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Updated: 1 hour 32 min ago

Fairbanks school district suspends West Valley ski coach

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 16:57

FAIRBANKS — An Alaska high school skiing head coach was suspended Friday after school officials discovered allegations were made against him in a domestic violence protective order petition, school district officials said.

The ex-girlfriend of West Valley High School coach Nick Crawford requested a renewal last week for a one-year protection order she obtained in November 2018 citing continued safety concerns, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Friday.

The ex-girlfriend accused Crawford of sexual misconduct while she was incapacitated at his home in October 2018, court documents said. They were both employed at the University of Fairbanks at the time, officials said — Crawford was the school’s head coach for skiing and cross country running.

“We were notified earlier today about a potential issue. He has been suspended pending contact with UAF to get more details regarding the situation,” school district spokeswoman Yumi McCulloch said. “The team and parents have been notified that he will not be there (for time trials) this weekend.”

Crawford coached the UAF cross-country running and ski programs from 2015 until earlier this year, officials said. He was placed on administrative leave a year ago and a Title IX investigation is ongoing, university officials said. As of Friday, he was still listed on the university website as coach, the newspaper reported.

University spokeswoman Marmian Grimes declined to give details about personnel issues but said the university evaluates all reports of sexual misconduct.

“The first step is to look at the information we have and assess any potential safety concerns and make sure we take steps to provide a safe environment for our employees, students and the public,” Grimes said.

The suspension was due to “an unresolved Title IX investigation that they said would be over in 60 days. It’s not been completed in 60 days, and that’s why the school district is now waiting, too, because they’re waiting on UAF,” Crawford said Friday. “I passed the background check no problem.”

It was unclear if a background check was done on Crawford, McCulloch said.

In response to the protective order petition request, Crawford’s attorney asked that the hearing be rescheduled and that public access to the hearing be limited. A judge approved the request and a closed hearing was scheduled for Dec. 11, court officials said.

Crawford was named the head coach and skier development director for the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks in September but his status with the organization is currently unknown, the newspaper reported. Club president Chris Puchner had no comment when contacted by the Daily News-Miner on Friday.

Driver over 3 times the legal alcohol limit causes ‘chain reaction collision,’ Anchorage police say

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 14:19

A suspected drunken driver crashed into police cars parked on Lake Otis Parkway for a separate traffic investigation early Saturday morning, ultimately causing a five-vehicle collision that left one officer injured, Anchorage police said in an alert.

At around 4 a.m. Saturday, three police officers responded to a report of a potentially impaired driver asleep in an SUV in a southbound lane of Lake Otis Parkway near Tudor Road. Two officers parked behind the SUV — one directly behind the SUV, and the second farther north to block the lane to other drivers as a safety measure — while another officer parked in front of the stopped vehicle, police said.

As they were investigating, the driver of a 2012 Chevrolet Equinox heading south on Lake Otis Parkway failed to switch lanes and crashed into both police vehicles parked behind the SUV, causing a “chain reaction collision,” police said. The police car directly behind the SUV struck the SUV, which then crashed into the police car in front. Police said the emergency lights for all three officers’ vehicles were on at the time of the crash.

An officer inside the vehicle directly behind the SUV was treated for minor injuries at the scene, police said. The other officers and the drivers of the SUV and the Equinox were not injured, according to the alert.

The Equinox’s driver, 21-year-old Danielle Agnus, was charged with operating under the influence, third-degree assault and passing an emergency vehicle, according to police. Agnus’ blood alcohol level was greater than three times the legal driving limit, police said.

Police determined that the driver of the stopped SUV was not impaired. An officer drove him home because his SUV had to be towed due to damage from the crash, according to police.

Big study casts doubt on need for many heart procedures

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 12:54

In this Feb. 16, 2017 file photo, surgeons perform a non-emergency angioplasty at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) (Mark Lennihan/)

PHILADELPHIA — People with severe but stable heart disease from clogged arteries may have less chest pain if they get a procedure to improve blood flow rather than just giving medicines a chance to help, but it won’t cut their risk of having a heart attack or dying over the following few years, a big federally funded study found.

The results challenge medical dogma and call into question some of the most common practices in heart care. They are the strongest evidence yet that tens of thousands of costly stent procedures and bypass operations each year are unnecessary or premature for people with stable disease.

That's a different situation than a heart attack, when a procedure is needed right away to restore blood flow.

For non-emergency cases, the study shows "there's no need to rush" into invasive tests and procedures, said New York University's Dr. Judith Hochman.

There might even be harm: To doctors' surprise, study participants who had a procedure were more likely to suffer a heart problem or die over the next year than those treated with medicines alone.

Hochman co-led the study and gave results Saturday at an American Heart Association conference in Philadelphia.

"This study clearly goes against what has been the common wisdom for the last 30, 40 years" and may lead to less testing and invasive treatment for such patients in the future, said Dr. Glenn Levine, a Baylor College of Medicine cardiologist with no role in the research. Some doctors still may quibble with the study, but it was very well done "and I think the results are extremely believable," he said.

About 17 million Americans have clogged arteries that crimp the heart's blood supply, which can cause periodic chest pain. Cheap and generic aspirin, cholesterol-lowering drugs and blood pressure medicines are known to cut the risk of a heart attack for these folks, but many doctors also recommend a procedure to improve blood flow.

That's either a bypass — open-heart surgery to detour around blockages — or angioplasty, in which doctors push a tube through an artery to the clog, inflate a tiny balloon and place a stent, or mesh scaffold, to prop the artery open.

Twelve years ago, a big study found that angioplasty was no better than medicines for preventing heart attacks and deaths in non-emergency heart patients, but many doctors balked at the results and quarreled with the methods.

So the federal government spent $100 million for the new study, which is twice as large, spanned 37 countries and included people with more severe disease — a group most likely to benefit from stents or a bypass.

All 5,179 participants had stress tests, usually done on a treadmill, that suggested blood flow was crimped. All were given lifestyle advice and medicines that improve heart health. Half also were given CT scans to rule out dangerous blockages, then continued on their medicines.

The others were treated as many people with abnormal stress tests are now: They were taken to cardiac catheterization labs for angiograms. The procedure involves placing a tube into a major artery and using special dyes to image the heart's blood vessels. Blockages were treated right away, with angioplasty in three-fourths of cases and a bypass in the rest.

Doctors then tracked how many in each group suffered a heart attack, heart-related death, cardiac arrest or hospitalization for worsening chest pain or heart failure.

After one year, 7% in the invasively treated group had one of those events versus 5% of those on medicines alone. At four years, the trend reversed — 13% of the procedures group and 15% of the medicines group had suffered a problem. Averaged across the entire study period, the rates were similar regardless of treatment.

If stents and bypasses did not carry risks of their own, "I think the results would have shown an overall benefit" from them, said another study leader, Dr. David Maron of Stanford University. "But that's not what we found. We found an early harm and later benefit, and they canceled each other out."

Why might medicines have proved just as effective at reducing risks?

Bypasses and stents fix only a small area. Medicines affect all the arteries, including other spots that might be starting to clog, experts said.

Drugs also have improved a lot in recent years.

Having a procedure did prove better at reducing chest pain, though. Of those who had pain daily or weekly when they entered the study, half in the stent-or-bypass group were free of it within a year versus 20% of those on medicines alone. A placebo effect may have swayed these results — people who know they had a procedure tend to credit it with any improvement they perceive in symptoms.

Dr. Alice Jacobs, a Boston University cardiologist who led a treatment-guidelines panel a few years ago, said any placebo effect fades with time, and people with a lot of chest pain that's unrelieved by medicines still may want a procedure.

"It's intuitive that if you take the blockage away you're going to do better, you're going to feel better," but the decision is up to the patient and doctor, she said.

The bottom line: There's no harm in trying medicines first, especially for people with no or little chest pain, doctors said.

When told they have a problem that can be fixed with a stent, "the grand majority of patients in my experience will opt to undergo that procedure” to get improvement right away, said Dr. Jay Giri, a cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania with no role in the study.

Maryann Byrnes-Alvarado is not among them. The 66-year-old New York City woman said she joined the study six years ago after having trouble walking, which "scared me to death," but so did the idea of a heart procedure.

She was relieved when she was assigned to the medication treatment group. Her doctor altered her blood pressure medicine, added a cholesterol drug and aspirin, and adjusted her diet. Now her risk factor numbers are better and she can walk again without difficulty.

“I believe I got the best care that I could get” and avoided an operation, she said.

White House budget official with knowledge of delay in military aid to Ukraine testifies

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 12:42

Mark Sandy, a career employee in the White House Office of Management and Budget, arrives at the Capitol to testify in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry about President Donald Trump's effort to tie military aid to Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents, in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — Impeachment investigators met Saturday with a White House official directly connected to President Donald Trump’s block on military aid to Ukraine, the first budget office witness to testify in the historic inquiry.

In a rare weekend session, lawmakers drilled into Trump’s decision, against the advice of national security advisers, including John Bolton, to withhold funding from the ally, a young democracy bordering hostile Russia.

It’s a sign of a deepening of the constitutional showdown, bookended by public hearings this week and next, that is testing the system of checks and balances in the U.S. government.

“It seems clear to me from everything that I've seen that the president had no interest in the defense of the Ukraine and the security of the Ukrainian people,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., during a break in the closed-door proceedings.

Raskin said it’s important for lawmakers “to trace the bureaucratic steps” that allowed money Congress had already approved to be upheld by the executive branch. “We're in the process of chasing that down.”

The witness Saturday was Mark Sandy, a little known career official at the Office of Management and Budget who was involved in key meetings about the nearly $400 million aid package Congress had already approved for Ukraine.

Sandy’s name has barely come up in previous testimony. But it did on one particular date: July 25, the day of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the core of the impeachment probe.

[How a CIA analyst, alarmed by Trump’s shadow foreign policy, triggered an impeachment inquiry]

That day, a legal document with Sandy’s signature directed a freeze of the security funds, according to testimony from Defense Department official Laura Cooper. Investigators had shown her a document as evidence.

Trump on the call had asked Zelenskiy for a “favor,” to conduct an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son.

The link between Trump’s call and the White House’s upholding of security aid is the central question in the impeachment inquiry.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls it “bribery.”

Trump, who says he only wanted to root out corruption in Ukraine, says he did nothing wrong.

The weeks that followed sent officials in the U.S. national security and foreign service apparatus scrambling to understand why the aid was being blocked, despite their consensus view that Zelenskiy needed the money as a show of U.S. support for his new government facing down President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“We were trying to get to the bottom of why this hold was in place, why OMB was applying this hold,” Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer at the National Security Council, told investigators. He is scheduled to testify publicly on Tuesday.

Bolton derided the swap as a “drug deal” he wanted no part of, according to closed-door testimony from Fiona Hill, the former White House Russia expert. She is set to appear Thursday.

Sharpening the arguments, both sides are preparing for an intense lineup of public hearings in the coming week. Americans are deeply split over impeachment, much as they are over the president himself.

For Ukraine, a former Soviet republic situated between NATO-allies and Russia, the $391 million in aid is its lifeline to the West.

The money is symbolic, the ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified this week, but also substantial.

It includes $250 million in Pentagon funding for military hardware: sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, counter-artillery radars, electronic warfare detection, secure communications, night vision capabilities and military medical aid.

An additional $141 million in State Department funding covers many of those systems as well as about $10 million to increase maritime awareness and $16.5 million for maritime security in the Black Sea, aimed at identifying and tracking Russian ships and aircraft.

“Supporting Ukraine is the right thing to do,” Yovanovitch testified. “If Russia prevails and Ukraine falls to Russian dominion, we can expect to see other attempts by Russia to expand its territory and influence.”

Sandy was the first official from the Office of Management and Budget to defy Trump’s instructions not to testify. Like others, he received a subpoena to appear.

“When people come in, we learn more,” said Rep. Eric Swawell, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, as he arrived for Saturday’s session.

Rep. Mark Meadows, a top Trump ally, said he did not expect to hear much from Sandy, a career budget official.

“All I expect him to say is he doesn’t know why the aid was held and wished that he did,” said Meadows, R-N.C. “But I may be surprised.”

In a speech Friday night, Attorney General William Barr said congressional Democrats were pursuing “scores of parallel investigations through an avalanche of subpoenas” that are “designed to incapacitate the executive branch.”

Barr, who favors an expansive view of executive power, said “the cost of this constant harassment is real.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the impeachment panel, returned home Saturday to California where thousands of Democratic activists greeted him like a rock star at the state party's fall convention.

"It's been an eventful week," he told the crowd before saying that his remarks about impeachment were no cause for celebration.

"There is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who thinks that he is above the law," Schiff said. "This is a time of great peril."


Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Long Beach, California, contributed to this report.

My boyfriend can’t pay his rent, but still won’t stop buying rounds of drinks for our friends

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 12:32

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I guess my problem is a good problem to have, but I still need advice. In simplest terms, my boyfriend is just too generous.

Anytime we are out with a group of people, he insists on buying a round of drinks, even if no one else does. Often times on a night out with friends, he will buy a round of shots, on him, which can easily come up to $50 or more. When we have lunch or dinner with people, as soon as the bill comes, he throws his card down — he doesn’t even give anyone a chance to consider paying. And if anyone does offer, he always insists.

If he had tons of money, this wouldn’t be such an issue. But he doesn’t. I know for a fact he’s in debt and has several credit cards near their limit. There have been months when he couldn’t quite cover his share of the rent so I covered for him. We have lived together for a few years and generally speaking, he often comes up short on his end of expenses — yet he never hesitates to pay for huge groups when we’re out with our friends. He doesn’t see how the two are connected. But I think it’s crazy he continues to pay for our friends — who can afford their own drinks and who have perfectly fine jobs!! — when he sometimes struggles to pay for basic expenses.

We are going on a trip soon with three other couples and I can just imagine it now, my boyfriend paying for drinks and dinners night after night. It will bankrupt us! How can I explain that this is a huge deal to me? We talk about getting married when we’ve saved enough to start our lives together, but he isn’t presently saving any money, at all. Help?

Wanda says:

In the business world, there’s something called principled negotiation and practicing it can do great things for relationships. In layman’s terms, the idea is when two people negotiate, they typically dig in on their stated position, and things fall apart. In this case, your boyfriend’s position is, “I will keep buying things for my friends!” Yours, contrarily, is, “Stop buying everything for everyone!” Where’s the deal to be made?

Principled negotiation encourages us to look past our stated positions to what our interests are to find mutual ground. Imagine two people fighting over a lemon; each wants the lemon for himself. That’s their position: “I want this lemon for me!” But discussing this further, and getting past the “what” to the “why,” it turns out one wants the lemon zest for a pie, and the other wants the juice for a cocktail. See? They can share the lemon! They just had to get past positions to figure out what their interests were and find a mutual win.

So what are your boyfriend’s interests? I’m guessing being broke isn’t one of them, nor is having to ask you to cover his bills every month. That’s just embarrassing. We could guess his interests are around making people happy, being generous, and doing nice things for his friends. Yours are around not blowing the budget, and having long-term sustainability to meet your #couplegoals.

Discussing these interests at the heart of your positions (and behaviors), you can hopefully find a middle ground. Maybe instead of so many nights out, you can co-host an awesome dinner party once a month? Or agree that a round of shots is a great way to make people happy, and just as effective as footing an entire dinner tab. The bottom line: nagging will not stop your man from playing Santa at tab-paying time, but getting into his generous head to understand the motivation behind his generosity just might.

Wayne says:

When Wanda gives you lemons, I give you relationship advice lemonade. And your boyfriend, apparently, is buying every cup at my stand! Sweet!

Whether your boyfriend is a people pleaser, a party person or a lush who loves living lavishly really doesn’t really matter anymore. Ultimately, if you two are going to be partners in money, mortgage and marriage, his spending issue is your spending issue, too. Binge spending and drinking. Drowning in debt and denial. Not exactly the foundation of a fruitful future. He needs to truly appreciate that every time he makes it rain for the homies, your already porous partnership springs a larger leak.

How serious is this? So serious that the next time party night rolls around, he’s going to have to sit at boring home with you, open an Excel spreadsheet, tap the calculator app on his phone, and make a couple’s budget with you. Whoop whoop! Scour the past few months of bills and purchases. Look at the income and expected spending over the months ahead. Factor in all the debt. Heck, make a special tab for a savings goal: your wedding.

I’m hope the number-crunching is a sobering moment of clarity for your lit little dude. But don’t let him get depressed or discouraged. Spend time online researching savings tips. See if your bank or credit union offers financial adviser time for even more personalized insight. Hopefully, less impulse spending, fewer nights out, and smarter saving will put you both in a better space fairly quickly. And then, when you can see some progress, tell him it’s cool to buy one round for the crew.

Peace through strength in the Arctic

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 12:25

A Marines F-35 from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Tuesday, May 2, 2017 during the Northern Edge training exercise. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News) (Loren Holmes/)

In September, the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard participated in a major amphibious exercise where Marines stormed the beaches of Adak. It was the military’s first return to Adak in more than 30 years. This exercise is one of many examples of how the Alaska congressional delegation is working closely with the Pentagon to ensure that our military is prepared for future operations in the Arctic.

The issue is imperative. This once-stable region has become increasingly contested and militarized by America’s adversaries. Russia has conducted a Cold War-like buildup of its military in the Arctic with the hope of exploiting resources and controlling sea lanes vital for global commerce. Meanwhile, China has taken to calling itself a “near-Arctic nation” and is executing a long-term strategic plan for the region.

Unfortunately, because of the previous administration’s severe cuts to the U.S. military’s budget—25% from 2010 to 2016—our military’s readiness to keep pace with these threats plummeted. When I arrived to the Senate in 2015, only three of the Army’s 58 brigade combat teams were at the highest level of readiness. The Obama administration sought to cut an additional 40,000 Army troops from the ranks, including Alaska’s 5,000-person brigade combat team at JBER. As the only airborne brigade combat team in the entire Asia-Pacific and Arctic, this was a strategically dumb decision that would have wreaked havoc on Southcentral’s economy.

My staff and I devoted countless hours advocating for the reversal of this misguided policy with fellow senators and Pentagon officials, including placing a hold on the confirmation of the Secretary of the Army and the four-star general in charge of the Army. We convinced them to keep the brigade fully intact in Alaska, while laying the groundwork for the broader rebuilding of our military nationally and in Alaska that is taking place today.

I never tire of educating my colleagues on Alaska’s strategic location and how we constitute three pillars of America’s military might. We are the cornerstone of our nation’s missile defense, an expeditionary platform for some of America's best-trained troops, and the hub of air combat power for the Asia-Pacific and the Arctic.

In the past few years, our congressional delegation has secured nearly $1.4 billion in military construction investments for Alaska to build up these pillars. In fact, this weekend, I’m in Texas with Fairbanks and North Pole leaders to watch the first of 54 F-35 fighter jets headed to Alaska coming off the assembly line.

This story of progress is the same for the Coast Guard. As chairman of the subcommittee in charge of this service, I was surprised to learn of plans in 2015 to draw down Coast Guard assets in Alaska. Through relentless advocacy and placing a hold on the Coast Guard Commandant’s confirmation, we convinced Coast Guard leadership to bring more assets and tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure funding to Kodiak and Southeast.

And we’re finally making progress on icebreakers. In last year’s defense bill, I secured a provision that authorized the scheduled purchase of six polar-class icebreakers. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s hard work on the Appropriations Committee ensured that the Coast Guard has the money to build the first of these, which is happening now.

Similarly, we are mandating that the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security designate a strategic Arctic port in Alaska that can handle Navy ships and polar-class icebreakers.

This administration is beginning to understand the strategic importance of our great state. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that we are entering “a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic,” and that, through diplomacy and increased military investments, we must “sharpen” our focus on the Arctic. And Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who recently made his second visit to Alaska in two years to observe the Adak amphibious exercise, has been a staunch advocate for a greater Navy and Coast Guard presence in the Arctic.

To be clear, our vision for the Arctic remains one of cooperation and opportunity. We want the best scientists working to study our unique climate and ecosystem. We want our people in the Arctic to have the leading voice on development in the area. Above all else, we want a peaceful region. But history has taught us that peace is most effectively achieved through strength and strength is shown—in part—with forward and consistent American presence. I am working relentlessly to this end by ensuring that we safeguard our nation’s strategic interests in the Arctic with more military ships, aircraft, personnel and infrastructure in Alaska. Together, we are beginning to make this vision a reality.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, elected in 2014, is Alaska’s junior U.S. senator. He is also a colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, serving with the Marine Corps Special Operations Command.

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

After Tahlequah and her calf, an anthology dedicated to orcas and their world

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 12:19

For Love of Orcas: An Anthology

Edited by Andrew Shattuck McBride and Jill McCabe Johnson. Wandering Aengus Press, 2019. 178 pages. $20.

Last year, when an orca (killer whale) known as Tahlequah carried her dead calf for 17 days and a thousand miles around Puget Sound and nearby waters, the public and media worldwide were riveted by the spectacle. The event brought renewed and fervent attention to the endangered orcas known as the Southern Residents; these fish-eating whales have been in trouble for years, principally due to the decline in the region’s chinook salmon but affected as well by noise, disturbance, ship strikes, and pollution.

"For Love of Orcas: An Anthology," edited by Andrew Shattuck McBride and Jill McCabe Johnson.

“For Love of Orcas” grew from the story of Tahlequah and her calf, as a way for poets and writers to bring even more attention to the plight of the whales and to larger issues about caring for our planet and its creatures. Co-editor Jill McCabe Johnson writes in her introduction, “This book is not a how-to for saving the planet. Instead, it’s a reminder of the complex and exquisite beauty surrounding us. Our hope is that readers will care enough to coalesce and bring our interactions with and effects on that beauty back into balance.”

As with any anthology, the selections here are varied and uneven. Ninety-two poets and writers, mostly from the Northwest, are included, some more than once. A few contributors are scientists as well as writers. A few are activists. Poetry greatly outnumbers the short prose pieces. Alaskans are represented by the late Eva Saulitis, former poets laureate Peggy Shumaker and Ernestine Hayes, and Fairbanksan Daryl Farmer.

There is and has always been debate about whether art can also be political. The famed writer Toni Morrison spoke emphatically about this: “The best art is political and you ought to be able to make it unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time.”

Not everything in this volume is great or even mediocre art, but it is all heart-felt, genuine expressions of human concern for the world in which we live. Likely because the impetus for the book was the one whale and her dead calf, references to Tahlequah (also known as J35) abound, with the same details repeated again and again. The rawness of the event surely influenced emotions and the urge of so many to respond in words of grief, guilt, loss, and outrage. If there’s a surfeit of earnestness here, maybe that’s what’s necessary to drive change.

More complex and language-rich selections are presented by writers with deeper connections to orcas than simply having watched them from a boat or shore (the most common experience shared here.) These also invite readers into questioning and conversation, as opposed to instructing and admonishing. They include two pieces from the scientist-poet Eva Saulitis, who spent decades studying the orcas of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Both are excerpts from her book “Leaving Resurrection: Chronicles of a Whale Scientist.”

Tahlequah pushes her dead calf on the second day of her long, sad journey. (Ken Balcomb / Center for Whale Research) (Ken Balcomb/)

One of these, “Halfway Down an Alder Slope,” perfectly captures the joy of careening down a hillside to nearly leap into the water among orcas; it ends with a naming: “The killer whales are called aaxlu, tukxukuak, agliuk, mesungesak, polossatik, skana, keet, feared one, grampus, blackfish, orca, big-fin, fat-chopper. Whale killer. From the realm of the dead. Orcinus orca.” The second Saulitis excerpt, “In the Tlingit Language,” discusses the dilemma of scientists who love what they study but, also, need to be intrusive in some of their research. “And the more we know, the longer we stay, the more we care, and caring, like anthropomorphism, is tricky ground for that detached creature, the scientist.”

Another prose piece, “Dio,” by biologist and writer Paula MacKay, brings fascinating new information into the orca discussion. MacKay accompanies researchers training dogs to detect orca scat so that it can be collected from the water and analyzed not just for diet but for other health indicators. We learn from this that analyses of hormones collected from hundreds of Southern Resident orcas indicate a 69% pregnancy failure rate.

Other work here might be appreciated for other types of witnessing and for finding beauty in our troubled world. Several poems don’t mention orcas at all but celebrate salmon or the natural world that contains salmon, orcas, and humans. Others angle in at our connections and responsibilities from sidelong directions or arrest us with startling imagery.

For example, the poem “Landscape with No Net Loss” by Jenifer Browne Lawrence speaks with the voice of someone working at a river’s mouth with survey tools and cables. “Longfin smelt change direction midair, belly-slap/to avoid the Chinook or shake loose eggs/or just for the hell of it, who knows, we are all/bouncing off one body and into another.”

Another poem, “Interlude,” by Tina Schumann, merely suggests the two whales with its imagery of “spark and falter,” “ignition and idle engine,” comparisons of music to lapping water and “this small body and the painting of a body.”

The impassioned work in “For Love of Orcas” makes clear that orcas hold a special place in human lives and imaginations. These animals, identified as individuals by their markings and relationships, elicit concern and compassion, even love, as no mussel or candlefish or any other marine species smaller than a whale ever will. That is something to celebrate.

When it comes to displays of hunting culture, a roadhouse or farmhouse can fare well against big-city museums

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 12:08

A harpoon gun, one of many items that celebrate the Alaskan outdoor life, is displayed in Steve Meyer's favorite restaurant. (Photo by Steve Meyer) (Steve A. Meyer/)

The ethereal light, reminiscent of the last light over the marsh, brought life to subtle colors and textures. The silence provoked my imagination to listen to the haunting sounds from the past.

I heard the short harpoon swishing through the cold air and finding its mark with a thud, followed by the soft padding of mukluks running across a skiff of snow to the rent in the ice. I heard the fire-hardened knife slicing through to hot blood and the primordial chewing of life-sustaining blubber, sounds of celebration in the hunter’s success.

I imagined the sharp pop as a needle, crafted of bone, punctured the intestines and drew the sinew thread tight to form the waterproof joining that would become a hunter’s parka. There would be cooing from the child, bundled against the cold in the bassinet made of luxurious furs, lying next to the maker of the parka.

Metropolitan museums have always scared me a bit. I think of folks standing around, a glass of wine in hand as they muse over the meaning of a painting that might have been made by an infant crawling through spilled paint. I couldn’t imagine myself in such a scene.

The hustle of city life, with its busy sidewalks and events that draw crowds, has been a daunting environment for me. It took me years to figure out why I could never enjoy the great indoors where others seem to thrive. I discovered it isn’t a dislike of people. It is an upbringing that insisted if one wasn’t contributing, being useful, then it was best to stay away.

But when Alice Green, the curatorial and exhibitions assistant at the Anchorage Museum, asked Christine and me to do a presentation for the “What Why How We Eat” series, I had a purpose. An odd twist in my personality is that I enjoy public speaking. An opportunity to speak to a crowd gets my blood flowing. It’s the useful aspect, I guess — if I’m asked to do it, then it must have some value, and I embrace the opportunity. In sharing our hunting life with folks, I would get to talk about Winchester, so, yeah, sign me up.

That’s how Christine and I found ourselves in the east wing of the museum, in the Arctic Studies Center, among the fabulous displays of Alaska Native culture. As we looked at each collection, representing indigenous culture from Southeast Alaska to the far north, we both noticed how much the displays reflected a celebration of the hunting culture.

The garments and tools of survival, fashioned with elaborate decorative items from nature, spoke in silence to the celebration. One could imagine the gatherings of people at the successful return of hunters with game, and everyone pitching to process it and consume it so that life could go on.

They were reminiscent of the celebrations of the hunting, fishing and outdoor lifestyle I have seen in rural America, without the benefit of museum glass, lighting and pristine examples.

A favorite memory of my younger days is hunting with my dad and friends when we stopped at the farms and ranches of other hunters. Most often it was to talk hunting or help with a chore that needed a few extra hands.

Somewhere at each of these places, there was an area where artifacts and memorabilia were displayed. Sometimes it was in a barn, shop or, most often, in the house. There weren’t many mounted animals in those days because few could afford taxidermy, and seeing one was a special treat. But there were always antlers, sometimes a lifetime of them stacked in a tall pile in the corner. There were old hunting clothes, boots, knives, arrowheads, spent bullets retrieved from animals, feathers from game birds, and always old leather items and cookware. Gun scabbards, moccasins, horse and wagon tack, Dutch ovens and cast-iron frying pans.

In those days, the company we kept always had some sort of gun cabinet prominently displayed in the living room. There were spent shells, loaded shells, feathers and knives arranged as a backdrop to the firearms, all gleaming from gun oil and hand-rubbing.

One old rancher had an upstairs he would take my dad to while I hung out with one of his sons. One day when I was a bit older he let me go up to this loft, through a door set into the ceiling. The first thing you saw as your head cleared the floor was an 1874 Sharps “buffalo” rifle.

That Sharps was an enormous rifle, with a heavy, 30-inch barrel. The old fellow saw my fascination with the old rifle and offered to let me hold it. He insisted I take it in both hands, and even then I nearly dropped it. Then he showed me the cartridge that went with it, which was the size of a cigar. It was a high point in my young life.

The rest of the loft was covered in old guns, saddles of all sorts, many more than 100 years old. He had a feather headdress, Indian arrows, a buffalo robe and a spear with feathers hanging from it. The contents of that room would be worth a fortune today. But for him, it was a place to revel in a life he loved and to share that love with his friends.

These shrines are still out there, in all sorts of forms. When traveling to hunt, Christine and I enjoy stopping at small stores and out-of-the-way restaurants to see what the locals want the public to know about them. It seems there is always something that embraces the outdoor life.

Our favorite restaurant is one of those places. With its display of Alaska taxidermy, hunting art, fish mounts, guns and tools used in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it is as comfortable an environment to enjoy a meal that we’ve found. There is even a harpoon gun on display, one used years ago to harvest a beluga whale for the annual community whale feed.

As we stood in the museum admiring a skin kayak that appeared as seaworthy as anything you might see in store, I wondered. The overwhelming majority of Americans don’t hunt, yet the majority still approve of hunting. Perhaps when people see the obvious love of a lifestyle, a love that has been displayed in all cultures since humans started sticking things with sharp sticks, they understand that something as timeless as the hunting lifestyle is necessary.

Maybe it is something we need in a world that can be a bit enraged and disconnected, knowing there are still places, and still healthy populations of animals, that allow us not to forget what got us here.

Steve Meyer is a longtime Alaskan and avid shooter who lives in Kenai.

Whether you’re tracking animals or flying cross-country, you can learn a lot just by paying attention

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 11:55

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,” says songwriter Joni Mitchell. Me too.

On a recent flight from Chicago to Anchorage, I was able to look down through a broken cloud cover at the terrain below. We were high above the clouds. It looked as if I should be able to reach down and brush the thin fog aside to get a better view of the terrain below.

We were flying over the middle of Canada, one of the most remote areas in North America. There were a couple of stretches where there was no sign of human activity below for nearly an hour, and we were going 500 mph or a little faster. Granted, we were cruising six miles above the trees, and I likely missed a few things. However, when I could see, there were no roads or trails visible.

Somewhere — north and east of Whitehorse — we passed over a good-sized lake with many bays and islands, plus numerous creeks. “I bet that would be a great place for a trapline,” I thought. No sooner than I had that thought, a snaky trail appeared as a faint cut through the timber below.

For more than 10 minutes the 737 traveled over the trail as it coiled its way around swamps and paralleled tiny watercourses. The pesky clouds finally obscured my view, but the trail was still going.

Who was down there? Where was the closest town? What did the trapper catch? Since landing in Anchorage and returning home, I have tried to triangulate the exact location of that lone trapper. No concrete answers, but I am discovering this new guessing game from the sky is similar to tracking animals on the ground.

We seldom know if we are right, but we can make educated guesses based on what we see. Our time in the air coupled with aircraft speed and the published route put the trapper somewhere east of Mayo or Keno, Yukon Territory. The trapper is probably a single man, because there are not many women who head out on the trapline. He has a long line, thus he is unlikely to have a family at the home cabin.

The country he is in lends itself to cats, wolves and marten, plus some water animals such as mink and otter. Those of you who trap might think this sounds like paradise.

Carrying this guessing game further, the area is about a degree of latitude south of Fairbanks, similar to Delta Junction. Fairly good daylight. The terrain is rolling hills and lakes. Cold. The average January low temperature in Mayo is minus-20, so I’d bet he doesn’t have a four-cycle engine in his snowmachine — although being Canadian, he calls it a skidoo.

The trapper doesn’t run dogs, because he is not on a major river to access enough fish to feed dogs, plus the trapline was far too long for dogs on a single day’s run and there were no visible cabin clearings in the 50-plus miles of line I tracked. He is a man in his late 30s or early 40s — old enough to have established a line, or to have worked somewhere long enough to afford to buy into good country.

We could go on with this guessing game, but at this point we are beginning to make conjectures on top of earlier suppositions.

There is a point I am making here. Whether we are trappers, hunters, fishermen or just people who enjoy being out doors, we should make an effort to look beyond what we can see with our eyes.

The trapper who is truly successful will learn much about his prey from a few hundred yards of tracks, and hunters who are consistently productive know much about the habits of their game. Information is gleaned from observation and tracks. Fishermen who always come home with big fish in their creel understand the feeding habits of their target species, even though they can't swim under the surface themselves.

People who depended on hunting, fishing and trapping for their survival would tell you the trail of an animal is a thread attached to the animal they seek. Pick up the thread carefully and you will find the animal still connected. Sort of like clouds. Brush them aside and see what you find.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family in Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

How much does it cost to leap from a basic economy fare to a regular plane ticket? It depends.

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 11:43

Last week, JetBlue announced they now will offer their own version of “economy minus,” a stripped-down version of an airline ticket. JetBlue no longer flies to Alaska, but it was the last holdout of major airlines (except Southwest Airlines) to offer this option.

Delta, American and United call it basic economy, and Alaska Airlines calls it “Saver.” Each carrier has its own variation of this scheme, but the one common denominator is that you cannot change or cancel your ticket outside of the federally mandated 24-hour post-purchase grace period.

If you purchase this bare-bones fare on United, you must pay extra to drag your roll-aboard suitcase — and no pre-assigned seating is allowed. With Delta, you can bring your full size carry-on, but no seat assignment for you. With Alaska, you might get a seat back by the potty. Otherwise, you must wait until check-in.

The other common denominator for the basic economy/Saver fares is that even if you’re a million-miler, you won’t get an upgrade — even to a premium economy seat. It’s crowded at the back of the plane, and that’s where you’ll be sitting.

After weighing the costs and benefits of the basic economy fares for a United flight last month, I opted to pay extra for a regular economy ticket. I could’ve saved an extra few bucks by going with basic, but I didn’t want to sit in the middle seat. So I paid an extra $30. Then there’s the $30 to check a bag. There’s no chance I’ll get an upgrade on United (all my points are on Alaska and Delta).

Plus, I change my reservations every now and then — and with the basic economy fare, I’d have to buy a new ticket. Since we’re traveling at a busy time, the new ticket would be very expensive.

That said, there are lots of travelers who appreciate the extra savings with the Saver fares.

[Here’s a checklist for surviving holiday travel — with your sanity intact]

So, how much extra does it cost for Alaska Air’s main cabin fare? Well, it depends. And that makes it a little more difficult to easily compare the true cost of your next ticket.

Are you traveling from Anchorage to Seattle? You can’t go wrong with a $98 one-way ticket on either Alaska or Delta. But that is the basic economy or Saver level. Both airlines charge an extra $30 to upgrade to the main cabin. The biggest benefit is the ability to pre-reserve a seat. Checked bags still are extra ($30 for the first checked bag). Alaskans who sign up for Alaska Air’s Club 49 plan can check two bags for free.

On Alaska Airlines, if you’re an elite-level traveler (MVP or MVP Gold), you have a shot at an upgrade to either premium or first class if you book the “Main” fare.

If you’re traveling between Anchorage and Los Angeles, the “upcharge” from Saver to Main also is $30 each way. But if you’re flying from Anchorage to San Diego, the difference is between $50 and $69 each way, depending on which flights you take. Is it worth the difference? That’s for you to decide, I guess.

The upcharge from Saver to Main on flights to other destinations ranges from $30 to more than $60 one way. From Anchorage to Chicago, the difference is $30 each way. From Anchorage to Boston, the upcharge was $23-$29 each way.

Are you headed to Kansas City? Be prepared to spend $59 more each way for Main. But it’s not an exact number. Some flights cost more in Saver, with less of an upcharge to Main.

Once you make your selection for either Saver or Main on Alaska’s site, you get to pick your seat. It’s at that point you’ll be presented with the option to upgrade to premium for a few extra inches of legroom.

From Anchorage to Honolulu on Dec. 8, the upgrade to premium is $94 one way. If you’re an MVP Gold traveler, you can pay a little more to get an instant upgrade to premium or first class. But it’s a little more than the main cabin fare … not the Saver fare. Remember, those who purchase the Saver fares are cut off from any upgrades.

Traveling to Houston from Anchorage? Be prepared to pay an extra $60 each way to go from Saver to Main ($311 one way). Then, you can elect whether to pay more to fly in premium. I checked on Dec. 6 and it was an extra $64 for the Anchorage-Seattle flight and $69 for Seattle-Houston.

Some other destinations where the difference between Saver and Main was $60 each way: Anchorage-Dallas, Anchorage-Nashville and Anchorage-Milwaukee.

There are some very affordable airfares now available for travel between Anchorage and the Lower 48. There are price spikes around the holidays. And sometimes the cheapest flights offer the lousiest connections.

But the tougher part now is determining the best price for the flight you want to take. Chances are good you’ll want to pass on the rock-bottom fare, either because you change your mind or you want to play the “upgrade lotto.” What started out as a $30 charge between economy minus and regular coach fares has evolved into another trap to pad up to $120 onto your round-trip ticket.

More and more, the lowest available fare is just clickbait to get you into the sales funnel before all of the extra charges are offered. That includes fees for a regular economy fare, seats with extra legroom or (gasp) first class.

Dirty glaciers all over the world

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 11:31

Canwell Glacier in the Alaska Range is one of many Alaska glaciers covered in large part by rocks, which can insulate the ice from warm air. (Ned Rozell) (Ned Rozell/)

When my boss, Sue Mitchell, was in Tibet recently, she asked a local guide if the glaciers there were shrinking. The guide told her no, the glaciers were fine.

When she returned to Alaska, Sue asked the same question of glaciologist Martin Truffer, who also works at UAF’s Geophysical Institute. He said no, Himalaya glaciers are not fine. They are melting quickly, like other large bodies of ice all over the world.

Truffer should know. He just visited Tibet to measure the thickness of a glacier with a radar system he has used many times in Alaska. Truffer was there on the roof of the world because of a connection between Alaska glaciers and those flowing from the Himalaya Mountains: many of them are dirty.

Debris-covered is another phrase that describes those glaciers, including the Kennicott and Canwell and Muldrow and many others in Alaska. Instead of a face of pure, blue-white ice, these glaciers flow or stagnate beneath a carpet of pebbles, boulders and gray rocks.

Many of these rocks have avalanched from the walls of steep mountains. Glaciers also sometimes pull rocks from the sides of mountains. These are lovely medial moraines, teardrop loops of black on white when viewed from far above.

[How many glaciers are in Alaska? There’s no easy answer]

Dirty glaciers are the most understudied kind, Truffer said. Scientists have not accounted for their quirky properties in models. Those numbers are important because so many people depend on glacial melt as their water supply, including millions in India, China and Bangladesh.

Adding dirt to ice makes it darker, Truffer said, which can help it absorb more sunlight. About one-quarter inch of rocks on top of glacier ice acts like a black tarp, melting the glacier faster.

Martin Truffer of the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks recently studied this rock-covered glacier in Tibet to find its thickness. (Martin Truffer) (Martin Truffer/)

If the rock coating is thicker, which is often the case, it acts as insulation.

“If there’s about this much debris on a glacier, you shut off melting,” Truffer said, holding his hands the width of a loaf of bread during a recent talk in Fairbanks.

The Sherman Glacier near Cordova is a good example. When the 1964 magnitude 9.2 earthquake shook the daylights out of the area, large hunks of mountain crumpled to the surface of Sherman Glacier. Alder trees now grow on new soil above the ice at the part of the glacier near the river.

“That glacier basically stopped melting down low,” he said. “(The earthquake) shut off melt almost entirely.”

The same thing happened around this time in 2002, when the 7.9 Denali Fault earthquake rattled a few mountaintops onto Black Rapids Glacier.

“Now, there’s a 30 or 40-meter elevation difference from the rock-covered ice to the clear ice,” Truffer said.

Alaska scientists like Sam Herreid (who camped on Canwell Glacier one summer), Pascal Buri (who worked on Kennicott Glacier with Truffer) and Regina Hock (a Geophysical Institute glaciologist who will also study Kennicott Glacier) are trying to tease out the effects of rock cover on glacial melt.

[Meet the man studying Alaska’s glaciers by living on one each summer]

As for Truffer, he did not sleep many nights in Fairbanks. He is now in Antarctica. There, he and an international team including do-all guy Dale Pomraning of the Geophysical Institute will drill holes into the shelf of Thwaites Glacier, and then lower instruments into the seawater beneath it. The Florida-size glacier could by itself raise sea level by two feet if it experiences a “run-away collapse,” according to scientists working with the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.

Alaska’s alcohol board made the right call on tasting room regulation. Now it’s the Legislature’s turn.

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 11:15

Big Swig Tours owner Bryan Caenepeel pours samples of beer during a tour of the King Street brewery Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

It took a while, but the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board finally heard the people loud and clear. And when it did, its members acted accordingly.

Weighing a proposed regulation from now-ousted Alcohol and Marjuana Control Office head Erika McConnell that would have instituted draconian restrictions on activities at brewery and distillery tasting rooms, the board opted to reject it unanimously. They made no bones about the reason for their decision: Public comment. A lot of it — 1,720 pages, to be exact. The overwhelming majority of that comment came from Alaskans who opposed further restrictions on what breweries and distilleries could do under the auspices of their tasting room licenses. Board member Sara Erickson said succinctly that "the public has made it very clear what they want.”

The proposed regulation was so restrictive that it was opposed not only by brewers and distillers, but also by bar and restaurant lobbying group Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, or CHARR, which has previously been in favor of limiting the scope of tasting rooms. Among other things, the regulation would have barred brewery/distillery tours, tasting classes and First Friday art shows. It’s hard to imagine a rule change that would have cut more strongly against public opinion.

Even having been spared further over-regulation at the hands of the alcohol board, it’s not as though breweries and distilleries have free rein to host activities and events under their roofs. As written, state alcohol laws block the establishments from hosting "live entertainment, televisions, pool tables, dart games, dancing” and “other recreational and gaming opportunities.” In addition, there are limits on when, what and how much they can serve — breweries, for instance, can serve no more than 36 ounces per customer of beer they brew themselves, and they must stop serving at 8 p.m.

The saga of Alaska’s alcohol laws has been long and complicated, and the result is a hodgepodge of compromises in law that serve no group — bars, breweries, distilleries or the public — particularly well. cThat’s an area where the major alcohol players are in agreement. All that needs to happen is for the Legislature to take up such a change and hammer it out via the legislative process. It should be a straightforward process, but so far, it hasn’t been.

There are a host of complicating factors, some of which are fair and legitimate considerations that the Legislature should take into account when working on a Title 4 fix. For bars, the situation is complicated by Alaska’s quota system, which caps the number of bars per community and has vastly inflated prices for liquor licenses. It’s a state of affairs that has led bar owners— much like taxi cab drivers who grouse about Uber — to be overprotective of what they see as unfair encroachment on their turf. They consider breweries and distilleries to be opportunistic interlopers stealing value from their businesses. It’s no coincidence that the last legislative attempt at a large-scale Title 4 rewrite was torpedoed by former bar owner Rep. Louise Stutes, who made a poison-pill amendment that would have cut the amount breweries and distilleries could serve by a third.

There’s good reason for the different alcohol license types to have different rules. Bars, restaurants and tasting rooms each have different focuses, and it’s appropriate for their rights and restrictions to reflect that. At the same time, however, Alaskans have made themselves abundantly clear on this issue. They like the atmosphere of tasting rooms, where patrons aren’t over-served and drinking is an accompaniment to socializing, not the primary focus. They appreciate the innovation displayed by owners, who organize collaborations with other local businesses and events that emphasize a well-rounded lifestyle. That ability to innovate should be protected and expanded under a Title 4 rewrite, not restricted to protect the value of existing license holders with less inclination to adapt to Alaskans’ evolving tastes.

Girdwood weighs future of the popular, but deadly, Winner Creek hand tram

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 11:03

Girdwood Valley Service Area Manager Kyle Kelley is working with the Girdwood Trails Committee to come up with recommendations for the hand tram on the Winner Creek Trail system. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The future of the popular hand tram on Girdwood’s Winner Creek Trail is uncertain after two people fell from the tram’s platform this summer, leaving one of them dead and the other badly hurt. Following the accidents, the tram was closed indefinitely.

The Girdwood Trails Committee is talking about whether to recommend reopening the hand tram at all. If it does reopen, the group is weighing what improvements need to be made, such as bigger safety nets to new railings.

“We’re trying to figure out what Girdwood wants,” said Kyle Kelley, Girdwood Valley Service Area manager.

The tram — first opened in 2001 as a way to connect trails for a handful of hikers — has grown into a beloved, busy attraction for the community south of Anchorage, Kelley said.

But with more users comes the need for more maintenance and the potential for more risk, he said.

“It’s like a pool with no lifeguards on duty and you hope people read the signs and use their best judgment,” Kelley said.

When open, the hand tram on the Winner Creek Trail system allows hikers to cross above Glacier Creek in Girdwood. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
A sign gives notice of the Winner Creek Trail hand tram's closure in Girdwood. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The tram operates on a pulley system. To use it, people load into a metal cart and pull themselves roughly 200 feet across a gorge, gliding more than 100 feet above Glacier Creek.

Some use the tram as a connection to continue hiking on the windy and woodsy Winner Creek Trail between Crow Creek Road and the Alyeska Resort. Some also hike the trail simply to ride the tram back and forth. Stop and take a selfie over the rushing waters of the creek, one travel website recommends.

“We had no idea the hand tram was going to become this popular,” said Carolyn Brodin, trails committee chair and longtime Girdwood resident.

The U.S. Forest Service manages the Winner Creek Trail, but the land surrounding it is owned by Heritage Land Bank, under the Municipality of Anchorage. The Girdwood Valley Service Area — within the municipality with certain government powers — owns the tram itself, Kelley said.

Volunteers on the trails committee originally spearheaded the project, he said. Before the tram, hikers would cross the creek on foot or they’d shimmy across suspended cables over the gorge or use a carabiner to clip in and slide across, Kelley said.

The hand tram, he said, “was meant for those who were more of the hearty adventurists.”

At the time the tram was installed, the trail was full of roots and mud. It has since been improved, and that has made it inviting to more hikers. On a summer afternoon, it’s not uncommon to find lines to ride the tram.

“It wasn’t originally designed to handle the amount of traffic it gets, so we’re just trying to figure out its future,” Brodin said.

While there’s no official count of how many people use the tram daily, Kelley said, a volunteer in July 2017 tallied 248 people and three dogs boarding the tram over two four-hour periods. About a third of them immediately turned around and rode back.

Girdwood Valley Service Area Manager Kyle Kelley is working with the Girdwood Trails Committee to come up with recommendations for the hand tram on the Winner Creek Trail system. The tram crosses above Glacier Creek. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Bill and Bruce Kakel walk on the Winner Creek Trail on November 14, 2019. They say the hand tram has served them as a fun destination to take visitors. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

On a recent weekday afternoon, Bill and Bruce Kakel hiked the Winner Creek Trail with friends visiting from out of state. They often bring visitors on the trail to the hand tram. It’s so unique, and the trail is so accessible, Bruce Kakel said.

“It’s a great Alaska adventure,” Bill Kakel said.

Inside of Alyeska Resort, Tylor Acheson, who was visiting from Anchorage, described the tram as “a little sketchy.”

“But that’s what makes it fun,” he said.

For Girdwood, the tram’s popularity has come with a price.

The Girdwood Valley Service Area spends between $2,500 and $5,000 on the tram each year, funded by property taxpayers, Kelley said. At least every year it replaces the rope. At least every other year, a helicopter picks up the tram cart and hauls it away for inspections.

In the tram’s 18 years in operation, Kelley said, he knows of three accidents.

In 2011, a child tumbled off the tram platform. The child lived, he said, and the fall prompted the installation of safety nets and railings.

Then this June, a 57-year-old Anchorage resident was standing on the lower platform and helping pull the rope to move hikers across the gorge. But at some point, while holding on to the rope, he was pulled off the platform and past the safety net. He fell 50 feet to his death, according to police.

A similar scene played out two months later, and the person was badly injured, Kelley said.

The tram has remained closed since then.

Flowers are left on a platform by the hand tram over Glacier Creek in Girdwood on October 5, 2019. A man died in June 2019 after a fall from the hand tram's platform. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

It normally closes each year by the end of October and reopens around Memorial Day, Kelley said.

The Girdwood Trails Committee is currently waiting on estimates of how much it would cost to add new railings to limit access to the lower platform and install larger safety nets.

Other ideas have included replacing the hand tram with a bridge or hiring tram operators, but both would require a significant investment, Kelley said.

The committee will ultimately forward its recommendation to the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, which will work with the municipality on a path forward, Kelley said.

Assemblyman John Weddleton, whose district includes Girdwood, said he trusts the community to come up with good, reasonable solutions.

“So I’ll wait and see what they say,” he said. “I mean safety is critical but, boy, people love that hand tram.”

When open, the hand tram on the Winner Creek Trail system allows hikers to cross above Glacier Creek in Girdwood. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

How a CIA analyst, alarmed by Trump’s shadow foreign policy, triggered an impeachment inquiry

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 10:46

FILE - This April 13, 2016 file photo shows the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Carolyn Kaster/)

The lights are often on late into the evening at CIA headquarters, where a team of elite analysts works on classified reports that influence how the country responds to global crises.

In early August, one of those analysts was staying after hours on a project with even higher stakes. For two weeks, he pored over notes of alarming conversations with White House officials, reviewed details from interagency memos on the U.S. relationship with Ukraine and scanned public statements by President Donald Trump.

He wove this material into a nine-page memo outlining evidence that Trump had abused the powers of his office to try to coerce Ukraine into helping him get reelected. Then, on Aug. 12, the analyst hit "send."

His decision to report what he had learned to the U.S. intelligence community's inspector general has transformed the political landscape of the United States, triggering a rapid-moving impeachment inquiry that now imperils Trump's presidency.

Over the past three months, the allegations made in that document have been overwhelmingly substantiated - by the sworn testimony of administration officials, the inadvertent admissions of Trump's acting chief of staff and, most importantly, the president's own words, as captured on a record of his July 25 call with the leader of Ukraine.

As the impeachment inquiry entered a new phase of public hearings on Wednesday, the outlines of the case have been thoroughly established: Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two diplomats are alleged to have collaborated to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations to bolster Trump's conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and damage the prospects of his potential opponent in next year's election, former Vice President Joe Biden.

To advance this hidden agenda, Trump and his allies orchestrated the ouster of a U.S. ambassador, the withholding of an Oval Office meeting from Ukraine's new president and the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid.

But beyond that familiar fact pattern, the revelations reflect a country in political crisis.

The United States has embarked on an impeachment proceeding against a president for only the third time in its history. The voluminous testimony so far has revealed a government at war with itself over how to respond to Trump's frequent conflation of the country's interests with his own. After casting itself as a force against corruption, condemning politically driven prosecutions in other countries, the United States now appears to have sought to coerce such actions from a partner nation.

It is not clear whether any of this would have come to light were it not for the actions of a relatively junior CIA employee,who is now the target of almost daily attacks by Trump and right-wing efforts to make his identity widely public.

Dozens of senior officials - including the national security adviser, the secretary of state and the acting White House chief of staff - were either aware of or involved in the Ukraine scheme and failed to expose or stop it. More than a half-dozen lower-ranking officials made futile attempts to intervene.

Ultimately, it came down to a lone analyst, in a cubicle miles from the White House, drafting an unprecedented document in the detached manner he had learned in his CIA training.

"In the course of my official duties," he wrote, "I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."

This article is based on interviews with dozens of U.S. and Ukrainian officials, the whistleblower report, the White House call record and thousands of pages of impeachment hearing transcripts. Many officials and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The CIA declined to comment on all matters related to the whistleblower, including whether he is employed at the agency. The whistleblower's lawyers also declined to comment.

- - -

Attempts to discredit the whistleblower have depicted him as driven by ideology or political grievance, secretly determined to unseat the president. The inspector general did note "an arguable political bias" on the part of the whistleblower but found his complaint "credible."

Current and former officials familiar with the analyst's actions said that he was daunted by the implications of his decision, both for the country and his career, and that he never contemplated becoming a whistleblower until learning about the nature of Trump's July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The rough transcript of that call, which was released by the White House after the analyst's concerns became public, shows Trump opening with congratulations on Ukraine's recent parliamentary elections, then transitioning swiftly into applying pressure.

"I would like you to do us a favor though," Trump says, urging Zelensky to order investigations into a baseless claim that Kyiv is hiding computer equipment that would supposedly prove it was Ukraine, and not Russia, that hacked the Democratic National Committee's network in 2016; and into a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, that had employed Biden's son, Hunter, to serve on its board of directors for up to $100,000 a month.

In their 30-minute conversation, there was no mention of the two nations' shared goals of repelling Russian aggression, no expression of broader concern about corruption, no reference to Ukraine's desire for a closer relationship with the West.

The call is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, rising above all other allegations or evidence in significance, according to senior officials involved in the probe.

"The call itself shows what we believe to be a misuse of power of the office of the presidency for personal gain," said a senior Democratic official. "It quickly became the center of our investigation."

Still, the official said, "We wanted to expand outward before and after the call. What was the impetus? Why was Trump asking about these investigations? Who was involved and who knew about it?"

The timing of Trump's attempt to pressure Zelensky made it all the more extraordinary. One day earlier, former special counsel Robert Mueller had, in halting testimony before Congress, essentially ended any prospect that Trump would face impeachment for his campaign's ties to Russia in 2016 or alleged efforts to obstruct the investigation into election interference that followed.

The Russia "cloud" that Trump has so frequently railed against had finally been lifted. And yet, within hours, he was exposing himself to new allegations of collusion, this time not with Russia, but with neighboring Ukraine.

On the call, however, Trump makes clear that he sees the two threats to his presidency as inextricably linked, and his attempt to pressure Ukraine appears driven by his refusal to accept the reality of Moscow's interference and the stain he believes that left on his surprising win.

Midway through the call, Trump appears to gloat about the collapse of the Russia investigation. "That whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance," Trump said. "But they say a lot of it started with Ukraine."

- - -

Several witnesses in the impeachment inquiry have said that Trump bears significant hostility toward Ukraine, stemming in part from the country's role in exposing the financial corruption of his 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Trump began airing conspiratorial claims about Ukraine as early as April 2017. That month, he made a baseless allegation that he has since repeated frequently: that Democratic Party officials had refused to let computers hacked by Russia be examined by the FBI, and instead "brought in another company that I hear is Ukraine-based."

The president, who derided Russia allegations against him as a "hoax," was advancing one of his own.

[Impeachment witness provides firsthand account of hearing Trump demand ‘investigation’ of Bidens by Ukraine]

The "blame Ukraine" idea gained additional traction after Trump hired Giuliani as his lawyer. The former New York mayor began scavenging the factionalized and often conspiratorial world of Kyiv politics for material that might be used to construct an alternate scenario of what happened in 2016 and help blunt the Mueller probe.

Early this year, as the Russia investigation neared its conclusion, Giuliani began meeting with Ukrainian officials, including the country's top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, who were eager to gain an ally in the White House.

In the ensuing months, Giuliani appears to have functioned as a conduit for specious claims that made their way to Trump and right-wing media outlets. Among them were allegations that the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv was actively undermining Trump's agenda and that Biden had used his power as vice president to derail a Ukraine corruption investigation into the company that had hired his son.

The allegations had important qualities in common: They were distortions, if not outright fabrications, and they were easier to spread than to disprove.

Giuliani's activities became a source of concern to wary officials at the White House and the State Department in the early months of 2019, worries that intensified in May when U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was forced out of her position in Kyiv over baseless allegations against her and Giuliani seized on her ouster to declare that he would be pushing a new agenda in the U.S. relationship with Ukraine.

In a May interview with The New York Times, Giuliani declared that he would be traveling to Ukraine for meetings aimed at advancing investigations that "will be very, very helpful to my client." He added: "We're not meddling in an election, we're meddling in an investigation." Giuliani later scrapped the trip, telling Fox News he wasn't going because Zelensky was surrounded by enemies of the U.S. president - a statement that unnerved Zelensky's team in Kyiv and sent them scrambling for advice about what to do.

Giuliani's brazenness also caused confusion and alarm in the White House. Fiona Hill, who until July served as Trump's top adviser on Russia and Ukraine, found herself tuning in to television coverage in a search for answers about Giuliani's activities that she couldn't get at work.

"I would have to go home in the evening and try to look on the news to see what Giuliani was doing," Hill testified, "because people were constantly saying to me: 'My God, have you seen what Giuliani is saying now?' "

Former White House advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill arrives for a closed door meeting as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)

National security adviser John Bolton also took to turning up the volume on the television set in his office whenever Giuliani appeared on-screen, an effort to get a sense of what the president's personal lawyer was planting in Trump's ear in their off-the-books conversations on Trump's personal cellphone.

The ouster of Yovanovitch and the private calls between Trump and Giuliani marked the activation of a rogue front in the relationship with Ukraine that was at odds with established policy.

By month's end, the division would crack open further as Giuliani acquired reinforcements.

In May, Trump blocked a plan to send Vice President Mike Pence to Zelensky's inauguration and instead dispatched a delegation that included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland, a Trump megadonor with no diplomatic experience who had been named ambassador to the European Union.

On May 23, the trio, who dubbed themselves "the three amigos," met with Trump in the Oval Office, eager to share their favorable impression of Zelensky as an anti-corruption reformer. "He didn't want to hear about it," Sondland said of Trump.

Instead, Trump railed that the Ukrainians were "horrible, corrupt people" and ordered the three men to "talk to Rudy."

Trump's grievances were so ingrained and irrational that the three officials decided, according to the testimony of Sondland and Volker, that they had no choice but to do as the president directed and hope that Giuliani could help them broker a meeting between Trump and Zelensky that might reset the American president's views.

The three convinced themselves that they were serving the interests of Ukraine and the United States, even as they were drawn into a furtive scheme that Democrats say appeared to have elements of bribery: There would be no Oval Office meeting for Zelensky until he committed to Trump-specified, politically motivated investigations.

With a White House visit a distant goal, Sondland and Volker set their sights on an intermediate objective - a Trump-Zelensky phone call. As they pursued that, Hill and others at the White House chafed at the emergence of a new, seemingly unauthorized diplomatic channel.

On June 18, Hill had what she described as a "blow up" with Sondland after she challenged him to explain why the EU ambassador was meddling in the affairs of a country that is not part of his portfolio.

"Who has put you in charge of it?" Hill asked, according to her testimony. Sondland shot back: "The president."

At the same time, a new obstacle for the three amigos emerged in Kyiv: William Taylor, a veteran diplomat, had arrived as acting ambassador, armed with what he thought were rock-solid assurances that there would be no diminution in U.S. support for Ukraine.

But within weeks of his arrival, Taylor also began to sense the presence of what he would later call an "irregular" U.S.-Ukraine channel. On June 27, Sondland told Taylor by phone that hopes for a Trump-Zelensky meeting hinged on the Ukrainian leader making it clear that he did not stand in the way of "investigations."

A day later, as Taylor, Sondland, Volker and Perry spoke by phone to prepare for a conference call with Zelensky, Sondland ordered State Department support staff off the line, saying he "wanted to make sure no one was transcribing" what they were about to say.

Volker then said he planned to meet with Zelensky in Toronto on July 2 to secure his commitment to "get to the bottom of things," a cryptic reference that Taylor sensed was tied to the hidden agendas of Giuliani and Trump. Sondland told Volker to ask that Zelensky use the words "no stone unturned."

Two weeks later, the irregular and regular channels collided in spectacular fashion in the White House. On July 10, two of Zelensky's top advisers, Oleksandr Danylyuk and Andriy Yermak, were escorted into the West Wing for a meeting with Bolton.

Danylyuk, Ukraine's national security adviser, had been coached by Sondland to press Bolton for a date for Zelensky and Trump to meet. But that advice proved misguided. Bolton was at that point against a meeting, in part because of concerns about Giuliani's influence and Trump's motives.

As Bolton resisted being pinned down, Sondland tried to intercede, telling the Ukrainians that an agreement was already in place and that Ukraine needed to commit to unspecified "investigations," according to Hill, who witnessed the event.

Bolton, who had previously told subordinates he worried Giuliani was a "hand grenade," suddenly "stiffened and ended the meeting," Hill testified.

Sondland, seemingly unperturbed, instructed the Ukrainians to follow him into a meeting room in the West Wing basement.

Bolton dispatched Hill to follow the group. When she reported back that Sondland had gone even further in the follow-up session by specifically mentioning Burisma, Bolton ordered her to report what she had heard to John Eisenberg, the National Security Council's senior lawyer.

"Tell Eisenberg that I am not part of this drug deal that Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up," he told her, referring to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who Sondland had depicted as an ally of his efforts on Ukraine.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a senior Ukraine specialist on Bolton's staff, witnessed both meetings and also sought out Eisenberg. Vindman testified that it was in those sessions that he realized that Trump was using a White House meeting as leverage on investigations with Zelensky.

If Zelensky were to do as Trump asked and launch such probes, Vindman testified, it would damage Ukraine's standing, weaken its ability to fight off Russian aggression and "this would all undermine U.S. national security."

At the same time as the volatile meetings in the West Wing, Zelensky's team was learning that even a phone call with Trump might have a price. Zelensky's chief of staff was warned through backchannel communications that Giuliani, who was growing frustrated with a perceived lack of access and cooperation from Kyiv, would oppose even a call with Trump, according to Taylor and a person familiar with the message.

Eight days after the White House meeting, Taylor learned about a troubling new aspect of the effort to pressure Ukraine. In a July 18 video conference call with National Security Council officials, the acting ambassador "sat in astonishment" as an aide representing the Office of Management and Budget informed the others that $391 million in security aid to Ukraine was being put on hold. She offered no explanation, except to say that the order had "come from the president."

"In an instant, I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened," Taylor testified. "The irregular policy channel was running contrary to the goals of long-standing U.S. policy."

It was seven days before the Trump-Zelensky call.

- - -

When Trump was elected, there was wishful thinking in Washington that his unconventional behavior as a candidate would be curbed by the responsibilities of the office - that he would gradually absorb the wisdom of foreign policy experts and welcome the advice of Cabinet officials.

The Ukraine story shows the extent to which the opposite has happened: Trump has outlasted virtually all of those who fought to check his impulses, including former defense secretary Jim Mattis and former chief of staff John Kelly. Their absence has bolstered his ability to bend institutions to his will.

When the White House operator patched Trump through to Zelensky on the morning of July 25, it was despite attempts by Bolton to head off a call he worried would be a "disaster." Bolton had sought to coach Trump earlier that morning, only to learn later that Sondland had secretly arranged a follow-up conversation and gotten the final word.

The amigos had also coached Zelensky before the conversation, with Volker telling a top adviser to the Ukrainian president hours earlier that Zelensky should specifically pledge that he will "get to the bottom of what happened" in 2016.

FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) (Evan Vucci/)

Trump, who rarely arrives at his office before 11 a.m., was still in the residence when he got on the line. Several floors below, a handful of national security officials were following protocol and monitoring the conversation from the Situation Room.

Notably missing were Bolton, Pence and Hill, who had left her White House job days earlier. The only high-ranking official on the line was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - a fact he concealed for a week after the record of the call was disclosed.

Almost immediately, Vindman noticed an edge in the president's voice, his misplaced grievances about Ukraine coming through. He brought up U.S. aid and said the country's generosity was not reciprocated. He disparaged Yovanovitch, saying: "She's going to go through some things."

He leaned on Zelensky to hunt for the supposedly missing Democratic computer equipment, even though his top advisers had been warning him for years that the claim was baseless. Trump zeroed in on the former vice president and urged Zelensky to coordinate with Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

"Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution," Trump said, mischaracterizing Biden's statements and intentions. "So if you can look into it. . . . It sounds horrible to me."

The call ended at 9:33 a.m. Over the next 24 hours, a climate of fear and suspicion descended on the White House, as Vindman and others who had either listened to the call or learned about it indirectly raised alarms with lawyers, senior officials including Bolton, as well as peers from the State Department and the CIA.

Though neither side grasped it at the time, the regular and irregular channels were now on a collision course - each taking steps that ensured the inevitability of an impeachment inquiry. Neither side appears to have had any clue that the trigger would be a CIA analyst, who kept his plans secret to all but a trusted few.

The warnings from Vindman and others failed to prompt any kind of mobilization in the senior ranks of the White House, such as an emergency meeting of National Security Council officials or a direct intervention with the president. Instead, officials sought to contain the fallout from the call, even as Trump's allies escalated their pressure campaign in Ukraine.

Eisenberg, the top National Security Council lawyer, responded by moving to restrict access to the transcript of the call, which was placed on a computer system normally reserved for highly classified intelligence programs. It took weeks for the administration to enlist Justice Department officials to review the call record, an exercise that narrowly concluded there were no campaign finance crimes in a call that included references to Barr.

In Kyiv, the reaction to the call was mixed. Zelensky seemed pleased that the conversation had occurred as scheduled and that his relationship with Trump might finally move forward, according to an official in the room with Ukraine's leader. But others were either confused or concerned about the content and the failure to agree upon a date for a face-to-face meeting.

Some on Zelensky's team worried that Trump would send a tweet claiming a commitment from Ukraine to investigate Biden and the 2016 election, dragging the country into American politics.

- - -

In the ensuing days, the pressure campaign only intensified.

On July 26, Trump spoke by phone with Sondland, who was in Kyiv, and asked whether Zelensky would "do the investigation" he had raised in their conversation the previous day, according to the testimony of a U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv, David Holmes, who witnessed the Trump-Sondland call.

Sondland had met with Zelensky earlier in the day and had called Trump to provide an update.

Sondland replied: "He's gonna do it," adding that Zelensky will "do anything you ask him to," Holmes testified. Holmes said that he asked Sondland about Trump's views toward Ukraine and that the ambassador told him that Trump did not "give a s--- about Ukraine."

The disclosure provides new evidence of Trump's direct hand in the Ukraine matter. The conversation was overheard by U.S. Embassy officials accompanying Sondland. It may also have been monitored by Russian intelligence. Sondland had called Trump by cellphone from a restaurant. Russian spy services have substantial surveillance capabilities in Kyiv.

President Donald Trump walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 23. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)

On Aug. 2, Giuliani traveled to Madrid to meet with Yermak. Giuliani wanted Zelensky to issue a public statement confirming the Ukrainian government would undertake the investigations. Sondland and Volker spent much of that month trading text messages with Yermak over the preferred language, making it clear that the statement was now a prerequisite to an Oval Office meeting.

The gesture had outsize importance to Zelensky, who regarded a White House meeting as the clearest way to send a signal of U.S.-Ukraine solidarity to Moscow, which is still waging a proxy war in Ukraine's eastern territory that has claimed 13,000 lives.

Members of Zelensky's inner circle say they didn't learn until the end of August about the suspension of U.S. aid meant to help Ukrainian forces, when it was revealed in a Politico story. One Ukrainian official said it appeared earlier in internal Ukrainian government reports that may not have reached Zelensky.

The disclosure created a new rupture in the relationship on the eve of what was supposed to be the first encounter between Trump and Zelensky at a gathering of world leaders on Sept. 1 in Warsaw. The prospect of that meeting evaporated when a hurricane bearing down on Florida prompted Trump to send Pence to the event, a World War II commemoration, in his stead.

Pence was either woefully unprepared or unwilling to provide straight answers to anxious Ukrainian officials. At a large, formal meeting, Zelensky immediately pressed the vice president about the frozen aid. Pence professed not to know the cause of the holdup, speaking vaguely about corruption concerns and promising to raise the issue with Trump.

The Ukrainians were flummoxed by Pence's evasion. "You're the only country providing us military assistance," one of Zelensky's aides told him. "You're punishing us."

Sondland, who had also traveled to Poland, used a side conversation in a hotel with one of Zelensky's advisers to fill in the blanks. He laid out the transaction in the starkest terms to date: To get the funding and a White House meeting, Zelensky had to commit publicly to investigating Burisma in an interview with CNN that would be seen in the United States.

When word of this encounter made its way back to Taylor, the acting ambassador was outraged. That same day, Sept. 1, Taylor confronted Sondland via text: "Are we now saying that security assistance and Wh meeting are conditioned on investigations?"

Sondland refused to answer in writing, saying: "Call me."

The development led to skirmishes between Taylor and Sondland. A week later, Taylor threatened to resign over what he warned would be a "nightmare" scenario. "The nightmare is they give the interview and don't get the assistance," Taylor said by text, voicing concern that Trump would betray Zelensky even if he announced Burisma investigations. "The Russians love it. (And I quit.)"

The next day, Sept. 9, Taylor texted Sondland after another tense call. "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

Sondland didn't reply until the following day. That evening, he called the White House and was patched through to Trump. The next morning, he delivered a scripted reply to the wary ambassador.

"Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions," Sondland wrote. "The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo's of any kind."

- - -

Two days later, on Sept. 11, the White House removed the ban on aid to Ukraine, capitulating to rising pressure from Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department after the existence of the whistleblower report was known. The restoration of the flow of money was seen by Sondland, Taylor and others as a sign that the crisis had abated.

They were oblivious to events unfolding in Washington that would expose the Ukraine scheme. The "regular" channel, as Taylor called it, was about to reassert itself.

The day after Trump's conversation with Zelensky, the CIA analyst spoke by phone with a highly agitated official at the White House. The official was "shaken by what had transpired and seemed keen to inform a trusted colleague," the analyst noted in a memo he wrote to record the conversation.

The White House official described the Trump call as "crazy," "frightening" and "completely lacking in substance related to national security." The official said he had already raised the matter with White House lawyers, convinced that Trump had "clearly committed a criminal act."

The analyst does not identify the official in his July 26 memo, which was obtained by congressional investigators in the impeachment inquiry. But Vindman, in his testimony, disclosed that he had spoken to officials outside the White House within days of the Trump-Zelensky call.

The analyst appears to have concluded almost immediately that he was obligated to act, but seemed unsure about how.

His first step was to approach an official in the office of the CIA general counsel to raise concerns about the Trump call, according to people familiar with the whistleblower's actions.

Days later, the analyst learned that the CIA's top lawyer, Courtney Simmons Elwood, had notified the White House and became concerned that the matter would be stifled. He then sought out an official on the House Intelligence Committee, conveying his concern only in the broadest terms before the official urged him to say no more and consult a lawyer.

The analyst next turned to a friend who is an attorney and an expert on national security law. The two chatted briefly at a coffee shop before the lawyer, recognizing the magnitude of the matter, also stopped the analyst before any details were broached.

The friend referred the analyst to another attorney, Andrew Bakaj, who had more expertise on whistleblower procedure and law. After parting ways, the friend pulled out his iPhone and deleted a calendar item he had created for their meeting that included the whistleblower's name.

The analyst had served on the National Security Council during the Trump administration and had been in the presence of the president. After returning to the CIA, his job required him to continue to participate in National Security Council meetings.

His White House contacts became conduits of concern about Trump's behavior toward Ukraine, though the analyst appears not to have told any of those officials - on the advice of Bakaj - about his plan to submit an official whistleblower complaint to the U.S. intelligence community inspector general.

The report he submitted reveals aspects of how he went about assembling this file. Though triggered by the July 25 call, he made clear that it drew on information that had been shared with him "over the past four months" from "more than half a dozen U.S. officials."

The file was heavily focused on what Trump had said to Zelensky in their half-hour conversation, but it also contained details about what had happened in the aftermath, including the move to "lock down" the call record and follow-up efforts by Sondland and Volker to help Zelensky "navigate" Trump's demands.

It described Giuliani's meetings with Ukrainian prosecutors seen by the U.S. government as corrupt and seeking to settle scores with their perceived adversaries. It outlined the smear campaign to oust Yovanovitch and his own discovery in mid-July - long before officials in Kyiv knew - that U.S. aid to Ukraine had been suspended.

When the report was submitted on Aug. 12, it triggered a constitutional clash. White House officials fought for weeks to block the acting director of national intelligence from turning the complaint over to relevant committees in Congress, as required by law.

But the administration relented under mounting pressure, including demands by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and press reports including a Sept. 18 story in The Washington Post revealing that the focus of the complaint was a call that Trump had with a foreign leader.

On Sept. 25, the administration released the rough transcript of the call in a futile attempt to head off the formation of a House impeachment inquiry. Then, on Sept. 26, the administration declassified the whistleblower complaint itself.

None of its core contentions has been substantially discredited in the six weeks since, though Trump has continued to insist that his conversation with Zelensky was "perfect" and that the public should "read the transcript."

His former advisers have characterized the call more harshly and voiced concern that Trump's political machinations represent an assault on American values that has eroded the country's standing and played into Russia's hands. In her testimony last month, Hill delivered an impassioned warning that the United States' faltering resistance to conspiracy theories and corruption represents a self-inflicted crisis and renders the country vulnerable to its enemies.

"The Russians, you know, can't basically exploit cleavages if there are not cleavages," she said. "The Russians can't exploit corruption if there's not corruption. They can't exploit alternative narratives if those alternative narratives are not out there and getting credence. What the Russians do is they exploit things that already exist."

Trump has waged a campaign to impugn the motives of the whistleblower, attacking him more than 50 times on Twitter and demanding that his identity be exposed.

Congressional allies and right-wing media sites have attempted to follow suit. Only minutes after the first public impeachment hearing got underway on Wednesday - with Taylor and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department overseeing European and Eurasian affairs, as witnesses - Republican lawmakers sought to halt the proceedings and force the whistleblower to appear.

But the events he set in motion, and the evidence now driving them, have moved beyond the complaint he submitted three months ago. The CIA has taken security measures to protect the analyst, who has continued to work at agency headquarters on Russia and Ukraine issues.

- - -

Sonne reported from Kyiv. The Washington Post’s Julie Tate and David L. Stern in Kyiv contributed to this report.

When you’re a grown-up, snow days aren’t what they used to be — but there’s still fun to be had

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 10:07

Snow days for anyone over the age of 8 aren’t really a thing.

I thought about this one morning last week as I watched the snow come down steadily in Fairbanks while drinking my coffee. It used to be that the world — well, my world anyway — would shut down when it snowed like that.

It would go something like this: Snow would be forecast. Maybe there would be an early pickup at school. That night, the TV would stay on with the news humming in the background and then my parents would turn it up for the local weather report. They’d complain about shoveling, wonder aloud if someone should go grocery shopping (but then again: the crowds!) or fret about missing work.

All of that was white noise to me. I would walk outside, check what the temperature felt like and sniff the air. Was there that sharp, cold feeling and smell? Was there the heavy, orange sky that always seemed to bode well? Were there already a few flakes coming down?

I would go to bed feeling as close to God as ever, wishing in my fervent 8-year-old prayers that school would be canceled. Not delayed, which was almost worse than a full day because it was two more hours of dread. Just outright canceled. I closed my eyes hoping with a full-body kind of focus to wake up to see piles of snow, still coming down and no sign of stopping.

In the morning I would wake up quickly and run to the window. If there was a little snow on the ground, my heart sank. But if snow was dusting up the window, or better yet, filling up the screen, if there was a tall layer sitting on tree branches and it was still coming down hard, my next stop was finding my parents.

Some mornings we would watch words scroll along the bottom of the morning newscast and wait for our town to come up. Seeing my school district listed as canceled felt like being famous, and also like suddenly being free.

Those snow days were a mixture of staying cozy indoors and romping around in the snow. There was both excitement and contentedness. Part of it was the simple beauty and aesthetic of snow. It glittered, it exploded when you threw it, and it created a magical sense of quiet and comfort. The other part was the joy of playing, and that feeling of getting an unexpected day with no agenda at all.

I thought about all of this as I drank coffee in Fairbanks, watching the snow come down. I’m still much more excited about snow than my parents ever were — I’ve chosen Alaska over Massachusetts as my home, after all. But now there are no snow days. I feel a sense of responsibility about my work, rather than being dragged to it like school. Even if I wanted to take the day off during a big snow event, there’s really no reason to now that there’s the ability to work remotely.

It goes back to not having enough pauses in life. That TV channel my parents used to turn on is on the air now 24/7, and as the ability to communicate and collaborate has expanded with technology, so has the volume of work we have taken on.

Some of it is what I consider fake work — anyone who has ever even looked sideways at a computer can attest to the combined brilliance and infuriating, unexpected hurdles of technology. Yet a lot of the work we create is real. There is as much work as there is potential in the world for growth and change, so we are pacesetting with our technology to do as much as possible. We don’t often explicitly reward or encourage rest or play.

I had this idea, though, watching the snow, missing that feeling of snow days, and feeling sorry that I’d never have them again. I looked at the time and realized I’d woken early enough that I had more than two hours before I needed to be at work.

That’s enough time to run.

On the one hand, that’s ridiculous, right? Old me telling young me that getting my “snow day” would someday turn into spandexing up and jogging makes me sad for myself.

Yet I felt excited, not burdened, by the idea of getting exercise. There was a thrill — small compared to my excitement as a kid about a snow day, but still — about going out even for an hour with the snow still coming down.

So I went. I ran about 4 miles, and the snow piled up in my eyelashes and on my hair. It was quiet and peaceful. I warmed up quickly, but when I got back inside my skin was wet and blotchy, like it used to be as a kid after an afternoon playing outside.

Snow days don’t happen for me like they used to when I was a kid. But it’s still important to know there are still windows into the same feeling of excitement and play. It’s just that now I access this feeling in another way, and from a different phase of life.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

Fast start helps Bowling Green stymie UAA hockey team

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 01:59

Too many penalties and not enough shots on goal added up to a 3-1 loss for the UAA hockey team Friday night at the Seawolf Sports Complex.

Bowling Green scored twice in the first period to seize control early in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association game. The 17th-ranked Falcons added a goal in the second period and didn’t surrender a goal to UAA until the third period.

UAA was limited to 16 shots on goal, its lowest total of the season, while Bowling Green fired 37 shots. Seawolves goalie Kristian Stead made 34 saves and Bowling Green’s Eric Dop had 15.

Alec Rauhauser, Cameron Wright and Connor Ford scored for the Falcons. Nick Wicks put UAA on the scoreboard early in the third period on assists from Brayden Camrud and Drayson Pears.

The Seawolves racked up 45 penalty minutes on nine penalties, and Camrud and Jared Nash were both hit with game misconducts in the third period. Both teams were scoreless on three power plays.

The teams will meet again Saturday at 5 p.m.

UAA men heat up for 81-69 men’s basketball win over San Francisco State

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 19:41

The UAA men’s basketball team took excellent care of the ball and weathered poor first-half shooting Friday night in an 81-69 victory over San Francisco State.

Senior guard Jack Macdonald hit all 10 of his free throws while scoring a game-high 20 points for the Seawolves, who moved to 4-1 on the season.

The game was part of Sonoma State’s Ron Logsdon Classic in Rohnert Park, California. UAA will play Sonoma State on Saturday.

The Seawolves limited their turnovers to six and recovered from cold shooting in the first half to light it up in the second. UAA shot 36.7 percent in the first half and 60.7 percent in the second half.

“I am proud of them for fighting through the first half when we missed quite a few shots,” UAA coach Rusty Osborne said in a press release from the school. “We did a much better job in our team defensive concepts, which kept us in the game until shots starting falling, We also got contributions up and down the lineup, which we needed.”

The Seawolves got points from nine players and rebounds from eight. Niko Bevens scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half, Tyrus Hosley totaled 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds, and Tobin Karlberg added 10 points. Macdonald and Hosley were a combined 9 of 14.

San Francisco State (2-1) scored the first five points of the second half to tie the game, 32-32, but UAA took the lead for good with a 3-pointer by Bevens and a layup by David Riley. The Seawolves’ lead ballooned to 18 points with about two minutes remaining in the game.

South, Kenai advance to championship matches at state volleyball tournament

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 19:18

After losing twice to the Dimond Lynx at last week’s conference tournament, the South Wolverines struck back Friday night.

South clinched a spot in the championship match at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament by sweeping the Lynx in Friday night’s winners-bracket match at the Alaska Airlines Center.

The Wolverines won 27-25, 25-20, 25-20 to move into Saturday’s 5 p.m. championship match. There, they will play the winner of a noon match between Dimond and either Bartlett or Wasilla. Bartlett and Wasilla met in Friday’s late match to see who would survive one more day.

In the Class 3A tournament, the Kenai Kardinals defeated defending state champion Nikiski in four sets to grab a spot in the championship match.

The Kards took down Nikiski 25-9, 25-18, 23-25, 25-19 to advance to Saturday’s 2 p.m. title match. Nikiski will play a 10 a.m. elimination match against the winner of a late Friday match between Homer and Sitka; the last team standing will earn the right to face Kenai Central in the championship.

ASAA/First National Bank state volleyball tournament

Alaska Airlines Center

Class 4A

Thursday’s results

First round

South def. Juneau-Douglas 3-0 (25-17, 25-10, 25-7)

Bartlett def. Palmer 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-17)

Wasilla def. North Pole 3-0 (25-8, 25-11, 25-16)

Dimond def. Soldotna 3-0 (25-20, 25-17, 25-16)

Winners bracket

South def. Bartlett 3-1 (25-22, 25-20, 17-25, 25-20)

Dimond def. Wasilla 3-0 (25-17, 25-21, 25-15)

Friday’s results

Winners bracket

South def. Dimond 3-0 (27-25, 25-20, 25-20)

Losers bracket

Palmer def. Juneau-Douglas 3-1 (20-25, 25-17, 25-11, 25-17) (loser out)

Soldotna def. North Pole 3-0 (25-16, 25-16, 25-21) (loser out)

Wasilla def. Palmer 3-0 (25-20, 25-17, 25-21) (loser out)

Bartlett def. Soldotna 3-0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-17 (loser out)

7 p.m. — Bartlett vs. Wasilla (loser out)

Saturday’s matches

Noon – Dimond vs. Wasilla-Bartlett winner

5 p.m. – South vs. winner of noon match (championship)

Class 3A

Thursday’s results

First round

Kenai Central def. Barrow 3-1 (25-12, 16-25, 25-23, 25-14)

Sitka def. Valdez 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-23)

Nikiski def. Monroe 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-20)

Homer def. Kotzebue 3-0 (25-20, 25-17, 25-7)

Winners bracket

Kenai def. Sitka 3-0 (26-24, 25-19, 26-24)

Nikiski def. Homer 3-1 (25-21, 14-25, 26-24, 25-20)

Friday’s results

Winners bracket

Kenai def. Nikiski 3-1 (25-9, 25-18, 23-25, 25-19)

Losers bracket

Barrow def. Valdez 3-0 (26-24, 25-18, 27-25) (loser out)

Monroe def. Kotzebue 3-0 (25-22, 25-14, 27-25) (loser out)

Homer def. Barrow 3-0 (25-6, 26-24, 25-6 (loser out)

Sitka def. Monroe 3-0 (25-22, 26-24, 25-20) (loser out)

7 p.m. — Homer vs. Sitka (loser out)

Saturday’s matches

10 a.m. – Nikiski vs. Homer-Sitka winner

2 p.m. – Kenai vs. winner of 10 a.m. match (championship)

Trump appeals to Supreme Court again, this time to block House committee’s subpoena seeking his financial records

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 18:42

WASHINGTON - For the second day in a row, President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court on Friday to protect his personal and business financial records from disclosure, this time to a congressional committee.

Trump's private lawyers asked Chief Justice John Roberts to put a hold on an appeals court decision that said the House Oversight and Reform Committee was within its rights to subpoena the information from Trump's longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 2 to 1 against Trump's efforts to stop Mazars from turning over the information, and the full circuit earlier this week declined to reconsider that decision. Roberts is the justice who hears emergency requests arising from that court.

Mazars has said it will comply with court orders to release the requested eight years of information, but the final decision seems likely to come from the Supreme Court.

The president's lawyer William Consovoy said the Supreme Court's intervention was imperative. Under the lower court's decision, "any committee of Congress can subpoena any personal information from the President; all the committee needs to say is that it's considering legislation that would force Presidents to disclose that same information," Consovoy wrote in the request filed Friday.

"Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of Presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government - no matter which party is in power. If every committee chairman is going to have this unbounded authority, this Court should be the one to say so."

The new filing from the president means the court now faces perhaps historic separation-of-powers decisions with two different demands over largely the same information. One involves a state prosecutor's investigatory powers, the other Congress' oversight ability.

On Thursday, Trump's lawyers tried to block Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s attempt to enforce a grand jury subpoena.

[Trump asks Supreme Court to shield his tax returns from prosecutors, setting up historic separation-of-powers showdown]

Vance has said his office needs the records for its investigation into alleged hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress, and to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Both women said they had affairs with Trump, and Vance's office is examining whether any Trump Organization officials filed falsified business records, in violation of state law, related to the payments. Trump has denied the affairs and any wrongdoing.

Friday's filing concerned a Democratic-led House committee's attempt to get Trump's financial records. The committee said it is looking into possible conflicts of interest and irregularities in the president's financial disclosure reports.

At the D.C. Circuit, Consovoy, the president's lawyer, argued the committee had exceeded its legislative role and was acting in a law enforcement capacity rather than serving a "legitimate legislative purpose."

Trump's attorneys warned that validating the subpoena would mean "Congress is free to investigate every detail of a president's personal life, with endless subpoenas to his accountants, bankers, lawyers, doctors, family, friends and anyone else with information that a committee finds interesting."

The Justice Department filed a brief in support of the president's position that the subpoena cannot be enforced because the committee didn't sufficiently justify its purpose.

In October, the panel's 2-1 ruling traced the long history of courts upholding Congress' investigative authority.

"We conclude that in issuing the challenged subpoena, the committee was engaged in a 'legitimate legislative investigation,' rather than an impermissible law-enforcement inquiry," wrote Judge David Tatel, who was joined by Judge Patricia Millett. Both were nominated to the bench by Democratic presidents.

"It is not at all suspicious that the committee would focus an investigation into presidential financial disclosures on the accuracy and sufficiency of the sitting president's filings. That the committee began its inquiry at a logical starting point betrays no hidden law-enforcement purpose."

Tatel said the court did not need to decide whether Congress can subpoena a sitting president because the order was directed at the accounting firm - not Trump.

In her dissent, Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump nominee, said if the House wants to investigate possible wrongdoing by the president, it should do so by invoking its constitutional impeachment powers - not through legislative oversight. (The House subsequently opened an impeachment inquiry but focused on Trump's dealings with Ukraine, not financial impropriety.)

The majority said Rao's view laid out in her dissent would "reorder the very structure of the Constitution" and "enfeeble the legislative branch"

"The dissent cites nothing in the Constitution or case law - and there is nothing - that compels Congress to abandon its legislative role at the first scent of potential illegality and confine itself exclusively to the impeachment process. Nor does anything in the dissent's lengthy recitation of historical examples dictate that result," Tatel wrote.

Trump’s lawyers requested a rehearing, but only two other judges publicly joined Rao in saying the full circuit should hear the case.

Motive remains a mystery in fatal California school shooting

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 18:17

Parent Mirna Herrera kneels with her daughters Liliana, 15, and Alexandra, 16 at the Central Park memorial for the Saugus High School victims in Santa Clarita, Calif., Friday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) (Damian Dovarganes/)

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — A 16-year-old boy planned the attack that killed two students and wounded three others at his Southern California high school, but investigators have yet to uncover details and the motivation for him to bring a handgun to campus and open fire shortly after his mother dropped him off, authorities said Friday.

The boy, Nathaniel Tennosuke Berhow, died Friday afternoon from a self-inflicted gunshot wound sustained after he shot the others the previous morning. His mother was present when he died, according to a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department statement.

Berhow, described by friends as quiet but funny and likable, showed no outward signs of violence prior to the attack. After more than 40 interviews, police still don’t know what prompted him to commit such a crime, said Capt. Kent Wegener of the department’s homicide unit. He said no manifesto, diary or suicide note had been found.

“It still remains a mystery why,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva told a press conference. He said it was “a planned attack, it was deliberate,” but “we don’t have” the details behind it.

Berhow opened fire around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, his birthday, after being dropped off at Saugus High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita. Video surveillance showed Berhow walk alone to the center of a quad, drop his backpack, pull out the gun and start firing, police said.

Villanueva said after opening fire Berhow “cleared a malfunction” with the gun and kept shooting. He counted his rounds, Villanueva said, firing about six shots and using the last bullet on himself. The attack took just 16 seconds.

“As far as we know the actual targets were at random,” the sheriff said.

Villanueva said the conclusion that the attack was planned was based on Berhow bringing the weapon, ably handling it and keeping track of the rounds fired.

“It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment act,” Villanueva said.

Student Sayla David, 12, holds thank you signs for first responders outside the Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., Friday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) (Damian Dovarganes/)

Three off-duty law enforcement officers were first on the scene and treated some of the wounded until paramedics arrived.

The dead were identified as 15-year-old Gracie Anne Muehlberger and 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell.

In a statement, Bryan and Cindy Muehlberger said they shared the news of their daughter’s death with “unexplainable brokenness.” They described her as their “Cinderella, the daughter we always dreamed to have,” and said her two brothers were heartbroken.

“She will never get to drive a car, fall in love, build a career, get married, have children and do all the other things everyone takes for granted in this short thing called life,” they said.

“We miss her smile, laughter, sweet kisses, and her amazing sense of humor. We will even miss her constant pestering for Starbucks and Cold Stone and anything else with lots of sugar in it. It must have been the reason why she was so sweet.”

Two girls wounded in the attack, ages 14 and 15, were shot in the torso and should be released from the hospital over the weekend, doctors said Friday. A 14-year-old boy was treated and released.

The names of the wounded were not released.

Berhow was described as a quiet and smart kid who was a Boy Scout and had previously run track for his school.

“You have the image of a loner, someone who is socially awkward, doesn’t get along, some violent tendencies, dark brooding and online strange postings — stuff like that,” Villanueva said. With this boy, investigators have found “nothing out of the ordinary. He’s a cookie-cutter kid that you could find anywhere.”

In fact, the stereotype of the loser sociopath is often inaccurate, according to the psychologist who wrote federal guidelines for assessing school shooting threats and has interviewed 10 shooters. What pushes most shooters is some kind of loss or disappointment, often recent, followed by the inability to cope with a feeling of being overwhelmed, according to Marisa Randazzo, a former chief research psychologist at the U.S. Secret Service.

“These are acts of suicide as much as homicide,” said Randazzo, who is now CEO of a firm that does threat assessments.

Most shooters she studied were academically successful and weren’t social outcasts.

Friends said while the boy could be introverted, he had a girlfriend and good social network focused on his cross-country teammates.

Randazzo said she expects investigators eventually will learn that someone had an inkling of trouble.

Berhow’s father was an avid hunter who died two years ago. Police said they found several firearms at Berhow’s home and some were unregistered. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is working with police to determine where Berhow got the handgun used in the attack.


Antczak reported from Los Angeles.