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Skirmish at Trump rally reveals what a divided nation shares

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:49

SAN JOSE, Calif. — It was a fleeting confrontation between two strangers that might have otherwise been forgotten.

But the tussle over a Donald Trump campaign sign after a June rally in San Jose, California, has sent one man, Anthony McBride, to jail for six days, and left another, Steven Tong, lamenting the loss of civility in our democracy.

The rally where these two lives collided by happenstance erupted into one of the most violent episodes of this contentious presidential election. Video footage of protesters punching, egging and tackling Trump supporters went viral, sparking outrage among Republicans and soul-searching among Democrats.

Today, the clashes between ordinary people like McBride and Tong are playing out in the California courts, in a series of criminal prosecutions brought about as Republican officials accused a city led by Democrats of failing to protectTrump supporters at the rally.

The San Jose rally and its aftermath may be the most powerful illustrations of the dangerous polarization that has gripped the country during the 2016 election.

But a closer look at Tong, one of rally's 24 victims, and McBride, one of 22 people charged with crimes after the event, suggests that there is much that the two men share. The economic struggles and personal dreams that guided them that day are not so different, after all.

— — —

On June 2, Tong woke up in his parents' house, where he has lived for the past three years, ever since he found himself unable to afford a place of his own.

He is 46, an age he does not like saying out loud because it reminds him how far he is from where he had hoped to be. He had dreamed of becoming a product designer and starting his own company. But art school was too expensive and he left after a year.

"Companies like Facebook and these so-called social networking companies here in Silicon Valley became the economy," he said.

"If your occupation is in anything other than that," he added, "there are not a whole lot of jobs."

Tong's faith in the American dream has been shaken. But that day, he had a ticket to see Trump speak about making America great again. Despite the sweltering heat, Tong parked in the garage at the San Jose Convention Center and walked a few blocks to the rally.

That same morning, Anthony McBride, who is anti-Trump, woke up in the apartment of his friend's mother, where he has lived for the past three years, ever since he found himself unable to afford a place of his own.

He is 21, too young to carry the stain of life's disappointments. He dreams of being a fashion designer and starting his own company. But art school is too expensive. He works two jobs — at a car dealership and a clothing store — to save for it.

He also designs shirts that read "BE YRSLF."

He hopes they will inspire "a movement where people are just being themselves and are not following trends or what society says they have to be," he said.

McBride's faith in the American dream remains intact, but it is marred by the bigotry he sees as a product of Trump's campaign. On the morning of the rally, McBride put on a "BE YRSLF" T-shirt and boarded the light rail to the convention center, eager to see for himself what a Trump event was really like.

— — —

Steven Tong

"It was hot that day," Tong recalled. "I was still debating whether or not I wanted to go, and I just kind of thought, 'Oh, I got to show my support.'"

In the convention hall, Tong delighted in the diverse makeup of the crowd.

"I was really surprised," he said. A rally he had attended earlier in the spring in Southern California, he said, "was mostly Caucasian and middle-aged." But in San Jose, a city that is about 30 percent Asian and 30 percent Hispanic, more minorities turned out.

Outside the hall, beyond the police barricades, protesters waved signs demanding socialism. Young men handed out the Revolutionary Communist Party's newspaper.

Like many Asians in San Jose, Tong was born in Vietnam. He was 4 when communists captured Saigon.

His family had three strikes against it: His father had worked with the U.S. military. His grandfather had an import-export business. And they hailed from China, a country that once colonized Vietnam. Officials forced Tong's family to move to a remote hut with a dirt floor.

"The communist philosophy was, 'If you are a teacher, a professor, an intellectual, wealthy, then we are going to make you suffer,'" Tong said.

When he was 9, his family made it to California. Like others who had fled Vietnam, they embraced the Republican Party's strong anti-communism stance.

Tong considers himself a moderate. During the booming 1990s, he once cast a ballot for Bill Clinton. He says he does not agree with Trump's remarks about immigrants and Mexicans.

Still, Tong feels anxious about the racial unrest flaring up across the country. Like many Trump supporters, he blames President Barack Obama.

"He seems more polarizing," Tong said of Obama. "He stirs people up."

Tong once felt boundless optimism about the United States. His parents, who worked entry-level jobs in electronics, had been able to buy a three-bedroom home in a well-off San Jose suburb. But now Tong cannot afford to rent — let alone buy — a home of his own. He was drawn to the June rally by Trump's promise to make America as strong as it was when Tong arrived.

Trump took the stage and declared, "We have a country that's not working anymore."

"We have a chance to be greater than ever before," he said.

Tong left the rally clutching a sign: "The silent majority stands with Trump."

He meandered back to his car, chatting with a teenager from Mexico who held a sign opposing Trump. They joked about trading signs. Nothing seemed threatening or out of the ordinary. But when Tong reached the parking garage, he witnessed something shocking: protesters trying to steal Trump hats off the heads of an older Hispanic couple.

"I said, 'Come on, guys,'" Tong recalled. "That's when the crowd started turning on me. Everything went out of control really quickly."

He added: "At that moment, I felt the whole crowd surrounding me. You're fearing for your life."

Tong ran into the garage. He noticed a tall black man coming behind him.

— — —

Anthony McBride

"It was a Tuesday, my day off," McBride recalled. "I slept in, watched some TV."

While checking Twitter, he noticed that Trump was coming to town.

McBride hoped to get into the rally "to go experience what he says for myself," he said. But a wall of police officers blocked the entrance.

So he drifted to the "free speech" area, where protesters — including some friends from Oak Grove, where he had gone to high school — gathered. McBride had fond memories of Oak Grove High School, even though he was asked to leave it.

In his senior year, he had attended a basketball game against a suburban school from a more affluent community. Rival fans chanted that Oak Grove students were on welfare. McBride said he and his friends responded with their own chant, "We drive sober" — a painful reference to a drunken-driving death the rival school had recently suffered. Afterward, McBride said, school authorities asked him to finish his credits with independent study. (The school's principal declined to comment.)

At the time, McBride lived with his aunt, who told him he had to be in school to stay with her. He ended up on the couch in the apartment of his best friend's mother. Three years later, he is still there.

McBride considers himself a moderate. He opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants. He believes that the entrepreneurial spirit should be rewarded.

But it is racism — not government regulation of the economy — that worries him. The son of an African-American father and an Irish mother he has not seen since he was 4, McBride blames the recent racial unrest on injustice, not Democratic politicians.

"People are just frustrated," he said. "With police brutality. With feeling not equal to white people."

To McBride's generation, the spate of high-profile police killings of black people shows the limits of politics and the need for activism. Protests — not the election of a black president — have brought a modicum of justice.

— — —

The Encounter

Joining the gathering crowd outside the convention center, McBride felt he had justice on his side.

At first, he said, it felt like a carnival outside the arena. People danced to Mexican music. Street vendors sold watermelon.

But then the rally inside ended. Trump supporters poured out. Protesters chanted obscenities at them. They hurled insults back.

A blond woman named Rachel Casey, who was wearing a Trump shirt, filmed herself sticking her middle finger up at the crowd. Protesters traded insults with her as she drifted past the police barricades to the Marriott Hotel next door. Protesters surrounded her in the doorway.

Then someone threw a piece of watermelon.

"I was in the front, just clapping," McBride said. "Someone in the back started throwing eggs. One of them hit me. I was like, 'Wow, who brought eggs?'"

A hotel security guard opened the door and Casey slipped inside. The crowd marched on. A black female protester burning an American flag got into a shoving match with a white female Trump supporter. A white teenager got scared and started running. A black teenager tackled him. A first-generation Mexican who opposes Trump punched in the nose a third-generation Mexican who supports the candidate.

Police later traced the most violent run-ins to "local gangsters" with long criminal records, according to Sgt. Brian Anderson, who headed the San Jose police team that pored over thousands of hours of videos from the rally.

Some Oak Grove High School students were also charged. "Several of them were good students and athletes, but they decided to forget their upbringing," Anderson said.

McBride might have fit into that category. He was an athlete, but he said his father, who works at a warehouse, allowed him to play sports only if he got good grades.

But McBride admits that he got angry that day at the rally. He says Trump supporters mistook him for Mexican and shouted insults at him.

"I heard, 'Go back to your country, wetback,'" he said. He started taking every Trump sign he saw and ripping it in half.

He followed a wave of protesters into a parking garage. That's where he spotted an Asian man with a Trump sign.

"I was kind of disappointed in him," McBride recalled. "He's a minority, and I didn't see why he's supporting Trump."

McBride snatched Tong's sign. Tong grabbed it back. For a split second, they held it together, in a tug of war. McBride could see the fear in Tong's eyes.

Months later, Tong looked back at the encounter and wondered about McBride. Was he a college student?

"He didn't seem like a gangster," Tong recalled. "There are protesters who are just upset, and I think if I was in their position, I'd be upset, too. But no protester — no matter how angry they are — can break things and harass people."

Maybe because of the stress of what happened to him at the rally, Tong dreams of escaping on Election Day. He thinks about camping in Death Valley on Nov. 8 just so he can get away from the news. But sometimes he has the opposite desire. He wants to visit an old friend — a black man he met in a long-ago photography class — so they can have political debates about Obama that he keeps bottled up inside.

McBride thinks back on that moment and regrets being the source of Tong's fear.

"I'd probably have been afraid, too," McBride said. "I didn't agree with any of the fighting."

But two weeks after the rally, police officers showed up at McBride's job at the mall and asked him to answer some questions. McBride, who has no criminal record, cooperated. He did not ask for a lawyer. "I wasn't scared because I didn't do anything," he said.

He said he told them everything he could remember. Afterward, he expected to be allowed to go home. Instead, they handcuffed him and took him to jail, where he remained for six days, accused of vandalism, battery and the attempted theft of Tong's sign.

On a recent Wednesday, McBride sat in court on a row of benches filled with black and Hispanic men, nearly all of them represented by a single public defender.

"McBride? You're our Trump guy, right?" she asked.

She explained that because of what he had told the police about the confrontation outside the rally, prosecutors were adding a new charge: the false imprisonment of Casey, who had been egged.

"We'll try to get it down to 'disturbing the peace,'" she said. "I don't know if we're going to get there, but that's our goal."

Now McBride, who cannot afford a lawyer, is not sure if he should plead guilty to a crime he doesn't feel he committed, or fight the charges. He thinks about that moment when he grabbed Tong's sign, and about what made him let it go.

"I realized it was stupid," he recalled. "If it was on a different street, at a different time, I probably would have just talked to him about why he was supporting Trump. But it was not a regular day."

Libertarian nominee offers a trustworthy choice in this election

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:45

The pundits, the media, the bloggers are all obsessed with polls. Every day, a new poll comes out, and they pounce on the percentages for each Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And those numbers ebb and flow.

But one thing has been consistent for months in all that polling. The real majority of voters today consists of those who are not satisfied with either of the two "major" party candidates.

That is hardly shocking. My former party, the Republicans, have put forth an authoritarian nativist who spends his days attacking Mexicans, women, Muslims and anyone else he can find to blame for America's problems — or his own.

[Dissatisfaction with Clinton and Trump has Libertarian Johnson hoping Alaskans go third-party]

The Democrats? Well, their candidate can't seem to find a problem that can't be solved by spending more money on it, while laughably claiming her plans "won't increase the debt by a penny."

Americans deserve another choice, and that's why I'm running for president.

I was governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003. I ran as a Republican in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans — and I won re-election by a comfortable margin. Ditto for my running mate Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts.

We did this by governing as fiscal conservatives and civil libertarians. We view government's job to be protecting and promoting the freedom of individuals to live their lives without interference and manipulation by Washington, D.C. That's what most Americans want their government to be: Leadership that is neither bullying nor self-indulgent. Alaskans understand that better than most.

Not only do Bill Weld and I share similar electoral records, but long before the possibility of running on a national ticket together even arose, we were called the "most libertarian" governors in America.

I was an entrepreneur. I started a construction firm in New Mexico and grew it to employ more than 1,000 workers. I have lived the American dream, and in a nutshell, I ran for governor because I saw that state government had grown too large and too intrusive — and was endangering the opportunity for others to succeed as I had.

[An opportunity for Alaskans to start momentum in 2016 — vote Libertarian]

And that's why I'm running for president. Government should protect freedom, not be a threat to it.

Bill Weld and I both succeeded in reducing the size of government in our states. We can do it in Washington, D.C. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? The one thing they have in common is that their plans for America would mean more government, less freedom, and a lot more debt.

Ms. Clinton thinks too many Americans have guns, and wants to make it harder for us to own them. When the Supreme Court confirmed the 2nd Amendment right of individuals to keep and bear arms, she disagreed. Me? I believe the 2nd Amendment means what it says.

On foreign policy, she's traveled far from opposing the Vietnam War in the 1970s. As Secretary of State, she was responsible for promoting counter-productive policies in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. These should not be America's wars.

Instead, our nation needs the confidence that it has a commander-in-chief who will act predictably and responsibly to defend America — and not to aggress elsewhere in our name.

And when it comes to the size and scope of government here at home, Hillary Clinton's only differences with President Barack Obama boil down to a belief that he hasn't gone far enough in his growth of government.

Donald Trump? A Republican Party that finds itself carrying a banner of protectionism, thinly-veiled bigotry, and nativism isn't a party I recognize, or by which I governed. I feel the pain of Republicans who are shaking their heads in disbelief at their party's leader.

I'm a Westerner. I'm an adventurer and an athlete. I understand the common sense, self-reliance and independence that are found in abundance in Alaska.

In a couple of weeks, I invite you to join me in sending a message of real independence to the nation. Join me in saying, "These aren't your only choices for president. There is a third way, an independent way. There is a dignified, honest and rational alternative to Trump and Clinton."

I'm Gary Johnson, and I'm asking for your vote.

Gov. Gary Johnson (@GovGaryJohnson) is the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee. His running mate is former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. Learn more at www.johnsonweld.com.

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

Short on staff, Anchorage Police Department records division falls behind on requests

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:44

Requests for reports at the Anchorage Police Department have stacked up due to a shortage of staff and a continuous flow of work.

A police report requested online typically takes four to five days to fulfill, said APD records supervisor Jennifer York. However, the records division currently is behind on requests by about three to four weeks, she said.

There were 431 pending requests as of last week, according to the police department.

APD receives public records and police report requests on a daily basis. The requests are filed by residents, attorneys, organizations, businesses and the media, said spokeswoman Jennifer Castro.

Here's how a request gets where it needs to go: Clerks determine which case the request is for, if the case is closed or open, and following state public records laws, they make sure certain information is redacted if it cannot be shared in a police report.

"They are trying to fill those requests as quickly as possible," Castro said.

Some requests take priority over others. For example, requests from state organizations typically take about 10 days to fill.

Eight clerk positions are vacant in the records division. The police department plans to fill four of those positions starting early next year, York said. The application portion of the hiring process ends Monday.

Hiring four positions is the best the police department can do at the moment due to budgetary constraints, Castro said.

Clerks serve as an essential part of the police department. They have three main priorities in addition to fulfilling records requests: staffing the front counter; processing paperwork like warrants that come from the Alaska Court System and state and local attorneys; and taking phone calls for things like stolen property and missing persons, among other things, York said.

"We have other items we have to do throughout the day," York said. "Those are typically done by the clerk at the front counter when it's slow — they will go and work on approving reports, records requests, the filing and scanning of documents."

That work has led to a total of 218 arrests so far in 2016, according to the police department. York said she is proud of those numbers. She said the clerks' input touches many other investigations at APD that eventually lead to arrests. (Clerks are unsworn officers.)

[On 'roundup day,' Anchorage police seek suspects in domestic violence cases]

York said the staff is doing its best to fulfill the records requests in a timely manner. Most of the backlog resulted from online requests.

People making requests who come to the front counter can get what they want immediately, though there are exceptions, like reports that may need redactions or approval from a superior before being released to the public, she said.

Clerks also go through the online reports to determine if any follow-up or further information needs to be pursued either by the police department or by the person who filed the complaint.

York is confident the records department can reduce the backlog of requests with more hands.

"The more people we have, the more (requests) we can process in a day," she said. "For each person that comes in, our productivity will go up. We're looking forward to that and are doing the absolute best we can."

<b>Alaska</b> Federation of Natives Highlights

Alaska News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:41
ANCHORAGE (KTUU) The Alaska Federation of Natives convention celebrated half a century of collaboration among the state's indigenous people in ...

Kongiganak tribal police officer accused of stealing alcohol from evidence, injuring man in fight

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:35

A Kongiganak tribal police officer was arrested Thursday after Alaska State Troopers say he injured a man while the two were drinking alcohol that had been taken from the village's public safety building, where it was being held as evidence in another case.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, troopers received a report that Derek Black, 26, of Kongiganak was at a Bethel hospital with injuries received in a fight with Scott Hill, 25, also of Kongiganak, troopers wrote in an online dispatch. 

"Further investigation revealed that (Hill) was a Tribal Police Officer and had assaulted (Black) while they were drinking alcohol that (Hill) had taken from the public safety building," troopers wrote. "The alcohol had been seized as evidence in a case that was being prosecuted in the tribal court."

Scott was arrested and charged with two counts of assault. Scott's employment status as a tribal officer was unknown Sunday.

Kongiganak is a village of about 500 people on the Kuskokwim Bay, west of the mouth of the Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska. The community bans the sale, importation and possession of alcohol.

Troopers: Tyonek man arrested for brandishing gun, threatening village residents

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:33

A 31-year-old Tyonek man was arrested Friday for brandishing a rifle at village residents and threatening to shoot them, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers responded to a 911 call at 4:24 p.m. Friday from the village of about 150 people, 40 air miles south of Anchorage on the west side of Cook Inlet.

An investigation showed village resident Gregg McCord had been "consuming alcoholic beverages and was highly intoxicated," troopers wrote in an online dispatch.

"McCord pointed a shotgun at multiple individuals and then turned the gun toward himself," troopers wrote. "One of the bystanders was able to gain control of the firearm and secure it."

No one was injured during the incident. McCord was arrested, and faces weapons misconduct and reckless endangerment charges.

Troopers: Tyonek man arrested for brandishing gun, threatening village residents

Alaska News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:30
A 31-year-old Tyonek man was arrested Friday for brandishing a rifle at village residents and threatening to shoot them, according to Alaska State ...

After last-minute launch, first-time independent candidate tries to unseat South Anchorage state Rep. Liz Vazquez

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 17:22

Jason Grenn had a job, three kids and a mortgage, and he wasn't planning on becoming a politician.

What he did want, desperately, was for someone else to run for the Southwest Anchorage state House seat held by Republican Rep. Liz Vazquez.

Grenn, 35, was angry that the House, led by Vazquez's majority caucus, left Juneau this year with a budget deficit that will burn through $3 billion — nearly half of the remaining cash in the state's primary savings accounts.

But the clock kept ticking down to the filing deadline, and Grenn hadn't been able to convince anyone else to challenge the incumbent. So with hours to go before the June 1 filing deadline, he found himself on the phone with his wife from a parking lot outside the state Division of Elections office in Midtown, trying to decide if he should run for office and give up his job at the Alaska Community Foundation.

"We couldn't find one person who was willing to at least step up and challenge an incumbent who was part of a majority that didn't do anything," Grenn said in an interview this week. "I was more than happy to not be this person."

[South Anchorage Senate candidates confront their pasts]

But with his wife's endorsement, Grenn, a lifelong Republican, walked inside and filed paperwork to run for Vazquez's seat as an independent. Nearly five months later, he's collecting $500 campaign contributions from business leaders like GCI chief Ron Duncan and Lynden chairman Jim Jansen, while Republicans are scrambling to shore up Vazquez's campaign.

"They're really worried about the race," said Marc Hellenthal, a GOP political consultant who's not working for either candidate.

The three-way contest for House District 22 also includes an Alaskan Independence Party candidate, Dustin Darden — the anti-fluoridation activist who drew 1 percent of the vote in last year's Anchorage mayoral race, and who this week hitched a ride to a debate in Grenn's car. The Democrat in the race, Ed Cullinane, dropped out after winning the primary.

Vazquez, 64 until her birthday Tuesday, is a former state prosecutor and administrative law judge who spent six years on the board of the Chugach Electric Association, a Southcentral utility.

She's a staunch conservative finishing her first term after winning her 2014 campaign with 57 percent of the vote. The district, which sits west of Minnesota Drive and south of Raspberry Road, had been represented by Republican Mia Costello, who moved to the state Senate.

Vazquez didn't chair a standing committee in the House, but she seized a few political and personal causes over the past two years. Among them was a relentless campaign against the Medicaid expansion proposal from Gov. Bill Walker, a Republican-turned-independent who clashed with the GOP-led Legislature before ultimately expanding the program unilaterally.

Another was House Bill 147, which changed how the state treats pets whose owners are involved in domestic violence, divorce proceedings or animal cruelty cases. Walker signed it at a ceremony Wednesday, then posed for photos while Vazquez, with a borrowed whippet named Macie in her arms, stood beside him.

The legislation drew effusive praise from advocates, who pointed to cases where domestic violence victims remain in abusive relationships to keep their pets. And one advocate, Melissa Wolf, said she wasn't bothered that lawmakers had taken up issues this year that were far afield of the state's massive budget deficit.

"Just because there are big problems doesn't mean that we should ignore others," said Wolf, who owns a pet boutique, HM Bark, in the Hotel Captain Cook.

Vazquez, like other incumbents, didn't finish this year's legislative business until the summer and was slow to ramp up her campaign, raising just $415 between February and mid-July, plus $10,000 from her own pocket. She was also hit by the state's campaign finance watchdogs this month with two separate fines, for late filings.

Vazquez still says she's "excited about getting a lot done" if she's re-elected and has hired Bernadette Wilson, a conservative political consultant who worked on the campaign of former Anchorage mayoral candidate Amy Demboski.

[After upset victory in Senate primary, Wasilla councilman still needs to win over some Mat-Su Republicans]

Vazquez laid out her agenda in an interview after the bill-signing ceremony. It includes revisions to the state's banking laws, capping the proportion of state grants that can be spent by recipients on administrative expenses, and establishing a state inspector general's office to look for waste and fraud, particularly in health and education spending.

Vazquez is also pushing for adjustments to the criminal justice reform legislation from this year's session, Senate Bill 91, which she said created barriers to law enforcement. And she wants to diversify the state's oil-centric economy through "responsible resource development," she said, though she oddly suggested that diversifying the economy would include boosting the flow of oil in the trans-Alaska pipeline.

"We are in big trouble if we cannot get oil into that pipeline," Vazquez said.

Vazquez wasn't a key player in budget discussions this year since she doesn't sit on the House Finance Committee; as a freshman, she said she had "limited influence." But Vazquez doesn't object to a sales tax, or to using some of the investment earnings from the Permanent Fund to help fill the state's multibillion-dollar deficit — the budget-balancing step that the Legislature's own financial analyst, David Teal, says would be the most painless and sustainable of all the options, like big taxes.

Grenn, during an evening of door-knocking near Kincaid Park, didn't sound much different from Vazquez in his own view of the fund, which he described as the "best and biggest asset to pay for government for a long time."

But he said he was compelled to run against Vazquez because of the failure of her Republican-led House majority caucus to address the state's budget crisis, as well as a consistent refrain from friends and people he worked with on the community council for the Sand Lake neighborhood: that Vazquez wasn't being responsive.

"The bare minimum an elected official can do is respond to every call and email and message. People weren't even getting boilerplate messages back," Grenn said. "It's no wonder people are apathetic or don't care."

Vazquez, who didn't respond to a reporter's requests for an interview and only agreed to one when approached at the bill-signing ceremony, said she got "thousands" of emails and phone calls during the legislative session.

One of her legislative aides, Anita Halterman, then interjected in Vazquez's defense. "We do get some floods of emails that, frankly, are baiting, and you have to weigh those," Halterman said. "Not every email warrants a response."

Grenn has been connected to politics for much of his life, starting in his childhood when his father worked as an aide to the late Ramona Barnes, the steely Anchorage Republican who was the first woman speaker of the Alaska House.

But Grenn already had a lot on his plate. He's the Sand Lake Community Council president, and had a family and a job running the Pick.Click.Give program, which allows residents to dedicate part of their Permanent Fund dividends to charity.

He was told he'd have to quit his job to run for office, though he's continued working while his supervisors look for a replacement.

He's also a devout member of the Changepoint evangelical church, and he and his wife, Jana, saw the campaign as a sacrifice to help their neighbors and their own children, who they want to raise in a safe place with good schools.

"We decided we can sit and talk about it or we can actually do something," Jana Grenn said in a phone interview. "Our action was going to be to do this."

Among her husband's top priorities are fixing the state's budget gap — he's open to discussion about how, but favors an income tax, which would take more from wealthy Alaskans, paired with a restructuring of the Permanent Fund, which would reduce each resident's dividend equally, hitting poor residents harder.

He also wants to advance public trust by cutting back lawmakers' perks, like their $200 per diem payments and their travel and office budgets.

Even if he loses, he said, his candidacy will have been worth it by teaching him more about his district and by forcing Vazquez to be more responsive.

"It will get some better representation," he said.

Kasilof man killed in Kenai Peninsula crash

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 16:21

A 26-year-old Kasilof man was killed late Saturday night in a single-vehicle accident on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers received a call at 11:40 p.m. about a wrecked vehicle near Mile 1 of the Kalifornsky Beach Road, near Kasilof.

"Whereabouts of the driver or occupants were unknown at the time of the report," troopers wrote.

When officers arrived they found Billy Duncan about 50 feet away from the vehicle. He was unconscious and not breathing, according to the dispatch. Medics attempted CPR but Duncan was declared dead at 12:06 a.m., according to the dispatch.

No one else was in the vehicle at the time of the crash, troopers said.

&#39;<b>Alaska</b>: The Last Frontier&#39; Salaries Revealed: What Do They Probably Get Paid?

Alaska News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 16:07
The hit show Alaska: The Last Frontier is back once again, and fans can't get enough. The fact that Jewel is back in Alaska and on the show with her ...

Charges: Selawik man stabbed his uncle 20 times with butcher knife

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 16:02

A Selawik man is accused of stabbing his uncle more than 20 times during a homebrew-fueled fight in the Northwest Alaska village, according to charging documents in the case.

The slaying is the second in just over a year in Selawik, a community of about 900 people roughly 80 miles east of Kotzebue.

All four of the men involved in the two cases — both the victims and the accused killers — share the same last name.

The most recent incident happened early on Friday, according to charging documents. A village police officer called Alaska State Troopers at 1:31 a.m. to report a man, identified as Roscoe Cleveland, was dead "from approximately 20 stab wounds."

Troopers Timothy Tilley and Ron Monigold arrived in the village at 3:33 a.m. Friday, according to an affidavit written by Tilley. There, inside a house, Tilley said they found Roscoe Cleveland, 38, "lying motionless on the floor in a pool of blood" with "numerous stab and slash wounds covering (his) forearms, chest, face and neck." 

Later, the troopers talked to Clive Cleveland, 24, who was handcuffed on a bench at the Selawik Police Department and clad in a "blood soaked sweatshirt," according to the affidavit.

Clive Cleveland told the troopers that the night began with a party of people drinking homebrew at the house, Tilley wrote; after everyone but Roscoe and Clive Cleveland left, the two got into a fight.

Clive Cleveland later told troopers that his uncle, also his roommate, had strangled him with a rope to the point where he began to black out and threatened him with a pocket knife.

According to the affidavit, Clive Cleveland said he "grabbed a steak knife and butcher knife" and began to stab his uncle as the two grappled.

"Clive stated 'I snapped,' and 'I kept stabbing,' " according to the affidavit.

Troopers found a bucket used to manufacture homebrew in the house. About six hours after the incident, Cleveland's blood alcohol content was .116, according to the affidavit.

The incident echoes a killing that happened in Selawik in July 2015.

In that case, then-39-year-old Christopher Cleveland shot and killed 23-year-old Wade Cleveland and then fired at officers during a 10-hour standoff. He later said he'd been drinking homebrew and whiskey when a fight started and he "snapped." Police said the two men were not closely related despite the shared last name. Christopher Cleveland was convicted of murder Sept. 26 after a jury trial in Kotzebue.

Clive Cleveland was being held at the Kotzebue jail. He is charged with one count each of first- and second-degree murder and third-degree assault.

Charges: Selawik man stabbed his uncle 20 times with butcher knife

Alaska News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 15:54
A Selawik man is accused of stabbing his uncle more than 20 times during a homebrew-fueled fight in the Northwest Alaska village, according to ...

Anchorage food trucks get ready to face one of their biggest challenges: Winter

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 14:44

Anchorage's cold, icy winters might not be the ideal condition for food trucks, but this year, more of the mobile businesses than ever are giving year-round operations a try.

Seven businesses have signed up to be part of the weekly Spenard Take-In, a regular gathering of food trucks, serving lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. each Thursday in front of Chilkoot Charlie's in Anchorage.

That's up from only three last year, said organizer Darrin Huycke. It's the second time food trucks have tried to organize for the winter. Last October, the Fireweed Take-In was shut down just a month after opening when municipal code inspectors found the site was in violation of parking regulations.

[Related: Parking rules shut down Anchorage's winter food truck meet-up]

Now, not only are trucks attempting to operate through the winter, some food truck owners say they're finding more places to park around the city.

"Businesses are definitely warming up to the idea," said Angeline Del Real, owner of Del Real Kitchen with her husband, Roberto. Del Real is one of the seven trucks planning to operate all-year; she'll be in Spenard and stop twice a week at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

Del Real started roaming Anchorage with her food truck at the beginning of 2016, serving a mix of comfort food that includes everything from burgers and fries to jambalaya and dirty rice. Starting the business in winter meant the Del Reals had to fight the perception that food trucks can't operate in the colder months.

"Everyone had this idea of 'why are you out?" she said in an interview Thursday.

With the growth, the trucks are even organizing. A nonprofit industry group, the Alaska Food Trucks and Mobile Vendors Association, registered with the state in August to advocate on behalf of the mobile vendors.

President Kristine Rickard, owner of Boom Ba Laddy's, said there are about 70 vendors signed on with the association between Anchorage and Fairbanks. According to data from the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services, 67 food trucks and mobile vendors are licensed to operate in the city.

The association's goal is to address emerging issues within in the industry, from informing members about new regulations to finding legal spaces to operate.

New rules

While food trucks are increasingly trying to operate year-round, they're also trying to adapt to new rules. This summer, Anchorage fire inspectors began inspecting food trucks. Before, the trucks only had to have inspections from the city Department of Health and Human Services.

The city is also working to update rules the for food trucks, including requiring any truck that creates grease-laden vapors, such those caused by deep fat fryers or grilling cheeseburgers, to use a restaurant industry-standard hood and fire suppression system.

Right now, food trucks don't need much more than a fire extinguisher. But without the suppression systems, there are concerns that the truck could blow up. While rare, it's happened in other cities.

Footage of a food truck explosion in Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

"What I can see happening is a whole row of food carts in front of downtown Anchorage businesses and the only thing separating the plate glass windows is the sidewalk," Fire Marshal Cleo Hill said in an interview this week. "Can you imagine if one was to explode? … Very scary."

Some food trucks say the change in regulations came as a surprise. They'll need to upgrade the systems by next year, and installing a system that runs in the thousands of dollars will be a financial difficulty during the off season.

"I'm at the point where I have to decide if it's worth it to keep my business," said Amanda Cash, owner of the Magpie food truck. "It's that hard. It's that much money for us."

Rickard said the association supports the municipality's request to have upgraded systems — she said similar units are standard in food trucks across the Lower 48 — but hopes they will work with operators who need time to fund the installation of the expensive systems.

Robert Kilby, owner of Bear Mace Bites, said installing the suppression system will cost him about $3,800.

It's an unexpected cost but one he said his truck can manage. He said business has only increased since October and the next three weeks are totally booked for him. He has no plans to take any time off until November, when he'll have the fire suppression system installed while he goes on a trip to Hawaii.

Kilby, who started operating in the spring, said the busy winter season has been a surprise.

Del Real said that she, too, is busy through much of the next several weeks. She thinks that with fewer food trucks available in the winter, the ones that do choose to operate can stay as busy as they want.

"Lots of events are opening to the idea (of food trucks)," she said. "They want food and companies are opening doors."

13 killed, 31 injured in California tour bus crash

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 14:12

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A tour bus crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer on a Southern California highway before dawn on Sunday, killing 13 people and injuring 31, authorities said.

The bus was traveling west on Interstate 10 when the crash occurred near Palm Springs, a city about 100 miles (160 km) east of Los Angeles, California Highway Patrol (CHP) Chief Jim Abele told reporters.

Abele said because of the bus' speed, the truck's trailer pushed about 15 feet into the bus. The bus driver was among the 13 killed, he said. Abele said he believed the 31 injured passengers had minor to moderate injuries, but some could be worse.

"In almost 35 years I've never been to a crash where there's been 13 confirmed," deaths, Abele said. "So it's tough. It's tough for all of us."

Abele said the bus had been inspected as recently as April and there was no indication of mechanical problems. He said several survivors reported most of the passengers, all of whom were adults, were sleeping at the time of the crash.

Photographs from the scene showed the front of the tour bus wedged inside the back of the trailer, with emergency workers using metal ladders to reach the inside of the bus.

The injured were being treated at hospitals while all westbound lanes of the interstate were closed near the crash, officials said. Abele said the lanes would likely be reopened around 4 p.m.

Abele said the bus appeared to be ferrying casino-goers back to Los Angeles from the Red Earth Casino after a night of gambling.

The Los Angeles-area bus company, USA Holiday Bus, could not immediately be reached for comment. The local Desert Sun newspaper reported the driver was one of the company's owners.

Abele said USA Holiday appeared to be an "owner-operator" company and that the totaled bus was the only one owned.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it will investigate the crash and is sending an investigative team to the site.

Abele said it was not immediately clear if alcohol, drugs or fatigue was a factor in the crash. He said it was not clear whether the bus was speeding, but said it was traveling "significantly faster" than the tractor-trailer.

Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, David Ingram in New York, and David Shepardson in Washington.

Eric Trump says his father will accept election results -- 'if they're fair'

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 13:30

Eric Trump, the second son of Donald Trump, cast his father as the victim of a smear campaign when asked to respond to numerous new allegations from women, who have said the Republican presidential nominee made sexual advances toward them against their will over the past three decades.

On ABC's "This Week" on Sunday morning, the younger Trump defended his father calling all the women "liars" and of his threats to sue his accusers.

"He believes in a right and wrong, and when he feels that there's injustice, I think you should stand up to ourselves," Eric Trump told program host George Stephanopoulos. "Quite frankly, he's a great fighter, and he believes in calling out right and wrong."

Stephanopoulos had brought up Donald Trump's speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the day before, in which he vowed to sue all the women who have accused him of sexual assault.

Eleven women have come forward in recent weeks to accuse Donald Trump of groping them, allegations that followed the release of a 2005 "Access Hollywood" recording in which he bragged about being able to force himself on women because he was "a star."

In broad strokes, Eric Trump dismissed them all.

"George, where were these women before?" he told Stephanopoulos. "It's not like my father's a hidden individual, right? He's one of the most known people in the world."

He went on to imply that Hillary Clinton's campaign had somehow orchestrated the sexual-assault allegations.

"The day that the Hillary WikiLeaks come out, you know, all of a sudden people start coming forward," Trump said. "I think you have to be really naive to think that one and the other weren't coordinated together."

Stephanopoulos asked Eric Trump whether it would be prudent for his father to be mired in such legal suits, if he were to be elected president.

"My father's a guy who will fight," the younger Trump said. "He'll fight for this country. And he's always fought for himself and, quite frankly, throughout this whole process he's needed to fight for himself."

Stephanopoulos pressed Eric Trump on one accusation in particular, that of People magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, noting that six of her friends and colleagues had since stepped forward to corroborate her story.

"I just don't believe it – and then you come out with that with three weeks left in the election," Trump said flatly. "You know what somebody told me? … 'Get ready for October. Your family will live through the worst, most unthinkable, hardest month of your lives … What the Clinton machine will throw at you …'"

Eric Trump has been a consistent and staunch defender of his father's campaign online and at rallies nationwide, recently suggesting that Donald Trump's lewd recorded conversation with Billy Bush was the product of two "alpha males" getting together.

He has hit the Sunday morning political-show circuit before to stump for his father, recently justifying Donald Trump's 3 a.m. Twitter rants on Fox News. It was the younger Trump's first appearance on ABC's "This Week."

When Stephanopoulos asked whether Donald Trump could make up ground after most national polls show the GOP candidate lagging behind Clinton, Eric Trump cited Los Angeles Times, IBD/TIP and Rasmussen polls showing Trump with a slight edge.

"What he's already accomplished is nothing short of remarkable," Trump said of his father. "To me, as a son, he wins no matter what. I'm so incredibly proud. He's carried the weight of this country for the last 18 months."

In closing, Stephanopoulos asked Trump about his father's refusal to state at the third presidential debate that he would accept the results of the election.

"He didn't say he wouldn't accept," Eric Trump said. "My father will accept it 100 percent if it's fair. If it's fair."

He rattled off statistics that reportedly show "2 million people on the voter rolls right now who are dead" and "14 percent of all noncitizens in this country are registered to vote."

The Trump campaign has often used these numbers, or some estimation of them, to claim that there is "widespread voter fraud." Numerous outlets, including The Washington Post's Fact Checker, have debunked such claims.

As The Post's Michelle Ye Hee Lee wrote last week:

"Trump uses 'voter fraud' has become a catchall phrase for all voting irregularities. Confirmed instances of actual voter fraud do exist, but Trump makes a totally unsupported extrapolation of these isolated cases to say they are indicative of a widespread fraud in the U.S. election system. We wonder whether it ever occurred to Trump that 'nobody is talking about' the 'big, big problem' of voter fraud because that 'big, big' problem doesn't exist. Trump earns Four Pinocchios.

"… As the researcher of the study notes, Trump's citing of these findings to back up his claim that illegal immigrants are voting and swaying elections is unfounded. Yet again, Trump takes isolated instances to extrapolate to a much larger trend, and earns Four Pinocchios."

Stephanopoulos told Eric Trump that there was "scant evidence" that those figures he cited had affected any election outcomes.

"Are you setting the groundwork there … ?" he asked. "That seems like you're suggesting that the outcome is unfair no matter what happens."

"I think what my father is saying is, I want a fair election," Eric Trump said. "If it's a fair outcome, he'll absolutely accept it. There's no question."

Trump gets a big Las Vegas endorsement in a battleground state

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 13:25

With polls showing him sliding nationally, Donald Trump received a bit of welcome news in one battleground state on Sunday as the editorial page of Nevada's largest newspaper, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, endorsed him for president.

It is the first major newspaper to give Trump its blessing, though it may come with something of an asterisk: The Review-Journal was bought late last year by the casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a Trump supporter and longtime Republican benefactor.

The editorial described Trump as flawed but nonetheless preferable to Hillary Clinton.

"Mr. Trump's impulsiveness and overheated rhetoric alienate many voters," its endorsement said. "He has trouble dealing with critics and would be wise to discover the power of humility."

"But neither candidate will ever be called to the dais to accept an award for moral probity and character," the editorial continued. "And we are already distressingly familiar with the Clinton way, which involves turning public service into an orgy of influence peddling and entitlement designed to line their own pockets — precisely what a disgruntled electorate now rises up to protest."

The editorial warned that an administration led by Clinton "would indulge the worst instincts of the authoritarian left and continue to swell the bloated regulatory state while running the nation deeper into the red in pursuit of 'free' college and health care."

The endorsement comes at a time when Trump is in growing need of support: A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday showed Clinton beating him nationally by 12 percentage points.

Clinton has stacked up newspaper endorsements, including from unlikely quarters: The Arizona Republic broke with long-standing tradition and made her the first Democrat its editorial page has ever endorsed. The Dallas Morning News editorial page gave her its first endorsement of a Democrat since 1940. And The Cincinnati Enquirer, whose editorial page also endorsed Clinton, said that the last Democrat to receive its endorsement was Woodrow Wilson.

Until Sunday, the biggest newspapers to endorse Trump were the Santa Barbara, California, News-Press and St. Joseph, Missouri, News-Press.

The Review-Journal's editorial page rejected what it suggested was overwrought fear-mongering about Trump.

"Mr. Trump represents neither the danger his critics claim nor the magic elixir many of his supporters crave," the endorsement said. "But he promises to be a source of disruption and discomfort to the privileged, back-scratching political elites for whom the nation's strength and solvency have become subservient to power's pursuit and preservation."

As early voting begins, Clinton presses her advantage over a struggling Trump

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 13:21

Hillary Clinton moved to press her advantage in the presidential race Sunday, urging black voters in North Carolina to vote early as Republicans increasingly conceded that Donald Trump is unlikely to recover in the polls.

With a strong lead in national polls, Clinton has been pleading with core Democratic constituencies to get out and vote in states where balloting has already begun. By running up a lead well in advance of the Nov. 8 election in states like North Carolina and Florida, she could make it extraordinarily difficult for Trump to mount a late comeback.

On Sunday, Clinton appeared at a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, with mothers who have lost children to gun violence or clashes with the police. Addressing the congregation, she sounded like a candidate looking past the election to a presidency in which she would have to address a deeply divided nation.

"There are many people in our country willing to reach across the divide, regardless of what you've heard in this campaign," Clinton said. "There are people — millions and millions of people — who are asking themselves these hard questions, who want to find a way to work together to solve these problems that we face."

Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter, Sandra Bland, died in a Texas jail after a traffic stop last summer, called on the congregation to make its voice heard at the polls. "If you decide not to vote, shut your mouth," Reed-Veal said.

Both Clinton and key Republican groups have effectively pushed aside Trump since the final presidential debate Wednesday, treating him as a defeated candidate and turning their attention to voter turnout and battling for control of Congress.

An ABC News tracking poll published Sunday showed Trump trailing Clinton by 12 percentage points nationally and drawing just 38 percent of the vote.

Clinton, who drew support from 50 percent of voters in the poll, was openly dismissive of Trump over the weekend, telling reporters Saturday that she no longer worried about answering his attacks. "I debated him for four and a half hours," she said. "I don't even think about responding to him anymore."

Karl Rove, chief strategist of George W. Bush's successful presidential campaigns, said Sunday on Fox News that he did not expect that Trump could pull off a comeback in the final two weeks of campaigning.

"I don't see it happening," Rove said.

Two outside groups aligned with Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Leadership Fund, have begun running television commercials in Senate races implying that Trump's defeat is likely and asking voters to send Republican lawmakers to Washington as a check on Clinton.

And the Congressional Leadership Fund, a powerful "super PAC" that supports Republicans in the House of Representatives, will begin running ads in the coming days that attack Democratic candidates as "rubber stamps" for Clinton, and urge voters in swing districts to support a Republican instead.

Mike Shields, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, said the group had tested the message and found it effective even in areas that are likely to support Clinton over Trump.

"There are many districts where we are going to be running ads that talk about the Democrat being a rubber stamp for Hillary Clinton," Shields said. "In many districts, it is a very, very potent weapon to use against a Democratic candidate for Congress."

Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, acknowledged on "Meet the Press" on NBC that Trump was behind in the race. She said the campaign had "a shot" at winning over undecided voters who do not currently support Trump but who dislike Clinton.

But Trump has made little effort in recent days to deliver a sharply honed campaign message or to address the flaws at the core of his candidacy. He scheduled no public campaign events Sunday before an evening rally in Naples, Florida, though early voting begins this week across most of the state.

In a Saturday speech that was intended to outline his closing message in the race, Trump instead began by issuing a broad threat to sue all the women who have come forward to say that he sexually assaulted them.

Conway said Sunday that the threat was "a small piece of a 42-minute speech."

Formidable forecasts: How meteorologists are working to better predict <b>Alaska&#39;s</b> weather

Alaska News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 12:15
Here Bill Streever of Anchorage, author of "Cold" and the just-released "And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind," discusses Alaska forecasting with two of ...

Formidable forecasts: How meteorologists are working to better predict Alaska's weather

Alaska Dispatch News - Sun, 10/23/2016 - 12:10

People — perhaps most people — love to complain about weather forecasts almost as much as they like to complain about the weather itself. "The forecast," goes a common refrain, "is always wrong." In fact, forecasts are usually right. In many areas, the hourly forecasts can be uncannily correct. Forecast bashing simply does not reflect the reality of modern meteorology — a highly technical endeavor based on more than 100 years of ever-improving science and mathematics. Here Bill Streever of Anchorage, author of "Cold" and the just-released "And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind," discusses Alaska forecasting with two of the state's most experienced meteorologists.


For years I drove and bicycled and walked past the National Weather Service building in Anchorage, not far from Kincaid Park. I passed it under clear blue skies, in rain, snow and sleet. I passed it in still air and in light breezes and in gusts that threw road grit into my eyes. I passed it when the forecasts were spot on and (far less frequently) when the forecasts let me down. Often, I passed it thinking I should drop in to say hello, to thank those inside for what they are doing, to see what I could learn about the sorcery that allows them to see tomorrow's weather today.

And so, eventually, I came to meet Sam Albanese, the facility's meteorologist in charge. After exchanging pleasantries, Albanese shows me technology that has been used since 1896: a weather balloon. It is a limp greenish-brown latex sack, hanging in a closet. But when filled with helium, hydrogen or some other lighter-than-air gas, the balloon will come alive.

At 3 p.m. and 3 a.m., day after day, every day of the year, the National Weather Service breathes life into 13 weather balloons in Alaska. Balloons rise above Anchorage and Fairbanks, they float up from Kodiak, Yakutat and Nome, they depart Kotzebue, Bethel, Annette Island, King Salmon, Cold Bay, St. Paul, McGrath, and, of course, Barrow.

[The weatherman at the end of the world]

Like thousands of other weather balloons launched at the same time each day all over the world, they leave the ground 5 feet wide. They pass 1,000 feet, 10,000 feet, 30,000 feet. Winds buffet them. Rain and snow pelt them. Sun shines upon their stretched skin. They move through layers of weather in ways no human will ever experience. And as they rise, the air around them thins.

In response to the thinning air, the balloons expand, growing as they ascend above the highest mountains and beyond the reach of commercial aircraft. At 50,000 feet, they float above the layer of atmosphere that holds most of what we think of as weather.

The weather factory is behind them.

And then, 18 or 20 miles above the earth's surface, with latex strained beyond endurance, in air far too thin to breathe, the balloons pop.

Just 3 percent returned

From those popped balloons, slowed by tiny parachutes, instrument packages fall to earth. Each is wrapped in white foam, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. They land at sea, in tundra, on mountainsides and in spruce bogs. The tiny instrument packages carry a shipping bag. At no cost to the sender, they can be sent back to the government, to be refurbished and reused.

"Less than 3 percent of them are returned to us," Albanese says. Each kit costs about $400. With two kits going aloft from 13 Alaska locations each day, the daily cost exceeds $10,000 — or $365,000 a year.

"It seems expensive," he says, "but when you look at return on investment, it is nothing. The data help aircraft avoid strong headwinds and fuel savings alone pay for the program."

The information goes well beyond the identification of headwinds. All the data, along with information from ground stations, satellites, airplanes, ships and buoys, is combined with similar information from Canada, from the other 49 states, from Japan, Russia, Antarctica — from everywhere on earth.

Computers handle the information. These are not ordinary computers. These are supercomputers, room-filling monsters capable of trillions of operations every second. These are computers capable of handling the mathematics of the atmosphere. They start with information from the ground stations, satellites, airplanes, ships, buoys, and, of course, balloons, and they move forward from there, advancing fast enough to see what the future might hold.

And that future, the output from the churning of numbers that represents the real churning that occurs in our skies, comes back to Alaska. At forecast offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, it gives government meteorologists a big picture of what the atmosphere has in store. It gives them a first glimpse of tomorrow's weather, a glimpse that allows them to provide, as the National Weather Service likes to say, "watches, warnings, and advisories for protection of life and property and enhancement of the economy."

First mathematical forecasts in the 1970s

Pause for a moment. Do not be fooled by old-fashioned weather balloons. Realize that weather forecasting now, mathematically based forecasting, is relatively new. The mathematics used in the computers was not even imagined until 1904. Primitive versions of the computers themselves, capable of clumsily managing the numbers in small doses for research purposes, appeared in the 1950s. The first mathematical forecasts did not reach the public until the 1970s. Anyone old enough to remember forecasts from before then remembers forecasts that were based on map interpretations.

Both the mathematical models that run in the computers and the computers themselves continue to evolve, to improve.

But realize, too, that the brute-force mathematics raging through the innards of super computers only gives the big picture.

And in some places, Alaska included, that big picture might be a little hazy.

"Terrain is the big thing in Alaska," Albanese says. "Look at how water flows down a streambed. The atmosphere is a fluid just like water. Watch how the clouds move around. Think about white water running over boulders — you can see the same thing in clouds coming across the tops of the mountains."

On one side of a mountain, a gentle breeze may blow, but on the other side, that gentle breeze may be funneled into a gale. Albanese compares winds blowing through Turnagain Arm — the "Turnagain Arm jet," in his words — to water coming from the nozzle of a hose. He talks of "model efficiencies," "grid density," and "barrier jets."

But from the specialized jargon of a professional forecaster, an important message emerges: The large-scale mathematical models offer a regional picture. But a local picture, the kind that matters to Alaskans, requires local interpretation.

Terrain is only one of many challenges. Another is the paucity of information coming from some parts of Alaska. And in some areas, the forecasts themselves may contribute to a certain kind of bias.

Say, for example, that a forecast calls for a gale, as it often does, at a particular location in the Bering Sea. Mariners, when they can, avoid gales. Weather reports coming from vessels in the Bering Sea miss the worst of the winds.

'Poor man's bias correction'

Rick Thoman, with the National Weather Service's Fairbanks office, echoes much of what Albanese says. The models coming from super computers offer a grainy image, a picture of what happens in squares something like 6 miles on each side. The weather — wind included — occurs at smaller scales.

Thoman talks about "operational history," code for good records captured over long periods. If the operational history for an airport or a harbor shows that the wind usually blows 15 mph faster than the super computer models suggest, the forecast for that airport or harbor can be dramatically improved.

"We use statistical techniques that link models to historical data," he says, describing a method that he calls "a poor man's bias correction."

Alaska forecasters deal with other wind-related issues that set Alaska apart. There is, for example, the frequency of high winds in the state. In Alaska, hurricane-strength winds, with speeds in excess of 74 mph, typically come five to seven times a year. These are winds capable of toppling cranes and sending ships onto rocky shorelines. Even lesser winds can carry freezing spray that accumulates on boats and ships, making them dangerously top heavy — a particular hazard in a state dependent on marine transport and with one of the nation's most productive fishing fleets.

Blowing dust, volcanic ash

On land, there is dust from glaciated valleys. Dust blowing off the Knik and Matanuska glaciers can pose a problem for small planes and for people with respiratory problems.

There is volcanic ash, too — most famously the ash from the 1989 Mount Redoubt eruption that forced KLM Flight 867 into a 14,000-foot drop, an incident that led to the creation of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (vaac.arh.noaa.gov).

And it is not just new ash that matters.

"Wind still suspends ash from the Katmai eruption, impacting aviation over Kodiak," says Albanese, referring to ash picked up from the ground around Katmai National Park. The Katmai eruption occurred in 1912.

A lack of wind creates another set of problems. When the wind rests, air over Anchorage and Fairbanks is trapped, allowing exhaust from cars and smoke from wood-burning stoves to accumulate, sometimes to the point that it's dangerously unhealthy.

From a forecaster's perspective, some weather is easier and some is harder. Sometimes the atmosphere is well mixed and well behaved. Sometimes it is layered and uncooperative.

[Jackie Purcell, the queen of TV meteorologists]

And for forecasters, as for all of us, there is the issue of resource availability. If weather is particularly threatening in one area, forecasters may divert resources from areas with more benign conditions.

If, for example, the Anchorage area faces mild winds and maybe a little rain or snow, but Dutch Harbor faces the possibility of hurricane-strength winds, forecasters might put most of their effort into Dutch Harbor. If Fairbanks is likely to be cold and clear, but wind threatens to push ice hard against the shore in Barrow, forecasters might concentrate on Barrow.

Earlier in his career, Albanese sometimes worked as an incident meteorologist — a forecaster tasked with a very specific area during operations where weather played a critical role.

He has worked forest fires and he worked the oil spill from the Selendang Ayu, the cargo ship with 1,100 tons of fuel that ran aground on Unalaska Island in 2004. On fires, he could tell crews how the flames might be fanned and which way the smoke might blow. On the Selendang Ayu spill, his knowledge of future winds interested responders working from small boats and planners concerned about where the ship's leaking fuel might be blown to shore so responders knew where to best deploy booms that trap oil and protect vulnerable shorelines.

"I tried to explain to people," he says of his time as an incident meteorologist, "it's a forecast. Forecasts aren't perfect and never have been. You have to give some wiggle room, a way out." Forecasts can provide insights, but not absolutes.

"Are we going to miss a forecast?" Albanese asks, in reference to his current job as the Anchorage region's meteorologist in charge. "Sure. We've done it. But it's not like we forecast flurries and get 10 inches of snow."

Just as he did when he worked as an incident meteorologist, Albanese emphasizes the proper use of a forecast. Someone planning to hike a neighborhood trail could change plans on short notice if the forecast proves faulty, but someone planning a remote wilderness trip might be stuck with whatever nature has to offer.

"We're trying to do the best we can to provide you with good information so that you can make a good decision," he says. His emphasis lies clearly in the second half of that sentence — the half that puts decision-making in the hands of users.

Dramatic forecast improvements

Despite the caveats, Albanese has seen dramatic improvements in forecasting during a 30-year National Weather Service career that started in Yakutat in 1986. Forecasters once relied on mathematical models depicting the atmosphere in nine layers, but today they rely on models depicting the atmosphere in 20 layers. The Earth's surface, too, is divided into smaller pieces by today's models. And there is better real-world information streaming into the models, telling those models what nature is doing.

When he started, Albanese and his colleagues could offer a two-day forecast and a more-general five-day outlook. In the 1990s, they started offering five-day forecasts. Today, they offer a seven-day forecast for some locations.

"Today's five-day forecast," he says, "is as good as our two-day forecast in 1988."

Albanese's colleague Thoman points out that Alaska has something like 150 or 200 observation points showing temperature and wind speed from locations scattered around the state. "That," he says, "is quite a change in the last 25 years." Satellites have also improved during the last decade.

"On the other hand," Thoman says, "our weather radar set is from the mid-1990s."

He also points to gaps in information coming from high terrain. For example, there are no real-time observations coming in from the eastern Brooks Range north of Arctic Village. And while there is a tremendous amount of information coming in from airplanes, most of it comes from the Anchorage area.

What does the future hold? I ask both Albanese and Thoman for, well, a forecast.

One answer: Weather models have been built around a fairly stable climate regime, and climate change may throw some surprises our way. We know the climate is warming, and we have some ideas about what that will mean for rain and snow in different areas, but what does it mean for wind?

This, it turns out, is "an area of active research" — meaning, in plain language, that nobody has a very good idea of how warming will affect wind.

But there is another forecast about forecasting. The National Weather Service, despite the challenges of climate change, will push for longer-term forecasts. To succeed, they have to overcome the problems of chaos theory, a theory that applies well to the mathematics of the atmosphere.

According to that theory, small inaccuracies may not be important in the short term, but these same small inaccuracies will lead to ever-growing and unpredictable inaccuracies in the long term. A little mistake here, a missed data point there, and the future clouds over. But despite chaos theory, the kinds of improvements that both Albanese and Thoman have seen in their careers will continue to extend the range of useful forecasts, stretching them out weeks in advance of the actual weather.

And as to those old-fashioned National Weather Service balloons? The forecast is clear. Each afternoon and each morning, day after day, every day of the year, 13 of them will rise up above Alaska, expanding as they ascend, experiencing Alaska's weather in ways that no human will ever know firsthand. But despite the ongoing use of 19th-century technology, there is nothing old fashioned about weather forecasting.

Bill Streever, a biologist and affiliate faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is the author of the best-selling book "Cold" as well as "Heat" and the just-released "And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind." As a scientist, he has worked on issues ranging from the environmental effects of underwater sound to the evolution of cave crayfish to the restoration of tundra wetlands to climate change.

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