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Treasury Department releases data on nearly 700,000 small-business pandemic relief loans

Mon, 2020-07-06 09:31

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on the coronavirus response on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 30. The Treasury Department on Monday released the names of almost 700,000 companies that received funds from the government’s small business lending program, a massive effort intended to support the economy as states shut down in April to contain the viral outbreak (Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP, File) (Tasos Katopodis/)

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department on Monday released the names of more than 650,000 small businesses that received funds from a government program intended to support the economy as states shut down in April to contain the viral outbreak.

Treasury identified just a fraction of the total borrowers, naming only those companies that got more than $150,000. Those firms made up less than 15% of the nearly 5 million small companies that received loans.

The average loan amount for the entire program was $107,000, the Treasury Department said in a broad summary of the program. The government handed out $521 billion through the Paycheck Protection Program, a crucial piece of the government's $2 trillion rescue package. The loans can be forgiven if the businesses mostly use the money to continue paying their workers. The program initially was set to expire June 30 but was extended last week to Aug. 8.

The recipients employed 51 million people before the pandemic began, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, or about 85% of all workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees. Not all of those jobs were saved. The government won't know how many were until companies apply to have the loans forgiven, a process that is just beginning.

The public may never know the identity of more than 80% of the nearly 5 million beneficiaries to date because the administration has refused to release details on loans under $150,000. That secrecy spurred a lawsuit by news organizations including The Associated Press.

Treasury has released only dollar ranges for the loan amounts, rather than exact figures. Businesses owned by several politicians were listed among the recipients, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican.

DeWine Seeds-Silver Dollar Baseball received a loan in a range of $150,000 to $350,000, the government said. The company owns the Asheville Tourists, a minor league baseball team in North Carolina, which was purchased by the governor's family in 2010. DeWine's son, Brian DeWine, currently serves as president of the baseball team.

Robin J. Vos Enterprises, a popcorn manufacturing company run by Wisconsin GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, received between $150,000 and $350,000. Vos' spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, didn't immediately respond to a message inquiring about why the company was seeking the money and how it's been used.

And Waterville Valley Holdings, an investment group led by the family of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, got a loan of between $350,000 and $1 million. The company is the principal investor in the Waterville Valley Resort, a ski area where Sununu, a Republican, served as CEO until just before he took office in 2017.

The data gave few details about loans to minority-owned businesses. Companies were not required to supply demographic data on their applications, and many entries about race and gender contained "unanswered."

However, many minority-owned businesses don't have employees, and so their loan amounts likely were under $150,000 and therefore not part of the data release. Senior administration officials who briefed reporters before the release said they hoped to get more information when owners submit applications for loan forgiveness over the next few months.

Treasury still was able to determine that 27% of the loan money went to low- and moderate-income areas, the officials said.

The PPP was up and running just days after being approved by Congress in late March. It provided loans of up to $10 million for small businesses to help them recover from the government-ordered shutdowns and revenue losses caused by the virus outbreak. The ability to convert the loans to grants made the program particularly appealing.

Once opened April 3, the PPP sparked a flood of applications from desperate small business owners. The SBA approved more than 1.6 million loans worth $349 million in less than two weeks, exhausting the initial funding. Millions of other businesses had to wait nearly two more weeks for Congress to approve an additional $310 million. Nearly 3.2 million loans worth $172 billion were approved in the second round as of June 30, leaving around $132 billion unclaimed. Congress approved an extension of the program this week until Aug. 8.

Economists generally credit the program with helping prevent the job market meltdown from being much worse. Employers added 7.5 million jobs in May and June, a solid increase though it left the economy with nearly 15 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. Many economists credit the PPP with driving some of that gain.

Yet other analyses, such as one conducted by economists at Standard & Poors, found that businesses in states with fewer job losses received more loans than those in harder-hit states.


AP writers Farnoush Amiri in Columbus, Ohio and Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H. contributed to this report.

Judge orders shutdown of controversial Dakota Access pipeline, citing environmental risks

Mon, 2020-07-06 08:36

FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2016, file photo, heavy equipment is seen at a site where sections of the Dakota Access pipeline were being buried near the town of St. Anthony in Morton County, N.D. A federal judge on Monday, July 6, 2020, sided with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and ordered the Dakota Access pipeline to shut down until more environmental review is done. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File) (Tom Stromme/)

A federal judge ruled Monday that the Dakota Access pipeline must be shut down by Aug. 5, saying federal officials failed to do a complete analysis of its environmental impacts. The decision marks the second setback for President Donald Trump’s infrastructure push in just two days, underscoring the extent to which long-standing environmental laws represent an obstacle to his quest to expand domestic oil and gas production.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge James E. Boasberg wrote that the federal government had not met all the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50 year-old-law that the Trump administration is now seeking to weaken. The law requires federal agencies to assess and disclose how their decisions might harm the environment.

The Dakota Access pipeline, which opened in 2017, carries about half a million barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota's Bakken shale basin to Illinois. The ruling means the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must conduct a more thorough analysis of how a leak in the Dakota pipeline could affect Lake Oahe, which collects water from the Missouri River and lies half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Several tribes, including the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, first challenged the pipeline in 2016. While the Obama administration slowed down the pipeline's development while it consulted with the tribes, Trump expedited its construction immediately after taking office. It has been shipping hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each day between North Dakota and Illinois.

"Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline," said tribe Chairman Mike Faith in a statement. "This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning."

Energy Transfer Partners LP, the pipeline's sponsor, has close ties with the Trump administration. Last month, the company's CEO, Kelcy Warren, held a fundraiser for the president in his home, and former energy secretary Rick Perry rejoined the company's board just months after stepping down from the Cabinet.

Trump has sought to speed the development of pipelines and other infrastructure projects across the country, signing multiple executive orders that seek to waive environmental permitting laws. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency also proposed limiting the ability of states and tribes to block pipelines and other infrastructure projects that could pollute their waterways.

And the White House is expected to finalize a rule within a matter of weeks that would scale back the National Environmental Policy Act, by limiting the extent to which climate change could be considered in federal approval for various projects.

Despite these moves, major infrastructure projects continue to face stiff head winds. In sites across the nation - from the Great Plains to the Southeast and Alaska - activists of color have played a leading role in opposing them.

On Sunday, for example, two energy companies behind the controversial, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline abandoned their six-year bid to build it, saying it has become too expensive and faces an uncertain regulatory environment. African American leaders had joined with property rights advocates in the Appalachians to fight the pipeline project, which included a compressor station that would have been built in a historic African American community.

Supreme Court rules that states can bind the votes of presidential electors

Mon, 2020-07-06 08:08

The Contemplation of Justice statue stands outside the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that states can require presidential electors to back their states’ popular vote winner in the Electoral College.

The ruling, just under four months before the 2020 election, leaves in place laws in 32 states and the District of Columbia that bind electors to vote for the popular-vote winner, as electors almost always do anyway.

So-called faithless electors have not been critical to the outcome of a presidential election, but that could change in a race decided by just a few electoral votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

A state may instruct "electors that they have no ground for reversing the vote of millions of its citizens," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her majority opinion that walked through American political history and contained pop culture references to "Veep" and "Hamilton."

"That direction accords with the Constitution — as well as with the trust of a Nation that here, We the People rule," Kagan wrote.

President Donald Trump has argued both sides of the issue.

In 2012, he tweeted, "The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy." In November 2016 after he won he presidency despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, he tweeted,, "The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play."

The justices had scheduled arguments for last spring so they could resolve the issue before this year's presidential election, rather than amid a potential political crisis after the country votes.

When the court heard arguments by telephone in May because of the coronavirus outbreak, justices invoked fears of bribery and chaos if electors could cast their ballots regardless of the popular vote outcome in their states.

The issue arose in lawsuits filed by three Hillary Clinton electors in Washington state and one in Colorado who refused to vote for her despite her popular vote win in both states in 2016. In so doing, they hoped to persuade enough electors in states won by Trump to choose someone else and deny him the presidency.

The federal appeals court in Denver ruled that electors can vote as they please, rejecting arguments that they must choose the popular-vote winner. In Washington, the state Supreme Court upheld $1,000 fines against the three electors and rejected their claims.

In all, there were 10 faithless electors in 2016, including a fourth in Washington, a Democratic elector in Hawaii and two Republican electors in Texas. In addition, Democratic electors who said they would not vote for Clinton were replaced in Maine and Minnesota.

The closest Electoral College margin in recent years was in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush received 271 votes to 266 for Democrat Al Gore. One elector from Washington, D.C., left her ballot blank.

The Supreme Court played a decisive role in that election, ending a recount in Florida, where Bush held a 537-vote margin out of 6 million ballots cast.

The justices scheduled separate arguments in the Washington and Colorado cases after Justice Sonia Sotomayor belatedly removed herself from the Colorado case because she knows one of the plaintiffs.

In asking the Supreme Court to rule that states can require electors to vote for the state winner, Colorado had urged the justices not to wait until "the heat of a close presidential election."

Reacting to the decision Monday, the lawyer for the electors who challenged the state rules said he’s glad the court acted now. “Obviously, we don’t believe the Court has interpreted the Constitution correctly. But we are happy that we have achieved our primary objective — this uncertainty has been removed. That is progress,” lawyer Lawrence Lessig said.

Energy companies abandon plans for long-delayed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, citing cost and regulatory uncertainties

Mon, 2020-07-06 05:59

FILE - In this June 6, 2017 file photo, hydrologist William K. Jones, walks up a mountain near the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Bolar, Va. The developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline announced Sunday, July 5, 2020, that they are canceling the multi-state natural gas project, citing delays and increasing cost uncertainty. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) (Steve Helber/)

RICHMOND, Va. — The developers of the long-delayed, $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline announced the cancellation of the multi-state natural gas project Sunday, citing uncertainties about costs, permitting and litigation.

Despite a victory last month at the United States Supreme Court over a critical permit, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy said in a news release that “recent developments have created an unacceptable layer of uncertainty and anticipated delays” for the 600-mile project designed to cross West Virginia and Virginia into North Carolina.

The companies said a recent pair of court rulings that have thrown into question a permitting program used around the nation to approve oil and gas pipelines and other utility work through wetlands and streams presented "new and serious challenges."

"This new information and litigation risk, among other continuing execution risks, make the project too uncertain to justify investing more shareholder capital," the news release said.

The massive infrastructure project, announced with much fanfare in 2014, had drawn fierce opposition from many landowners, activists and environmental advocates, who said it would damage pristine landscapes and harm wildlife. Getting the project built would have involved tree removal and blasting and leveling some ridgetops as the pipe, 42 inches (1 meter) in diameter for much of its path, crossed mountains, hundreds of water bodies and other sensitive terrain and burrowed underneath the Appalachian Trail.

Opponents also questioned whether there was sufficient need for the gas it would carry and said it would further encourage the use of a fossil fuel at a time when climate change makes a shift to renewable energy imperative.

Legal challenges brought by environmental groups prompted the dismissal or suspension of numerous permits and led to an extended delay in construction. The project was years behind schedule and the anticipated cost had ballooned from the original estimate of $4.5 billion to $5 billion.

Reaction poured in Sunday from the project's opponents, who lauded the demise of the project.

"If anyone still had questions about whether or not the era of fracked gas was over, this should answer them. Today is a historic victory for clean water, the climate, public health, and our communities,'' Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

The project's supporters said the pipeline would create jobs, help aid the transition away from coal and lower energy costs for consumers. Economic development officials in distressed parts of the three states it would run through had hoped that the greater availability of natural gas would help draw heavy manufacturing companies.

"Unfortunately, today's announcement detrimentally impacts the Commonwealth's access to affordable, reliable energy," the Virginia Chamber of Commerce said in a statement. "It also demonstrates the significant regulatory burdens businesses must deal with in order to operate."

U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in a statement the project was killed by the "well-funded, obstructionist environmental lobby."

"The Trump Administration wants to bring the benefits of reliable and affordable energy of all kinds to all Americans," Brouillette said. "Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the activists who killed this project."

Separately, Dominion, which is headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, and serves more than 7 million customers in 20 states, announced it had agreed to sell "substantially all" of its gas transmission and storage segment assets to an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway. The transaction was valued at $9.7 billion, the company said.

The assets involved in the sale include more than 7,700 miles (12,300 kilometers) of natural gas storage and transmission pipelines and about 900 billion cubic feet of gas storage that Dominion currently operates, the company said.

Duke, which is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of the country's largest energy holding companies.

Duke has previously pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions from its electric generation by 2050, and Dominion has committed to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the same year.

A third partner in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Southern Company, sold its small stake in the project earlier this year to Dominion, the lead developer. Dominion had asserted its commitment to seeing the project through as recently as mid-June, when it asked federal regulators for an extension of time to get the project into service.

“We regret that we will be unable to complete the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Dominion CEO Tom Farrell and Duke CEO Lynn Good said in a joint statement. “For almost six years we have worked diligently and invested billions of dollars to complete the project and deliver the much-needed infrastructure to our customers and communities.”

Nick Cordero, Tony-nominated Broadway star, dies at age 41 of coronavirus infection

Mon, 2020-07-06 05:54

FILE - In this April 10, 2014, file photo, actor Nick Cordero attends the after-party for the opening night of "Bullets Over Broadway" in New York. Tony Award-nominated actor Cordero, who specialized in playing tough guys on Broadway in such shows as “Waitress,” “A Bronx Tale” and “Bullets Over Broadway,” has died in Los Angeles after suffering severe medical complications after contracting the coronavirus. He was 41. Cordero died Sunday, July 5, 2020, at Cedars-Sinai hospital after more than 90 days in the hospital, according to his wife, Amanda Kloots. (Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP, File) (Brad Barket/)

Nick Cordero, a Canadian actor who earned a Tony nomination for the 2014 musical “Bullets Over Broadway” and seemed on the cusp of an even more prominent career before being hospitalized with the coronavirus, died July 5 at a hospital in Los Angeles. He was 41.

His death was announced on Instagram by his wife, Amanda Kloots. Cordero had been hospitalized in late March and was subsequently diagnosed with covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He reportedly had no underlying health conditions but, after being put on a ventilator, developed blood clots that led doctors to amputate his right leg.

Cordero's wife, a fitness trainer and former Radio City Rockette, had posted regular updates on his health, launching a daily singalong with the hashtag #wakeupnick to show support for Cordero during the six weeks he was in a medically induced coma.

Standing 6-foot-5, with dark hair and a baritone voice, Cordero was a menacing presence on TV shows such as "Lilyhammer," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and the police drama "Blue Bloods." But he was best known for his work on Broadway, playing charismatic brutes in musicals including "Bullets Over Broadway" and "A Bronx Tale" - two shows in which his character was previously portrayed on-screen by Bronx-born actor Chazz Palminteri.

Those roles gave Cordero a chance to take major parts, after years of being passed over in favor of shorter actors who, he once joked, looked "better next to the leading lady." Before he was cast in "Bullets Over Broadway," he had appeared in the off-Broadway musical "The Toxic Avenger" and as a replacement performer in the jukebox hit "Rock of Ages," but was preparing for a fallback career by taking real estate classes.

Adapted from Woody Allen's 1994 black comedy film of the same name, "Bullets Over Broadway" featured Cordero as Cheech, a tap-dancing mob enforcer who dumps rival gangsters into the noxious Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. "The producer kept telling me, 'Get tough. Get mean. Get angry,' " Cordero told The New York Times in 2014. "But I'm a nice guy. I'm Canadian."

With a score of 1920s standards and an ensemble cast helmed by Zach Braff and Marin Mazzie, the show received six Tony nominations, including best featured actor for Cordero. He ran away with the show, wrote Times theater critic Ben Brantley, but lost to "Aladdin" star James Monroe Iglehart.

"Chazz Palminteri received a deserved Oscar nomination as Cheech, and Mr. Cordero is just as good," Brantley wrote. "It's not that Cheech's lines are any more outrageous than a lot of what the other cast members have to say. But unlike most of those others, Mr. Cordero never pushes for effect, even when he's leading a homicidal dance number to ' 'Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do.' "

Cordero later starred in the crowd-pleasing musical "Waitress" as Earl, the abusive husband of actress Jessie Mueller's title character. He left the show in September 2016, six months after its opening, to play Sonny in "A Bronx Tale," adapted from a one-man play by Palminteri that had inspired a 1993 film starring and directed by Robert De Niro.

With De Niro co-directing, the show ran for 700 performances, most starring Cordero, who received a Drama Desk Award nomination as a killer whose brutal crime is witnessed by an impressionable boy, Calogero, played - at different ages - by Hudson Loverro and Bobby Conte Thornton.

Nicholas Cordero was born in the steel city of Hamilton, Ontario, on Sept. 17, 1978. His parents were schoolteachers, and his father was a Costa Rican immigrant. Cordero recalled participating in Latin dances as a boy, dancing with older girls ("I thought I was super cool") years before he learned to tap-dance for "Bullets Over Broadway."

"Theater kept me out of trouble," said Cordero, who began performing cabaret at age 14 and later sang on a cruise ship. He studied acting at Ryerson University in Toronto for two years before dropping out to play guitar and sing with his rock band, LoveMethod.

By the early 2000s, he had begun focusing on acting, performing in Canadian stage productions and appearing in an episode of the Showtime series "Queer as Folk" before moving to New York City in 2007.

Soon after arriving, he was cast in a New Jersey production of "The Toxic Avenger," which ran off-Broadway beginning in 2009. Written by Joe DiPietro and Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, the musical was adapted from a schlocky 1984 movie about a geek named Melvin who is thrown into a vat of toxic waste and becomes a slimy green superhero.

As Melvin in the stage adaptation, Cordero played a comically deformed crusader against environmental destruction who tries to save his home state of New Jersey while winning the love of a blind librarian and singing pop-rock songs with titles such as "Hot Toxic Love" and "Thank God She's Blind."

"All of this is carried out in deliciously bad taste that somehow isn't really offensive," Stephen Wells wrote in The Times, reviewing the original production in New Brunswick.

Cordero took on another unusual superhero role in 2015, playing the Avenging Angelo - a villainous character with the special gift of locating empty parking spots - in the off-Broadway musical "Brooklynite."

In 2017 he married Kloots, who had danced in "Bullets Over Broadway." They had a son, Elvis, born in 2019, and recently moved to Los Angeles, where Cordero starred as the Hollywood nightclub owner Dennis in a new production of "Rock of Ages."

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Even Cordero seemed taken aback by the timing and success of his breakout role in "Bullets Over Broadway." Had he not been cast, he said, he would probably be working in real estate somewhere.

“I guess I was always hoping for a moment like this, but I kept wondering if it was ever going to happen,” he told the Toronto Star after receiving a Tony nomination. “But now that it’s come along,” he added, “it seems like a validation of my whole career, everything I worked for and struggled for all these years.”

Ennio Morricone, who created atmospheric soundtracks for ‘spaghetti westerns’ and more, has died at 91

Mon, 2020-07-06 05:37

FILE - In this May 31, 2016 file photo, three-time best sound-track Oscar winner Ennio Morricone answers questions during an interview with The Associated Press, in Rome. Morricone, who created the coyote-howl theme for the iconic Spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and the soundtracks such classic Hollywood gangster movies as “The Untouchables,” died Monday, July 6, 2020 in a Rome hospital at the age of 91. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file) (Andrew Medichini/)

ROME — Ennio Morricone, the Oscar-winning Italian composer who created the coyote-howl theme for the iconic Spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and often haunting soundtracks for such classic Hollywood gangster movies as “The Untouchables” and the epic “Once Upon A Time In America,” died Monday. He was 91.

Morricone's longtime lawyer, Giorgio Assumma, said "the Maestro," as he was known, died in a Rome hospital of complications following surgery after a recent fall in which he broke a leg bone.

Outside the hospital, Assumma read a farewell message from Morricone.

"I am Ennio Morricone, and I am dead," began the message. In the greeting, the composer went on to explain that the only reason he was saying goodbye this way and had requested a private funeral was: "I don't want to bother anyone."

During a career that spanned decades and earned him an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2007, Morricone collaborated with some of Hollywood's and Italy's top directors, including on "The Untouchables" by Brian de Palma, "The Hateful Eight" by Quentin Tarantino , "The Battle of Algiers" by Gillo Pontecorvo and "Cinema Paradiso," a nostalgic ode to the importance of movie houses in Italian small town life, by Giuseppe Tornatore.

The Tarantino film would win him the Oscar for best original score in 2016. In accepting that award, Morricone told the audience at the ceremony: "There is no great music without a great film that inspires it."

In total, he produced more than 400 original scores for feature films.

His iconic so-called Spaghetti Western movies saw him work closely with the late Italian film director Sergio Leone, a former classmate.

Morricone practically reinvented music for Western genre movies through his partnership with Leone. Their partnership included the "Dollars" trilogy starring Clint Eastwood as a quick-shooting, lonesome gunman: "A Fistful of Dollars" in 1964, "For a Few Dollars More" in 1965 and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" a year later.

Morricone was celebrated for crafting just a few notes — like those played on a harmonica in Leone's 1984 movie "Once Upon A Time in America" — that would instantly become a film's highly memorable motif.

That movie is a saga about Jewish gangsters in New York that explores themes of friendship, lost love and the passing of time, starring Robert De Niro and James Wood. It is considered by some to be Leone's masterpiece, thanks in part to Morricone's evocative score, including a lush section played on string instruments.

"Inspiration does not exist," Morricone said in a 2004 interview with The Associated Press. "What exists is an idea, a minimal idea that the composer develops at the desk, and that small idea becomes something important."

In a later interview, with Italian state TV, Morricone cited "study, discipline and curiosity" as the keys to his creative genius. "Writing music, like all creative arts, comes from a long path" along life's experiences, he said.

"A great phenomenon of world music" was how Italian film director Dario Argento described Morricone, who scored five of his films.

In his late 80s, Morricone provided the score for "The Hateful Eight," Tarantino's 2015 70-mm epic and the first time in decades that he had composed new music for a Western. It was also the first time Tarantino had used an original score.

In accepting Morricone's Golden Globe for the music in his place, Tarantino called him his favorite composer.

"When I say 'favorite composer,' I don't mean movie composer. ... I'm talking about Mozart, I'm talking about Beethoven, I'm talking about Schubert," Tarantino said.

Italy's head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, in a condolence message to the composer's family, wrote: "Both a refined and popular musician, he left a deep footprint on the musical history of the second half of the 1900s."

Morricone's sound tracks, Mattarella said, "contributed greatly to spreading and reinforcing the prestige of Italy in the world."

Morricone's style was sparse, made of memorable tunes and unusual instruments and arrangements, and often stirred deep emotions.

His music punctuated the long silences typical of the Spaghetti Westerns, with the characters locked in close-ups, staring at each other and waiting for their next moves. The coyote howl, harmonicas and eerie whistling of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" became Morricone's trademark and one of the most easily recognizable soundtracks in cinema.

Minutes before handing Morricone the Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2007, Eastwood recalled hearing for the first time the score of "A Fistful of Dollars" and thinking: "What actor wouldn't want to ride into town with that kind of music playing behind him?"

It was a night to remember for Morricone, who had been nominated for Oscars five times ("The Hateful Eight" was his sixth) but until then had never won.

Born in Rome on Nov. 10, 1928, Morricone was the oldest of the five children. His father was a trumpet player.

After studying trumpet and composition at the Conservatory of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in the Italian capital, he started working as a trumpeter and then as an arranger for record companies.

"I started working on very easy kinds of music pieces for the radio, for television and then for the theater, and then little by little I started to compose the film scores," he told the AP in 2016.

In 1961 he wrote his first score for a movie, a bittersweet comedy set in the final moments of Fascism called "Il Federale" (known in English as "The Fascist"). That decade also saw Morricone cooperate with Pontecorvo, first on "The Battle of Algiers," the black-and-white classic depicting the Algerian uprising against the French; and later on "Queimada," a tale of colonialism starring Marlon Brando.

Morricone received his first Oscar nomination for original score with "Days Of Heaven," a 1978 movie by U.S. director Terence Malick. Beside "The Hateful Eight," the others were for "The Mission" (1986), "The Untouchables" (1987), "Bugsy" (1991) and "Malena" (2000).

Shortly before his lifetime Oscar, Morricone joked that he would have been happy without the coveted statuette, saying "I would have remained in the company of illustrious non-winners."

But he also made no secret that he thought "The Mission," with its memorably sweet theme of "Gabriel's Oboe," deserved the Academy Award. That year, he lost to Herbie Hancock's "Round Midnight."

Highly versatile, Morricone also orchestrated Italian pop tunes that include enduring classics, like one version of an eternal summer hit, "Sapore di Sale" ("Taste of Salt"), which was written by famed Italian troubadour Gino Paoli.

Another renowned maestro, Riccardo Muti, cited his "friendship and admiration" for Morricone. Muti on Monday recalled that when he directed the composer's piece "Voci dal Silenzio" (Voices from the Silence" ) the work elicited "true emotion" from the audience, both in Chicago, where Muti directs the symphony orchestra, as well as during a performance in Ravenna, Italy.

Muti called Morricone an "extraordinary" composer both for films and in classical music.

Asked by Italian state TV a few years ago if there was one director he would have liked to have worked with but didn't, Morricone said Stanley Kubrick had asked him to work on "Clockwork Orange." But that collaboration didn't happen because of a commitment to Leone, Morricone recalled.

Morricone is survived by his wife Maria Travia, whom he cited when accepting his 2016 Oscar. Married in 1956, the couple had four children, Marco, Alessandra, Andrea and Giovanni.

Gig workers face shifting roles, competition in pandemic

Sun, 2020-07-05 21:23

Alexandra Lopez-Djurovic checks her shopping list as she shops for a client in an Acme supermarket, Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Bronxville, N.Y. Lopez-Djurovic was working full time as a nanny until her hours were cut substantially due to the coronavirus pandemic, so she started her own grocery delivery service that made up for some of her lost wages, but not all. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) (Kathy Willens/)

NEW YORK — There were the two-hour, unpaid waits outside supermarkets when San Francisco first started to lock down, on top of the heavy shopping bags that had to be lugged up countless flights of stairs.

And yet even after signing up for several apps, 39-year-old Saori Okawa still wasn't making as much money delivering meals and groceries as she did driving for ride-hailing giant Uber before the pandemic struck.

"I started to juggle three apps to make ends meet," said Okawa, who recently reduced her work hours after receiving unemployment benefits. "It was really hard, because at that time, I could not afford to stay home because I had to pay rent."

Okawa is one of an estimated 1.5 million so-called gig workers who make a living driving people to airports, picking out produce at grocery stores or providing childcare for working parents. Theirs had already been a precarious situation, largely without safeguards such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers compensation and health and safety protections.

But with the pandemic pummeling the global economy and U.S. unemployment reaching heights not seen since the Great Depression, gig workers are clamoring for jobs that often pay less while facing stiff competition from a crush of newly unemployed workers also attempting to patch together a livelihood - all while trying to avoid contracting the coronavirus themselves.

U.S. unemployment fell to 11.1% in June, a Depression-era level that, while lower than last month, could worsen after a surge in coronavirus cases has led states to close restaurants and bars.

Marisa Martin, a law school student in California, turned to Instacart when a state government summer job as paralegal fell through after a hiring freeze. She said she enjoys the flexibility of choosing her own hours but hopes not to have to turn to gig work in the future. The pay is too volatile — with tips varying wildly and work sometimes slow — to be worth the risk of exposure to the virus.

"We are not getting paid nearly enough when we're on the front lines interacting with multiple people daily," said Martin, 24, who moved in with her parents temporarily to save money.

Alexandra Lopez-Djurovic, 26, was a full-time nanny in a New York City suburb when one of the parents she works for lost her job while the other saw his hours cut.

"All of a sudden, as much as they want me to stay, they can't afford to pay me," she said. Her own hours were reduced to about eight per week.

To make up lost wages, Lopez-Djurovic placed an ad offering grocery delivery on a local Facebook group. Overnight, she got 50 responses.

Lopez-Djurovic charges $30 an hour and coordinates shopping lists over email, offering perks the app companies don't such as checking the milk's expiration date before choosing which size to buy. Still, it doesn't replace the salary she lost.

"One week I might have seven, eight, 10 families I was shopping for," Lopez-Djurovic said. "I had a week when I had no money. That's definitely a challenge."

Upwork, a website that connects skilled freelance workers with jobs, has seen a 50% increase in signups by both workers and employers since the pandemic began, including spikes in jobs related to ecommerce and customer service, said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork.

"When you need to make big changes fast, a flexible workforce helps you," he said.

Maya Pinto, a researcher at the National Employment Law Project, said temporary and contract work grew during Great Recession and she expects that many workers will seek such jobs again amid the current crisis.

But increased reliance on temporary and contract work will have negative implications on job quality and security because it "is a way of saving costs and shifting risk onto the worker," Pinto said.

It's difficult to assess the overall picture of the gig economy during the pandemic since some parts are expanding while others are contracting. Grocery delivery giant Instacart, for instance, has brought on 300,000 new contracted shoppers since March, more than doubling its workforce to 500,000. Meanwhile, Uber's business fell 80% in April compared with last year while Lyft's tumbled 75% in the same period.

For food delivery apps, it's been a mixed bag. Although they are getting a bump from restaurants offering more takeout options, those gains are being offset by the restaurant industry's overall decline during the pandemic.

Gig workers are also jockeying for those jobs from all fronts. DoorDash launched an initiative to help out-of-work restaurant workers sign up for delivery work. Uber's food delivery service, Uber Eats, grew 53% in the first quarter and around 200,000 people have signed up for the app per month since March — about 50% more than usual.

"Drivers are definitely exploring other options, but the issue is that there's 20 or 30 million people looking for work right now," said Harry Campbell, founder of The Rideshare Guy. "Sometimes I joke all you need is a pulse and a car to get approved. But what that means is it's easy for other people to get approved too, so you have to compete for shifts."

Delivery jobs typically pay less than ride-hailing jobs. Single mom Luz Laguna used to earn about $25 in a half-hour driving passengers to Los Angeles International Airport. When those trips evaporated, Laguna began delivering meals through Uber Eats, working longer hours but making less cash. The base pay is around $6 per delivery, and most people tip around $2, she said. To avoid shelling out more for childcare, she sometimes brings her 3-year-old son along on deliveries.

"This is our only way out right now," Laguna said. "It's hard managing, but that's the only job that I can be able to perform as a single mother."

Other drivers find it makes more sense to stay home and collect unemployment — a benefit they and other gig workers hadn't qualified for before the pandemic. They are also eligible to receive an additional $600 weekly check from the federal government, a benefit that became available to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Taken together, that's more than what many ride-hailing drivers were making before the pandemic, Campbell said.

But that $600 benefit will expire at the end of July, and the $2 trillion government relief package that extended unemployment benefits to gig workers expires at the end of the year.

“So many drivers are going to have to sit down and decide, do I want to put myself at risk and my family at risk once I’m not getting the government assistance?” Campbell said.

7-year-old among 13 killed in weekend shootings in Chicago

Sun, 2020-07-05 21:10

Chicago police officers investigate the scene of a deadly shooting where a 7-year-old girl and a man were fatally shot in Chicago on Sunday, July 5, 2020. At least a dozen people were killed in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend, police said. Scores of people were shot and wounded. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune via AP) (Armando L. Sanchez/)

CHICAGO — At least 13 people, including a 7-year-old girl at a family party and a teenage boy, were killed in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend, police said. At least 59 others were shot and wounded.

In one shooting, just before midnight Saturday, four males opened fire on a large gathering in the street in the Englewood neighborhood, police spokesman Tom Ahern said. Two males died at the scene and two more, including a 14-year-old boy, died at a hospital, Ahern said.

Four others were injured; one was in critical condition and the other three were in fair condition, Ahern said. The four attackers fled the scene. No one was arrested.

The 7-year-old girl was fatally shot in the head while standing on the sidewalk at her grandmother's house during a Fourth of July party around 7 p.m. in the Austin neighborhood, police said.

Suspects got out of a car and began shooting, police said. No one has been arrested.

"Tonight, a 7-year-old girl in Austin joined a list of teenagers and children whose hopes and dreams were ended by the barrel of a gun," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Twitter late Saturday.

The mayor added: "As a city, we must wrap our arms around our youth so they understand there's a future for them that isn't wrapped up in gun violence."

A 32-year-old man was injured in the shooting and was in fair condition.

The Chicago Sun-Times, citing police, said that seven of those injured in shootings were minors.

The shootings this weekend that killed young people followed tragedy the weekend before when victims included a 1-year-old boy riding in a car with his mother and a 10-year-old girl who was inside her home when a bullet fired a block away pierced a window and struck her in the head as she sat on a couch.

In response to violence that has occurred since Memorial Day weekend, police said they would have 1,200 extra officers on the streets for this holiday weekend.

Frederick Douglass statue vandalized in Rochester, New York, park

Sun, 2020-07-05 21:06

This photo provided by WROC-TV shows the remnants of a Frederick Douglass statue ripped from its base at a park in Rochester, N.Y., Sunday, July 5, 2020. The statue of abolitionist Douglass was ripped on the anniversary of one of his most famous speeches, delivered in that city in 1852. (Ben Densieski/WROC-TV via AP) (Ben Densieski/)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was ripped from its base in Rochester on the anniversary of one of his most famous speeches, delivered in that city in 1852.

Police said the statue of Douglass was taken on Sunday from Maplewood Park, a site along the Underground Railroad where Douglas and Harriet Tubman helped shuttle slaves to freedom.

The statue was found at the brink of the Genesee River gorge about 50 feet from its pedestal, police said. There was damage to the base and a finger.

In Rochester on July 5, 1852, Douglass gave the speech "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," in which he called the celebration of liberty a sham in a nation that enslaves and oppresses its Black citizens.

To a slave, Douglass said, Independence Day is "a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."

Carvin Eison, a leader of the project that brought the Douglass statue to the park, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle another statue will take its place because the damage is too significant.

“Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over confederate monuments right now? Very disappointing, it’s beyond disappointing,” Eison told WROC.

Seem hazy lately? Smoke from wildfires in Siberia might be what you’re noticing

Sun, 2020-07-05 19:47

Wildfires raging in Siberia during the last week have carried smoke to Southcentral Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, according to the National Weather Service.

Strong winds pushed the smoky air into the region starting in the middle of last week, although Patrick Doll of the weather service said cloud cover began shifting into the area on Sunday, which may make it harder to tell if the air is smoky or just cloudy.

Fires were burning across more than 3.4 million acres of Siberia last week, according to NASA. The region saw heavy wildfires last year, also, and some of the fires this year have reignited from hotspots that did not extinguish fully over the winter. Siberia is also facing record-breaking temperatures this year, reaching 100.4 degrees for the first time, NASA reported.

[Related: The Arctic is on fire: Siberian heat wave alarms scientists]

Doll said it’s not unusual for smoke to drift into Alaska from other parts of the world and he said that wildfires in Siberia last year carried over some smoke, although Alaska already had hazy skies from wildfires burning within the state.

It’s not possible to tell how much longer skies here could be hazy, Doll said, because it’s dependent on firefighting efforts in Siberia. He said temperatures throughout Southcentral Alaska are expected to cool down throughout the week.

Smoke has been reported in western Oregon and in Canada, also.

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‘It’s not somewhere else. It’s everywhere’: Anchorage businessowner turns needles littering his property into art piece about drug use

Sun, 2020-07-05 19:09

The "Karluk Cruci-fix" June 4, 2020 at The Raven on Fourth Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Jenada Johnson)

Darl Schaaff often picks up broken bottles and trash thrown over his property’s fence on the corner of Karluk Street and East Third Avenue. He cleans the grounds of his business multiple times a year, but Schaaff said this spring was the worst he’s ever seen it.

“When I walked up this year, in the spring after the snow melted, I literally cried,” he said. “I’ve never seen it so horrible.”

Schaaff found 54 used syringes amid the broken vodka bottles, discarded clothes and other debris. Looking at the needles piled in the collection container, he saw an opportunity to make a statement about what has been happening in the neighborhood.

“Literally in the middle of the night ... I woke up with this vision in my head to combine two things: One that is both comforting and compelling, which is the crucifix, the cross, and the other is to mix it with things that are so offensive and abrasive like used syringes,” Schaaff said, who created the piece “Karluk Cruci-fix” in May with the help of fellow artist Jenada Johnson.

Schaaff’s event planning business, Art Services North, is located across the street from Bean’s Café and kitty-corner from Brother Francis — Anchorage’s two largest homeless shelters. The stretch of Third Avenue has struggled with illegal homeless camps and open substance use for years.

Schaaff wants the sculpture to draw attention to the issue of open drug use that has become common near his block of Karluk Street.

“I want people to understand that this is a problem, and that throwing money at it, throwing religion at it, throwing all those things at it, hasn’t solved that problem,” he said.

In the ‘Karluk Cruci-fix,” used syringes, some still with blood visible in them, are encased in resin and surrounded by a wooden shadow box. The needles are arranged on top of an embellished silver cross and radiate out toward the edge of the clean, white frame.

The "Karluk Cruci-fix" during the creation process May 23, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Darl Schaaff)

Schaaff said he realized the issue is not limited to Karluk Street. So he added 12 syringes going through the white frame, pointed toward the viewer, to evoke both the holy aura often found in religious artwork and represent how the problem permeates the community.

“I wanted them to pierce that outside veil so that people understood that it’s not contained. It’s not pristine,” he said. “It’s not somewhere else. It’s everywhere.”

Schaaff asked Johnson, a longtime friend and collaborator, to help construct the piece, particularly the process of encasing the needles in resin. This is not the first work Schaaff and Johnson have made together using debris from his property. The two previously collaborated on “The Stones From My Garden,” a piece made of broken liquor bottles, pipes and other drug paraphernalia Schaaff found last fall.

"The Stones From My Garden" June 4, 2020 at The Raven on Fourth Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Jenada Johnson)

While putting the crucifix together, Johnson said there was blood still moving in a couple of the syringes. She said turning what can be disgusting into something beautiful was both challenging and rewarding.

“Transforming the paraphernalia into art kind of gives me hope that the people using the paraphernalia can be transformed in a positive way also,” she said.

“Karluk Cruci-fix” is not on display yet, but Schaaff hopes to donate it for public viewing when he finds the right place for it. Those who have seen it have had mixed emotional reactions, Schaaff said.

“They’re both drawn to it and offended by it at the same time, and then sort of saddened by what it really represents,” he said. “And that’s really what art is about. Art is about making you think.”

Many Anchorage residents may not notice drug use in their neighborhoods, Schaaff said, but the issue shouldn’t be ignored.

“They should know that it exists and be aware that they probably need to be doing something,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but the system has been the same for years and it needs to change.”

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32 new COVID-19 cases announced Sunday, many in Anchorage

Sun, 2020-07-05 17:30

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The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 32 confirmed cases of COVID-19 Sunday, with 27 cases in Alaskans and five cases in nonresidents.

Twenty-three of the new cases announced Sunday were in Anchorage, there were three cases in Fairbanks, two in Seward and one case each in Palmer, Valdez, Petersburg and the Bristol Bay area. Twenty-two of the cases in Anchorage were in residents.

In total, there have been 1,373 COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alaska. Nonresidents account for 235 of the confirmed cases and the other 1,138 cases were confirmed in Alaskans. On Sunday there were 753 active cases statewide. There have been 604 people that have recovered from the virus in Alaska.

Sixteen Alaskans have died of the virus and 72 people have been hospitalized. The state did not report any additional deaths or hospitalizations Sunday.

[For high-risk Alaskans navigating the pandemic, there’s no return to normal life in sight]

Sunday’s case announcements follow a week of record-breaking COVID-19 numbers in Alaska. There were several days last week that included case counts higher than 50.

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Whether cursing, joking or telling stories, Alaskans have always had a lot to say about our ‘state bird’: the mosquito

Sun, 2020-07-05 16:54

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

Every proper authority on the subject will tell you that the willow ptarmigan is the official state bird of Alaska. But as the ancient Alaskan joke goes, the real state bird is actually the mosquito, the common and evil skeeter that haunts Alaska in hordes and leaves a plague of itchy bites in its wake. While many Lower 48 states make similar jokes — especially New Jersey and Florida — the mosquito is an enduring cornerstone of Alaska lore.

Nora and Richard Dauenhauer offered two origin stories for mosquitoes in their 1988 collection of Tlingit oral narratives, “Haa Shuka.” In the first story, a giant descended from the mountains and attacked a fishing camp, eating some of the inhabitants. The Tlingits fought back, but their weapons could not pierce its skin. Afterward, the survivors hunted the monster and finally discovered his home, distinct by the red smoke billowing from its smoke hole.

This Tlingit mosquito mask, made prior to 1843 , is in the collection of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art (public domain image via

The Tlingit hunters set a trap, a deep pit around the home lined with netting. They covered the pit with sticks and yelled for the giant to come out. The behometh succumbed to the bait, left the home, fell into the pit, and became enmeshed in the net. The hunters lit him on fire, but the monster could not die. The giant swore to consume the Tlingit people, even if burnt to cinders. And as the fire burned down, the Tlingit poked at the ashes with a long pole. Sparks flew up and transformed into mosquitoes, which immediately set up the hunters.

In the other version, a human cannibal killed and ate two of three Tlingit brothers. The survivor, the youngest brother, vowed revenge and eventually beat the cannibal to death. “I know I killed this cannibal,” said the surviving brother, “but it did a painful thing to me. What more can I do to make it feel more pain?” He burnt the corpse, and when there were only ashes left, he stabbed at them with a stick, still unsatisfied with his revenge. Sparks rose into the air and became mosquitoes.

In 1869, C. P. Raymond of the U.S. Army Engineer Corps led the first official American reconnaissance of Alaska after its 1867 purchase from Russia. Raymond described massive swarms of mosquitoes and gnats, larger individually and collectively from those Outside. He wrote, “we were obliged to wear face nets and gloves; and on occasion an attempt to make sextant observations failed completely.” In other words, they were so surrounded by mosquitoes that they could not see, let alone make the measurements necessary to document their journey.

In 1880, Ivan Petrof, an admittedly unreliable narrator, described mosquitoes as the “most terrible and poignant infliction” in Alaska. “The clouds of bloodthirsty mosquitoes, accompanied by a vindictive ally in the shape of a small poisonous black fly, under the stress of whose persecution the strongest man with the firmest will may either feel depressed of succumb to low fever.” Petrof continued, “The traveler who exposes his bare eyes or face here loses his natural appearance; his eyelids swell up and close, and his face becomes one mass of lumps and fiery pimples.”

During World War II, the Army engineers shipped in to build the Alaska-Canadian (Alcan) Highway were not initially equipped with netting or any form of repellent, even though troops sent to Europe and Asia were provided netting and repellants. Alaskans had even warned the Army of the mosquitoes. Former Governor Thomas Riggs wrote, “Please do not underestimate the mosquito plague. I have had horses killed by mosquitoes in the country into which you must go.”

Mosquito postcard (From the collection of David Reamer)

Under-equipped, the soldiers responded as soldiers have always responded to poor conditions; they cursed and joked about their lot in life. Historian John Virtue recounted one such joke by the Alcan builders. One of soldiers was awakened by two mosquitoes discussing where to eat him. Said the first mosquito, “Shall we eat him here, or shall we take him down to the river.” The second replied, “No, we’d better eat him here, or the big ones down there will take him away from us.”

A Canadian report from this time offered: “The legend still persists . . . that at least half the planes serviced at airports during the early days were really mosquitoes in disguise. It was alleged by hard bitten soldiers that government planes were painted bright red, not to make them easier to find if forced down, but to distinguish them from mosquitoes.” In this way, longtime Alaska storyteller Ruben Gaines defined the mosquito as “a light fast Alaskan bomber.”

1981 Anchorage Times ad for mosquito state bird plush toy.

Gaines also described the mosquitoes as the devil’s “northern relatives.” “The thing to remember is all mosquitoes seem to have the same soul,” he noted in one of his radio broadcasts. “That is, you can kill one, and billions of others carry on for him.”

The most original sourdough mosquito wisdom is the methodology for measuring a skeeter year. Mosquito hordes differ from year to year. Some years are better; some are worse. To obtain a skeeter grade for a given year, you walk out into the wild, wait for a swarm to find you, and clap your hands. You open them and count how many dead mosquitoes you have on your hands. According to one source, a mere two to three bloodsucking corpses is worth a thankful prayer. Around seven would be average. And upwards of fifteen vampiric insects in your hands means you are in for one hell of a skeeter year.

Key sources:

Collins, Julie. “Skeeters.” Field & Stream, July 1984, 24.

Dauenhauer, Nora Marks, and Richard Dauenhauer. Haa Shuka, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.

Gaines, Ruben. “The Mosquito.” Conversation Unlimited radio broadcast, n.d., University of Alaska Anchorage Archives and Special Collections,

Gjullin, C.M., R.I. Sailer, Alan Stone, and B.V. Travis. The Mosquitoes of Alaska, Agriculture Handbook No. 182. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, 1961.

Virtue, John. The Black Soldiers Who Built the Alaska Highway: A History of Four U.S. Army Regiments in the North, 1942-1943. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013.

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Iran confirms damaged nuclear site was centrifuge facility

Sun, 2020-07-05 14:28

This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows a building after it was damaged by a fire at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran on Sunday confirmed that a damaged building at the underground Natanz nuclear site was a new centrifuge assembly center, the official IRNA news agency reported. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

ITEHRAN, Iran — Iran on Sunday confirmed that a damaged building at the underground Natanz nuclear site was a new centrifuge assembly center, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Iranian officials had previously sought to downplay the fire, which erupted early on Thursday, calling it only an "incident" that affected an "industrial shed." However, a released photo and video of the site broadcast by Iranian state television showed a two-story brick building with scorch marks and its roof apparently destroyed.

A spokesman for Iran's nuclear agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said Sunday that work had begun on the center in 2013 and it was inaugurated in 2018.

"More advanced centrifuge machines were intended to be built there," he said, adding that the damage would "possibly cause a delay in development and production of advanced centrifuge machines in the medium term."

He said that the fire had damaged "precision and measuring instruments," and that the center had not been operating at full capacity due to restrictions imposed by Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran began experimenting with advanced centrifuge models in the wake of the U.S. unilaterally withdrawing from the deal two years ago.

Iran has long maintained its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

An online video and messages purportedly claiming responsibility for the fire were released Friday. The multiple, different claims by a self-described group called the "Cheetahs of the Homeland," as well as the fact that Iran experts have never heard of the group before, raised questions about whether Natanz again had faced sabotage by a foreign nation, as it had during the Stuxnet computer virus outbreak believed to have been engineered by the U.S. and Israel.

The Natanz fire also came less than a week after an explosion in an area east of Tehran that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites.

This Friday, July 3, 2020 satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows a damaged building after a fire and explosion at Iran's Natanz nuclear site. An online video and messages purportedly claiming responsibility for a fire that analysts say damaged a centrifuge assembly plant at Iran's underground Natanz nuclear site deepened the mystery Friday around the incident — even as Tehran insisted it knew the cause but would not make it public due to "security reasons." (Planet Labs Inc., James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

Two U.S.-based analysts who spoke to The Associated Press on Friday, relying on released pictures and satellite images, identified the affected building as Natanz's new Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center. A satellite image on Friday by Planet Labs Inc., annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, shows what appears to be damage done to half of the building.

Destroying a centrifuge assembly facility could greatly impact Iran's ability to more-quickly enrich greater amounts of uranium, which would be a goal for either Israel or the U.S.

Natanz today hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. In its long underground halls, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium. Currently, the IAEA says Iran enriches uranium to about 4.5% purity — above the terms of the nuclear deal but far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. Workers there also have conducted tests on advanced centrifuges, according to the IAEA.

Newtok, the canine sentinel of South Addition, brings grace amid turmoil

Sun, 2020-07-05 11:58

Tonio Nguyen's dog Newtok stands on the sidewalk outside his home Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in South Addition. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

A dying, 40-pound furry Buddha of a dog adopted from a Bering Sea coast village 10 years ago is bringing unconditional love to Anchorage’s South Addition neighborhood.

Newtok sits, listens and shows empathy.

He’s attracted legions of fans who end up connecting with the dog but also with one another.

The time to visit is growing short. Newtok was diagnosed with terminal cancer in May.

Tonio Nguyen pets his dog Newtok on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in South Addition. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

People have always been drawn to the dog in the yard with thick fur and understanding eyes, said his owner, Tonio Nguyen, who found Newtok alone and wandering the tundra on a work trip to his namesake village.

Newtok looks like a miniature, compact wolf. He’s been compared to a cross between a husky and a koala bear. He’s irresistibly cute.

But now, with national racial unrest and a pandemic unsettling daily lives, the visits seem different, crucial in a way they didn’t before.

People seem to need Newtok now.

Linda Klinkhart sits with her neighbor Tonio Nguyen's dog Newtok on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in South Addition. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Tonio Nguyen's dog Newtok sits in his yard Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in South Addition. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Nguyen says his dog has a compassionate and calming presence that draws people close and calms them. People come to pet Newtok or even talk to him. Kids brush him. Many visitors just come and sit quietly at his side.

“There’s one nurse, she is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Every day right after work, she swings by. She still has her scrubs on,” he said in an interview late last month. “I think people are kind of seeking some — just comfort, I guess.”

In May, a friend found a lump on the side of Newtok’s face. The vet diagnosed stage 4 melanoma that had spread into the dog’s bones, glands and body.

“They told us he had three weeks to live,” Nguyen said in late June. “That was six weeks ago.”

He and his partner, Derek Hert, posted a sign addressed to “FRIENDS OF NEWTOK” on the fence outside with the sad news and a leash hanging nearby: “We invite you into the yard anytime to take him for a walk, sit with him, or give him a scratch or hug. I know he means a lot to many people and has a deep connection to many of you. As a stray, Newtok came to us from the Western Alaska village of Newtok. We view this as his ‘return’ home.”

Newtok’s local fame began as soon as he arrived in the big city a decade ago. He was still a wild dog, Nguyen said, and ran off. Photographer and neighbor Clark James Mishler photographed Newtok while he was missing and posted the portrait on social media to find the dog’s owner.

Nguyen said he asked friends if they’d seen his missing dog. Sure, they said. He’s on Facebook. Mishler asked to do another photo shoot with Newtok the next day.

Stephanie Rhoades, Russ Webb, and their dog Chance stop by Tonio Nguyen's home to greet Nguyen's dog Newtok on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in South Addition. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Hundreds of people have come by to visit in the years since.

Tracy Briggs and her husband moved from Kosovo to the house next door last fall.

“Newtok is one of those dogs who immediately makes you love him just from his sheer happiness, sweetness and love of life,” Briggs wrote in an email. “Everyone in the neighborhood and beyond instantly falls in love with him including friends we had who visited us in late March of this year from Britain, Canada and Slovakia enough to wish that they could take him home with them.”

The sign that appeared after Newtok’s cancer diagnosis prompted a remarkable stream of new visitors, some who didn’t know Nguyen or live in the neighborhood, Briggs said. One young girl is particularly in love with Newtok.

“I know that this gives her much love and strength during this crazy and isolating time,” she said.

Madeleine McCauley, 9, stops by to pet Newtok during a bike ride with her mother on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in South Addition. Most days McCauley will stop by a few times to see Newtok, and sometimes will borrow him, taking him to her house to play with her and her friends. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

In one 30-minute period on a mid-June day, Newtok received six visitors: a neighbor who likes to sit with him on a bench installed for that purpose; Chance, the dog; two people who came by to say hi; a neighbor who takes Newtok for a walk and some ice cream at Side Street Espresso; and a 9-year-old, probably the girl Briggs described, who visits several times a day and borrows Newtok to play with him.

Nguyen this week said Newtok’s tumor has grown quite large, but his energy and spirits remain high.

He still waits out there in the yard, a furry little sentinel.

“What’s so interesting is he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t do tricks. He just sits and listens. And he has this presence and he’s nonjudgmental,” Nguyen said. “I think that’s what we all are looking for, is just someone to be present for us.”

Neighbor Racheali Feller pulls over on her way home to pet Newtok on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in South Addition. Feller and her husband sometimes borrow Newtok, taking him for walks to Side Street Espresso, where he gets a treat. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Newtok gets pets from neighbor Racheali Feller and owner Tonio Nguyen on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 in South Addition. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

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It’s time to to enact the Equal Rights Amendment

Sun, 2020-07-05 11:04

An Equal Rights Amendment supporters yell encouragement to two legislators as they walk down a hallway inside the state Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. A House committee approved a resolution Tuesday, to ratify the state's Equal Rights Amendment, which advocates hope will become the next amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 13-9 vote split along party lines, with all Democrats supporting it and all Republicans opposing it.(Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP) (BOB BROWN/)

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. 

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. 

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

This is the entire text of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA was originally introduced by suffragists Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman in 1923. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Basically, what it says is that women — Black women, women of color, Indigenous women and white women — all have the same rights as men. It says that women are not second-class citizens. And yet, here we are in the year 2020, almost 100 years later, and we still don’t have the Equal Rights Amendment as part of the Constitution. How did this happen? Or rather, how did this not happen?

With the support of the League of Women Voters, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and Alaska was the 10th state to ratify the ERA, on April 5, 1972. At the time, I imagined that the rest of the states would follow our lead. How naïve I was! The amendment required 38 states to ratify before becoming the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

Although I was confident of a positive outcome, I also recognized that some fundraising was necessary to speed the ratification. Along with my friends, I organized a dinner at the old McPhetres Hall at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Juneau. We made enormous pots of soup, baked crusty brown loaves of bread and oversized cookies and invited the community to come. We covered every table with butcher paper and crayons for the kids and scattered copies of the ERA on every table for everyone to read. Musicians brought their guitars and sang and the kids, of course, raced around, unaware that their futures were being discussed in Juneau and all over the nation. We were thrilled to raise $1,000 and sent a check by mail the next day. It was a very satisfying feeling to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.

Fast forward from that community dinner 48 years ago to January 2020, when Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA. Problem solved, right? No. The deadline for ratification was June 1982. 

Consequently, in November 2019, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) sponsored a bipartisan resolution to eliminate the deadline. As Senator Murkowski said, “Everyone should be treated equally under the law, but the U.S. Constitution does not currently guarantee women the same rights and protections as men.” Naturally, the League of Women Voters supports the removal of the deadline.

Another attempt to derail the ERA becoming law is that five states (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota) have voted to revoke their earlier ratifications. They may assume Congress is the one to recognize those actions; however, the National Archivist is the one who certifies the ratification documents. And that certification is “final and conclusive,” according to the National Archives. So once the National Archivist has formally certified a state’s ratification action, the state cannot rescind it.

“Women were intentionally left out of the Constitution when it was written,” said Jessica Neuwirth, founder and co-president of the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality. “The Equal Rights Amendment is long overdue.” 

It is not just the League of Women Voters who support the ERA. According to the Guardian, a new poll shows that “about 3 in 4 Americans support the Equal Rights Amendment.” If that majority were truly represented in Congress, we would have the ERA as the 28th Amendment now. For all of my life, I’ve lived in a country without equal rights for women. Forty-eight years ago, I thought that our country had finally matured. I was wrong. The time for redress of pay inequity, domestic violence, workplace harassment, and sexual assault is past due for black women, women of color, indigenous women, and white women — we are all demanding equal protection and opportunities under the law. We all deserve it.

Bridget Smith has lived in Alaska since 1968, and is a member of the League of Women Voters, an organization of women and men that grew out of the suffrage movement. LWV works for voting rights, fair elections and an educated citizenry. LWV has four affiliates in Alaska.

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

Anchorage police questioning suspect after man fatally shot on Fourth of July

Sun, 2020-07-05 10:37

A man was fatally shot in the Mountain View neighborhood on the Fourth of July, Anchorage police said. A woman was identified as the suspect and was detained for questioning Saturday night.

Officers were called to the 130 block of Klevin Street at 7:14 p.m., police wrote in an online statement. A man was found on the ground near the sidewalk with gunshot wounds to his upper body, police said. The man was brought to the hospital, where police said he died from the injuries.

Investigators believe a woman contacted the man outside and fired multiple shots at him before fleeing the scene.

It was not immediately clear what motivated the shooting or how the man and woman knew each other, but police said the investigation is ongoing.

The woman was taken into custody and officers made contact with all persons of interest, the statement said.

This is the fifth homicide to happen in Anchorage this year, not including one fatal officer-involved shooting.

[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.]

Love thy neighbor, wear the mask

Sun, 2020-07-05 10:33

Barber Frank Queliz cuts five-year-old Masen Lauano's hair on Friday, June 26, 2020 at Hair Doctors in east Anchorage. Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Friday issued an emergency order requiring people in the city to wear masks in certain indoor settings starting Monday at 8 a.m., although masks have already been required in hair salons and barbershops since they re-opened in late April. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is the Golden Rule, a guiding ethic found not only in every major religion and in atheistic moral systems as well. It is the most basic and easily-applied rule we have; a foundation of common ground, upon which our shared ethic can be built.

And right now, we all have the opportunity to live out the Golden Rule in an essential and lifesaving way: By wearing masks in public. The worldwide scientific community is unambiguous in its statements that wearing masks works: According to some estimates, more than 30,000 deaths could be avoided by Oct. 1 if 95% of people wore masks in public. Attempts to muddy the clear water of the efficacy of masks are based in ideological deception, not data. 

This is a clear and irrefutable fact. We cannot choose to make it false simply because we want it to be. The only thing that we can choose is our response to this fact. Hopefully, this choice will be guided by the Golden Rule. 

It’s important to note that the Golden Rule is not simply the absence of wrongdoing. It’s not enough to say “do not do to others as you would not have them do to you.” This passive ethic may seem attractive to those who prioritize individualism, but it is an insufficient approach to a community-based problem like the pandemic. We must take action in order to truly live ethically in community. We must do unto others.

And fortunately, there is precedent for this. We have in our shared national mythos the ideal that when faced with seemingly insurmountable crises, we pull together. Following the attack at Pearl Harbor, Americans didn’t passively wait, they lined up in droves to volunteer for service. Following the attacks on September 11, nations didn’t passively wait, they came together to voice support for and solidarity with the United States. And following major natural disasters, people around the world don’t passively wait, we pull together to provide food, shelter and emergency assistance to the affected people. This is in our blood. This is in our ethical code. We answer history’s call to do unto others.

With COVID-19 cases again on the rise, history again demands we respond, and the call to action is clear. We can ‘do unto others’ and save lives simply by wearing one small piece of cloth for a fraction of the day. But we have to do it together. Not as republicans and democrats, but as Americans who protect each other. Not as people of one faith or another, but as humans who love one another. This is both our patriotic duty and our moral imperative. 

And until this mandate can be enforced, it is our duty to make it the societal norm. We can do so by refusing to patronize businesses that are lax in requiring masks. We can speak up to those who are not wearing the masks in public, to make it clear that it is selfish behavior. And we can be stringent about wearing the masks ourselves. In the absence of this leadership from the state and federal levels, both in policy and by example, the onus falls on us to set the ethical example. Because those who choose not to wear the mask are not only violating the law, they are violating humanity’s most basic shared ethic: the Golden Rule. 

Rev. Matt Schultz, an Anchorage pastor, is on the steering committee for Christians for Equality.

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

Militias flocked to Gettysburg to foil a supposed antifa flag burning, an apparent hoax created on social media

Sun, 2020-07-05 08:07

Part of the right-wing response Saturday to a rumored flag burning to be carried out at Gettysburg National Military Park by antifa leftists. Armed right-wing groups turned out to defend the flag. Photo by Andrew Mangum for The Washington Post

GETTYSBURG NATIONAL MILITARY PARK, PA. - For weeks, a mysterious figure on social media talked up plans for antifa protesters to converge on this historical site on Independence Day to burn American flags, an event that seemed at times to border on the farcical.

"Let's get together and burn flags in protest of thugs and animals in blue," the anonymous person behind a Facebook page called Left Behind USA wrote in mid-June. There would be antifa face paint, the person wrote, and organizers would "be giving away free small flags to children to safely throw into the fire."

As word spread, self-proclaimed militias, bikers, skinheads and far-right groups from outside the state issued a call to action, pledging in online videos and posts to come to Gettysburg to protect the Civil War monuments and the nation's flag from desecration. Some said they would bring firearms and use force if necessary.

On Saturday afternoon, in the hours before the flag burning was to start, they flooded in by the hundreds - heavily armed and unaware, it seemed, that the mysterious Internet poster was not who the person claimed to be.

Biographical details - some from the person's Facebook page and others provided to The Washington Post in a series of messages - did not match official records. An image the person once posted on a profile page was a picture of a man taken by a German photographer for a stock photo service.

The episode at Gettysburg is a stark illustration of how shadowy figures on social media have stoked fears about the protests against racial injustice and excessive police force that have swept across the nation since the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25.

Armed vigilantes lined the streets of small Idaho towns last month after false claims circulated online about antifa, a loose collection of activists who oppose fascism and have sometimes embraced property damage and violent protest in recent years. Similar hoaxes have befallen towns in New Jersey, South Dakota and Michigan in recent weeks.

It is not always clear who has made these false claims and why, whether they seek to advance a political agenda, antagonize people with whom they disagree or achieve some other goal.

Social media companies have in recent weeks shut down a handful of fake accounts created by white supremacist groups posing as antifa operatives in a bid to undermine peaceful protests.

Members of a Department of Homeland Security police force stand guard at the North Carolina monument in the Gettysburg National Military Park Saturday, July 4, 2020, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)
An online threat from the supposed leader of antifa called for the burning of American flags on the grounds of the Gettysburg National Military Park where militias and other white nationalists assembled to protect the historic grounds. Photo by Andrew Mangum for The Washington Post

In response to messages from The Post, the person managing the Left Behind USA account identified himself as 39-year-old Alan Jeffs, a lifelong Democrat-turned-anarchist from Pittsburgh who now lives in Des Moines.

The Post examined real estate, court and voter records, as well as other public documents, but could find no such person.

Officials at Facebook and Twitter shut down the Left Behind USA pages last week after The Post inquired about the accounts, saying the person behind them had manipulated the platform by creating multiple accounts with overlapping content in an effort to amplify their messaging. The officials declined to identify the other accounts.

An official at Facebook said the person appeared to be operating the accounts from inside the United States. After the accounts were shut down, The Post was no longer able to contact the person who was claiming to be Jeffs.

But fears of the antifa-sponsored protest had already taken root.

Macky Marker, a member of a Delaware militia called First State Pathfinders, posted a YouTube video calling on militiamen to go to Gettysburg. "If you plan on coming, I would plan on coming full battle-rattle . . . to be fully, 100 percent prepared to defend yourself and whoever you come with," Marker said in the video.

Left Behind USA popped up on Twitter in February, advancing far-left ideas in a torrent of crude memes and graphics that decried capitalism, called for an end to police and advocated a moratorium on rent. The account attacked Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden as a "rapist" and accused him of supporting racist criminal justice laws.

The anonymous person controlling the account described himself in various posts as a laid-off graphic designer, a former Uber driver and a disc jockey. He wrote that he was living off food stamps and sleeping on a friend's couch.

In May, the person sent out an urgent request for gas money on Left Behind USA's Twitter account. He was stranded, the person wrote, with his roommate's car while returning from a trip to Ohio to attend his grandfather's funeral. He said his grandfather, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who had worked in Youngstown, died on May 28 at age 96.

Jim Burgham, the business manager of the IBEW Local 64 of Youngstown, told The Post that the union, which tracks deaths of current and former members, knew of no such person.

"That member you described doesn't exist," Burgham said.

In early April, a person using the name Alan Jeffs created a petition on the website It included a video first posted on a twitter account controlled by the Alan Jeffs persona who runs Left Behind USA. The petition called for the governor of Wisconsin to postpone the Democratic primary because of the health risks of the novel coronavirus.

It included a photo of a smiling, bearded man, purportedly Jeffs, and said he was in Beaver Falls, Pa. Using a reverse image search, The Post found that the photo came from the stock photo website

The Left Behind USA Facebook page was created June 2. When The Post initially sought an interview in mid-June, the person controlling the Facebook page responded in a message: "I don't prefer to talk to conservative media sources."

The person later identified himself as 39-year-old Jeffs and provided several details about his background. "I have been politically active since I was old enough to vote and have voted Democratic in every presidential and midterm election that I've been able to," the person wrote in a private Facebook message to The Post.

Election officials in Iowa's Polk County told The Post that no one by the name Alan Jeffs has ever been registered to vote in the state, according to a database search. Officials in Pennsylvania said there was no one by that name on that state's active or inactive voter rolls, either.

Two media publications quoted Alan Jeffs this spring, citing another of his Twitter accounts that supported former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The Christian Science Monitor found in an analysis of social media data that Jeffs's Twitter account, @Bernieorelse, stood out for its frequent and aggressive posts against former Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg.

"Twitter is the real world now, even more than it was four years ago," the Christian Science Monitor quoted Jeffs as saying in March.

In April, a student-run news website at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism quoted Jeffs in a story about the Democratic presidential nomination. Jeffs said he lived just outside Pittsburgh.

"I'm fed up with the Democrats forcing centrist candidates upon us," he said.

That same month, his social media account @Bernieorelse was suspended by Twitter. A spokesman told The Post the account violated the platform's rules but declined to elaborate.

On June 11, Left Behind USA posted an image on its Facebook page that seemed designed to agitate.

Around an illustration of a U.S. flag aflame, it announced: "Antifa presents: 4th of July Flag Burning To Peacefully Protest For Abolishing Police Nationwide."

"No Bikers, Militias Or Other So-Called Patriots," it said. "Children Welcome - Antifa Face-Painting"

A Facebook page called Central PA Antifa quickly denounced the event as fake, likening it to a hoax in Gettysburg three years ago.

In 2017, rumors of an antifa event at the national park prompted a large group of armed militia members to show up. They encountered no one from antifa, but one of the armed militia members accidentally shot himself in the leg with a revolver.

Still, news of this year's supposed event spread quickly in conservative circles.

On June 22, the far-right website Gateway Pundit published a story claiming that "Antifa domestic terrorists are planning to desecrate the Gettysburg National Cemetery and set the American Flag ablaze on Independence Day."

Local newspapers also picked up the story.

This town of fewer than 8,000 people grew alarmed. Residents flooded authorities with calls. Local officials pledged to mobilize the town's entire 20-person police department and bring in others from bordering towns to protect homes, businesses and statues.

Soon, militia groups were vowing to protect the town as well.

"Multiple local residents in Gettysburg PA have contacted us with HEAVY concerns about the terrorist organization ANTIFA holding a flag burning event in their town," a group that calls itself the Pennsylvania State Militia posted on its Facebook page June 23. The group said it would mobilize its "county response team" as "a deterrent against the enemy forces."

Other Facebook groups called Patriots Against Treason, Defend Our Flag and Nation, Protect Our Flag and Battlefield from Being Destroyed quickly formed and announced they also would mobilize people to Gettysburg.

Bill Wolfe, a Gettysburg resident and member of a private Facebook group called III% United Patriots of Pennsylvania, said in an interview that the flag-burning event represented an "ongoing attack on American heritage and culture."

Antifa's activities, he said, were part of a decades-long campaign by the Communist Party to take over the country.

Last week, the person who identified himself as Jeffs told The Post in a private message sent through Twitter that he expected "500 to 600" people to attend the flag-burning event. "We have mobilized groups from all over the area," he wrote.

"We believe in open carry and plan to do so at this event," he added, a reference to the practice of openly carrying firearms in public.

Twitter suspended the account two days later.

But even more outlandish rumors about the protest were circulating.

A separate Facebook post that circulated widely warned that antifa protesters were planning on "MURDERING White people and BURNING DOWN Suburbs" after the Gettysburg flag burning event. It cited a "controlled unclassified law enforcement bulletin."

In the final days of June, local police publicly said that the post was false.

On Saturday, hours before the planned flag-burning protest, hundreds of bikers, militia members and self-described patriots began gathering outside the Gettysburg Cemetery and at nearby sites with Confederate memorials. Some waved Confederate flags. Many gripped assault rifles slung from their shoulders. One carried a baseball bat.

Steve Eicholtz, a 59-year-old from Biglerville, Pa., said he had seen enough of images of looting and rioting. It wasn't going to happen here, he said.

"These people are acting like savages," he was telling his fellow patriots, while holding an AR-15 rifle.

"We've been letting them get by with it for too long, but that changes now," said Don Kretzer, 52, of Chambersburg, Pa.

Less than a mile away, at the Virginia Monument, hundreds of bikers and armed men gathered around a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Christopher Blakeman, 45, of Falling Waters, W.Va., said he felt compelled to join a group of about 50 bikers, mostly from Maryland, to protect the monument from rumored antifa protesters.

"It doesn't matter if it's a hoax or not," he said. "They made a threat, and if we don't make our voices heard, it'll make it seem like it's OK."

As the 3 p.m. start time for the planned flag burning approached, there was no sign of Alan Jeffs or of busloads of antifa members.

Suddenly, by the statue of Lee, a biker shouted that he had gotten an alarming call. Someone was preparing to burn a flag, after all, he said. Scores of people jumped on their bikes and roared toward the cemetery.

There, they learned it was not the threat they imagined.

A man had entered the cemetery wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. The man, Trent Somes, later told The Post he was visiting the grave of an ancestor, not protesting. A seminarian and associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Hanover, Pa., Somes said a crowd of about 50 people surrounded him and aggressively questioned him about his shirt.

"I didn't do anything to them," he said.

Police arrived and encouraged Somes to leave.

"For his own safety, federal law enforcement made the decision to remove him, and he was escorted out of the cemetery," Jason Martz, acting public affairs officer for Gettysburg National Military Park, later said.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Scientists say WHO ignores the risk that coronavirus floats in air as aerosol

Sun, 2020-07-05 07:59

People gather on Santa Monica beach amid the COVID-19 pandemic on July 2, 2020 in Santa Monica, California. Beginning July 3, Los Angeles County beaches and piers will be closed through the July 4th holiday weekend amid some reinstated restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/TNS) (Mario Tama/)

SEATTLE — Six months into a pandemic that has killed more than half a million people, more than 200 scientists from around the world are challenging the official view of how the coronavirus spreads.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that you have to worry about only two types of transmission: inhaling respiratory droplets from an infected person in your immediate vicinity or — less commontouching a contaminated surface and then your eyes, nose or mouth.

But other experts contend that the guidance ignores growing evidence that a third pathway also plays a significant role in contagion.

They say multiple studies demonstrate that particles known as aerosolsmicroscopic versions of standard respiratory droplets — can hang in the air for long periods and float dozens of feet, making poorly ventilated rooms, buses and other confined spaces dangerous, even when people stay six feet from one another.

“We are 100% sure about this,” said Lidia Morawska, a professor of atmospheric sciences and environmental engineering at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

She makes the case in an open letter to the WHO accusing the United Nations agency of failing to issue appropriate warnings about the risk. A total of 239 researchers from 32 countries signed the letter, which is set to be published next week in a scientific journal.

In interviews, experts said that aerosol transmission appears to be the only way to explain several "super-spreading" events, including the infection of diners at a restaurant in China who sat at separate tables and of choir members in Washington state who took precautions during a rehearsal.

WHO officials have acknowledged that the virus can be transmitted through aerosols but say that occurs only during medical procedures such as intubation that can spew large quantities of the microscopic particles. CDC officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, a top WHO expert on infection prevention and control, said in responses to questions from The Times that Morawska and her group presented theories based on laboratory experiments rather than evidence from the field.

"We value and respect their opinions and contributions to this debate," Allegranzi wrote in an email. But in weekly teleconferences, a large majority of a group of more than 30 international experts advising the WHO has "not judged the existing evidence sufficiently convincing to consider airborne transmission as having an important role in COVID-19 spread."

She added that such transmission "would have resulted in many more cases and even more rapid spread of the virus."

Since the coronavirus was first detected in China in December, understanding of how it spreads has evolved considerably, resulting in shifting guidelines regarding the use of masks.

At first, the WHO and CDC said masks were overkill for ordinary people and should be conserved for health workers. Later, the CDC recommended masks only for people with COVID-19 symptoms.

Then in April, after it became clear that people without symptoms could also spread the virus, the CDC suggested masks for everybody when physical distancing was difficult, a position the WHO eventually adopted.

Now as outbreaks proliferate and governors order a new round of closures, nearly all U.S. states have made face coverings mandatory or recommended them, primarily to prevent wearers from spreading the disease.

The proponents of aerosol transmission said masks worn correctly would help prevent the escape of exhaled aerosols as well as inhalation of the microscopic particles. But they said the spread could also be reduced by improving ventilation and zapping indoor air with ultraviolet light in ceiling units.

Jose Jimenez, a University of Colorado chemist who signed the letter, said the idea of aerosol transmission should not frighten people. "It's not like the virus has changed," he said. "We think the virus has been transmitted this way all along, and knowing about it helps protect us."

He and other scientists cited several studies supporting the idea that aerosol transmission is a serious threat.

As early as mid-March, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when the virus was suspended in mist under laboratory conditions it remained "viable and infectious" for three hours, which researchers said equated to as much as half an hour in real-world conditions.

It had already been established that some people, known as "super spreaders," happen to be especially good at exhaling fine material, producing 1,000 times more than others.

A recent study found coronavirus RNA in hallways near hospital rooms of COVID-19 patients. Another raised concerns that aerosols laden with the virus were shed by floor-cleaning equipment and by health workers removing personal protective gear.

Researchers in China found evidence of aerosols containing the coronavirus in two Wuhan hospitals.

It was the outbreak among choir members in Mount Vernon, Washington — and a report about the incident in the Los Angeles Times — that first piqued the interest of several of the aerosol proponents. Of 61 singers at a March 10 rehearsal, all but eight became sick, despite the members using hand sanitizer and avoiding hugging or shaking hands. Two people died.

A team led by Shelly Miller, a University of Colorado professor of mechanical engineering, dug into church-hall blueprints, furnace specifications, locations of choir members and hours of attendance. The researchers diagrammed movements of the singer who was identified as the person who unwittingly brought the virus to practice.

Inhalation of aerosols "most likely dominated infection transmission during this event," the researchers wrote in a paper undergoing peer review, concluding that the ill person, who had symptoms similar to a common cold, was unlikely to have spent time within 6 feet of many singers or to have touched surfaces in common with them.

"We believe it likely that shared air in the fellowship hall, combined with high emissions of respiratory aerosol from singing, were important contributing factors," the paper said.

Eventually researchers from a broad spectrum of disciplines, including several who have studied the role of aerosols in the spread of the flu, SARS and other infectious diseases, joined forces to campaign for greater recognition of aerosol transmission.

They said that the coronavirus is less contagious through the air than measles but that the risk of transmission goes up the longer air remains stagnant and the longer people continue to breathe it.

In interviews, they said WHO officials had unfairly set a higher bar for showing aerosol spread than was required for acceptance of the other two pathways. "For them, droplets and touch are so obvious that they're proven, but airborne is so outlandish that it needs a very high level of evidence," Jimenez said.

Proof would require exposing large numbers of healthy people to aerosols emitted by COVID-19 patients, a study that scientists said would be unethical.

Donald Milton, a University of Maryland environmental health professor and an expert on aerosols who co-wrote the letter, said the average person breathes 10,000 liters of air each day.

“You only need one infectious dose of the coronavirus in 10,000 liters, and it can be very hard to find it and prove that it’s there, which is one of the problems we’ve had,” he said.