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Adam Bartlett, ‘Out Of Nowhere’

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:44

While waiting until his band Hot Club of Nunaka can get back together, Adam Bartlett made it his quarantine project to film his lively guitar solos.

Swing music being his genre of choice, you can watch more of Bartlett’s videos on his YouTube channel.

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Johnny B., ‘Place Called Home’

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:42

A Homer-based composer and instrumentalist, Johnny B. spent his time social distancing thinking about the concept of home.

“Place Called Home” is a piano solo layered with images of Homer.

For more videos, visit his YouTube page or check out his website.

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Natalie & Tim Tucker, ‘Home Away Now’

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:41

Natalie & Tim Tucker, a Palmer-based singing duo, wrote “Home Away Now" in March, about two weeks into the shut down.

Natalie Tucker is a lifelong Alaskan who has been performing since the 1970s. Tim Tucker has performed at many Alaskan entertainment venues, including the 3 Barons Renaissance Fair, Perseverance Theater and Cyrano’s Theatre Company.

The husband-wife duo has been performing together for the last eight years and were even showcased on the cable TV show “Buying Alaska”.

For other songs and performances, you can visit the pair’s Youtube channel.

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Ben Balivet, ‘Quarantine Blues’

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:39

Written by Ben Balivet, who is on vocals and guitar, “Quarantine Blues” is a dynamic, energetic song capturing the woes of quarantine and reminiscing on what life was like before.

Ryan Conlon is on bass and vocals, Irik Clawsen is on the cajon and Jason Agre is on the bongos.

For updates about the group, go to their Facebook page or check out songwriter Ben Balivet’s website.

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Folk Medicine, ‘Don’t Hide Your Way of Love’

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:37
Folk Medicine performs “Don't Hide Your Way of Love” (Folk Medicine)

A four-member group of dads, friends and neighbors, Folk Medicine formed in 2018 to perform at the Anchorage Folk Festival. The group enjoyed the experience performing together so much that they continued playing across Anchorage.

When COIVD-19 hit Alaska, Folk Medicine began recording a collection of songs while social distancing — a process that proved challenging and rewarding, band member Erik Jackson said.

“The group has been moved by the creativity that is emerging from the community, and the world at large, in these uncertain times,” he said.

To learn more about Folk Medicine, you can visit their Facebook or find them @folkmedicineband on Instagram.

[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.]

Johnathan Bower, ‘John Prine’

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:36
Jonathan Bower performs "John Prine" (Jonathan Bower)

When he’s not busy driving his children around town, Johnathan Bower said on his website, he spends his time writing and performing music.

This song is an acoustic version of the original from his album “Light Years” and honors the “recently departed and much adored songwriting legend” Bower said.

To learn more about Bower and his music, you can visit his website or find him on Spotify and iTunes.

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Pikal, ‘Mercury’

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:34
Pikal performs "Mercury" (Pikal)

Anchorage power pop band Pikal filmed a social distanced rendition of their original song “Mercury” off their fifth album “Music for Girls”.

Each band member filmed themselves separately and the final product is the individual clips edited together to “form this masterpiece of isolation rock,” according to lead guitarist Michael Holtz.

Pikal was created in 1994 by songwriter Rick Kinsey who does vocals and plays guitar for the five-member pop rock band. Nina Brudie is on vocals and flute, Jason Burdette is on bass and Danny Reeves is on drums.

The band has released five albums over the last 26 years and has opened for national acts including The Violent Femmes, The Posies, Grouplove, Pond and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Pikal was also recently invited to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the International POP Overthrow Festival.

To hear sample’s of Pikal’s music, visit their Bandcamp page or their YouTube channel. You can also check them out on Facebook.

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Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, ‘Alaska’s Flag’

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:33

The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra performed the state’s song “Alaska’s Flag” for its first virtual performance during COVID-19.

With hundreds of pieces to consider, the state’s song was the obvious choice, according to marketing and public relations director Jennifer Cargile.

To listen to the symphony’s free, virtual season finale you can visit their website.

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Arthur Welsh, “summerstart (backyeard)”

Tue, 2020-05-26 23:33

Arthur Welsh is a 2017 graduate of South High and is now attending Oberlin College in Ohio as a double major in Jazz Piano and Mathematics. Check out his YouTube page for more on what he’s been up to musically at Oberlin.

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Trump, who spent Memorial Day without a face mask, shares tweet criticizing Biden for wearing one

Tue, 2020-05-26 21:41

Hours after President Donald Trump was spotted Monday partaking in public Memorial Day remembrances without a face mask, he hopped on Twitter to retweet a Fox News commentator criticizing former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, for wearing one.

"This might help explain why Trump doesn't like to wear a mask in public," Brit Hume, Fox News's senior political analyst tweeted Monday evening, sharing a picture of Biden at a Delaware veterans memorial earlier that day. In the photo, which documents Biden's first public appearance since mid-March, most of the 77-year-old's face is obscured by a black mask and a pair of aviator sunglasses.

Hume's tweet sparked instant backlash from a number of critics on the left. By early Tuesday, Hume was still trending on Twitter as detractors questioned whether he valued Biden looking "cool" more than encouraging efforts to slow the spread of the potentially deadly novel coronavirus that has now killed more than 97,000 Americans.

Trump, however, appeared unbothered by the outcry and shared the tweet to his 80.2 million followers Monday night.

Trump's retweet came at the end of a holiday weekend defined by dueling optics. As officials urged social distancing and the number of reported covid-19 deaths in the U.S. crept closer to 100,000, viral photos and videos emerged showing beaches, pool parties and raceways packed with crowds raucously celebrating the long weekend.

But the contrasting approaches to Memorial Day appeared most obvious in the actions of the nation’s leaders — the president and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee — as they paid public tributes on Monday to lives lost in past wars.

Trump, who has largely steered clear of being seen in public and at the White House wearing a mask, was barefaced as he participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and while speaking later at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. At Arlington, Trump was joined by first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Mark Esper — all of whom were seen without masks.

Meanwhile, Biden and his wife, both wearing black masks, left their neighborhood for the first time in more than two months to lay a wreath at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veteran's Memorial Park. Members of Biden's staff and security detail also sported face coverings during Monday's outing.

For many, the conflicting images of Trump and Biden marked yet another flash point in the ongoing culture war over the practice of wearing masks, which has become widely politicized as Republicans and Democrats have clashed over how to reopen the country amid the pandemic. Protests and incidents of violence have grown nationwide as some call orders mandating face coverings government overreach.

A handful of Republican leaders, meanwhile, including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, have implored their constituents to not view the face coverings as political statements, but rather as a necessary tool to help contain the virus.

“I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they’re creating a divide — either it’s ideological or political or something - around mask versus no mask,” Burgum said at a news conference Friday.

During a Sunday appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," DeWine stressed that what people do now "directly impacts others."

"This is not about politics," he said.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Tuesday defended Trump's tweet, maintaining that the president was "not shaming anyone." She also said Biden's decision to wear a mask on Memorial Day "didn't strike [Trump] as a very data-driven decision" and questioned why the former vice president wasn't wearing a mask in recent videos that showed him speaking inside his home next to his wife, Jill Biden.

"It is a bit peculiar, though, that in his basement right next to his wife, he's not wearing a mask, but he's wearing one on wear outdoors when he's socially distant," McEnany said of Biden. "So I think that there was a discrepancy there."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that Americans wear face coverings while in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus. "Keep the covering on your face the entire time you're in public," the CDC's guidelines state.

On Monday, Hume and Trump were at the center of the escalating debate about masks.

Critics went after the pair for calling out Biden while simultaneously praising the former vice president's decision to adhere to official health guidelines.

"Presidents lead by example, and wearing a mask helps protect others," TJ Ducklo, a Biden campaign spokesman, told The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan. "Donald Trump should try it, because his failure to act early on producing [personal protective equipment], on ramping up testing, and implementing a coherent national response to this crisis has cost thousands of Americans their lives."

Ronald Klain, an adviser to Biden, hit back at Hume on Twitter with a nearly identical message.

"A President takes measures to protect others. That's what a mask does," Klain tweeted.

"That's what a competent President would have done, months ago: on testing, on PPE, on social distancing," he continued. "And many fewer Americans would be grieving today."

As the reactions poured in Monday, Hume doubled down on his criticism of Biden, writing incorrectly that the Bidens had gone to a cemetery and suggesting that the masks were largely for show.

"Uh, he was visiting a cemetery and had been in quarantine for weeks," Hume tweeted in response to one critic. "The video showed no one within six feet of him beside his wife. So what was the mask for, other than to virtue signal?"

In another tweet, Hume wrote, that Biden "got you to think he was showing concern, so I guess the mask served it purpose."

Much like his original tweet, Hume’s responses were heavily ratioed as detractors pointed out inconsistencies in his argument. For instance, several people noted that Biden was seen Monday coming within six feet of his security.

Trump reiterates conspiracy theory about woman’s death, ignoring widower’s plea for peace

Tue, 2020-05-26 21:27

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2017, file photo, MSNBC television anchor Joe Scarborough takes questions from an audience at forum at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. The husband of a woman who died accidentally in an office of then-GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough two decades ago is demanding that Twitter remove President Donald Trump’s tweets suggesting Scarborough murdered her. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) (Steven Senne/)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and the White House on Tuesday continued to promote a baseless conspiracy theory about a woman’s 2001 death, ignoring her grieving widower’s plea for peace and putting renewed pressure on social media companies about the president’s use of their platforms.

Twitter issued a public apology to the family of Lori Klausutis, whose death Trump has repeatedly weaponized to attack MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. But the social media company rejected a request from her widower, Timothy Klausutis, to delete Trump's conspiracy-laden tweets accusing Scarborough of a debunked murder plot, saying Lori Klausutis "deserves better."

"We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family," Twitter said Tuesday. "We've been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly."

Later Tuesday, Twitter for the first time added labels to two Trump tweets that included misinformation about voter fraud, directing the president's 80 million followers to "Get the facts" about the president's false claims. The company did not take similar action against Trump's tweets about Klausutis' death.

Tuesday’s events reflected the pressure on Twitter and other social media companies to take responsibility for the false and misleading content they allow users to publish — a politically dicey proposition when one of the most prominent purveyors of such material is the president of the United States. Twitter, in resisting Klausutis’ request and doing nothing about the president’s tweets about the death of Lori Klausutis, effectively signaled that it was not applying the same standards to Trump that it does to average users - even as it puts a fact-checking label on his tweets, the first time the company has done so for a world leader.

Trump lashed out about the fact checks Tuesday evening on Twitter, accusing the company of stifling free speech and interfering in the upcoming presidential election.

Trump and his allies often complain that social media companies have an anti-conservative bias, putting political pressure on tech giants that are already facing scrutiny in Washington in areas such as antitrust.

Trump threatened earlier this month to take unspecified actions against tech companies, claiming without evidence that they are breaking the law.

"The Radical Left is in total command & control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google," Trump tweeted on May 16. "The Administration is working to remedy this illegal situation. Stay tuned, and send names & events."

The Wall Street Journal later reported that the White House is considering establishing a panel to review complaints of bias against conservatives.

Neither Trump nor his aides expressed remorse Tuesday about the president dragging Lori Klausutis into his feud with Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, despite her husband's plea.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Timothy Klausutis wrote last week in a letter to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey. “My wife deserves better.”

Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Twitter should take down Trump's tweets.

"When things are patently not true they should say so," he said during an interview with CNN.

Republican lawmakers largely remained silent.

Trump continued pushing the debunked theory, and the White House press secretary and the Trump campaign joined the fray Tuesday to amplify the allegation. Online, Trump supporters set themselves on a mission to defend the president and validate his accusation.

"It's certainly a very suspicious situation, very sad, very sad and very suspicious," Trump told reporters at a White House event Tuesday. "And I hope somebody gets to the bottom of it; it would be a very good thing. As you know, there's no statute of limitations. So it would be a very good thing to do."

Scarborough is one of dozens of critics Trump has taken to Twitter to accuse of crimes. Trump's stream of baseless allegations, misinformation and pseudoscience has intensified in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic death count has risen, sparking renewed calls for social media platforms to take action.

While the president's accusations can be seen as an attempt to distract from the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic, they also misuse the presidential bully pulpit at a time when it is sorely needed for public safety, said Max Skidmore, a political science professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City who wrote a book on presidential responses to pandemics.

"He has no concern of whether what he's saying true - only whether it works" politically, he said. "It's outrageous."

Social media platforms have grappled with how to handle Trump's incendiary approach to public discourse.

On many occasions, Trump's posts have crossed the line of social media company policies, but the companies have largely steered clear of censoring his commentary. Decisions to leave up Trump's comments have sparked criticism that the firms are coming up with arbitrary policies on the fly.

Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have long held posts from world leaders to a different standard because they considered them newsworthy. That so-called "newsworthiness exemption" - in which the company allows content by public figures that break its policies - has repeatedly come under fire during the Trump presidency.

In 2018, Dorsey said he was reconsidering Twitter's exception for political figures, acknowledging that the speech of powerful people can sometimes cause greater harm than everyday users and that perhaps they should be held to a higher standard rather than a lower one.

Last year, The Washington Post first reported that Twitter planned to start labeling world leaders' tweets that violate its policies, keeping the comments on its site because of their news value.

The company announced its first such warning labels on Trump's tweets Tuesday, adding fact-checks to two of his posts alleging widespread voter fraud.

During the pandemic, Twitter and other technology companies have said they will act more aggressively than ever before to combat misinformation. Twitter revised its terms of service to say it would remove posts by anyone, even world leaders, if such posts went "against guidance from authoritative sources of global and public health information."

For the first time, Twitter removed tweets by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, saying t their March comments about breaking social distancing orders and touting false cures had such potential for harm that they warranted action beyond labeling. The shift marked a significant reversal for a company that previously had taken a hands-off approach to misinformation.

In May, Twitter rolled out a new policy saying it would label or provide warning messages about coronavirus-related misinformation, even when that information did not directly contradict health authorities. The company said it may expand the labels to other issues, such as other types of health-related hoaxes or other situations in which there is a risk of harm.

Trump's posts about Klausutis' death did not directly relate to the coronavirus, complicating Twitter's decision over whether to take action. Throughout Tuesday, Twitter executives debated whether to apply the label to Trump's statement, and if so, how to classify the statement under the companies' current policies, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private deliberations. They debated whether the post constitutes misinformation that has the potential to cause harm, or is a form of harassment, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The company indicated that it would soon announce new policy changes that could apply to Trump's unsubstantiated missives on issues not related to the coronavirus.

On Tuesday morning, Trump went on Twitter again to advocate the "opening of a Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough," which he said was "not a Donald Trump original thought."

"So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won't bring them up now!" Trump added. "Law enforcement eventually will?"

With no evidence, Trump has continued to push a conspiracy theory that Scarborough, while a member of Congress, had an affair with his married staffer and that he may have killed her — a theory that has been debunked by news organizations including The Washington Post.

Authorities determined that Lori Klausutis suffered an abnormal heart rhythm and died after collapsing and striking her head. She was discovered in Scarborough's office in Fort Walton Beach, on her back with her head near a desk, according to a 2001 police report. Trump has also said Scarborough decided to leave Congress after her death despite publicly announcing his decision almost two months earlier.

In his letter to Dorsey, which was first reported in an opinion piece in The New York Times, Timothy Klausutis argued that Trump's tweets violate Twitter's community rules and terms of service.

"An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed," he wrote.

Scarborough, who was 900 miles away in Washington on the day Klausutis died, and his co-host and wife, Mika Brzezinski, have both expressed outrage on the air in recent days - saying Trump's false accusations were most hurtful to Klausutis's family. Brzezinski called Trump a "cruel, sick, disgusting person" and said he was using the episode to distract from the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has repeated his baseless accusations about Scarborough on several occasions in recent weeks. Among the tweets cited in Klausutis' letter is one from May 12.

"Did he get away with murder?" Trump asked of Scarborough. "Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn't it obvious? What's happening now? A total nut job!"

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany used her Tuesday media briefing to defend Trump and amplify the smear, briefly acknowledging the widower's expressed suffering.

Asked why Trump is making baseless accusations, McEnany echoed Trump's tweets indicating that the president was not the one who came up with the charge.

“I would note that the president said this morning that this is not an original Trump thought — and it is not,” she said, before referring reporters to a 2003 clip of radio host Don Imus joking about killing an intern during an interview with Scarborough. “That was, I’m sure, pretty hurtful to Lori’s family. And Joe Scarborough himself brought this us up with Don Imus.”

Brzezinski accused McEnany of lying, tweeting that it was Imus who made the "callous joke," while Scarborough tried to move on.

"No lies can cover up the hatefulness of Donald Trump," she wrote.

Trump's campaign also highlighted the clip from Imus' show, using one of its Twitter accounts to post "#OPENJOECOLDCASE."

One Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., urged Trump to "stop creating paranoia," adding that the divisive political strategy "will destroy us." But most Republican lawmakers said nothing, highlighting their allegiance to a president who will appear at the top of the ballot that includes many of them in less than six months, Skidmore said.

“I would expect them to do nothing unless there is some indication that he is losing the support of his base,” said Skidmore. “Because his base is their base.”

A third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, Census Bureau finds

Tue, 2020-05-26 21:06

A woman wears a face mask as she walks on Pier 45 in Hudson River Park, Thursday night, April 30, 2020, in New York. As the new coronavirus pandemic upends lives across the United States, it is taking a widespread toll on people's mental health and stress levels, according to a survey that finds a majority of Americans felt nervous, depressed, lonely or hopeless in the past week. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) (Mark Lennihan/)

A third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, Census Bureau data shows, the most definitive and alarming sign yet of the psychological toll exacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked questions normally used to screen patients for mental health problems, 24% showed clinically significant symptoms of major depressive disorder and 30% showed symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

The findings suggest a huge jump from before the pandemic. For example, on one question about depressed mood, the percentage reporting such symptoms was double that found in a 2014 national survey.

The troubling statistics were released last week in a tranche of data from the Census Bureau. The agency launched an emergency weekly survey of U.S. households at the end of April to measure the pandemic's effects on employment, housing, finances, education and health. In the most recent data release, 1 million households were contacted between May 7 and 12, and more than 42,000 responded.

Buried within that 20-minute survey, U.S. officials included four questions taken nearly word-for-word from a form used by doctors to screen patients for depression and anxiety. Those answers provide a real-time window into the country's collective mental health after three months of fear, isolation, soaring unemployment and continuing uncertainty.

New York, which had the worst coronavirus outbreak in the country, ranked 12th nationwide in terms of share of adults showing symptoms. Nearly half of Mississippians screened positive for anxiety or depression - a staggering number. By contrast, in Iowa, just over a quarter screened positive.

Some groups have been hit harder than others. Rates of anxiety and depression were far higher among younger adults, women and the poor. The worse scores in young adults were especially notable, given that the virus has been more likely to kill the elderly or leave them critically ill.

Those results reflect a deepening of existing trends: rising depression, stress and suicide among young adults. "It's been a problem many have been studying with no clear answers - whether it's social media or the way this generation was reared or just a greater willingness to talk about their problems," said Maria Oquendo, a professor psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. "What's worrying is the effect this situation is clearly having on young adults."

As universities and schools look to reopen, they must take mental health into account, said Paul Gionfriddo, president of the advocacy group Mental Health America. "There's been plenty of talk about spacing desks apart and classroom ratios but not much at all about mental health support," Gionfriddo said. "For one thing, we have to do much more mental health screening among young people."

The toll has also hit the poor much harder, according to the Census Bureau data - throwing into even sharper relief mental health disparities that have long existed.

When asked, for example, how often they worried uncontrollably in the past week, 60% of those making $150,000 or more said they didn't struggle with it at all. Meanwhile, those numbers were almost inverted among people making less than $25,000 a year - with only 32% saying they didn't struggle with uncontrollable worry and 23% saying they worried uncontrollably nearly every day.

Throughout the crisis, lower-income people have struggled more with unemployment, food scarcity and low-wage jobs that don't allow them to work from home and that offer few financial and physical protections.

The findings by the Census Bureau echo growing evidence of accumulating mental harms among Americans. Nearly half of Americans reported the coronavirus crisis is impairing their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in April. A survey by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found people are experiencing anxiety and sadness more often than before the pandemic and are talking about mental health more frequently. Researchers have projected that without intervention, the country is poised to experience a rise in suicides, substance abuse and overdose deaths.

"It's understandable given what's happening. It would be strange if you didn't feel anxious and depressed," Oquendo said. "This virus is not like a hurricane or earthquake or even terrorist attack. It's not something you can see or touch, and yet the fear of it is everywhere."

The mental health questions were taken from two screening tools called PHQ-2 and GAD-2, used by some primary care doctors to screen patients for depression and anxiety. They were included in the Census Bureau's emergency coronavirus project - its official name is the 2020 Household Pulse Survey - at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, officials said.

Not everyone who screens positive on these tests has clinical depression or anxiety. A Washington Post analysis of research studies on the topic found that about half of those who screen positive on the PHQ-2 in normal times have major depressive disorder. That percentage is lower for the GAD-2.

The Census Bureau plans to conduct the survey every week for three months, which could yield valuable data on how Americans' experience of this pandemic may change. But the initial results raise questions about what the government plans to do about a looming mental health crisis.

When such screening tools are administered in a hospital or doctor's office, clinicians are usually obligated to follow up with patients who screen positive by conducting in-depth tests and connecting them to therapy and psychiatrists.

When asked about following up with respondents to the Census Bureau survey, CDC official Stephen Blumberg said, "It is not feasible, nor would it be appropriate, to provide any health advice to respondents on the basis of their responses."

Mental health experts say the government has a responsibility to address on a wider national scale the problems highlighted by the survey.

Even before the pandemic, mental health care in the country was severely underfunded and riddled with problems of access, disparities and insurance roadblocks. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress appropriated trillions of dollars in emergency funds, but almost none of it has gone toward mental health programs and clinics.

"If you measure a problem, presumably it's because you want to do something about it," said Oquendo, former president of the American Psychiatric Association.

Doctors don't diagnose patients with cancer, for instance, only to send them on their way, she said. "Now that the government knows how widely people are suffering, the question is what are they going to do about it."

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they text to 741741.

He tested positive for the coronavirus. One day later, a federal prison flew him home to Alaska.

Tue, 2020-05-26 19:57

Inmates walks along a fence at the Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) (Marcio Jose Sanchez/)

An Anchorage man granted compassionate release from a California federal prison engulfed in a coronavirus outbreak tested positive one day before his release but was allowed to fly back to Alaska — apparently unaware he had the virus, according to court documents.

Federal prosecutors contend that days after Duane Byron Fields was released from the Los Angeles-area Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution and arrived in Anchorage, a probation officer caught him breaking a judge’s order to follow Alaska’s 14-day quarantine after he decamped from a Spenard motel to his mother’s house.

Now the 47-year-old has been charged with contempt of a court order, making him the first person in Alaska to be criminally prosecuted for behavior related to the quarantine health mandate, either by state or federal courts.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says it doesn’t have authority over enforcing the state mandate itself, but is prosecuting Fields for breaking the judge’s order that he follow the state mandate.

The case marks the first time the office has charged someone with contempt of a court order by criminal complaint, said Chloe Martin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Given the gravity of Fields’s alleged conduct, and the need to protect the public, we felt it was important,” she said.

Fields’ attorneys contend their client didn’t fully understand the quarantine rule and question the logic of pursuing incarceration for a person with the coronavirus, who was just released because the virus makes prisons so dangerous.

“They want to put him in our jail, really?” said his attorney, Cynthia Franklin.

The bigger issue, they say, is the chain of misfires that allowed the Bureau of Prisons to swab Fields for coronavirus on May 5, laboratory results to return positive May 7 — and yet for Fields to be released from custody and fly commercially to Alaska on May 8.

“There are so many institutional failures you can identify in this,” said Daniel Poulson, a federal public defender who has represented Fields’ on his bid for compassionate release.

An attempt to reach Fields through his attorneys for this story was unsuccessful. The Bureau of Prisons says it is looking into the case.

Outbreak at Terminal Island

In 2012, Fields was convicted of federal drug conspiracy and distribution charges in Anchorage for dealing heroin and cocaine out of a Penland Park mobile home. When police raided the trailer, they found bricks of cocaine and a gun, plus drugs “hidden in Fields’ underwear,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said at the time.

In 2016, while imprisoned, Fields became ill with advanced-stage non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to court filings. He went through six courses of chemotherapy and has been in remission since 2019, but says he wasn’t offered maintenance treatment recommended by his doctors.

His lawyers have been trying to get him released since.

Fast forward to the spring of 2020, and the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic: Fields was imprisoned at Terminal Island prison in California, which houses sick and medically fragile prisoners.

In early May, when a judge was considering his application for release, Terminal Island had the worst coronavirus outbreak in the federal prison system: Nearly 700 of the roughly 1,000 inmates had tested positive.

A sixth inmate had just died. The ACLU, representing families of inmates, sued.

The situation was so dire that an Alaska judge, on May 6, granted Fields’ petition for compassionate release — writing that the 47-year-old’s history of cancer made him especially vulnerable to the virus.

“While no one could have predicted the current pandemic at Fields’ sentencing, the Court certainly did not intend to impose a potential death sentence,” wrote James Singleton, a senior Alaska federal judge.

It’s believed that only two other Alaska federal prisoners have received compassionate release during the coronavirus pandemic, said Poulson.

The day after the judge’s order — May 7 — the results of Fields’ prison coronavirus test came back positive, according to a Los Angeles public health laboratory statement obtained by Fields’ attorney.

It is not clear who they were shared with — or when.

“Which is not the Chelsea Inn”

On May 8, the Bureau of Prisons went ahead with Fields’ release, putting him on a commercial flight to Alaska. He apparently wasn’t aware of the result, according to court filings in the criminal case against him.

Fields was taken to the Chelsea Inn on Spenard Road, where he was supposed to spend the next 14 days in a mandatory quarantine. Three days later, on May 11, his Alaska-based probation officer got a call from Terminal Island: Fields’ coronavirus test results had come back, according to the affidavit.

The reasons for the communication delay remain muddy.

The probation officer called the Chelsea Inn to notify Fields he was infected, according to the affidavit.

But he wasn’t where he was supposed to be; a worker at the motel said Fields had left.

When the probation officer called Fields’ mom, she reported that her son “was at that very moment” on her couch.

“Which is not at the Chelsea Inn,” the government observed in the court filing.

The Bureau of Prisons said the agency is looking into Fields’ case, and couldn’t immediately answer questions about coronavirus testing and release procedures.

“The Bureau of Prisons’ legal authority terminates upon the expiration of an inmate’s sentence,” wrote agency spokesman Justin Long. “In this case, the court ordered Duane Byron Fields to be released from the BOP’s custody as soon as his release plan could be implemented and travel arrangements made.”

The department wasn’t provided advance notice, Long wrote.

It is clear to Poulson that the entities involved were not communicating with each other.

“They essentially put him on the plane. And frankly, made arrangements for his transportation all the way to his end destination,” he said.

Franklin said she hopes Fields will be allowed to stay out of the Anchorage jail — which is grappling with its own positive coronavirus test.

[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.]

Ben Boeke Ice Arena to close as mass shelter for homeless on June 1

Tue, 2020-05-26 19:21

Clients enter the Bean's Cafe emergency shelter at Ben Boeke Ice Arena on Monday evening, April 27, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

As the weather warms, people experiencing homelessness are moving out of the Ben Boeke Ice Arena, where many have stayed since late March. With the assistance of social service agencies, some are moving into apartments, supportive housing and treatment centers as the city prepares to close the building as a mass shelter June 1.

The city-owned arena, together with Sullivan Arena next door, was opened as an emergency shelter for homeless residents March 22 as coronavirus cases began showing up in Alaska. The spacious arenas have allowed shelter patrons to sleep on cots six feet apart as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

City officials told the Anchorage Assembly’s committee on homelessness last week that the number of people using Ben Boeke has declined so the arena will revert to its former status as a venue for hockey players and ice skaters. The Dempsey-Anderson Arena, converted to an isolation and quarantine facility for homeless or others without a place to go, will also be demobilized on June 1.

As far as when regular arena activities will resume, “the timeline is to be determined,” said Carolyn Hall, spokeswoman for Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Ben Boeke has the capacity to accommodate 240 people per night. As of Tuesday, 74 people were staying there, according to a city data dashboard. The ice arena accommodates women, couples, and members of the LGBTQ community while the Sullivan serves for single men.

[What do you want to know about Anchorage homelessness?]

After Ben Boeke closes as a shelter, women, couples and LGBTQ persons will sleep on the mezzanine level of Sullivan Arena while men will stay on the ground floor, according to Lisa Sauder, executive director of Bean’s Café, the nonprofit operating the mass shelters.

“It’s an operational shuffle,” said Sauder.

The goal is to end emergency shelters and move people into permanent housing, she said.


Entrance to the Bean's Cafe emergency shelter at Ben Boeke Ice Arena on Monday evening, April 27, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Bean’s Café used to run a soup kitchen and overnight shelter for men and women prior to COVID-19’s arrival. As at Brother Francis Shelter across the parking lot on East Third Avenue, Bean’s clients would often sleep mat to mat because of overcrowding, a practice that became unsafe during the pandemic.

Since late March, Bean’s Café has had a contract with the city to feed and house up to 480 people experiencing homelessness at Sullivan and Ben Boeke. The city expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the costs. The contract pays $795,180 per month for the care of up to 360 people, and $1,081.351 for up to 480 people, according to a document provide in response to a public records request.

More than 106 people staying at the mass shelters have moved to housing or treatment, or are apartment shopping, as the result of outreach efforts by a variety of partners, according to Nancy Burke, housing and homeless services coordinator for Mayor Ethan Berkowtiz.

In Burke’s presentation to the Assembly committee last week, partners were listed as: Catholic Social Services, Covenant House Alaska, Anchorage Downtown Partnership, RurAL CAP, Anchorage Community Mental Health, Veteran’s Administration, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, GCI, Downtown Hope Center, Southcentral Foundation, United Way of Anchorage, Nine Star Education & Employment Services, Providence Health & Services Alaska, VOA Alaska, Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center and Partner’s Reentry Center.

Regular users of the Dempsey and Ben Boeke arenas are anxiously awaiting the city’s plan for what happens after the buildings are decontaminated and reopened. Between 160 and 200 children were planning on attending a five-week hockey and swimming camp at Dempsey.

There’s still a chance the camp could proceed, said Kirk Kullberg, mite director of Alaska Hockey Association. He’s holding off on opening registration until the path forward becomes clear.

Board president Theresa Austin said the hockey organization has lost tens of thousands of dollars in business because the arenas were converted into mass shelters.

[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.]

Taxpayers paid to develop remdesivir but will have no say when Gilead sets price

Tue, 2020-05-26 18:10

Gilead Sciences headquarters are seen on Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Foster City, Calif. White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday, April 29 that data from a coronavirus drug trial testing Gilead Sciences' antiviral drug remdesivir showed "quite good news" and sets a new standard of care for COVID-19 patients. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (Ben Margot/)

The drug that buoyed expectations for a coronavirus treatment and drew international attention for Gilead Sciences, remdesivir, started as a reject, an also-ran in the search for antiviral drugs. Its path to relevance did not begin until Robert Jordan cleared it.

A Gilead scientist at the time, Jordan convinced the company seven years ago to let him assemble a library of 1,000 castoff molecules in a search for medicines to treat emerging viruses. Many viral illnesses threaten human health but do not attract commercial interest, because they lack potential for huge drug sales.

"I kept asking them, 'Is this OK?' " said Jordan, who is now a vice president at a pharmaceutical start-up. "These don't represent a commercial opportunity but a public health opportunity. Gilead gave me their blessing to do this on the side."

To make progress, Gilead needed help from U.S. taxpayers. Lots of help. Three federal health agencies were deeply involved in remdesivir's development every step of the way, providing tens of millions of dollars of government research support. Now that big government role has set up a political showdown over pricing and access.

Despite the heavy subsidies, federal agencies have not asserted patent rights to Gilead's drug, potentially a blockbuster therapy worth billions of dollars. That means Gilead will have few constraints other than political pressure when it sets a price in coming weeks. Critics are urging the Trump administration to take a more aggressive approach.

"Without direct public investment and tax subsidies, this drug would apparently have remained in the scrap heap of unsuccessful drugs," Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said this month. Doggett and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., have asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for a detailed financial accounting of federal support for remdesivir's discovery and development.

The HIV-prevention advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration, working with the Technology Law & Policy Clinic at New York University, released an analysis Monday that said the government, because it helped cull the drug from hundreds of compounds, probably has a legal right to claim it co-invented remdesivir. It contends that government scientists should have been listed as co-inventors on remdesivir patents because of their contributions. It says the Trump administration should be leveraging the government's involvement to ensure that the United States and other countries can get access at a low cost.

"Agencies can't just punt it over the fence to a pharmaceutical company and walk away," said James Krellenstein, a co-founder of PrEP4All. "For the federal government to just walk away from that responsibility is a dereliction of the public trust."

Two other nonprofit watchdog groups, Knowledge Ecology International and Public Citizen, also have documented the large taxpayer-funded contributions toward the drug. Public Citizen estimates public investment at a minimum of $70 million.

"Gilead did not make this drug alone. The public helped make it, and the public has a stake," said Peter Maybarduk, director of the access to medicines program at Public Citizen.

Gilead has acknowledged the large role of government agencies in remdesivir's development but said that the original compound was discovered by Gilead researchers years earlier and that the government has no potential patent rights to the drug. It has said it will spend up to $1 billion on remdesivir manufacturing and development in 2020 as it rapidly increases production and distribution around the world.

"We are focused on getting this treatment into the hands of as many patients as possible and making sure it is both accessible and affordable to patients in the United States and around the globe," company spokesman Ryan McKeel said in an email. "We take that responsibility to patients and families affected by covid-19 very seriously and we will work to make sure access is not an issue.

"Gilead researchers invented remdesivir more than a decade ago, identified its broad-spectrum antiviral activity, optimized the formulation of the product and scaled up the manufacturing process," McKeel said. "Although government funding was used to further characterize remdesivir's profile after its initial discovery, this did not result in the creation of the underlying intellectual property invented by Gilead."

The story of the drug's creation shows that Gilead would not be commercializing the drug if it were not for the extensive involvement of government scientists and agencies. The industry-government partnership crossed the finish line this month when the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization clearing remdesivir to treat hospitalized patients with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Screening a huge number of chemicals for effective drugs is arduous work and often fails to produce a winner. In remdesivir's case, government researchers narrowed the search from 1,000 compounds to the chemical that would become remdesivir, confirmed its potency in laboratory tests, tested it in monkeys, and finally sponsored a pivotal clinical trial in humans.

Jordan sent Gilead's screening library to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and to Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). Scientists at both federal facilities study dangerous viruses in high-security biocontainment labs. The National Institutes of Health and academic labs in Tennessee and North Carolina that receive NIH grants also would play key roles studying the drug in mice.

Front-line government scientists who worked directly with Gilead on the drug described the heavy involvement of federal resources in the drug's development, though they said their concern at the time was not patents but speeding treatments in the battle against dangerous diseases, especially Ebola.

The former chief scientific officer at USAMRIID who supervised the development of remdesivir, Sina Bavari, said the team was working rapidly on a treatment for Ebola in 2014 and did not consider filing a patent application when the agency's scientists helped discover new uses of the drug and tested it in government monkeys. Bavari and other government scientists were co-authors of an article in the scientific journal Nature that described its discovery and successful tests in the government's rhesus monkeys.

Gilead contributed the drug and spent millions from its own budgets to hone the drug's formulation, said Bavari, who now runs his own consulting company. Deciding when to file a government patent in the case of industry partnerships presents a "tightrope" for public health agencies that want to maintain positive relationships with industry partners, Bavari said.

Many antiviral drugs are taken for a short time and given to relatively few people. They do not represent large markets, so government subsidies are used to keep corporations interested in pursuing treatments, he said.

"Without incentivizing some of these companies to stay attached to emerging disease, I think they will walk away, even after this one," he said. "In this situation [filing for a government patent] would have caused more harm with Gilead and not been worth it.

"The government's job is to make sure industry is successful, and if industry is successful, then we all benefit from it."

An Army lawyer said the Gilead drug did not meet the threshold of a government co-invention.

"Although USAMRIID performed extensive and critical screening and testing for Gilead, testing a compound and finding that it is indeed an effective antiviral compound does not qualify USAMRIID as a joint inventor of the compound," Leigh Callander, chief patent counsel for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, said in an email.

An independent organization that measures the cost-effectiveness of drugs said Gilead could be justified in charging up to $4,500 for a 10-day course of treatment for a single coronavirus patient. But advocates, citing a study by academic researchers on what it costs to make the drug, have said Gilead could break even by charging $1 per dose.

The Department of Health and Human Services, in response to emailed questions, said it was too early to discuss pricing of remdesivir but noted that the government has reimbursed hospitals and other providers for the costs of testing and treating people with no health insurance. For those with insurance, many insurance companies have waived patient co-payments for covid-19-related care and therapies, it said.

"The Trump Administration is committed to ensuring Americans have access to life-saving therapeutics and vaccines as we combat this pandemic," it said.

Gilead is donating the first 1.5 million doses to governments worldwide, which it said was enough for at least 140,000 patients through the end of May. More than half of that was targeted for U.S. patients. The drug is given intravenously in the hospital for five to 10 days. Gilead is investigating ways of making the drug in pill form, which could dramatically increase use - and sales - especially if the coronavirus lasts for years in the human population.

Because Gilead tackles viral targets, it has a long history of working closely with the CDC and the NIH to develop drugs for infectious diseases that other companies have shunned, especially HIV and hepatitis C. But Gilead's pricing and intellectual property practices have drawn public and congressional criticism.

The company received negative publicity for pricing its hepatitis C drug Sovaldi at $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment in 2013. Last year, after a report in The Washington Post and congressional scrutiny, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to enforce a government patent on the HIV prevention Truvada for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) after Gilead refused to recognize its legitimacy. As that court fight is being waged, Gilead continues to charge more than $20,000 a year for Truvada for PrEP. It said last year that it would donate 2.4 million bottles per year of Truvada through 2030 to contribute to a government plan to combat HIV.

Still, like other pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, behind the aggressive business and patent strategies are thousands of scientists who spend careers discovering and developing medicine to fight disease. Jordan said Gilead scientists volunteered to help him identify potential drugs in the company's library that could interfere with viral replication.

Remdesivir's parent compound GS-441524 was invented about 2009 when Gilead was looking for drugs to treat hepatitis C, according to Gilead.

In 2013, Jordan - who now works at Meissa Vaccines, a California start-up - included GS-441524 in the set of samples he sent to CDC scientist Michael Lo in Atlanta for testing against Nipah virus, a bat-borne disease found in parts of Asia. The compound showed promise not just against Nipah but also as a broad-spectrum antiviral. It interfered with virus RNA and stopped replication.

Lo "had a collection of human virus in the freezer and asked, 'Do you mind if we try it against filovirus, Ebola?' " Jordan said. By that time, an Ebola outbreak had begun in West Africa, and labs around the world were scrambling to respond.

In 2014, Lo said he was examining a readout from the CDC's laboratory tests of the compound showing that the drug had a strong effect against Ebola virus in lab containers.

"It was a very exciting moment," Lo said. "We were the first to really identify that this compound had promise against Ebola."

Lo said questions about government patents were not discussed at the time and said such decisions were "above my pay grade." The CDC did not respond to a question about whether it considered filing a patent for the work of Lo and other CDC scientists.

Jordan also had sent the library to another agency with advanced capabilities to develop drugs for virus: USAMRIID, the lead unit for biological defense research in the U.S. military. Bavari said government scientists rapidly got to work conducting virus screening on trays of 384 chemical samples at a time. Bavari estimated that up to 15 government scientists at USAMRIID worked on the program.

GS-441524 stood out for its potent activity against Ebola virus, Bavari said.

"We started communicating back and forth with CDC and repeated the test. They had similar data," he said. "It definitely was a breakthrough."

Jordan said he went back to his superiors at Gilead with the laboratory data from CDC and USAMRIID screening tests as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa continued. The company's interest in proceeding with a rapid development program was strong, he said.

"That launched a significant effort at Gilead to focus a lot of resources to developing this compound as quickly as possible and getting into patients as quickly as possible," he said.

Gilead's chemists in California took a crucial step toward making the compound work in animals and people: They turned the parent molecule into a prodrug, which means it is activated after it enters the body, and tweaked the compound further to make it more potent once it gets inside cells, Jordan and Bavari said. The result was GS-5734, later named remdesivir.

The next step by the government provided another vital milestone: Remdesivir was tested in government monkeys infected with Ebola at USAMRIID. When given within three days of infection to monkeys, the drug showed 100% efficacy against Ebola, the researchers found.

In humans, the drug was being tested by Gilead in healthy volunteers for safety by 2015, and the next year NIH tested it in Ebola survivors in West Africa. The NIH sponsored the next major step, a clinical trial in humans infected with Ebola in the Congo in 2018 and 2019. The drug performed worse than two other drugs and its use was stopped in the trial, but that did not stop federally sponsored research.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of North Carolina, with funding from an NIH-funded Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), studied how remdesivir performed against emerging diseases called severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

In addition to distributing grants and funding clinical trials, the NIH also has taken a direct interest in remdesivir. In a key federal animal trial that gave federal investigators greater confidence in the drug, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases tested the drug as a MERS prevention in government monkeys at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana. The results, published this year, showed that monkeys given the drug did not get sick and had low volumes of virus in their lungs.

Once the coronavirus pandemic struck, the World Health Organization identified remdesivir as among the most promising potential treatments for the disease - raising hope for rapid help for sick patients.

The finish line came within sight with uncommon speed. NIAID sponsored a fast-paced clinical trial of remdesivir in more than 1,000 SARS-CoV-2 patients that began in February. (SARS-CoV-2 is the technical name for the novel coronavirus.) NIAID director Anthony Fauci - a top adviser to President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force - announced partial, top-line results from the White House on April 29: The drug shortened hospital stays by four days and reduced mortality from 11.6% to 8%, which was not considered a significant reduction in death, Fauci said.

Fauci said the results were modest. But, lacking any other treatments, he proclaimed the drug the "standard of care" for hospitalized coronavirus patients. Full results of the trial have not been released, and many questions about the drug's effectiveness remain unanswered.

But Jordan, the former Gilead researcher who pulled the parent molecule out of the company's library of compounds seven years ago, said he was happy with the results.

“I was very excited about that. This isn’t a home run. It’s clinical evidence that you can improve outcomes with an antiviral,” he said. “The fact that we can do something to this disease, that’s a great start.”

Small businesses need support, respect for new rules

Tue, 2020-05-26 16:28

O'Malley Steam Dot manager Jeff Dow's winning entry in the latte art competition during the Alaska Barista Cup at Anchorage Community Works on Saturday, October 3, 2015. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

The COVID-19 crisis puts the old adage “the customer is always right” to the ultimate test. Like many small business owners, I welcome accountability and aim to use all manner of feedback as fuel for growth. But as society experiments with new health and safety practices, small businesses are confronting a particular hostility from some customers who accuse the business of going too far — or not far enough — in enforcing these new rules. And as anyone who has worked retail knows from experience, the customer can be magnificently wrong, unreasonable, rude and even abusive. I’ve witnessed this firsthand.

The debate puts a business’s employees in the middle of a fight they didn’t pick. The misplaced anger can bubble up when a customer is asked to wear a mask, or from others if not enough people are wearing them. More than a few frustrated patrons on both ends of the spectrum have verbally abused our café staff while voicing frustration over new health and safety practices. To what end? Surely common sense dictates that the barista, hostess or cashier didn’t write these rules and are merely doing their jobs. How does reducing a minimum-wage employee to tears in a public place result in a safer or less restrictive environment — depending on your point of view.

As owners and operators, we now walk a fine line between extreme perceptions that we’re either suffocating freedoms with overly restrictive policies or presenting a frivolous indifference to a global health crisis by putting profits above people. Hopefully both extremes represent a vocal minority. But so far, they speak volumes about the challenges small businesses face, while we try to placate and survive. Small businesses have already faced government-mandated closures and restrictions. Many are facing staggering financial losses, mass layoffs and wild uncertainty in the months ahead. A recent survey indicated many local small businesses don’t know if they’ll survive. The last thing we need now is to be trapped in an unwinnable culture war, with our employees unwitting casualties in day-to-day operations.

As much as we need customers to return to businesses and spend enthusiastically, we also need a new currency of patience and respect for the new health and safety rules we are all navigating.

Jonathan White is the owner and founder of SteamDot Coffee Roasters in Anchorage.

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)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Why should businesses and property owners bear the burden of the pandemic?

Tue, 2020-05-26 15:57

Office buildings in Midtown Anchorage, seen from Spenard Road on Friday, May 22, 2020. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

I am writing on the matter of the city’s property taxes. My issue is with my commercial property, Dover Center in Midtown Anchorage, but I believe that my frustration applies equally to residential property taxes as well.

I received my tax bill in the mail today. I opened it to find that it was nearly $75,000. Last year, it was a bit under $72,000. Five years ago, it was $61,000. In short, it has increased more than 21% during these five years, and it is for the same exact property with no alterations, etc.

But my property has certainly changed. Five years ago, I had zero vacancies and tenants were nearly lining up to lease my space. Rents were climbing by several percent annually. Life was good. Too bad I didn’t fully appreciate it then.

Now my vacancy rate is 12.5%, and with my major tenant opting to close his practice as a result of the pandemic, it will spike to 25% by the middle of the summer. And any prospective new tenants can almost name their price with the number of retail and commercial vacancies around town.

Back to the property tax. To discover that we were granted an extra 30 days to pay was rather pathetic, in my opinion. How does the city expect businesses to be able to pay these rather outrageous property tax bills especially this year when we’re barely surviving, if we’re that lucky? They’re hitting us just as our Payroll Protection Program loans/grants are running out and we’re wondering how we’re going to survive the summer, let alone next fall and winter.

Wouldn’t it be a travesty to see a significant percentage of Anchorage’s small businesses fall victim to our outrageously high property taxes just after they’ve made it through the pandemic and reopened their doors?

What’s the solution, then? The obvious one, in my mind, is to grant all property tax payers in the Municipality a one-time 20% forgiveness on their 2020 tax bills. That is roughly equivalent to the amount of time that our businesses have been closed and we have been ordered to hunker down at home. And in addition to that, I would like to see a six-month extension on when our property taxes are due, not a measly one-month extension. We cannot be expected to pay property taxes when we are closed due to the order of the Municipality.

So where does the Municipality make up its lost revenue? Well, if the mayor and Assembly were in business, they would know the answer to that. You cut costs. You furlough employees just like we all had to do, you trim benefits, and any raises are out of the question. If our public sector employees were to feel the pain like those of us in the private sector have been doing since March, they might better appreciate what we’ve been through. Of course, another possible partial solution might be to take some of the federal pass-through funds that the Municipality will be receiving from the state to backfill its budget gap.

Many other communities that are feeling the pain from losing their sales tax receipts have had to furlough public employees. And guess what — they will survive. To not spread the pain and suffering that the private sector has been experiencing for the past eight weeks is to put all of the burden on our backs when it should be shared. Only if we all share somewhat equally in this economic travesty will we all survive.

I think my proposal should start from the top down. I would like to see the mayor and his department heads take a 20% salary cut, minimum, followed closely by the Assembly. I’m sure that my proposal will generate some snickering, but it is made in all seriousness.

Just answer this: Why should the private sector bear all of the burden of the shutdown when it was done at the directive of the Municipality?

Carl A. Propes Jr. is the president of Scan Home and Dover Center, LLC.

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)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Trump’s convention demand comes amid Charlotte virus surge

Tue, 2020-05-26 15:14

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Donald Trump’s demand for a full-capacity Republican convention in August is putting pressure on North Carolina health officials — and local Republicans — as coronavirus cases surge in the host county and statewide.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's administration has refused to give in, though, responding with a letter demanding a written safety plan from organizers of the Republican National Convention, slated for August in Charlotte. Even local Republican officials note that Trump doesn't have the power to unilaterally move the event scheduled to start in 90 days after two years of planning.

Asked about Trump's tweets threatening to move the convention, Cooper said Tuesday he's "not surprised at anything that happens on Twitter," without mentioning the president by name. He said discussions with RNC organizers are continuing.

"We have asked them to present a plan on paper to us laying out the various options that we've already discussed," Cooper said. "They know we're talking about a time that's three months from now, so we have to have options regarding how this convention is going to be run depending on where we are with the virus in August."

State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen's letter signed Monday asks Republican convention organizers for a written COVID-19 safety plan "as soon as possible," noting that Cohen and Cooper discussed various scenarios with GOP officials by phone Friday. She wrote that it's important to plan for multiple options because the "status of COVID-19 infections in our state and in the Charlotte area continues to rapidly evolve."

By Tuesday, Mecklenburg County had at least 3,400 COVID-19 cases — more than twice the next-highest county — and 73 deaths, also the most in the state, according to state health officials. A third of the cases were tallied in the past two weeks. County officials said hospitalized patients with COVID-19 dropped from more than 100 in April to 75 by Monday.

Statewide, there were 24,000 cases as part of an upward trend that included 1,100 new cases Saturday, the state's largest daily increase yet. Nearly 800 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, giving the state the 21st highest death count.

Trump threatened Monday to move the convention if Cooper didn't immediately agree to a full-capacity gathering. Pre-pandemic, Republicans estimated the convention would draw 50,000 visitors.

Cooper has gradually eased business restrictions, with restaurants now allowed to offer limited indoor dining. But entertainment venues, bars and gyms remain closed under his current order that also caps indoor mass gatherings at 10 people.

Trump complained again Tuesday that Cooper hasn't committed yet to a full-capacity convention.

"We have a governor who doesn't want to open up the state," Trump said, suggesting Cooper's decisions were politically motivated. "He's been acting very, very slowly and very suspiciously."

Trump said he hopes to have the convention in Charlotte but needed certainty "within a week" or he would be forced to consider relocating.

Republican governors in Georgia and Florida say they would welcome the convention if North Carolina falls through.

But Charlotte-area Republicans noted the RNC would have to break its contract to relocate.

"I don't know exactly what legal authority the president has over the party and therefore, whether he is in a position to give them an order to seek the cancellation of the contract," City Councilman Ed Driggs, a Republican, said by phone. "He's not a party to the contract himself."

Sarah Reidy-Jones, vice chair of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party, said in an interview that she believes the convention will remain in Charlotte because of all the logistics already settled during two years of planning.

"I'm not so concerned about the tweet. He doesn't have the authority to change the convention," she said.

She said that although she "doesn't envy" Cooper on his decision-making, she also doesn't want friction over the convention to become a rallying cry for Democratic donors. Cooper, who was narrowly elected in 2016, faces a challenge from Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest this year.

Driggs said he's heard mixed feelings from constituents about holding a convention — scaled back or not — during the pandemic.

"There's a full spread of opinion," Driggs said. "So I get e-mails saying, 'call it off, call it off,' and I get others from my own supporters saying 'stand firm, stand tall.'"

Mike Mulligan, a 66-year-old registered Charlotte Republican, said he agrees with Trump that North Carolina should hold a full convention or risk losing it to another state. Mulligan, who retired from the financial services industry, said he would be comfortable with attending convention events even though, at his age, he's in a high-risk group. He said he thinks a full convention can proceed if attendees are screened for symptoms.

"The economy can't withstand losing the RNC," he said. "With proper screening, I think they can pull this off."

Drew reported from Durham, North Carolina, and Robertson reported from Raleigh, North Carolina.


In a first, Twitter adds fact-check warnings to Trump tweets

Tue, 2020-05-26 15:01

For the first time, Twitter has flagged some of President Donald Trump’s tweets with a fact-check warning.

On Tuesday, Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots "fraudulent" and predicted that "mail boxes will be robbed," among other things. Under the tweets, there is now a link reading "Get the facts about mail-in ballots" that guides users to a Twitter "moments" page with fact checks and news stories about Trump's unsubstantiated claims.

The move comes after years in which Twitter has declined to apply its community guidelines and other rules of the road to the 45th U.S. president. It's too soon to tell whether this action represents a turning point for Twitter in its treatment of Trump. But the warning labels suggest that the president has finally crossed a line that the company was not willing to move for him.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

President Donald Trump is again pushing the limits of Twitter's attempts to deal with national leaders who spread misinformation and engage in personal abuse, this time with a barrage of baseless tweets suggesting that a television host he has feuded with committed murder.

Twitter, which has tried to devise penalties for such situations, has so far done nothing about Trump's tweets.

The husband of a woman who died by accident two decades ago in an office of then-GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough is demanding that Twitter remove the president's tweets suggesting Scarborough, now a fierce Trump critic, killed her.

"My request is simple: Please delete these tweets," Timothy J. Klausutis wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

The body of Lori Kaye Klausutis, 28, was found in Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach, Florida, congressional office on July 20, 2001. Trump has repeatedly tried to implicate Scarborough, a host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show, in the death even though Scarborough was in Washington, not Florida, at the time.

It's the latest instance in which the president has blown past Twitter's half-hearted attempts to enforce rules intended to promote civility and "healthy" conversation on its most prominent user. Trump frequently amplifies misinformation, spreads abuse and uses his pulpit to attack private citizens and public figures alike, but has never faced Twitter sanctions on his account.

Klausutis wrote in his letter that he has struggled to move on with his life due to the ongoing "bile and misinformation" spread about his wife on the platform, most recently by Trump. His wife continues to be the subject of conspiracy theories 20 years after her death.

Klausutis said in the letter, sent last week, that his wife had an undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work. He called her death "the single most painful thing that I have ever had to deal with" and said he feels a marital obligation to protect her memory amid "a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died."

Trump's tweets violate Twitter's community rules and terms of service, he said. "An ordinary user like me would be banished," he wrote.

At Tuesday's White House briefing, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeatedly refused to say why Trump was pressing the unfounded allegations or whether he would stop tweeting about them. Instead, she focused on remarks that Scarborough made about the case that she said were inappropriate and flippant.

Dorsey did not reply directly to Klausutis' letter and has not taken any action on the president's tweets. In a statement, Twitter said it was "deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family."

But the company didn't say it would do anything about Trump's tweets and didn't even mention them directly, although it did reference vague plans for future policy changes. "We've been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly," Twitter said.

The proposed changes include labeling false or misleading tweets as such, with fact checks "crowdsourced" from Twitter. It recently started labeling such tweets when they are about COVID-19 and is looking to expand more broadly.

But the company hasn't said when this tool would be available. Based on history, it's also not clear if these strictures would apply to Trump and other world leaders.

Over the weekend, the president also sent out tweets calling into question the legality of mail-in-ballots. The storm of tweets followed the president's Facebook and Twitter posts last week that wrongly claimed Michigan's secretary of ptate mailed ballots to 7.7 million registered voters. Trump later deleted the tweet and posted an edited version that still threatened to hold up federal funds.

These are the sorts of tweets that Twitter, if it wanted to, could remove or at least label under its policy against sharing "false or misleading information intended to intimidate or dissuade people from participating in an election or other civic process."

It has not done so. And it's not clear if Trump's team deleted the Michigan tweet on its own volition or if it was warned by Twitter that it would take action on it if it was not changed. Twitter is in ongoing contact with the White House.

In general, Twitter has taken a hands-off approach to political leaders, contending that publishing controversial tweets from politicians helps hold them accountable and encourages discussion. Last year, it said it would consider slapping warning labels on some tweets by world leaders, noting that such individuals rules "aren't entirely" above the rules.

Nearly a year after announcing it, Twitter has yet to use such labels.

There is no mystery to the death of Lori Klausutis. Medical officials ruled that the aide, who had a heart condition and told friends hours earlier that she wasn't feeling well, had fainted and hit her head. Foul play was not suspected.

Trump, however tweeted this month: "When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn't it obvious? What's happening now? A total nut job!"

He echoed that "cold case" allegation in a new tweet on Tuesday,

Trump also has asked via Twitter if NBC would fire the political talk show host based on the "unsolved mystery" years ago in Florida. "Investigate!" he tweeted in 2017.

Scarborough has urged the president to stop his baseless attacks.

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AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson contributed to this story from New York.


Alaska telecom finishes state’s first overland fiber-optic link to the Lower 48

Tue, 2020-05-26 14:25

A subsidiary of Matanuska Telephone Association has finished construction of the first overland fiber-optic cable connecting Alaska to the Outside, the association said Tuesday.

“We have completed this project and the network is active and carrying traffic,” MTA CEO Michael Burke said in a prerecorded video announcement played during an event broadcast over the Internet from the company’s Palmer headquarters.

Having the cable means Alaska is no longer solely dependent upon a series of subsea cables for high-speed Internet and telephone service. Satellite and microwave links also connect Alaska to the outside world, but are more limited than fiber-optic cables.

Alaska’s subsea cables are vulnerable to earthquakes, and an overland connection offers a “geographically diverse route” for Internet traffic, Burke said.

Burke said the overland cable’s completion also means MTA no longer needs to pay “millions of dollars” per year to lease capacity in those undersea cables, which are predominantly owned by GCI and Alaska Communications.

Francis LaChapelle, MTA’s vice president of wholesale and carrier relations, said the company expects to sell access to the cable to other telecommunications companies and doesn’t plan to offer Internet service itself to customers along the Alaska Highway. He said the company is also getting interest from the federal government.

Burke declined to reveal the cost of the new cable, citing confidentiality agreements with the company’s Canadian partners.

The 480-mile link begins at North Pole near Fairbanks and ends at Haines Junction, Yukon, where it connects to cables installed by Northwestel, the dominant telecom in northern Canada. Northwestel’s cables connect to the rest of North America.

Construction of the new link started in April 2019 with Alaska Directional as the lead contractor, and finished on schedule. MTA was in charge of the 280 miles of fiber construction on the American side of the border, and Northwestel was in charge of the 200 miles on the Canadian side.

Getting federal permits needed to cross the border took more than a year before that, said Eric Anderson, the company’s vice president of engineering. He credited U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, for helping the company with that permitting.

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