiding them when he reported for work. As a Corrections Officer, Spindler had to pass through a metal detector but was not routinely subjected to pat-down or further searches when he entered GCCC," prosecutors said.

Three months after Spindler was charged and more information about his smuggling was released, Alaska Department of Corrections spokesman Corey Allen-Young said the department's then-new Professional Conduct Unit was looking at policies and potential risks in an effort to prevent similar incidents.

The conduct unit is charged with investigating a variety of issues ranging from ethical concerns to staff complaints within DOC, but focuses on potential criminal matters.

When asked if the corrections department has made any changes due to Spindler, Allen-Young said in an email that searching staff for drugs has inherent limitations, both legal and practical. And most drugs make it into the correctional facilities through inmates and visitors, he said.

"A better strategy is to continue to foster staff's ability to maintain professional boundaries and retain the highest integrity," Allen-Young said. "Staff can help other staff keep on track or look out for each other if any boundaries are slipping."

George, 27, was sentenced in early April to nearly three years in prison for his role in the smuggling. His girlfriend, 20-year-old Taylor Hunter, will be sentenced in May.

The scheme came to an end when Spindler was caught trying to smuggle marijuana and heroin into Goose Creek on May 23, 2016, according to charges in the case. The FBI, who had been tipped off about the smuggling, witnessed Spindler meet up with a drug courier in Wasilla before heading to work, according to the charges.

[Feds: Goose Creek correctional officer tried to smuggle drugs to inmates]

When caught by authorities, Spindler told investigators he was paid about $1,400 for getting the drugs into the prison, and he clarified he did it for the "excitement" and not for the money, Hattan said.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason said she was troubled by the notion that Spindler was lured by the thrill of the criminal activity, particularly given his position of public trust.

Officials noted that handing down a penalty including time in prison was necessary.

"The vast majority of government employees work hard every day to serve the people of the nation and our state," said Acting U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder. "However, when one of them becomes corrupt, it is necessary to hold them accountable."

Prep softball: West wins 2, South wins 1

3 hours 1 min ago

West swept a pair of nonconference softball games on Monday night, beating Wasilla 9-1 and Colony 8-7.

Rebecca Syrup allowed Wasilla just one run and struck out five in five innings, and Hannah Romberg drove in two runs for the Eagles at Albrecht Fields. Lesley Bingham and Beverly Larson each scored two runs for West.

Syrup doubled, tripled, went 3 for 3 and drove in two runs in the victory over Colony. Larson and Romberg each drove in two runs, and Bingham scored three runs.

Bryanna Scarrett homered, doubled and drove in two runs for the Knights.

South 15, Colony 0

Tristan Tolan and Emma Kleven homered Monday night to spearhead South's softball team to a 15-0 nonconference victory over Colony at Albrecht Fields.

Tolan delivered a three-run homer and a triple, and Kleven furnished a two-run homer. Danni Desjarlais, who pitched three no-hit innings with six strikeouts, and Ashton Jessee each doubled twice. Haley White's walk-off, two-run hit ended the game.

Fight or flight? Sadly, we get both

3 hours 3 min ago

The last time I traveled by plane was just a day after the incident on a United Airlines flight where a customer was dragged off the plane with a bloodied face, missing teeth and a concussion. As I deplaned from my Alaska Airlines flight in Anchorage, I turned to the attendants and pilots waiting at the front of the plane to say goodbye and thanked them for not beating up their customers. This was met by a moment of confused (stunned?) silence. As I continued out the door, I heard a delayed whoop of laughter.

I fly Alaska Airlines almost exclusively. I find their service is usually pretty wonderful and their approach to their customers actually indicates they believe we are humans deserving of respect. But that does not negate the fact the Alaska Airlines, like every other American airline, has shrunk its seats to Lilliputian size while Americans have grown to Brobdingnagian proportions. If you are over five foot tall, you have less legroom than you had in your mother's womb. Flights are always completely packed and it seems as though the largest passengers are always in the middle seats. Walking down the obscenely narrow aisle is a humiliating exercise in apologies to everyone whose arms you bump. And when those carts come down those same aisles, all your limbs are in acute danger of getting whacked.

[Employees can save companies a lot of grief — if they're empowered to]

Flying has become something to endure, something we need to get from here to there in a reasonable amount of time. But no one dresses for flying anymore because no one feels very special when flying. It's hard to feel special when you are getting more intimate with your seatmate than you do with your spouse. It's hard to feel special when you are squeezed into the smallest space legally allowed and then asked to stow your carryon under the seat in front of you when that seat is practically in your face. It's hard to feel special when reclining your seat even the slightest brings you into direct eye contact with the person sitting behind you. It's hard to feel special when the bathroom is so small you have to practically climb on the seat to turn around. Most especially, it's hard to feel special when you have a seat in the last row of the plane so that you get to experience the special air that flows out of those bathrooms every time the door opens. To top it all off, those last seats don't even give you the possibility of reclining enough to maybe nap through the noxious experience.

The sad thing is that if you fly foreign airlines, except for the occasional British Airways flight, you find that service and legroom do still exist. You find much happier flight attendants because they are dealing with much happier flyers. When you read stories about United Airlines staff beating up a customer or American Airlines staff smacking a mother holding a baby, you wonder why people who are like that would work in the airline industry, specifically in a position where customer service is supposedly part of the job description.

[Know your rights in the wake of the United incident]

The answer is that those people probably started off liking their job and the passengers they worked with. But then they too started to grasp just how uncomfortable and miserable plane flights are and how the passengers were apt to hold them responsible for every discomfort because they are the face of the airlines on that plane. That's when their attitude starts turning sour and leads to unfortunate incidents that include smacking a mother and breaking a doctor's teeth.

I am old enough to remember when flying was special. You were treated as royalty once you entered the plane, whether you were in first class or lumped in the back with the proletariat. You were served meals by smiling attendants while reclining in seats actually meant to accommodate the human body. I grew up in a lower middle class home above a grocery store. The first time I flew, I felt like I'd entered the world of Jackie Kennedy. I'd never been treated as though I was so special.

Now I enter a plane and feel as though I'm entering a penal institution from which there is no release until landing. I squeeze myself into my minimally allotted space, buckle up and pray for no delays so that I can escape as soon as possible. And I pay good money for the privilege.

Yep, I understand why fights are breaking out on planes. I'm just amazed they didn't break out a lot sooner.

Elise Sereni Patkotak is the author of two memoirs about her life in Alaska, both available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

Gorgeous end to Interior's ptarmigan-hunting season after exhausting road trip

3 hours 7 min ago

We pulled alongside the gravel road at 6 a.m. to change into our hunting clothes and hiking boots. Our distressed optic nerves and fatigued bodies needed a short nap after a 12-hour drive and before we headed out on the snow pack for one last bird hunt.

Our expedition had started in the daylight hours on the Seward Highway the previous day. We had watched the sun set in flamingo pink hues across Turnagain Arm. Then we sat silently for miles of road winding along rivers and between mountains.

The moon followed us along the Glenn Highway until we forgot it because after midnight, the northern lights came out as the road shot straight as an arrow for the length of the show. This time of year — before the high travel season begins — highways are virtually clear of ice and other motorists, especially at night.

Rabbits, fox, owls

The wildlife count exceeded the number of cars on the road. We counted a hundred still-white rabbits, one fox, and two owls emerging and disappearing into brown ditches before we arrived at our destination — a few windblown slopes where we'd found ptarmigan before.

Winchester, our English setter, woke up from his long night of back-seat napping with the only bright eyes of our group. He was shaking with excitement and took off out of the truck to run a mile before either of us had found our shotguns, shells and vests.

The GPS showed he was on point a half-mile away — it sends a signal when the dog stops moving.

"Do you think he found birds or is he going to the bathroom?" I asked. What I meant was that I wasn't quite ready to charge downhill more than 800 yards for birds only to climb back up if he was taking his morning constitutional. My muscles resembled the shape and stiffness of the car seat.

I took a few deep breaths of snow-purified air. The sky was blue, and the sun lit the snow so that it sparkled like fields of crushed diamonds.

The sound of ptarmigan wings in flight along with clucking echoed back to us from the bottom of the valley. It was too late to follow him to the birds — they had flown while we dallied. I thought of how to best describe the sound of their call — a nasal ribbit or garbled bark.

We followed Winchester up a hill and watched him zig and zag as he caught the smell of another covey of birds and whirled around to run in their direction.

The wind had blown the surface of the snow into a solid pack so that none of us broke through except in a few places when we dropped knee-deep in a soft spot. It was easy walking most of the morning, but we knew the snow would soften by afternoon.

Better than espresso

Waking up to the morning in the mountains is better than a jolt of espresso. Instead of fueling my nervous system to remain alert, the surroundings calmed and vitalized me. I watched Winchester's white feathered legs and tail flash as he ran the sunny slopes and caught myself looking at my feet as white moths flew out of the snow. My sightseeing made me slower to react the moment birds appeared.

Ptarmigan hunting with a bird dog is a gentleman's — or gentlewoman's — pursuit in that the birds and dogs are polite. There is none of the dangerous game adrenaline leading up to the flush. The dog points the bird, and the bird usually holds. It doesn't fly until flushed by the hunter, who comes to her senses eventually.

Birds were abundant, and we hunted until the snow was soft. Our footsteps quiet on the snowpack, we heard only the sound of Winchester's panting and birds of various orders that filled the air. Ravens mimicked the sound of ptarmigan and Winchester followed their calls to the remnants of a caribou dug out of the snow by a predator.

Our eyes were sore from the road and the sun on the snow, and after just a morning of hunting, we loaded up in the truck to drive more than 700 miles back home. In just a few days, our round-trip travel in Alaska equaled the distance between Oregon and Texas or Virginia and North Dakota.

The traveling bird hunter exists in the Lower 48 as well as in Alaska. They often travel by road for the sake of the bird dog, who fares better in a car than the cargo hold of a commercial plane. In his home state, Winchester enjoys many dog-friendly hotels and restaurants that have a "puppy patty" — a single hamburger patty — on the menu.

We have made our last bird hunt in the Interior for five years, and each year say we won't do again. It's always a red-eye road trip on a tight schedule. It's a misery of mile-by-mile readjustments of the legs, measurement of hours by junk food consumed, and scenery so beautiful you start to think of the north country as one great moving picture too grand to ever explore in a lifetime. And it is.

MoonPie reward

One of the small things that makes the trip worthwhile comes in the form of the MoonPie — a graham-cracker cookie with marshmallow filling dipped in a flavored coating.

Like Spam, the MoonPie is often associated with certain regions of the country. Particularly popular in the southern states, it's often paired with RC Cola. The pies start to appear for sale on our route at The Hub of Alaska in Glennallen and are available at other family-owned gas stations and stores as we travel north.

It makes me wonder how a baked good that originally catered to a Kentucky coal miner's request for a snack "as big as the moon" found a home in the land of the midnight sun. They are the sole treat on our trip, and we rediscover them each year.

Although Baked Alaska may be the state's unofficial dessert, the MoonPie is the official dessert of our annual last expedition to hunt birds.

Christine Cunningham of Soldotna is a lifelongAlaskan and avid hunter. On alternate weeks, she writes about Alaska hunting. Contact Christine at cunningham@yogaforduckhunters.com

US judge blocks Trump order threatening funds for 'sanctuary' cities

3 hours 18 min ago

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge placed a nationwide hold Tuesday on President Donald Trump's order to strip funds from municipal governments that refuse to cooperate fully with immigration agents.

U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III, an Obama appointee based in San Francisco, said Trump's Jan. 25 order, directed at so-called sanctuary cities and counties, unconstitutionally infringed on the rights of local governments.

The case was the first legal test of Trump's order, which has left cities and counties across the nation fearful of losing massive amounts of federal funds.

The ruling stemmed from lawsuits by San Francisco and Santa Clara County challenging the order. Among other claims, the suits argued that the directive violated the 10th Amendment, which protects states from federal government interference.

[Alaska's federal immigration agents used to be known for raids. Will they be again?]

In making his ruling, Orrick found that San Francisco and Santa Clara County had shown the temporary ban was needed to prevent the upheaval to their budgets and ability to provide services that would have occurred if the punishments promised in Trump's order were enacted.

A decision on whether to keep the ban in place while the legal battle over the order continues will be made later.

The judge rejected a last-minute bid a lawyer for the Justice Department made during an April 14 hearing to downplay the significance and reach of Trump's order.

Contrary to widespread impressions, the attorney told the judge the order would affect only limited law enforcement grants handed down by the Justice Department and the Office of Homeland Security — not all of the billions in funding local municipalities receive from the federal government.

Orrick wrote in his 49-page ruling that while the lawyer's explanation would have watered down the president's order to the point of no longer raising any legal problems, the new reading of the order was not credible.

The section of the order being challenged, Orrick found, "is not reasonably susceptible to the new, narrow interpretation offered at the hearing."

The wording of the order, the judge found, was so broad and threatened such serious penalties for cities found to be in violation of it that it crossed constitutional limits that give Congress, not the president, control of the government's purse strings and that restrict how the federal government can withhold funding from local municipalities.

"And if there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments," Orrick wrote. "The president has called it 'a weapon' to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement."

"Faced with the law, the Trump administration was forced to back down," San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement after the ruling. "This is why we have courts — to halt the overreach of a president and an attorney general who either don't understand the Constitution or chose to ignore it."

Orrick also rebuffed a claim by government attorneys that an injunction should be limited to just San Francisco and Santa Clara County, saying the constitutional violations at play could affect towns and cities anywhere in the country.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler also said that counties could not be compelled to comply with federal requests to hold immigrants in the country illegally for immigration agents. Readler called those requests "not mandatory."

Lawyers for San Francisco and Santa Clara County objected that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had suggested the order was much broader and questioned whether Readler's view reflected that of the administration's.

[Worried about Trump's travel ban, Canada's largest school district calls off US trips]

Trump and Sessions have strongly criticized counties that refuse to hold immigrants in the U.S. illegally for possible deportation. No county in California complies with such requests because federal rulings suggest they could be liable legally if an immigrant later sued.

Trump's order directed the attorney general and secretary for Homeland Security to ensure that sanctuary jurisdictions "are not eligible to receive federal grants," a phrase that many cities and counties interpreted as a threat to withdraw all federal money.

The order left it up to the Homeland secretary to determine which governments were sanctuary jurisdictions. The term has yet to be defined legally, and policies differ among cities and counties that call themselves sanctuary jurisdictions.

Cities and counties around the nation have reacted differently to Trump's order.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County immediately directed jail officials to honor all requests by immigration agents because he said he feared the county could lose $355 million a year in federal funding.

If only police grants are threatened, the county would lose $6.5 million over two years.

Santa Clara County officials had argued the order threatened $1.7 billion in annual federal funding. San Francisco said it stands to lose at least $1.2 billion a year.

Oil spill soaks up much of Anchorage's labor pool

3 hours 28 min ago

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on June 23, 1989.

A cruise boat skipper was the first to quit. Then bus drivers, an expediter and a dispatcher.

With the 1989 tourist season barely under way, Alaska Sightseeing Tours Inc. has lost six people 20 percent of the company's Anchorage operations staff.

"We've never had such a high turnover, and I attribute each and every one of them to (the oil spill)," said Chris Buchholdt, the company's Anchorage division manager. "The problem is they leave like that at a moment's notice."

Employing more than 7,000 people, the March 24 Exxon Valdez oil spill continues to deplete the southcentral Alaska work force, and its effects are keenly felt in Anchorage this summer. "Help wanted" signs are up all over town.

At Anchorage's eight Pizza Huts, franchise owner Kurban Kurani has resorted to draping "Now Accepting Applications" banners over the restaurant building fronts. Kurani says he's looking for as many as 40 recruits.

Few good statistical yardsticks are available to measure the changes in the Anchorage job market since the March 24 spill.

Local Job Service officials say the cleanup hiring has intensified a worker shortage for low paying jobs that began several years ago as the recession prompted many families to leave the state.

Pat Fremming, operations manager for the Anchorage Job Service office, reports that job orders jumped 9 percent in the three months ending May 31 compared to the same period last year. That translates into requests for 2,662 workers, 254 more than in 1988.

For those on the bottom end of the pay scale, the worker shortage is beginning to translate into better wages. In the months following the spill, competition for workers has forced Burger King to increase its average wages from $4.48 an hour to $4.98 an hour.

"I suspect that's in direct relationship to what's happened (with the cleanup)," said Larry Baker, Burger King's president.

Many fastfood workers are younger than 18, the minimum age required to work on oilspill cleanup. But they appear to be able to move up to better paying positions vacated by other workers, Baker said.

Grocery stores and hotels also are searching for workers.

"It's been tough finding young people for bagging," said Nancy Freeman, human resource supervisor for Safeway Inc. in Alaska. "The quality of the people we would normally hire has changed because there isn't the selection there used to be."

Wendi Brockhoff, acting director of human resources for the Anchorage Hilton Hotel, said the hotel normally has all its summer help hired by June 1. This year, the hotel is looking for more than a dozen workers to fill housekeeping, food service and other positions.

The spill cleanup "has made our employment situation more desperate," Brockhoff said.

The spill also appears to be taking workers away from the lowerpaying whitecollar jobs, such as those with the telephone marketing company, Electra Enterprises Inc.

"Typically we have 10 people in our office. Now we've got two (in the day) and maybe four or five at night," said Bob Lee, the company's president.

Electra's main summer project is raising money for disabled veterans through phone solicitations, Lee said. The company pays a 25 percent commission on all money raised by a worker, and guarantees at least a minimum wage.

Lee said the company tried to recruit workers through want ads but so far hasn't had much luck.

"Typically, we don't have much problem getting people to answer our ads," Lee said. "But this year we're getting 15 and 16yearolds working. The rest of the people are out there working (on the spill) and you can't blame them."

The spill also appears to be strengthening the hand of at least one local union.

Royce Rock, business manager of Carpenters Hall Local 1281, says the spill hiring has recruited most nonunion carpenters. That's forced some local companies that have relied on nonunion workers to turn to his local, Rock said.

"The nonunion companies here are not able to find any workers, so we're able to get in with them and show them how we do things," Rock said Wednesday in his office.

About 160 of the local's 800 members are on the outofwork list, he said.

The phone rang and Rock excused himself.

A company needed two more workers immediately.

Recession finally rolled over

3 hours 35 min ago

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on March 5, 1989.

It was a dark and stormy economy.

But the 3 year old recession is over, several economists announced recently.

I recall reading that if all economists were laid end to end they would point in every direction. Not this time.

The recession is over, they say in unison. Admittedly, they say it with about the same meek conviction as my 5yearold assuring me she doesn't know how milk got spilled all over the kitchen table.

But they're saying it.

And just as they had predicted, it was over for a while before anyone knew for sure. We hit bottom last year.

Although the recession technically is over, it likely lingers for you if you work in construction, own real estate or are unemployed, the economists note. And the banking sector is staggering, not swaggering, even as it awaits word on whether regulators will save or close Alliance Bank.

How do they know it's over?

Because the economy sustains more jobs than a year ago. We're not losing jobs anymore. This is the best measure we have of economic health, and job growth translates as economic growth in Alaska.

Other emerging indicators of a more healthy economy include signs that more income might be in the wallets of consumers, who may be more inclined than a couple of years ago to spend the money. Also, the population might be growing again.

"If you use sort of a traditional definition, I'd say, yeah, the recession is over. But I wouldn't say we're out of the woods yet," said Neal Fried, a state labor economist.

Scott Goldsmith, a University of Alaska Anchorage economist, said employment "is up a tad, but not enough to write home about."

Much of the growth is based on surging state government employment, up 1,000 jobs statewide over a year ago.

But that surge could peter out quickly. And Goldsmith said the stabilizing influence of state employment could be a bad sign.

The state projects a $600 million gap between the budget Gov. Steve Cowper wants and the money available. That gap needs to be closed, and Fried said big cuts in state jobs could jerk the economy into reverse again.

Legislative budget leaders say they want to cut $150 million to $200 million from Cowper's budget proposal, with a minimal economic effect.

Hmmm. Legislators want to cut the government operating budget. But not hurt the economy.

I've heard that before, every year since 1985, in fact. How much have they really cut overall? Nothing.

How much will they cut this year? When asked, Senate Finance Cochairman Johne Binkley, RBethel, laughed and said, "We just now established a consensus that we do want to cut $200 million. That's the easy part. Now we have to decide where to make the cuts. And as you know, every dollar in the budget has a constituency. That's the hard part."

The $600 million "deficit" might not be that big anyway. It all depends on oil prices starting in four months, when the new fiscal year begins. The deficit would occur if oil which pays for fourfifths of the state budget fetches $13.50 a barrel over the next fiscal year.

That's $2 to $3 a barrel less than today's oil prices. This higher price, sustained over a year, would cut that "deficit" by more than $300 million.

So, it's hard to say now how much of a threat budget cuts are to continued economic growth.

Fried says the recovery is particularly fragile in Anchorage, where the growth isn't based on strong timber, fishing and hardrock mining industries causing expansion in other regions.

But some industries, like oil and gas, are downright robust.

And two key industries are growing as well: trade and services.

Trade includes wholesaling and retailing, including restaurants and bars.

Services include doctors' offices, law firms, motels, barber shops, movie theaters and the like.

Almost one of every two Anchorage workers has a job in trade and service businesses. These two sectors don't create wealth, they circulate the wealth generated by the oil, tourism, fishing, timber and government sectors.

Trade and services can grow only if wealthproducing sectors are expanding. And new figures from the Labor Department show Anchorage trade grew every month of last year, while services grew every month since May.

The new numbers "show the economy is a little bit stronger than we thought a couple of months ago," said John Boucher, another state labor economist. Even the pummeled construction industry isn't shrinking so fast any longer.

Alaska has a fairly large state budget and a need for better roads, ports and other infrastructure, Boucher said. Historically, construction workers have held about 5 to 5.5 percent of the jobs statewide. During the early1980s boom, they had 8 to 10 percent of the jobs. Last year they had 4 percent. "So it might pop back up," Boucher said.

"Statewide, this could be the year construction hits bottom," Fried said.

The state Labor Department now estimates payroll employment has been growing since last February, after shrinking by about 20,000 jobs in the previous two years.

Goldsmith, the UAA economist, estimates that seasonally adjusted employment statewide hit bottom last August or September. Goldsmith's figures look at employment with seasonal ups and downs smoothed out.

In Anchorage, payroll jobs have grown since last September, the Labor Department estimates. Anchorage lost about 15,000 jobs during the recession, about onethird of them in the construction industry.

As these figures indicate, the Anchorage recession was deeper and lasted longer than what the rest of the state experienced.

Overall, we seem to be left with employment roughly equivalent to what we had in 198283. That's about where Alaska's true, sustainable economy seems to lie. Employer payrolls aren't shrinking any more, either, and they, too, seem to be settling at about 198283 levels.

What of the tremendous economic bustle that occurred between 1983 and 1985? Well, that was blue smoke and mirrors, an illusion that made a lot of people think they were rich, smart and good looking. As a banker put it to me recently, "We were building houses for the people who were building houses."

The recession is clinically dead. That's the good news.

Here's the bad. The misery ain't entirely passed:

* The construction industry is still in intensive care. Employment stands at early 1970s levels. And even though some think the industry can't shrink much further, they also don't see enough big projects on this summer's horizon to cause major gains.

* We still have about 25,000 unemployed workers statewide, 8,000 of them in Anchorage.

* The economy may be growing, but it's fragile growth ever dependent on oil prices.

* Anchorage real estate is in a depression. Many values continue to fall. Most individual homeowners can't sell because they owe so much more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Lots more investment properties particularly apartments and condos seemed destined for foreclosure. The good news is that some kinds of property may be bottoming out in value. This provides no immediate relief to individual homeowners, but it should help the lenders who own thousands of properties through foreclosures. A growing population also should start slowly eating the severe excess supply of housing and offices.

Still, Boucher observed, people's attitudes seem to have improved.

"Feeling good" is hard to measure.

But the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research has tried.

ISER conducted two extensive surveys on the recession's impact on people, one in June 1987 and one last October.

A set of questions concerned the likelihood of spending more money on entertainment and vacations and of buying a car, said Linda Leask of ISER.

In June 1987, 17 percent of the respondents said they planned to spend more money on entertainment and vacations than a year earlier. Last October, 29 percent said spend more.

On the car question, 22 percent in June 1987 they were likely or very likely to buy a car, compared with 36 percent in October, she said.

Oil cleaners siphon Valdez labor force dry

3 hours 39 min ago

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on April 20, 1989.

A group of senior employees of VECO Inc., the oil field services firm coordinating cleanup of America's ugliest oil spill, dined Monday night at a Valdez restaurant and left with more than full bellies.

They took the waitress, too.

"Those people are on my . . . list right now because they stole one of my waitresses," said Connie Harrison, owner of the Totem Inn, which like other local businesses, has been losing employees to a many tentacled cleanup machine dabbing at hundreds of square miles of oiled sea and shore.

"VECO people will come in for dinner and ask them (hotel employees) to come to work for them. I have ads in the newspapers for everything, dishwashers, buspeople, waitresses, housekeepers, bartenders, cooks, you name it."

She needs 16 additional people to keep up with the furious commerce at her 24room hotel, bar and restaurant. "It's really swamped down here. People are having to work long hours. There is a lot of stress."

Amid the biggest boom since construction of the transAlaska pipeline, which ends in Valdez, a shortage of workers is gumming up the gears of the local economy.

And even when the Totem Inn, the Pipeline Club, the Village Inn and other employeestrapped Valdez businesses can find workers, they don't stay long. It seems like everybody in town is on the spill hiring list, waiting for good dough.

A massive hiring campaign by VECO, named as the labor coordinator of the spill by Exxon Co. USA, is soaking up hundreds of workers from fishing docks, canneries, restaurants, souvenir shops and other local businesses. They're leaving their $6 and $7 an hour jobs to make more than $16 an hour on the spill.

The worker shortage is spreading almost as fast and wide as the spill itself, disrupting the labor market not only in Valdez, but in Seward, Homer, Cordova and other nearby coastal towns, according to state employment officials.

Although no one knows for sure how much, if any, long term damage has been done to the important tourism and seafood industries, Exxon's invasion of the body snatchers has removed key employees from these businesses just at a time when they should be gearing up for the busy season.

A dearth of workers on seafood processing lines could force the industry to turn away boats even if fish and crab escape the gooey deluge and fishermen are allowed to set their lines, pots and nets to harvest them.

Already more than 1,280 laborers are scrubbing rocks or floating around on barges in the Sound, and employment is expected to peak at about 4,000 by midJune, according to Dennis Stanczuk, an Exxon spokesman. The company's tanker, the Exxon Valdez, speared itself on Bligh Reef on March 24, loosing more than 10 million gallons of crude oil onto the vast, islanddotted waters.

Alaska residents will fill most available jobs in the cleanup, Exxon said Wednesday. An overwhelming number of people in the Lower 48 have sought cleanup work, but enough Alaskans are available to satisfy its labor needs, Exxon said.

Consider that the economy of the Prince William Sound region supports an average of 2,400 to 2,600 employees, and the size of this massive employment shock can better be measured, said state labor economist Neal Fried.

"It's a typical response to a boom atmosphere." A similar situation occurred statewide in the 1970s when workers abandoned their jobs to toil on the pipeline construction, he said.

The crucial test will come this summer, when college kids and adventurers arrive with bedrolls and dreams of big bucks.

"Some of them who don't get those jobs will leave right away. Some won't have any choice, the college students who can't afford to fly home," said Fried. "They'll get that $6 or $7 and have that real Alaska experience."

If enough show up, and they are willing to do the drudge work at low pay, the crisis will evaporate, he said.

Mary Delucia, who helps manage the 80room Village Inn, is not impressed with many jobseekers who have appeared at her door. "They work for two days and then they go out on the spill," she said. "I think I've gone through six bartenders and eight or nine dishwashers since it started."

At the Valdez office of the Alaska Job Service, manager Doris Giusti said the prevailing wage for cleanup work is $16.69 an hour, and VECO appears to be honoring its pledge to hire locals, including some union workers.

"They are pretty much exhausting the labor market here," she said. "We don't have any local applications left."

Job Service workers have thumbed through more than 1,200 applications, she said.

"We are all very tired and getting so many calls. It's averaging about 300 calls a day. We tell them Exxon stated they would only hire from the Alaska labor market."

People ask themselves, why work on a slime line for $6 an hour when you can join the cleanup, be an ecological hero and earn good money too?

"I don't think we can compete, there isn't that kind of money in fish. We might as well close the doors," said Ray Cesarini, owner of Sea Hawk Seafoods, in past years the largest seasonal employer in Valdez.

A load of black cod from the Gulf of Alaska slid down the chute Tuesday and Sea Hawk started up its processing line with only seven people. "We needed 40," said Cesarini's wife, Sandy, who manages the plant. An emergency call to the Job Service brought enough muscle, barely, to do the job.

Sea Hawk had planned to employ about 350 people during July and August, the peak months of the salmon season. An estimated haul of 46 million salmon had been predicted for the Sound. The company spent "several hundred thousand" dollars to refurbish bunkhouses and modernize its line in anticipation of the biggest catch ever from the rich waters, she said.

"I can't double my wages, I'll be out of business. It's as simple as that."

Alaska's first major harvest is scheduled to begin in midMay at the nearby Copper River flats, but processors in Cordova say they aren't ready.

"With the oil company paying the high hourly wage for the cleanup we are losing a lot of regular people, we can't possibly compete," said Mike Schomer, general manager of the Copper River Fisherman's Coop, which processes salmon, halibut and other seafood for about 100 fishing boats.

An unskilled line worker earns about $6 an hour and the salary goes up to $9.50 based on seniority, he said. Copper River hires about 50 people each summer, but needs its key mechanics and line chiefs to start operations. Other processors report similar concerns.

At least one employer in Valdez said she hasn't had any problems hiring help.

"My work force is mostly high school students," said Kathy Shier, owner of the Tastee Freeze, where a new hire was stumped by the gleaming complexities of a hot fudge machine. "And that doesn't appeal to Exxon, so it hasn't been so bad."

Republicans offer up spending plan, with one notable omission: A border wall

7 hours 6 min ago

WASHINGTON – A Republican bid to keep the government open past Friday includes no new money for the construction of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to several congressional aides familiar with ongoing talks.

GOP leaders submitted the new offer Tuesday afternoon to appease Democrats, whose votes are needed to avert a shutdown of federal agencies, several House and Senate aides said.

However, Republicans also insisted on increases in border security and defense spending, including money to repair existing fencing and new surveillance technology to patrol the nearly 2,000-mile border. Democrats have indicated that they would support such appropriations so long as no money goes toward an actual wall.

The two sides remain at odds over whether the spending bill would include money for subsidy payments under the Affordable Care Act, how long to extend a health-care program for coal miners and a series of unrelated policy measures known typically known as riders.

The new offer comes as Republicans also push negotiations on tax reform and health care, as they try to demonstrate forward motion on President Trump's other top domestic priorities.

On Monday, Trump seemed to soften his demand for immediate funding for construction of a border wall, telling a small group of conservative reporters that he would be open to delaying a confrontation with Democrats over the border until September.

But on Tuesday, a defiant Trump insisted that "The wall's going to get built."

Meeting with farmers at the White House, he defended his administration's work on border security so far, noting that illegal border crossings have dropped more than 70 percent in the past year.

Asked by reporters when the wall would be built, Trump said, "Soon."

"We're already preparing. We're doing plans, we're doing specifications, we're doing a lot of work on the wall, and the wall is going to get built," he added.

When a reporter asked if the wall will be built in his first term, Trump said, "Yeah, we have plenty of time. We've got a lot of time."

Despite the president's fluctuations, congressional leaders remained encouraged that at least for now, the White House won't be pushing for border money.

"The fact that the wall is now off the table – Americans should breathe a huge sigh of relief," said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

"I think he realizes that it is unlikely to be part of the negotiation this time around," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of Senate leadership, said of Trump. "It is becoming more of a nonissue."

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a top appropriator, called Trump's comments "helpful" to resolving weeks of talks over government spending.

"This is that moment where the president has to determine that you need some Democrat votes in the Senate to get the bill done. And the Democrats have to determine that there are a lot of things in that bill that they want as well," Blunt said. "They need a bill that the president will sign, and nobody can get too far out of the zone and hope to get both of those things done."

But Trump's comments earned a swift rebuke Tuesday from prominent conservatives, including radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who told his millions of listeners that Trump is "caving on his demand" for money to build a border wall.

Faulting Democrats for threatening a shutdown, Limbaugh added that if Trump is "willing to withdraw a demand" for border money, "then the Democrats will have just learned that this threat works on Trump, too, not just all the other Republicans."

House and Senate negotiators worked throughout a two-week Easter break on details of the spending plan, but the talks broke down last week after White House officials began demanding greater concessions from Democrats, including explicit funding for the border wall. Democrats firmly oppose any new money for construction of a wall, but have said they are willing to agree to significant increases in defense spending, including money for the Department of Homeland Security to spend on surveillance and security on the border with Mexico.

The issue of health subsidy payments, which affect approximately 7 million Americans, has become the primary sticking point in the talks, the aides said. Democratic leaders demanded that the payments, which are included in the Affordable Care Act but which Trump has said he might not continue, be fully funded in the short-term spending bill to give Congress the power to make the payments.

But some Democrats have signaled a willingness to back down from that demand if the White House commits to continuing the payments on its own. Democrats may also be calculating that, if Trump decides to stop the payments, the near-certain political damage would fall to him.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the second-ranking member of his caucus, said Tuesday that the subsidies should be handled by the White House, not Congress.

"The president has the authority to go ahead and do it. He ought to do it," Hoyer told reporters.

The payments are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit filed by House Republicans, which argues that Congress should have to sign off on the payments. A federal district court ruled last year that the subsidy payments were illegal but allowed the program to continue during the appeals process.

With spending talks still underway, Republican leaders also plan to launch talks on Tuesday over Trump's tax reform proposals and new plans to salvage an Obamacare replacement bill.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn are set to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and leaders of the congressional tax-writing committees to review details of Trump's plan.

The president has instructed advisers to propose cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, according to White House officials who said they were not authorized to speak publicly about the plan. The rate reduction – which independent budget experts say could cost the federal government $2.4 trillion over a decade – is larger than what House Republicans had proposed in their own plan.

Meanwhile, senior leaders of the House Freedom Caucus – the conservative bloc of lawmakers who opposed the initial Obamacare replacement plan – are scheduled to meet Tuesday evening as the House comes back into session. The entire caucus isn't scheduled to meet to discuss a way forward on health-care legislation until Wednesday night, aides said.

Republicans are also working to better define Trump's signature campaign promise, the border wall, arguing that any form of border security would fulfill it.

"A lot of us have been pushing for additional border security funding for a while, but a solitary, 2,000-mile wall has never been a must-have for anybody in a border state," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker, David Weigel, Sean Sullivan, Tory Newmyer and Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.

Oil cleaners siphon Valdez labor force dry

7 hours 39 min ago

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on April 20, 1989.

A group of senior employees of VECO Inc., the oil field services firm coordinating cleanup of America's ugliest oil spill, dined Monday night at a Valdez restaurant and left with more than full bellies.

They took the waitress, too.

"Those people are on my . . . list right now because they stole one of my waitresses," said Connie Harrison, owner of the Totem Inn, which like other local businesses, has been losing employees to a many tentacled cleanup machine dabbing at hundreds of square miles of oiled sea and shore.

"VECO people will come in for dinner and ask them (hotel employees) to come to work for them. I have ads in the newspapers for everything, dishwashers, buspeople, waitresses, housekeepers, bartenders, cooks, you name it."

She needs 16 additional people to keep up with the furious commerce at her 24room hotel, bar and restaurant. "It's really swamped down here. People are having to work long hours. There is a lot of stress."

Amid the biggest boom since construction of the transAlaska pipeline, which ends in Valdez, a shortage of workers is gumming up the gears of the local economy.

And even when the Totem Inn, the Pipeline Club, the Village Inn and other employeestrapped Valdez businesses can find workers, they don't stay long. It seems like everybody in town is on the spill hiring list, waiting for good dough.

A massive hiring campaign by VECO, named as the labor coordinator of the spill by Exxon Co. USA, is soaking up hundreds of workers from fishing docks, canneries, restaurants, souvenir shops and other local businesses. They're leaving their $6 and $7 an hour jobs to make more than $16 an hour on the spill.

The worker shortage is spreading almost as fast and wide as the spill itself, disrupting the labor market not only in Valdez, but in Seward, Homer, Cordova and other nearby coastal towns, according to state employment officials.

Although no one knows for sure how much, if any, long term damage has been done to the important tourism and seafood industries, Exxon's invasion of the body snatchers has removed key employees from these businesses just at a time when they should be gearing up for the busy season.

A dearth of workers on seafood processing lines could force the industry to turn away boats even if fish and crab escape the gooey deluge and fishermen are allowed to set their lines, pots and nets to harvest them.

Already more than 1,280 laborers are scrubbing rocks or floating around on barges in the Sound, and employment is expected to peak at about 4,000 by midJune, according to Dennis Stanczuk, an Exxon spokesman. The company's tanker, the Exxon Valdez, speared itself on Bligh Reef on March 24, loosing more than 10 million gallons of crude oil onto the vast, islanddotted waters.

Alaska residents will fill most available jobs in the cleanup, Exxon said Wednesday. An overwhelming number of people in the Lower 48 have sought cleanup work, but enough Alaskans are available to satisfy its labor needs, Exxon said.

Consider that the economy of the Prince William Sound region supports an average of 2,400 to 2,600 employees, and the size of this massive employment shock can better be measured, said state labor economist Neal Fried.

"It's a typical response to a boom atmosphere." A similar situation occurred statewide in the 1970s when workers abandoned their jobs to toil on the pipeline construction, he said.

The crucial test will come this summer, when college kids and adventurers arrive with bedrolls and dreams of big bucks.

"Some of them who don't get those jobs will leave right away. Some won't have any choice, the college students who can't afford to fly home," said Fried. "They'll get that $6 or $7 and have that real Alaska experience."

If enough show up, and they are willing to do the drudge work at low pay, the crisis will evaporate, he said.

Mary Delucia, who helps manage the 80room Village Inn, is not impressed with many jobseekers who have appeared at her door. "They work for two days and then they go out on the spill," she said. "I think I've gone through six bartenders and eight or nine dishwashers since it started."

At the Valdez office of the Alaska Job Service, manager Doris Giusti said the prevailing wage for cleanup work is $16.69 an hour, and VECO appears to be honoring its pledge to hire locals, including some union workers.

"They are pretty much exhausting the labor market here," she said. "We don't have any local applications left."

Job Service workers have thumbed through more than 1,200 applications, she said.

"We are all very tired and getting so many calls. It's averaging about 300 calls a day. We tell them Exxon stated they would only hire from the Alaska labor market."

People ask themselves, why work on a slime line for $6 an hour when you can join the cleanup, be an ecological hero and earn good money too?

"I don't think we can compete, there isn't that kind of money in fish. We might as well close the doors," said Ray Cesarini, owner of Sea Hawk Seafoods, in past years the largest seasonal employer in Valdez.

A load of black cod from the Gulf of Alaska slid down the chute Tuesday and Sea Hawk started up its processing line with only seven people. "We needed 40," said Cesarini's wife, Sandy, who manages the plant. An emergency call to the Job Service brought enough muscle, barely, to do the job.

Sea Hawk had planned to employ about 350 people during July and August, the peak months of the salmon season. An estimated haul of 46 million salmon had been predicted for the Sound. The company spent "several hundred thousand" dollars to refurbish bunkhouses and modernize its line in anticipation of the biggest catch ever from the rich waters, she said.

"I can't double my wages, I'll be out of business. It's as simple as that."

Alaska's first major harvest is scheduled to begin in midMay at the nearby Copper River flats, but processors in Cordova say they aren't ready.

"With the oil company paying the high hourly wage for the cleanup we are losing a lot of regular people, we can't possibly compete," said Mike Schomer, general manager of the Copper River Fisherman's Coop, which processes salmon, halibut and other seafood for about 100 fishing boats.

An unskilled line worker earns about $6 an hour and the salary goes up to $9.50 based on seniority, he said. Copper River hires about 50 people each summer, but needs its key mechanics and line chiefs to start operations. Other processors report similar concerns.

At least one employer in Valdez said she hasn't had any problems hiring help.

"My work force is mostly high school students," said Kathy Shier, owner of the Tastee Freeze, where a new hire was stumped by the gleaming complexities of a hot fudge machine. "And that doesn't appeal to Exxon, so it hasn't been so bad."

Flynn likely broke law by failing to disclose foreign payments, House Oversight leaders say

11 hours 33 min ago

WASHINGTON – Former national security adviser Michael Flynn likely broke the law by failing to disclose foreign income he earned from Russia and Turkey, the heads of the House Oversight Committee said Tuesday.

Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said they believe Flynn neither received permission nor fully disclosed income he earned for a speaking engagement in Russia and lobbying activities on behalf of Turkey when he applied to reinstate his security clearance, after viewing two classified memos and Flynn's disclosure form in a private briefing Tuesday morning.

"Personally I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law," Chaffetz told reporters following the briefing.

"He was supposed to get permission, he was supposed to report it, and he didn't," Cummings said.

Check back for updates.

North Korea stages large-scale artillery drill as U.S. submarine docks in South

12 hours 36 min ago

SEOUL – North Korea conducted a big live-fire exercise on Tuesday to mark the foundation of its military as a U.S. submarine docked in South Korea in a show of force amid growing concern over the North's nuclear and missile programs.

The port call by the USS Michigan came as a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group steamed toward Korean waters and as top envoys for North Korea policy from South Korea, Japan and the United States met in Tokyo.

Fears have risen in recent weeks that North Korea would conduct another nuclear test or long-range missile launch in defiance of U.N. sanctions, perhaps on the Tuesday anniversary of the founding of its military.

But instead of a nuclear test or big missile launch, North Korea deployed a large number of long-range artillery units in the region of Wonsan on its east coast for a live-fire drill, South Korea's military said. North Korea has an air base in Wonsan and missiles have also been tested there.

"North Korea is conducting a large-scale firing drill in Wonsan areas this afternoon," the South's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

[As North Korea rushes for better bombs, US fears time will run out]

The South Korean military was monitoring the situation and "firmly maintaining readiness," it said.

The South's Yonhap News Agency said earlier the exercise was possibly supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea's state media was defiant in a commentary marking the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People's Army, saying its military was prepared "to bring to closure the history of U.S. scheming and nuclear blackmail".

"There is no limit to the strike power of the People's Army armed with our style of cutting-edge military equipment including various precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and submarine-launched ballistic missiles," the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting U.S. President Donald Trump. He has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.

Trump sent the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group for exercises off the Korean peninsula as a warning to North Korea and a show of solidarity with U.S. allies.

South Korea's navy said it was conducting a live-fire exercise with U.S. destroyers in waters west of the Korean peninsula and would soon join the carrier strike group approaching the region.

China, North Korea's sole major ally, which nevertheless objects to its weapons development, has repeatedly called for calm, and its envoy for Korean affairs, Wu Dawei, was in Tokyo on Tuesday.

"We hope that all parties, including Japan, can work with China to promote an early peaceful resolution of the issue, and play the role, put forth the effort, and assume the responsibility that they should," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.

Japan's envoy on North Korea, Kenji Kanasugi, said after talks with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts that they agreed China should take a concrete role to resolve the crisis and it could use an oil embargo as a tool to press the North.

"We believe China has a very, very important role to play," said the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun.

South Korea's envoy, Kim Hong-kyun, said they had also discussed how to get Russia's help to press North Korea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 27, the Kremlin said. It did not elaborate.

RARE SENATE BRIEFING

Matching the flurry of diplomatic and military activity in Asia, the State Department in Washington said on Monday U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would chair a special ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on North Korea on Friday.

Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Joint Chiefs chairman General Joseph Dunford, would also hold a rare briefing for the entire U.S. Senate on North Korea on Wednesday, Senate aides said.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said those meetings called by U.S. officials clearly reflected the U.S. pressure that could "ignite a full-out war" on the Korean peninsula.

"The reality of today again proves the decision to strengthen nuclear power in quality and quantity under the banner of pursuing economic development and nuclear power was the correct one," the unidentified spokesman said in a statement issued by the North's state media.

On Monday, Trump called for tougher U.N. sanctions on the North, saying it was a global threat and "a problem that we have to finally solve".

"The status quo in North Korea is also unacceptable," Trump told a meeting with the 15 U.N. Security Council ambassadors, including China and Russia, at the White House. "The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

The official China Daily said it was time for Pyongyang and Washington to take a step back from harsh rhetoric and heed calls for a peaceful resolution.

"Judging from their recent words and deeds, policymakers in Pyongyang have seriously misread the U.N. sanctions, which are aimed at its nuclear/missile provocations, not its system or leadership," the newspaper said in an editorial.

"They are at once perilously overestimating their own strength and underestimating the hazards they are brewing for themselves."

The nuclear-powered submarine the USS Michigan, which arrived in the South Korean port of Busan, is built to carry and launch ballistic missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in BEIJING, Kaori Kaneko, Linda Sieg, Elaine Lies and Tim Kelly in TOKYO, and Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick, Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Vladimir Soldatkin in MOSCOW)

Northern Edge military training in Gulf of Alaska gets Navy's OK -- with limits

13 hours 9 min ago

The U.S. Navy has given the go-ahead for Gulf of Alaska activities in the wide-ranging military exercise known as Northern Edge, but it has scaled back proposed activities in the marine environment.

A record of decision announced Monday by the Navy gave approval for the marine portion of Northern Edge. The exercise, which involves the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy and National Guard, is scheduled to start May 1 and run for 12 days. It encompasses training activities on land, in the air and at sea over a broad swath of Alaska territory. It is the largest military exercise in Alaska this year and will involve 6,000 people, according to the Alaskan Command, which is hosting it.

The Navy, the agency in charge of environmental review of the marine portion of Northern Edge, opted in its record of decision for some tighter limits on allowable Gulf of Alaska activities than those proposed in a supplemental environmental impact statement issued last year.

The decision allows one large-scale Carrier Strike Group exercise, with associated antisubmarine warfare and live-sonar activities, to take place each year. In contrast, the preferred alternative that had been proposed in the supplemental EIS released by the Navy last year would have allowed two such exercises, plus up to two sinking exercises.

The approved alternative has fewer potential noise impacts and other disturbances to marine mammals, according to the supplemental EIS. It was chosen over the earlier preferred alternative "following careful and thorough consideration of the Navy's future training needs in the GOA to support joint training activities," the record of decision said.

Although the decision authorizes the activities to happen annually and allows them to occur for 21 consecutive days each year, the Northern Edge exercise is generally held every two years and over fewer days each time.

The Northern Edge activities have been controversial in Gulf of Alaska towns, where local residents are dependent on fishing. Local governments and groups have called for Northern Edge to be rescheduled to a time later in the year to avoid conflicts with the fishing season.

Arkansas carries out double execution

14 hours 24 min ago

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas carried out back-to-back executions on Monday night, administering lethal injections to two men convicted of rape and murder to become the first U.S. state to put more than one inmate to death on the same day in 17 years.

Marcel Williams, 46, was pronounced dead at 10:33 CDT, a little more than three hours after the execution of 52-year-old Jack Jones, according to officials at Cummins Unit prison, about 75 miles southeast of the state capital, Little Rock.

The two men were among eight that the state had initially planned to execute over the course of 11 days this month, prompted by the impending expiration date of the state's supplies of midazolam, a sedative used as part of the three-drug protocol.

Four of those executions have been put on hold by court order.

Jones was convicted of raping and killing Mary Phillips, 34, in 1995 and trying to murder her 11-year-old daughter. He also was convicted of rape and murder in Florida.

Williams was convicted of the 1997 kidnapping, rape and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped two other women.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said he hoped the executions would bring closure to the victim's families.

Williams' execution was temporarily put on hold just minutes before he was scheduled to die by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker in Little Rock, after his lawyers raised concerns that Jones' execution had been botched.

In a last-minute appeal, Williams' attorneys claimed Jones was still moving more than five minutes after he received a sedative, midazolam, that is supposed to render inmates unconscious.

That description did not appear to match initial observations from reporters witnessing the execution. They described Jones' lips moving after he finished his last words but said there were no signs of distress, according to local media reports.

Officials said Williams was in the death chamber and on the gurney when word of the stay arrived.

Baker lifted her order around an hour later after holding a brief hearing on the matter, court filings showed.

In his final words, Jones apologized to the young girl he left for dead, now a grown woman.

"I hope over time you could learn who I really am and I am not a monster," he said, according to reporter witnesses.

Williams did not offer any last words, witnesses told local media. They said he may have received more than one dose of midazolam and that he was breathing heavily for a few minutes after the initial injection.

The time between the first injection and the pronouncement of death was 17 minutes, officials said.

The twin executions followed a flurry of unsuccessful appeals earlier on Monday to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Both Jones and Williams had argued that their obesity put them at heightened risk of pain due to the controversial midazolam, which was previously used in botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona. The U.S. Supreme Court denied those claims without comment.

States with the death penalty have struggled to obtain enough lethal injection drugs, including midazolam, as manufacturers and distributors have increasingly refused to provide supplies for capital punishment.

Jones was the second inmate executed in Arkansas since 2005, after the state put Ledell Lee to death last week. Arkansas has scheduled another execution on Thursday.

United Airlines employees could've saved the company a lot of grief — if they'd been empowered to

15 hours 3 min ago

When United Airlines' employees heard the now-famous statement from Dr. David Dao, "Nope. I'm not getting off the flight. I'm a doctor and have to see patients tomorrow morning," it could — and should — have triggered an immediate re-evaluation.

Except United's employees weren't given the freedom to situationally re-evaluate — even if their individual Richter scales screamed "trouble!"

Instead, United Airlines' employees lived according to rigid company-serving policies.

[A man wouldn't leave an overbooked United flight, so he was dragged off, battered and limp]

Earlier this month, after executive Geoff Fearns paid about $1,000 for a full-fare, first-class ticket from Kauai to Los Angeles, a United Airlines employee told him he needed to get off the plane because they "needed the seat for somebody more important who came at the last minute." Although Fearns had already settled in his seat, a United employee said, "If you don't leave voluntarily, we'll summon security" and escort you off in handcuffs.

According to Fearns, United "compromised" by downgrading him to a middle seat in economy. Fearns notes that three members of the crew apologized for how he was treated but "said they were unable to do anything."

[Know your rights in wake of the United incident]

In another indication of how rigidly United viewed its policies, United CEO Oscar Munoz initially praised his employees for following the company manual — even after learning security had dragged a passenger from the flight. Munoz also used a time-honored strategy of rigid policy-upholding organizations: blaming the victim. He described a paying customer sitting in a seat as "disruptive" and "belligerent" when ordered off a flight. Instead of apologizing to the bloodied passenger or his horrified fellow passengers, Munoz regretted that United had to "re-accommodate" customers, clearly torturing the meaning of the word "accommodate." It took the loss of $800 million of United corporate value to induce Munoz to actually apologize.

What if instead, United had empowered the employees on these flights with more latitude to compensate their inconvenienced customers rather than shove corporate policy down their throats?

An employee could have said, "Mr. Fearns, we're very sorry. We shouldn't have sold you the ticket because we're in a smaller plane. We'd like to comp you your ticket and reseat you in coach." United might not have lost a passenger forever.

On Dao's flight, employees or their supervisor could have ratcheted up the incentive for passengers voluntarily giving up their seat to $1,000 or even $1,200, a cost of $4,800, instead of what United now faces — a lawsuit, the cost of compensating every passenger for their ticket cost and a viral social media uproar leading many to choose "any carrier but United" in the future.

Delta, for example, now allows gate agents to offer passengers giving up their seats up to $2,000, and supervisors have the freedom to offer inconvenienced passengers vouchers of up to $9,950, thus allowing employees to make the right decisions "on the fly."

What lessons can other employers learn?

First, if you depend on customer revenue, treat customers with respect.

Don't make your problem theirs. United overbooked Fearns' flight and needed to transport their personnel on Dao's flight, displacing paying passengers. By removing unwilling passengers without offering adequate compensation United thus strove to make their problem their passengers'.

If your company disadvantages your customers for any reason, perhaps by providing delayed or inadequate services, compensate them, even if you create an initial loss. You don't want to lose a customer forever because you didn't make a situation right.

Second, and just as important, policies outline parameters, but can't account for every situation.

When you force employees to apply policies rigidly, you risk problems you didn't foresee. Instead, train your frontline employees so you can trust them to make the right decisions, in the moment and based on what they see as they try to administer your policies. In the long run, trained, customer-oriented employees can save you from United's fate.

Melissa Etheridge, 'Cabaret' and more announced for Anchorage Concert Association's new season

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 21:38

The Anchorage Concert Association will launch its 2017-2018 season with raspy-voiced rocker Melissa Etheridge on Sept. 14.

The arts organization announced its new season lineup Monday. More than a third of the 25-plus acts have performed in previous seasons. Familiar entertainers include musical satirists The Capitol Steps (March 16), socially conscious mini orchestra Pink Martini (May 12), a cappella chamber ensemble Cantus (Oct. 6) and South African stalwarts and multiple Grammy winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Jan. 20).

"We've been finding in these more uncertain times, people prefer the comfort food of the performing arts, so we're trying to provide that," said Anchorage Concert Association Executive Director Jason Hodges.

"But at the same time we're still wanting to bring newer, very talented artists to town for people who are willing to be surprised and go on a little musical adventure with us."

Among the new acts are The Quebe Sisters (March 10), a fiddling trio playing vintage country and western swing; Davina and the Vagabonds (Feb. 2), a high-energy jazz/blues group with a lead singer who has been compared to Betty Boop, Amy Winehouse and Billie Holliday; La Santa Cecilia (Nov. 10), Grammy winners for Best Latin Rock Album; and '90s punk, jazz and swing band Squirrel Nut Zippers (Feb. 9).

On the non-musical end are Canadian actor Charles Ross' "One Man Star Wars Trilogy," (Dec. 1-2) a comical condensation of the original three films, and a session of storytelling series "The Moth." (Feb. 14)

This season's Broadway in Anchorage series shows are "Cabaret,"(April 24-29) "Rodger + Hammerstein's Cinderella" (Oct. 24-29) and "Little Shop of Horrors" (Feb. 20-25).

Also on the lineup, but not part of the Broadway series, is the long-running hit "Menopause: The Musical." The show parodies retro pop songs to pay tribute to "the change."

The new season won't be confined to the Performing Arts Center.

Several of artists will venture into the community for outreach classes and events.

Neo-folk rockers The Ballroom Thieves are slated to perform with local music students during their September performance.

"They'll be backing the band up," Hodges said. "When I was (researching) The Ballroom Thieves I discovered they do work with youth musicians."

There are also plans for TAIKOPROJECT, a Japanese-style drum ensemble coming in March, to visit East High School to work with student musicians.

The Anchorage Concert Association will also continue their series of "secret shows" — by-invitation performances at venues around the city.

"We don't tell you where it is or who the artist is going to be, and then the day before the concert, we tell everybody where it is and who's playing," Hodges said. "The band plays about 20, 30 minutes, they usually have a food truck in the parking lot, and its, just a little social occasion with some great entertainment in  a pretty laid back, informal environment."

For the full 2017-2018 season schedule, visit anchorageconcerts.org.

 

 

Alaska Senate advances oil tax bill, but leaves out some of the pieces proposed by the House

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 21:34

JUNEAU — The Republican-led Alaska Senate moved ahead Monday with a House bill to eliminate a cash subsidy program for oil companies, but it rejected another House idea to raise oil taxes at prices below $100 a barrel.

The Senate Resources Committee released its revision to House Bill 111 at a Monday afternoon meeting and advanced it 40 minutes later to the Senate Finance Committee, where it's scheduled for hearings later in the week.

The move squared with statements in recent weeks from Senate leaders, who said they were willing to consider changes to the subsidy program but skeptical of adjustments to the broader tax framework. That framework was established four years ago in legislation authored by their chamber, Senate Bill 21, and it's now under pressure as state lawmakers eye the oil industry as a potential source of cash amid a budget deficit of nearly $3 billion.

The largely Democratic House majority earlier this month passed its own version of HB 111, which is projected to add about $200 million to the state's bottom line by 2020. But the Senate has different ideas, and the resulting debate is one of several ideological fights over deficit-reduction measures that are keeping lawmakers in Juneau for a second week beyond their 90-day deadline.

[New Alaska House oil tax bill emerges but faces an uphill climb in Senate]

The new proposal from the Senate accepts the House's plan to eliminate cash subsidies for North Slope oil companies — a program that's cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year, though recent payments have been vetoed by Gov. Bill Walker.

The Senate's proposal cuts the subsidies even more than the House's bill, because it would also eliminate the program for so-called "Middle Earth" — south of the North Slope and north of Southcentral Alaska, where it's being used by Alaska Native corporations.

But the Senate Resources Committee, chaired by Anchorage Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel, rejected other provisions in the House's legislation that would have had the effect of increasing state revenue when oil prices are between $60 and $100 a barrel.

The House was proposing to accomplish that by lowering the base oil tax rate in tandem with repealing a key tax credit granted for each barrel of oil production. But the new substitute legislation from Giessel's office left those sections entirely out — dropping the length of the bill to 18 pages from the 39 in the House proposal.

"We have a consensus on this one issue," Anchorage Republican Sen. Kevin Meyer said at Monday's hearing, referring to the cash subsidies. But the House, he added, "went into some areas that rewrite the whole tax policy."

"And I don't think that's an area that we want to go to," added Meyer, who works for oil company ConocoPhillips outside the legislative session. Senate Republicans have argued that the state's tax policy should be geared toward stimulating more oil production, rather than extracting more money from companies.

Another concession in the Senate's version of the bill would stop oil companies from paying less than a 4 percent minimum tax by using a specific tax credit tied to losses. The Senate accomplished that change by repealing the credit and replacing it with a deduction that's factored in earlier in the process of calculating taxes.

A separate provision would allow companies to use tax credits against prior years' taxes, interest and penalties if they're assessed retroactively, like after an audit.

The Senate Resources Committee hasn't released an estimate of the financial impact of its proposal. But one House Democrat, Anchorage Rep. Geran Tarr, said she thought the Senate's legislation doesn't ask enough of oil companies to justify the Legislature's approval of other deficit-reduction measures favored by the House that would hit individual Alaskans, like an income tax or reduced Permanent Fund dividends.

"There are just so many features of this that are so generous," Tarr said. "We'll have a lot more work to do to get to a compromise."

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