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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

Federal emergency food program gets $126 million boost

Wed, 2014-01-08 15:54
Federal emergency food program gets $126 million boost Sen. Lisa Murkowski helped lead the effort that ended with the Agriculture Department deciding to purchase food under the Emergency Food Assistance Program. The program buys surplus food from American farmers for distribution through food banks when economic conditions show increased need among low-income citizens.January 8, 2014

Army to trim Alaska staff levels

Wed, 2014-01-08 15:53
Army to trim Alaska staff levels Anchorage's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson will lose nearly 800 personnel, while Fort Wainwright will see an increase of 367, for a net loss of 373 soldiers in the state.January 8, 2014

Fewer homes are changing hands, data show

Wed, 2014-01-08 15:26
As the territory’s house prices continue to rise, fewer are being sold.

Local pharmacists look to administer vaccines

Wed, 2014-01-08 15:23
Imagine dropping by the drug store to pick up a prescription, a few items for the house and getting a flu shot while you’re there.

Speaker to address hydraulic fracturing

Wed, 2014-01-08 15:22
The co-ordinator of the British Columbia Tap Water Alliance will be in the territory next week to share his concerns about hydraulic fracturing with Yukoners.

Alaska marijuana legalization initiative turns in 45,000 signatures

Wed, 2014-01-08 14:57
Alaska marijuana legalization initiative turns in 45,000 signatures The Alaska Campaign to Regulate Marijuana handed in roughly 15,000 more signatures than needed to potentially qualify its initiative seeking to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana sales in Alaska. If certified, it will land on the August primary election ballot. January 8, 2014

Nishikawa siblings begin Olympic pursuit

Wed, 2014-01-08 14:33
The Yukon’s top two international athletes began the most important race period of their careers today in Canmore, Alta.

Henry skates to fifth at Olympic trial event

Wed, 2014-01-08 14:32
Mary Lake-born speedskater Troy Henry earned himself a new season-best in the 10,000-metres on the country’s biggest stage last week.

BLOG: Canada, Russia And The North Pole

Wed, 2014-01-08 13:01

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird walks past a map of the Arctic at a news conference on Canada’s Arctic claim in Ottawa, on Dec 9 2013. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press.

“We do not give up the North Pole. Canada’s claims to the North Pole are no more than ambition.”

So declared Russian polar explorer and scientist Artur Chilingarov on December 11, whom President Vladimir Putin named a “Hero of Russia” after he famously planted his country’s flag on the seabed underneath the North Pole in 2007.

Chilingarov was reacting to Canada’s announcement earlier this month of its partial submission of claims to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) and intention to eventually expand its claims to include the North Pole. John Baird, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced to reporters, “We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the North Pole…What we want to do is claim the biggest geographic area possible for Canada.”

For years now, Russian scientists and officials have been trying to do the same thing. In 2007, before descending in the submersible to the Arctic sea floor, Chilingarov remarked, “The Arctic is Russian. We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian coastal shelf.” Thus it appears somewhere between his statements in 2007 and 2013, the North Pole became a part of Russia, since he is now saying that the country won’t “give [it] up.” Whether or not there is a scientific basis for the North Pole to form part of the Russian continental shelf, it has long been a part of the imagined territory of Russia, and indeed the USSR, which claimed the area extending from Russia’s northern coast all the way up to the North Pole [1].

What’s at stake?

So why are Canada and Russia seeking to claim the North Pole?

As Michael Byers, political science professor of the University of British Columbia, succinctly put it to The Guardian, “It’s not about economic stakes, it’s about domestic politics.” Phil Steinberg, geography professor and director of the International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University, made a similar statement, expressing, “It’s more a symbol of national pride.”

Some op-eds state that Canada is claiming the North Pole out of an interest in oil. As the title of Richard Janda’s piece in The Globe and Mail states, “Our North Pole claim is all about oil, not saving the environment.” He goes on to express, “If our claims to the North Pole were accompanied by a solemn pledge to leave it untouched, the land grab might seem more benign. But we did not spend $200-million on mapping the seabed in order to protect it for future generations. That money was venture capital.”

But that $200 million was not really spent to secure future oil and gas resources. First of all, as The Verge’s Katie Drummond notes, it will take the UNCLCS decades to get to Canada’s claims, since it reviews an average of four a year and has a backlog of 40 claims. By the time the commission takes a look at Canada’s claims, and by the time Canada gets around to arbitrating the limits of the continental shelf with fellow claimants Russia and Denmark, the Arctic could very well be a drastically different place. By mid-century, for instance, the Arctic Ocean is anticipated to be completely ice-free during the summer, with trans-Arctic shipping routes crossing over the North Pole. (Note: the continental shelf claims do not affect jurisdiction over the waters above, which will remain open to international shipping.) Not only that: by mid-century, it’s possible that the global energy mix in 2050 could be substantially different, too, although oil and gas will likely still be in high demand. The World Energy Council predicts in a report published this year that in 2050, fossil fuels will constitute between 59% and 77% of the world energy mix, depending on whether governments focus on affordability or sustainability in energy usage. In either case, whether the technology and price per barrel will make drilling in the remote and inaccessible Central Arctic Ocean economically feasible is still far from certain.

Additionally, the Arctic Ocean isn’t getting any smaller, so drilling in and around the North Pole would still be taking places hundreds of miles away from the nearest facilities on land. Furthermore, as the USGS has found, most of the offshore oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean likely lies within a couple hundred miles from shore, thereby falling within the extended economic shelves – and not in the middle of the Central Arctic Ocean (though other resources, such as minerals like scandium, could well be there). The area that Canada intends to claim also has a low probability of having oil, as the USGS map below shows.

With Stephen Harper and Vladimir Putin more likely making moves in the Arctic with a view to the next election rather than the price of oil in 2050, the consideration that North Pole claims are primarily for national pride and international one-upmanship must be assessed.

“Geo-body”

Professor of Southeast Asian history Thongchai Winichakul coined the neologism “geo-body” in his book Siam Mapped to describe the “effect of modern geographical discourse whose prime technology is a map” (1994, p. 17). Governments use cartographic technologies in “thinking, imagining, and projecting the desired realm” (Winichakul, 1994, p. 130). Nowhere is this clearer than in the allegation by the Globe and Mail that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper “ordered government bureaucrats back to the drawing board” after learning that the proposed claim to the continental shelf did not include the North Pole. If this is true, then Harper is basically demanding that the science be made to fit the desired boundaries of the nation. To paraphrase French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, the map has come to precede the geographic territory. It is fitting, too, that Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment and Chair of the Arctic Council during Canada’s 2013-2015 chairmanship, stood aside Baird as he announced the country’s claims. Aglukkaq is of Inuit descent, and the Canadian government effectively once used the Inuit as “human flagpoles” in the Arctic [2]. Neither Aglukkaq nor the Inuit play such objectified roles anymore. Yet at the same time, indigenous presence and usage of the Canadian Arctic remain central to the country’s claims.

Just as Canada – the “True North Strong and Free” – perceives the North Pole to be rightfully Canadian, Russia views the North Pole as part of its own legitimate territory. The recent journey of the Olympic torch to the North Pole on board the Russian icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy clearly inscribed the top of the world into the Russian geo-body, particularly since the rest of the relay is taking place within Russia’s national boundaries. The North Pole (and equally outer space) were therefore not so much international stops along the relay as domestic stops. Denmark has a dog in the fight for the North Pole, too, but since the country would be claiming the Lomonosov Ridge through Greenland, which is becoming more independent every year, and since Denmark is already so small, the Danish territorial imperative to ensuring that the North Pole ends up with a red and white crossed flag on top is actually weaker.

Military in the North

The day after Canada made public its claims to its continental shelf in the Arctic, Putin announced in televised remarks at a meeting of the Defense Ministry Board, “I would like you to devote special attention to deploying infrastructure and military units in the Arctic.” He also discussed the government’s plans to rebuild runways on the Novosibirsk Archipelago (New Siberian Islands), abutting the Northern Sea Route between the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. Putin argued that these islands “have key meaning for the control of the situation in the entire Arctic region.” These plans were initially released in September 2013, and the meeting, too, had been scheduled long before John Baird’s announcement. Yet the gathering of the Defense Ministry Board provided an opportune moment for Putin, who has even more of a penchant for showboating in the Arctic than Stephen Harper, to respond publicly to Canada’s statements about the North Pole. He would not miss a chance to let anyone forget that Russia is continuing to beef up its presence up north – even as the countries work together in the Arctic Council.

Putin is correct in saying that the New Siberian Islands are important. They, along with other bottlenecks in the Arctic such as the Bering Strait and the GIUK (Greenland-Iceland-UK) Gap, are in fact more strategic for controlling the region than the remote North Pole in the middle of the ocean. We should therefore pay attention to state actions in and around these bottlenecks rather than to political posturing for more arbitrary points on the map.

Still, Russia and Canada will continue to wage a war of words over the North Pole, which holds an immense amount of symbolism for the never-ending project of constructing the national geo-body in both countries. The pursuit of the North Pole is therefore not about oil or minerals. It’s about territory and identity.

Sources:

  • [1] Blinnikov, M. (2011). A Geography of Russia and Its Neighbors. New York: The Guilford Press. p. 11.
  • [2] Tester, F. and Kulchyski, P. (1994). Tammarniit (Mistakes): Inuit Relocation in the Eastern Arctic, 1939-1963. Vancouver: UBC Press. p. 114.

Climate and language among top concerns for Finns: survey

Wed, 2014-01-08 12:50
Climate and language among top concerns for Finns: survey A healthy majority of survey respondents said it is important to reduce energy consumption to combat climate change, views on same-sex marriage showed a deep generational split and there were mixed opinions on whether to continue mandatory Swedish-language instruction. January 8, 2014

Danish Shipper Plans More Arctic Trips

Wed, 2014-01-08 12:45

The company that made the first commercial transit of the Northwest Passage plans to increase its shipments through the legendary waterway next year, suggesting such traffic is coming sooner than anyone anticipated.

Since 1903, Coast Guard records show only four tankers have made full transits of the Northwest Passage, including one each in 2011 and 2012. No cargo ship has made the voyage and the Nordic Orion is the only bulk carrier to have done so. Photo by The Canadian Press.

“We hope and expect to do it,” said Christian Bonfils of Nordic Bulk Carriers, the Danish shipper which owns the Nordic Orion.

The vessel made history last September when it hauled 15,000 tonnes of coal to Finland from Vancouver through waters that were once impenetrable ice. It took four days less than it would have taken to traverse the Panama Canal, and its greater depths allowed the Orion to carry about 25 per cent more coal.

Sailing through the passage saved the company about $200,000 and resulted in a nicely profitable voyage.

“We had a very smooth voyage and not any major delays,” said Bonfils. “We’re very pleased about it.”

Ramping up shipments

The company is talking with the Canadian government about ramping up those shipments, Bonfils said. The number of planned transits is under discussion.

“It’s a bit too early to say,” said Bonfils from Copenhagen, Denmark. “The window for doing this changes every year. We need to slowly explore what is actually possible to do here.”

A federal spokesman confirmed the company has broached its plans for multiple transits with the government.

“Nordic Bulk Carriers representatives have met with Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada representatives to discuss anticipated transits in 2014 through the Northwest Passage,” said Kevin Hill of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which is responsible for the Coast Guard.

Those discussions have included possible icebreaker assistance, Hill said.

Travel through the Northwest Passage

That means an era that many experts relegated to the future is already here, said Rob Huebert, an Arctic policy expert at the University of Calgary.

“The game is afoot,” he said.

Huebert suggested that previous surveys reporting almost no interest in the Northwest Passage were simply the result of shippers playing their cards close to their vests.

“When you look at the number of ice-strengthened vessels that came out of the woodwork for (Russia’s) Northern Sea Route, it’s obvious that some companies have been quickly building up capacity. It’s obvious now the companies aren’t being forthright in terms of what their capabilities are.”

In Russia, 421 vessels applied for permission to use that country’s northern passage last season.

Now that Nordic Bulk Carriers has shown it’s possible — and is acting on that information with more crossings — other shippers are likely to follow suit, said John Higginbotham, a professor at Carleton University and former assistant deputy minister of transport.

“I expect more companies to take advantage of it,” he said. “I think there’s some Canadian companies that got scooped. I believe they only woke up to this development.”

Higginbotham said the ice in the Passage varies in extent from year to year. But the old, tough, multi-year ice that once blocked the route is largely gone.

“It is thinner and more rotten and (has) less volume than ever before,” he said.

However, one commercial transit does not a Suez Canal make. That waterway gets 18,000 ships a year.

Route lacks facilities, nautical charts

Since 1903, Coast Guard records show only four tankers have made full transits of the Northwest Passage, including one each in 2011 and 2012. No cargo ship has made the voyage and the Nordic Orion is the only bulk carrier to have done so.

The Northwest Passage lacks adequate nautical charts, ports, search and rescue stations and icebreakers available to commercial ships. Unlike in Russia, the federal government has not made upgrading those facilities a priority.

But Bonfils said his company is convinced there’s money to be made in sending goods through a waterway that once bedevilled generations of mariners.

“It’s a good addition to what we do because we have the ships already,” he said.

“We don’t expect a boom in ice-class bulk carriers being built because all of a sudden you can sail the Northwest Passage. This is more of an addition (instead of) a stand-alone business.”

Expect more shippers to reach the same conclusion, Higginbotham said.

“Where there’s cargo to make money, ships will go.”

-By Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

This content is made available to Alaska Public Media through a partnership with Eye on the Arctic.

Judge in manslaughter case seeks review over 'manifestly unjust' sentencing requirements

Wed, 2014-01-08 12:17
Judge in manslaughter case seeks review over 'manifestly unjust' sentencing requirements Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan sought a referral to a three-judge panel in the case of 20-year-old Brian Albert Pfister, convicted of manslaughter after a botched home invasion. Spaan argues the case's unique circumstances make mandatory sentencing restrictions on Pfister's parole unjust. January 8, 2014

AK Beat: Baby polar bear's first steps

Wed, 2014-01-08 08:03
AK Beat: Baby polar bear's first steps VIDEO: A baby polar bear takes its very first steps. It's as cute as you think it will be.January 8, 2014

Healthy New Year’s Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Wed, 2014-01-08 08:00

For Christmas this year, my adorable nieces in Fairbanks gave me the holiday death plague. Complete with hacking cough, sore throat, congestion…you get the idea. I feel like death warmed over. A pair of socks or some homemade drawing with macaroni glued to it would have sufficed. Instead, I have the voice of a 6-pack-a-day smoker and the feeling of a hangover without the joy of the previous night’s festivities. Merry Christmas, Auntie Heidi!

So here I lay on my couch, with the Food Network buzzing in the background. My girl Ina Garten is making some delicious Italian Feast of roast fish with polenta and celery salad. The plague has done nothing to curb my appetite (DAMN IT) and all I want to do is reach through the television and have a little taste for myself.

A staycation for one seems to be what the doctor’s ordered. Even Milo agrees. He’s barely moved from his perch atop the couch all day.

In my delirious, sick-y state I decided I needed to bake something. I KNOW, I KNOW. I’m a terrible baker. Recipe exactness is for the weak and timid. Which is my excuse for why nearly every cake I’ve ever made looks more like a pancake than an actual cake. But I’ve really wanted to make this holiday muffin recipe I received in the mail, and my house is still full of Christmas decorations so it still feels very festive here on the West side of Anchorage. And therefore, I made muffins. Which turned out super delicious, and may even be deceptively healthy. So therefore, Happy New Year’s resolution to you, too! (Just ignore the enormous amount of sugar in them.)

Here’s to a happy, healthy, delicious 2014!

Click for more recipes from Chena Girl Cooks.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins
(Adapted from eatliverun.com)

2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. ground ginger
2 eggs
1 1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 can (or 7.5 oz.) pumpkin puree
1/2 c. warm water

For streusel topping:
1/2 c. old fashioned oats
1/2 c. brown sugar
scant 1/4 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
3 T. cold unsalted butter, cubed

(1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray, or use cute polka-dot liners like I did.

(2) Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl or mixer with the whisk attachment.

(3) In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, oil, pumpkin, and water.

(4) Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until JUST blended (don’t overmix!)

(5) Fill the muffin tins 3/4 of the way with batter.

(6) Mix all of the streusel ingredients except for the butter. Add the butter after the other ingredients are fully incorporated, and use your fingers to crumble up the butter into the mix until only small pieces of butter remain. Top each muffin with a small handful of streusel.

(7) Bake for 30-35 minutes, checking after 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Enjoy!
xo H

Alaska governor narrows Medicaid abortion reimbursement criteria

Tue, 2014-01-07 22:16
Alaska governor narrows Medicaid abortion reimbursement criteria Critics blasted the Parnell administration on Tuesday for issuing regulations that restrict what constitutes a medically necessary abortion qualifying for Medicaid reimbursement.January 7, 2014

Emergence of rare Tlingit war helmet raises a chorus for homecoming

Tue, 2014-01-07 21:31
Emergence of rare Tlingit war helmet raises a chorus for homecoming The discovery of a priceless Tlingit war helmet that sat misidentified in the archives of a western Massachusetts museum has Tlingit tribal leaders calling for the artifact to be returned to Southeast Alaska.January 7, 2014

Former Alaska tribal leader headed to jail for siphoning funds

Tue, 2014-01-07 21:25
Former Alaska tribal leader headed to jail for siphoning funds A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a former president for the Native Village of Tatitlek to 18 months in prison for her illegal spending sprees fueled by tribal funds.January 7, 2014

Another 'reality' show, another reporter, another load of ...

Tue, 2014-01-07 20:44
Another 'reality' show, another reporter, another load of ... OPINION: When it comes to Alaska reality TV, it seems there's no tale too tall to pawn off on Outside reporters.January 7, 2014

Statoil awarded exploration license off Greenland

Tue, 2014-01-07 20:29
Statoil awarded exploration license off Greenland Exploration rights off Greenland are added to Statoil's leases and licenses for territory off the coasts of Norway, Russia, Canada and Alaska.January 7, 2014

Judge Sen Tan To Retire

Tue, 2014-01-07 18:53

Judge Sen Tan has announced that he will be stepping down from the bench.

In a brief letter sent yesterday, the Anchorage Superior Court judge informed Gov. Sean Parnell that his retirement would be effective on July 1. Tan did not give a specific reason for leaving his post or supply information on his future plans.

Tan has served as a superior court judge since 1997. Larry Cohn, who directs the Alaska Judicial Council, says Tan earned high marks through his career.

<<18s “Judge Tan has consistently received very high ratings from those who are most familiar with his professional work as a judge, including attorneys, and law enforcement officers, and court employees, and jurors,” says Cohn.

While Tan was respected in the legal world, a conservative advocacy group campaigned for his removal in 2012. Alaska Family Action urged voters to oppose Tan’s retention because of a ruling concerning abortion that he made in the late 1990s. Tan ultimately secured 55 percent of the vote.

Cohn doesn’t think that Tan’s retention should have been politicized.

“To those critics who are dissatisfied with the content of decisions he’s made, we strive to have impartial and fair judges and independent judges who follow the law. And the law is not necessarily popular.”

The Alaska Judicial Council will be taking applications for the judgeship through February 7. The group plans to provide its recommendations to the governor in June.

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