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Man who went for ATV ride near Aleknagik found dead

Tue, 2021-10-19 11:17

A 30-year-old man who was reported missing after he left Aleknagik for an ATV ride last week was found dead Saturday, Alaska State Troopers said.

Michael Andrew left on the afternoon of Oct. 13 to ride his ATV around Marsh Mountain and did not return home, troopers said in an online statement. He was reported missing two days later, troopers said.

“A hasty search and aerial search were conducted around Aleknagik with the help of the Wood-Tikchik State Park rangers, however Michael was not located,” troopers wrote.

Dillingham troopers and the park rangers on Saturday found Andrew dead in the Wood River about two miles from its convergence with Aleknagik Lake, according to troopers.

The State Medical Examiner’s Office will determine Andrew’s cause of death and the investigation is ongoing, troopers said.

74 officers leave Washington State Patrol rather than comply with COVID vaccine mandate

Tue, 2021-10-19 09:57

SEATTLE — As of Monday, 127 individuals had separated from employment at the Washington State Patrol because of the coronavirus vaccine mandate, WSP said in a statement released early Tuesday.

Among them are 53 civil servants and 74 commissioned officers: 67 troopers, 6 sergeants, and 1 captain, according to the statement.

“We will miss every one of them,” said Chief John R. Batiste in the statement. “I truly wish that you were staying with us. You have my utmost appreciation for the hard and successful work that you have provided during your valued WSP careers. You will forever have our respect for your courage and your commitment in all you have done on behalf of the agency.”

Earlier this month, the agency’s vaccination rate was at 93% as 152 of the agency’s 2,200 employees had not submitted paperwork to show they were vaccinated. That was a sharp increase from earlier data showing the State Patrol’s vaccination rate as of Sept. 20 was just under 63%.

Since Gov. Jay Inslee issued the order — one of the strictest in the nation, with no option for regular testing of those who forgo the shots — state employees have protested, filed lawsuits and sought exemptions to avoid the vaccines.

[As COVID-19 vaccine deadline passes, vast majority of Washington state and Seattle workers have gotten shots]

Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee wrote earlier this month that the increase in the State Patrol’s vaccination rate, “shows the vaccine mandate is working.”

“We are greatly encouraged by rising numbers across state agencies,” Lee added. “And, are very glad that state employees are choosing to get vaccinated and remain in the workforce. We believe the verified numbers will continue to go up as we get closer to the deadline.”

[No jab, no job: WSU fires football coach Nick Rolovich, Washington state’s highest-paid employee]

WSP said agency leaders will assess the actual impact of the loss and move resources and people around where necessary in the coming days. Vigorous recruiting will continue that will fill three new academy classes in the coming months, the State Patrol said.

“As for the more than 2,000 individuals who elected to stay with our agency, I am forever thankful,” Batiste said in the statement. “We have the responsibilities of the agency to carry forward and I am not going to ask you to do more with less. We shall do our very best to keep our remaining staff from becoming overburdened by these temporary losses.”

In a message to all WSP personnel Monday evening, the chief said, “COVID is a killer and the state is taking action intended to improve public safety. I thank you for staying on post and staying in service to this state and agency. Better days are ahead. Believe that and know I believe in you.”

Navy investigation finds major failures in fire that destroyed ship in San Diego

Tue, 2021-10-19 09:52

FILE - In this July 12, 2020, file photo, smoke rises from the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, after an explosion and fire on board the ship at Naval Base San Diego. A Navy report has concluded there were sweeping failures by commanders, crew members and others that fueled the July 2020 arson fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, calling the massive five-day blaze in San Diego preventable and unacceptable. While one sailor has been charged with setting the fire, the more than 400-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, lists three dozen officers and sailors whose failings either directly led to the ship's loss or contributed to it. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File) (Denis Poroy/)

WASHINGTON — A Navy report has concluded there were sweeping failures by commanders, crew members and others that fueled the July 2020 arson fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, calling the massive five-day blaze in San Diego preventable and unacceptable.

While one sailor has been charged with setting the fire, the more than 400-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, lists three dozen officers and sailors whose failings either directly led to the ship’s loss or contributed to it. The findings detailed widespread lapses in training, coordination, communication, fire preparedness, equipment maintenance and overall command and control.

“Although the fire was started by an act of arson, the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire,” the report said, concluding that “repeated failures” by an “inadequately prepared crew” delivered “an ineffective fire response.”

It slammed commanders of the amphibious assault ship for poor oversight, and said the main firefighting foam system wasn’t used because it hadn’t been maintained properly and the crew didn’t know how to use it.

The report describes a ship in disarray, with combustible materials stacked, scattered and stored improperly. It said maintenance reports were falsified, and that 87% of the fire stations on board had equipment problems or had not been inspected.

It also found that crew members did not ring the bells and alert sailors that there was a fire until a full 10 minutes after it was discovered. Those crucial minutes, the report said, caused delays in crews putting on fire gear, assembling hose teams and responding to the fire.

Sailors also failed to push the button that would have activated the firefighting foam system, even though it was accessible and could have slowed the progress of the fire. “No member of the crew interviewed considered this action or had specific knowledge as to the location of the button or its function,” the report said.

The report spreads blame across a wide range of ranks and responsibilities, from the now retired three-star admiral who headed Naval Surface Force Pacific Fleet — Vice Adm. Richard Brown — to senior commanders, petty officers, lieutenants and civilian program managers. A total of 17 were cited for failures that “directly” led to the loss of the ship, while 17 others “contributed” to the loss of the ship. Two other sailors were faulted for not effectively helping the fire response.

Adm. William Lescher, the vice chief of naval operations, has designated the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet to handle any disciplinary actions for military members. It’s not clear if any have yet been relieved of command or removed from jobs as a result of the fire.

But the report said failures of Brown; Rear Adm. Scott Brown, the fleet maintenance officer for the Pacific Fleet; Rear Adm. William Greene, the fleet maintenance officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command; Rear. Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander of the regional maintenance center; Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of Navy Region Southwest; Capt. Mark Nieswiadomy, commander of Naval Base San Diego; and Capt. Tony Rodriguez, commander of Amphibious Squadron 5, all “contributed to the loss of the ship.”

The report also specifically faults the ship’s three top officers — Capt. Gregory Thoroman, the commanding officer; Capt. Michael Ray, the executive officer; and Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez — for not effectively ensuring the readiness and condition of the ship.

“The execution of his duties created an environment of poor training, maintenance and operational standards that directly led to the loss of the ship,” the report said of Thoroman. And it said Ray, Hernandez and Capt. David Hart, commander of the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, also failed in their responsibilities, which directly led to the loss of the ship.

The report only provides names for senior naval officers. Others were described only by their job or rank.

More broadly, the crew was slammed for “a pattern of failed drills, minimal crew participation, an absence of basic knowledge on firefighting” and an inability to coordinate with civilian firefighters.

The ship was undergoing a two-year $250 million upgrade pierside in San Diego when the fire broke out. About 138 sailors were on board, and nearly 60 were treated for heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and minor injuries. The failure to extinguish or contain the fire led to temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, melting sections of the ship into molten metal that flowed into other parts of the ship.

Due to the damage, the Navy decommissioned the ship in April. In August, Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays was charged with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel. He has denied setting the fire.

The blaze began in the lower storage area, which Mays’ duty station had access to, according to a court document. Investigators found three of four fire stations on the ship had evidence of tampering, including disconnected fire hoses, and highly flammable liquid was found near the ignition site.

Efforts to put out the fire were hampered because the ship’s crew and other outside fire response departments and organizations were not coordinated, couldn’t communicate effectively, hadn’t exercised together and weren’t well trained, the report said.

The report was submitted by Vice Adm. Scott Conn to Lescher, who endorsed a number of recommended changes and improvements. The Navy set up a new fire safety assessment program that conducts random inspections, and has taken steps to increase training.

In addition, the Navy conducted a historical study into Navy ship fires. It found recurring trends associated with 15 shipboard fires over 12 years, including failures to comply with fire prevention, detection and response policies. As a result, Navy leaders have taken other steps to increase safety.

As COVID-19 vaccine deadline passes, vast majority of Washington state and Seattle workers have gotten shots

Tue, 2021-10-19 09:50

The Space Needle and the Seattle skyline are shown against a cloudy sky, Thursday, April 30, 2020, as seen from Kerry Park. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Ted S. Warren/)

OLYMPIA — Throughout the pandemic, Kim Kinney has worked at the Washington Capitol campus even as other state employees worked from home.

But as the deadline passed on Monday for 62,000 state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or lose their jobs, Kinney is set to lose her position for refusing to get the shot.

“I’m very upset, what can I say,” said Kinney, adding later: “I am hoping that there are major lawsuits that compensate for what they’ve done, and I don’t mean moneywise. I want my damn job.”

As the formal deadline for Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate came and went Monday, the vast majority of state and Seattle employees subject to the orders had gotten vaccinated.

That includes 92% of the 62,000 state workers subject to Inslee’s order to get fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. The governor’s mandate also applied to school employees, as well as hundreds of thousands of health care workers.

Similar orders covered workers for King County and the city of Seattle — which on Monday reported 94% of its employees had been vaccinated.

Kinney found herself in the minority of state employees — those who refused to get the shot in order to keep their jobs. She joined Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich, who refused to get vaccinated. Rolovich, the state’s highest-paid public worker, earning $3.2 million annually, lost his job as well Monday.

And two Washington State Patrol troopers posted clips of themselves signing off for the last time, according to conservative KTTH talk-show host Jason Rantz, with one officer wrapping up state service by telling Inslee to kiss his posterior.

[74 officers leave Washington State Patrol rather than comply with COVID vaccine mandate]

Trooper Eric Gunderson died last month of COVID-19. His family said Friday that he was not vaccinated but likely would have gotten the shot this fall. He was 38.

In a statement, Inslee said that more than 92% of state workers have now been verified as vaccinated, with numbers continuing to tick upward.

“I thank those who took that step in the recent months, they showed leadership and trusted science to protect themselves and our state,” said the governor in prepared remarks, adding that 1,934 Washingtonians have died from COVID-19 since mid-August.

“Most of those tragic losses could have been prevented if those individuals chose to get vaccinated,” he continued. “I am confident that state services, health care and educational instruction and services will continue with minimal disruption.”

Vaccination rates rise

Inslee’s mandate for the vaccines has pushed other reluctant workers to get their shots, including Sean Pierce.

Pierce is a state Department of Transportation worker who oversees two mechanics in Colville, Stevens County. The department had rejected Pierce’s request for a religious exemption, and he opted to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he said.

“There’s only one of my jobs in Colville,” said Pierce, who’s concerned the mandate will expand in the future, adding: “Next thing you know it will be the booster shot, it’s not going to end.”

The latest data, however, showed generally high compliance in and around Seattle.

At Seattle Public Schools, 99% of regular staff has been vaccinated, according to the district.

The city of Seattle reported Monday that 94% of its workers have complied with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s vaccine order. At the Seattle Police Department, 91% of employees — including 90% of sworn personnel — had gotten their shots.

In Bellevue, 94% of the Fire Department’s 216 staff impacted by the mandate have submitted proof of vaccination, according to city spokesman Brad Harwood.

Meanwhile, out of 116 Kirkland Fire Department employees, 100 had submitted proof-of-vaccination documents as of Monday morning, according to spokesperson Joy Johnston.

As part of Inslee’s orders, vaccinations are required for employees in Washington’s 1,495 long-term care facilities, which account for 37% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state. Coronavirus cases and deaths plummeted after vaccinations became widely available, but began creeping up in late July.

As of Oct. 3, 80% of nursing home workers in Washington had submitted proof of vaccination, according to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicaid Services, which doesn’t track other types of long-term care facilities.

As of Oct. 11, the figures for King County Metro Transit were a bit lower.

That data, the last count the agency could provide on Monday, showed 4,001 of 5,158 employees, or 78%, were verified as vaccinated, said spokesperson Jeff Switzer.

Termination notices will be sent after Monday to those who haven’t verified they’re vaccinated, or being accommodated for religious or medical exemptions. Those who still plan to quit may use their vacation or sick leave.

Workers who got the first dose of a two-dose vaccine by Monday will be allowed to remain on condition they complete the second dose before Dec. 2. If their paperwork isn’t processed yet, Metro staff may continue working.

And if someone quits or is terminated from Metro, they may be reinstated within two years if they get vaccinated and qualify for available jobs.

Metro has experienced a “slight uptick” in canceled trips but is still running at least 99% of scheduled buses, Switzer said Monday.

Political, legal fight continues

Just as the deadline day was getting started, a Thurston County judge threw a wrench in a lawsuit by hundreds of state workers.

In a last-ditch effort to halt Inslee’s mandate, Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy denied a request for a temporary injunction in a lawsuit by health care workers and Washington State Patrol troopers.

Murphy rejected arguments from the employees’ attorney that the mandate violates their constitutional rights and will cause them irreparable harm. Though the request for an injunction was rejected, the lawsuit will continue.

And in a joint statement, Washington’s Republican legislative minority leaders on Monday again blasted Inslee’s mandate and the impending loss of some state workers.

“Coercion, intimidation, threats and public shaming are not tactics a leader should be using against the people,” according to the statement by Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm and Sen. John Braun of Centralia. “The governor’s obvious disdain for those who are choosing to lose their jobs rather than compromise their right to make their own medical decisions is unhelpful.

“He is dividing the public — segregating us and turning people against each other,” they added. “Yesterday, even unvaccinated health-care workers were heroes. Today, they become villains in the governor’s narrative.”

“Buy myself some time”

Even past Monday’s deadline, some workers will have another chance to get vaccinated before losing their positions.

Since Inslee issued the mandates in August, a key labor agreement — later expanded to thousands of nonrepresented workers — essentially extended the deadline beyond Monday.

Those provisions allow some employees — like Kinney, the custodian, who sought exemptions or accommodations from the vaccinate mandate — more time to get their shots after being denied a request for an exemption or an accommodation. Others who started their vaccination process late can also get extra time.

An employee of the Department of Enterprise Services — which oversees the Capitol campus — Kinney earned $39,800 last year, according to state records.

She’s never received a vaccine as an adult, believes in natural cures, Kinney has said, and has taken medicine only a handful of times in her life.

DES had granted Kinney her request for a religious exemption from having to take the vaccine. The agency, however, denied a request that she be accommodated to work in a position deemed safe for herself and others, Kinney said Monday.

Kinney hasn’t been to work since Wednesday, she said, when she learned her request was denied.

In an email, DES spokesperson Linda Kent wrote that the agency does not discuss specific personnel matters.

“In general, I can say that DES very diligently and carefully considered each and every request on a case by case basis to determine if the requesting employee could be accommodated,” Kent wrote. “We also looked at vacant, funded positions to see if a reassignment was possible for each impacted employee. As you know, in an instance where there is not a suitable accommodation the employee would not be able to continue to work.”

At least some workers are using their extra time to decide whether they will ultimately get their shots.

One of those is Jeremy Oliver, a 42-year-old DES employee who works on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in state-owned buildings.

Oliver said he was granted a religious exemption by the agency, but like Kinney, had his request for an accommodation rejected last week.

“I was wanting to make my own decisions on this,” said Oliver, who said had hoped for more time to see for himself if the vaccine was safe.

A state employee for nine years who earned $72,400 last year, Oliver said he is considering selling off some assets to pay off loans if he ultimately loses his job.

But he is still thinking it all over, Oliver said, and has asked DES for the additional unpaid leave time as he mulls over whether to get vaccinated.

“I decided, you know, I’m going to buy myself some time,” he said. “Because I can still make the decision to get vaxxed.”

Staff reporters Paige Cornwell, Jim Brunner, Sarah Grace Taylor and Mike Lindblom contributed to this report.

Fully vaccinated but immunocompromised: Colin Powell’s death wrongly seized upon to undermine utility of coronavirus vaccines

Tue, 2021-10-19 09:03

Colin Powell, former U.S. secretary of state and a board member of Bloom Energy Corp., pauses during an interview in Tokyo on June 17, 2014. Powell has died at 84. (Bloomberg photo by Kiyoshi Ota)

He was the youngest chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the first Black American to become secretary of state. And in his prime, he was one of the most respected leaders in the country.

But within hours of the public announcement Monday that Colin Powell died of complications from COVID-19 despite a full course of vaccination, some conservative officials and media personalities tried to make him something else: A prominent reason to doubt the coronavirus vaccines’ utility and question the political and health officials urging Americans to get them.

Tucker Carlson opened his prime-time Fox News program Monday evening by telling his viewers that Powell’s death shows that they’ve “been lied to” about the vaccines’ ability to quash the pandemic. “Vaccines may be highly useful for some people, but across the population, they do not solve COVID,” Carlson said.

Fox News’s Will Cain declared Powell’s death a “very high-profile example that’s going to require more truth,” implying doubts about the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who has frequently minimized the significance of COVID, wrote on Twitter: “Post-vaccine breakthrough infection kills more people than Iraq’s WMD’s ever did,” a reference to the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction that were used by Powell, who led George W. Bush’s State Department, and others as a reason to go to war in Iraq.

Powell, who was 84 and immunocompromised, fit perfectly into a demographic that remains vulnerable to infections despite vaccination. His age puts him at a higher risk for COVID-19, and he was battling a blood cancer that’s known to make vaccines less effective. He also suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

“He had two strikes against him already,” said Celine Gounder, an infectious-diseases specialist who was on President Biden’s COVID advisory board during the transition, referring to Powell’s age and medical condition. “He was just not going to respond as well to the vaccines.”

But in a political moment where every public health strategy to mitigate the virus has been politicized, public health experts said they expect Powell’s death to be misconstrued to feed a narrative that the vaccinations do not work.

“They’re looking for reasons to not get vaccinated, to convince people not to get vaccinated, to say it’s a futile, useless act,” Gounder said. “Why that is, I just do not understand.”

Using Powell’s death to raise questions about the vaccines also plays into an effort on the right to minimize the impact of and need for getting the shots, even though public health experts across the globe have consistently said that high rates of vaccination are needed to end the pandemic.

Republican officials are nearly universally opposed to businesses and governments mandating the coronavirus vaccines. But a segment of the party has gone further, publicly questioning the science and efficacy behind mitigation measures.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Sunday on Fox News of the vaccines: “The mounting data shows that they’re not working or are as safe as we all hoped and prayed they would be.” The vaccines, developed in record time, have far exceeded public health officials’ efficacy expectations against serious infections and death.

The White House acted swiftly to tamp down any notion that Powell’s death undermines the vaccines. When asked Monday about Powell’s death, Biden noted his medical history. “He had serious underlying conditions,” Biden said. “That’s the problem.” He added that Americans should “absolutely” get vaccinated.

During a White House briefing Monday, press secretary Jen Psaki emphasized how unusual it is for breakthrough infections to lead to death.

“There are extremely rare cases of deaths or hospitalizations among fully vaccinated individuals,” Psaki said when asked about Powell. “Underlying health issues, fighting other diseases is something that can lead to greater risk.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released new data showing that unvaccinated Americans are far more likely than the vaccinated to test positive for the virus. Among the oldest Americans, for whom COVID has been consistently more deadly, those without the vaccination were far more likely to die.

Public health officials said Powell’s death should instead be seen as an example of why more people should get vaccinated, noting that high levels of community spread, even among healthy populations, will inevitably lead to breakthrough cases because no vaccine is 100 percent effective.

“The problem is we are not living in a time of facts,” said Brian Castrucci, the president of the de Beaumont Foundation, a public health group funding research into why some Americans are balking at getting the vaccines.

“Facts are not going to stop the weaponization and the politicalization of General Powell’s death for those who seek to continue to undermine the effectiveness and safety of these vaccines.”

Also at play, say public health experts, is that despite the deaths of more than 720,000 Americans to COVID, few major political leaders who have contracted the virus have died, while a host of prominent political figures - including former president Donald Trump - have been infected and survived it.

“Every visual image that we have around COVID furthers the idea that it is just like a cold,” Castrucci said.

Castrucci said that COVID has so far lacked what he terms a “Magic Johnson moment” - a reference to the change in national attitudes that he said came after NBA star Johnson contracted AIDS and showed the country that the disease could be contracted by a famous athlete and someone outside the gay community. “It’s really hard to change your behavior when you’re not afraid of something,” Castrucci said.

Powell had his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine eight months ago in February. Booster shots have been authorized for elderly Americans who’ve had the Pfizer-BioNTech shot at least six months ago.

Powell was scheduled to receive a booster shot, but he did not get one because he became ill ahead of his appointment, according to Peggy Cifrino, a longtime spokeswoman.

In addition to his advanced age, Powell suffered from multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that researchers have determined makes the vaccines less effective.

A recent study in Nature showed that, for those with multiple myeloma, less than half of patients developed what researchers termed “an adequate response” to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

“That’s to be expected if somebody is immunocompromised - their immune systems will not respond as well,” Gounder said. Patients with AIDS and organ transplants also have similar risks, she said.

For those who knew Powell well and respected his long career in public service, the notion that his death might be weaponized was particularly difficult to process.

“It would be a tragedy if his death was used by extremists to undercut science and health when Colin Powell himself was such an advocate for the truth,” said Frank Luntz, a longtime GOP pollster who knew Powell.

Luntz said in an interview with The Washington Post that Powell’s pursuit of the truth allowed him to stand up to presidents. And, Luntz said, he had little patience for critics of the vaccines.

“Powell would look vaccine critics straight in the eye and he’d say, ‘Don’t be stupid,’ " Luntz said. “He was blunt.”

- - -

The Washington Post’s Matt Viser and Joel Achenbach contributed to this report.

Kake man missing since Friday found dead by search team

Tue, 2021-10-19 08:42

A Kake man who was reported missing Saturday was found dead Monday a few miles from his pickup, Alaska State Troopers said.

David Dalton, 55, was last seen Friday afternoon and his pickup was located the next day near Sitkum Creek, troopers wrote in an online statement. Local search teams found some of his belongings near his truck but were unable to find Dalton, troopers said.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew, two K-9 teams and members of Sitka Mountain Rescue assisted with search efforts.

A K-9 team found Dalton dead about 2.5 miles from his truck around 11:40 p.m. Monday, troopers said.

“It appears that Dalton succumbed to the elements,” troopers wrote.

Energy crunch weighs down global recovery as winter approaches

Tue, 2021-10-19 07:55

Steam billows out of cooling towers at a coal-fired power station in Nanjing in east China's Jiangsu province. The world's facing an energy crunch. Europe is feeling it worst as natural gas prices skyrocket to five times normal, forcing some factories to hold back production. Reserves depleted last winter haven't been made up, and chief supplier Russia has held back on supplying extra. (Chinatopix via AP, file)

Power shortages are turning out streetlights and shutting down factories in China. The poor in Brazil are choosing between paying for food or electricity. German corn and wheat farmers can’t find fertilizer, made using natural gas. And fears are rising that Europe will have to ration electricity if it’s a cold winter.

The world is gripped by an energy crunch — a fierce squeeze on some of the key markets for natural gas, oil and other fuels that keep the global economy running and the lights and heat on in homes. Heading into winter, that has meant higher utility bills, more expensive products and growing concern about how energy-consuming Europe and China will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rising energy costs are another pressure point on businesses and consumers already feeling the pinch of higher prices from supply chain and labor constraints.

The biggest squeeze is on natural gas in Europe, which imports 90% of its supply — largely from Russia — and where prices have risen to five times what they were at the start of the year, to 95 euros from about 19 euros per megawatt hour.

It’s hitting the Italian food chain hard, with methane prices expected to increase sixfold and push up the cost of drying grains. That could eventually raise the price of bread and pasta at supermarkets, but meat and dairy aisles are more vulnerable as beef and dairy farmers are forced to pay more for grain to feed their animals and pass the cost along to customers.

“From October we are starting to suffer a lot,’’ said Valentino Miotto of the AIRES association that represents the grain sector.

Analysts blame a confluence of events for the gas crunch: Demand rose sharply as the economy rebounded from the pandemic. A cold winter depleted reserves, then the summer was less windy than usual, so wind turbines didn’t generate as much energy as expected. Europe’s chief supplier, Russia’s Gazprom, held back extra summer supplies beyond its long-term contracts to fill reserves at home for winter. China’s electricity demand has come roaring back, vacuuming up limited supplies of liquid natural gas, which moves by ship, not pipeline. There also are limited facilities to export natural gas from the United States.

Costlier natural gas has even pushed up oil prices because some power generators in Asia can switch from using gas to oil-based products. U.S. crude is over $83 per barrel, the highest in seven years, while international benchmark Brent is around $85, with oil cartel OPEC and allied countries cautious about restoring production cuts made during the pandemic.

The crunch is likely short term but it’s difficult to say how long higher fossil fuel prices will last, said Claudia Kemfert, an energy economics expert at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin.

But “the long-term answer that has to be taken out of this is to invest in renewables and energy saving,” she said.


Workers of the German energy company RWE prepare power supply on a high power pylon in Moers, Germany. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File) (Frank Augstein/)

The European Union’s executive commission urged member nations last week to speed up approvals for renewable energy projects like wind and solar, saying the “clean energy transition is the best insurance against price shocks in the future and needs to be accelerated.”

In the meantime, some gas-dependent European industries are throttling back production. German chemical companies BASF and SKW Piesteritz have cut output of ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizer.

That left Hermann Greif, a farmer in the village of Pinzberg in Germany’s southern Bavaria region, unexpectedly emptyhanded when he tried to order fertilizer for next year.

“There’s no product, no price, not even a contract,” he said. “It’s a situation we’ve never seen before.” One thing is certain: “If I don’t give the crops the food they need, they react with lower yields. It’s as simple as that.”

High energy prices already were hitting the region’s farmers, who need diesel to operate machinery and heat to keep animals warm, said Greif, who grows corn to feed a bioenergy power facility that feeds emission-free energy into the power grid.

Likewise in Italy, the cost of energy to process wheat and corn is expected to go up more than 600% for the three months ending Dec. 31, according to the grain association. That includes turning wheat into flour, and corn into feed for cows and pigs.

Giampietro Scusato, an energy consultant who negotiates contracts for the AIRES association and others, expects the volatility and high prices to persist for the coming year.

High energy prices also seep into bread and pasta production through transport costs and electricity use, which could eventually affect store prices. Dairy and meat sections are especially exposed because prices are low now and farmers may be forced to pass along the higher cost of animal feed to shoppers.

People worldwide also are facing higher utility bills this winter, including in the U.S., where officials have warned home heating prices could jump as much as 54%. Governments in Spain, France, Italy and Greece have announced measures to help low-income households, while the European Union has urged similar aid.

Much depends on the weather. Europe’s gas reserves, usually replenished in summer, are at unusually low levels.

“A cold winter in both Europe and Asia would risk European storage levels dropping to zero,” says Massimo Di Odoardo at research firm Wood Mackenzie.

That would leave Europe dependent on additional natural gas from a just-completed Russian pipeline or on Russian willingness to send more through pipelines across Ukraine. But the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline has not passed regulatory approval in Europe and may not be contributing gas until next year.

Russian suppliers’ decision to sell less gas on spot markets reflects “an intention to put pressure on the early certification of Nord Stream 2,” said Kemfert, the energy economics expert.

In China, outages have followed high prices for coal and gas as electric companies power down amid limits in passing costs to customers or government orders to stay under emission thresholds.

Factories in Jiangsu province, northwest of Shanghai, and Zhejiang in the southeast shut down in mid-September, and dozens warned deliveries might be delayed ahead of the Christmas shopping season.

Chenchen Jewelry Factory in Dongyang, a city in Zhejiang, faced power cuts over 10 days, general manager Joanna Lan said. The factory makes hairbands, stationery and promotional gifts and exports 80% to 90% of its goods to the U.S., Europe and other markets.

Deliveries were delayed “by at least a week,” Lan said. “We had to buy generators.”

The biggest city in the northeast, Shenyang, shut down streetlights and elevators and cut power to restaurants and shops a few hours a day.

China’s gas imports have jumped, but surging demand in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan also helped push up global prices, said Jenny Yang, research manager for the gas, power and energy futures team for China at IHS Markit.

In Brazil, higher gas and oil prices have been compounded by the worst drought in 91 years, which has left hydropower plants unable to supply electricity and more expensive bills.

Rosa Benta, a 67-year-old from a Sao Paulo working-class neighborhood, fears she will no longer be able to provide for her unemployed children and grandkids.

“Several times, (energy company) Enel called me saying I had debt. I told them: ‘I’m not going to stop feeding my son to pay you,’” Benta said outside her concrete house on a steep, narrow street. “If they want to cut the electricity, they can come.”

Benta lives on 1,400 reais (about $250) a month and says she often has to choose between buying gas for cooking or rice and beans.

“I don’t know what we are going to do with our lives,” she said.

___

McHugh reported from Frankfurt, Germany, Barry from Milan, McDonald from Beijing and Pollastri from Sao Paulo.

No jab, no job: WSU football coach Nick Rolovich, Washington state’s highest-paid employee, is fired

Tue, 2021-10-19 06:45

Washington State coach Nick Rolovich walks on the field after the team's NCAA college football game against Stanford, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. Washington State won 34-31. (AP Photo/Young Kwak) (Young Kwak/)

SEATTLE — Nick Rolovich came to Washington State as a fun-loving coach, known nationally for his off-the-wall antics and an ability to win.

After less than two years and only 11 games, Rolovich has been fired, and will be known nationally as one of the highest-profile terminations for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said WSU had “initiated the separation process” with Rolovich and four of his assistant coaches for not complying with the state mandate that all state employees be fully vaccinated by Monday.

Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert has been named acting head coach.

“This is a disheartening day to be here today,” Chun said in a Monday evening news conference. “Our football team is hurting, our WSU community is fractured, and today will have a lasting impact on the young men on our team and the remaining coaches on the staff.

“As the director of athletics and the steward of this department, I take full responsibility for hiring Nick. ... We believed we had found the perfect fit and a long-term solution for Washington State football. Unfortunately, we stand here today making a transition.”

Defensive tackles coach Ricky Logo, cornerbacks coach John Richardson, quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann and offensive line coach Mark Weber are also being let go.

“To be at this juncture today is unacceptable on so many levels,” Chun said.

Rolovich will not receive the remaining $3.6 million buyout of his contract.

He had applied for a religious exemption to the mandate requiring all state employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 18. To remain as coach, Rolovich needed approval for his exemption request and for his supervisor, Chun, to determine that he could effectively do his job while keeping the public safe.

“For the employees that we received notification [on] today, it was really simple and their accommodation requests were denied,” Chun said.

The Cougars were 5-6 during Rolovich’s 1 1/2 seasons as WSU’s coach.

But Rolovich’s tenure has been marked more by his polarizing stance on the vaccines than what happened on the field. His view was in stark contrast to the one held by his bosses, WSU President Kirk Schulz and Chun, who adhere to the science that the vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent COVID-19 as well as greatly reduce the risk of severe illness.

“Vaccine requirements work,” Schulz said Monday night.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that Rolovich, the state’s highest-paid employee at $3.2 million a year, had the highest profile among the other 10%, who were at risk of losing their jobs by not following the mandate.

Chun would not comment on the financial details of the separations, but said that Rolovich was fired “for cause.”

Rolovich’s contract lays out specific reasons for termination for cause, including “conduct of employee seriously prejudicial to the best interests of the University or its athletic program.”

Because he was fired for cause, not only will Rolovich not receive the remaining buyout of his contract but he will lose other fringe benefits including a university-donated vehicle and a membership to the Palouse Ridge Country Club.

According to his contract, Rolovich has 15 days to submit an appeal to Schulz, in which case Schulz would have 30 days to review and decide on the appeal.

Despite the drama surrounding Rolovich’s job status, the team has been rolling. Washington State won its third consecutive game Saturday — each time as an underdog — with a dramatic 34-31 win over Stanford in which the Cougars scored the go-ahead touchdown with just over a minute left.

The Washington State players gave their coach a Gatorade shower in celebration, obviously aware that it might be his final game at Washington State.

“It means a lot having a coach that, first of all, is a players’ coach and truly understands us,” slotback Travell Harris told reporters after the game. “He’s an outstanding coach. He’s a coach we all love to play for.”

Chun met with the team Monday night, and he said the “response was what you would expect from college-aged young people who just lost their head coach and a bunch of position coaches as well.”

“That’s a very close-knit group,” Chun added. “They handled it maturely, but without a doubt there is a lot of sadness, disappointment and anger.”

Now the team will look to continue its momentum without Rolovich.

“I have confidence that Jake will do the job and have us ready to play BYU [on Saturday] and do a great job managing and leading our football program over the rest of the season,” Schultz said.

The perception of Rolovich changed forever when he made an announcement on Twitter on July 21 that he would not be attending the Pac-12 media days in person because he would not meet the requirement that participants be vaccinated.

In that statement, Rolovich said in part: “I have elected not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for reasons which will remain private. ... I will not comment further on my decision.”

For the most part, Rolovich was true to his word that he would not comment further. He declined to answer questions about the topic, even after Inslee announced Aug. 18 that everyone working in education must be vaccinated as a condition of employment, setting this month’s deadline.

But June Jones, who had coached Rolovich when he was a quarterback at Hawaii, did talk, revealing to USA Today that Rolovich had applied for a religious exemption.

After Washington State’s 31-24 win over Oregon State on Oct. 9 — just hours after the story on what Jones said was published — Rolovich confirmed that he was seeking a religious exemption.

That was the final thing Rolovich said on the topic until after Saturday night’s win over Stanford, when he was asked if he thought he would be able to keep his job.

“I don’t think this is in my hands,” he said. “I’ve been settled for a long time on it. I believe it’s going to work out the right way. If that’s not what [Chun] wants, then I guess I’ve got to move on. But I like being here, I like being the coach here. I love these kids. I’ve just got faith in it.”

No one could have predicted this ending when Washington State hired Rolovich on Jan. 14, 2020.

The hire drew praise from around the nation. Rolovich, 40 at the time, had turned around a struggling Hawaii program in four years as the head coach at his alma mater.

Hawaii had just finished a 10-5 season in 2019 with a victory in the Hawaii Bowl, and Rolovich was named Mountain West Conference coach of the year.

He brought his run-and-shoot offense to Washington State, along with the reputation for doing zany things to get his Hawaii program attention and to keep things light for his players.

Rolovich seemed to nail it when it came to first impressions at WSU.

He said winning the Apple Cup was a priority, and he wanted to improve recruiting on the west side of the state.

The Cougars finished 1-3 last season and this year did not get off to a good start.

WSU was 1-3 after a 24-13 loss to Utah, marking the third time the Cougars had blown a second-half lead in 2021.

Then came the turnaround, starting with a 21-6 win at California that was followed by dramatic home wins over Oregon State and Stanford.

But that is where Rolovich’s tenure at WSU ended, and now the search for a new coach in 2022 will begin.

“This person needs to exemplify what it means to be a Coug and embrace every aspect of leadership that is required with a job of this magnitude,” Chun said.

US expected to authorize mix-and-match COVID booster shots

Tue, 2021-10-19 06:23

FILE - This Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 file photo shows vials for the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines at a temporary clinic in Exeter, N.H. In September, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved extra doses of Pfizer’s original COVID-19 vaccine after studies showed it still works well enough against the delta variant. And the FDA is weighing evidence for boosters of the original Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (Charles Krupa/)

WASHINGTON — Federal regulators are expected to authorize the mixing and matching of COVID-19 booster shots this week in an effort to provide flexibility for those seeking to maintain protection against the coronavirus.

The upcoming announcement by the Food and Drug Administration is likely to come along with authorization for boosters of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots and follows the authorization of a third dose for the Pfizer vaccine for many Americans last month. The move was previewed Tuesday by a U.S. health official familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly ahead of the announcement.

The FDA was expected to say that, especially for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that have proved most effective against the virus, maintaining consistency in the vaccine course was still preferable. The agency was still finalizing guidance for the single-shot J&J vaccine.

[Why COVID booster shots haven’t been tweaked to better match coronavirus variants]

Allowing mixing and matching could alleviate supply issues, make the task of getting a booster simpler for Americans and allow people who may have had adverse reactions to the initial dose to try a different shot.

The move will come after the U.S. said it would recognize mixing and matching of vaccines administered overseas, as was common in Canada and some European countries in the early months of the vaccination campaign, for the purposes of entering the U.S.

Haitian kidnappers reportedly demand ransom of $1 million apiece for 17 members of U.S.-based missionary group

Tue, 2021-10-19 06:18

Youths play soccer next to businesses that are closed due to a general strike in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Workers angry about the nation's lack of security went on strike in protest two days after 17 members of a US-based missionary group were abducted by a violent gang. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix) (Matias Delacroix/)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A gang that kidnapped 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group has demanded a $17 million ransom for them, according to Haiti’s justice minister, as quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said the gang was demanding $1 million per person. Quitel did not immediately return messages for comment, but he also confirmed the figure to the New York Times. The Journal said he identified the ages of the abducted children as 8 months and 3, 6, 14 and 15 years.

A wave of kidnappings prompted a protest strike that shuttered businesses, schools and public transportation in a new blow to Haiti’s anemic economy, and unions and other groups vowed to continue the shutdown Tuesday.

FBI agents and other U.S. officials are helping Haitian authorities hunt for the 12 adults and five children linked to the Christian Aid Ministries in Ohio who were kidnapped Saturday during a trip to visit an orphanage.

It is the largest reported kidnapping of its kind in recent years, with Haitian gangs growing more brazen and abductions spiking as the country tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck southern Haiti on Aug. 14 and killed more than 2,200 people.

“We are calling on authorities to take action,” said Jean-Louis Abaki, a moto taxi driver who joined the strike Monday to decry killings and kidnappings in the hemisphere’s poorest nation.

With the usually chaotic streets of Haiti’s capital quiet and largely empty Monday, Abaki said that if Prime Minister Ariel Henry and National Police Chief Léon Charles want to stay in power, “they have to give the population a chance at security.”

Haitian police told The Associated Press that the abduction of the 16 Americans and one Canadian was carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang, a group with a long record of killings, kidnappings and extortion. In April, a man who claimed to be the gang’s leader told a radio station that it was responsible for abducting five priests, two nuns and three relatives of one of the priests that month. They were later released.

At least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, said a report last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.

Gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, bus passengers and others as they grow more powerful and demand ransoms ranging from a couple hundred dollars to millions of dollars.

Ned Price, the U.S. State Department’s spokesman, said U.S. officials have been in constant contact with Haiti’s National Police, the missionary group and the victims’ relatives.

“This is something that we have treated with the utmost priority since Saturday,” he said, adding that officials are doing “all we can to seek a quick resolution to this.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the rise in gang violence has affected relief efforts in Haiti. He said the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator reported that “violence, looting, road blockades and the persistent presence of armed gangs all pose obstacles to humanitarian access. The situation is further complicated by very serious fuel shortages and the reduced supply of goods.”

Dujarric said that Haiti’s government should redouble efforts to reform and strengthen the police department to address public safety and that all crimes must be investigated.

Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group included six women, six men and five children, including a 2-year-old. A sign on the door at the organization’s headquarters in Berlin, Ohio, said it was closed due to the kidnapping situation.

Among those kidnapped were four children and one of their parents from a Michigan family, their pastor told The Detroit News. The youngest from the family is under 10, said minister Ron Marks, who declined to identify them. They arrived in Haiti earlier this month, he said.

A pair of traveling Christians stopped by the organization’s headquarters Monday with two young children to drop off packages for impoverished nations. Tirtzah Rarick, originally of California, said she and a friend prayed on Sunday with those who had relatives among the abductees.

“Even though it’s painful and it provokes us to tears that our friends and relatives, our dear brothers and sisters, are suffering right now in a very real physical, mental and emotional way, it is comforting to us that we can bring these heavy burdens to the God that we worship,” she said.

News of the kidnappings spread swiftly in and around Holmes County, Ohio, hub of one of the nation’s largest populations of Amish and conservative Mennonites, said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in nearby Millersburg, Ohio.

Christian Aid Ministries is supported by conservative Mennonite, Amish and related groups in the Anabaptist tradition.

The organization was founded in the early 1980s and began working in Haiti later that decade, said Steven Nolt, professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. The group has year-round mission staff in Haiti and several countries, he said, and it ships religious, school and medical supplies throughout the world.

Conservative Anabaptists, while disagreeing over technology and other issues, share traditions such as modest, plain clothing, separation from mainstream society, closely disciplined congregations and a belief in nonresistance to violence.

The Amish and Mennonite communities in Holmes County have a close connection with missionary organizations serving Haiti.

Every September at the Ohio Haiti Benefit Auction, handmade furniture, quilts, firewood and tools are sold, and barbecue chicken and Haitian beans and rice are dished up. The event typically brings in about $600,000 that is split between 18 missionary groups, said Aaron Miller, one of the organizers.

___

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama in Port-au-Prince and AP writers Eric Tucker and Matthew Lee in Washington, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Peter Smith in Pittsburgh, John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, and Julie Carr Smyth in Berlin, Ohio, contributed to this report.

Africa’s few glaciers will be gone within 20 years because of global warming, report warns

Tue, 2021-10-19 05:44

FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 file photo, a herd of adult and baby elephants walks in the dawn light as the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, sits topped with snow in the background, seen from Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya. Africa's rare glaciers will disappear in the next two decades because of climate change, a new report warned Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 amid sweeping forecasts of pain for the continent that contributes least to global warming but will suffer from it most. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File) (Ben Curtis/)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s few glaciers will disappear in the next two decades because of climate change, a new report warned Tuesday amid sweeping forecasts of pain for the continent that contributes least to global warming but will suffer from it most.

The report from the World Meteorological Organization and other agencies, released ahead of the U.N. climate conference in Scotland that starts Oct. 31, is a grim reminder that Africa’s 1.3 billion people remain “extremely vulnerable” as the continent warms more, and at a faster rate, than the global average. And yet Africa’s 54 countries are responsible for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The new report seizes on the shrinking glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda as symbols of the rapid and widespread changes to come. “Their current retreat rates are higher than the global average. If this continues, it will lead to total deglaciation by the 2040s,” it says.

Massive displacement, hunger and increasing climate shocks such droughts and flooding are in the future, and yet the lack of climate data in parts of Africa “is having a major impact” on disaster warnings for millions of people, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said at Tuesday’s launch.

Estimates of the economic effects of climate change vary across the African continent, but “in sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product by up to 3% by 2050,” Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko with the African Union Commission writes in the report. “Not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing.”

By 2030, up to 118 million extremely poor people, or those living on less than $1.90 a day, “will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat in Africa if adequate response measures are not put in place,” Sacko adds.

Already, the U.N. has warned that the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar is one where “famine-like conditions have been driven by climate change.” And it says parts of South Sudan are seeing the worst flooding in almost 60 years.

Despite the threats ahead to the African continent, the voices of Africans have been less represented than richer regions at global climate meetings and among the authors of the crucial Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific assessments. African participation in IPCC reports has been “extremely low,” according to Future Climate for Africa, a multi-country research program.

The costs ahead are huge. “Overall, Africa will need investments of over $3 trillion in mitigation and adaptation by 2030 to implement its (national climate plans), requiring significant, accessible and predictable inflows of conditional finance,” the WMO’s Taalas said.

“The cost of adapting to climate change in Africa will rise to $50 billion per year by 2050, even assuming the international efforts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.”

North Korea launches possible submarine missile as it again ramps up weapons testing

Tue, 2021-10-19 05:40

People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch with file footage at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea on Tuesday in a continuation of its recent weapons tests, the South Korean and Japanese militaries said, hours after the U.S. reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy on the North's nuclear weapons program. A part of Korean letters reads: "Fired a ballistic missile." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) (Lee Jin-man/)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Tuesday fired at least one ballistic missile, which South Korea’s military said was likely designed to be launched from a submarine, in what is possibly the most significant demonstration of the North’s military might since U.S. President Joe Biden took office.

The launch of the missile into the sea came hours after the U.S. reaffirmed an offer to resume talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. It underscored how North Korea has continued to expand its military capabilities during the pause in diplomacy.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement it detected that North Korea fired one short-range missile it believed was a submarine-launched ballistic missile from waters near the eastern port of Sinpo, and that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely analyzing the launch.

The South Korean military said the launch was made at sea, but it didn’t say whether it was fired from a vessel underwater or another launch platform above the sea’s surface.

Japan’s military said its initial analysis suggested that North Korea fired two ballistic missiles. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials were examining whether they were submarine-launched.

Kishida interrupted a campaign trip ahead of Japanese legislative elections later this month and returned to Tokyo because of the launch. He ordered his government to start revising the country’s national security strategy to adapt to growing North Korean threats, including the possible development of the ability to pre-emptively strike North Korean military targets.

“We cannot overlook North Korea’s recent development in missile technology and its impact on the security of Japan and in the region,” he said.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said one of the North Korean missiles reached a maximum altitude of 50 kilometers (30 miles) and flew on “an irregular trajectory” while traveling as far as 600 kilometers (360 miles). He said the missile didn’t breach Japan’s exclusive economic zone set outside its territorial waters.

South Korean officials held a national security council meeting and expressed “deep regret” over the launch occurring despite efforts to revive diplomacy. A strong South Korean response could anger North Korea, which has accused Seoul of hypocrisy for criticizing the North’s weapons tests while expanding its own conventional military capabilities.

The apparent site of the missile firing — a shipyard in Sinpo — is a major defense industry hub where North Korea focuses its submarine production. In recent years, North Korea has also used Sinpo to develop ballistic weapons systems designed to be fired from submarines.

North Korea last tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, in October 2019.

Analysts had expected North Korea to resume tests of such weapons after it rolled out at least two new submarine-launched missiles during military parades in 2020 and 2021. There have also been signs that North Korea is trying to build a larger submarine that would be capable of carrying and firing multiple missiles.

Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said Tokyo lodged a “strong protest” to North Korea through the “usual channels,” meaning their embassies in Beijing. Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at a “critical stage” and called for a renewed commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the issue.

Ending a monthslong lull in September, North Korea has been ramping up its weapons tests while making conditional peace offers to Seoul, reviving a pattern of pressuring South Korea to try to get what it wants from the United States.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles because he wants a more survivable nuclear deterrent able to blackmail his neighbors and the United States,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

Easley said North Korea “cannot politically afford appearing to fall behind in a regional arms race” with its southern neighbor.

“North Korea’s SLBM is probably far from being operationally deployed with a nuclear warhead,” he added.

North Korea has been pushing hard for years to acquire an ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles from submarines, the next key piece in Kim Jong Un’s arsenal that includes a broad range of mobile missiles and ICBMs with the potential range to reach the American homeland.

Still, experts say it would take years, large amounts of resources and major technological improvements for the heavily sanctioned nation to build at least several submarines that could travel quietly in seas and reliably execute strikes.

Within days, Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, is scheduled to meet with U.S. allies in Seoul over the prospects of reviving talks with North Korea.

Nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled for more than two years because of disagreements over an easing of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea in exchange for denuclearization steps by the North.

While North Korea is apparently trying to use South Korea’s desire for inter-Korean engagement to extract concessions from Washington, analysts say Seoul has little wiggle room because the Biden administration is intent on keeping sanctions in place until North Korea takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

“The U.S. continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue. Our intent remains the same. We harbor no hostile intent toward (North Korea) and we are open to meeting without preconditions,” Sung Kim told reporters on Monday.

Last week, Kim Jong Un reviewed powerful missiles designed to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S. mainland during a military exhibition and vowed to build an “invincible” military to cope with what he called persistent U.S. hostility. Earlier, Kim dismissed U.S. offers to resume talks without preconditions as a “cunning” attempt to conceal its hostile policy toward the North.

The country has tested various weapons over the past month, including a new cruise missile that could potentially carry nuclear warheads, and a developmental hypersonic missile.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said North Korea’s latest launch did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of its allies.

___

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. AP writer Matthew Lee in Washington and AP video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.

North Korea fires ballistic missile into sea in latest test

Mon, 2021-10-18 21:41

People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch with file footage at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea on Tuesday in a continuation of its recent weapons tests, the South Korean and Japanese militaries said, hours after the U.S. reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy on the North's nuclear weapons program. Korean letters read: on the top of screen read: "Fired a ballistic missile." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) (Lee Jin-man/)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea on Tuesday in a continuation of its recent weapons tests hours after the U.S. reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected one ballistic missile launched from an area around its eastern port of Sinpo and that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely analyzing the launch.

But Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said his country’s initial analysis suggested that the North fired two ballistic missiles. Japan’s coast guard issued a maritime safety advisory to ships but didn’t immediately know where the missiles landed.

The shipyard in Sinpo is a major defense industry hub where North Korea focuses its submarine production and the country has also used those facilities in recent years to develop ballistic weapons systems designed to be fired from submarines.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries didn’t immediately say what kind of ballistic missile the North fired.

A test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which would be North Korea’s first since 2019, would be the country’s most significant military demonstration since President Joe Biden took office and underscore how it continues to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities amid a pause in diplomacy. The North had rolled out at least two new SLBMs during military parades in 2020 and 2021.

South Korean officials held a national security council meeting and expressed “deep regret” over the launch that came amid efforts to revive diplomacy. A strong South Korean response could anger North Korea, which has been accusing Seoul of hypocrisy for criticizing the North’s weapons tests while expanding its own conventional military capabilities.

Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said Tokyo has lodged a “strong protest” to North Korea through “usual channels,” meaning their embassies in Beijing. Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties.

Ending a monthslong lull in September, North Korea has been ramping up its weapons tests while making conditional peace offers to Seoul, reviving a pattern of pressuring South Korea to try to get what it wants from the United States.

“Pyongyang is rhetorically putting the burden for strained ties on Seoul and responsibility for restarting diplomacy on Washington,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“North Korea is trying to coerce the world into accepting its violations of U.N. Security Council Resolutions as if they are normal acts of self-defense. This is part of the Kim regime’s efforts to achieve de facto international recognition as a nuclear power and receive concessions just for resuming contact.”

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea likely tested an SLBM given that the launch was made from Sinpo. He said the North may have tested an existing missile from a renovated submarine or a newly developed missile from an underwater launch platform.

The professor said the recent launches were apparently aimed at displaying the North’s military advancements as it tries to offset a lack of progress in economic development amid pandemic border closures and the U.S.-led sanctions.

Within days, Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, is scheduled to hold talks with U.S. allies in Seoul over the prospects of reviving talks with North Korea.

Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than two years over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s denuclearization steps.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to strengthen his nuclear deterrent and his government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offers to restart dialogue without preconditions, saying that Washington must first abandon its “hostile policy,” a term the North mainly uses to refer to sanctions and U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

But while North Korea is apparently trying to use South Korea’s desire for inter-Korean engagement to extract concessions from Washington, analysts say Seoul has little wiggle room as the Biden administration is intent on keeping sanctions in place until the North makes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

“The U.S. continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue. Our intent remains the same. We harbor no hostile intent toward the DPRK and we are open to meeting without preconditions,” Sung Kim told reporters on Monday, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Even as we remain open to dialogue, we also have a responsibility to implement the U.N. Security Council resolutions addressing the DPRK,” he said.

Last week, Kim Jong Un reviewed powerful missiles designed to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S. mainland during a military exhibition and vowed to build an “invincible” military to cope with what he called persistent U.S. hostility. Earlier, Kim dismissed U.S. offers for resuming talks without preconditions as a “cunning” attempt to conceal its hostile policy on the North.

The country has tested various weapons over the past month, including a new cruise missile that could potentially carry nuclear warheads, a rail-launched ballistic system, a developmental hypersonic missile and a new anti-aircraft missile. The test of the hypersonic missile on Sept. 28 came shortly before North Korean Ambassador Kim Song called for the Biden administration to permanently end joint military exercises with South Korea and the deployment of strategic military assets to the region in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

The North in recent weeks has also restored communication lines with the South and said it could take further steps to improve bilateral relations if Seoul abandons its “double-dealing attitude” and “hostile viewpoint” over its weapons development.

___

AP writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.


‘A dangerous time’: Portland, Oregon, sees record homicides

Mon, 2021-10-18 21:35

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, a man stands in front of a broken display window at a retail store during protests in Portland, Ore. Police in Portland say they believe a new state law prohibits officers from directly intervening when people smash storefronts and cause mayhem. The measure passed this year prohibits the use of crowd control methods like pepper spray and rubber bullets "unless use of force is otherwise authorized by statute." (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) (Marcio Jose Sanchez/)

PORTLAND, Ore. — It was nearly last call on a Friday when Jacob Eli Knight Vasquez went to get a drink across the street from the tavern where he worked in northwest Portland — an area with a thriving dining scene, where citygoers enjoy laid-back eateries, international cuisines and cozy cafés.

The 34-year-old had been at the pizza bar only a short time when shots rang out. Vasquez was struck by a stray bullet and died at the scene.

His killing in late September was one of the 67 homicides this year in Portland — a city that has already surpassed and is on pace to shatter its previous record of 66 slayings, set in 1987.

In a metropolis wracked by gang violence, fear and frustration have settled over Portland as stories like Vasquez’s have made some wary to go out at night. Unlike previous years, more bystanders, neighbors and friends are being caught in the crossfire — from people mourning at vigils and sitting in cars to children playing in a park.

“People should be leery because this is a dangerous time,” said Lionel Irving Jr., a lifelong Portland resident and a gang outreach worker.

Portland’s police department is struggling to keep up amid an acute staffing shortage and budget cuts. Now, the liberal Pacific Northwest city is implementing novel solutions aimed at improving safety, including adding traffic barrels to prevent drive-by shootings and suspending minor traffic stops so officers can focus on immediate threats.

But critics say Oregon’s largest city, home to more than 650,000 people, is flailing.

“Let’s please untie the hands of our law enforcement officers,” Vasquez’s brother-in-law, Don Osborn, said outside the business where Vasquez was slain. “I believe if the proper tools were in place for our law enforcement officers, this wouldn’t even have happened.”

So far this year, Portland has had about 1,000 shootings, 314 people have been injured by bullets, and firearms have accounted for three-quarters of homicides.

Police say many shootings are linked to gangs, fights and retaliation killings, but they are also affecting bystanders.

Nine-year-old Hadar Kedem recently told city leaders about a dangerously close call when she was caught in gunfire earlier this year.

Hadar had been playing with her father, brother and dog at a northeast Portland park when a group of people in ski masks began shooting. Hadar and her family dove for cover behind a metal equipment bin. One bullet landed within feet of the fourth-grader.

“I know that not only do I want change, but everyone wants change,” Hadar said during a City Council meeting last month. “I want to feel safe.”


FILE - In this June 6, 2021, file photo, police respond to a shooting in a house in Portland, Ore. Portland is on track to shatter its record of 70 homicides set in 1987. The city's police department is struggling to keep up amid an acute staffing shortage and budget cuts. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP, File) (Mark Graves /)
FILE - In this July 17, 2021, file photo, police investigate an overnight fatal shooting in Portland, Ore. Portland is on track to shatter its record of 70 homicides set in 1987. The city's police department is struggling to keep up amid an acute staffing shortage and budget cuts. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP, File) (Mark Graves /)

Nationally, homicides increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, based on FBI data. However, in Portland, deadly violence is increasing at a faster rate than nearly all major cities, with an 83% increase in homicides in 2020.

Portland has seen more homicides in 2021 than some larger cities, including San Francisco, and it’s had twice as many slayings as its larger Pacific Northwest neighbor, Seattle. Other hard-hit Western cities include the Albuquerque, New Mexico, metro area, which has about 679,000 residents and has seen a record 97 homicides this year.

Portland police have struggled to quell the violence, with the bureau 128 officers below authorized strength. Since August 2020, about 200 officers have left the department. Many, in their exit interviews, cited low morale, lack of support from city officials and burnout from months of racial justice protests, which often ended in plumes of tear gas and confrontation but have largely died down since last summer.

“We are running on fumes. There’s no way we can investigate thoroughly, and correctly, all these shootings,” said Daryl Turner, executive director of Portland’s police union.

Turner says the city will need to hire 840 officers over the next five years to implement proper community policing and keep Portland safe.

Besides staffing, Turner said the increase in violence is directly related to budget cuts.

Amid booming calls to defund the police, city leaders slashed $27 million from the police budget last year — $11 million due to the pandemic-caused budget crisis — a decision that Turner says has cost lives.

Officials also disbanded a specialized unit focused on curbing gun violence, which had long faced criticism for disproportionately targeting people of color.

Insufficient manpower and funds have forced officials to implement nontraditional ideas in an attempt to hinder gun violence.

Earlier this month, additional traffic barrels were installed in a southeast Portland neighborhood that has been plagued by shootings — some of which were linked to high-speed drivers. City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said the hope is that the traffic changes will slow activity at gun violence hot spots and make it harder to “both commit a crime and get away with it.”

“This is an all-hands-on deck situation where government needs to dig deep, think creatively,” Hardesty said. “From police to community-based organizations to infrastructure design — we all have a role to play in this emergency.”

In addition, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced in June that officers are no longer being directed to stop drivers for low-level traffic violations.

Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell said this was in response to data showing a disproportionate impact on Black drivers, but also because the city doesn’t have enough officers.

But experts, police and residents say a shift of resources and added traffic barrels are not nearly enough to counter the most violent year in the city’s modern history.

“This past year has shattered anything that I’ve ever witnessed,” said Irving, the outreach worker and a former gang member. He said he does not see gun violence slowing without more officers on the street and a specialized gun violence unit, along with investments in community-based organizations.

In addition, four cultural institutions in Portland’s Old Town Chinatown neighborhood recently sent a letter to officials, demanding immediate action to keep visitors, staff and volunteers safe.

The increasing violence and pleas for cities to do more have compelled some areas to switch from defunding police departments to restoring funding to them.

In major cities across the country, portions of police budgets are being restored. From Los Angeles to New York, some law enforcement departments that underwent massive budget cuts, amid nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd last year, have had local leaders restore funds or implement new programs or units.

In Portland, there’s money available for public safety in the form of a $60 million general fund excess balance.

The City Council can use half the money, which came from business taxes last year and was far more than anticipated, however it wants. Whether a significant portion will go to the police bureau has yet to be determined.

“We have to realize that everybody has a role, from community members to the police department,” Irving said. “No one entity is going to solve gun violence.”

___

Sara Cline 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.


Texas lawmakers pass new congressional maps bolstering GOP

Mon, 2021-10-18 20:09

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republicans approved on Monday redrawn U.S. House maps that favor incumbents and decrease political representation for growing minority communities, even as Latinos drive much of the growth in the nation’s largest red state.

The maps were approved following outcry from Democrats over what they claimed was a rushed redistricting process crammed into a 30-day session, and one which gave little time for public input. They also denounced the reduction of minority opportunity districts -- Texas will now have seven House districts where Latino residents hold a majority, down from eight -- despite the state’s changing demographics.

“What we are doing in passing this congressional map is a disservice to the people of Texas,” Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia said to the chamber just before the final vote.

GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign off on the changes. Civil rights groups sued before Republican lawmakers were even done Monday.

“Texas is using all the means at its disposal to prevent the inevitable change in the Texas electorate,” said Nina Perales, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Her organization filed the lawsuit along with several other minority rights groups in federal court in Texas. It alleges that Republican mapmakers diluted the political strength of minority voters by not drawing any new districts where Latino residents hold a majority, despite Latinos making up half of Texas’ 4 million new residents over the last decade.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Republicans have said they followed the law in defending the maps, which protect their slipping grip on Texas by pulling more GOP-leaning voters into suburban districts where Democrats have made inroads in recent years.

Texas has been routinely dragged into court for decades over voting maps, and in 2017, a federal court found that a Republican-drawn map was drawn to intentionally discriminate against minority voters. But two years later, that same court said there was insufficient reason to take the extraordinary step of putting Texas back under federal supervision before changing voting laws or maps.

The maps that overhaul how Texas’ nearly 30 million residents are sorted into political districts — and who is elected to represent them — bookends a highly charged year in the state over voting rights. Democratic lawmakers twice walked out on an elections bill that tightened the state’s already strict voting rules, which they called a brazen attempt to disenfranchise minorities and other Democratic-leaning voters.

The plan does not create any additional districts where Black or Hispanic voters make up more than 50% of the voting population, even as people of color accounted for more than 9 of 10 new residents in Texas over the past decade.

Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman, who authored the maps and leads the Senate Redistricting Committee, told fellow lawmakers that they were “drawn blind to race.” She said her legal team ensured the plan followed the Voting Rights Act.

The Texas GOP control both chambers of the Legislature, giving them nearly complete control of the mapmaking process. The state has had to defend their maps in court after every redistricting process since the Voting Rights Act took effect in 1965, but this will be the first since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling said Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination no longer need to have the Justice Department scrutinize the maps before they are approved.

However, drawing maps to engineer a political advantage is not unconstitutional. The proposal would also make an estimated two dozen of the state’s 38 congressional districts safe Republican districts, with an opportunity to pick up at least one additional newly redrawn Democratic stronghold on the border with Mexico, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from last year’s election collected by the Texas Legislative Council. Currently, Republicans hold 23 of the state’s 36 seats.

Following negotiations between Texas House members and state senators, the districts of Houston area districts of U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat who is serving her 14th term, and U.S. Rep Al Green, a neighboring Democrat, were restore, unpairing the two and drawing Jackson Lee’s home back into her district.

Texas lawmakers also approved redrawn maps for their own districts, with Republicans following a similar plan that does not increase minority opportunity districts and would keep their party in power in the state House and Senate.

___

Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report. Coronado 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.


After an Anchorage lawmaker gets an open-container citation, another state senator says it was his beer

Mon, 2021-10-18 18:31

Josh Revak waves signs at Abbott Road and Lake Otis Boulevard on election day, Nov. 3, 2020. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Cited by Alaska State Troopers for driving with an open can of beer in his car, Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, plans to challenge the $220 ticket in court.

Another state lawmaker, Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, says it was his beer. Kawasaki was traveling with Revak from Anchorage to a fishing event on the Kenai Peninsula.

Troopers “asked me if it was my can,” Kawasaki said. “I said, ‘Yeah, it’s absolutely my can, and I’m super sorry.’ Anyways, I’m more sorry to Josh because it’s a mark on his record.”

Troopers fined Revak on Aug. 18. Under state law, having an open beer can in a moving vehicle is an infraction less than a misdemeanor.

Revak is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 27, but the situation became more complicated last week when the trooper who wrote the citation, Benjamin Strachan, was arrested on child sexual abuse charges.

It isn’t clear what will happen to the citation. A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety said that when a trooper leaves the department, a supervisor will review any open cases and investigations that he or she has and reassign those open cases to other Troopers.

Revak said he would be willing to pay the fine and settle the citation except for the fact that the record would remain.

“That’s what’s important to me. I’m real proud of my longtime sobriety, very proud of that,” Revak said.

He said he used alcohol heavily when he returned injured from the Iraq War, but he stopped drinking and hasn’t had alcohol in seven years. Since then, he’s helped others in recovery programs.

A citation “could cause harm to me, because I’m in programs of recovery. I’ve been in recovery a long time trying to help other people. Having a violation like this might discredit me, and especially in my job, it certainly doesn’t help, so I felt like it was kind of an injustice,” he said.

Revak and Kawasaki said they were driving south from Anchorage to the Kenai River Classic, an annual sportfishing and political networking event hosted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

Kawasaki had stayed the night at the home of Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, and left that house on the morning of the 18th with a partially full can of King Street IPA.

“I just brought it with me. I didn’t want to waste it, didn’t want to dump it,” Kawasaki said.

Kawasaki said he put the beer in a cupholder between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat. Both men said Revak didn’t realize it was a beer rather than a soda or energy drink.

Kawasaki didn’t pull it out of the cupholder before Strachan flagged Revak’s car as driving 66 mph in a 55 mph zone and pulled it over around Mile 76.5 of the Sterling Highway. The beer can was immediately visible, according to the citation.

“I tried to tell the officer, it’s my open container,” Kawasaki said. “I swear to God, (Revak’s) not a drinker. I mean, he doesn’t, he hasn’t had anything to drink in years. And I tried to tell him that, and the officer’s like, well, he still has an open container. And so it’s his responsibility.”

The Department of Public Safety denied a public records request for video and audio records of the traffic stop, and an appeal of that rejection has not yet been resolved.

An interview request to Strachan before his arrest was answered by a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety who asked for written questions and responded by email.

The account provided by the spokesman matches the description on the citation and the accounts given separately by Kawasaki and Revak.

“At no point during the traffic stop did the driver identify himself as a legislator, and the Soldotna-based Troopers were not aware that he was an elected official,” said the spokesman, Austin McDaniel.

Revak’s car carries license plates identifying him as a wounded veteran; he said he doesn’t use the legislative license plates given to lawmakers.

Kawasaki and Revak each said they didn’t identify themselves as legislators.

“I don’t think any legislator would ever pull that card. That’s a dumb thing to say. It’s not like we’re really loved,” Kawasaki said.

Revak said he didn’t undergo a sobriety test; Kawasaki remembers Revak leaving the car to talk to troopers.

Asked whether a trooper conducted a sobriety test, McDaniel said troopers “observed no signs of impairment from the driver.”

Fred Slone, an Anchorage attorney with extensive experience in DUI cases, said the lack of a sobriety test isn’t unusual.

“If the trooper has a suspicion upon his initial contact with a driver, that he may be under the influence, he would embark on some field sobriety tests. But I don’t think they’re necessarily going to do field sobriety tests simply because there’s an open container in the vehicle without some other issue or observations by the trooper leading him to believe that they may be driving under the influence,” Sloane said.

Revak was not cited for speeding, the original reason for the traffic stop. Asked why, McDaniel said, “It is not uncommon for a Trooper to issue only one citation during a traffic stop, and the citations issued depend on a variety of circumstances including the Troopers’ discretion.”

Anchorage’s two biggest hospitals say more than 98% of employees are meeting COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Mon, 2021-10-18 16:45

Dr. Melissa Hardesty takes a selfie after receiving a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes/ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Alaska’s two largest hospitals are reporting high levels of employee compliance with vaccine mandates, refuting predictions of a significant exodus of shot-opposed workers from city officials, including from Anchorage’s mayor.

Both Providence Alaska Medical Center and the Alaska Native Medical Center on Monday were reporting more than 98% compliance with vaccine requirements at each hospital.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which operates the Native Medical Center, says more than 98% of about 3,000 employees are in compliance with the vaccine mandate that went into effect Friday.

That includes people who got vaccinated as well those who received medical exceptions, according to spokesperson Shirley Young. Of fewer than 80 requests for exceptions, about half were granted, Young said.

Providence’s policy was to go into effect at the end of the day Monday. As of mid-day, 98.4% of the hospital’s approximately 4,600 employees had either been vaccinated or received a religious or medical exemption, according to hospital spokesperson Mikal Canfield, noting the number was still changing.

“We are grateful that the vast majority of our caregivers have received their vaccinations -- an essential step toward keeping our caregivers, patients and communities safe and helping end the pandemic,” Canfield wrote in an email.

The hospital isn’t laying people off immediately, he said. Employees who have not gotten vaccinated or received an exemption will be taken off the schedule and placed on unpaid administrative leave.

Alaska Regional Hospital is not currently requiring its employees get vaccinated. A spokesperson did not respond to a request for information about vaccination rates among workers.

Several Alaska hospitals have already enacted mandates. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital reported 11 employees out of 1,850 left jobs over vaccine requirements. Out of nearly 500 employees at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center and associated clinics, nine were deemed not compliant after being placed on leave, a spokesperson there said Monday.

The Biden Administration last month announced plans to require vaccinations for health care workers, federal employees, and private businesses with more than 100 workers. Specific guidelines will be issued this month.

About 41% of hospitals nationwide - roughly 2,570 facilities - have some sort of vaccine mandate, according to data collected by the American Hospital Association and reported by the Washington Post.

Most health-care systems that require vaccination have touted widespread compliance, according to the Post: administrators at some of the nation’s largest hospital systems report very high vaccination rates they attributed to the requirement as well as a drop in coronavirus infections and sick leaves.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, who has publicly stated his opposition to hospital vaccine requirements, in an interview last month said he believed up to 20% to 30% of employees would lose their jobs over their opposition to vaccination requirements at hospitals such as Providence and Alaska Native Medical Center.

Bronson cited anecdotal evidence, including news reports of staff resigning in other states over vaccine mandates as well as testimony during an invitation-only listening session for health care workers opposed to mandates hosted by Assembly member Jamie Allard. Municipal human resources director Niki Tshibaka triggered a standing ovation at one point when he asked if the crowd opposed mandates.

“They’ve been here for a year and a half for us, doing the toughest work probably you can imagine in modern society. And now we’re going to take, possibly 20 or 30% of them, and cast them aside,” Bronson said in an interview last month. “They lose the ability to provide for their kids. Lose the ability to pay their bills because they believe something. And it seems to me, no one except me is listening to them in this city.”

Asked for a response to the new information about vaccine mandates, a spokesperson for the mayor said while the number of job losses is not in the 20% to 30% range, they are clearly happening.

Bronson has heard from “dozens” of medical professionals including nurses and surgery technicians at Providence and ANTHC facilities who say they will lose their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated, spokesperson Corey Allen Young said Monday.

“Obviously he wants to hear from the community,” Young said. “As the mayor, his job is to make sure everybody is treated fairly.”

[Are Alaska’s hospitals short-staffed over COVID-19 vaccination mandates? Not yet.]

Alaska health care workers have faced hostility and threats from COVID-19 patients and others. Some health care workers and pharmacy employees have stopped asking about vaccination status due to hostile responses.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and millions of people have been vaccinated safely, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Serious adverse events after vaccination are rare; for example, severe allergic reactions occur in about two to five people per 1 million vaccinated in the U.S.

Other sectors beyond hospitals are taking different approaches to vaccine requirements.

In the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the decision are being made at the level of individual facilities, said Jeannie Monk, senior vice president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. Overall, vaccination rates among the state’s nursing home staff are above the national average.

Those connected to Providence, which runs two of the state’s largest nursing homes, require the vaccine for staff, Monk said. Most of the larger facilities as well as tribal facilities are requiring staff vaccinations.

Smaller facilities and the state-run Pioneer Homes are not, she said.

Some facilities have vaccination rates of 70% and 80% compliance, Monk said, while others are lower. Rates tend to mirror the community where they’re located.

The Biden administration said they would mandate vaccines for all healthcare workers at facilities that receive medicaid and medicare funding, but details like when it’s set to take effect and if there are exemptions, have yet to be released.

Meanwhile, officials at the University of Alaska system announced Monday they will not require vaccinations for faculty, staff and students at this time at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Interim UA president Pat Pitney said in a statement that the incoming federal requirements mean it makes sense to wait before putting any requirements in place.

“As we expect a broad vaccine mandate to eventually be implemented, if you are not already vaccinated, now is a good time to do so,” Pitney wrote.

Pitney told reporters in a call Monday that some people, mostly students and some staff disagree with a vaccine requirement though that “didn’t weigh in largely to the factors here, but it does exist and it would be something we would have to work with.”

She thought the number of people who would leave due to a vaccination requirement would be much smaller than what they’ve heard anecdotally.

The request for a vaccination requirement at UAF stemmed from the school’s faculty, staff and student governance bodies as well as an emphasis on access to in-person learning, said Chancellor Dan White. He said the school would continue applying narrowly-focused vaccine requirements around campus like those for residential students and athletes.

“All that president Pitney has done is said, ‘please continue to do that practice,” White said.

It’s time to find out what your valued employees want — before you lose them

Mon, 2021-10-18 16:34

After 21 months of being whipsawed by the pandemic, increasing numbers of employees have gone on strike. Twenty million U.S. employees quit their jobs between April and August 2021. Then, 4.3 million employees quit in August 2021, a figure 40% higher than in August 2020, and 20% higher than in August 2019, before the pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which began reporting resignations in 2001, this 40% figure establishes an all-time high.

Surveys suggest this employee resignation tsunami will only increase. In March 2021, Gallup reported 48% of the U.S. employees they surveyed were job searching or scanning for new opportunities. In August, the consulting firm PwC’s poll of 1007 full- and part-time U.S. employees reported 65% were looking for a new job.

The question facing employers: what to do about it. Employers that figure this out can keep their talent and better attract outstanding employees.

Is raising wages the best answer?

Many employers struggle to fill jobs. In today’s labor market, in which available jobs are plentiful, employees have the edge. Many employers, struggling to compete for talent, have raised wages and offer “thank you” bonuses to employees choosing to stay.

According to the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, these quick fixes fall flat. They reduce the work relationship to a transactional one, forgetting employees are human and emotional. Further, there’s often another employer able to offer higher salaries.

What works

In my recent book, Managing for Accountability, I prove employers that take care of their employees reap the benefits. Yes, employees want higher pay and better benefits, but they also want to feel valued. Employees aren’t loyal to employers that aren’t loyal to them. Employees report that employers haven’t gotten this message. According to McKinsey’s recent surveys, 54% of employees stated they didn’t feel valued by their employers.

What tells employees they’re valued? Three intangible perks rank high — flexibility so they can take care of themselves; being listened to and feeling connected with coworkers and managers. According to a Harris poll commissioned by Catalyst and CNBC, 76% of employees want their workplace to make work permanently flexible. McKinsey’s survey reveals 52% of employees quitting didn’t feel valued by their managers. McKinsey’s research also documents that 51% of employees quitting stated they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.

[How companies can keep the best parts of work-from-home culture — and avoid the pitfalls]

Quality managers thus play an outsize role in retaining employees. According to Gallup, it took a pay raise of at least 20% to hire employees away from a manager that engaged them. According to research released on October 13 by Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on women’s workplace issues, 57% of white women and 62% of women of color who felt valued by their employer and that their manager respected their personal circumstances rarely thought of leaving.

Finally, we all listen to the same radio station: WIFM or what’s in it for me? Can you as an employer offer employees, training, professional development and career paths? Can you recognize each step in your employee’s development and increased value? As a prime example, Waffle House names entry-level employees grill operators, more experienced cooks “master” grill operators and its best operators “rock star grill operators.”

What does the employee resignation tsunami mean to you as an employer? Realize that even your more satisfied employees may feel empowered by the increasing options available to them and be re-evaluating their employment choices. Decide how to hold on to your valued employees so you don’t have to hunt for new ones. Ask them what matters to them.


Anti-science authoritarianism can’t flourish if we don’t let it

Mon, 2021-10-18 16:15

People, some wearing a yellow Star of David, wait in line to testify on a proposed mask ordinance during the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson apologized Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, for his comments supporting some residents' use of Holocaust imagery to liken a proposed citywide mask mandate to the oppression of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP) (Bill Roth/)

I’ve been rereading Sinclair Lewis’ classic 1930s political novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” which is about a right-wing politician who becomes a demagogue and launches a fascist takeover of the United States.

In the light of Jan. 6 at the nation’s capital, Lewis’ novel has special meaning.

Events at Anchorage’s municipal Assembly recently should raise uneasy feelings about the future of our political system, too.

I won’t delve into the give-and-take over the indoor mask rule that was on the table. Others are writing about this, although I personally take the advice of health professionals that face masks reduce transmission of COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths.

But beyond that, what took place at the Assembly meetings and on Jan. 6 should be worrisome for those of us who really want to protect democracy.

Lewis set his story in America, but it was really about Nazi Germany, where Lewis lived and wrote in the years before World War II.

There are chilling parallels. I was struck by video footage of days of Anchorage’s Assembly meetings, where an unruly crowd protesting the indoor mask rule hurled shouts, insults and threats of violence to intimidate those they disagreed with.

Mayor David Bronson and at least one Assembly member, Jamie Allard, appeared to egg on the protesters. Finally, the mayor ordered security staff out of the chamber and for a barrier protecting assembly members to be removed, exposing Assembly members to what was becoming a mob.

Raucous municipal meetings with pitchfork-bearing crowds -- at least metaphorically -- are nothing new in our democracy, but the intensity of this was at a new level. At least one gun was found when police arrested a protester for disorderly conduct.

That an elected mayor acted to expose not just an elected Assembly but others of the public to potential violence by removing security is, in my mind, grounds for removal.

Is our mayor a demagogue in the making?

What worries me are aspirations of his supporters to oust moderate and progressive-leaning Assembly members who have opposing views. That said, government executives supporting friendly candidates in legislative elections is nothing new.

I am somewhat assured that this mayor won by the slimmest of margins, which means the electorate as a whole is more balanced.

But things can change. The power of social media manipulated to whip up the mob can’t be underestimated. People forget that many autocrats were first elected. They became dictators later.

I am encouraged that we have a free press reporting vigorously on the events at the Assembly meetings, just as the events on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., were reported.

But how much does that count today?

What’s disappointing in that most people get information on public events from social media, which we now know is manipulated, thanks to the courage of a former Facebook employee blowing the whistle in testimony to Congress. We may be in a new, scary world.

Let me return briefly to the current controversy. We know masking for health reasons has been widely accepted in Asian societies for years. Going one step further, vaccine mandates to prevent diseases like smallpox have long been accepted in the U.S. and are often required by law, such as for school children.

My sense is that politicians are stirring the pot over face masks and vaccinations to gain an edge.

It’s a cynical calculation, and it won’t work in the long run. Big employers on the national level are now mandating vaccinations, whether required or not, and employees are accepting them, an example is the 98.5% compliance so far at United Airlines.

In the long run, most people will get the shots and much of this will pass, I believe.

But besides the manipulation, the anti-science and anti-expert biases in our society that underpin the current controversies are a cause for worry. For one thing, they impede progress toward the most dire threat we face, climate change.

Science will win eventually. It took years for people to accept that the world isn’t flat and to accept Galileo’s argument that the sun does not revolve around the Earth, but the other way around.

Belief is a powerful force, however. I met a woman in eastern Kentucky who was sincere and sweet and convinced that astronauts going into space was a hoax.

It was impossible, she believed, because if they had really gone up, they would have seen the angels.

Tim Bradner is publisher of the Alaska Legislative Digest and Alaska Economic Report.

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.

Smaller homeless facilities are better for all

Mon, 2021-10-18 15:30

Downtown Anchorage, photographed on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Shelter for Anchorage people experiencing homelessness is a critical issue. The Assembly and Bronson administration are jointly focused on finding structural and care options to replace and enhance services currently being administered at Sullivan Arena. On Oct. 5, they posted initial results of an excellent two-plus-month facilitated collaborative process.

We are pleased that some community requests for homeless care provisions and progression to independent living have been included in the plan. Also available is a Boutet Co. engineering report on the capacity and costs associated with large facilities (250-1000 or more beds) or land parcels capable of supporting such large facilities in Anchorage. We request comparable information for smaller facilities (100-175 beds). Fortunately, on Oct. 7, the municipality issued a Request For Interest for homeless facilities that include this size range.

Anchorage’s top homelessness experts clearly say smaller facilities are better for all. On June 20, the ADN quoted Lisa Aquino, CEO of Catholic Social Services in reference to a 400-1000 bed facility proposed by the administration, “... smaller shelters are better. The Brother Francis Shelter has cut its capacity in part due to COVID-19 but also to mitigate its impact and provide better services.”

In the same article, Jasmine Boyle of Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness said experts believe that smaller, focused shelters are better for both clients and neighborhoods. Most Assembly members “prefer smaller, multiple shelter sites.” In a personal communication shared with this commentary’s authors, Michele Brown, senior Rasmuson Fellow, said that “The Rasmuson Foundation has been a strong supporter of and advocate for Anchored Home, the community’s plan to make homelessness rare, brief, and one time, and which is based upon the principles of housing first and deploying small, geographically distributed shelters as an effective pathway to stable housing.”

Our Community Councils agree and urge the Assembly and Administration to:

1. Steer away from large parcels/facilities costing several tens of millions of dollars that the Boutet Co. was asked to analyze. Instead, focus on buying and/or renting a few existing, moderate-sized, buildings distributed across the community, each capable of supporting 100 to 175 people maximum. These would be less expensive and more conducive to public/private partnerships, while precluding disproportionate impacts of large facilities on nearby neighborhoods and parks.

Small facilities, licensed in B-3 Zones, should be located along transportation corridors. They are far preferable to the noise, anonymity and safety issues of a large one, which can easily be perceived as a warehouse for homeless people. Yet, small facilities could house an Emergency Medical Technician and provide navigation services for diverse populations such as substance misuse treatment and medical convalescence. They would also supplement existing facilities: Clare House, Covenant House, Brother Francis Shelter, Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission, Hope Center, Salvation Army and Coordinated Shelter Intake, etc.

Importantly, this “smaller is better” strategy would be consistent with the wording of the Client/Community Focused Approach chosen by the Assembly/administration. Large facilities would not.

2. Tap Anchorage’s homelessness experts to guide hiring professionals and support staff for necessary services.

3. Demonstrate that any decisions include full descriptive/ technical details and follow the recommendations in the Municipality’s 2018 report, “Anchored Home – Strategic Action Plan to Solve Homelessness,” which engaged more than 700 community members, businesses and agency representatives. This report urges continued extensive community dialogue/involvement and measurement of progress and success of any implemented solutions. We are hopeful that the facilitated collaborative process heads that way.

We will continue to work with the Assembly and Bronson administration as their discussions evolve. We believe our positions, outlined above, have the best potential for reducing the homelessness suffered by too many in our community while minimizing impacts on our neighborhoods and parks.

This commentary was co-authored by the Presidents/Chairs of the following Anchorage Community Councils:

Carolyn Ramsey, Airport Heights

Allen Kemplen, Fairview

Jody Sola, Government Hill

Ann Rappoport, Rabbit Creek

Kendra Kloster, Russian Jack

Karen Bronga, Scenic Foothills

Paul Stang, University Area

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