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‘Snowman friendly’ storm expected to drop 4 to 8 inches of snow in Anchorage and Mat-Su

Sun, 2020-10-25 19:00

Rain is expected to turn into snow overnight Sunday and into Monday, leaving between 4 to 8 inches of snow throughout Anchorage and Mat-Su, a meteorologist said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Wegman said the amount of snow is dependent upon when the rain begins to switch over to snow.

“The later that change over is, the less snow there will be,” he said. Wegman said the snowfall is expected to continue through much of Monday, but will likely be the heaviest in the morning.

Rain began Sunday afternoon throughout Anchorage, although Wegman said there was not a significant accumulation by about 5 p.m.

The weather service warned that the snow may impact driving conditions, especially because the heavy snowfall is expected to coincide with morning traffic. The weather service issued a winter weather advisory from 9 p.m. Sunday until noon Monday.

A wintry mix of precip for today, becoming snowfall for Anchorage and the surrounding areas tonight through Monday morning rush hour. Slow down, leave plenty of space between vehicles and do not brake quickly or make sharp turns. #WinterDriving #AKwx

— NWS Anchorage (@NWSAnchorage) October 25, 2020

Communities in West Anchorage will likely see the lighter amount of snowfall, with amounts closer to 4 inches, while Wegman said East Anchorage and Hillside are expected to get closer to 8 inches of snow. Snow had already began to fall in Glen Alps by 5 p.m. Sunday.

Wegman described the snow as heavy, wet and “very snowman friendly.” As long as the snowfall matches the predictions, Wegman said it’s likely to stick around through at least Halloween.

A plume of Pacific moisture moved into the area from the south Sunday to bring the snow, Wegman said. By Wednesday, he said a cold air mass was expected to move through the region. High temperatures will likely be in the 20s or 30s mid week and lows could dip near zero degrees, Wegman said.

Snowfall totals and conditions in Mat-Su and up toward Talkeetna are expected to be similar to Anchorage on Sunday and Monday, Wegman said.

It’s likely to rain throughout the night on the Kenai Peninsula, and Wegman said temperatures along the coast are expected to be too warm to switch over to snow.

[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]

Letter: Vote Cooper

Sun, 2020-10-25 18:00

Are you tired of labels? Socialist, communist, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat? I am too. Labels represent ideologies. They should not dictate who or what we vote for. You should vote for the person who will represent you, your family and your values, not someone else’s. Being tied to a distinct party ideology limits the information you have access to and limits your choices. Expanding our information base provides the opportunity to examine all solutions.

If you are told that grape jam is the best and are never exposed to other jams then you become biased against grape jam. But let me tell you, grape jam is not the best. Ideas and solutions are the same. Ideas from people from other religions, cultures, political views may be different than yours but need to be examined.

The current Senate majority believes the only way to “fix” the budget is to cut funding to programs that affect your family’s way of life. Reducing spending to early childhood development programs, increasing the amount paid by your parents or grandparents to stay at the Pioneer Home, eliminating or reducing senior benefits, eliminating adult public assistance, eliminating assistance to needy families and repealing the school bond debt reimbursement program. If funding to these programs are cut, who pays? You do.

By eliminating the school bond debt reimbursement program, property taxes in the Mat-Su willincrease by 2.4 mills. For a $200,000 home that amounts to $480 per year. You will see crowded classrooms, no new schools, no school renovations, more homelessness, higher taxes and slower police and fire response times and worse health services. That is not counting the amount of emotional, physical or additional monetary toll the other cuts may take on your family. This type of logic to balance the budget is bad economics. This logic won’t balance the budget and keep family programs viable. You need someone to represent you who is not politically motivated, not driven by party politics, someone who has owned and operated a successful small business, someone who actually has an advanced degree in Government Finance, someone who will work with others to get the job done, someone who is not afraid to stand up for what is right, someone who will listen to you and actually represent you. You deserve better that your current senator. Together we can make a difference. Vote Jim Cooper for Senate District F.

Jim Cooper

Candidate, Senate District F


Have something on your mind? Send to or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Alaska’s second wave of COVID-19 is bringing surging daily case counts, more hospitalizations and a new foe: fatalism.

Sun, 2020-10-25 17:23

A face mask on the ground among fallen leaves next to the sidewalk along Homer Drive in Anchorage on Oct. 8, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Alaska is in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus that’s setting new records and shows no sign of slowing.

Case numbers are surging in Anchorage and Fairbanks but also in isolated, medically underserved rural communities including the Yukon River delta village of Chevak where nearly 18% of the population tested positive in the space of just a few days.

Statewide, there are so many people testing positive that public health workers can’t keep up with the contact tracing that’s a central part of Alaska’s strategy to contain coronavirus.

Alaska statewide case-count records were shattered on Saturday, with 355 new cases reported, then again Sunday with 526 cases.

Health officials in increasingly urgent messages say the only way to rein in the surging case numbers is for individual Alaskans to take voluntary steps they’ve been pushing for months: Wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid gatherings outside the home.

COIVD-19 is highly contagious and our cases are rapidly increasing.

Please avoid all activities with people outside your immediate household - especially all indoor activities. If you must be around others - wear a mask and stay distanced at least 6 feet.

— Anne Zink (@annezinkmd) October 25, 2020

But they’re running up against public pushback amid rising levels of “COVID fatigue” that’s only growing as the pandemic months pass.

“The biggest challenge I feel these days is a sense of, when I talk to the public and community leaders, is fatalism,” the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said during a recent briefing. “That’s harder to combat than getting more testing or supplies.”

‘We know what works with COVID’

Asked if it’s too late to stop the continued spread of the virus in Alaska, the state’s two top health officials both simultaneously shout, “NO!”

“It’s not too late for us to stop this surge in cases,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. “We know what works with COVID. We’ve demonstrated it in Alaska, we’ve demonstrated it in the United States, and we’ve demonstrated in multiple countries across the globe: mitigation works.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy seems to take a longer view, contending that state officials expected to see case counts going up — and he expects that trend to continue.

[Alaska’s COVID-19 data this week showed no big change in hospitalizations. The data was wrong. Hospitalizations just hit a new record.]

Dunleavy says that despite rising numbers, the state’s hospitals are “holding steady” and that’s one indicator the state’s response is working. Alaska’s death rates from COVID-19 are falling even as cases increase, he said, and the “vast majority of deaths” are in people with underlying health conditions.

The state’s per capita death rate is among the lowest in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The governor continues to avoid imposing statewide mandates for masking or stay-at-home orders, preferring localized restrictions. Multiple cities — including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Unalaska and Juneau — have instituted mask mandates in some form. Multiple rural villages are currently in lockdown.

Dunleavy held the first COVID-19 news conference in weeks, streamed via Facebook, last Wednesday. He called the virus “very very very infectious” and said the state is “going to see case numbers continue to rise.”

Asked in an interview on Friday about his message compared to those from his top health officials, the governor said he didn’t know if there was necessarily a conflict between saying cases are expected to rise and the assertion Alaskans can slow the spread of the virus.

The governor said he’s trying to strike a balance as the nation approaches a potential vaccine in the coming months.

“We made the assumption that the cases would rise because of its infectious nature, and a lack of a vaccination,” Dunleavy said in the interview.

The state could take more restrictive steps to stop the spread of the illness, he said, but that would involve “extraordinary measures,” in the way of shutdowns enforced by sanctions and arrests.

“Certainly, we could probably shut the virus down,” Dunleavy said Friday. “But then the cost to do that would be, in my opinion, astronomical.”

In a Facebook post Sunday, Dunleavy said, “With yesterday and today’s case counts, it is clear that Alaska has entered an acceleration phase with regard to the virus, though this is not unexpected as Alaskans moved indoors with the changing seasons. The vast majority of the new cases are with individuals younger than age 60, and our hospitalization and mortality rates are still at very low levels per capita...Nothing is going to replace individual action and responsibility, including social distancing, wearing a mask around others, and washing your hands. Together we can slow the widespread community transmission and protect the most vulnerable."


At first, Alaska kept the virus at bay. Then over the summer a spike in cases was tied to major outbreaks in the seafood industry and leveled off before dropping.

Now cases are in full-on acceleration mode as positive test counts hit new records each week, health officials say.

Asked where people are getting the virus, one infectious disease specialist had a one-word answer: “Everywhere.”

Most Alaskans get COVID-19 from someone they work, socialize, or go to school with, according to a state update this week. Many report that they went to social gatherings, community events, church services and other social venues while they were contagious but before they knew they had the virus.

The common denominator these days is as much behavior as it is a physical location, said Anchorage Health Department epidemiologist Janet Johnston.

“The places where people are keeping their distance and wearing a mask, we have less transmission," Johnston said.

With winter approaching, more people are moving indoors where the virus spreads more easily. And cases are moving into older populations after predominating in younger people, a group that over the summer drove up new positive tests but generally stayed healthy enough to not need hospital care.

If Alaska follows national trends, the shift into older age groups could predict a rise in hospitalizations and deaths.

Florist Natasha Price makes a flower arrangement in her garage on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Price said her business Paper Peony is thriving during the pandemic. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Natasha Price, an Anchorage florist, said despite the months that have passed amid a global pandemic, she tries to follow public-health guidelines and remains cautious about socializing. She decided to see a therapist for the first time in her life, via telemedicine.

Price hears younger friends talk about going to restaurants. She has “zero interest” in doing that.

“It seems that the numbers are an all-time high in Alaska right now,” she said. “And I find that deeply concerning.

Lift the mandates

Alaskans, like people around the country and the world, are tired of staying home and not seeing friends and family. They’re financially gutted by lost jobs and rent bills coming due. Many have dug in on one side or the other — mask up or stay uncovered, go out or hole up, avoid the virus or get infected and boost herd immunity.

Some people don’t answer their phones when contact tracers finally do call. Others say they don’t want to get tested even if they’ve been exposed because they can’t afford to lose time off work.

Dr. Bruce Chandler, Anchorage Health Department medical officer, heard recently about a symptomatic staff member at a residential care facility who continued to work while waiting for a COVID-19 test result.

“One person this week reported having to work several days with customers while infectious because their boss threatened to fire her if she didn’t show up to work,” Chandler said during a briefing.

There’s also strong pushback against any restrictions at all. The governor’s former chief of staff, Tuckerman Babcock, is an administrator of a private Facebook group with more than 7,000 members called OpenAlaska that agitates against mask wearing and pandemic protocols.

“No public health emergency. All mandates should be lifted and the land of the free and home of the brave restored," Babcock posted Friday.

Everybody is tired of coronavirus, it seems. Even the governor.

Dunleavy, who was captured not wearing a mask at a Republican fundraising event earlier this month, said he generally wears one except when he’s eating, drinking or speaking publicly. The governor said he wears a mask in state office buildings, at the store, and when he’s "mixing with the public.”

He said he takes one off when he’s speaking to a group “for long periods of time” even though it increases the risk of the virus.

“But I also think there needs to be a little fairness and understanding in that I probably altered my life 80 to 90%,” Dunleavy said, listing some of the changes including leaving the state by plane just once since February, limited face-to-face meetings and reduced in-state travel.

“I could go on and on and on but the point I’m trying to make is, there are times that you’re going to wear a mask and you should do it as much as possible," he said. "And there are times that you’re not and the times that you’re not, I don’t think should be, you know, considered an attempt at harming people.”

‘It’s real’

Wasilla resident Helen Lindsey pulled on a surgical mask as she and her husband got out of their sedan at Three Bears, a grocery chain that does not require customers wear face coverings.

Inside, maybe half the customers and some cashiers wore them too.

The store where Lindsey works does require face covers. She was asked to hand them out to customers not wearing them. People cursed at her, yelled in her face, and threw the masks back at her.

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Lindsey said she doesn’t like the pandemic restrictions any more than the next person. She had no physical contact with her husband, Mike, for weeks after he broke his leg over the summer and ended up in the hospital and then rehab. They talked by phone, separated by glass.

She feels like her family has buckled down enough. It’s time for other people to start following protocols.

“I’m so sick of it,” she said.

Some people don’t seem to take the virus seriously unless they experience it first-hand, medical providers say. Statistics show that about 20% of Alaskans hospitalized with COVID-19 will die.

Dr. Nicholas Papacostas, who serves as vice president of the Alaska chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said his emergency room colleagues worry they’ll be stretched thin unless Alaskans start taking steps to slow the spread of the virus.

The underlying concern is that hospitals could hit full capacity and then go past it, even with surge plans hospitals already have in place. That could compromise staffing ratios and degrade the level of care.

“It’s heartbreaking to actually lay hands on one of these patients and have the sinking feeling as you care for them in the ER that this person is heading for the ICU and statistically they’re not going to do well, and open their chart a week or even a month later and see they did in fact die,” said Papacostas, who practices emergency medicine in Anchorage.

“It’s real. There’s real suffering happening,” he said. “And I don’t know how to make people understand that.”

Reporter Zaz Hollander reported from the Mat-Su. Morgan Krakow and Annie Berman reported from Anchorage.

In Anchorage’s downtown cemetery, every grave marker has a story to tell

Sun, 2020-10-25 16:03

Markers for Robert “Bobbie” Patterson and Scheiber Elliott, two boys who drowned in 1925, in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, 2020. (Photo by David Reamer)

Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

No place in Anchorage is as aged and steeped in history as the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. The cemetery is both a landmark and an institution. The city around it has evolved, boomed and busted, burned and froze, while the cemetery survived.

The cemetery can fit many a purpose or mood, from a reconnection with passed elders to a scenic walk. The cemetery is also a living history lesson. Weathered, cracked and chipped headstones are witnesses to the passage of time. The worn inscriptions, including wars long gone and distant countries of origin, are hints. For every grave is a story, some tragic, some simply capstones to extraordinary lives. Histories of Anchorage previously covered the history of the cemetery. However, there are too many cemetery tales to be contained within a single article.

[Related: From Wally Hickel to Miss Wiggles, the storied history of Anchorage’s first cemetery]

As expected, some of the stories are heartbreaking. Close to the wrought iron fence along Cordova Street are two gravestones linked into a joint memorial. On Sept. 1, 1925, three young boys all around 15 years old were rowing a pontoon like a canoe near the mouth of Ship Creek at high tide. Their makeshift vessel was a remnant from a crashed seaplane.

While shifting positions, the pontoon suddenly capsized. While falling off, the boys accidentally pushed the pontoon away. When they broke the surface, the boys were 30 feet from their craft and 50 feet from shore. They struggled, alternately thrashing about and grabbing at each other. The water was 18 feet deep and cold, their clothes weighed down by sand. One boy made it back to the pontoon and was later rescued by even younger children.

Two of the boys, Robert “Bobbie” Patterson and Scheiber Elliott, drowned. In life, they were good friends who worked together as star paperboys for the Anchorage Daily Times. In death, they remain close.

Opposite in nearly every way is the simple marker for Pinkney McMahill (1847-1936), located closer to the eastern edge of the cemetery in a tract reserved for veterans. Though frontier life wasn’t well suited for the elderly, he was one of early Anchorage’s oldest residents.

Pinkney McMahill marker in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, 2020. (Photo by David Reamer)

In 1862, while just 14 years old, McMahill ran away from his Galesburg, Illinois, home to enlist for the Union in the Civil War. Because of his age, none of the Illinois units would let him join. But the young boy pressed west, and in Kansas sufficiently impressed a captain with his “pluck and courage” so that he could enlist.

McMahill saw extensive action during the war, mostly guerilla actions in Western states. He nearly lost a leg, but survived and refused his father’s pleas to return home. After the war, he spent a few decades mining in California. His first Alaska experience was in 1903, when he tried his hand at prospecting in Nome. He returned to Alaska in 1913 and moved to Anchorage in 1917, where he was in the hotel trade. He died at age 88 with his wife and son at his bedside.

Some grave markers offer mysteries with answers lost to time. Johanna Taft’s (1871-1933) gravestone spells her name as Johanne Toft. An additional, much more recent marker notes the corrected spelling. Multiple spelling errors on a tombstone suggest a possible story, albeit one likely never told.

Johanna Taft marker in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, 2020. (Photo by David Reamer)

Other grave markers, like John Sultan’s obelisk monument, offer familiar stories for longtime residents. Sultan (1890-1936) was a longtime local café owner, perhaps the town’s first true restaurateur. He was born in Greece and immigrated to America in 1911. He moved to Anchorage in 1915, where he worked for the Alaska Railroad briefly before buying the Royal Café on Fourth Avenue. As noted on his gravestone, he was also a founding member of American Legion’s local Jack Henry Post.

The Royal Café burned down in 1922. The chef mistakenly used gasoline to clean an oven. Sultan rebuilt and reopened as the Anchorage Grill. For a long swath of time, the Anchorage Grill was the only restaurant open on Thanksgiving. In 1935, he married in Athens. One day after their first anniversary, he died in Anchorage.

Longtime Anchorage residents know his wife, Krisula Sultan (1908-1995), better by her nickname and third husband’s last name: Goldie Tsakres. She managed the Anchorage Grill for more than two decades after Sultan’s death before selling it in 1958. She is also buried at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.

Minnie McCroskey (1873-1927) was one of many young Americans that caught gold fever in the 1890s. In 1898, she made her way to Dawson and never moved back Outside. From Dawson, she chased gold to Fairbanks, where she instead found a husband. This husband’s work with the Alaska Road Commission dragged her to Anchorage during the summer of 1927, but kidney disease killed her only a few months later.

Weldon Durham (1871-1928), called “Bull” by his many friends, was one of early Anchorage’s most popular residents, a natural storyteller. The Spanish-American War veteran worked for the railroad as a roadmaster. A diagonal crack across the middle mars his gravestone. Vandals broke the headstone circa 1991. This violation was one of several acts of vandalism that prompted the completion of the cemetery fencing.

Weldon Durham marker in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, 2020. (Photo by David Reamer)

Robert S. Bragaw Sr.'s white-painted obelisk with metal plate stands out amid the mostly smaller markers. Bragaw (1851-1928) lived a varied life working across the country in local government offices, real estate, and forestry. He moved to Anchorage in 1917 and worked for several years as a deputy clerk for the local court.

Unlike most obituaries, Bragaw’s memorial in the Anchorage Daily Times offered a family history dating back to the 17th century. The Bragaws, then the Brouchards, were French Huguenots, a Protestant branch. The Brouchards abandoned Europe in 1675 for New York, likely fleeing the ongoing Huguenot persecution under Louis XIV, the Sun King of France.

Bragaw Sr. was the Bragaw Street namesake’s father, Robert Bragaw Jr., a homesteader, photographer, and Anchorage’s first Rotary Club president. The Bragaw family left Anchorage in 1944.

Robert Bragaw marker in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, 2020. (Photo by David Reamer)

One headstone stands out in its simplicity, a round stone like an accent pillow for a couch. This stone marks the grave of A.C. Craig (1862-1928). His first name was Abel, though seemingly everyone, including his wife, called him A.C. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and by the late 19th century was living a comfortable, well-to-do life in Chicago.

Then the news of the Klondike gold strike began filtering east. Prospector stories filled the newspapers. Jewelers placed gold nuggets on display in their windows. Like Minnie McCroskey, Craig caught “golditis.” In 1897, he and his wife abandoned Chicago for the Yukon. Thus began a pattern for the Craigs, to alternately chase gold and discover disappointment. From the Yukon, the Craigs followed the golditis to Nome, then Abel alone partook of the relatively brief Shushanna strike near Cordova in 1913.

A round stone marks the grave of A.C. Craig (1862-1928). (Photo by David Reamer)

In 1915, the Craigs moved to Anchorage. Abel found steady work with the railroad and soon became one of the upstart town’s more reputable citizens. He was elected to the first city council in 1920. In other words, Anchorage broke the pattern for the Craigs and allowed them to become comfortable again.

His last day, until the end, was like many others. On Oct. 2, 1928, he worked the day as a foreman for a bridge-building gang for the Alaska Railroad. That evening, he saw a movie at the Empress theater. When he finally staggered home, he complained to his wife of fatigue. He ate then retired to the bedroom to read and relax. There, he had a heart attack and died before the doctor arrived.

The cemetery’s master burial list is available online with a convenient mapping application. Anyone can easily identify the location of all graves, including those discussed here. What stories will you discover?

Fill out my Wufoo form!

Key sources:

“Albert C. Craig Passes Suddenly; Pioneer Alaskan.” Anchorage Daily Times, October 2, 1928, 5.

“Boys Drown!” Anchorage Daily Times, September 1, 1925, 1.

“Death Summons Popular Matron; Alaska Pioneer.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 9, 1927, 5.

“Death Takes John Sultan Day After First Anniversary.” Anchorage Daily Times, December 21, 1936, 1, 8.

“For Fifty Years, Grill Was Gustatory Landmark.” Anchorage Times, November 19, 1978, F-1, F-6.

“Military Rites Tomorrow for P. M. McMahill.” Anchorage Daily Times, April 25, 1936, 1, 8.

“Popular Citizen of Anchorage is Called by Death.” Anchorage Daily Times, August 23, 1928, 8.

Romig, Emily Craig. A Pioneer Woman in Alaska. N.p.: Barakaldo Books, 2020.

“Sleep of Death Closes Eyes of Robt. S. Bragaw.” Anchorage Daily Times, February 18, 1928, 4.

Stock, Pamela. “Cemetery Crew Seeks to Prevent Grave Vandalism.” Anchorage Times, August 17, 1991, B1, B8.

“Two Local Boys Lose Lives by Drowning in Ship Creek.” Anchorage Daily Times, September 2, 1925, 1, 4.

[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]

To many Americans, the future looks dark if the other side wins the election

Sun, 2020-10-25 15:38

A person wearing a mask sits while plexiglass is installed around the seat where Vice President Mike Pence will sit during the 2020 vice-presidential debate. Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

A psychiatrist examining what’s happened to America’s soul chooses for his book cover the iconic image from “Planet of the Apes” - a charred, half-buried wreck of the Statue of Liberty.

A minister who believes America is God’s chosen nation decides that a Joe Biden victory would mean doom, a crushing of the nation’s essence.

And a filmmaker whose work has celebrated the raucous mess of American politics concludes that the re-election of President Donald Trump would be “the end of democracy.”

One week before Americans choose their path forward, the quadrennial crossroads reeks of despair. In almost every generation, politicians pose certain elections as the most important of their time. But the 2020 vote takes place with the country in a historically dark mood - low on hope, running on spiritual empty, convinced that the wrong outcome will bring disaster.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican political consultant who has been convening focus groups of undecided voters for seven presidential cycles. "Even the most balanced, mainstream people are talking about this election in language that is more caffeinated and cataclysmic than anything I’ve ever heard.

“If you are a believer in climate change, re-electing Trump is literally the end of the world. If taxes are your issue, you think a Biden victory will bankrupt you. If your top concern is health care, you think a Biden loss will kill you.”

There’s a long history of lurid foreboding in American politics. Among the nation’s founders were pamphleteers who made their names decrying the dire future the colonists faced if their revolution failed. But the current language is so apocalyptic that even those who are steeped in the country’s episodes of extreme rhetoric are alarmed.

“I didn’t take it seriously for a long time, but in the last six weeks, it’s become very concerning,” said Michael Barkun, a political scientist at Syracuse University who studies political extremism. “This idea that the other side winning the election will produce a precipitous decline and the disintegration of institutions is completely at variance with American history.”

Historians say that in past bouts of insecurity and self-doubt, Americans often focused on foreign threats - the ideological battle with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the worry over unrest in the Middle East after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But now, the worry on the right that a Democratic win will plunge the nation into catastrophic socialism and the fear on the left that a Trump victory will produce a turn toward totalitarianism has created “a perilous moment - the idea that if the other side wins, we’re in for it,” said Peter Stearns, a historian of emotions at George Mason University.

“The two sides have come to view each other not as opponents, but as deeply evil,” he said. “And that’s happening when trust in institutions has collapsed and each group is choosing not to live near each other. It seems there’s no middle ground.”

Women dressed as characters from "The Handmaid's Tale" gather at Freedom Plaza near the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 17. Washington Post photo by Astrid Riecken
Supporters of President Donald Trump fire cannons mounted to a barge during a boat parade in Sandusky Bay in Ohio on Sept. 5. Photo for The Washington Post by Dustin Franz

The rejection of the other side is so thoroughgoing that 31 percent of Biden supporters in Virginia say they would not accept a Trump victory as legitimate and 26 percent of Trump supporters are similarly unwilling to accept a Biden victory, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll.

From rumors of civil war to threats of voter intimidation, Americans' concerns about the election and its aftermath have arisen as once-fringe ideas have leached into the mainstream. One-third of Republican voters said in a Daily Kos/Civiqs poll in the fall that they believe there’s truth to the QAnon fantasy of a deep state elite that secretly controls the government. The FBI concluded in May that QAnon and similar “political conspiracy theories very likely will (foster) increasing political tensions and ... criminal or violent acts.”

Americans are especially susceptible to a dark, pessimistic view of the country right now because several powerful forces are undermining institutions that people have trusted for centuries, according to scholars who have studied the shift in popular attitudes:

• A populist president with a showman’s predilection for apocalyptic language. A flowering of unfounded beliefs: QAnon, “fake news,” fear of rampaging immigrants. A revolution in technology and media that has dramatically altered how Americans consume news and learn about politics.

• Add a frightening pandemic, a burst of protest and anger over racial inequalities, and a sudden economic collapse and the result is pervasive mistrust, a sense that the world’s most powerful nation can no longer come together in common cause.

“We’re facing a difficult time,” Barkun said. “The threat - the virus - is invisible and that makes it more frightening. There’s an increasingly widespread belief that authority - scientific, political, informational - is suspect. It can be more comforting to believe in an unpleasant outcome than to embrace uncertainty.”

In sharp contrast with other presidents, Trump has positioned himself not as a unifying ambassador of hope, but as a fellow victim. He tweets conspiracy theories, laments “hoaxes” aimed at him, devotes his inaugural address to a dystopian vision of “American carnage,” and campaigns for re-election as a breakwater against anarchy in the streets and a nefarious plot against the suburbs.

For many years, a rule of thumb in American politics was that the candidate with the sunnier outlook was likely to win. The other presidents elected in the past three decades appealed to American optimism and aspirations. Bill Clinton ran as “the man from Hope.” George W. Bush presented himself as a “compassionate conservative.” Barack Obama centered his campaign on “hope and change.”

Biden this month warned that “the country is in a dangerous place. Our trust in each other is ebbing. Hope seems elusive. Too many Americans see our public life ... as an occasion for total, unrelenting partisan warfare.”

After Trump repeatedly suggested that he might refuse to accept the results of the election, Biden last month expressed concern about “whether (Trump) generates some kind of response in a way that unsettles the society or causes some kind of violence.”

For his part, Trump is arguing that the country will collapse into “mob rule” if Biden wins. “No one will be safe,” the president said.

Frank Amedia’s America is on the edge of the abyss, a place where people of faith expect Armageddon and people on the other side conspire to scrap freedoms.

TV evangelist Pat Robertson announced on his show last week that “there’s going to be a war” after the election. Robertson prophesied that America will experience “civil unrest of great proportions ... then a time of peace, then maybe the end.”

Not to be outdone, Amedia, pastor of Touch Heaven Ministries in Canfield, Ohio, and a former adviser to the Trump campaign on Christian policy, delivered his own vision of what the country will face if Biden wins: “Progressive Marxist socialism,” “lawlessness,” even an embrace of “animalism” - “somebody can marry a cow and have perverse sex with them.”

On camera, Amedia, who hosts “Potus Shield,” a YouTube series devoted to praise of the president, predicts an apocalyptic future if Trump loses, a time of secular riots and biblical upheaval. But off camera, the preacher seems more anguished than angry, more searching than seething.

“Both sides agree that the soul of the nation is at stake,” he said in an interview. “I know that other nations faltered by becoming divisive, amoral, totally based on personal ambitions and agendas. We seem to be there.”

Amedia believes Trump was chosen by God to lead the United States, but he has no illusion that the president is an admirable character. Amedia laments the “sad political discourse in the country that has developed into a win-at-almost-any-cost mentality. How did we end up with Joe Biden and Donald Trump? We’re supposed to have certain ideals and I don’t think either of them musters up to it.”

The pastor, who is 68, wants to believe that America’s energetic and idealistic young people will pull the country back from a disturbing rejection of truth, science and faith.

Skepticism of science and antagonism toward intellectuals have surged at stressful junctures in American history, in battles over the teaching of evolution, fluoridation of the water supply, or acceptance of same-sex relationships.

“That skepticism can be healthy and democratic,” said Stearns, the George Mason University historian. “But what we’re seeing now, with a serious erosion of respect for authority, is new and different. It reflects a division that I think can bring us close to violent civil war.”

Social-justice activists confront patrons at a restaurant while marching in Washington, D.C., in August. The patrons were ordered to show support for victims of police shootings by raising their arms and making a fist. Photo for The Washington Post by Astrid Riecken

Amedia shares the fear that the country is tumbling toward violent conflict and wider spread of dangerous conspiracy notions. The only way to avert such a fall, he said, is through wiser and more widely accepted leadership.

“Why are some people joining into causes and movements? Why are they finding some credence in things like QAnon?” Amedia asked. “They’re trying to fill a void. In this season of anxiety, people want something that’s beyond this feeling of loss of control. Our house is out of control - our presidency, our Congress, the virus. People want leadership that’s fair and open. Why must we choose between right and left? Why can’t we be for both Black justice and right-to-life? Why can’t we accept the science and the faith?”

The pastor plans to continue his “Potus Shield” prayers for the president whether Trump or Biden wins.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do as Americans,” he said. “In my church, we accept the results whatever they are, and we’re going to be the voice that brings the unity. Sometimes, when things have gotten a little too easy, people need to get put into a little bit of a pressure cooker to discover what their real values are. Maybe that’s where we are. How can we heal the wound with respect for each other?”

Activist Allison Lane, 34, stands amid candles at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., during a July vigil to mark the death of civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis, D-Ga. Photo for The Washington Post by Astrid Riecken

Four years ago, R.J. Cutler, a documentary filmmaker who focused on American political culture in “The War Room” and “A Perfect Candidate,” said that the country was heading into a time “when any bad thing seems possible, when we no longer know the ground rules about the weather, about democracy, about very basic things.”

The reality of Trump’s presidency has been worse than he anticipated, Cutler says now, and he is certain that a second term would be a disaster.

“I’m one of those people that believes it’s the end of democracy and we’re in for a totalitarian state,” he said. Trump "wants his cultural enemies silenced. He wants to control communication. The culture will fight back, but this guy’s going to put people in prison. To quote my mother, ‘Good luck to us.’ "

Cutler’s view represents not only the perspective of an artist who lives in liberal Los Angeles, but a broader swath of left-of-center Americans who believe Trump’s re-election would threaten the stability of the government, the future of the electoral system and even the fate of the Earth.

Many on the left experience what social scientists call “extinction anxiety,” the belief that, as Barkun put it, “society as we know it is going to be destroyed and Trump will accelerate that because the system has run out of resilience. It’s particularly surprising to hear from the left that the system has lost the capacity to absorb Trump’s actions.”

The El Dorado Fire burns a hillside in the San Bernardino National Forest near Yucaipa, Calif., on Wednesday. Photo by Kyle Grillot for The Washington Post (Kyle Grillot/)

Whether that anxiety stems from fears about climate change, racial discord, or the way social media platforms funnel users to a diet of ever more extreme political views, the effect is a despair that has only been exacerbated by the isolation and uncertainty resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Cutler, who has devoted recent years to making movies about the lives of “Saturday Night Live” pioneer John Belushi and pop singer Billie Eilish, remains hopeful that if Biden wins, “you’re going to see a cultural rebound,” a time of creativity and of searching for solutions to long-festering problems.

But even if his side wins, Cutler said it’s hard to imagine that the country would simply turn a corner and start fresh. “We’ve become a stratified culture. There’s no longer one truth. I mean, there are people who think California’s on fire because we haven’t swept the ground.”

A post-Trump period could be a “a political and cultural free-for-all,” Cutler said, in which some Americans, finally freed from coronavirus restrictions, might fall into “a time of hedonism,” while others remain fixated on social divisions that will not disappear quickly.

“Just because Trump goes away - if he really goes away - the forces he unleashed and the forces that arose in response don’t go away.”

When Thomas Singer, a psychiatrist in San Francisco, was casting around for a cover picture for his book on what has happened to the soul of America, his view of the country had grown dire.

“Things were falling apart,” he said. “Our inner experience, as individuals or groups, on the left or the right, is that there’s something very damaged about everything that makes us American. We’re shattered.”

He stumbled on the famous image at the end of the original 1968 version of “Planet of the Apes,” the harrowing discovery of the ruined Statue of Liberty sunken into a beach - a haunting symbol of a nation that lost its ideals and collapsed.

“Sometimes art anticipates reality,” Singer said. “This was an apocalyptic sense that democracy as we know it will crumble.”

But in the time between choosing that image and publishing his book, Singer came to a different conclusion about America in the time of Trump.

The psychiatrist, who is 78, recalls the anguish that the divided country went through in 1968, “this sense that everything was coming apart.” Yet as a young man, he said, he and his peers never believed their future was doomed.

Now, however, he hears young people lament that they have no path forward, that the Earth is in fatal decline, that new technologies threaten the future of work.

Tire tracks from the Berry-4 automated strawberry harvesting robot are left behind as it picks through rows of plants on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, at G & D Farms in Duette, Florida. Photo for The Washington Post by Zack Wittman. (Zack Wittman/)

Though many of the forces contributing to that despair were at work before Trump came along, Singer sees the president as an engine of mistrust.

“He has contributed enormously to this sense that we can’t agree on what’s real anymore,” he said. “He thrives on chaos. He is profoundly rebellious - and that goes to the absolute core of American identity.”

That view of Trump as a quintessentially American renegade - one in a series of rebels without a cause - has nudged Singer toward the view that the president is not simply a destructive force or, as Trump sees himself, a disrupter.

Rather, the psychiatrist says Trump, perhaps unwittingly, is giving the country another chance to do what it has always done best - to battle and shout and rage in what the poet Walt Whitman called America’s essential characteristic, a “barbaric yawp” of conflict that breeds innovation and renewal.

“The soul of the nation gets forged in that collision of ideas, about race, about money and capitalism, about the individual versus the collective,” Singer said.

Populist surges like the one that helped Trump win in 2016 - fueled by the exasperation of Americans who believed that neither party addressed lost jobs, diminished communities and emptied malls and downtowns - have burned out within a few years, fading away as economic expansion, war or political reform eased people’s insecurities.

Singer fears a second Trump term, which he believes would further undermine trust and social cohesion. But now he wonders if the president may have forced the country to confront and maybe resolve some of its deepest problems.

“A leader, like a parent, sets a model for behavior,” Singer said. "Biden is a return to deeply cherished American values of decency and goodwill. Trump has flushed out all of our raw divisions. I’m hopeful that people will find their unruly and chaotic American soul and cry out. The result may be profoundly renewing about race, climate, maybe health care.

“Ultimately, Trump may serve a valuable purpose,” he said. “In the human experience, death and rebirth go together.”

Tens of thousands of empty chairs placed near the White House symbolize the more than 200,000 Americans who have died of covid-19. Photo for The Washington Post by Astrid Riecken

Alaska sees new record with 526 COVID-19 cases reported Sunday

Sun, 2020-10-25 14:45

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On Sunday, Alaska saw the highest daily increase of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began here in March, with 526 new infections reported by the Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 dashboard.

The record numbers Sunday come after a week of climbing cases representing a major surge statewide, including dramatic increases throughout rural communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region. The previous highest daily case increase was Saturday, with 355 COVID-19 cases reported.

Sunday marks the 32nd consecutive day Alaska has had case numbers in the triple digits. All but three regions of the state are in the high alert zone.

The rise in cases Sunday was due widespread community transmission, increased testing in many communities and backlogged case data, the health department said in an online statement.

A vast majority of Sunday’s cases were reported in Alaskans younger than 60, said health department commissioner Adam Crum in the statement. Younger people are less likely to die or become severely ill from the virus than older people or those with compromised immune systems.

“The saturation of the virus in the community increases the likelihood that our vulnerable populations such as older Alaskans or others at risk of severe illness will be infected, and these are the groups we are especially trying to protect,” he said.

There were no new deaths reported Sunday. The state’s per capita death rate remains among the lowest in the country. In total, 68 Alaskans have died with COVID-19.

(from Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services)

Hospitalizations on Sunday remained unchanged from the day before, with 58 Alaskans hospitalized with COVID-19. On Friday, 59 people were hospitalized with the illness, a record for the state. Hospitalizations are what’s known as a “lagging indicator,” meaning people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 may have tested positive weeks earlier.

On Sunday, 41 of the state’s 131 intensive-care-unit beds were available. The 92 occupied beds included COVID-19 patients as well as people suffering from other illnesses or injuries.

The department said Sunday that hospital capacity remained steady, but noted that the Alaska Airlines Center was still prepared to handle patients if hospitals overflow. The department said the Norton Sound Health Corporation is opening an additional alternative care site as cases have continued to rise.

The state’s testing positivity rate as of Sunday was 6.32% over a seven-day rolling average.

Officials from the health department said Sunday that response efforts were being increased in hopes of combatting the climbing number of cases.

A team of Public Health Nurses were sent to Bethel over the weekend to help with testing, contact tracing and community education as cases have continued to rise in Western Alaska communities. The department shipped 1,400 pounds of additional personal protective equipment to the area, also.

The federal health department sent 50 rapid testing machines to Alaska for distribution around the state and officials say the new machines will be used for “emerging case clusters and to protect congregate settings such as homeless shelters, long-term care facilities, correction facilities, schools and workplaces.”

Of the 520 cases reported in Alaska residents Sunday, 193 were in Anchorage, plus two in Chugiak, 13 in Eagle River and one in Girdwood; three were in Homer, 11 in Kenai, one in Seward, 17 in Soldotna and two in Sterling; two were in Kodiak; one was in Valdez; one was in Healy; 65 were in Fairbanks and 10 in North Pole; one in Delta Junction; three were in Tok; two were in Big Lake, three in Houston, 18 in Palmer, 49 in Wasilla and two in Willow; one was in Nome; seven were in Utqiagvik; eight were in Kotzebue; one was in Douglas and 34 in Juneau; one in Ketchikan; three in Sitka; two in Skagway; nine in Bethel; two in Dillingham; 16 in Chevak and one in Hooper Bay.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 not identified to protect confidentiality, there were three in the North Kenai Peninsula Borough and one in South Kenai Peninsula Borough; three in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; two in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; five in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; two in the Nome Census Area; one in the Northwest Arctic Borough; one in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; one in Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon; 11 in the Bethel Census Area; one in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs; one in the Dillingham Census Area; and one in the Kusilvak Census Area.

There were six cases reported in nonresidents Sunday, including one in Kenai, two in Prudhoe Bay and three cases marked as unknown by the state health department.

Tips from state health officials

It could be days before a contact tracer reaches out to an individual who tests positive, state health officials say. In the meantime, they’re requesting people reach out to their own close contacts.

Here’s what the state health department says people can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

• Isolate yourself if you feel any cold-like symptoms and get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible. If you or your family need food, housing or other non-medical assistance, please contact Alaska 2-1-1 (dial 211 or 800-478-2221) or your local emergency operations center for help.

• Avoid crowded places and gatherings; keep social circles very small.

• Stay at least 6 feet away from people outside of your household.

• Always have a mask on when you are around people outside of your household – even if you can maintain a 6-foot distance from others.

• Wash your hands often and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and objects.

• If you test positive for COVID-19, notify all of your close contacts immediately; you can use the tracking sheet on the back of this flyer to help.

• Please answer the call if a public health contact tracer calls you and follow their guidance.

— Tess Williams

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Help us report on COVID-19 in Alaska

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As faith leaders, we believe in an independent judiciary

Sun, 2020-10-25 12:19

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announces Fairbanks attorney Susan Carney as the newest Alaska Supreme Court justice on Thursday, May 12, 2016. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)

As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Once again, just a couple of weeks before the Nov. 3 election, the same old players are back at the same old game. Echoing their 2010 and 2016 unsuccessful attacks on our independent judiciary, those with a narrow and divisive religious agenda are this time around targeting Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney in a retention vote.

We are in the midst of a disheartening season of national politics, absolutely unprecedented in its disregard of facts, reliance on personal attacks and outrageous revelations. Many people are understandably taking a respite from Facebook and other social media, as our newsfeeds have become poisoned by a level of mean-spiritedness that threatens to destroy long-standing friendships and family relationships built over a lifetime of shared experiences. Opportunities for reasonable or respectful discussion and reflection, the bedrock of our American democracy, are under assault from a political culture and a news cycle which reward the candidate that yells louder or proves more adept at distortion and manipulation. Common human decency, respect for the rule of law, and a sense of our shared values as Americans are all casualties, sacrificed to the false god of extreme partisanship and a lack of critical thinking.

It is not hyperbole to simply state that our civic discourse and the orderly process by which we self-govern is at risk.

To safeguard against just such a day, the wise framers of the Alaska Constitution set aside the state judiciary to be an independent, nonpolitical and coequal branch of government, operating on the principles of judicial restraint and faithful adherence to the law. Unlike some other states, the Alaska Constitution set up a merit-based and nonpolitical judicial selection and court operation to protect our religious and civic freedoms, as well as our constitutional rights and liberties from interference or backroom deals by special interests or imperfect politicians.

The first and most sacred duty of a Supreme Court justice is to rule based upon the facts of the law and the constitution of this great state of Alaska, and not to be swayed by political pressures and campaigns which will come and go. Only in this way, whether we are Democrat, Republican, independent, nonpartisan, Libertarian, Green, and regardless of faith tradition or none at all, can we be sure that justice in Alaska will be fair and impartial, regardless of which party or politician is currently in office.

The current campaign to deny retention to Alaska Supreme Court Justice Sue Carney is a blatant and manipulative attempt to impose the narrow view of the few, at the expense of the solid foundation of the law and the fairness and impartiality of the constitution.

As faith leaders from a variety of different churches and perspectives, we believe that it is time to reclaim the center, resist the invitation from extremists to politicize our courts, and to defend the traditional framework of an impartial Alaska judiciary. We urge all Alaskans to vote to retain Justice Sue Carney on Nov. 3.

The Rev. Michael Burke is senior pastor and rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage, and the view expressed here is his own, and not necessarily that of the church he serves. He is joined by pastors and church leaders from a variety of Christian religious traditions across the state of Alaska:

The Rev. Shelley Wickstrom, Bishop, Alaska

The Rev. Betty M Glover, Fairbanks

Rev. Dr. Curtis Karns, Executive Presbyter, Alaska

The Rev. Gordon Blue, Juneau

The Rev. Ann Whitney, Big Lake

Reverend Matthew Schultz, Anchorage

Nora Ortiz Fredrick, Anchorage

The Rev. Mary Norton, Kotzebue

Pastor Kaitlin Pabo-Eulberg, Valdez

The Rt Rev. Mark Lattime, Bishop, Alaska

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

Carney’s judicial philosophy is wrong for Alaska

Sun, 2020-10-25 11:57

Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

As pastors of large Christian congregations in Fairbanks and Anchorage, we write to express our view behind and reasoning for joining with the Alaskans For Judicial Reform Campaign to oppose Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney, who is up for retention on the Nov. 3 ballot.

To begin with, this has nothing to do with the character or qualifications of Justice Carney. We do not know her personally and have no reason to believe she is lacking in either of these areas. We are opposing Justice Carney based on her actual rulings and her obvious judicial philosophy. The Alaska State Constitution, in Article IV, Section 6, says that “Each supreme court justice and superior court judge shall, in the manner provided by law, be subject to approval or rejection on a nonpartisan ballot at the first general election held more than three years after his appointment.” Just as those in the Executive and Legislative branches are held accountable by the people at the voting booth for decisions they make, those in the Judicial branch are also held accountable for the decisions they render.

In 2014 the Legislature enacted a law (SB 49) that limited funding of abortion under Medicaid to only procedures determined to be medically necessary. Justice Carney wrote the Supreme Court opinion striking down the law and forced the public to pay for abortions that have absolutely no medical justification.

Justice Carney’s decision trampled on the Legislature’s constitutional authority to control the appropriation of public funds. She is morally responsible for requiring Alaskan taxpayers to pay for elective abortions. Scripture is very clear about this matter, stating in Proverbs 24:11-12 that we are to “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” As shepherds of our flocks, we cannot and will not sit idly by when Justice Carney rules that we must participate in funding the taking of innocent, pre-born lives.

Justice Carney also joined a narrow majority of three justices who ruled that Alaska’s 1994 law creating a public sex offender registry violated the privacy rights of sexual predators. Without any legal authority, the court gave itself the power to exempt any sex offender from the registration requirement after a hearing, provided that the court is convinced “that he no longer poses a risk to the public that justifies continued registration.”

The Department of Public Safety and the Alaska Legislature obviously thought differently when crafting this law. Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault of all 50 states, but Justice Carney thinks the court knows best if you should be aware of the sexual predator living next door to your family. Paul tells the Romans that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and our Christian faith provides for forgiveness and reconciliation. At the same time, if a convicted sex offender lives on your block, you should be entitled to know that. Justice Carney abused her position by eliminating our right to know.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, who was appointed to the Court by James Madison, said that “An accumulation of power in the judicial department would not only furnish pretexts for (complaint) against it but might create a general dread of its influence.” On Nov. 3, Alaskans will have an opportunity to voice their complaint regarding the abuse of power by a public servant who willingly put herself in a position to be held accountable by a vote of the people. We are privileged to join other Alaskans in the faith, business and political communities in encouraging you to vote no on Justice Susan Carney and bring balance back to our great state.

Pastor Ron Huffman is the senior pastor of Anchorage Baptist Temple.

Pastor Doug Duffett is the senior pastor of Bible Baptist Church of Fairbanks.

Pastor Mark Zweifel is the senior pastor of True North Church - Fairbanks.

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

Pedestrian dies after being struck by SUV on Tudor Road

Sun, 2020-10-25 10:48

Anchorage Police investigate the scene of a fatal vehicle / pedestrian collision on East Tudor Road near Wright Street that occurred Saturday evening, Oct. 23, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

A woman died Saturday night after she was struck by an SUV while crossing an intersection of Tudor Road on foot, police said.

Officers were called to the intersection of East Tudor Road and Wright Street at 9:09 p.m., police wrote in an online statement. An SUV was westbound on East Tudor Road when a woman began to cross the street toward the Holiday Station, police said. The woman was not walking in a crosswalk when police said she was hit by the SUV.

Anchorage Police investigate the scene of a fatal vehicle / pedestrian collision on East Tudor Road near Wright Street that occurred Saturday evening, Oct. 23, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Anchorage Police investigate the scene of a fatal vehicle / pedestrian collision on East Tudor Road near Wright Street that occurred Saturday evening, Oct. 23, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

She died at the scene, according to police. Her name was not immediately released.

The woman driving the SUV stayed on scene and police said she cooperated with the investigation. Charges were not filed Saturday night.

Westbound lanes of East Tudor Road were closed in the area Saturday night as investigators from the traffic unit examined the scene.

The woman was the eighth pedestrian to be killed by a vehicle in Anchorage this year. At the end of September, a pedestrian was hit by a vehicle at the same intersection. Police said she died in the hospital from injuries the day after the crash.

Senate votes to advance Barrett; confirmation expected Monday

Sun, 2020-10-25 10:10

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives as Republicans work during a rare weekend session to advance the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, at the Capitol in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans voted overwhelmingly Sunday to advance Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett toward final confirmation despite Democratic objections, just over a week before the presidential election. The vote was 51-48.

Barrett’s confirmation on Monday was hardly in doubt, with majority Republicans mostly united in support behind President Donald Trump’s pick. But Democrats were poised to keep the Senate in session into the night in attempts to stall, arguing that the Nov. 3 election winner should choose the nominee to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Republicans are excited by the chance to install a third Trump justice on the court, locking in a conservative majority for years to come. Barrett’s ascent opens up a potential new era of rulings on abortion, gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act. A case against the Obama-era health law scheduled to be heard Nov. 10.

Vice President Mike Pence would typically preside over the coming votes, but after a close aide tested positive for the COVID-19, it was unclear whether he will fulfill his role for the landmark vote.

The conservative judge picked up the crucial backing Saturday from Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the last GOP holdouts against filling the seat in the midst of a White House election and with more than 50 million people already having voted.

Murkowski said she disliked the rush toward confirmation, but supported Trump’s choice of Barrett for the high court. “While I oppose the process that has led us to this point, I do not hold it against her,” Murkowski said.

Now the only Republican expected to vote against Barrett is Collins, who faces a tight reelection in Maine. She has said she won’t vote for the nominee so close to the election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noted the political rancor, but defended his handling of the process.

“Our recent debates have been heated, but curiously talk of Judge Barrett’s actual credentials or qualifications are hardly featured,” McConnell said. He said she was one of the most “impressive” nominees for public office “in a generation.”

Calling it a “sham,” Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned Republicans the only way to remove the “stain” of their action would be to “withdraw the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett until after the election.”

Barrett, 48, presented herself in public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a neutral arbiter and at one point suggested, “It’s not the law of Amy.” But Barrett’s past writings against abortion and a ruling on “Obamacare” show a deeply conservative thinker.

“She’s a conservative woman who embraces her faith, she’s unabashedly pro-life but she’s not going to apply ‘the law of Amy’ to all of us,” said the committee chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said late Saturday on Fox.

At the start of Trump’s presidency, McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections. With a 53-47 GOP majority, Barrett’s confirmation is almost certain.

By pushing for Barrett’s ascension so close to the Nov. 3 election, Trump and his Republican allies are counting on a campaign boost, in much the way they believe McConnell’s refusal to allow the Senate to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee in February 2016 created excitement for Trump among conservatives and evangelical Christians eager for the Republican president to make that nomination after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame Law School when she was tapped by Trump in 2017 for an appeals court opening. Two Democrats joined at that time to confirm her, but none is expected to vote for her in the days ahead.


Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska contributed to this report.

Biden and Trump have questioned the other’s physical and mental fitness. Here’s what we know about their health.

Sun, 2020-10-25 08:12

WASHINGTON - President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden both have battled life-threatening illnesses at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a facility they entered 32 years apart with uncertainty over whether they would return alive.

For Trump, his diagnosis with the novel coronavirus earlier this month was his most serious known brush with a fatal disease, and his rapidly dropping oxygen levels sparked grave concern among his top aides and doctors. For Biden, emergency surgery for two brain aneurysms in 1988 posed the risk of impaired cognitive capabilities, or worse. While he ultimately fully recovered, the situation was so dire at the time that a priest was brought in to deliver last rites.

Both episodes have become political fodder for opposing sides less than two weeks ahead of a presidential election in which the two septuagenarian candidates are competing for a chance to be the oldest sitting president in American history. More broadly, the health of each man has become a central component of an increasingly negative race in which questioning an opponent’s fitness for office has taken a personal turn.

Trump and his allies regularly have sought to raise doubts about Biden’s mental acuity, with the president telling Fox News in recent days that his rival could not complete his sentences.

“They said if you let him talk, he’ll lose his chain of thought because he’s gonzo,” Trump said during a 50-minute interview with the network in the lead-up to Thursday’s presidential debate. “There were a lot of people that say let him talk because he loses his train . . . He loses his mind, frankly.”

Trump’s opponents have openly questioned his mental wellness, with Biden campaign officials mocking him for musing about the medical efficacy of injecting disinfectant and for celebrating his ability to recite five simple words in order during a cognitive test.

‎President Donald Trump walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 2, 2020, en route to Walter Reed Military Medical Center after testing positive for the coronavirus. Photo for The Washington Post by Amanda Voisard (Amanda Voisard/)
Former Vice President Joe Biden enters to speak at the Jose Marti Gym in Miami on Oct. 5, 2020. Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman (Demetrius Freeman/)

Trump’s battle with the coronavirus highlighted his preexisting physical challenges. The Biden campaign has run ads showing Trump struggling to walk down a ramp.

Neither candidate has been fully transparent about their health status even as they claim to be in excellent shape. They have released information from doctors declaring them strong and energetic, while downplaying or concealing information that may undercut those descriptions. Neither has allowed access to their complete medical records.

Trump has been especially secretive, concealing information about his coronavirus infection and treatment, and providing contradictory answers about why he made a separate unplanned visit to Walter Reed last November.

For Trump, an overweight 74-year-old and recent survivor of covid-19, and Biden, a 77-year-old who today has a few minor medical conditions, proving to voters that they are fit for the job of president is a particularly critical task in the frantic final days of the race.

The challenge has been made more difficult as the two sides have traded barbs over health and mental ability, with false and misleading claims circulating among supporters of both candidates, according to Stuart Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago who analyzes the longevity of presidents.

“Both candidates and their representatives are weaponizing age in a negative way,” said Olshansky, who published a paper last month reviewing the health status and projected life spans of Trump and Biden. “In fact, the very claims that they are making about the other candidate can equally apply to them.”

While Olshansky’s review found that both Biden and Trump would likely survive a four-year term, the information the candidates have allowed to be released shows that they each have a number of risk factors that could impact their ability to remain healthy.

At 244 pounds, Trump is medically obese with a body mass index above 30, according to a June report by White House physician Sean Conley. Despite advice from doctors to lose weight, Trump has eschewed exercise and continued to favor fatty foods and red meat. He has gained, rather than lost, weight during the course of his presidency and is at risk of cardiovascular disease, according to his annual medical reports.

Trump has said he takes a statin drug to manage his cholesterol, and the drug rosuvastatin is listed among those Conley said are prescribed for the president.

During his bout with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Trump took an experimental cocktail of drugs aimed at stopping the progression of the disease that is particularly deadly for elderly people with obesity and other preexisting conditions.

While he was discharged from Walter Reed after four days and declared healthy by Conley, it is unclear whether he will suffer from long-term consequences of the disease that has killed at least 223,000 Americans. Trump had to be put on oxygen twice and has said that his lungs may have been infected, though Conley and White House aides have declined to describe in detail the seriousness of his condition earlier this month.

Even as Trump minimized his illness, and the virus that caused it, and rushed back to a heavy schedule of campaigning, his allies have increasingly raised questions about Biden’s health. During a call with reporters last week, former White House doctor Ronny Jackson repeatedly referred to Biden’s age and claimed with scant evidence that he suffered from mental decline.

“I’ve watched Joe Biden on the campaign trail, and I’m concerned and I’m convinced that he does not have the mental capacity, the cognitive ability to serve as our commander in chief,” said Jackson, who worked in the White House alongside Biden but never treated him.

A three-page summary of Biden’s medical history released by his doctor in December declared him “healthy, vigorous” and “fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency.” It also outlined a number of ailments he has faced over the years. The report, written by Kevin O’Connor, director of executive medicine at the GW Medical Faculty Associates, showed that he was being treated for an irregular heartbeat, gastroesophageal reflux and seasonal allergies.

While he has also been treated for orthopedic injuries and non-melanoma skin cancers, Biden’s most serious health challenge came while he was a senator in 1988. What he described as the worst headache of his life turned out to be the result of an aneurysm, a balloon-shaped bulge that forms on an artery wall.

His doctors explained that the aneurysm at the base of the brain had leaked, and that a further hemorrhage could be fatal. The 45-year-old senator needed surgery to permanently fix the problem, which doctors later learned involved two aneurysms. A Catholic priest was called to his hospital bedside to deliver the last rites, which are administered to those who face the possibility of imminent death.

As Biden lay on the operating table at Walter Reed, a two-inch wide circular hole was drilled in the top of his head, and the piece of skull was removed “like the top of a cookie jar,” Neal Kassell, one of the two surgeons who operated on him, said in an interview. Kassell peered into a microscope at an artery wall and saw a bulge ballooning dangerously.

As Kassell was preparing to put a clip on the aneurysm, it suddenly burst, filling Kassell’s field of vision with a mass of blood about the size of a quarter - a large amount in his microscope’s view.

The rupture was just the kind of complication that could turn the surgery into a particularly risky episode with grave outcomes. Kassell recalled that he uttered a four-letter expletive, but was quickly able to address the unexpected complication.

The way that Biden’s aneurysm erupted during surgery, as described by Kassell in the interview, was not widely known at the time, and Biden did not mention it in his autobiography. Weeks later, after experiencing a life-threatening blood clot, Biden had a second aneurysm surgery, which took place without incident.

Kassell, who has stayed in touch with Biden and supports his presidential bid, said the former vice president ultimately recovered fully.

“He had no brain damage whatsoever,” and the surgery had no impact on his cognitive capabilities, Kassell said. “He is as mentally sharp now as he was then.”

Cameron McDougall, director of endovascular neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was not involved in Biden’s surgery, said he agreed with Kassell that aneurysm surgeries performed successfully can have no impact on a patient’s cognitive abilities.

McDougall said the letter from Biden’s physician, which stated that a 2014 screening showed no recurrence, demonstrated that the clips that treated the aneurysms have remained secure.

“If you have an effective clipping and complete closure of the aneurysm with the clip in a typical aneurysm, it is very unlikely to recur,” McDougall said. As a result, McDougall said, the average person is more likely to have an aneurysm than Biden.

That hasn’t stopped Biden’s opponents from raising questions about the operations in the heat of a political campaign in which unsubstantiated claims of mental disability have become common.

In an interview that aired Oct. 11, Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo told Trump that her “medical sources have told me that Joe Biden had two brain aneurysms, not one, but two. . . . Do you believe he should be disclosing that . . . and tell us exactly what is the issue in terms of any mental issues we need to know about?”

Trump responded that “he should certainly come clean, and he should - he should say something about that. Absolutely. If that’s the case.”

In fact, it was widely reported in 1988 that Biden had a second aneurysm surgery that year, and he wrote about it extensively in his 2007 autobiography. Bartiromo did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden, like Trump, has not released his medical records publicly during this campaign. Biden’s campaign pointed to O’Connor’s letter, which said that Biden “has never had any recurrences of any aneurysms.”

So far, Trump has been less than transparent about his own health. His doctors have withheld information about his medical history and declined to answer reporters' questions, citing privacy. While the Obama-Biden campaign released 49 pages of medical records ahead of the 2008 presidential election, Trump released a one-page letter from his doctor during the 2016 race.

According to Olshansky’s paper, Trump has more known medical risk factors than Biden. Despite being older, the former vice president is expected to outlive Trump, the paper found.

While Trump’s health profile suggests that he has been healthy in the past, “he now is aging at an accelerated pace,” Bradley Wilcox, who teaches geriatric medicine at the University of Hawaii’s medical school, wrote in the paper.

“He has clear evidence (on several Cardiac CT scans) for subclinical CAD (coronary artery disease), the leading cause of mortality in the U.S., that has been worsening over the past decade,” he wrote.

While neither man smokes or drinks, Trump’s “sedentary lifestyle” is a risk factor, wrote Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

While both candidates had parents who lived to be more than 80 years old, Trump’s father developed Alzheimer’s disease late in life. Doctors say that elevates the risk that the president may experience similar complications.

It remains to be seen whether Trump will have any lingering complications from contracting the coronavirus. His trip to Walter Reed was marked by several news conferences by doctors and aides providing contradictory and obfuscating information about his status.

It was not the first time Trump has visited Walter Reed and sparked fresh questions about his health.

Last November, Trump made an unexpected trip to the facility that the White House claimed was an attempt to begin the first portion of his annual physical. But a president’s annual physical is typically done in one visit, raising questions about whether the trip was sparked by more serious circumstances.

Adding to the mystery was that the trip was never on Trump’s regular schedule, Walter Reed officials had very limited notice that the president was coming, and the visit followed none of the standard protocols for a president’s planned medical visit.

White House staff required all members of the Walter Reed medical team who handled his care in November to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to two people familiar with the request. Some confided to friends they felt insulted at the suggestion they would violate patient confidentiality.

Last month, Trump took to Twitter to try to put those questions to rest.

“Now they are trying to say that your favorite President, me, went to Walter Reed Medical Center, having suffered a series of mini-strokes,” Trump wrote. “Never happened to THIS candidate - FAKE NEWS. Perhaps they are referring to another candidate from another Party!”

- - -

The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Lenny Bernstein contributed to this report.

Five myths about shareholders

Sun, 2020-10-25 08:01

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 file photo, the American Flag hangs outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) (Frank Franklin II/)

Christopher Marquis is the Samuel C. Johnson professor in sustainable global enterprise at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. He is the author of “Better Business: How the B Corp Movement Is Remaking Capitalism.”

Investing is a mystery to many. In theory, the stock market reflects rational calculations as shareholders seek financial returns in companies that perform well. But there are bubbles that overestimate firms' value and dramatic crashes that suddenly correct the situation. More puzzling, research has long established that many factors beyond economic fundamentals, like holidays and weekends, lunar phases, and weather, can affect stock market performance. And stocks can even surge while the economy tanks, as they have during periods of the pandemic. Here are some of the most commonly held myths.

Myth No. 1: Shareholders are focused only on returns.

“Greed is good,” says Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street,” characterizing investors' profit motive as beneficial to all. In a groundbreaking 1970 essay that established the idea of shareholder primacy, Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman famously declared that companies should focus only on profit, as it is the only thing shareholders care about, and such a focus is in their best interest. Since then, this point of view has become widely accepted among executives and investors, according to leading legal and management scholars.

[Read more Five Myths columns]

But issues beyond profitability are increasingly important to a wide range of investors. For instance, many now hold shares in corporations that align with their values and aim to improve society as a whole. Socially responsible investing has exploded around the globe, and in the United States, 25% of total assets under management are now in funds that screen out socially and environmentally harmful companies. “Impact investing,” meanwhile, is a practice in which private investors aim to better the world and make money - by taking into consideration how the company addresses the interests of communities, employees, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders in addition to financial interests. Investors like Larry Fink from BlackRock, for instance, now advocate that companies look out for all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Even mainstream economists are coming around: In a 2018 paper, Nobel laureate Oliver Hart suggested that it’s wrong to assume that shareholders care only about profits.

Myth No. 2: Companies must focus on increasing shareholder value.

Starting in the 1980s, a number of influential legal decisions found that companies have a fiduciary responsibly to put shareholder interests first; if they don’t, shareholders can sue directors and executives. The two most well-known rulings are a 1986 Delaware Supreme Court case, Revlon v. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, and the 2010 case eBay v. Craigslist, in which a judge held that any corporate mission that “seeks not to maximize the economic value of a for-profit Delaware corporation for the benefit of its stockholders” is invalid because it doesn’t align with the director’s fiduciary duties.

But in the past 10 years, many alternative corporate forms have emerged that allow companies to maximize value for all stakeholders. The most popular of these, the benefit corporation, has been established in three dozen U.S. states and several nations. Instead of putting shareholders first, benefit corporations must explicitly state a purpose beyond making money for investors, be transparent about their social and environmental impacts, and have their performance assessed using a credible third-party standard. The Accountable Capitalism Act, introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would establish this corporate form nationally. Many leading companies, such as Patagonia and King Arthur Flour, along with start-ups like Kickstarter, have adopted this form.

Myth No. 3: Diffuse and widespread shareholding democratizes ownership.

One feature of stock ownership in the United States is that most publicly traded companies are owned by many, many people. A recent report shows that 52% of Americans own stock, usually through their retirement plans. That means they are entitled to a say in the direction of the company and voting rights on a wide range of issues from director compensation to reporting on gender and minority pay disparities.

But in truth, corporate control falls to a much smaller set of actors. Among individual Americans, ownership is concentrated in the wealthy: 84% of all stock is owned by the top 10% of income earners. Furthermore, voting on corporate decisions is done by a much smaller number of institutional investors, such as the mutual funds and pension funds that hold shares on behalf of individuals. What’s more, 97% of the proxy vote advising market is controlled by two firms - Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis - with the former holding 61% of this business. Investment funds hire ISS and Glass Lewis to guide them in how to vote. These firms thus have significant power to shape corporations through share votes. Thus, the extent to which the actual shareholders positions are reflected in the voting is not clear.

Myth No. 4: Small shareholders can’t make big changes in companies.

Economic theory states that the stock market is an instance of the separation of ownership and control: Investors purchase shares and own the firm, while professional managers control the firm. If any shareholders can have an effect, it is the largest ones. The votes of small investors are frequently seen as “largely meaningless,” as the New York Times once put it.

Yet some shareholders use their ownership as a platform to agitate for change in corporate behavior, especially along environmental, social and governance lines. They are able to do so because all shareholders with holdings greater than $2,000 have the right to submit proposals for consideration at the annual shareholders meeting. Many times, nonprofits or religious orders invest in companies aiming to change their behavior. For example, an anti-plastics activist group, As You Sow, introduced a proposal at Starbucks’s 2019 meeting that the coffee chain make its cups more recyclable, which garnered 44% of the vote; an earlier As You Sow proposal led Starbucks to introduce plans to abandon plastic straws. Some of this work is also done collectively. Trillium Asset Management organizes shareholders with minority positions to press companies for socially responsible practices. Chipotle Mexican Grill responded to a Trillium proposal by setting emissions reduction targets for its carbon footprint and reaffirming existing eco-friendly initiatives it will impose on its agricultural suppliers.

Myth No. 5: When shareholders do well, the economy does well.

Many people link stock market performance and economic health implicitly and explicitly. For example, Economics Help explains, “Generally speaking, the stock market will reflect the economic conditions of an economy.” President Donald Trump frequently makes this connection, for instance tweeting on Sept. 14: “Stock Market up BIG today. Will I ever be given credit for the Markets and Economy?”

But the recent disconnect between soaring stock market performance and the pandemic recession shows that it is not a good indicator of economic health. One reason is that large companies, especially Big Tech firms like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, have an oversize influence on stock market indexes. Unlike the “real” economy, such IT firms thrive in conditions that emphasize e-commerce and virtual interaction. Another reason is monetary policy. After trading halts (“circuit breakers”) took place an unprecedented four times in 10 days in March as the pandemic roiled markets, Trump pressured Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell to lower interest rates, boosting the stock market. Investors then found it more profitable to buy stocks rather than save or invest in other assets, such as bonds. But since many pension funds primarily hold bonds, these low interest rates represent a long-term economic risk for American pension holders.

That annoying barrage of political texts? It’s only going to get worse

Sun, 2020-10-25 07:44

More than a billion texts will be sent in support of local, statewide and national campaigns by Nov. 3, say candidates and their consultants. (Dreamstime/TNS) (Dreamstime/)

MIAMI — As election season reaches a crescendo, campaign ads aren’t just hanging from your doorknob, filling up your mailbox, cluttering your inbox, interrupting your favorite TV shows and beckoning from billboards. Politicians are capitalizing on an increasingly popular way to win your vote by inundating your cellphone with text messages.

More than a billion texts will be sent in support of local, statewide and national campaigns by Nov. 3, say candidates and their consultants. Like it or not, they’ve found texting to be an effective, efficient method for using personal data to engage directly with voters who spend half their waking hours on their mobile phones.

Because privacy is as quaint as the telephone booth, and voters' cell numbers have been bought, sold, shared and rented out many times over, a candidate or volunteer or software company that is running a texting operation can greet recipients by first name in hopes of creating a rapport much harder to achieve through ringing doorbells or broadcasting advertisements.

Cellphone users, hard-wired to at least glance at texts, also are more likely to open them for a range of reasons, said Kevin Munger, assistant professor of political science and social media analytics at Penn State.

“People are resigned to getting spam calls and not listening or blocking them,” Munger said. “But their annoyance tolerance is higher for something they perceive as more important than a commercial pitch for a credit card or, say, selling Coke over Pepsi compared to Trump over Biden.”

Multiple times a day voters see texts soliciting donations, touting or bashing candidates, asking survey questions, coordinating campaign workers or encouraging them to cast their ballots:

— “Hi John, it’s Israel with MoveOn. Politico reports that a ‘green tsunami’ — a wave of donations from Democrats like us — could flip control of the Senate! A Joe Biden presidency AND Democratic Senate are now within reach. Can you chip in $15 to help flip the Senate?”

— “Looting. Rioting. Burning Cities. These are the realities of a Biden America. See this future for yourself & ensure it’s not ours.”

— “Hi, it’s Michael from Vote From Home 2020. If you live at (insert your address) voting files suggest that you may not have requested a vote-by-mail ballot yet. If you change your mind you can still vote in person, so keep your options open by requesting a ballot.”

— “Hey there John, I’m Diana with FL Research. We have a brief survey for Miami-Dade & we want to hear from you.”

The texts aim to tread a fine line between motivating and irritating voters. They come with one big advantage: People who delete emails without opening them or don’t answer calls from suspicious numbers can’t avoid texts. It’s an intrusion that also can backfire, strategists say.

"Voters have grown quite sick of texts. It’s another invasion of their privacy, and their first reaction is often, ‘How did you get my number?’ " said Evan Ross, president of the Aventura public affairs communications firm, Public Communicators Group. He is running three Political Action Committees and advising 10 clients this election cycle, and they’ve sent a total of 100,000 texts. But those pings even get under his skin.

“I was in line for early voting when I received a text for the fourth time asking if I was committed to Biden and Harris,” he said. “I responded by telling the sender they need better data. They can’t be barraging people with repetitive texts and annoying them.”

The hope, Ross said, is a productive exchange, a conversation. Ideally, voter and candidate learn about one another.

"You’re able to make that crucial ask, ‘Can I count on your vote?’ " he said. “A text can be so much more valuable than sending a mass mailer or knocking on a door when nobody’s home. But when a text is deleted out of frustration you’ve missed that connection.”

Texting has been especially useful since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Ross knows a candidate in a condo-dense district who could not do the traditional door-to-door canvassing or host bagel breakfasts in meeting rooms. She switched to texting as her outreach solution.

The percentage of people who reply varies depending on how well an audience is targeted, but a 10-15% response rate is good, according to Ross and Nathaniel Lubin, co-founder of Survey 160, a software company that provides text-based polling and research services.

“At a time when people increasingly don’t answer their phones, SMS (Short Message Service texts of 160 characters or less) is an attractive way for analytics groups and pollsters to get meaningful data quickly and at scale,” said Lubin, who worked on Barack Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 when texting began to take off. “We typically do get higher response rates than other methods, especially for surveys. Texting is easier for respondents in that they get to choose when and how to respond, rather than needing to be available at the exact moment required by other channels.”

Ross saw a response Thursday that captured many voters' feelings of text fatigue: “Who do I need to vote out of office to STOP these text messages? (With an emoji of a crying frowny face.)”

Though its use has exploded, texting remains largely unregulated by election and communications laws, allowing both savvy strategists and unsophisticated campaign managers to spread misinformation anonymously. Voters can receive a text and have no idea who is behind it. Disclaimers identifying who paid for the text messages are not required because there is too little space within the standard 160-character limit to fit that extra verbiage.

Lack of oversight and transparency has spawned some outrageous attack texts.

In the midst of another wild and nasty campaign season in Hallandale Beach, a text stating “Urgent Election Information” went out that appeared to be sent by incumbent commission candidate Michele Lazarow. It linked to a “Michele Lazarow For Commissioner?” website that disparaged and insulted Lazarow with bizarre headlines like “Breaks the Law and Incites Violence” and “Celebrates the Life of the ‘prophet’ Mohammed, an Oppressor of Women” and “Michele’s Dirty Relationship with Evan Ross.”

The mystery disclaimer at the bottom of the home page says: “I’m a concerned citizen of Hallandale Beach, and I have free speech guaranteed by the 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I love Hallandale Beach, and I’m tired of Michele Lazarow allowing by (SIC) beloved city to look trashy!! Don’t vote for Michele please. Thank you!!!”

The deliberate misrepresentation and unaccountability for funding of the ad makes it illegal, but Lazarow’s attempts to trace the origin were fruitless. No one, including Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub, who is running for reelection in another district, or Mayor Joy Cooper — who have tangled with Lazarow in the past — has taken responsibility. Lazarow’s opponent, Dmitry Yakubovich, denied any involvement, saying “The politics have been very dirty in Hallandale over the past few elections. I’m not in favor of this. There’s no place for it in Hallandale.”

Lazarow and her adviser and friend Ross said they were “disgusted” by the deceptive message. The number that sent the text has been flagged by consumers complaining of robocalls and scams.

“The people who want to corrupt our city have proven they will break the law as they work to get me out of their way,” she said. “It’s clear these corrupting forces want Anabelle Lima-Taub, Joy Cooper and anyone other than me on the commission. I trust the residents of Hallandale Beach to see through the lies. I trust law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the criminals.”

“That’s the dark side,” said Ross, who created online and TV counterattack ads against Lima-Taub and Cooper with paid-for disclaimers from his Good Government PAC. “People can hide more easily on texts. In the cases of fraud, we need prosecutors to subpoena records and track the digital trail, but often law enforcement views these acts as political shenanigans that are not hurting anybody.”

The texting flood has grown as campaigns exploit a loophole in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that was designed to control robocalls. Peer-to-peer texting allows a sender to send messages to recipients without their consent if they are sent one at a time. New tech companies with apps like Hustle, GetThru, RumbleUp and Opn Sesame have sprung up to generate millions of texts. Less laborious mass texting is allowed if recipients gave permission to be texted. Voters can usually stop receiving them by replying “stop” or “unsubscribe.”

“I identify 5,000 voters I want to reach legally through peer-to-peer texting,” Ross said. “I’d get carpal tunnel syndrome hitting send 5,000 times so I hire a vendor and pay a few cents per text for him to do the clicks. While robocalls were big 10-15 years ago, owning a landline is now like owning a typewriter. Texting is the booming industry. Campaigns are spending tens of millions of dollars on this platform.”

Ross predicts a trend toward expanded virtual communication for politicians. Campaign trails shrink when voters can tune in to town halls and rallies from home via Zoom. In-person hand-shaking and baby-kissing won’t disappear but candidates and constituents alike have learned during the pandemic how to reach people remotely.

“A local candidate could host Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg on the call because they don’t have to fly to Miami,” he said. “We’ve already seen higher citizen participation in city commission meetings on Zoom. Convenience and accessibility. Virtual platforms will increase engagement opportunities exponentially.”

Munger envisions a rise in campaign alliances with popular influencers.

“Influencer marketing has not yet fully penetrated the political scene,” he said. “That’s where all advertising is going these days. Eventually it will make texting seem as old-fashioned as calling people on their home phone.”

(Miami Herald staff writer Nicholas Nehamas contributed to this report.)

This Anchorage mom is trying to keep up with her kids’ online learning and keep a business afloat

Sun, 2020-10-25 07:19

Kasandra Tafoya and her brother Manuel Isaac Tafoya work on assignments from their family’s restaurant Pedro’s Mexican Grill in mid-October 2020. (Photo by Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media) ONE TIME USE

The school day started around 9 a.m. in a tidy mobile home in South Anchorage where Elisa Yepez Oregel lives with her husband and their four kids.

Vanessa, a fourth grader at Klatt Elementary, sat in front of a laptop at the kitchen table, as her teacher told her what assignments she still needed to do.

From the other end of the table came the sounds of a first-grade class. A teacher was guiding students through pronouncing letters, but 6-year-old Manuel Isaac sat back in his chair and didn’t say anything.

Next to him, was sixth-grader Kasandra who helped her younger siblings, and also logged into her own class on another laptop.

“I am doing my missing assignments that I haven’t turned in,” she said.

Meanwhile their mom, Yepez Oregel, talked to her son in Spanish, telling him to pay attention to his class and not hit his sister. Her youngest daughter, 2-year-old Alyssa Valentina, toddled across the floor.

This is what weekday mornings have looked like for the past couple months at 36-year-old Yepez Oregel’s home. It goes on like this for a few hours. Then the kids pack up and they all head to the family’s restaurant, Pedro’s Mexican Grill. Yepez Oregel summed up the routine in just a few words.

“Bad,” she said. “It’s muy difícil… difficult.”

Vanessa Tafoya, Manuel Isaac Tafoya and Kasandra Tafoya take classes at home on a weekday in mid-October as Anchorage School District continues with virtual classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

‘It’s a lot of stress’

Across the Anchorage School District, tens of thousands of students are attending school online, after the coronavirus pandemic shut down in-person instruction back in March.

That has left parents forced to combine the full-time job of caring for children with their existing work. Without additional resources to hire babysitters or tutors, some parents, including Yepez Oregel, say it’s an impossible task. And, for her, it’s all the more difficult because English is her second language.

Vanessa Tafoya takes classes at home on a weekday in mid-October 2020, as Anchorage School District continues with virtual classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

“Muy estresado,” she said.

She’s very stressed, said Lilian Montoya, who helped interpret the interview. Montoya works at the Alaska Literacy Program, where Yepez Oregel took English classes.

“It’s a lot of stress, you know, working, school, kids, mother, worker,” Montoya said. “It’s difficult.”

About 17% of the Anchorage School District’s roughly 42,000 students are considered English language learners.

The district has put new programs and resources in place to help families who don’t speak English navigate online school, such as parent Zoom meetings in different languages, said Christine Garbe, director of the district’s English Language Learners Program. The district’s employees and teachers are working hard, she said. Still, it’s challenging.

“I think everybody’s struggling,” Garbe said. “But specifically, if you don’t have the language skills to participate, it’s difficult.”

Yepez Oregel said she tries to keep up with what’s going on in the district, but she doesn’t have email. And, she said, she doesn’t have extra time.

She’s usually at the family’s restaurant until about 2 a.m. each day, and then making breakfast for her kids by about 8 a.m., before online class begins.

Elisa Yepez Oregel at her home in Dimond Estates Mobile Home Park one October morning, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

She said she’s most afraid of her kids falling behind in school, especially Manuel Isaac who has a speech delay and is in occupational therapy for his motor skills. He often refuses to participate in online lessons, she said, and it’s hard for her to help him because she doesn’t always know what the teacher is saying.

“Sometimes I understand,” she said. “It’s hard for me to explain (to) my son.”

As the school district weighs the contentious issue of when to bring kids back into classrooms in the middle of a pandemic, Superintendent Deena Bishop has said she’s concerned about achievement gaps growing as online school continues. Resources in students' homes, where they’re now spending their school days, are not equal, she said.

“The gap is just widening between the haves and the have nots,” she said.

A $7 day

In the afternoon, Yepez Oregel and her four kids go over to Pedro’s Mexican Grill where her husband has been working since the morning.

The three school-aged kids bring their school-issued laptops and finish their work in the restaurant’s booths. Then they usually watch YouTube videos.

“Being back in school would be better,” said Kasandra, the sixth grader.

It’s not just school that’s straining the family, but also the business.

Yepez Oregel moved to Anchorage from Mexico about seven years ago, and her husband came to Alaska as a teenager. They opened Pedro’s Mexican Grill in 2019, she said, describing it as a long-time dream.

Elisa Yepez Oregel and her husband Manuel Tafoya Ramos juggle their kids’ virtual classes, language barriers, and operating their family’s restaurant Pedro’s Mexican Grill. Photographed October 2020. (Photo by Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

The restaurant is tucked in a small strip mall in East Anchorage between a nail salon and a church. At first, Yepez Oregel said, business was good. But then came the pandemic and restrictions on restaurants.

Even when they could serve customers, when restrictions were lifted, one day they made just $7, she said. They thought about shutting down. They let go of their only two employees.

Then an effort to buy meals from local businesses to feed health care workers helped keep them open.

Elisa Yepez Oregel helps her youngest daughter, Alyssa Valentina, sit at booth at the family’s restaurant as she and her husband, Manuel Tafoya Ramos, work. Photographed October 2020. (Photo by Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

These days, Yepez Oregel said, she and her husband take all of the orders at the restaurant, and do all of the cooking and the cleaning themselves.

“Some days good,” she said. “Some days not good.”

Yepez Oregel said she’s exhausted and worried all the time. She said she knows it’s hard for her kids to focus at the restaurant with the music and customers and phones ringing. But, she said, there’s no extra money for child care.

While she worries about the coronavirus, and it infecting her family, she said she’s still looking forward to her son going back into the classroom next month, under the school district’s plan, and she hopes he hasn’t fallen too far behind.

Originally published by Alaska Public Media and republished with permission.

Trump privately tells donors it’ll be ‘very tough’ for GOP to hold Senate

Sun, 2020-10-25 07:03

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Robeson County Fairgrounds, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Lumberton, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump privately told donors this past week that it will be “very tough” for Republicans to keep control of the Senate in the upcoming election because some of the party’s senators are candidates he cannot support.

“I think the Senate is tough actually. The Senate is very tough,” Trump said at a fundraiser Thursday at the Nashville Marriott, according to an attendee. “There are a couple senators I can’t really get involved in. I just can’t do it. You lose your soul if you do. I can’t help some of them. I don’t want to help some of them.”

The attendee shared the president’s words on the condition of anonymity as the event was a closed-door gathering. It was held before the last presidential debate between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The president - in a sentiment not shared by many of his party’s top officials and strategists - said he instead thinks the Republicans “are going to take back the House.” And many strategists involved in Senate races say the party’s chances at keeping the chamber are undermined by the president’s unscripted, divisive rhetoric and his low poll numbers in key states.

Senate Republicans have known for days that the probability of the party losing control of the upper chamber has increased drastically, with even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pegging his bid to keep power as “50-50” in a recent radio interview. Some strategists say that between Trump’s fumbled response to the pandemic, which has left at least 224,000 Americans dead, his disastrous first debate performance, and the White House’s rash of coronavirus infections, the battlefield continues to shift in favor of the Democrats - and that Trump has not always been helpful.

Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, pushed back on the notion that Trump doesn’t support some Senate Republicans.

“The Republican-led Senate and President Trump have had a great partnership over the last four years, highlighted by the fact the chamber is poised to confirm a third Trump Supreme Count nominee in the coming days,” Hunt said Saturday. “Nancy Pelosi has turned the House into a liberal nightmare and if Chuck Schumer gets control of the Senate, he’ll do the same thing.”

Republicans hold a 53-to-47 majority. Democrats need to gain three seats if Biden wins the presidency to claim Senate control.

Initially, Republicans had broken down their map into two tiers. Their front line most vulnerable members are Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Democrats and Republicans recently cut spending in Colorado, considered a likely win for former Democratic governor John Hickenlooper.

The second line, which Republicans used to refer to as their “firewall,” is Sens. Joni Ernst in Iowa, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Georgia, and Steve Daines in Montana.

But even the GOP’s “firewall” has started to crumble, with Republicans all but sure that they’ll be competing to win runoffs in Georgia in January, for example. Additionally, Republicans suddenly find themselves scrambling to save once safe seats, including top Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is being vastly outraised by Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison. Graham is still expected to win, according to South Carolina political observers.

The Republican Party’s donors have rallied in some places to try to save the Senate, fearful of a Democratic Party that controls the House, Senate and White House.

“Donors are increasingly alarmed that we might lose the Senate,” said Dan Eberhart, a donor who has given to an array of candidates over the years.

With Democrats vastly outraising their GOP incumbents across the nation, it seems an increasingly tough battle for Republicans. Even a late-breaking scandal enveloping one Democratic candidate, Cal Cunningham, has not doomed his candidacy; most North Carolina voters view the seat as the tipping point for Senate control.

Earlier this month, Cunningham acknowledged sending sexually suggestive texts to a woman who was not his wife. A second report revealing infidelity by the Iraq War veteran, who has held himself up as a moral leader, has taken a toll on his personal favorability ratings.

Trump expressed optimism for Tillis’s chances in North Carolina.

“I think Tillis is getting back in this one because his opponent ended up having more affairs than you’re allowed to have at one time,” Trump said.

Trump also said he was pleased with Tommy Tuberville’s chances in Alabama against Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat. Republicans and Democrats expect the Republican to win the seat in the GOP-leaning state.

“We’re going to take Alabama. We got rid of Jeff Sessions. Thank goodness. He was the worst. I would have gone for the Democrat over him. That wouldn’t have been too good,” Trump said, before shifting to his mock TV anchor voice. “The president has just endorsed a Democrat.”

He never named Tuberville and indicated he did not know a lot about him, focusing on his football history. Tuberville has been the head coach at the University of Mississippi, Auburn, Texas Tech and the University of Cincinnati.

“You have a really good coach, a really great coach actually. Urban Meyer said not only would he be a good politician, he was a great coach. He’s the only one who beat Urban Meyer twice. That’s pretty good. We should call him sometime soon.”

Meyer also has had a long career in college football and was head coach at Ohio State.

Trump said he has been “working and calling and tweeting” for some members. Some senators have increasingly distanced themselves from Trump and his incendiary rhetoric in recent weeks.

McSally recently was evasive at a debate when she was asked about whether she is proud of her support for Trump. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, offered muted criticism of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying he “let his guard down” and “got out over his skis” by playing down the threat of the coronavirus.

The harshest criticism came from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who in a call with constituents said Trump mistreats women, flirts with White supremacy and secretly mocks evangelicals. In response, Trump lashed out at Sasse.

Not a single House Republican is predicting the party will gain seats Nov. 3. Rather, the House GOP conference is bracing for a possible internal fight over leadership if they lose seats to Democrats. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in a recent Politico interview, tried to suggest that it wouldn’t be his fault if Pelosi, D-Calif., the House speaker, were able to expand her majority. Other lawmakers are privately discussing whether someone should challenge McCarthy for failing to distinguish House Republicans from the top of the ticket.

At the fundraiser, Trump lamented that he could not send federal forces into some of the cities that were racked by violence and protests this summer.

“Unless it’s a strict emergency, we’re not allowed to go in. We’re going to find more and more emergencies,” Trump said.

Trump also bashed the news media, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the House Intelligence Committee chairman who led the impeachment investigation of Trump, and the obsession from some Democrats with discussing Russian disinformation - comments that closely aligned with what he has said recently at public rallies.

There were no tough questions, the attendee said. Trump was lavishly praised by those present for his work on the coronavirus pandemic, and his effort taking on the “medical swamp,” in the words of one guest.

Tickets for the private fundraiser went for up to $250,000.

Biden relies on circumstantial evidence to blame Russia for release of data from what is said to be his son’s laptop

Sun, 2020-10-25 06:58

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden takes his face mask off as he arrives to speak about coronavirus at The Queen theater, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)

Joe Biden leaned heavily on a letter from former U.S. intelligence and defense officials in Thursday night’s debate to argue that Russia orchestrated a disinformation operation allegedly involving damaging information obtained from his son’s laptop that was promulgated by President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

“There are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what he’s accusing me of is a Russian plant,” Biden said at the debate. The former vice president said those former officials had concluded that what Trump was saying about his son was “a bunch of garbage.”

But the former intelligence and defense officials who penned the letter explicitly said they had no evidence of Russian involvement, noting only that Giuliani had been the target of Russian spies and their experience made them “deeply suspicious” that the Russian government played a role.

The Biden campaign’s decision to lean into accusations of Russian involvement in the episode, despite lacking specific proof, risks eroding public trust in U.S. allegations of foreign election interference if the suspicions in this case turn out to be unfounded, according to intelligence and foreign policy experts. Trump already has undermined such trust by casting doubt on proved Russian interference on his behalf during the 2016 campaign and denigrating U.S. intelligence officials.

“Biden is holding himself to a higher standard than Trump. Then we should hold Biden to a higher standard as well,” said Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of a book on the history of disinformation and political warfare. “And that means acknowledging in this case that we just don’t have the evidence.”

The Biden campaign’s assertion of Russian involvement in the Hunter Biden leaks comes as the Democratic nominee campaigns on restoring truth and transparency to the U.S. government.

Trump’s director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, said publicly that there is no intelligence to support allegations that the leak of materials related to Hunter Biden was “part of a Russian disinformation campaign.”

But Ratcliffe’s statement was interpreted broadly as a partisan gesture designed to bolster a disinformation campaign being launched directly by Trump’s allies, rather than a formal assessment from the U.S. intelligence community.

There are also indications that the Trump administration has sought to downplay the threat of Russian interference in the campaign. A senior Department of Homeland Security official said in September that he was told to stop providing intelligence reports on the Russian threat, in part because it “made the President look bad.”

“The problem of the situation we are currently in is that we have an absence of credible individuals within the intelligence community,” said Susan Hennessey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former attorney for the National Security Agency. “There is no one who can say, in a credible manner, either there is intelligence to support this claim that this is Russian disinformation or there is no information to support that claim.”

The Biden campaign has defended the former vice president’s accusation of Russian involvement in the episode by pointing to circumstantial evidence and Russia’s track record of such behavior, including in this election cycle.

“It has long been indisputable that Russia is actively interfering in our election to denigrate Vice President Biden and help President Trump,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden campaign. He said the letter states “the most recent smears bear all the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation campaign.”Bates added: “We know who is behind this, and it is the same hostile foreign power whose assistance Donald Trump has repeatedly courted while giving them impunity for placing bounties on the heads of American service members.”

Giuliani claims he retrieved the materials he gave to the New York Post from liquid-damaged laptops Hunter Biden had dropped off at a Delaware computer shop in April of 2019 and failed to retrieve.

U.S. intelligence officials warned the White House late last year that Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence operation. The former New York mayor and confidante of the president has met multiple times with a Ukrainian lawmaker whom the U.S. government sanctioned in September for being an “active Russian agent for more than a decade.”

That lawmaker, Andrii Derkach, had been undertaking what the U.S. Treasury described as a foreign influence operation; he had been leaking tapes of Biden conducting diplomacy with Ukraine’s leadership to impugn the Democratic nominee’s integrity ahead of the Nov. 3 vote. Derkach, who attended the Dzerzhinsky Higher School of the KGB, has denied acting as a foreign agent for Russia.

In August, National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said in a statement: “We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’”

In an interview, Lev Parnas, who functioned as Giuliani’s fixer in Ukraine last year, also said he attended a lunch at which Giuliani was told Ukrainians and Russians possessed compromising materials regarding Hunter Biden. Parnas said Giuliani expressed interest in the material, but Parnas didn’t see it, doesn’t know if it existed and doesn’t know if Giuliani ever obtained it. Parnas’s claim was first reported by Politico.

When asked if he would accept dirt on his opponents from foreigners last year, Trump said he would take it, and that has bolstered doubts about the provenance of the material his lawyer has released on the eve of the election.

“Donald Trump can thank himself for why people won’t take this seriously,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who is not working on Biden’s campaign. Trippi said the Biden’s campaign tactic, to remain largely silent, makes political sense. “It’s crazy to do anything to fuel the insanity.”

The Biden campaign has, with a few exceptions, refused to engage on the substance of the leaked material, declining to deny or corroborate alleged emails excerpted in the New York Post, because they believe that would elevate the disinformation operation.

Hunter Biden’s lawyer has also declined to say whether his client dropped off laptops with the Delaware computer repairman who Giuliani said he retrieved the materials from. The computer repairman, for his part, has declined to say how he connected with Giuliani.

The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify the emails. The Post has on multiple occasions asked Giuliani and Trump’s former top adviser, Stephen Bannon, for copies of what they allege is Hunter Biden’s hard drive but has received no response.

During a heated exchange in Thursday’s debate, Biden, in his first extended remarks on the topic, said he has been told the episode is a “Russian plan.”

“You mean the laptop is now another Russia, Russia, Russia hoax?” Trump replied.

“That’s exactly what - that is exactly we’ve been told,” Biden replied.

Biden’s campaign said later that the former vice president was referring to the letter signed by 50 former members of the intelligence community that said the episode “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

Five former directors or acting directors of the CIA signed the letter, including Michael Hayden, who led the agency under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Leon Panetta, who was both CIA director and secretary of defense during the Obama administration.

The former intelligence officials said a number of factors led them to conclude there was Kremlin involvement. They said such a “laptop” operation would be consistent with Russian objectives, methods and tradecraft, and they also pointed out that Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence operations and had obtained materials from Derkach. A Ukrainian gas firm that placed Hunter Biden on its board, they added, was allegedly hacked by Russian intelligence.

Still, the former officials cautioned: “We do not have evidence of Russian involvement.”

Hennessey said given that he is not currently the president, Biden is free to come to whatever conclusions he wants based on the publicly available evidence. But she urged caution generally when attributing a disinformation operation to a foreign power.

“When we think about it from the perspective of restoring U.S. faith in the findings of the U.S. intelligence community and informing the public - from that perspective, we want to be extraordinarily cautious, never get ahead of the evidence and be restrained,” she said.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

Biden 2020. Make the presidency boring again.

Sun, 2020-10-25 06:53

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a drive-in campaign stop at Bucks County Community College in Bristol, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)

Allow me, please, a point of personal privilege.

Folks keep telling me how easy Donald Trump has made my job. For four years, I’ve had these discussions where we ruminate on the singular awfulness of that man and then the other person says, by way of consolation, “At least you never have to worry about finding something to write about.”

I wish it were that simple. As a columnist, I’ve always tried to mix things up, move week to week from righteous outrage to snarky sarcasm to deadline poetry to stark analysis to the occasional oddball humor. Way back in the day — pre-2016, that is — I thought I did a decent job of that. Of course, back then, the presidency was not a constant source of dyspepsia. Rather, it was something you could safely ignore for days on end. Yes, it sometimes produced moments of high drama (and low comedy) that demanded your attention, but for long stretches, you could get away without thinking or — more to my point — without writing about it.

Then came Trump. He is Teapot Dome wrapped around Watergate, drizzled with Iran-Contra, stuffed inside a stained blue dress, set afire and left on your doormat. Every. Single. Day. And soon, every single column begins to feel like the same expression of gobsmacked dismay.

You find yourself drowning in his effluvium. There is simply so much stuff — we’re talking major stuff, stuff that would define and destroy any normal presidency in any normal era — that you can’t begin to keep up. The list of crazy things Trump has done that I never found space to comment on is long and appalling. But on the other hand, what’s left to say? There are only so many synonyms for “corrupt,” “narcissistic” and “stupid.”

For the record, then, no, Trump has made my job not easier, but more difficult. And four years of him have left me drained. Which is why I’m here to do something I’ve never done in the 26 years — spanning six presidential elections — I’ve had this platform. I’m here to endorse a candidate.

It’s Joe Biden, in case you hadn’t guessed.

Not that my political leanings will shock you. But I’ve never explicitly endorsed a candidate because I’ve never felt that was my job. Unlike, say, Sean Hannity, I don’t believe a pundit campaigns for a politician. Rather, he’s there to call the proverbial balls and strikes. That doesn’t mean you don’t have opinions — having opinions is pretty much what they pay you for. But it does mean you’re fair. It does mean you hold everyone to the same standard and you’re willing to criticize those who need criticizing even if — especially if — they’re on your “side.”

That’s why, when the situation demanded, I smacked Bill Clinton with everything, including the kitchen sink. It’s why I dinged Barack Obama a few times. It’s why, once or twice, I even defended George W. Bush. I expect to treat Biden the same if he is elected. You won’t see his sign in my yard; I remain leery of being too deep in any politician’s pocket. But, I do offer him my first — and, I hope, only — endorsement, for whatever it’s worth.

He’s a better human being than Trump (it’d be hard to be worse), but that’s not why.

He’d be a better president than Trump (so would Homer Simpson), but that’s not why.

He has better ideas than Trump (which is to say, he has ideas), but that’s also not why.

No, I am abandoning a 26-year principle for purely selfish reasons. I want you to vote Biden because I want to go four days without saying, “What the hell . . . ?” And because I’m tired. You probably are, too.

So yeah, Biden 2020. Make the presidency boring again.

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

Pence chief of staff, other advisers test positive for coronavirus

Sun, 2020-10-25 06:46

FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 16, 2019 file photo, Marc Short, chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, speaks with reporters at the White House in Washington. Vice President Mike Pence will maintain an aggressive campaign schedule this week the White House said Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020 despite his exposure to Marc Short, his chief of staff who tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) (Alex Brandon/)

WASHINGTON - A fresh coronavirus outbreak in the White House has infected two of Vice President Mike Pence’s top advisers and a third person who is on his staff, officials said late Saturday night, though officials said Pence tested negative and plans to continue his heavy schedule of campaign travel.

Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff, who is among the administration’s fiercest skeptics of coronavirus restrictions, tested positive for the novel coronavirus Saturday afternoon, has experienced symptoms and has begun isolation, officials said.

Marty Obst, one of Pence’s top outside political advisers who has traveled with the vice president in recent days, tested positive for the virus earlier this week, according to two officials familiar with his diagnosis.

A third person in Pence’s circle, a member of the vice president’s staff, has also tested positive, according to one of the officials. The White House has not disclosed that staffer’s name.

Both Pence and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for the coronavirus Saturday, and the vice president is continuing his travel schedule of campaign events, according to Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley. Pence released a schedule late Saturday that indicates he will travel to North Carolina on Sunday.

“Today, Marc Short, Chief of Staff to the Vice President, tested positive for COVID-19, began quarantine and assisting in the contact tracing process,” O’Malley said in a statement. “Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence both tested negative for COVID-19 today, and remain in good health.”

O’Malley added: “While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.”

Short has traveled extensively with Pence and has been in close contact with his boss, and he has regularly been seen without a mask. Pence aides did not immediately respond to questions about when Short and Pence were last in contact. Short was at work Friday and told colleagues there would be aggressive travel in the days leading up to the election, though he will now probably be isolating through Election Day.

On Saturday, Short was said to have been experiencing symptoms, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private matter.

Short declined to comment.

Obst helps manage Pence’s political affairs from outside the government and recently traveled with the vice president aboard Air Force Two. He was also in close contact recently with Short.

Obst tested positive for the virus earlier this week, but the White House did not disclose his infection at the time, according to an official with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private matter.

Obst’s infection was first reported Saturday evening by Bloomberg News. Obst did not respond to a request for comment.

As the vice president’s chief of staff, Short has played a lead role on the White House coronavirus task force, which Pence chairs, and has been one of the more skeptical voices inside the West Wing about the threat of the virus. He has advocated against shutdowns and other restrictive measures that public health officials say are necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

Pence argued this summer in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that there would not be a “second wave” of the virus.

One of the vice president’s top staffers, Olivia Troye, who was on the coronavirus task force, quit the administration and said last month that she would support Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden because of the Trump administration’s handling of the virus.

She alleged that White House officials, including the vice president’s office, have downplayed the threat of the virus and overtly politicized the government’s pandemic response.

Surging coronavirus colors White House race in closing days

Sat, 2020-10-24 20:27

A vehicle decorated with signs in support of Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden drives on State Route 309 amidst a Trump rally ahead of a visit from Biden to Dallas High School in Dallas, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Sean McKeag/The Citizens' Voice via AP) (Sean McKeag/)

WAUKESHA, Wis. — President Donald Trump assured supporters packed shoulder to shoulder at a trio of rallies Saturday that “we’re rounding the turn” on the coronavirus — despite spiking cases — and mocked challenger Joe Biden for raising alarms about the pandemic. Meanwhile, Biden bemoaned to a smaller gathering the need to campaign at a distance but said he understood the public health reasons behind it.

With coronavirus infections reaching their highest peak of the pandemic just as the election headed into the home stretch, Trump and Biden took starkly different approaches to the public health crisis in appealing for votes in battleground states.

Underscoring that difference, Vice President Mike Pence’s office announced he would continue with his aggressive campaign schedule after his chief of staff, Marc Short, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday — even though Pence is considered a “close contact” under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley said Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, both tested negative for the virus on Saturday “and remain in good health.”

“We don’t want to become superspreaders,” Biden told supporters at a “drive-in” rally Saturday in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, picking up a term that has been used to describe the Rose Garden event in late September in which Trump announced his latest Supreme Court nominee. More than two dozen people linked to the White House have contracted COVID-19 since that gathering, as have campaign aides.

The former vice president pressed his case that Trump was showing dangerous indifference to the surging virus on a day he looked to boost his candidacy with the star power of rock legend Jon Bon Jovi, who performed before Biden took the stage at a second drive-in rally in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

Jill Biden delivers remarks during a drive-in event for her husband, presidential nominee Joe Biden, at Dallas High School in Dallas, Pa. Jon Bon Jovi took part in the event. (Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman)
President Donald Trump dances to the song "YMCA" after speaking at a campaign rally at the Waukesha County Airport Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Waukesha, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) (Morry Gash/)

Meanwhile, in Lumberton, North Carolina, his tongue firmly in cheek, Trump called Biden “an inspiring guy” for raising alarm about the pandemic. The president said that he watched Biden’s Bucks County rally as he flew to North Carolina and sarcastically observed that it appeared attendees, who were in their cars, weren’t properly socially distancing.

Trump at his rallies repeatedly criticized the news media for focusing on the virus, which has killed about 224,000 people in the United States and more than 1 million across the globe.

“It’s always cases, cases, cases. They don’t talk about deaths,” Trump complained to a crowd of several thousand at an outdoor rally in Circleville Ohio, where few wore masks even as they stood and sat shoulder to shoulder. “They’re trying to scare everybody,” he said.

Earlier, at a rally in North Carolina, Trump questioned the value of testing, taking a stance in opposition to public health experts across the globe.

“You know why we have cases?” Trump asked. “'Cause we test so much. And in many ways, it’s good. And in many ways, it’s foolish. In many ways, OK? In many ways it’s very foolish.”

The rise in coronavirus cases is an ominous sign the disease still has a firm grip on the nation that has more confirmed virus-related deaths and infections than any other in the world. Many states say hospitals are running out of space in areas where the pandemic seemed remote only months ago. And in addition to the spike in cases, in many parts of the country, the percentage of people who are testing positive for COVID-19 is up as well.

Trump went further, pushing a conspiracy theory that hospitals are over-classifying coronavirus deaths because “doctors get more money and hospitals get more money” — even though there is no evidence of that and experts say the count is likely under-reported.

The U.S. and its reporting systems, “Are really not doing it right,” he claimed. “They have things a little bit backwards.”

As he dug in on his defense on the panic, Trump also criticized Biden for saying that the country was headed for a “dark winter” because of the pandemic — the scenario of a surge in infections that health experts have warned about for months.

“I thought Sleepy Joe was very dark,” he told his biggest crowd of the day at a night-time rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “How dark was that? How horrible was that?” he asked.

A record of more than 83,000 infections were reported on Friday alone.

Trump supporter Yuko Matsuoka, of Tokyo, Japan, yells "Four more years," during a gathering of hundreds of Trump supporters at the intersection of State Route 309 and Hildebrant Road in Dallas, Pa., ahead of a visit from Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden to Dallas High School Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Sean McKeag/The Citizens' Voice via AP) (Sean McKeag/)
Supporters listen to former vice president Joe Biden during a drive-in event at Dallas High School in Dallas, Pa. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman

Biden in his stop in Luzerne reminded supporters that Trump had suggested the COVID-19 mortality rate was lower outside predominantly Democratic states.

“Where does this guy come from?” Biden said.

The president has repeatedly accused Biden and other Democrats of pushing measures that are worse than the coronavirus itself by advocating for social distancing and limits on gatherings that Trump says wreak havoc on the economy.

Biden, in an interview with Pod Save America aired Saturday, said his first priority was to “get control of the virus” because the economy can’t move forward without stemming the disease.

“As I said before, I will shut down the virus, not the economy,” Biden said in Bucks County. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time, and build back better than before.”

Trump, who spent Friday night at his private Mar-a-Lago club after campaigning in Florida, visited an early voting polling site set up at a local public library to cast his own ballot Saturday morning. The president last year switched his official residence from New York to Florida, complaining that New York politicians had treated him badly.

Greeted at the polling site by a crowd of cheering supporters, Trump opted to vote in person rather than by mail. He wore a mask inside, following local rules to mitigate the spread of the virus. He later said that he voted for “a guy named Trump” and that a poll worker asked him identification. The president said he used his passport.

Biden hasn’t voted but is likely to do so in person on Election Day, Nov. 3, as Delaware doesn’t offer early voting. Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims of massive fraud about mail-in voting, gave another plug to in-person voting.

“When you send in your ballot it could never be like that. It could never be secure like that,” Trump said.

Biden’s focus on Pennsylvania, one of the election’s most competitive battleground states, highlights the decisive role it could play Nov. 3. Bucks County is part of suburban Philadelphia, which Democrat Hillary Clinton won by a slim margin in the 2016 White House race. Biden hosted another rally later Saturday in Luzerne County, a blue-collar area that twice voted for Barack Obama but went overwhelmingly for Trump four years ago.

Biden’s was joined by rock star Bon Jovi, a native of neighboring New Jersey who as a child spent summers with grandparents in Erie, Pennsylvania.

More than 54 million votes have already been cast, with an additional 100 million or so expected before a winner is declared.


Weissert reported from Dallas, Pennsylvania, and Madhani from Washington.

Musician Jon Bon Jovi performs at a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at Dallas High School in Dallas, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)
Trump supporters gather at the interesection of State Route 309 and Hildebrant Road in Dallas, Pa., ahead of a visit from Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden to Dallas High School Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Sean McKeag/The Citizens' Voice via AP) (Sean McKeag/)

Pence plans to keep up campaign travel despite exposure to infected chief of staff

Sat, 2020-10-24 20:15

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to supporters Saturday Oct. 24, 2020 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) (Steve Cannon/)

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence plans to maintain an aggressive campaign schedule this week despite his exposure to a top aide who tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House said Saturday.

Pence himself tested negative, his office said. Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria, the vice president is considered a “close contact” of his chief of staff, Marc Short, but will not quarantine, said spokesman Devin O’Malley.

O’Malley said Pence decided to maintain his travel schedule “in consultation with the White House Medical Unit” and “in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.” Those guidelines require that essential workers exposed to someone with the coronavirus closely monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and wear a mask whenever around other people.

O’Malley said Pence and his wife, Karen, both tested negative on Saturday “and remain in good health.”

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, called Pence’s decision to travel “grossly negligent” regardless of the stated justification that Pence is an essential worker.

“It’s just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response,” she said. “I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally” and the people on Pence’s own staff who will accompany him.

“He needs to be staying home 14 days,” she added. “Campaign events are not essential.”

After a day of campaigning in Florida on Saturday, Pence was seen wearing a mask as he returned to Washington aboard Air Force Two shortly after the news of Short’s diagnosis was made public. He is scheduled to hold a rally on Sunday afternoon in Kinston, NC.

Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force since late February, has repeatedly found himself in an uncomfortable position balancing political concerns with the administration’s handling the pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans. The vice president has advocated mask-wearing and social distancing, but often does not wear one himself and holds large political events where many people do not wear face-coverings.

By virtue of his position as vice president, Pence is considered an essential worker. The White House did not address how Pence’s political activities amounted to essential work.

Short’s diagnosis comes weeks after the coronavirus spread through the White House, infecting President Donald Trump, the first lady, and two dozen other aides, staffers and allies.

Short, Pence’s top aide and one of his closest confidants, did not travel with the vice president on Saturday.

Pence’s handling of his exposure to a confirmed positive case stands in contrast to how Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris responded when a close aide and a member of her campaign plane’s charter crew tested positive for the virus earlier this month. She took several days off the campaign trail citing her desire to act out of an abundance of caution.