Alaska News Nightly: December 8, 2010

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Miller Adds New Claim of Potentially Questionable Ballots
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
Lawyers for Senate candidates Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski, and the state argued over the counting of write-in ballots today.  Miller, the Republican nominee, has added a new claim of potentially questionable ballots.

Spenard-Area Abduction Was Drug Related
Anchorage Daily News
According to the Anchorage Daily News, the abduction of a young woman from an Anchorage parking lot last week was related to a drug deal.  Anchorage detectives says the woman went to an apartment in the city’s Spenard area to purchase drugs, when two masked men grabbed her.  Detective Kenneth McCoy says the woman, who is in her early 20s, told police she never had drugs on her person.  McCoy said during the transaction, the two men decided to take her.

Language in Defense Appropriations Bill May Allow ARSC to Retain Funding
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Language in a defense appropriation bill could retain military funding for the University of Alaska Fairbanks based Arctic Region Supercomputing Center.  The provision inserted in the legislation by Senator Mark Begich blocks the DOD from spending money to close any of the six computer facilities it contracts with. Last week UAF officials said the DOD is indicating it will not renew a research support contract that covers 80 percent of ARSC’s $12 million operating budget, a funding hit that would half the center’s 50 person staff.  Begich’s provision hinges on a divided Senate and House passing the appropriations bill as is.  UAF officials aren’t holding out a lot of hope, and ARSC Chief Scientist Greg Newby says the UAF facility has already positioned to move on.

Newby describes DOD research conducted through ARSC as non-classified, everything from oceanography to ship hull design, projects similar to non military work it’s likely moving into.  Recent grants from the National Science Foundation are already providing some alternative funding including a climate project at the Super Computing Center.  Newby says being free of DOD rules may open up doors to other deals and new partners.

Newby says supercomputing is key to many areas of scientific research and essential infrastructure if UAF wants to grow in the field.  The university is just beginning construction of a new life sciences facility, and Newby says supercomputing is integral to front line biological research.

Newby says the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center has several proposals out to agencies and private companies for work, but there’s no game changer on the horizon at this point to prevent layoffs at the UAF facility.

Lockheed-Martin Holding Job Fairs for Potential Fort Greely Positions
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Lockheed-Martin is holding job fairs beginning Wednesday in Fairbanks for positions the company would need to fill at Fort Greely if the company wins a major missile-defense contract.

Potential Plan Includes Extending Bush-Era Tax Cuts
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
President Obama’s announcement Tuesday that he brokered a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone, even the richest Americans, has raised the ire of many Democrats.  The deal looks like it has enough votes to pass Congress, but some Democrats are fighting back and trying to gain ground.

Alaska Senator Mark Begich wanted to see the tax cuts expire for Americans making more than a million dollars, but that’s off the table in the President’s deal.  Begich says while he’s glad to see middle class Americans’ tax cuts kept, he’s concerned about the fact that it’s only a two-year plan.  The Senator says the White House could’ve driven a harder bargain – but notes that now it’s up to Congress.

Begich says he’s looking for his two big goals to be met: long term certainty for businesses and deficit control.  Begich says the plan is not set in stone, so he’s watching it closely and reviewing the details before deciding how he would vote.

Alaska’s Republican in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, is waiting to see the legislative language, but her spokesman says she sees positive elements in the tentative agreement.

Congressman Don Young says he’s not “overly excited” about the deal, but would vote for it.  He agrees with tax breaks for all – including the wealthiest Americans.

Young’s only complaint is that it extends long term unemployment benefits – something Democrats want.

Unemployment rates jumped up last month to 9.8 percent – which gave steam to the Democrats’ urge to extend unemployment benefits for out of work Americans unable to find jobs.

Murkowski Supporting Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senator Lisa Murkowski left no question today about her position on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the law banning gays from serving openly in the military.

Her announcement Wednesday positions Murkowski in a slim but growing group of Republicans calling for overturning the 17-year-old law.

Murkowski says after looking at the data, she agrees with Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s view that the military can successfully implement a repeal as long as preparations are made.

Last week military heads told a Senate committee that it would be better for them to repeal the law than have the courts make decisions.

Murkowski says as long as it’s done in a deliberate way, she sees no harm.

Murkowski may be in favor of tossing out the law – but don’t expect her to jump at a repeal vote right away.  The issue is part of the Defense Authorization Bill before the Senate.  Murkowski and other Republicans want Democrats to allow them amendments – and want time for debate of the broader bill.

Murkowski says she’d like to see it rolled over to January and the next Congress – but admits repealing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law has a slimmer chance then, when more Republicans come into power. The Senate may wrap up the Lame Duck session as early as next Friday.

Combined Efforts Prevent Suicide of Interior Youth
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
The Anchorage Police have just released an account of how last week the combined efforts of an Anchorage teenager, high school personnel, police officers and troopers successfully prevented the suicide of an interior Alaska youth hundreds of miles away.

Operation Santa Begins Visiting Villages
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A few remote villages are getting an early shot of holiday spirit as the National Guard flies Santa Claus in for pre-Christmas visits.  Operation Santa has been bringing Jolly Old Saint Nick to villages for over half a century, delivering gifts, food, clothes and holiday music to some of Alaska’s most isolated communities. Hoonah had a visit from Santa last week and Alaska National Guard spokeswoman Kalei Rupp says this week Santa visited Pilot Station and Holy Cross, flying on an Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter out of Bethel. When the weather clears they will go to Little Diomede near Nome also.

One of the first villages to have a visit from the National Guard and Santa was the interior village of Tanana.

North Pole Looking to Increase Postmark Capacity
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
North Pole wants the Postal Service to increase local postmark capacity.  The holiday season means thousands of people seeking a North Pole postmark for Christmas cards and packages, but for cost and efficiency reasons, the majority are processed through Anchorage.  North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson says the local postmark is important, and wants the Postal Service to invest in it, despite budget concerns.

Isaacson says the massive volume of North Pole holiday related mail represents a lot of postage revenue.  The North Pole postmark isn’t totally dead. You can still get the Christmas theme City cancellation by specifically requesting it at post offices in North Pole, Fairbanks and Anchorage.  A limited volume of mail is actually hand stamped at the local Post Office, but the majority receives a North Pole postmark by machine in Anchorage.