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Brazilian Senate report urges that Bolsonaro be charged with crime against humanity over pandemic

Wed, 2021-10-20 06:09

White flags representing people who have died of COVID-19 in Brazil cover a field as part of a protest against the government's health policies outside the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Activists said they placed 600 flags, each with a person's name, to represent the 600,000 death toll, announced the previous day. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) (Eraldo Peres/)

BRASILIA, Brazil — A Senate report to be presented Wednesday will recommend President Jair Bolsonaro be indicted on criminal charges for allegedly bungling Brazil’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and pushing the country’s death toll to second-highest in the world, according to members of the committee that will vote on it.

The report, which is based on six months of work by the committee, calls for Bolsonaro to be indicted on nine charges, from charlatanism and inciting crime all the way up to crime against humanity, according to two members of the committee that has been investigating the government’s handling of the pandemic. They agreed to discuss details of the report ahead of its formal, public presentation only if not quoted by name.

The report can still be modified before the committee vote on Oct. 26, and the decision on whether to file most of the charges would be up to Brazil’s prosecutor-general, who was appointed by the president.

Analysts say it’s unclear if he would act.

Recommended charges also include misuse of public funds and “prevarication,” which entails delaying or refraining from action required as part of a public official’s duty for reasons of personal interest.

Bolsonaro has denied any wrongdoing, and has repeatedly accused the investigation of being a political instrument aimed at sabotaging him.


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro talks on cell phone after meeting with Colombia's President Ivan Duque at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Duque is on a two-day visit to Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) (Eraldo Peres/)

Critics have denounced Bolsonaro for downplaying COVID-19′s severity, ignoring international health guidelines on masks and restrictions on activity designed to prevent the virus’ spread, touting unproven treatments and delaying the acquisition of vaccines.

Anger over the president’s response prompted creation of the Senate committee in April, which has investigated allegations that Bolsonaro’s management of the pandemic caused many of Brazil’s more than 600,000 deaths from the disease.

Sen. Renan Calheiros, who drafted the report, was scheduled to present its final version Wednesday to the 11-person committee. An earlier draft had nearly 1,200 pages.

The document has to be approved by the committee before being sent to the office of the prosecutor-general, who would decide whether to carry forward the investigation and eventually pursue charges. In Brazil, members of congressional committees can investigate, but don’t have the power to indict.

Regardless of whether the prosecutor-general acts, the report’s allegations are expected to fuel criticism of the far-right leader, whose approval ratings have slumped ahead of his 2022 reelection campaign.

“The major impact of the investigation is political, because it generated tons of news that certainly will be used by campaign strategists next year,” said Thiago de Aragão, director of strategy at political consultancy Arko Advice.

Even during the worst throes of the pandemic, Bolsonaro steadfastly restrictions on activity, claiming the poor would suffer worse hardship if the economy ground to a halt. He continues to argue that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating COVID-19, though broad, major studies have found it to be ineffective and potentially dangerous.

During six months of investigation, senators obtained thousands of documents and heard testimony from over 60 people.

“This committee collected evidence that abundantly demonstrated that the federal government was silent and chose to act in a non-technical and reckless manner,” according to an earlier draft of the report, which was reviewed by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The draft had recommended the president be indicted for homicide and genocide, as well, though those two were scrapped in the face of opposition from committee members and concern that bombastic claims could undermine the report’s credibility.

The draft concluded that the government “deliberately exposed the population to a concrete risk of mass infection,” influenced by a group of unofficial advisers who advocated for pursuing herd immunity long after many experts said that wasn’t a viable option.

In addition to Bolsonaro, the final report will recommend charges for dozens of allies, current and former members of his administration and his three eldest sons, all of whom are politicians, according to the two senators who spoke with the AP.

White House details plans to vaccinate millions of children ages 5 to 11 after FDA approval

Wed, 2021-10-20 05:14

Alejandra Gerardo, 9, looks up to her mom, Dr. Susanna Naggie, as she gets the first of two Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations during a clinical trial for children at Duke Health in Durham, N.C. (Shawn Rocco/Duke Health via AP) (Shawn Rocco/)

WASHINGTON — Children age 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician’s office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school, the White House said Wednesday as it detailed plans for the expected authorization of the Pfizer shot for younger children in a matter of weeks.

Federal regulators will meet over the next two weeks to weigh the benefits of giving shots to kids, after lengthy studies meant to ensure the safety of the vaccines.

Within hours of formal approval, expected after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory meeting scheduled for Nov. 2-3, doses will begin shipping to providers across the country, along with smaller needles necessary for injecting young kids, and within days will be ready to go into the arms of kids on a wide scale.

“We’re completing the operational planning to ensure vaccinations for kids ages 5-11 are available, easy and convenient,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients on Wednesday.

The Biden administration notes the nationwide campaign to extend the protection of vaccination to the school-going cohort will not look like the start of the country’s vaccine rollout 10 months ago, when scarcity of doses and capacity issues meant a painstaking wait for many Americans. The country now has ample supplies of the Pfizer shot to vaccinate the roughly 28 million kids who will soon be eligible, White House officials said, and have been working for months to ensure widespread availability of shots once approved.

More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers have already signed on to administer COVID-19 vaccine shots to kids, the White House said, in addition to the tens of thousands of retail pharmacies that are already administering shots to adults. Hundreds of school- and community-based clinics will also be funded and supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help speed putting shots into arms.

The White House is also preparing to mobilize a stepped-up campaign to educate parents and kids about the safety of the shots and the ease of getting them. As has been the case for adult vaccinations, the administration believes trusted messengers — educators, doctors, and community leaders — will be vital to encouraging vaccinations.

While children are at lower risk than older people of having serious side effects from COVID-19, those serious consequences do occur – and officials note that vaccination both dramatically reduces those chances and will reduce the spread of the more transmissible delta variant in communities, contributing to the nation’s broader recovery from the pandemic.

“COVID has also disrupted our kids lives. It’s made school harder, it’s disrupted their ability to see friends and family, it’s made youth sports more challenging,” U.S. surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy told NBC on Wednesday. “Getting our kids vaccinated, we have the prospect of protecting them, but also getting all of those activities back that are so important to our children.”

Murthy said the administration, which is promoting employer vaccine mandates for adults, is leaving the question of requirements for schools to local and state officials, but called them “reasonable.”

“Those are decisions on, when it comes to school requirements, that are made by localities and by states,” he told NBC’s “Today.” “You’ve seen already some localities and states talk about vaccine requirements for kids. And I think it’s a reasonable thing to consider to get those vaccination rates high. And it’s also consistent with what we’ve done for other childhood vaccines, like measles, mumps, polio.”

The administration notes that kids who get their first shot within a couple weeks of the expected approval in early November will be fully vaccinated by Christmas.

The U.S. has purchased 65 million doses of the Pfizer pediatric shot — expected to be one third the dosage for adults and adolescents — according to officials, more than enough for every kid in the age group. They will ship in smaller packages of about 100 doses each, so that more providers can deliver them, and they can be stored for up to 10 weeks at standard refrigeration temperatures.

About 219 million Americans aged 12 and up, or 66% of the total population, have received a COVID-19 shot and nearly 190 million are fully vaccinated.

The census gave Montana a 2nd congressional seat. Redistricting is exposing the state’s split personality.

Wed, 2021-10-20 02:05

Downtown Bozeman, Mont., is seen on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Bozeman has become a hotbed for startups and pandemic-era remote workers. For the first time in 30 years, the Census has awarded Montana a second seat in Congress and a commission is being tasked with determining how to divide the state into two congressional districts. Republicans are pushing to separate the two booming, college towns of Bozeman and Missoula in the western half of the state, hoping that by putting the two Democratic-leaning communities in different districts it will make it hard for Democrats to win either seat. (AP Photo/Iris Samuels) (Iris Samuels/)

CASCADE, Mont. — The census has awarded Montana a second seat in Congress. On paper, that leaves the state’s redistricting commission with the easiest task of all its counterparts across the country: Divide the expansive state in half.

If only.

Nothing is ever that simple in redistricting battles, as political parties jostle for control over maps that will give their candidates an advantage and the simple act of drawing a line becomes a fraught battle over the identity of the state.

In Montana, Republicans are pushing to separate the two booming college towns of Bozeman and Missoula in the western half of the state. Putting the two Democratic-leaning communities in different districts would make it hard for Democrats to win either seat. Democrats want to consolidate their strongholds in one district that would give them a fighting chance to win a House seat. They argue the towns — filled with craft brew drinkers, liberal academics, remote workers and California transplants — share more in common with each other than the vast expanse of rural ranches and farms between them.

The bipartisan commission is set to select the district boundaries on Thursday. With little common ground between the commission’s two Republican and two Democratic members, much of the decision may fall on the nonpartisan chairperson, Maylinn Smith, who was appointed to the commission by the state’s Supreme Court.

She has a history of giving small donations to Democratic political candidates in the state, but has said her experience working as a judge in several tribal court systems has given her the ability to act impartially.

To Republicans, there’s a simple solution — a neat line splitting the state into eastern and western districts that puts Bozeman in the eastern one and Missoula in the western one. They contrast that with the more tortured route Democrats propose to lump the two cities together.

“When you have a shape that isn’t even a shape, it’s looks like the C from the Cookie Monster, that is not a reasonable district,” said Jennifer Carlson, a Republican state lawmaker from a town 20 minutes outside Bozeman.

But Democrats say it’s not that simple. Terry Cunningham, deputy mayor of Bozeman, notes that his city along with Missoula and the state capital of Helena are the only three in the state that have voted for carbon reduction goals while much of the rest of the state depends on the fossil fuel industry.

“I believe it is immoral to add new fossil fuel burning resources to the mix,” Cunningham said. “Other communities in Montana would vehemently object (to our goals) because fossil fuel extraction is part of their lifeblood. So those make us incompatible politically with what could be described as the number one issue facing the entire planet.”


People explore Main Street in Bozeman, Mont., on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Bozeman has become a hotbed for startups and pandemic-era remote workers. Home to Montana State University, Bozeman grew a whopping 33% in the last decade, growth that dwarfs anywhere else in the state. (AP Photo/Iris Samuels) (Iris Samuels/)

Part of the reason Montana gets a second congressional district is the population growth fueled by Bozeman, a city of 50,000 that has become a hotbed for startups and pandemic-era remote workers. Home to Montana State University, Bozeman grew a whopping 33% in the last decade, growth that dwarfs that seen anywhere else in the state.

Its downtown is packed with pedestrians wearing the latest moisture-repelling microfibers, boutique bakeries and upscale restaurants. Housing prices have skyrocketed, as has homelessness. Missoula, home to the University of Montana, has similar headaches.

Democrats in the two cities argue that their common situation cries out for them being in the same district, which would likely lean only slightly Republican and therefore be competitive in a state where the beet-red hue of its rural swathes has tilted it solidly toward the GOP.

“In order for democracy to function well in the United States, you need to have a political system that is responsive to the electorate’s desires,” said Jeremy Johnson, a political scientist at Carroll College in Helena. In safe districts, “there is less incentive for legislators to listen to constituents.”

Republicans argue that the way they slice up the state would still preserve competition. Still, both seats would lean GOP, in part because of the changes since the last time Montana had two congressional seats.

In the 1990 census, Montana’s population growth slowed so much that it lost its second seat and began electing a single representative for the entire state. That seat has been held by Republicans for the past 24 years as rural areas that once voted Democratic became more conservative, leaving the blue islands of Bozeman and Missoula surrounded by vast expanses of red.

“You don’t have to go far from city lines when you’re really in ruby red Republican territory across most of the state,” Johnson said.

But not all towns fit neatly into the redistricting arguments laid out by Republicans and Democrats. The town of Cascade 115 miles north of Bozeman falls alternatingly in eastern and western districts proposed by both Democrats and Republicans. Home to around 700 people, Cascade is sandwiched between an interstate highway on one side and the Missouri River on the other and surrounded by farms and ranches.

In contrast to Bozeman, its sparse main street holds only a handful of businesses, including a couple restaurants, a market, a gas station, a fly fishing shop and a bank. Incorporated 110 years ago, Cascade has changed little since then -- aside from a recent upgrade of the town’s water and sewage pipes.

The contrast with Bozeman is obvious to the town’s residents.

“There are two Montanas -- socially, economically, culturally -- we are two states,” said Ken Speidel, who owns a horse boarding business with his wife, Kelly, in the rural town and works as a river guide in the summer and a hockey referee in the winter.

Like many in Cascade, Speidel favors the Republican proposals. But he acknowledges the power of counterarguments.

“There is no solution that is going to make everybody happy,” he said.

___

Iris Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

U.S. women are largely dissatisfied with how they’re treated. Most men don’t see a problem.

Tue, 2021-10-19 19:41

Women’s satisfaction with the treatment of their gender in the United States is at a record low, according to a Gallup poll. A majority of men, however, don’t see a problem.

The study, released last week, found that 53% of Americans are very or somewhat satisfied with the treatment of women in society — tying a record low that first hit when the #MeToo movement gained national attention in 2017. Since 2016, women’s satisfaction has dropped 17 points to 44%, while men’s fell by five points to 61%, according to Gallup’s findings.

The poll also found that 61% of men think men and women have equal job opportunities, while 33% of women agree. However, majorities of both genders — 72% of women and 61% of men — favored affirmative action programs for women.

Tinu Abayomi-Paul, a writer and virtual speaker based in Arlington, Texas, wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings. “It’s not only that women aren’t treated well. Sometimes we’re invisible,” she said.

Gallup’s findings underscore how men and women view gender equity issues differently in the United States, said Radhika Balakrishnan, a professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies at Rutgers University, adding that male privilege can often distort men’s perception of gender disparities.

For instance, men “have a very different perception of what it feels like to walk home than a woman walking home after sunset,” Balakrishnan said. “And I don’t think you can inhabit that body in the same way.”

It’s also crucial to factor in the different lived experiences of women, Balakrishnan said. These issues are “gendered, but also racialized. With the intersection of race and gender in terms of women of color, it’s even worse,” she added.

Indeed, the study found that almost half of White women (46%) said they were satisfied with women’s treatment in society while 38% of Black women and 43% of Hispanic women felt the same. Along party lines, the study found 72% of Republican women were satisfied with women’s treatment, compared to 32% of Democratic women.

While #MeToo has drawn greater awareness around misconduct and harassment, Balakrishnan believes the pandemic has also exposed the burdens placed on women in particular, contributing to the all-time low in their satisfaction with societal treatment of their gender.

“Covid has had such an impact in kind of revealing all the different things that women’s lives encapsulate,” said Balakrishnan.

She said Gallup’s findings, which come from its June 1 to July 5 Minority Rights and Relations survey, indicate how the pandemic has compounded issues for women. Child-care limitations and labor force demands have been the greatest source of dissatisfaction, she said, forcing many women to leave the workforce.

“The unemployment statistics are kind of shocking,” said Balakrishnan, who also serves as commissioner for the Commission for Gender Equity for New York City. “We’re back to labor force participation rates for women of the 1980s because so many have left.”

In September, men gained 220,000 jobs, while women lost 26,000 jobs. Another 309,000 women left the workforce, dropping labor force participation down to 51.7%, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Overall, women are short nearly 3 million jobs than before the pandemic hit.

Alongside the pandemic, heightened racial and social issues of the past year have also likely influenced women’s dissatisfaction with society’s treatment of their gender, Balakrishnan said. Among those issues include a reckoning on race in the wake of killings of unarmed Black people last year, deadly shootings in March targeting Asian American women and a wave of antiabortion and anti-trans legislation.

“We’re at a very interesting moment in U.S. history,” Balakrishnan said. “I think there’s definitely this momentum towards a more conservative view in terms of women. But at the same time, we’re also seeing a lot more conversation with the MeToo movement.”

Abayomi-Paul, meanwhile, isn’t too convinced that much is changing. “On the outside, we have this feminist approach on the surface layer of America,” she said, adding that the media often misleads people into believing that more progress is being made than it really is. “Then behind closed doors, it’s different.”

Balakrishnan said there are substantive steps that can help bring women back into the labor force, though. Earlier this year, the Biden administration established the White House Gender Policy Council to develop a federal strategy for advancing gender equity and equality for women and girls. And President Joe Biden’s $3.4 trillion spending bill aims to make child care more affordable.

“We need to look at structural issues, in terms of wage discrimination and care work,” she said. “It kind of has to be a collective support structure, not an individuated one of. And how do we do that without real government policy?”

Former Anchorage real estate director sues Mayor Bronson and city, claiming she was fired in retaliation for whistleblower’s complaint

Tue, 2021-10-19 18:56

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks at a press conference at city hall on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Anchorage’s former real estate director has filed a lawsuit against Mayor Dave Bronson and the city for what she says was a retaliatory termination after she filed a whistleblower’s complaint against the administration.

Christina Hendrickson worked briefly in Bronson’s administration after being appointed in July as director of real estate and confirmed by the Assembly in August. She was fired last month.

Last month, as first reported by the Alaska Landmine, Hendrickson sent a whistleblower complaint to members of the Anchorage Assembly. The day after Hendrickson sent the complaint, Bronson announced Jim Winegarner would replace her, and she was formally fired the following day. The complaint alleges that the administration violated city code, wasted public money and abused its power when it hired Winegarner, now appointed as the city’s real estate director.

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[Anchorage Mayor Bronson replaces city’s first chief equity officer without Assembly consent]

Hendrickson filed a lawsuit Tuesday in state Superior Court seeking over $100,000 in compensatory damages, and she’s additionally seeking punitive damages, costs and attorney’s fees. The suit names the city, Bronson and Adam Trombley — the city’s director of economic and community development and Hendrickson’s supervisor — as defendants. Hendrickson’s annual salary as real estate director was $122,990.40.

The suit claims the Bronson administration and municipality violated a section of city code that prohibits retaliation against employees who report on matters of public concern, such as filing a whistleblower complaint.

“Yet the (municipality) and the Bronson Administration did just that when they abruptly terminated Plaintiff after she reported both to her superiors and to Municipal Assembly members that the Municipality and the Bronson Administration had improperly attempted to place a high-salaried employee into an unfunded position that did not exist and had taken other actions that directly conflicted with (Anchorage Municipal Code),” the lawsuit states.

Because she filed the whistleblower complaint, Hendrickson lost her job and “is being vilified by the administration,” she alleges in the lawsuit.

[In nearly five decades there’s never been an Anchorage Assembly fight this nasty, say former members]

Hendrickson said she had been trying to hire a land management officer with a $60,000 salary, rather than adding an unnecessary executive position to the department that would cost the city more than twice as much to perform a job that Hendrickson, as real estate director, was already doing.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Hendrickson’s efforts to hire a qualified Land Management Officer through the protocols set forth in the AMC collided with the Bronson Administration’s efforts to place Mr. Winegarner in a high-paying position in the Real Estate Department without following proper process or procedure,” the lawsuit says.

“There’s a procedure for hiring suitable and qualified candidates, and it’s not being followed,” Hendrickson said.

The whistleblower’s complaint and lawsuit allege that the Bronson administration hired Winegarner as acting chief housing officer, a position in the mayor’s office funded by the Rasmuson Foundation, which also must approve the candidate but had not approved Winegarner. It was a role that had previously been fulfilled by Robin Ward, the former real estate director, according to Hendrickson.

Soon after, “the Mayor’s office transferred Jim from their office to an open (position) in my department without approval ... placing him in a position for which he is not qualified and for which another candidate was selected from a series of interviews,” Hendrickson said in the complaint.

Then, the mayor also gave him the title of executive director of the Heritage Land Bank, a position for which there was no identified funding in the city budget, and a role that Hendrickson and the two previous real estate directors had fulfilled for efficiency and to save the city money, Hendrickson said.

“The method by which the Mayor’s office hired, funded, transferred and is trying to fund Jim violates multiple codes and is fiduciarily irresponsible,” she said in the complaint.

The Municipality of Anchorage “unilaterally placed Mr. Winegarner in the position, even though he had never applied for it, much less demonstrated that he possessed the requisite qualifications for the position, and then modified the position to include the role of Executive Director of the Heritage Land Bank without required supporting documentation,” which is required in city code, the lawsuit says.

That section of code states that the Heritage Land Bank advisory commission should recommend suitable candidates to the mayor and Assembly. The two previous real estate directors had obtained approval from the commission to fulfill that role, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that after consulting with Craig Campbell, Bronson’s former chief of staff and current director of policy and programs, Trombley told Hendrickson that Winegarner would be the executive director of the Heritage Land Bank and that they would find funding for the position because it was a campaign promise.

Hendrickson sent the whistleblower complaint to Assembly members on Sept. 15.

“I never dreamed that I would be faced with looking at another executive director and in my org chart,” Hendrickson said. “I would have been supportive of it, if it had been done correctly.”

The next day, according to the lawsuit, the mayor’s office named Winegarner as the new real estate director in a press release, Hendrickson was locked out of her work email and her laptop was taken by human resources personnel. On Sept. 17, Hendrickson received notice of her formal termination in an email to her private account, according to the lawsuit and a copy of the notice.

The Assembly must still confirm Winegarner as real estate director and is slated to hold a work session about his appointment on Wednesday.

Winegarner is a former oil and gas executive and land consultant, according to his resume. He will be paid a salary of $119,995.20, according to his offer letter.

“Never in the world did I think that I would get fired. I never thought I would, because the Whistleblower Act protects me,” Hendrickson said.

Pig-to-human transplants come a step closer with new kidney experiment

Tue, 2021-10-19 18:08

In this September 2021 photo provided by NYU Langone Health, a surgical team at the hospital in New York examines a pig kidney attached to the body of a deceased recipient for any signs of rejection. From left are Drs. Zoe A. Stewart-Lewis, Robert A. Montgomery, Bonnie E. Lonze and Jeffrey Stern. The test was a step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants. (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health via AP) (Joe Carrotta/)

Scientists temporarily attached a pig’s kidney to a human body and watched it begin to work, a small step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants.

Pigs have been the most recent research focus to address the organ shortage, but among the hurdles: A sugar in pig cells, foreign to the human body, causes immediate organ rejection. The kidney for this experiment came from a gene-edited animal, engineered to eliminate that sugar and avoid an immune system attack.

Surgeons attached the pig kidney to a pair of large blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient so they could observe it for two days. The kidney did what it was supposed to do — filter waste and produce urine — and didn’t trigger rejection.

“It had absolutely normal function,” said Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the surgical team last month at NYU Langone Health. “It didn’t have this immediate rejection that we have worried about.”

This research is “a significant step,” said Dr. Andrew Adams of the University of Minnesota Medical School, who was not part of the work. It will reassure patients, researchers and regulators “that we’re moving in the right direction.”

The dream of animal-to-human transplants — or xenotransplantation — goes back to the 17th century with stumbling attempts to use animal blood for transfusions. By the 20th century, surgeons were attempting transplants of organs from baboons into humans, notably Baby Fae, a dying infant, who lived 21 days with a baboon heart.

With no lasting success and much public uproar, scientists turned from primates to pigs, tinkering with their genes to bridge the species gap.

Pigs have advantages over monkeys and apes. They are produced for food, so using them for organs raises fewer ethical concerns. Pigs have large litters, short gestation periods and organs comparable to humans.

Pig heart valves also have been used successfully for decades in humans. The blood thinner heparin is derived from pig intestines. Pig skin grafts are used on burns and Chinese surgeons have used pig corneas to restore sight.

In the NYU case, researchers kept a deceased woman’s body going on a ventilator after her family agreed to the experiment. The woman had wished to donate her organs, but they weren’t suitable for traditional donation.

The family felt “there was a possibility that some good could come from this gift,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery himself received a transplant three years ago, a human heart from a donor with hepatitis C because he was willing to take any organ. “I was one of those people lying in an ICU waiting and not knowing whether an organ was going to come in time,” he said.

Several biotech companies are in the running to develop suitable pig organs for transplant to help ease the human organ shortage. More than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Every day, 12 die while waiting.

The advance is a win for Revivicor, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics, the company that engineered the pig and its cousins, a herd of 100 raised in tightly controlled conditions at a facility in Iowa.


This undated photo provided by Revivicor in December 2020 shows a "GalSafe" pig that was genetically engineered to eliminate a sugar in pig cells, foreign to the human body, which causes immediate organ rejection. Scientists temporarily attached a kidney from one of these pigs to a human body and watched it begin to work, a small step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for life-saving transplants. (Revivicor via AP)

The pigs lack a gene that produces alpha-gal, the sugar that provokes an immediate attack from the human immune system.

In December, the Food and Drug Administration approved the gene alteration in the Revivicor pigs as safe for human food consumption and medicine.

But the FDA said developers would need to submit more paperwork before pig organs could be transplanted into living humans.

“This is an important step forward in realizing the promise of xenotransplantation, which will save thousands of lives each year in the not-too-distant future,” said United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt in a statement.

Experts say tests on nonhuman primates and last month’s experiment with a human body pave the way for the first experimental pig kidney or heart transplants in living people in the next several years.

Raising pigs to be organ donors feels wrong to some people, but it may grow more acceptable if concerns about animal welfare can be addressed, said Karen Maschke, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, who will help develop ethics and policy recommendations for the first clinical trials under a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“The other issue is going to be: Should we be doing this just because we can?” Maschke said.

Biden focuses on climate, families in trimmed $2 trillion government overhaul plan

Tue, 2021-10-19 18:04

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, center, along with other lawmakers, talks with reporters outside the West Wing of the Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, following their meeting with President Joe Biden. Jayapal is joined by from left, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-New York. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh/)

WASHINGTON — Scaling down his “build back better” plans, President Joe Biden described a more-limited vision to Democratic lawmakers Tuesday of a $2 trillion government-overhaul package with at least $500 billion to tackle climate change and money for middle-class priorities — child tax credits, paid family leave, health care and free pre-kindergarten.

And he expects negotiations to wrap up as soon as this week.

The president met privately into the evening with nearly 20 centrist and progressive lawmakers in separate groups as Democrats appeared ready to abandon what had been a loftier $3.5 trillion package for a smaller, more workable proposal that can unite the party and win passage in the closely divided Congress.

Likely to be eliminated or seriously shaved back: plans for tuition-free community colleges, a path to legal status for immigrants who are in the U.S. without documentation, and a specific clean energy plan that was the centerpiece of Biden’s strategy for fighting climate change.

The details were shared by those familiar with the conversation and granted anonymity to discuss the private meetings.

Biden felt “more confident” after the day of meetings, said press secretary Jen Psaki. “There was broad agreement that there is urgency in moving forward over the next several days and that the window for finalizing a package is closing,” she said.

After months of fits and starts, Democrats are growing anxious they have little to show voters despite their campaign promises. Biden’s ideas are all to be funded by tax hikes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, those earning more than $400,000 a year.

The president especially wants to advance his signature domestic package to bolster federal social services and address climate change by the time he departs for a global climate summit next week.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a progressive caucus member, said Biden urged the lawmakers to “get something done now” to show U.S. leadership on climate change on the global stage.

“He really believes American leadership, American prestige is on the line,” Khanna said.

A key holdout on Biden’s proposals, conservative Sen. Joe Manchin from coal-state West Virginia, has made it clear he opposes the president’s initial Clean Energy Performance Plan, which would have the government impose penalties on electric utilities that fail to meet clean energy benchmarks and provide financial rewards to those that do — in line with Biden’s goal of achieving 80% “clean electricity” by 2030.

Instead, Biden focused in his Tuesday meetings on providing at least $500 billion in tax credits, grants and loans to fight climate change, much of it likely coming from a package compiled by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the the Finance Committee. Those include the tax breaks for energy producers that reach emission-reduction goals.

That clean energy approach could better align with Manchin’s stated goal of keeping a “fuel neutral” approach to federal policy that does not favor renewable energy sources over coal and natural gas that are dominant in his state.

Other climate-change-fighting proposals being considered are a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as oil and coal or a methane emissions fee — though Manchin told reporters earlier in the day that a carbon tax was not in the mix.

Failure to act on climate change would have far-reaching consequences in the U.S. and abroad. Inaction, proponents of big efforts say, could cost the U.S. billions of dollars in weather-related disasters and threaten to uproot millions of Americans in hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., another progressive caucus member, called the opposition from Manchin on climate issues “one of the biggest challenges” threatening to stop a final bill.

On other fronts, Biden and the Democrats appeared to be more readily coalescing around a slimmed-down package.

Biden wants to extend the $300 monthly child tax credit that was put in place during the COVID-19 crisis for another year, rather than allow it to expire in December.

The policy has been praised for sending cash to families most in need. Democrats want to extend the credit for additional years, but limiting the duration would help shave the costs. It’s now to be phased out for single-parent households earning more than $75,000 a year, or $150,000 for couples, but those income thresholds could be lowered to meet demands of Manchin and more conservative Democrats.

Biden also wants to ensure funding for health care programs, including new money for home- and community-based health care services, supporting a move away from very widespread nursing home care.

And a new program to provide dental, vision and hearing aid benefits to seniors on Medicare proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, is likely to remain in some fashion, said Khanna, a longtime Sanders ally.

Expected to still be included in the package are new subsidies to help families afford child care as well as increased subsidies put in place during the pandemic for people who buy their own health insurance.

Biden told lawmakers that after his top priorities there would be $300 billion remaining, which some suggested could be used for housing aid and racial justice issues. Biden also mentioned money could go for retrofitting homes of low-income people.

But Biden’s vision for free community college for all is falling by the wayside.

“It’s not the robust vision the president wants or that we wanted,” Khanna said.

At a lengthy and “lively” lunch of Democratic senators earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there was “universal agreement in that room that we have to come to an agreement and we got to get it done.”

Schumer said he, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are talking daily.

Biden met at the White House for nearly two hours with the first group of lawmakers, progressives, who emerged confident a deal was within reach. Moderate lawmakers met for about 90 minutes into the evening.

“Everybody’s talking,” said Manchin, who had his own meeting Tuesday with the president.

For months, Manchin and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have objected to the scope and scale of Biden’s package, testing the patience of colleagues who see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape government programs. Sinema missed the senators lunch, but had a separate meeting with Biden.

With Republicans fully opposed to Biden’s plans, the president needs all Democrats in the 50-50 split Senate for passage and can only spare a few votes in the House.

Time slipping, Congress has set an Oct. 31 deadline for passage.

___

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Darlene Superville, Alex Jaffe and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

Jan. 6 Capitol riot panel votes to hold Steve Bannon in contempt

Tue, 2021-10-19 17:54

In this file photo from Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, talks about the approaching midterm election during an interview with The Associated Press, in Washington. The special congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection voted unanimously Tuesday to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress after he defied the panel's subpoena. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection voted unanimously Tuesday to hold former White House aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after the longtime ally of former President Donald Trump defied a subpoena for documents and testimony.

Still defending his supporters who broke into the Capitol that day, Trump has aggressively tried to block the committee’s work by directing Bannon and others not to answer questions in the probe. Trump has also filed a lawsuit to try to prevent Congress from obtaining former White House documents.

But lawmakers have made clear they will not back down as they gather facts and testimony about the attack involving Trump’s supporters that left dozens of police officers injured, sent lawmakers running for their lives and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Tuesday that Bannon “stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena” and the panel will not take no for an answer.

He said that while Bannon may be “willing to be a martyr to the disgraceful cause of whitewashing what happened on January 6th — of demonstrating his complete loyalty to the former president,” the contempt vote is a warning to other witnesses.


Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the House select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol speaks as the committee meets to hold Steve Bannon, one of former President Donald Trump's allies in contempt, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Listening ise Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

“We won’t be deterred. We won’t be distracted. And we won’t be delayed,” Thompson said.

The Tuesday evening vote sends the contempt resolution to the full House, which is expected to vote on the measure Thursday. House approval would send the matter to the Justice Department, which would then decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Bannon.

The contempt resolution asserts that the former Trump aide and podcast host has no legal standing to rebuff the committee — even as Trump’s lawyer has argued that Bannon should not disclose information because it is protected by the privilege of the former president’s office. The committee noted that Bannon, fired from his White House job in 2017, was a private citizen when he spoke to Trump ahead of the attack. And Trump has not asserted any such executive privilege claims to the panel itself, lawmakers said.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney — one of just two Republicans on the committee, and a rare GOP critic of Trump — said Bannon and Trump’s privilege arguments suggest the former president was “personally involved” in the planning and execution of the day’s events.

“We will get to the bottom of that,” Cheney said.

The committee says it is pursuing Bannon’s testimony because of his reported communications with Trump ahead of the siege, his efforts to get the former president to focus on the congressional certification of the vote Jan. 6 and his comments on Jan. 5 that “all hell is going to break loose” the next day.

Bannon “appears to have had multiple roles relevant to this investigation, including his role in constructing and participating in the ‘stop the steal’ public relations effort that motivated the attack” and “his efforts to plan political and other activity in advance of January 6th,” the committee wrote in the resolution recommending contempt.

The Biden White House has also rejected Bannon’s claims, with Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su writing Bannon’s lawyer this week to say that “at this point we are not aware of any basis for your client’s refusal to appear for a deposition.” Biden’s judgment that executive privilege is not justified, Su wrote, “applies to your client’s deposition testimony and to any documents your client may possess.”

Asked last week if the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse to testify, Biden said yes. But the Justice Department quickly pushed back, with a spokesman saying the department would make its own decisions.

While Bannon has said he needs a court order before complying with his subpoena, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former White House and Pentagon aide Kashyap Patel have been negotiating with the committee. The panel has also subpoenaed more than a dozen people who helped plan Trump rallies ahead of the siege, and some of them are already turning over documents and giving testimony.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin said all the other witnesses who were subpoenaed are “either complying or acting in good faith as opposed to just blowing us off,” as Bannon has.

The committee is also conducting voluntary closed-door interviews with other witnesses who have come forward or immediately complied with their requests.

For some of the witnesses, Raskin said, “it’s a privilege and really an opportunity for them to begin to make amends, if they were involved in these events.” Some of them “feel terrible about the role they played,” he said.

Still, there could be more contempt votes to come.

“I won’t go into details in terms of the back and forth, but I’ll just say our patience is not infinite,” said Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the panel’s other Republican, about some of the witness negotiations.

The vote came a day after Trump sued the committee and the National Archives to fight the release of documents the committee has requested. Trump’s lawsuit, filed after Biden said he’d allow the documents’ release, claims that the panel’s August request was overly broad and a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition.”

Trump’s suit seeks to invalidate the entirety of the congressional request, calling it overly broad, unduly burdensome and a challenge to separation of powers. It requests a court injunction to bar the archivist from producing the documents.

The Biden administration, in clearing the documents for release, said the violent siege of the Capitol more than nine months ago was such an extraordinary circumstance that it merited waiving the privilege that usually protects White House communications.

___

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Zeke Miller, Nomaan Merchant and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Road flair: This Seward Highway flagger is adding style to stop-and-go signals

Tue, 2021-10-19 16:07

With a full-body X posture, Patrick Deacon, a flagger for Tlingit Traffic Control, signals drivers to stop on the Seward Highway near the McHugh Creek Trailhead on October 18, 2021. Deacon has attracted attention for his unique style of motioning to cars. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News) (Marc Lester/)

Patrick Deacon stood in the middle of the Seward Highway, stop sign in hand, and watched the bore tide roll across the mudflats of Turnagain Arm on Monday afternoon. It was a momentary traffic respite during a long shift on a years-long construction job.

“It’s a beautiful view,” said Deacon, a flagger at the rockfall mitigation work zone near the McHugh Creek Trailhead. “I love it.”

For the northbound drivers, all eyes are on Deacon himself.

Deacon, dressed in neon workwear, uses unique traffic control motions that are both clearly communicated signals and stylistic interpretations for his commands to stop or proceed. He’s hard not to notice, as he tick-tocks his left hand rhythmically on his right side, motioning cars into the open lane.

“I remember the first time I saw it,” said AnEva Kimble, his supervisor at Tlingit Traffic Control Professionals. “I was kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh. What is he doing?’ ”

“It almost looks like a robot dance kind of thing that he does. He does, like, a lunge sort of, and then pulls his hand up,” Kimble said. “When he stops traffic, it looks like he had done a jumping jack, but didn’t finish it.”

Patrick Deacon incorporates unique movements to signal to traffic at a work zone along Turnagain Arm on October 18, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)

His boss wasn’t concerned. His signals to drivers seemed clear. And besides, the drivers seemed to love it. People smiled. Others honked. Some hooted appreciation from their window as they passed.

“My cheeks hurt from smiling so hard,” Kimble recalled.

A year and a half later, Deacon has become a fixture along Turnagain Arm. He’s aware that his routine has attracted attention, but he’s otherwise unconcerned with notoriety. He pays no attention to social media or online comments, he said, though people post pictures of him in a 23,000-member Facebook group for Seward Highway drivers.

“Maybe it’s just something different,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of happy, smiley faces. I love it. It definitely brings my spirits up on a rainy, windy day.”

He’s one member of a two-flagger crew assigned to direct traffic at the Seward Highway project, an assignment he’s had since the project began last year.

The ongoing three-year project aims to mitigate rockfall from the Chugach Mountain cliffs from Mile 104 to Mile 114 along Turnagain Arm, according to Department of Transportation information officer Shannon McCarthy. Hi-Tech Rockfall Construction, which is bolting rocks and installing catchment systems, subcontracted with Tlingit Traffic Control.

Deacon said a typical workweek is 10-12 hours a day for six days. While his motions serve to increase his visibility for drivers, they also are a good way to stay moving on cold and damp days.

“When I first started, it did get a little tiring, but you just get used to it,” he said.

He’s been pleasantly surprised that people get a kick out of his exaggerated signals. People wave and take pictures every day. A tour company once gave him a sweater. “I get a lot of snacks too,” he said. Doughnuts, cookies, chocolate bars. “A lot of snacks.”

“Having fans in general just, like, blows my mind,” he said Monday. Several cars gave a light honk as they passed.

On his phone he showed a photo of a greeting card one passerby gave him in May. “You are a unicorn in a sea of jackasses,” was the message printed inside. Below it was an unsigned, handwritten note.

“Just wanted to give you a shout out for cheering so many people up. You literally have changed my mood in .5 seconds,” it reads. “I have group therapy for PTSD and mentioned you at a session, and three other people, including the therapist, commented on how you gave their day a spark. Thank you for being fabulous.”

Deacon said he keeps that card by his bed.


Patrick Deacon, a flagger for Tlingit Traffic Control, on October 18, 2021. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News) (Marc Lester/)

In his off time, Deacon said he spends time with his mom, grandpa and siblings who live in Anchorage. He began building a home in Grayling, an Athabaskan village on the Yukon River where he lived for a few years, and he’d like to return to finish it. There, he likes to hunt for agate and amethyst as he walks the waterline, he said. One day he may return to live there year-round.

For now, he’s sticking with his role in the roadway. Kimble said Deacon takes his job seriously and never seems to be putting on a show no matter how much attention he draws.

“He doesn’t spice it up, just because of all of that,” Kimble said. “He’s just still out here doing the same thing that he would’ve been doing whether anybody noticed or not.”

It’s a welcome change from the norm. Kimble said people can be angry about being stopped by construction. Some give flaggers the middle finger. Deacon seems to have changed that dynamic.

“It’s just kind of a joy to be around,” she said.


Patrick Deacon, a flagger for Tlingit Traffic Control, signals drivers to stop. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News) (Marc Lester/)

Woman arrested on murder charges more than a year after man was killed at East Anchorage park

Tue, 2021-10-19 15:18

Anchorage police investigate the scene of a homicide on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020 on Pine Street near Russian Jack Springs Park. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

A 30-year-old woman was indicted recently on charges of first- and second-degree murder in the death of a man killed more than a year ago in a tent at an East Anchorage park.

Chantha Vannarath, 56, was found dead the morning of Sept. 25, 2020, in a wooded camp area of Russian Jack Springs Park northeast of the intersection of Pine Street and Reka Drive. His upper body showed signs of trauma and a medical examiner later declared he died from blunt- or sharp-force injuries, according to a sworn affidavit signed by Anchorage Police Detective Jeffrey Elbie.

People nearby described a woman named Stephanie who was last seen with Vannarath, and a caller told police a woman had gone to a nearby trailer park with bloody hands, the affidavit said. Police contacted Stephanie Moore, who matched the descriptions, several days after Vannarath was killed, according to the affidavit. She was not interviewed and was instead brought to a hospital because she showed signs of drug use, the affidavit said.

Police again located Moore on Oct. 6, 2020, and brought her to the department headquarters for an interview, the affidavit said.

Moore told police she had been drinking with Vannarath and another man at his tent the night before he was found dead, the affidavit said. Moore told the officers the men were smoking methamphetamine, according to the affidavit.

The other man left and Vannarath became agitated with Moore at some point and threatened to cut her arm, the affidavit said. She eventually walked away from the tent and met a friend to smoke meth, the affidavit said.

Moore later changed clothes at a storage unit that belonged to her father, the affidavit said. Detectives found clothing near the storage unit that matched the description of what she had worn on the night of Vannarath’s death, the affidavit said. Stains on the clothes were tested by the state crime lab and showed blood matching Vannarath’s, the affidavit said.

Charges were filed against Moore last month and she was indicted last week on one count of first-degree murder, two charges of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence.

“As is often the case with homicide investigations, it necessarily took some time after Mr. Vannarath’s death for the Anchorage Police Department to conduct necessary follow-up investigation to get the case to a point where it was ready to be charged by the District Attorney’s Office,” said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the state Department of Law.

Moore is being held at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center.

Vaccine inequity: glut, greed and the privilege we waste

Tue, 2021-10-19 15:00

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was administered to the public at the ASD Education Center on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

In the United States, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are privileged to have access to free and safe vaccines -- the most effective way to prevent severe disease and death from COVID-19.

However, like all forms of privilege, ours comes at the expense of others.

About 77% of all COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in high-income countries, which make up only 16% of the global population. Though vaccination rates in those countries have largely stalled, they continue to buy the bulk of the world’s vaccine supply -- enough to offer booster shots, cajole the vaccine-hesitant, and have plenty to waste in the attempt.

In stark contrast, more than 90% of people on the continent of Africa are still waiting for their first dose.

Given that viruses are not confined by borders, it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines. Our failure to do so is murder-suicide. Vaccine inequity shifts the burden of disease and death onto the world’s most vulnerable people, and simultaneously allows for new and more contagious variants to arise, which can both render our current vaccines useless and prolong the pandemic indefinitely.

All year, leaders in under-vaccinated countries have implored rich nations to stop hoarding vaccines and fulfill their pledges to COVAX, an international program set up to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines and distribute them equitably among high-risk groups in every country.

Early on in the pandemic, countries such as the United States wielded their wealth to negotiate deals directly with vaccine manufacturers, a luxury that low-income nations don’t have. High-income countries bought the majority of doses, thereby significantly undermining the power of COVAX to secure and deliver vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. The current trickle rate of donations to COVAX is not enough.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies monopolize vaccine technology and profit from our suffering. For instance, the producer of the Moderna mRNA vaccine is projected to make $14 billion in profits this year. Unsurprisingly, they are unwilling to share their vaccine formula voluntarily.

It is time to disrupt the profitability of disaster and make life-saving vaccine technology widely available. More than 100 countries, including the U.S., support a temporary waiver to Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) from the World Trade Organization in response to the pandemic. A TRIPS waiver would lift patents on COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical supplies. Sharing vaccine technology with capable manufacturers around the world will allow for increased supply to meet global demand, and ultimately make COVID-19 vaccines affordable.

Critics say that pressuring vaccine producers, such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to share their intellectual property or trade secrets will stifle innovation for future drug therapies.

It is worth pointing out, however, that pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on government investments. Moderna especially could not have developed their successful vaccine without $1.3 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding. This is in addition to $1.5 billion in pre-orders and research from publicly funded institutions. Moderna even received $900,000 from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, one of the nonprofits that coordinates COVAX, with the understanding that they would provide their vaccine to high-risk populations at an affordable price.

Yet, Moderna has so far failed to deliver the 34 million doses it pledged to COVAX. They are willing to sell vaccines to the U.S. at a discount for doses that will be donated to COVAX, but this is not good enough. The public already paid their share.

Large-scale vaccine production, organized distribution and overcoming vaccine hesitancy are big enough public health challenges without being compounded by glut and greed.

If we want the COVID-19 pandemic to end, wealthy countries must stop hoarding vaccines and redistribute excess doses to where they are needed most. It is also imperative for the international community to join the growing call to demand that pharmaceutical companies share life-saving COVID-19 vaccine technology.

The injustice of this pandemic is not that we, the privileged few, are asked to follow basic public health measures to protect ourselves and each other; it is that we have the means to save lives and fail to do so.

Laurel Carlsen is a registered nurse. She lives in Palmer.

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

Curious Alaska: Will Anchorage try to host the Winter Olympics again?

Tue, 2021-10-19 14:59

A scarf and as artist rendering of a venue from Anchorage's bids for the Winter Olympic Games are part of the Archives & Special Collections at the UAA/APU Consortium Library. Photographed on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Curious Alaska is an ongoing feature powered by your questions. What do you want to know or want us to investigate about life in Alaska, stories behind the news or why things are the way they are? Let us know in the form at the bottom of the story.

Question: I’ve always heard that Anchorage was once considered to host the Winter Olympics but didn’t because of a lack of hotel capacity to accommodate athletes, coaches and staff. Is this true, and if so, how close did it actually get? Is it possible in this lifetime?

There was an era in Anchorage’s history when the city came close, on multiple occasions, to winning a bid to host the Winter Olympics.

I found myself mulling over these same questions on a recent trip to an Anchorage thrift store, where I happened upon a large photograph in a red frame that made me stop and stare. It was an aerial shot of hundreds — maybe thousands — of people gathered on the Delaney Park Strip, standing in a neat formation the shape of the Olympic rings.


Archivist Gwen Higgins displays an "Olympic Rings Human Flag" aerial photograph taken by Clark Mishler at the Delaney Park Strip on Sept. 21, 1986 is part of the Archives & Special Collections at the UAA/APU Consortium Library on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

How close did Anchorage get to hosting the Olympics? And could our city try again?

Rick Mystrom remembers it well. An advertising executive who served as mayor of Anchorage in the 1990s, he spearheaded a campaign for Alaska’s biggest city to host the biggest sporting event on the planet.

In the mid- to late 1980s, the effort captured the public’s attention, and for a period Mystrom and a group of other Anchorage boosters and businesspeople tried to convince the world that Alaska could host the Olympics.

For the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympic Games, Anchorage won the American bid but lost out in the international phase of competition. Those games were ultimately held in Albertville, France and Lillehammer, Norway, respectively.


Artist rendering of a ski jumping venue from Anchorage's bids for the Winter Olympic Games are part of the Archives & Special Collections at the UAA/APU Consortium Library. Photographed on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Anchorage was a bit of an underdog, Mystrom remembers. The first big presentation to the U.S. National Olympic Committee happened in Indiana.

“We got there, and Salt Lake City had eight slide projectors and a bunch of guys with logo shirts on,” Mystrom said. “We had a long-haired guy looking for an adapter for our two slides.”

But Anchorage had the “magic of Alaska” going for it, Mystrom said: the mystique of the Last Frontier and global name recognition.

Anchorage also had some practical benefits, like being one of the most strategic spots on the planet for live, prime-time television (a 4 p.m. final in Alaska could be broadcast at 8 p.m. primetime in the eastern U.S.) and a convenient location at an air travel crossroads, he said. Anchorage also had undeveloped land primed for potential development, abundant hotel rooms, cold weather and some existing facilities.

The pitch envisioned a main stadium on the land of what is now Alaska Pacific University, with Olympic-sized skating rinks throughout the city and a cross-country ski venue at Kincaid Park, Mystrom said. A ski jump was planned for Eagle River. There was no Hotel Alyeska in Girdwood at the time, but a large hotel there was seen as key to the plan, Mystrom said.


Archivist Gwen Higgins holds a parka from Anchorage's 1994 bid for the Winter Olympic Games is part of the Archives & Special Collections at the UAA/APU Consortium Library on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The artifacts of years of Olympic dreams are packed into boxes in an archival collection at the University of Alaska Anchorage/Alaska Pacific University Consortium Library: There’s a hand-bedazzled sweatshirt with Anchorage’s Olympic logo on it — half flame, half snowflake. An Anchorage Olympics kuspuk with a wolf ruff. Renderings of never-built ski jumps and an open-air pavilion on the Park Strip where the opening ceremonies might have been, with snowy Chugach Mountains in the background.

Part of the selling point for Anchorage was how invested and excited residents were about the idea of hosting the Olympics. The bids used no public money, Mystrom said.

In a third Olympic effort, Anchorage lost in the national level of competition to Salt Lake City, which went on to win the international bid to host the 2002 Winter Games.

Mystrom remembers telling Tom Brokaw in a television interview “they beat us fair and square,” he said. “But the fact is, they didn’t beat us fair and square.”

Salt Lake City officials were accused of offering bribes and gifts to Olympics selection officials. Ultimately, two Salt Lake City delegation officials were criminally charged but later acquitted, members of the IOC were disciplined and ethics rules changed.

After that, Anchorage’s Olympic dream hibernated until 2013, when then-Mayor Dan Sullivan explored putting a bid together for the 2026 Winter Olympics. Sullivan reasoned that Anchorage had come close in the 1980s and the city had only become a “stronger, bigger, more capable city” since then.

“All the elements just seem to fit,” Sullivan told the Associated Press at the time. Sullivan didn’t respond to questions for this story.

A committee met monthly at City Hall to discuss the prospect. But the effort never really got off the ground, said Matt Larkin, president of Dittman Research, a polling and public opinion research firm and one of the 2013 committee members.

“It lost momentum,” he said.

Part of the reason was the 2028 Summer Olympics went to Los Angeles — making it unlikely that two games in a row would go to the United States. Milan ultimately won the 2026 games.

Past opinion research showed that Alaskans, by and large, supported an Olympic bid but had questions about costs, Larkin said.

Could Anchorage host the Olympics sometime in the future? The city is still blessed with snow, trails, rinks, hotel rooms, air travel connectivity — all the basic ingredients.

But the games have changed, Mystrom said. Hosting has become prohibitively expensive, with cities building massive infrastructure that often serves limited use past the Olympics.

The Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia cost a reported $51 billion.

“Putin just poured billions of dollars into putting up the facilities,” he said. “That kind of took most democracies out of it.”

The last Winter Olympics, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was a relative bargain at $13 billion. That Olympics included a $109 million stadium used for opening ceremonies that was later demolished.


A scarf from Anchorage's 1994 bid for the Winter Olympic Games is part of the Archives & Special Collections at the UAA/APU Consortium Library on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Most people seem to think it’s unlikely that Anchorage would launch another bid. But it’s not out of the question, Mystrom thinks.

“It would be hard,” he said. “But it was hard then!”

Trying for the Olympics had a way making people celebrate the best things about Anchorage, Mystrom said. In the current moment of ugly partisan divides in local government and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, we could use a little of that, he said.

Right now, “there’s not that kind of good feeling about the city …. you hope to have,” he said. “And so, it may not be the Olympics, but we need something to really bring people together.”


Man accused of threatening to kill Alaska’s US senators had gun stockpile, court filings say

Tue, 2021-10-19 14:42

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Aug. 26, 2020 at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

A man accused of threatening to kill Alaska’s two U.S. senators in profanity-filled voicemails left on their office phones over several months had a stockpile of guns at his rural Alaska home, authorities have alleged in court documents.

Jay Allen Johnson, 65, faces charges of threatening to murder a U.S. official, threatening interstate communications, being a felon in possession of weapons and threatening to destroy property by fire.

The government wants to seize seven weapons — three pistols, two revolvers, a rifle and a shotgun — found after they searched Johnson’s home in the small community of Delta Junction. Court documents said he is a felon because of several driving under the influence charges.

The gun forfeiture request was among issues expected to be discussed in court Tuesday at Johnson’s preliminary hearing on the alleged threats against U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan at their Washington, D.C. offices.

The government played some of the voicemails at Johnson’s initial appearance in U.S. District Court in on Oct. 8, including one directed at Murkowski. The caller said he was upset over immigration policies and threatened to hire an assassin to kill her.

“Your life is worth $5,000, that’s all it’s worth,” the message said. “And as you let in these terrorists, assassins, guess what? I’m going to use them. I’m going to hire them.”

The caller was also upset that Murkowski voted to convict former President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial earlier this year and warned Sullivan that he was tired of politicians ruining the country. He vowed to bring out his .50-caliber firearm and start a crowdsourcing page to pay for the bullets.

“The next insurrection, it will be an insurrection. Period,” the man said in another voicemail.

Johnson’s wife, Catherine Pousson-Johnson, said her husband was in pain after recent surgeries on his spine, knee and shoulder.

“My husband is an old man, and he gets very angry listening to politics on the news,” she said.

Against his public defender’s wishes, Johnson also spoke at the earlier hearing: “I’m a senior citizen and I am highly disabled and I will not be carrying out any of these threats.”

“I just apologize to everybody,” he said later in the hearing.

Alaska reports 66 more COVID-19 deaths, many after death certificate reviews

Tue, 2021-10-19 14:35

Alaska on Tuesday recorded 66 more deaths tied to COVID-19, state data showed, most of which occurred this month and last.

The additional 65 Alaska resident deaths and one nonresident death brought the state’s total COVID-19 death tally up by over 10%. A total of 659 Alaska residents and 24 nonresidents have now died with the virus since January 2020.

Roughly 32% of Alaska’s 659 resident deaths tied to COVID-19 have occurred since the start of August — long after vaccines became widely available — during a sharp surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant.

Government agencies rely on death certificates to report COVID-19 deaths. If a physician judges that a COVID-19 infection contributed to a person’s death, it is included on the death certificate and ultimately counted in the state’s official toll, health officials say.

Of the new deaths reported Tuesday, 10 occurred in October, 44 occurred in September and nine occurred in August, along with one each in July, May and April.

The deaths ranged in age from someone in their 20s to people older than 80, and involved people from across the state: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Palmer, Big Lake, Kenai, Ketchikan, Juneau, North Pole, Homer, Seward, Hooper Bay, Cordova, Kotzebue, the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, the Kusilvak Census Area, the Bethel Census Area, the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough and Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area.

Over the long weekend, Alaska also reporting 2,842 more COVID-19 cases. The state reported 724 cases Saturday; 1,022 cases Sunday; 580 on Monday; and 516 on Tuesday.

By Tuesday, roughly 11% of COVID-19 tests conducted had returned positive results, based on a seven day rolling average.

After weeks of recording the highest case rate among U.S. states, Alaska as of Tuesday had the fourth-highest seven-day COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Montana, Wyoming and Idaho all had higher rates than Alaska, though all four were far above the national average.

Hospitalizations rose to 213 patients hospitalized with the virus and 11 others with suspected cases by Tuesday, according to state data.

Twenty health care facilities in Alaska have activated crisis standards of care, though not all are operating in crisis mode and any decisions to prioritize treatment are fluid and made on a daily basis.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.


Board of Fisheries should stand strong for troubled Kenai River king salmon

Tue, 2021-10-19 14:25

Fishermen work along the south side of the Kenai River near its confluence with the Russian River on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

This week, the Alaska Board of Fisheries is conducting its annual “work session.” These work sessions include considering formal Agenda Change Requests (ACRs) for upcoming meetings. While there are several ACRs before the board at this week’s work session, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association is concerned about six ACRs addressing Upper Cook Inlet.

For background, regulations for each fishery type and region in Alaska are revisited by the Board of Fisheries on a 3-year rolling cycle. Upper Cook Inlet was last reviewed by the board in early 2020. The board at that time took historic and well-considered action to conserve king salmon in the Kenai River.

A careful examination of the regulatory history of the Kenai River King Salmon Plan makes it clear that sharing the work of conservation across all user groups has been central to the board’s plan to manage and rebuild Kenai River kings. The regulations in place this summer which shut down both sport and commercial fisheries to taking kings due to low escapement was necessary and unfortunate, but not unforeseen.

With that brief history, KRSA is strongly recommending that the Alaska Board of Fisheries reject all six Agenda Change Requests that are asking the board to take up critical aspects of the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan prior to the regular meeting cycle for Upper Cook Inlet.

The Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan is one of the cornerstone fishery management plans governing salmon management in commercial, sport and personal-use fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet. Upper Cook Inlet supports the most complex mix stock, mixed species and mixed user-group salmon fisheries in the state and is also home to a majority of Alaska residents and a destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

Any change to this management plan outside the regular meeting for all of Upper Cook Inlet will unavoidably result in challenges implementing the other important fishery management plans in Upper Cook Inlet. Due to the complexity of Upper Cook Inlet fisheries, KRSA recommends rejecting the six ACRs. These issues can be addressed in a more comprehensive and responsible manner when all of Upper Cook Inlet comes up in the regular Board meeting cycle.

In addition, none of the six Upper Cook Inlet ACRs meet the criteria identified by the board as necessary for accepting a request to take up issues out of the regular meeting cycle. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has submitted a detailed document laying out the reasons that none of the requests met the criteria.

KRSA appreciates the challenges seen on the Kenai River over the past several years, where king salmon have failed to meet minimum escapement goals resulting in closure of opportunity across multiple user groups. As difficult as it was, the Board of Fisheries made the right call this summer in deciding to stick to the plan they established in 2020 -- and they deserve a great degree of credit for that decision.

We look forward to working with the board, the Department of Fish and Game, and all stakeholders in seeking reasonable salmon conservation and harvest strategies for Upper Cook Inlet within the regular board meeting cycle.

Ben Mohr is the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a nonpartisan, nonprofit fishery-conservation organization that works to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of fish resources in the Kenai River and elsewhere 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)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Victims of a mass 1981 cooking oil poisoning occupy Madrid museum, threaten suicide

Tue, 2021-10-19 12:53

A statue of Spanish painter Diego Velazquez outside the Prado Museum in the Paseo del Prado boulevard in Madrid, Spain. (AP Photo/Paul White) (Paul White/)

When a previously unrecorded illness erupted in Madrid in 1981, many people in Spain were panicked. It took five weeks and dozens of deaths to understand the cause: adulterated cooking oil. The illness - which came to be known as “toxic oil syndrome” - killed hundreds and left thousands with chronic conditions, many of which are severe.

Four decades later, feeling their grievances were not being heard, a few of those victims occupied a premiere Madrid art museum, Museo del Prado. If their demands were not met, they said, they would all kill themselves by ingesting pills within hours.

Six protesters were seen on Tuesday standing before Diego Velázquez’s famous “Las Meninas” painting holding a sign that read: “40 years poisoned and condemned to live as in 1981 due to the abandonment of the government.”

In a public statement, the Seguimos Viviendo or “We Are Still Alive” group members said they were done with “humiliation” and “abandonment” by the country and government, and that they were sending a “distress call to the world.”

They said that after six hours peacefully waiting and fasting in the “Las Meninas” display room, they would begin ingesting pills if their demands weren’t met - “Because what they have been waiting for these years is that we die to end the problem,” the group’s statement read. They asked for a meeting with the prime minister and money for medical expenses.

The protest began mid-morning, and the protesters “left on their own” after a few hours, the museum’s communications team told The Washington Post. The museum added that it had no advance knowledge of the protest. Reuters reported that the police detained two protesters and others left at around noon. The group did not immediately respond to request for comment.

UPDATE: The oil poisoning survivors who occupied Madrid's El Prado Museum have ended their protest. Police detained two of them.

They were threatening to commit suicide if their demands for aid and attention weren't met: https://t.co/THPnhG7Rc8 pic.twitter.com/Wx16YaTadB

— DW News (@dwnews) October 19, 2021

In 1981, illicitly refined rapeseed oil meant for industrial use was fraudulently sold as olive oil. Ingestion of the oil, which was mostly sold around Madrid, created an abrupt outbreak - killing some 300 people shortly after disease onset. Of around 100,000 people exposed, nearly 20,000 people were found to have clinical disease, many of whom developed chronic conditions, according to a World Health Organization’s study of the condition, which came to be known as “toxic oil syndrome.”

Symptoms of the previously unrecorded disease include limb deformation, immune system destruction and lung failure - along with other conditions. Some victims have been permanently crippled.

In the group’s statement, it says that they chose to protest in the museum because culture has helped many victims endure their daily pain.

In 1989, three judges dismissed murder charges against the oil distributors, causing massive outrage in Spain, the New York Times reported. Twenty-four defendants were fully acquitted, and all 37 accused were found not to have intended to cause death or injury.

Norway revises account of deadly attack: No bow and arrow, and doubts over terrorism link

Tue, 2021-10-19 12:42

Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, right, and Minister of Justice and Emergency Management Emilie Enger Mehl lay flowers and light candles to honor the four women and a man who died in last week's attack in Kongsberg, Norway, Friday Oct. 15, 2021. (Terje Bendiksby/NTB via AP) (Terje Bendiksby/)

Norwegian authorities were quick to sketch out a method and possible motive after a 35-minute rampage last week that left five people dead in Kongsberg: The suspect, they said, targeted victims with a bow and arrow in a potential “terrorist act” linked to Islamist extremism.

That account has unraveled in recent days as investigators acknowledged that they were now looking at “illness” as a possible factor and that those killed were stabbed - some in their homes - rather than hit by arrows.

In explaining the revisions, a police inspector, Per Thomas Omholt, told reporters that the suspect, a 37-year-old Danish man, did not take his professed conversion to Islam “very seriously” - comments that could become part of a wider review of the police response and the initial announcements linking the attack to possible Islamist radicalization.

Norway’s Police Security Service, known as the PST, said it was launching an independent investigation of the responses by police and security agencies.

“Given the seriousness of the matter, it is very important that learning points and any weaknesses and errors are identified quickly in order to be able to implement measures immediately,’’ the PST said in a statement.

The suspect was being held in a medical facility pending psychiatric evaluation and “a full judicial observation” into his mental state, police said Friday.

Police say the attacks appear to have started at a Coop Extra supermarket in Kongsberg, about 40 miles southwest of the capital, Oslo. An off-duty police officer - who was among at least three people injured - emerged from the store with an arrow lodged in his back and warning others to get away, witnesses told Norway’s public broadcaster.

One of them said she saw a person carrying arrows in a basket over a shoulder. The attacker later appeared nearby without the archery equipment and stabbed people seemingly at random, Omholt said Monday.

“Some were killed inside their own homes, others out in public,” he said. Officers seized “stabbing weapons linked to” the attack, he added, but he would not specify the type because police were still collecting witness testimonies.

Police have also cast doubt on claims that the suspect was a Muslim convert, and Omholt has said that while the man had professed this before, he did not appear “serious.”

In a statement Monday, police said that “illness appears to be the most probable hypothesis in terms of motive for the action.”

Police have charged a man they identified as Espen Andersen Brathen, who they say appeared to act alone and has confessed. So far he faces five counts of murder but no terror charges.

Residents lay flowers and lighted candles for those who died: four women and a man, ages 52 to 78. It was the worst mass killing in the Scandinavian country since 2011, when a right-wing extremist killed 77 people in a bombing and shooting.

Hearing aids without a prescription or exam? FDA takes big step toward making that happen.

Tue, 2021-10-19 12:18

More than four years after Congress ordered the agency to allow over-the-counter hearing aids, it took the first step Tuesday to broaden access to more accessible and affordable devices for millions of patients with mild to moderate hearing loss. The agency’s proposal would create a new category of over-the-counter hearing aids and supersede state-level regulations that require patients to go through physicians or audiologists to get prescriptions and fittings for them.

Currently, hearing aids cost an average of more than $5,000 per pair and are not typically covered by traditional Medicare or other insurers, while advocates argue that over-the-counter models could be a fraction of that cost.

For older adults who are most likely to experience hearing loss and many of whom live on fixed incomes, the price tag can be a significant barrier. And patients living in poorer or rural communities may struggle to find an audiologist. A study published in Social Science and Medicine in 2019 found that the counties with the largest numbers of older adults with hearing loss often had fewer available audiologists, in part because the doctors tend to practice in younger, wealthier urban areas.

Although about 38 million adults in the United States report hearing loss, few have tried the devices. Among adults over 70 with hearing loss, only one in three have ever worn one, according to data collected in the National Health Interview Survey.

“More than 30 million people suffer from some sort of hearing loss and hearing is so vital to what we do, your ability to communicate with others is a huge part of your quality of life,” said Vinay Rathi, a physician at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. “We’re really denying people that sort of basic right, which is the ability to communicate with others, because of issues related to cost and access to audiologists.”

The FDA said on Tuesday that its new rule aims to spark innovation and increase competition by lowering barriers for new companies to enter the market while simultaneously regulating the new category of over-the-counter hearing aids to ensure the devices are safe and effective.

“Over the years, our number one call, email [and] letter is from people who can’t afford hearing aids, or they don’t have access to an audiologist or hearing aid specialist,” said Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America. “Now, not all of those people would benefit from an over-the-counter product. We know that. But . . . this is going to help those people who might be able to benefit.”

Some opposition to over-the-counter sales from existing manufacturers have raised safety concerns. Companies like Starkey, one of the five major hearing aid manufacturers, have claimed that many patients’ hearing loss would best be treated by a physician.

The proposal follows more than five years of federal efforts to remove obstacles standing between patients and over-the-counter hearing aids. In 2015, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under Barack Obama recommended the FDA create a new category of “basic” hearing aids that could be purchased without a prescription or a doctor’s visit. Two years later, former president Donald Trump signed the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, which gave the FDA three years to enact the new rules.

The FDA missed that 2020 deadline, but President Biden renewed pressure in July when he signed an executive order that set a November deadline for a new proposed rule from the federal agency.

Tuesday’s proposed rule will go through a comment period before it can be finalized.

“Hearing loss has a profound impact on daily communication, social interaction and the overall health and quality of life for millions of Americans,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement Tuesday. “The FDA’s proposed rule represents a significant step toward helping ensure that adults with mild to moderate hearing loss have improved access to more affordable and innovative product options.”

Facebook to pay more than $14 million in Justice Department settlement over discrimination against American workers

Tue, 2021-10-19 12:00

Facebook has agreed to pay penalties totaling more than $14 million under a settlement with the Justice Department over findings that the social media behemoth’s hiring practices intentionally discriminated against Americans in favor of foreign workers, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The company has also agreed in a settlement with the Labor Department to do more to recruit Americans for technology jobs and be subject to federal scrutiny for up to three years, the officials said.

The agreements came after the Justice Department charged Facebook in a suit in December with failing to properly advertise at least 2,600 jobs - and consider applications from U.S. citizens - before it offered the spots to foreigners whom the company was sponsoring for green cards granting permanent residency in 2018 and 2019.

Facebook’s practices violated federal laws that require employers to demonstrate that there are no qualified U.S. workers available before it offers positions to temporary foreign workers it is sponsoring, according to the lawsuit.

Facebook has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $4.75 million to the U.S. government and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims of Facebook’s alleged discrimination, which officials said was the largest monetary settlement of its kind under the anti-discrimination provisions in U.S. immigration laws.

Officials said the Justice Department will work with the company to determine potential victims, but they said it was too early to know how many people might be eligible for damages.

“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with the nation’s federal civil rights laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Justice Department’s civil rights division. “Companies cannot set aside certain positions for temporary visa holders because of their citizenship or immigration status.”

U.S. officials said Facebook also has agreed to train staff on federal anti-discrimination requirements. For the next three years, the Labor Department will audit the company’s petitions for temporary visa holders under the federal government’s permanent labor certification program.

Two people rescued uninjured from residential fire near Wasilla

Tue, 2021-10-19 11:31

Two people were rescued uninjured early Tuesday from a fire in a multifamily housing structure near Wasilla, an official said.

Firefighters were called to a two-story building on Heather Lane around 6:30 a.m., said Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fire Deputy Director Brian Davis. There was a significant fire at one end of the building, which Davis described as a multifamily housing complex with at least three units.

Two people on the second floor were escorted out by firefighters and several other residents made it out of the building on their own, he said. Davis estimated there were six to eight people in the building when the fire began. There were no injuries, he said.

Crews from the Central Mat-Su and West Lakes fire departments responded and were later assisted by the Houston and Palmer fire departments, Davis said. The fire was controlled just before 8 a.m., he said.

About half of the building sustained substantial damage and the Red Cross was assisting displaced residents, Davis said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, but Davis said crews remained on scene Tuesday morning to investigate and watch for hotspots.

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