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Postal Service overhauls leadership as Democrats press for investigation of mail delays

Fri, 2020-08-07 20:54

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, left, is escorted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Some clarity is beginning to emerge from the bipartisan Washington talks on a huge COVID-19 response bill. An exchange of offers and meeting devoted to the Postal Service on Wednesday indicates the White House is moving slightly in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's direction on issues like aid to states and local governments and unemployment insurance benefits. But the negotiations have a long ways to go. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s mail service, displacing the two top executives overseeing day-to-day operations, according to a reorganization memo released Friday. The shake-up came as congressional Democrats called for an investigation of DeJoy and the cost-cutting measures that have slowed mail delivery and ensnared ballots in recent primary elections

Twenty-three postal executives were reassigned or displaced, the new organizational chart shows. Analysts say the structure centralizes power around DeJoy, a former logistics executive and major ally of President Donald Trump, and de-emphasizes decades' worth of institutional postal knowledge. All told, 33 staffers included in the old postal hierarchy either kept their jobs or were reassigned in the restructuring, with five more staffers joining the leadership from other roles.

The reshuffling threatens to heighten tensions between postal officials and lawmakers, who are troubled by delivery delays — the Postal Service banned employees from working overtime and making extra trips to deliver mail — and wary of the Trump administration’s influence on the Postal Service as the coronavirus pandemic rages and November’s election draws near.

It also adds another layer to DeJoy's disputes with Democratic leaders, who have pushed him to rescind the cost-cutting directives that have caused days-long backlogs and steady the Postal Service in the run-up to the election. DeJoy clashed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in a meeting on the issue earlier this week.

Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., chair of the House subcommittee responsible for postal oversight, called the reorganization "a deliberate sabotage" to the nation's mail service and a "Trojan Horse."

David Williams, formerly chief operating officer and executive vice president, will take the role of chief logistics and processing operations officer, a step down for a trusted adviser to former postmaster general Megan Brennan and members of the agency's governing board. Kevin McAdams, the vice president of delivery and retail operations and a 40-year USPS veteran, was not listed on the chart.

It's not clear what the impact of all the changes will be. Dejoy wrote in an internal memo to employees obtained by The Washington Post that the new structure would create "clear lines of authority and accountability," but others are more skeptical.

"One of the things that's led to a lot of head scratching is how some of these folks have been reassigned. We're not sure he put the right players in the right spots, but maybe he sees something we don't," said one person with deep knowledge of the leadership team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a candid assessment. "We're all going to wait and see and hope he's done the right things, but who knows? It looks as if most of the people we've all worked with for years and years are still there, just moved around."

The Postal Service will implement a hiring freeze, according to the reorganization announcement, and will ask for voluntary early retirements. It also will realign into three “operating units” — retail and delivery, logistics and processing, and commerce and business solutions — and scale down from seven regions to four.

The structure displaces postal executives with decades of experience, moving some to new positions and others out of leadership roles entirely, including McAdams, Williams and chief commerce and business solutions officer Jacqueline Krage Strako, who previously held the title of executive vice president and chief customer and marketing officer.

"As I said in the video remarks released on my first day, 'I am decisive, and . . . when I see problems, I work to solve them.' Early on, I concluded that our organizational structure was just such a problem to solve," DeJoy wrote in his memo to employees. "I have decided we need to realign the organization to provide greater focus on the core aspects of our business and to give us a better chance for future success."

But the changes worried postal analysts, who say the tone of DeJoy's first eight weeks and his restructuring have recast the nation's mail service as a for-profit arm of the government, rather than an essential service.

"He keeps referring to the USPS as 'our business.' But he's been appointed postmaster general. You don't run a business," said Philip Rubio, a professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University and a former postal worker. "He's not accountable to shareholders. He's accountable to the American people and Congress."

Earlier Friday, congressional Democrats demanded an investigation of DeJoy's cost-cutting initiatives, which postal workers blame for delivery slowdowns.

A letter signed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and seven other Democrats, including Connolly, urged Postal Service Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb to examine how DeJoy, came to implement policies that prohibit postal workers from taking overtime or making extra trips to deliver mail on time, and how such delays specifically affect election mail.

"Given the ongoing concerns about the adverse impacts of Trump Administration policies on the quality and efficiency of the Postal Service, we ask that you conduct an audit of all operational changes put in place by Mr. DeJoy and other Trump Administration officials in 2020," the letter states.

It also asks Whitcomb to review the finances of DeJoy and his wife Aldona Wos, the ambassador-nominee to Canada. The couple’s holdings include between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in USPS competitors or contractors, according to a financial disclosure Wos filed with the Office of Government Ethics when she was nominated for the ambassadorship. Postal Service mail processing contractor XPO Logistics — which acquired DeJoy’s company New Breed Logistics in 2014 — represents the vast majority of those holdings. Their combined stake in competitors UPS and trucking company J.B. Hunt is roughly $265,000.

DeJoy had 30 days from taking over the agency to disclose any assets that present a conflict of interest, according to the Postal Service. DeJoy in a statement said he had "done what is necessary to ensure that I am and will remain in compliance with those obligations."

"We would welcome the Inspector General to look into the steps we are taking to make the Postal Service more efficient," Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer said. "She will find that much of what we are doing is designed to address recommendations that her office has made in recent years."

Agapi Doulaveris, a spokesperson for the Office of Inspector General, said the department had received the letter, but could not comment on ongoing work.

"I would absolutely hope the inspector general would look into why the mail is being slowed, because that's outrageous," said Philip Rubio, a professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University and a former postal worker. "Especially during the pandemic and with America about to vote, this is the worst time to be changing policies."

DeJoy met Wednesday with Pelosi, Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to discuss the new mail-handling procedures and the Postal Service's tenuous financial position. The agency is projected to run out of money between March and October 2021, though it just accessed a $10 billion Treasury loan authorized last week in an early coronavirus relief package.

During the USPS's quarterly board of governors meeting Friday, DeJoy said he negotiated the loan terms with Mnuchin. Upon accessing the loan, the Postal Service, subject to confidentiality restrictions, will hand over proprietary contracts for its 10 largest service agreements with private sector shippers. Those businesses use the mail service for "last mile" package delivery from distribution centers to consumers' homes or businesses.

Mnuchin had sought sweeping operational control of the Postal Service in previous loan terms, including provisions that would allow the Trump administration to approve senior postal personnel decisions, service contracts with third-party shippers, collective bargaining negotiation strategies and high package prices.

In April shortly after Congress authorized the loan, Trump called the Postal Service "a joke" and said he would not approve any emergency funding unless the USPS quadrupled package delivery prices, a move analysts say would quickly bankrupt the agency by chasing away customers to private-sector competitors.

DeJoy, at the governors meeting Friday, said that though he has a “good relationship” with Trump — he’s donated more than $2 million to the Trump campaign or Republican causes since 2016, and chaired the finance committee for the 2020 GOP convention — he does not take direction from Trump on postal issues.

"While I certainly have a good relationship with the President of the United States, the notion that I would ever make decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the President, or anyone else in the administration, is wholly off-base," he said. "I serve at the pleasure of the governors of the Postal Service, a group that is bipartisan by statute and that will evaluate my performance in a nonpartisan fashion."

Coronavirus funding for the Postal Service — and Schumer and Pelosi’s demand that DeJoy roll back the cost-cutting policies — emerged as a sticking point between Democrats and the White House in negotiations on a “Phase IV” relief package. The House passed a package with $25 billion for the Postal Service that does not need to be repaid to replace the Treasury loan. The Trump administration has objected to any direct aid to the Postal Service.

US intel: Russia acting against Biden; China opposes Trump

Fri, 2020-08-07 18:58

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at the William "Hicks" Anderson Community Center in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, July 28, 2020.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (=042011000213name=/)

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials believe that Russia is using a variety of measures to denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ahead of the November election and that individuals linked to the Kremlin are boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection bid, the country’s counterintelligence chief said in the most specific warning to date about the threat of foreign interference.

U.S. officials also believe China does not want Trump to win a second term and has accelerated its criticism of the White House, expanding its efforts to shape public policy in America and to pressure political figures seen as opposed to Beijing’s interests.

The statement Friday from William Evanina is believed to be the most pointed declaration by the U.S. intelligence community linking the Kremlin to efforts to get Trump reelected — a sensitive subject for a president who has rejected intelligence agency assessments that Russia tried to help him in 2016. It also connects Moscow’s disapproval of Biden to his role as vice president in shaping Obama administration policies supporting Ukraine, an important U.S. ally, and opposing Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Asked about the intelligence assessment Friday evening in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump appeared to dispute the idea that Russia was disparaging Biden. “I think the last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump because nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have — ever,” he said.

But the president seemed to agree with the intelligence indicating China didn’t want him reelected. “If Joe Biden was president, China would own our country,” he said.

Evanina’s statement, three months before the election, comes amid criticism from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats that the intelligence community has been withholding from the public specific intelligence information about the threat of foreign interference in American politics.

“The facts are chilling,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote in an op-ed published Friday evening in The Washington Post. “I believe the American public needs and deserves to know them. The information should be declassified immediately.”

The latest intelligence assessment reflects concerns not only about Russia but China and Iran as well, warning that hostile foreign actors may seek to compromise election infrastructure, interfere with the voting process or call into question voting results. Despite those efforts, officials see it as unlikely that anyone could manipulate voting results in any sweeping way, Evanina said.

“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer,” said Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. “We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia and Iran.”

Concerns about election interference are especially acute following a wide-ranging effort by Russia to meddle in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf through both the hacking of Democratic emails and a covert social media campaign aimed at sowing discord among U.S. voters. Trump has routinely resisted the idea that the Kremlin favored him in 2016, but the intelligence assessment released Friday indicates that unnamed Kremlin-linked actors are again working to boost his candidacy on social media and Russian television.

The White House reacted to Friday’s news with a statement saying “the United States will not tolerate foreign interference in our electoral processes and will respond to malicious foreign threats that target our democratic institutions.”

Tony Blinken, a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign, responded that Trump “has publicly and repeatedly invited, emboldened, and even tried to coerce foreign interference in American elections. ... Joe Biden, on the other hand, has led the fight against foreign interference for years.”

Democrats in Congress who have participated in recent classified briefings on election interference have expressed alarm at what they have heard. They have urged the U.S. intelligence community to make public some of their concerns in part to avoid a repeat of 2016, when Obama administration officials were seen as slow and overly deliberate in their public discussion of active Russian measures in that year’s election.

Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, both California Democrats, said Friday that they were “pleased that Mr. Evanina heeded our call to make additional details public about Russia’s malign interference campaign.” But they also criticized him for naming Iran and China “as equal threats to our democratic elections.”

When it comes to Russia, U.S. officials assess that it is working to “denigrate” Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment” among his supporters, Evanina said. U.S. officials believe that tracks Moscow’s criticism of Biden when he was vice president for his role in Ukraine policies and his support of opposition to Putin inside Russia.

The U.S. statement called out by name Andrii Derkach, a pro-Russia Ukrainian lawmaker who has been active in leveling unsubstantiated corruption allegations against Biden and his son Hunter, who used to sit on the board of Burisma, an Ukrainian natural gas company. That effort has included publicizing leaked phone calls.

Democrats, including members of the Senate intelligence panel, have voiced concerns that an ongoing Republican probe into Hunter Biden and his work in Ukraine would parallel Russian efforts and amplify Russian disinformation. That investigation is being led by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Though U.S. officials allege that China has its own preference, Friday’s statement did not directly accuse Beijing of election interference or taking action to prop up Biden.

Instead, the statement said, China views Trump as “unpredictable” and does not want to see him win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of the November election in an effort to shape U.S. policy and pressure political figures it sees as against Beijing.

The Trump administration’s relationship with Beijing has taken a starkly more adversarial tone in recent weeks, including the closure of China’s consulate in Houston and an executive order Thursday that banned dealings with the Chinese owners of consumer apps TikTok and WeChat,

“Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current Administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston Consulate, and actions on other issues,” the statement said.

The top foreign policy adviser of China’s ruling Communist Party, Yang Jiechi, said Friday that “China has no interest in meddling in US domestic politics.”

On Iran, the assessment said Tehran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions as well as Trump and divide America before the election.

“Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content,” Evanina wrote. “Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s re-election would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.”

During a panel discussion later Friday at the DEF CON hacker convention, federal cybersecurity officials were asked which foreign threat they considered most serious.

“I don’t think I would say one is scarier than the other, per se. Certainly some of these adversaries are at little bit more experienced,” said the National Security Agency’s election lead, David Imbordino.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Cynthia Kaiser, the FBI’s deputy chief of analysis for national cyber threats. “If if you ask me what the biggest threat is, it’s the kind of constant drumbeat or influence campaigns that are going to make people feel like they are less confident in our (elections) system.”

Alaska reports 67 new coronavirus cases on Friday, as active count surpasses 3,000

Fri, 2020-08-07 17:54

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Sixty-seven new cases of COVID-19 were reported Friday in Alaska as total active cases of the virus surpassed 3,000.

Nearly half of Friday’s new cases were in Anchorage. The municipality reported 29 new resident cases: 28 in Anchorage, and one in Eagle River. Two nonresident cases in Anchorage were also confirmed.

“We’re still in really high numbers,” said Natasha Pineda, director of Anchorage Health Department, at a community briefing on Friday.

Since June, a bulk of the state’s new resident cases have occurred in Anchorage, which last week issued new restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants and bars, as well as limits on gathering sizes in order to curb community transmission. The city also extended and expanded an emergency order requiring mask-wearing in most public settings where 6 feet of social distance is not possible.

“While we’re starting to see the daily rates decreasing, our actual rates overall are still concerning,” Pineda said, citing an average daily rate of new cases in Anchorage of 61, compared to an average of 65 per day the week before.

Despite high daily case counts, so far, hospitals have not been overwhelmed, and contact tracing is no longer at maximum capacity, Pineda said.

On Friday, in addition to the new cases in Anchorage, one case each was reported in residents of Seward, Soldotna, Sterling, Fritz Creek, Kodiak, Delta Junction, Wasilla, Kotzebue and a smaller community in the Yukon-Koyukuk census area.

Five Fairbanks residents also tested positive for the virus, along with three in North Pole, two in Palmer, three in Juneau and two in a smaller community in Bristol Bay.

In nonresidents, there was one new case in each Fairbanks, Seward, Sitka and Soldotna.

Eight cases were reported in the Kodiak Island Borough, all in the seafood industry. They were linked to a recent outbreak at an OBI Seafoods plant in Alitak, in the southern part of Kodiak.

The 37 cases announced there on Thursday are the latest outbreak in the seafood industry in Alaska, where so far the largest clusters of cases in the state have occurred.

[Seafood plant on Kodiak Island reports dozens of coronavirus infections]

Alaska reported a test-positive rate over the last seven days of 3.02%, and a total of 268,851 tests have been conducted. The average turnaround time for COVID-19 tests processed at state labs in the last two weeks is at 3.1 days.

The chart on the state’s coronavirus dashboard seems to indicate a drop in the number of tests done over the past week. But on a call with reporters on Thursday, state officials said this has to do with a change in the way testing is reported on the dashboard. It now backdates the date each test is reported to when the specimen was actually collected, they said, which is why testing appears to drop off.

Alaska was in fact “the most-tested state per capita over the last two weeks,” said Joe McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the state.

There were 34 confirmed COVID-19 patients currently being treated in hospitals across the state as of Friday afternoon, meaning no new hospitalizations from the previous day. There were also no new deaths reported. Of the 3,025 cases of COVID-19 currently active across the state, 2,449 are Alaska residents and 576 are visitors to the state. Since March, 1,238 people have recovered from the virus.

In total, 25 Alaskans have died from the virus since March, and 141 have been hospitalized.

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Last-ditch congressional talks on pandemic aid package collapse

Fri, 2020-08-07 13:26

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, right, walk to speak to reporters after meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. as they continue to negotiate a coronavirus relief package on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)

WASHINGTON — A last-ditch effort by Democrats to revive collapsing Capitol Hill talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money ended in disappointment on Friday, making it increasingly likely that Washington gridlock will mean more hardship for millions of people who are losing enhanced jobless benefits and further damage for an economy pummeled by the still-raging coronavirus.

"It was a disappointing meeting," declared top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, saying the White House had rejected an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to curb Democratic demands by about $1 trillion. He urged the White House to "negotiate with Democrats and meet us in the middle. Don't say it's your way or no way."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, "Unfortunately we did not make any progress today."

With the collapse of the talks, he said President Donald Trump was now likely to issue executive orders on home evictions and on student loan debt.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, "This is not a perfect answer -- we'll be the first ones to say that -- but it is all that we can do, and all the president can do within the confines of his executive power."

Friday's session followed a combative meeting on Thursday that, for the first time cast real doubt on the ability of the Trump administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill to come together on a fifth COVID-19 response bill. Pelosi summoned Mnuchin and Meadows in hopes of breathing life into the negotiations, which have been characterized by frustration and intransigence on both sides.


Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, accompanied by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, speak to members of the media after meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows as they continue to negotiate a coronavirus relief package on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik /)

A breakdown in the talks would put at risk more than $100 billion to help reopen schools, a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.

In a news conference on Friday Pelosi said she offered a major concession to Republicans.

"We'll go down $1 trillion, you go up $1 trillion," Pelosi said. The figures are approximate, but a Pelosi spokesman said the speaker is in general terms seeking a "top line" of perhaps $2.4 trillion since the House-passed HEROES Act is scored at $3.45 trillion. Republicans say their starting offer was about $1 trillion but have offered some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to states, among others, that have brought the White House offer higher.

Mnuchin said that renewal of a $600 per-week pandemic jobless boost and huge demands by Democrats for aid to state and local governments are the key areas where they are stuck.

"There's a lot of areas of compromise," he said after Friday's meeting. "I think if we can reach an agreement on state and local and unemployment, we will reach an overall deal. And if we can't we can't."

Pelosi declared the talks all but dead until Meadows and Mnuchin give ground.

"I've told them 'come back when you are ready to give us a higher number,'" she said.

Democrats have offered to reduce her almost $1 trillion demand for state and local governments considerably, but some of Pelosi's proposed cost savings would accrue chiefly because she would shorten the timeframe for benefits like food stamps.

Pelosi and Schumer continue to insist on a huge aid package to address a surge in cases and deaths, double-digit joblessness and the threat of poverty for millions of the newly unemployed.

On Friday, they pointed to the new July jobs report to try to bolster their proposals. The report showed that the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs last month, a much lower increase than in May and June.

"It's clear the economy is losing steam," Schumer said. "That means we need big, bold investments in America to help average folks."

Senate Republicans have been split, with roughly half of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's rank and file opposed to another rescue bill at all. Four prior coronavirus response bills totaling almost $3 trillion have won approval on bipartisan votes despite intense wrangling, but conservatives have recoiled at the prospect of another Pelosi-brokered agreement with a whopping deficit-financed cost.

McConnell has sent the Senate home rather than forcing impatient senators to bide their time while Democrats play hardball. That suggests a vote won't come until late next week, if then.

Pelosi and Schumer have staked out a firm position to extend a lapsed $600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, demanded generous child care assistance and reiterated their insistence for food stamps and assistance to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.

“This virus is like a freight train coming so fast and they are responding like a convoy going as slow as the slowest ship. It just doesn’t work,” Pelosi said Friday.

Canada condemns U.S. aluminum tariffs, pledges to retaliate with levies on $2.7 billion in goods

Fri, 2020-08-07 13:17

TORONTO - Canada on Friday hit back against “unnecessary, unwarranted and entirely unacceptable” aluminum tariffs announced by President Donald Trump, saying it will impose retaliatory levies valued at roughly $2.7 billion on a “broad and extensive” list of U.S. goods containing aluminum.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will spend the next 30 days consulting with industry, business leaders and other Canadians on potential targets, after which it will impose the tariffs.

"Canada will respond swiftly and strongly in defense of our workers," Freeland said. "We will impose dollar for dollar countermeasures in a balanced and perfectly reciprocal retaliation. We will not escalate and we will not back down."

The move comes after President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he was using a national security provision to slap tariffs of 10 percent on some Canadian aluminum products and accused Canada of "taking advantage of us, as usual," reigniting a trade dispute between longstanding allies, just weeks after a new North American trade pact went into effect.

Freeland disputed the notion that Canada's aluminum industry poses a national security threat to the United States, calling it "ludicrous."

The United States originally imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum in 2018, prompting Canada to respond with retaliatory tariffs on more than $12 billion of American goods, including playing cards, ketchup and inflatable boats. The United States agreed to lift the tariffs in May 2019 in order to secure congressional approve for a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

The pact was ratified by the Senate in January and went into effect on July 1.

Russia is trying to denigrate Biden, while China prefers Trump not be reelected, US intelligence official says

Fri, 2020-08-07 13:10

William Evanina, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, says that China wants President Donald Trump to lose in November and that Russia is denigrating Joe Biden. (Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary) (Bill O'Leary/)

WASHINGTON - The government of China prefers that President Donald Trump not win reelection in November, seeing the incumbent as “unpredictable,” and Russia is using a range of measures to try to “denigrate” the president’s opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, including selective leaks of information and efforts on social media, a top U.S. intelligence official said in a statement Friday.

The statement by William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, was notable for identifying three countries seeking to influence the 2020 election - China, Russia and Iran. But he portrayed Russia as the most active source of interference. Evanina also said that a Ukrainian lawmaker who has been in contact with Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, is part of a Russian disinformation effort.

"[P]ro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption - including through publicizing leaked phone calls - to undermine former Vice President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party," Evanina said.

Derkach met in December Giuliani as part of an effort by the president's allies to obtain damaging information about Biden in Ukraine, The Washington Post has reported. Giuliani also hosted Derkach on his podcast in February and has said the two have spoken repeatedly about Ukraine and Biden, terming the Ukrainian lawmaker "very helpful."

Giuliani has said that he was aware there were recordings of Biden speaking to Ukrainians and that he sought to obtain them in 2019, while he was working to locate information helpful to Trump in Ukraine. "We would have loved to get the recordings, but we never did," Giuliani previously told the Post.

Evanina also ascribed activities to Russia that were reminiscent of its interference in 2016, when Russia trolls bankrolled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin used social media platforms to flame political divisions in the United States and spread false information.

"Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump's candidacy on social media and Russian television," Evanina said.

Russia is targeting Biden as well as "what it sees as an anti-Russia 'establishment,'" Evanina said. "This is consistent with Moscow's public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration's policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia."

Evanina had previously drawn sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers, who said that he needed to be more forthcoming with the public about threats that he had laid out for them in classified meetings. Evanina's comments were the most detailed to date on various foreign efforts to influence the election. Evanina also called out Iran for "trying to divide" Americans and said Tehran will "probably will focus on online influence" to foment those divisions.

Some U.S. officials criticized Evanina for appearing to appearing to equate the efforts of China and Russia when the Kremlin was interfering much more directly.

"Between China and Russia, only one of those two is trying to actively influence the outcome of 2020 election, full stop," said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

Another U.S. official said that it would be misleading to compare Russia and China's efforts as parallel in scope. China sees the U.S. as an adversary but takes a longer-term, strategic approach that, so far, doesn't include the kinds of short-term efforts to wound a political candidate, the official said.

"China has been expanding its influence efforts" ahead of the vote in November, pressuring political figures it sees as opposed to its interest and trying to "deflect and counter criticism of China," Evanina said in his statement.

- - -

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

Canada’s last intact Arctic ice shelf collapses after years of warmer summers

Fri, 2020-08-07 12:52

This July 2015 photo taken by University of Ottawa glaciology professor Luke Copland shows Canadian Ice Service ice analyst Adrienne White taking a photo of cracks of the Milne Ice Shelf, which just broke apart. The Milne ice shelf was on of the Arctic's few remaining intact ice shelves, but at the end of July 2020 about 43% broke off. Scientists say that without a doubt it's man-made global warming. (Luke Copland via AP)

Much of Canada’s remaining intact ice shelf has broken apart into hulking iceberg islands thanks to a hot summer and global warming, scientists said.

Canada's 4,000-year-old Milne Ice Shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island had been the country's last intact ice shelf until the end of July when ice analyst Adrienne White of the Canadian Ice Service noticed that satellite photos showed that about 43% of it had broken off. She said it happened around July 30 or 31.

Two giant icebergs formed along with lots of smaller ones, and they have already started drifting away, White said. The biggest is nearly the size of Manhattan — 21 square miles and 7 miles long. They are 230 to 260 feet thick.

"This is a huge, huge block of ice," White said. "If one of these is moving toward an oil rig, there's nothing you can really do aside from move your oil rig."

The 72-square mile undulating white ice shelf of ridges and troughs dotted with blue meltwater had been larger than the District of Columbia but now is down to 41 square miles.

Temperatures from May to early August in the region have been 9 degrees (5 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1980 to 2010 average, University of Ottawa glaciology professor Luke Copland said. This is on top of an Arctic that already had been warming much faster than the rest of globe, with this region warming even faster.

"Without a doubt, it's climate change," Copland said, noting the ice shelf is melting from both hotter air above and warmer water below.

"The Milne was very special," he added. "It's an amazingly pretty location."

Ice shelves are hundreds to thousands of years old, thicker than long-term sea ice, but not as big and old as glaciers, Copland said.

Canada used to have a large continuous ice shelf across the northern coast of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, but it has been breaking apart over the last decades because of man-made global warming, White said. By 2005 it was down to six remaining ice shelves but "the Milne was really the last complete ice shelf," she said.

"There aren't very many ice shelves around the Arctic anymore," Copland said. "It seems we've lost pretty much all of them from northern Greenland and the Russian Arctic. There may be a few in a few protected fjords."

Kriner’s Diner must comply with Anchorage emergency order and halt indoor dining, judge rules

Fri, 2020-08-07 12:34

Vehicles line the parking lot at Kriner's Diner in Anchorage on Aug. 4, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

A Superior Court judge on Friday granted the Municipality of Anchorage a temporary restraining order against Kriner’s Diner, which means the restaurant must comply with the city’s emergency order banning indoor dining.

The diner, owned by Andy and Norann Kriner, had continued serving customers indoors after the mayor issued Emergency Order 15, which went into effect Monday and bans indoor dining at restaurants and breweries but allows them to continue takeout service and outdoor dining. It also closes all bars.

Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth heard arguments from the city attorney and Kriner’s Diner during a telephonic hearing Friday morning. Aarseth granted the municipality’s motion for a temporary injunction requiring the diner to comply with the order.

Kriner’s will still be able to file an answer to the complaint from the municipality, which could lead to further hearings in the matter, but for now the diner must comply, the judge ruled.

[Opposition to Anchorage emergency order grows as restaurants and bars scramble to stay afloat]

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Letter: Pandemic propagators

Fri, 2020-08-07 12:30

In a recent candid interview with two renowned infectious disease experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease since 1984 and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, addressed the coronavirus pandemic science, epidemiology and public health.

This is a very unique and changing virus, which makes it very confusing, he said. “One of the major problems is young people not taking it seriously for understandable reasons.”

“We have got to get them to believe that they are part of the Propagation of a pandemic, even though they are doing well themselves.”

“I have never seen a pathogen with such an amazing spectrum of disease severity, going from 20% to 40% of the people who are infected yet with no symptoms, mostly young people.” They are contagious.

“By propagating the pandemic, they are preventing us from getting back to normal and reopening. The virus itself is really, really tricky.”

And, in this young, asymptomatic group, there are CT scan series showing lung damage in a significant proportion, perhaps even half. This is “like a double silence-no symptoms, and with silent hits on their lungs, and perhaps other organs”.

“We don’t yet know the long term consequences. We must be careful”.

And now, even after you clear the virus, there are post-viral symptoms, some severe and moving toward chronic illness and debilitation.

And for every leader, from Donald Trump to Mike Dunleavy, to refuse to insist and mandate what the science and mountains of data confirm — without masking, distancing, hand-sanitizing in partnership with common sense, makes one a pandemic propagator. Every such propagator is complicit in preventing our return to normalcy and reopening. Such absence of responsibility is hardly “freedom”, but, rather, as Paul Krugman has written, “This cult of selfishness is killing America.”

Peter Mjos, M.D.

Anchorage

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Preserving Alaska’s long-term economy

Fri, 2020-08-07 12:14

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses school openings during a livestream Tuesday, Aug. 4.

No one wants to see life and the economy return to normal more than the hardworking Alaskans who are the lifeblood of our great state. I include myself in that category. Every day, my team looks at the data to make informed decisions on what we need to do to get Alaskans back to work without jeopardizing public health. It’s not an either-or decision, but a delicate balancing act. 

What is good for Alaska’s economy and good for the health of Alaskans are not in opposition to each other. We can and must contain the virus while also supporting Alaska’s families and businesses. Fewer deaths and hospitalizations mean better long-term economic outcomes. Ultimately, this is not just a battle against this disease. It is also a battle for a vibrant economy with more jobs, less unemployment and less despair.

Alaskans have been making tremendous sacrifices to follow our health guidelines — staying home more than usual, avoiding crowds, and taking extra hygienic precautions while in public. Our overall statistics show these public health measures are working. From the beginning of this pandemic, we knew that the numbers would increase.  However, our goal was never to eliminate the virus, but to ensure the integrity of our health care capacity and treat those who became ill. With Alaskans working together as a team, we have fared far better on a per-capita basis than nearly all other states, and our ability to treat people has remained strong. 

Yes, we all miss Alaska as we knew it, especially during these summer months. But it’s important to remember that the true danger to Alaska’s economy does not come from the virus, but how we feel about and manage the virus. 

A surge in cases requiring acute medical care would be devastating for Alaska’s people and its economy. If we experience a rapid increase in hospitalizations the problem could drag on longer. Even if businesses are open, they won’t feel confident investing in product or hiring staff if the future is uncertain. Additionally, the average person seeing a spike in illnesses and deaths, won’t feel comfortable engaging in the economic activity that our local businesses desperately need.

The quickest way back to a strong, vibrant Alaska is, ironically, a bit slower than we might like. I often refer to this as short-term pain for long-term gain. We’re fighting this illness with every tool we’ve got. As Alaska continues to reopen, we are monitoring and mitigating the increase in illnesses. Every day, we review the data to make sure we are not moving faster than the ability of our health care facilities to keep up. 

This is a time for patience and understanding as we navigate these ever-changing waters together. Make no mistake about it, Alaska will be back, stronger than ever. Most importantly, we will emerge as a wiser, more nimble state once we reach the other side of this pandemic. 

It has been an honor to see Alaskans come together to fight this virus and to help others during this difficult time. We must unite around the common goal of taking individual responsibility to manage this virus.  As we move forward, I am confident that Alaska will serve as an example of how to handle this healthcare crisis and keep residents safe, while also revitalizing and preserving our long-term economy.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, elected in 2018, is the 12th governor of 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)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.

Letter: Two cities

Fri, 2020-08-07 12:01

The op-ed by Ryan Francis about the homeless crisis, and the concurrent lack-of-compassion crisis, was truly amazing. His willingness to share his personal experience, as well as his willingness to see and articulate the opposite viewpoint, was refreshing. His detailed analysis of the problems we face in dealing with homelessness, how it is massively complicated and seemingly intractable, was insightful.

His conclusion that it is impossible for "residents to have it both ways" — no tent camp but also no shelter in my back yard — and that we must avoid "opposition without giving serious consideration to the existing options" is a call to action. Our efforts to date have not been effective and a different approach is certainly worth trying.

For me, Mr. Francis is welcome in my neighborhood anytime. He has much to offer.

This op-ed is one more example of the excellence of the Anchorage Daily News. Keep up the good work.

Jim Thiele

Anchorage

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Petition for school district to pay families a dividend is unrealistic and misinformed

Fri, 2020-08-07 10:59

From left, ASD Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mark Stock and Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop listen to ASD School Board President Elisa Vakalis speak during an overview of the school start plan on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The impacts of COVID-19 are spread throughout the world, and most certainly we are feeling the effects here in Anchorage. The Anchorage School District has been working since March to develop multiple scenarios to educate our students, driven by data, medical and education experts, and guidance from our leadership at state and local levels. Due to rising new COVID-19 cases in mid-July across the municipality, ASD announced a full online program to start school this fall, a decision in line with our school start plan.

In a recent ADN opinion piece, “School district should pay Anchorage parents a homeschool dividend,” the author described the many struggles parents and students are facing in supporting school at home. Her comments reflect many of the valid concerns I’ve heard from other parents as well. She further asked ASD to provide stipends to all families in the district, at a cost of nearly $100 million.

I feel obligated to provide clarification to the misinformed assumptions leading to her belief that ASD could distribute more than 17% of its annual operating budget to every student in the district and continue to operate at any level.

ASD expends 88% of its general operating budget on salaries and benefits to employees. A $100 million reduction would require laying off more than 1,000 employees. These layoffs would reduce staffing to such a degree that the district’s ability to safely reopen schools (once health conditions allow) would be severely degraded, causing an even greater burden on students, school staff and the entire community, while impairing the district’s ability to properly function for several years.  

However, the author suggests the money to pay for these stipends could be taken from areas of the budget that are “non-instructional.” This is a naïve perspective on how large public organizations function. For argument’s sake, let’s take a closer look at the impact of reducing “non-instructional” funds by $100 million. 

District administration, including all support services, costs a little over $14 million annually and provides the planning, oversight and other essential services directly assisting ASD’s 85 schools in their daily operations. These functions include the school board, superintendent, all of the district’s insurance requirements, human resource functions, payroll, finance, budget, information technology, health services, procurement, capital plans (construction), unemployment, worker’s compensation and our district warehouse and delivery services. Eliminating these areas, which are clearly “non-instructional” as proposed, would immediately shut down all district operations.

The Operations and Maintenance directorate costs nearly $80 million per year. The maintenance budget includes repair parts, maintenance personnel, and contracts that allow the buildings and equipment to remain in operation. It also includes the district’s utility costs (water, heating oil, gas, fuel, water, trash, etc.) and many rental agreements. The Operations Department includes all custodial employees and the costs associated with keeping buildings clean, safe and disinfected. ASD has an obligation to retain the resources needed to clean, maintain and safely operate more than $2 billion in infrastructure that is fully integrated within Anchorage neighborhoods. Although savings can be found when in-person school is not in session, they are nowhere near $100 million.

The remaining two categories, which are not directly in schools, are Student Activities and Community Services. The district budgeted just under $6 million to support student activities this school year. Redirecting these funds to pay for stipends would completely eliminate extracurricular activities (sports, clubs, etc.) for the entire year. Community Services is budgeted less than $500,000 for the school year. This organization coordinates all community rentals of school building space, all activities on school grounds and also provides the district’s auditorium technicians. Those functions would come to an end. 

The request to eliminate all district functions outside of instruction is misinformed and unrealistic. Employees couldn’t be hired or paid, all district support functions would stop, hundreds of contracts with local vendors would end and the local economic downturn would be further exacerbated. Once the danger of this pandemic passes, Anchorage would be left with a school district unable to reopen its doors to its students and staff in a safe and timely manner.   

Like most of the community, I am disheartened by the outcomes of COVID-19 in our community, yet I believe in public education and its ability to empower students through learning. Knowing the frustrations are legitimate, ASD is committed to providing quality education, whether students are at home or in school. We have spent the summer planning for a positive new school year. Please review our website, where your questions and answers on the details of our programs can be found.

I do agree with the author on one thing: We cannot, we will not, fail our children.

Deena Bishop, Ed.D., is the superintendent of the Anchorage School District.

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.

Watch live: Mayor Berkowitz holds community briefing on Anchorage pandemic response at noon Friday

Fri, 2020-08-07 10:53

The briefing will begin at noon Friday and will appear here.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz will hold a community briefing at noon Friday on the city’s pandemic response. The briefing will be streamed on Facebook Live.

Joining the mayor will be Natasha Pineda, Director, Anchorage Health Department; Dr. Bruce Chandler, Medical Officer, Disease Prevention and Control, Anchorage Health Department; and Kate Vogel, Municipal Attorney.

“Anchorage residents are encouraged to ask questions in the comments of the Facebook Live video,” the mayor’s office said.

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Plane skids off runway in India, killing at least 16 and injuring dozens

Fri, 2020-08-07 10:48

The Air India Express flight that skidded off a runway while landing at the airport in Kozhikode, Kerala state, India, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. The special evacuation flight bringing people home to India who had been trapped abroad because of the coronavirus skidded off the runway and split in two while landing in heavy rain killing more than a dozen people and injuring dozens more. (AP Photo/C.K.Thanseer) (C.K.Thanseer/)

NEW DELHI — A special flight carrying evacuees to India who had been stranded abroad because of the coronavirus skidded off a runway and split in two while landing Friday in heavy rain in the southern state of Kerala, killing at least 16 passengers and injuring 123 more, police said.

Abdul Karim, a senior Kerala state police officer, said the dead included one of the pilots of the Air India Express flight. He said at least 15 of the injured were in critical condition, and that rescue operations were over.

The two-year-old Boeing 737-800 flew from Dubai to Kozhikode, also called Calicut, in Kerala, India's southernmost state, the airline said.

A similar tragedy to Friday's was narrowly avoided at the same airport a year ago, when an Air India Express flight suffered a tail strike upon landing. None of the 180 passengers of that flight were injured.

Kozhikode’s 9,350-foot runway is on a flat hilltop with deep gorges on either side ending in a 112-foot drop.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S. Puri said in a statement that the flight "overshot the runway in rainy conditions and went down" the slope, breaking into two pieces upon impact.

An inquiry will be conducted by the ministry's Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, he said.

The airport's runway end safety area was expanded in 2018 to accommodate wide-body aircraft.

The runway end safety area meets United Nations international civil aviation requirements, but the U.N. agency recommends a buffer that is 150 meters (492 feet) longer than what exists at Kozhikode airport, according to Harro Ranter, chief executive of the Aviation Safety Network online database.

Dubai-based aviation consultant Mark Martin said that while it was too early to determine the cause of the crash, annual monsoon conditions appeared to be a factor.

"Low visibility, wet runway, low cloud base, all leading to very poor braking action is what looks like led to where we are at the moment with this crash," Martin said, calling for the European Aviation Safety Agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to assist with the Indian government's investigation.

The Air India Express flight was part of the Indian government's special repatriation mission to bring Indian citizens back to the country, officials said. All of the passengers were returning from the Gulf region, authorities said. Regular commercial flights have been halted in India because of the coronavirus outbreak.

There were 174 adult passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and four cabin crew on board the aircraft, Jain said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was "pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode," and that he had spoken to Kerala's top elected official.

Air India Express is a subsidiary of Air India.

—-

Associated Press writers Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi and Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, contributed to this report.

Letter: Get USPS back on track

Fri, 2020-08-07 10:40

Like most other Alaskans, I depend on the U.S. Mail. In the past couple weeks, I have noticed a slowdown in delivery of the normally dependable Priority Mail flat rate envelopes and boxes. A few have arrived in the Lower 48 two to three days after the forecast date. This has never happened before.

Now I see the likely explanation. President Donald Trump put in a new head of the Postal Service, who immediately ordered slowdowns and no more overtime.

I ask our two U.S. Senators and one Representative to immediately step in to restore the Postal Service. After all, it is not a business, but a constitutionally mandated government service.

Kristian Erickson

Anchorage

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Judge dismisses lawsuit against state of Alaska over coronavirus aid plan

Fri, 2020-08-07 10:07

With a brief order on Thursday, Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg dismissed a 3-month-old lawsuit that forced the Alaska Legislature to briefly reconvene during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, brought by Juneau resident Eric Forrer, alleged that the method used to approve Alaska’s coronavirus aid plan was unconstitutional. The state has received nearly $1.5 billion from the federal government, including $1.2 billion that Congress allows the state to spend almost at will.

Forrer filed the lawsuit when a legislative panel, rather than the full Alaska Legislature, approved an aid plan authored by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Under the plan, about half of the discretionary aid will be distributed to cities and boroughs, a quarter will be reserved for health-care needs, and the remaining quarter will be distributed in grants to small businesses. Smaller amounts have gone to housing assistance and nonprofit support.

With the lawsuit threatening to disrupt aid distribution, the full Legislature reconvened and voted in favor of the plan in May.

After hearing arguments in court, Pallenberg ruled from the bench on Thursday in favor of the state, which sought to dismiss the lawsuit. A written decision will follow later.

Pallenberg had already declined to pause aid distributions while the lawsuit progressed.

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Letter: Facts matter

Fri, 2020-08-07 09:35

Why are some people so adamant about not wearing face masks? Since when is the public's health a partisan issue? You might be surprised at the root cause as our leaders seem not to have made the obvious connection. Since the Supreme Court's decision allowing unlimited anonymous political contributions by corporations, energy companies and their billionaire owners such as the Koch brothers have spent billions in an effort to discredit science and convince many voters that only "the facts that you believe" matter.

CO2 levels in the atmosphere right now, well over 400 parts per million, are the highest they have been in millions of years. We are currently engaged in an unprecedented worldwide experiment that could lead to the end of life as we know it. But change is hard to see when it happens so slowly. Oil, coal and other fossil fuel companies have for decades spent billions of undisclosed dollars denying the change. Alaskans love their Permanent Fund dividend, and many of us think that oil revenues will pay for government for as long as we live here. So it is easier for us to support Big Oil's lies.

Unfortunately, sometimes actions have unintended consequences. Nearly all climate scientists agree that burning fossil fuels is the largest contributor to climate change. To convince us that human activities don't cause global warming, energy companies and the right-wing politicians that they bought and paid for had to convince us that science doesn't matter and that scientists are full of it. These corporations have spent billions of dollars over decades to convince us that widely accepted science is "fake news" and that "alternative facts" can be used to win their argument. And they have been unbelievably successful. Now many conservative voters and most Republican politicians believe the lie that science only matters when it produces a better iPhone. And if you don't believe scientists, why believe doctors? It's no wonder that many now believe that the "liberal elite" are just trying to manipulate us (to what end I cannot fathom).

Now is the time to get smart and start believing doctors and scientists as if our lives depended on it, because they do. We need to believe epidemiologists when they tell us that without a cure or a vaccine, face masks are the best tool we have to prevent the spread of this horrible pandemic. Please wear a face mask when in public — if not to protect yourself, then to protect those around you. If enough selfish people fail to cooperate, it will lead to more "hunker down," and nobody wants that! And let's overturn the Citizens United decision now.

John Farleigh

Anchorage

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We lost my father, Ted Stevens, a decade ago. Let’s remember his lessons.

Fri, 2020-08-07 09:24

Lily Stevens Becker hugs her 5-year-old twin daughters Megan and Chelsea as they sit with the statue of Stevens Becker's father, Ted Stevens. A bronze statue of Ted Stevens was unveiled during a ceremony at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on February 23, 2019. Stevens, who died in 2010, served in the U.S. Senate for 40 years. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Ten years ago on Aug. 9, the world lost five remarkable people when a single-engine de Havilland DHC-3 Otter went down near Aleknagik: Dana Tindall, Corey Tindall, Terry Smith, Bill Phillips and my father, Ted Stevens. My experience from that day into the blurry ones that followed is one that too many Alaskans have had. The joy that four people survived. The shock, and later, the overwhelming grief.

I was not alone in my grief. In the months that followed, many people would break down sobbing when they saw me, probably because there’s no mistaking who I resemble. I wish now I could remember all of the stories that poured out of people after giving me a hug. As time went on, most of the tears faded, but I would still hear “I wish he were here” or “I wonder what he would think about this” from his friends, former colleagues and former staff. I often hear those questions to this day.

As for me, I wonder how he would help us navigate these unpredictable and frequently scary times. I think about the resilience that came to him so naturally, well before most of us learned it was something valuable to cultivate. He moved from Indiana to California as a young boy after his parents’ divorce in the early 1930s. Strengthened his eyesight after failing a vision exam to become an Army Air Forces pilot. Fought in World War II and came home in December 1945 to complete college and law school on the GI bill. Survived a 1978 plane crash and went on to fly as a pilot and a passenger with no hesitation. Raised six children. Served for 40 years in the U.S. Senate, accomplishing remarkable legislative achievements while in the minority. When I find the “new normal” to be overwhelming — keeping up with a career in the law, administering virtual schooling for my twins, cooking, cleaning, and staying positive in the midst of so much negative news — I think of his resilience, take a breath and keep going.

I have tried to tell myself that Aug. 9 is just another day, but every year at this time, I inevitably reflect on those days after the crash. They are painful memories. But 10 years on, I can hold on to the things I gained after the tragedy. New brothers in the sons of Bill Phillips. The friendships with those who dropped everything to help ease the burden of the post-crash load, or to just be there. Gratitude that I had a loving father who still inspires me daily.

This year, I also reflect on the things I saw Dad do in his life and take them as lessons. Reward true friendship with unyielding loyalty. Commit to a quest of lifelong learning. Listen to people with big ideas and see what you can do to help them. Be respectful of people from all walks of life. Fight for equal treatment. Send handwritten notes to friends and people who have touched your life. Have faith, and be comfortable that others may have a different one. Make friendships with people who do not share your political ideals. Relax and recharge with a book, a movie, a walk, music. Take the stairs, not the escalator. Eat healthy food, especially wild Alaska salmon. Sneak in some dark chocolate or some ice cream every once in a while.

In his farewell address to the U.S. Senate, he ended with: “My fate is in God’s hands. Alaska’s future is in your hands.” He left us with a reminder that while none of us can predict our future, we can all be part of the future of Alaska. In this time of unprecedented crisis, his memory reminds me that by listening, working hard, looking past differences and mustering the courage to think big thoughts, we will emerge stronger. Consider his lessons and let’s forge ahead.

Lily Becker is an attorney and also serves on the Board of Directors of the Ted Stevens Foundation. She is the daughter of the late Sen. Ted Stevens.

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.

We can do better than jailing the mentally ill

Fri, 2020-08-07 09:23

Alaska Psychiatric Institute is located on Piper Street in Anchorage. Photographed December 12, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Bedlam was a real place. There was a time in British history when it was second only to St. Paul’s Cathedral as a place to visit in London. For a nominal fee, the general public was allowed to enter Bedlam and view its patients. It was considered one of the best shows in town, and was so cheap that even Londoners put out the money for multiple visits, because you never knew what the show would be that day.

Patients were often naked and chained to beds and walls and each other. The treatments prescribed were in some ways barbaric and involved, at various times, starving them, bleeding them and keeping them very, very cold. While none of these methods worked, that was not really the point. Because for hundreds of years, Bedlam was exempted from oversight by Parliament. Its board of directors had free rein. And it was very clear that for most of them, actually helping the mentally ill was not something they cared about. For many of the doctors and others who ran the hospital over those centuries, getting rich off the admission fee was their main objective. The patients were fed the cheapest of foods, minimally (if at all) clothed, afforded as little heat as would keep them alive, and the rest of the money went to keep the head of the hospital in very comfortable circumstances. There was little fear of being found out, because the position as head of the hospital was often passed down from father to son.

So, what does all this have to do with us here in Alaska in 2020? Well, quite frankly, if you look at the care we are providing to the mentally ill in this state, it becomes quickly apparent that we have barely risen above the standard of Bedlam in the 1600s. Our facility is too small. Mentally ill people end up in jail. Treatment is limited to nonexistent. Families seem to have no more access to good care for their ill relatives than they did 400 years ago. And clearly, money doesn’t always matter, or Kanye West’s wife would not have to put out the statement she did recently. Quite frankly, I never thought I’d feel any level of sympathy with anyone named Kardashian. But the message she put out was about dealing with a family member, a loved one, with a mental illness. Even for the obscenely rich and famous, it is both exhausting and often futile. It was the most human thing she’s ever written.

Mentally ill people do not belong in jail any more than they should be on the presidential campaign trail. In jails, they are just victims waiting to happen. They have committed no crime. They didn’t ask to be born with mental illness any more than a Type 1 diabetic asks to be born with it. But it happens. If you win the lottery and are a diabetic, you get to go to a hospital for your illness. If you lose the lottery and end up with mental illness, you get to go to jail.

What is wrong with us as Alaskans that we find it so hard to feel compassion for people whose brains function differently than the majority? Life can’t be easy for them. The world that we find so easy to decipher is oftentimes a mystery that they find difficult to navigate. The few medications we have frequently leaves them feeling tired and dopey and wiped out. None of us wants to feel that way all the time, especially when it only slows us down while doing little to nothing to actually control the illness. And even if we have medications that are proven effective in helping people like Kanye West with bipolar disorder, if they will not take them then they are no more effective than sugar pills. Families with far less resources than the Kardashians face a daily struggle, often feeling as though there is nowhere to turn. Organizations like NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) provide some support where possible, but families often need so much more in the way of services that are simply not there.

I don’t know how we help our mentally ill population best. I just know that what we are doing now seems like barely above the worst. At a minimum, we should provide them with a safe place to stay when in crisis — a place with mental health professionals available to help them, not jail guards.

As a society, we can and should do better.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska columnist and author. Her book “Coming Into the City” is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

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.

In Colorado’s climate change hot spot, the West’s water is evaporating

Fri, 2020-08-07 09:12

Paul Kehmeier, a fourth generation farmer, looks out on his farm in Eckert, Colo. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)

ORCHARD CITY, Colo. - On New Year’s Day in 2018, Paul Kehmeier and his father drove up Grand Mesa until they got to the county line, 10,000 feet above sea level. Instead of the three to five feet of snow that should have been on the ground, there wasn’t enough of a dusting to even cover the grass.

The men marveled at the sight, and Kehmeier snapped a photo of his dad, "standing on the bare pavement, next to bare ground."

Here, on Colorado's Western Slope, no snow means no snowpack. And no snowpack means no water in an area that's so dry it's lucky to get 10 inches of rain a year. A few months after taking the photo, Kehmeier stared across the land his family had tilled for four generations and made a harsh calculation: He could make more money selling his ranch's water than working his land.


Water from Colorado's snowpack is distributed across the region through a complex network of dams, pipelines and irrigation canals. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)

A 20-year drought is stealing the water that sustains this region, and climate change is making it worse.

"In all my years of farming in the area, going back to about 1950, 2018 was the toughest, driest year I can remember," said Paul's father, Norman, who still does a fair share of the farm's tractor work at 94.

This cluster of counties on Colorado's Western Slope - along with three counties just across the border in eastern Utah - has warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), double the global average. Spanning more than 30,000 square miles, it is the largest 2C hot spot in the Lower 48, a Washington Post analysis found.

The average flow of the Colorado River has declined nearly 20% over the past century, half of which is because of warming temperatures, scientists say. With the region's snowpack shrinking and melting earlier, the ground absorbs more heat - and more of the precious water evaporates.

On the Kehmeiers' farm, like the rest of the area, just under two inches of rain fell between Jan. 1 and July 19. Less than half an inch has fallen since the farming season began on April 1, just 25% of the long-term average.

"The seasons where you don't want to see the warming are warming faster," said Jeff Lukas, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Western Water Assessment.

In the 2015 Paris accord, international leaders agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the Earth's overall warming to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

The world has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the industrial revolution, on average. But global warming doesn't affect the planet uniformly, and 10% of it is already at 2C, The Post found. These hot spots offer a window into what will happen as more of the planet warms: In New Jersey and Rhode Island, a 2C world has weakened winter's bite; in Siberia, 10,000-year-old mammoths are being exposed by melting permafrost; and from Japan to Angola to Uruguay and Tasmania, changing ocean currents and warming water have decimated fisheries and underwater kelp forests.

In Colorado, the rising temperature is forcing a reckoning in this conservative community. The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people across the West and in Mexico. It nurtures everything from vineyards to cattle to peach trees on the Western Slope, and flows to Los Angeles's water faucets and Arizona's cotton fields.

Farming in America's dry interior has always amounted to an act of defiance. Water has reinvented the landscape that Kehmeier's ancestors began working on more than a century ago. A vast irrigation network of pipes, tunnels and dams steers melted snow into fields across the valley and has transformed this sagebrush terrain into a thriving agricultural hub.

With his family's century-old water rights, Kehmeier stores water in a reservoir atop Grand Mesa. Facing long odds on the farm in 2018, he sold it for $100 an acre foot - quadruple the normal price - to a nearby fruit grower and Orchard City. (An acre foot is what it takes to cover an acre of land in a foot of water, roughly 325,000 gallons.)

"It would have to come about 16 miles from the top of that mountain down the creek," he said, pointing toward Grand Mesa, "and the chance of getting it down the creek in a hot dry year when there's not much water in the creek and a lot of thieves beside the creek, it was questionable. So, let somebody else deal with that."

Kehmeier, who grows alfalfa and grass hay, didn't agonize over his decision, but he didn't like driving by his dried-up field every day. Call it a blessing or a curse, but farming is in his blood.

"And if it's in your blood, you want to do it," he said. "I want to go out kicking and scraping if I have to, but I don't want to give up."

He could always plant hay the following year, he thought. Surely, the snow would return.


Paul Kehmeier talks with his father Norman Kehmeier on their farm in Eckert, Colo. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)

Missing: 1.5 billion tons of water

Colorado's Grand Valley, marked by towering mesas, red sandstone spires and two intersecting rivers, didn't used to be farm country. Until 1881, it was the home of the Ute people - hunters and gatherers. But after White settlers arrived and sought to impose an agrarian lifestyle on them, the Utes fought back and killed the federal agent assigned to the valley. In retaliation, Congress passed a law expelling them to a reservation in neighboring Utah, giving the White settlers free rein to claim the Utes' land. Between 1,000 and 1,500 men, women and children were forced to leave, according to tribal history.

By 1884, William E. Pabor had established the Fruita Town and Land Co. to sell lots, touting the area's farming potential to would-be settlers.

"They saw fields of green grain waving, they saw harvest days at hand/ And the blessings of abundance in the homestead on the land," he wrote.


Paul Kehmeier drives between sections of his farm in Eckert, Colo. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)
Paul Kehmeier irrigates his crops before winter approaches. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)
Paul Kehmeier walks through a field on his farm in Eckert, Colo. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)

An agricultural paradise, complete with the kind of orchards and vineyards Pabor rhapsodized about, took root.

In 1894, Paul Kehmeier's great-grandfather William and his wife, Leota, arrived on Surface Creek Mesa, southeast of the valley, with three young children in a covered wagon. They ordered apple trees to plant a year or two afterward.

"They were following the trend of pioneers constantly moving towards the West," said Norman Kehmeier, sitting on his porch as he pointed to the buff-colored house that his grandfather built.

As the pioneers moved in, they started collecting data on the temperature. Five miles north of the family farm, a cattle rancher with a chemistry background began submitting daily weather observations to the Department of Agriculture's Weather Bureau, the predecessor of the National Weather Service.

Starting in 1898, Henry Kohler recorded the monthly mean temperature, the total precipitation and other details. He and other observers sent their reports to be compiled in Denver.

These early records, written in cursive, form the foundation of NOAA's official temperature records, which show that around the close of the 19th century, Delta County's climate was more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than it is today.

Even as they eyed the weather, these settlers dug ditches and open canals to maximize their access to water. That early engineering feat has morphed into a vast network that now irrigates 919,017 acres of crops on the Western Slope, according to the state's water plan. Thousands of miles of ditches crisscross the landscape, a small portion of which have been lined with concrete or transformed into buried pipe.

But that network only functions if there's snowpack.

Last year, Paul Kehmeier adapted to the new reality: He installed even more irrigation equipment and took a job in town.

"You know the saying you see around here on billboards?" he quipped. " 'Behind every successful farmer is a wife with a job in town.' "

For the most part, the lanky 64-year-old farmer is soft-spoken. He believes human activity is helping warm the planet and seeks to reduce his carbon footprint by raising perennial crops and often using an electric motorcycle to get around on the farm instead of a pickup truck.

But he takes umbrage at the idea that he's a victim of climate change: "I'm not in crisis, and global warming is not going to be the death of me in the next few years."

Scientists are still working to decipher why some parts of the world are warming so much faster than others. It is clear why high latitude regions like the Arctic are melting, but the reasons behind some other hot spots are more elusive. Shifting ocean currents off the coasts of Angola, Tasmania and Uruguay have formed visible warming hot spots, upending marine life.

Winters in the Northeast are less cold, but experts cannot say yet whether a warmer Atlantic Ocean is driving it. Western Colorado is experiencing a feedback loop, according to Colorado State University senior scientist Brad Udall, because there is less soil moisture to absorb the solar energy and transfer it to the air through evaporation.

"Heating begets drying, and then drying further begets heating," he said.

Dry areas warm faster for lack of moisture to cool things down, said Chris Milly, a senior resource scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey. Land use, irrigation and natural variability could also help explain part of the disparity.

Milly and another colleague recently found that much of the Colorado River's climate-induced decline - amounting to 1.5 billion tons of missing water - comes from the fact that the region's snowpack is shrinking and melting earlier. That's as much water as 14 million Americans use in a year.

The reservoirs in Lake Mead and Lake Powell are roughly half full. They supply water for millions of people in the river's Lower Basin: Arizona, California and Nevada.

The area around Grand Junction, a city named for the intersection of two rivers, helped nurture the growth of the West. Now, local residents are trying to cope with a present that looks very different from this region's past.

"What we're seeing is changes in real time," said Mark Harris, who directs the Grand Valley Water Users Association. "As water managers, regardless of our personal beliefs, we can't totally disregard these worst-case scenarios. The trends are leading in one direction."

In a normal year, the Kehmeiers grow between 350 and 400 tons of hay; in 2018, they raised 30 or 40.


Storm clouds gather over the remote cloud seeder at the Cedaredge Water Treatment facility in Cedaredge, Colo. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)

To squeeze more snow from the heavens, Grand Junction's water managers have turned to an increasingly popular strategy out West: cloud seeding. When a storm approaches, silver iodide particles are shot into the sky so they can stick to freezing water vapor and form snowflakes.

Not only are Colorado taxpayers funding this effort: Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico residents are spending $450,000 a year to boost the flow of the ever-shrinking Colorado River.

‘You smell that?’

With so many people eager to tap into the Colorado River, selling your water carries some risks. Eventually, you might not be farming at all.

The lesson is 308 miles away, in a town called Sugar City, east of Pueblo, Colo. Farmers there sold off all their water rights to surrounding municipalities.

"It used to be a sugar beet growing area," Kehmeier said. "And that's about the saddest, dust-blown little nothing town that you ever saw."


The Roller Dam diverts water to irrigation canals and regulates the flow of the Colorado River. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)

Under a 1922 compact, Upper Basin states - Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico - must deliver an average of 8.25 million acre feet of water over the course of 10 consecutive years to the Lower Basin states and Mexico.

But as the Colorado River's annual flow since 2000 is 2.3 million acre feet below its 20th-century average, it is becoming harder to deliver on its commitment.

The city of Grand Junction recently analyzed whether it has enough water to supply its 30,000 customers even if the drought persists. In the near term, according to its utilities director Randi Kim, the city is fine.

But it also looked over the next 50 years - and came up as much as 3,300 acre feet short, which would force it to tap water directly from the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. And that was without calculating the full impacts of climate change.

"Our pristine mountain water supply would not be able to meet those projections," Kim said. "I mean, it's basically just melted snow. It's beautiful water."

An hour to the southeast, David Harold is also trying to cope.

"I grow just about anything that I can get my hands on. I do hops. I do hemp. I do squash. I do sweet corn, and I do dried beans," Harold said as he steered his truck around his property, papers spilling off his dashboard. "We have cattle."

Hemp was a new addition to Harold's rotation. There is a hemp gold rush underway in the valley, fueled by the ever-burgeoning consumer demand for CBD oil products. It's a somewhat awkward fit for this conservative-leaning patch of America.

"You smell that?" said Steve Anderson, manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, wrinkling his nose as he stepped out of his SUV right next to an enormous hemp field.

Hemp uses less than half the water compared with corn, hay or alfalfa. Last year, people rushed to plant about 14,000 acres on the area he manages.

"It's not gonna work out. We have a bunch of people, some with limited farming practice getting into it," said Anderson, a bespectacled man in overalls whose drawl stretches out his words. "So I wish 'em all the best of luck. But what we're seeing now is not sustainable."

Harold, for his part, knows he's taking a gamble. When it comes to hemp, he said, "We don't know what we're doing. You know, mine is not the worst, but it's definitely not great. You know, it's mediocre."

Colorado accounted for almost a quarter of the nation's hemp acreage last year, according to Colorado State University agribusiness professor Dawn Thilmany, but it was a gamble that did not pay off. Due to a glut, the price dropped 66%. In the end, Harold couldn't find a buyer.

Harold is determined to keep growing other crops, like the Olathe Sweet sweet corn his father trademarked. The two of them, and a few other farmers, formed a group dubbed No Chico Brush to keep farming alive here.

That name alludes to the native scrubs that would replace the green swaths of the valley that exist thanks to irrigation. Harold and other farmers are now consulting with environmentalists and local officials, trying to balance competing water uses in the valley.

"We don't want our water to disappear, and the irrigated agriculture to disappear," Harold said, as he collected compost from his field. "And then this place turns back into, you know, just a valley of chico brush."

Debating climate in oil and gas country

This past winter, it looked like the snowpack would deliver. The Upper Basin's snowpack was right at 100%. But hotter temperatures robbed the mesa of this bounty, by evaporating water as it ran down the mountain. The Colorado River's current runoff is just 54% compared with average, according to federal data.

Paul Kehmeier is used to dealing with evaporation: "We have to, as we call it, 'suffer the shrink.' " But several factors compounded his problems this year. Someone opened the head gate at his main reservoir, so water flowed downhill for two months when it should have been stored.

"Our little site is not much better than 2018," he said.

Everyone can see the problem, but in a swing state like Colorado, politicians remain divided about the solution.


John Harold feeds his cattle on the ranch where he runs his cattle during the summer of Olathe, Colo. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)

In Denver, on the other side of the Rockies, a climate task force has just proposed putting a carbon sales tax on the ballot to help fund a transition away from fossil fuels - a move that would be a first for any U.S. city. But around Grand Junction, where the oil and gas industry still dominates, the politics are more complicated.

The Democrat running for the Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, Diane Mitsch Bush, identifies dwindling snowpack and prolonged drought as major threats to the region. "Climate change is the defining issue of our time," she declares on her website.

But her GOP rival Lauren Boebert - a gun rights activist whose husband has spent his entire career working in oil and gas - has mocked Democratic calls for climate action.

After presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted in May, "Climate change poses an existential threat to our future," Boebert was quick to shoot back. "What's your climate change solution that doesn't include taxation and socialism? Oh wait . . ." she replied.

This area's economy is so intertwined with fossil fuels that when teenagers across the globe skipped school in a climate strike last September, student activists took a different tack.

Seventeen-year-old Liliana Flanigan, who just graduated from Palisade High School, remembers when she heard kids elsewhere planned to cut class. "And I remember feeling like" - her voice dropped to a whisper - " 'I can't drop out of class.' I mean, it would honestly cause more harm than good." Instead, the kids protested after school.

The Kehmeiers used to consider themselves Republicans, and still call themselves conservatives. But under President Donald Trump, Norman said, "I have very much left the party, or as I've said, the party has left me."

Last fall, he offered that "maybe" some of the warming he'd observed over his lifetime came from natural causes rather than fossil fuel burning.

"I'm not a climate denier, but I'm not sure how much of it is human caused," he said. "I reserve judgment on that."

But in recent months, he'd come to reflect on the tipping points that may no longer be avoidable: warming oceans and melting permafrost. "I'm quite concerned about climate change," he said in a phone call earlier this year.

Still, with his 95th birthday approaching, he holds fast to a bit of the optimism that has sustained his family on this improbable farming mecca for more than a century.

“I have faith the species will solve the problem after I’m gone.”

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