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Following pandemic-driven deflation, Alaska inflation rises at rate not seen in decades

Fri, 2021-07-30 12:20

Randy Efird is assistant terminal manager at Weaver Brothers Inc. in Anchorage. Photographed on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The trucking company's business is being impacted by rising diesel fuel costs. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Inflation in Alaska over the last 12 months surged to levels not seen in three decades, with prices of gasoline, used cars and clothing helping drive the trend.

But Alaska economists say the spike is not necessarily a surprise after a historic period of deflation in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic restricted travel, closed businesses and reduced spending.

They believe other causes of the higher prices should eventually ease, like pandemic-related supply shocks and pent-up consumer demand.

“To me, the conversation about inflation needs to be contextualized,” said Mouhcine Guettabi with the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “We are coming out of a pandemic, where prices and consumer spending were incredibly low.”

Consumer prices rose by 6.2% in urban Alaska, the highest increase since 1990, said Neal Fried, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Gasoline prices jumped by 42%, the most since at least 1979, the last year of available data, he said.

A gallon of regular gasoline hit $3.65 in Alaska on Friday, up from $2.52 a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association.

[States that cut unemployment early aren’t seeing a hiring boom, but who gets hired is changing]

The recent price is not high above the long-term average for gas, Fried said. Gasoline prices are rebounding after dropping last year amid reduced demand.

Fuel prices have risen steadily this year, said Kathy Stingley, owner of Alaska Auto Transport in Anchorage. Maritime shipping companies have increased their fuel surcharges, adding about $75 to the roughly $1,800 cost of shipping a car to Alaska from the Lower 48.


Randy and Kathy Stingley, owners of Alaska Auto Transport in Anchorage on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

“It’s kind of a necessary evil,” she said.

Stingley said she’s absorbing that cost rather than passing it onto customers. She said she can do that because her sales volume has risen. More individuals are moving cars across the ocean, after the pandemic-related closure of the Canadian border restricted overland traffic.

Jimmy Doyle with Weaver Bros. trucking company in Anchorage said he hopes the cost of diesel fuel stabilizes. He has had to pass the cost increases onto customers. More fuel surcharges could force customers to rethink their shipping plans, he said.

Other notable price increases over the past year through June include used cars and trucks, up 47% thanks partly to a pandemic-related slowdown in car manufacturing and consumers with more savings, Fried said. That’s likely the biggest jump in used car prices ever, he said.

[New cars are in limited supply in Alaska amid the microchip shortage. Prices for used cars are soaring.]

Apparel was up 5.7%, the biggest increase since 2008. It follows plunging demand for new clothes last year as more people stayed home from work and gatherings, Fried said.

Also, lumber costs spiked earlier this year, but have been dropping, Fried said. The higher prices pushed up housing construction costs, but that affected only a small number of Alaskans looking for a new home, Fried said.

Fried said food prices — which do affect everyone — did not rise by a large amount, increasing 2.4%. Meat and cereal did rise more than other items.

“It’s not that big, but it’s one thing people notice because we use a lot of it,” Fried said. “Psychologically, we put more weight on things we notice, like gas prices on big billboards.”

[Wanted: bulk ketchup, Crown Royal and plastic lids — Alaska restaurants are facing a shortage of staple items]

Economists generally said they expect the high inflation rate to be temporary, easing as the U.S. economic recovery continues.

“I’m not overly worried about (inflation), but it’s something to keep an eye on,” said Nolan Klouda, head of the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development. “We don’t want to see these things get worse.”

Fried said said it’s hard to predict what will happen amid a continuing pandemic that has disrupted manufacturing, supply chains and the labor supply.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s just a one-year aberration,” he said. “It’s been easy to predict inflation for a long time because it hasn’t changed much. If you said 2.5% for last 20 years you were pretty good. Right now, you can’t do that.”

The higher prices in Alaska bring at least one silver lining. If the price of North Slope crude oil remains around current levels through June, annual state income would jump about $500 million above the spring budget forecast.

We need to come together to make Anchorage’s school year successful

Fri, 2021-07-30 12:19

(iStock / Getty Images) (Christopher Downey/)

As an educator, every year brings the same moment where excitement, anxiety and stress all flood my body at the same time as I realize how close school is to starting again. What is the trigger of this uproar of feelings? Well, obviously, the early onslaught of back-to-school displays and sales. Additionally, for the second year in a row, a rising level of uncertainty is a part of these emotions as COVID-19 cases rise and we prepare to bring thousands of students back to school buildings. I know with the right mindset and preparation, we can build on what we’ve learned about COVID-19 and have a successful school year. However, as families bargain hunt displays and sales, we as a community need to do some back-to-school “shopping” as well. Our list needs to focus on what we, as adults, can do to ensure student safety and emotional and mental well-being this coming school year.

First and foremost, get vaccinated. Millions of people in the United States have received the vaccine and the data is not only extensive but crystal clear: COVID-19 vaccines are the best defense we have against severe illness, continued spread and future, possibly more contagious and dangerous, variants. Not only that, but, despite misinformation and politicization, they are extremely safe and, best of all, free to everyone. Getting a vaccine is the best way to show your community, especially those under 12 and others who aren’t able to get vaccinated, that you care not only about their physical health but their mental and emotional well-being as the school year starts again. Being a student is stressful enough; our children shouldn’t have to also worry about their physical safety while in the close indoor settings that school requires.

Second, advocate for the Anchorage School District to institute and enforce universal masking for students, staff, and visitors, and until cases decrease and vaccinations increase, vocally support this important policy for the health and safety of our children. As our return to buildings last spring showed us, if we want to have a full year of in-person learning with minimal disruptions, masks and vaccines are, by far, the way to get there. Additionally, as a community, we need to always wear a mask when and where it is recommended. Wearing a mask is an evidence-based, simple and easy way to show thousands of students we care about their health and well-being. By not wearing a mask, we are conveying to those unable to get vaccinated, such as the thousands of elementary students across our district, that, frankly, we don’t care if they get sick, have debilitating symptoms or long-term effects, or, yes, die. Even with a very low chance of fatality in children under 12, almost zero is still not zero, and with thousands of students not able to get a vaccine, there is a very real chance an Anchorage student could get severely ill or die due to COVID-19. It has happened in other states, and nothing about Alaska makes us magically protected.

Third, be very cognizant of how we refer to this last year of pandemic learning. Avoid using phrases based on deficit thinking, such as “learning loss” or “lost year.” The current adult obsession with loss is offensive to the thousands of students, teachers and caregivers who worked tirelessly last year to make the best of learning during a pandemic that has taken more than 4 million lives worldwide and more than 600,000 in the United States. Not only did we survive, but in many ways we thrived and learned more than in previous years. Much of this may not show on the metrics of curriculum and testing companies looking to make a profit off deficit thinking, however, it is just as important and meaningful. Additionally, framing student learning as only happening in schools belittles the role of families and community in a student’s learning. Yes, we need to meet students where they are, but we can celebrate our students and build on the learning that has happened as we also work with students in areas of need.

Fourth, be intentional and reflective as we push to return to normal. Remember the simple joy that comes with learning together. Focus on the lessons learned from our last year and double down on those positives, whether school-related or other. Additionally, discuss with our families, especially those in school, what we should be returning to and what we should be leaving behind for good and advocate for those changes. With so many facets of traditional school being removed or changed last year, now is a perfect time to ask what school should and can be as well as what is a school’s role in a community. Just because it was done in school before COVID-19, doesn’t mean it has a place in school after COVID-19.

Fifth, tone down the rhetoric and increase the civility of our interactions with other members of the community. Be solution-oriented, not blame-oriented. Ask questions and truly listen to understand our fellow community members. There are obviously many valid policy and community discussions that need to take place as we navigate our second COVID-19 year. However, vilifying others and bullying, whether in public spaces or on social media, is not only counterproductive to emerging from a pandemic-dominated world but teaches our children that this bad behavior is acceptable and the new normal, not to mention adds to the already stressful environment of pandemic learning.

If we come together as a community and check off our back-to-school list, we can ensure a safe and successful school year for our students. One full of the simple joys of learning together with limited disruptions and happy and healthy kids. Now, who do I talk to about those much too early back-to-school displays?

Ben Walker has two elementary students in the Anchorage School District and is the 2018 Alaska State Teacher of the Year.

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.

Vaccinated people made up three-quarters of those infected in massive Massachusetts COVID-19 outbreak, CDC finds

Fri, 2021-07-30 12:16

Bartender Denis Angelov, of Provincetown, Mass., pours drinks at Tin Pan Alley restaurant, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Provincetown. A sobering scientific analysis published Friday of an explosive Massachusetts COVID-19 outbreak fueled by the delta variant found that three-quarters of the people who became infected were fully vaccinated. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) (Steven Senne/)

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1645 words

Categories: National, Health, Health-News

Authors: Carolyn Y. Johnson, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Joel Achenbach

CDC study shows three-fourths of people infected in Massachusetts covid-19 outbreak were vaccinated

A sobering scientific analysis published Friday of an explosive Massachusetts covid-19 outbreak fueled by the delta variant found that three-quarters of the people who became infected were fully vaccinated. The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one key piece of a growing body of evidence that bolsters the hypothesis that vaccinated people can spread the more transmissible variant and may be a factor in the summer surge of infections.

The data, detailed in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, provided key evidence that convinced agency scientists to reverse recommendations on mask-wearing and advise that vaccinated individuals wear masks in indoor public settings in some circumstances.

Critically, the study found that vaccinated individuals carried as much virus in their noses as unvaccinated individuals, and that vaccinated people could spread the virus to each other. The CDC was criticized this week for changing its mask guidance without publicizing the data it relied on. The report released Friday contains that data.

“This finding is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones.”

Scientists said the Provincetown outbreak and other recent data on breakthrough infections make clear that the vaccines offer significant protection, as they were designed to, against severe illness and death, but do not offer blanket protection against any chance of infection. Only a handful of people in the outbreak were hospitalized, but four of them were fully vaccinated.

A CDC internal document obtained by The Washington Post estimated that 35,000 vaccinated people a week in the United States are having symptomatic breakthrough infections out of a vaccinated population of more than 162 million. Vaccination coverage is higher than average in Massachusetts, with nearly 70 percent of residents fully vaccinated.

“This shows the delta is formidable,” said Larry Corey, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “We can’t take one report of packed bars and extrapolate and say the sky is falling. The sky is not falling. But it does say the vaccine is not infallible.”

“Common sense has to be used,” Corey said. “It’s a learning moment, it’s a teaching moment. You can’t overlook the vast data we have on the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

Corey and other scientists reiterated that vaccination was the best way to end the pandemic. Turning covid-19 infections from potentially fatal pneumonia to nuisance colds was the main goal of the shots.

“People should be reassured that if they are fully vaccinated, that they are very likely, highly likely, to be protected against severe or critical illness, the kind of illness that would cause them to be hospitalized or killed by this virus,” said Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Vaccines save your life.”

But the CDC has been grappling with how to communicate to the public about infections able to break through the vaccine’s protection, acknowledging they happen more quickly than many people anticipated, although illness tends to be mild.

The study’s authors note that Massachusetts has a high vaccination rate and the virus was still able to spread.

“Findings from this investigation suggest that even jurisdictions without substantial or high COVID-19 transmission might consider expanding prevention strategies, including masking in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status,” they write.

Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, noted that the new CDC guidance on indoor masking for vaccinated people applies to communities with substantial transmission, and Provincetown on July 3 had low levels of virus.

“What this tells us is we need much more context and better data to guide whether and when vaccinated people should wear masks because following CDC’s new guidance wouldn’t have stopped this outbreak from occurring,” Nuzzo said.

Natalie Dean, a biostatistics expert at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, warned that these flare-ups of infections could become a persistent challenge as people move around, even to highly vaccinated areas.

“Everyone was looking forward to a fun vaccinated summer. Unfortunately, with the delta variant, we are having to recalibrate what we can do and still keep people safe. This outbreak happened despite highly effective vaccines,” Dean wrote in an email.

The internal CDC document obtained by The Post and published Thursday states that the delta variant is as transmissible as chickenpox and likely to cause more severe infections. That document also shows the CDC believes it needs to revamp its public communications strategy to stress the importance of vaccinations as the best way to crush the pandemic while acknowledging that breakthrough infections are more common than top health officials have previously indicated.

Provincetown is famous for its party scene and is at the tip of Cape Cod in a festive July 4 environment that could have, and did, prove ideal for explosive spread of the more contagious delta variant.

The outbreak has all the hallmarks of a superspreader event, with infected people reporting to public health officials that they gathered in “densely packed indoor and outdoor events that included bars, restaurants, guest houses and rental homes.” The full outbreak, which began July 4, is close to 900 cases, but the analysis included only a subset of 469 cases.

About three-quarters of infections occurred in people who were fully vaccinated, and that group had received vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a research institute in Cambridge, Mass., involved in the genetic analysis of the outbreak highlighted that this was not a single event. At least five events sparked the outbreak, so it is not possible to blame it on one party or one bar.

“There’s no one person or spot to blame here,” said Daniel Park, group leader for viral computational genomics at the Broad Institute. “The thing that’s catching the attention in national public health is that you can have these types of events; there’s no one particular bar that did any worse than another. Simply mixing that many people in one place with delta going around, with a decently high vaccination rate isn’t quite enough.”

The scientists, along with officials at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, reported that 79 percent of vaccinated breakthrough infections were symptomatic. Four of five people who were hospitalized were fully vaccinated. They are analyzing the genetic fingerprints of the virus samples taken now to trace chains of transmission and determine how commonly fully vaccinated people were infecting one another.

The presence of similar amounts of virus in the noses of vaccinated and unvaccinated people raises the possibility they are both contributing to spread, but many scientists think that vaccinated people should be less likely to spread the virus.

Similar findings may be emerging from other locations. The internal CDC document obtained by The Post showed that national surveillance found that vaccinated people had larger amounts of virus in their nose when infected with delta compared with other variants.

A report of cases from mid-July in Dane County, Wis., found a similar result, showing that fully vaccinated people had similar viral loads to unvaccinated people “and may be more capable of spreading COVID than was previously known.” The Wisconsin data showed that the infection rate for unvaccinated people was twice as high as for fully vaccinated people.

The CDC study “raises the very worrisome possibility that high viral loads can occur in people who have delta, and this is a fundamental as we have to approach the fall and winter,” said David O’Connor, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

While the vaccines remained highly protective against the worst outcomes, the new data may have implications for herd immunity, the threshold when there is enough immunity to stifle community spread.

“Although most cases were not hospitalized, thus showing the vaccine works in an important way, this study is portentous for the achievement of herd immunity,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Irvine. “If the vaccinated can become infected (and, we believe, from other studies, potentially spread covid), then herd immunity becomes more of a mirage than oasis.”

It also may intensify the debate about when and how long to implement mask guidance. The new study, as well as the internal CDC document obtained by The Post, both suggested that universal masking may be necessary to help stop spread of the virus. But the mask guidance issued this week only said that people need to use masks under certain circumstances, including high levels of virus in the community.

“We are at an inflection point, I’d say we are in a moment right now a crossroads, a fork in the road where we can either try and take a road to end the pandemic or take a path that will prolong it,” said Pardis Sabeti, a geneticist at the Broad and Harvard University.

The study makes clear that vaccines offer significant protection, but do not prevent infection entirely even among the fully vaccinated. On July 3, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported a 14-day average of zero covid-19 cases per 100,000 in Barnstable County - but by July 17, that number had increased to 177 cases per 100,000.

“This report demonstrates that vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 is not perfect, particularly in a setting with a highly contagious variant, in a large group in close contact, even if most are vaccinated against the virus,” said Gregg Gonsalves, associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health. “The good news here: If you’re vaccinated, refrain from large group gatherings and mask up, chances are good you’ll be OK. This is not 2020. But we’re not out of the woods.”

Bristol Bay fisherman charged with manslaughter and DUI in deaths of two pedestrians in Naknek

Fri, 2021-07-30 11:59

Naknek, Alaska, in 2007. (Todd Arlo via Wikimedia Commons)

A grand jury in Anchorage this week indicted Bristol Bay fisherman Curtis Michael Chevalier, 33, of Washington state in the killing of two pedestrians in the Southwest Alaska town of Naknek.

Chevalier is charged with two counts of manslaughter, failure to render aid and driving under the influence. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison.

In a criminal complaint, Bristol Bay Borough Police Chief John Ryshek said he was dispatched to Alaska Peninsula Highway regarding a report that two people were struck by a vehicle while walking on the side of the road around 4:30 a.m. July 21.

Timothy Jacob of Napaskiak was killed instantly, while Vincent Martin of Anchorage was taken to Camai Medical Clinic, where he succumbed to his injuries just before being flown to an Anchorage hospital, charging documents said. Both men had been working in the Bristol Bay region.

The following morning, investigators found a 1976 Ford truck described by a witness parked in the fishermen’s parking lot at Alaska General Seafoods. The truck had significant damage to the front passenger side, according to the charging document.

Chevalier had been fishing for Alaska General Seafoods during the 2021 season on the vessel Ella Mae. Ryshek found Chevalier asleep with two crew members on the boat, which was tied up at the dock.

Chevalier told law enforcement he’d been driving the truck after drinking with the crew at two bars to the point he should not have been driving. He said on his drive home he heard a loud popping noise and thought his tires may have exploded, but after finding they had not, he drove off, the document said.

The two others who went out with Chevalier that night, William Marble and Nathan Rouleau, said they did not remember driving home in the truck and said they had consumed a lot of alcohol, according to the criminal complaint.

Roughly seven hours after the call to authorities, a blood alcohol test put Chevalier at .086, just above the .08 legal limit for driving, according to the complaint.

Robotic police dogs: Useful hounds or dehumanizing machines?

Fri, 2021-07-30 10:40

Honolulu Police Acting Lt. Joseph O’Neal demonstrates a robotic dog in Honolulu, Friday May 14, 2021. Police officials experimenting with the four-legged machines say they’re just another tool, like drones or simpler wheeled robots, to keep emergency responders out of harm’s way. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher) (Jennifer Sinco Kelleher/)

HONOLULU — If you’re homeless and looking for temporary shelter in Hawaii’s capital, expect a visit from a robotic police dog that will scan your eye to make sure you don’t have a fever.

That’s just one of the ways public safety agencies are starting to use Spot, the best-known of a new commercial category of robots that trot around with animal-like agility.

The handful of police officials experimenting with the four-legged machines say they’re just another tool, like existing drones and simple wheeled robots, to keep emergency responders out of harm’s way as they scout for dangers. But privacy watchdogs — the human kind — warn that police are secretly rushing to buy the robots without setting safeguards against aggressive, invasive or dehumanizing uses.

In Honolulu, the police department spent about $150,000 in federal pandemic relief money to buy their Spot from robotics firm Boston Dynamics for use at a government-run tent city near the airport.

“Because these people are houseless it’s considered OK to do that,” said Jongwook Kim, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. “At some point it will come out again for some different use after the pandemic is over.”

Acting Lt. Joseph O’Neal of the Honolulu Police Department’s community outreach unit defended the robot’s use in a media demonstration earlier this year. He said it has protected officers, shelter staff and residents by scanning body temperatures between meal times at a shelter where homeless people could quarantine and get tested for COVID-19. The robot is also used to remotely interview individuals who have tested positive.

“We have not had a single person out there that said, ‘That’s scary, that’s worrisome,’” O’Neal said. “We don’t just walk around and arbitrarily scan people.”

Police use of such robots is still rare and largely untested — and hasn’t always gone over well with the public. Honolulu officials faced a backlash when a local news organization, Honolulu Civil Beat, revealed that the Spot purchase was made with federal relief money.

Late last year, the New York Police Department starting using Spot after painting it blue and renaming it “Digidog.” It went mostly unnoticed until New Yorkers starting spotting it in the wild and posting videos to social media. Spot quickly became a sensation, drawing a public outcry that led the police department to abruptly return Digidog to its maker.

“This is some Robocop stuff, this is crazy,” was the reaction in April from Democratic U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman. He was one of several New York politicians to speak out after a widely shared video showed the robot strutting with police officers responding to a domestic-violence report at a high-rise public housing building in Manhattan.

Days later, after further scrutiny from elected city officials, the department said it was terminating its lease and returning the robot. The expensive machine arrived with little public notice or explanation, public officials said, and was deployed to already over-policed public housing. Use of the high-tech canine also clashed with Black Lives Matter calls to defund police operations and reinvest in other priorities.

The company that makes the robots, Boston Dynamics, says it’s learned from the New York fiasco and is trying to do a better job of explaining to the public — and its customers — what Spot can and cannot do. That’s become increasingly important as Boston Dynamics becomes part of South Korean carmaker Hyundai Motor Company, which in June closed an $880 million deal for a controlling stake in the robotics firm.

“One of the big challenges is accurately describing the state of the technology to people who have never had personal experience with it,” Michael Perry, vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics, said in an interview. “Most people are applying notions from science fiction to what the robot’s doing.”

For one of its customers, the Dutch national police, explaining the technology includes emphasizing that Spot is a very good robot — well-behaved and not so smart after all.

“It doesn’t think for itself,” Marjolein Smit, director of the special operations unit of the Dutch national police, said of the remote-controlled robot. “If you tell it to go to the left, it will go to the left. If you tell it to stop, it will stop.”

Earlier this year, her police division sent its Spot into the site of a deadly drug lab explosion near the Belgian border to check for dangerous chemicals and other hazards.

Perry said the company’s acceptable use guidelines prohibit Spot’s weaponization or anything that would violate privacy or civil rights laws, which he said puts the Honolulu police in the clear. It’s all part of a year-long effort by Boston Dynamics, which for decades relied on military research grants, to make its robots seem friendlier and thus more palatable to local governments and consumer-oriented businesses.

By contrast, a lesser-known rival, Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics, has no qualms about weaponization and supplies its dog-like robots to several branches of the U.S. military and its allies.

“It’s just plug and play, anything you want,” said Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh, who was critical of Boston Dynamics’ stated ethical principles as “selective morality” because of the company’s past involvement with the military.

Parikh added that his company doesn’t market its four-legged robots to police departments, though he said it would make sense for police to use them. “It’s basically a camera on a mobile device,” he said.

There are roughly 500 Spot robots now in the wild. Perry said they’re commonly used by utility companies to inspect high-voltage zones and other hazardous areas. Spot is also used to monitor construction sites, mines and factories, equipped with whatever sensor is needed for the job.

It’s still mostly controlled by humans, though all they have to do is tell it which direction to go and it can intuitively climb stairs or cross over rough terrain. It can also operate autonomously, but only if it’s already memorized an assigned route and there aren’t too many surprise obstacles.

“The first value that most people see in the robot is taking a person out of a hazardous situation,” Perry said.

Kim, of the ACLU in Hawaii, acknowledged that there might be many legitimate uses for such machines, but said opening the door for police robots that interact with people is probably not a good idea. He pointed to how Dallas police in 2016 stuck explosives on a wheeled robot to kill a sniper, fueling an ongoing debate about “killer robots” in policing and warfighting.

“There’s the potential for these robots to increase the militarization of police departments and use it in ways that are unacceptable,” Kim said. “Maybe it’s not something we even want to let law enforcement have.”

Justice Department says IRS must give Trump’s tax returns to Congress

Fri, 2021-07-30 10:33

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department, in a reversal, says the Treasury Department must provide the House Ways and Means Committee former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, apparently ending a long legal showdown over the records.

In a memo dated Friday, Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel said the committee chairman “has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President’s tax information” and that under federal law, “Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee.”

The 39-page memo is signed by Dawn Johnsen, installed by the Biden administration as the acting head of the legal counsel office.

During the Trump administration, then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he wouldn’t turn over the tax returns because he concluded they were being sought by Democrats who control the House of Representatives for partisan reasons.

The committee sued for the records under a federal law that says the Internal Revenue Service “shall furnish” the returns of any taxpayer to a handful of top lawmakers. The committee said it needed Trump’s taxes for an investigation into whether he complied with tax law.

Trump’s Justice Department defended Mnuchin’s refusal and Trump himself also intervened to try to prevent the materials from being turned over to Congress. Under a court order from January, Trump would have 72 hours to object after the Biden administration formally changes the government’s position in the lawsuit.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. already has obtained copies of Trump’s personal and business tax records as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Trump tried to prevent his accountants from handing over the documents, taking the issue to the Supreme Court. The justices rejected Trump’s argument that he had broad immunity as president.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the tax returns remain of interest to lawmakers. “Access to former President Trump’s tax returns is a matter of national security. The American people deserve to know the facts of his troubling conflicts of interest and undermining of our security and democracy as president,” Pelosi said in a statement.

The issue has its roots in the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump claimed that he could not release his taxes due to an IRS audit.

‘Just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me,’ Trump told acting attorney general, according to aide’s notes

Fri, 2021-07-30 09:12

Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a Turning Point Action gathering in Phoenix last week. Trump urged senior Justice Department officials to declare the 2020 election results “corrupt” in a December phone call. That's according to handwritten notes from one of the participants in the conversation. The notes of the Dec. 27 call were released Friday by the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File) (Ross D. Franklin/)

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump pressed senior Justice Department officials in late 2020 to declare the election corrupt, even as those officials pushed back, warning the president that many of the claims he was hearing about voter fraud were false, according to notes taken of the discussions.

Notes of the conversations released to Congress were made public on Friday - further evidence of the pressure Trump brought to bear as he sought to throw out President Joe Biden’s election victory.

In one conversation in late December, according to the written account, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen told Trump the Justice Department “can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election.”

The president replied that he understood that, but wanted the agency to “just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” according to notes of the conversation taken by another senior Justice Department official, Richard Donoghue.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the written notes contained previously undisclosed details of the president’s personal pressure campaign to enlist the Justice Department in his battle to undo the 2020 election results.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the notes “show that President Trump directly instructed our nation’s top law enforcement agency to take steps to overturn a free and fair election in the final days of his presidency.”

Donoghue’s notes were released after Trump and his lawyers did not seek to block them, even as some around him feared the disclosures would be damaging. There were days of discussions among Trump advisers, but the former president did not believe the notes showed anything problematic.

“If it gets more attention on the election, he welcomes it,” one adviser said.

At least some of the former Justice Department officials with knowledge of the phone conversations had privately hoped Trump would seek to block the sharing of the notes, to prevent those former officials from having to testify, according to people familiar with their thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

A Trump spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant who died in Southcentral Alaska plane crash was working to become a commercial pilot

Fri, 2021-07-30 09:05

McKenna Vierra, 27, died Monday July 26, 2021 in a plane crash in Southcentral Alaska. Vierra had a private pilot license and was working toward a commercial license, her family said. (Photo courtesy of Liane Vierra) (courtesy of Liane Vierra/)

The 27-year-old Hawaii woman who died Monday in a plane crash in Eagle River Valley had recently obtained her private pilot’s license while undergoing intensive chemotherapy for cancer, her family said.

Her mother, Liane Vierra, said by phone this week that knowing McKenna Vierra was flying and doing what she loved when she died is bringing the family peace.

Dakota Bauder, a 23-year-old flight instructor for Angel Aviation Alaska Flight School in Anchorage, also died in the crash. He had taken McKenna on a discovery flight over the Chugach Mountains in a Cessna 172P, an official for the National Transportation Safety Board said.

The cause of the crash in mountainous terrain in Chugach State Park east of Anchorage has not been determined, the official said.

McKenna graduated from college with plans to become a broadcast journalist, but jobs were scarce, and at her family’s suggestion she eventually applied to become a flight attendant, her mother said. Jobs in the airline industry were competitive, but Liane Vierra said everything seemed to fall into place for McKenna after her first interview with Hawaiian Airlines.

McKenna fell in love with the job because it gave her a chance to travel and stoked her sense of adventure, her mother said.

One day a pilot invited McKenna to come into the cockpit to watch a landing. She was in awe and immediately knew she wanted to become a pilot, Liane Vierra said.

“She came home and said, ‘Mom, I can do that!’ and she went and did it,” her mother said.


Vierra was a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant and was working to become a commercial pilot, her family said. (Photo courtesy of Liane Vierra) (courtesy of Liane Vierra/)

Cancer diagnosis

Last summer, McKenna began taking flight classes. But near the end of summer, she began to have difficulty breathing, Liane said.

Doctors found a softball-sized tumor near her heart and diagnosed lymphoma.

McKenna began an intensive regime of chemotherapy. Every fifth week, she checked into a hospital for a five-day stay. Because the treatments came during the pandemic, McKenna was not allowed to have visitors.

Liane said it was painful not being able to hold her daughter’s hand and sit by her bed. McKenna spoke to her church and shared openly on social media about her diagnosis and treatment. Liane said she’s heard from countless people that McKenna served as their inspiration.

“She just really spoke words of life to people, even when she was struggling,” Liane said.

Even when she lost her long dark hair, McKenna viewed her diagnosis as a challenge to overcome and an experience to learn from, her mother said.

Liane said the diagnosis fueled McKenna’s determination to become a pilot. She continued classes and kept studying for flight exams, eventually earning her private pilot license in November.

In December, McKenna finished 720 hours of chemotherapy and the tumor near her heart was undetectable, Liane said.


Vierra during a trip to the Disney Aulani resort in Hawaii with her family. (Photo courtesy of Liane Vierra) (courtesy of Liane Vierra/)

Discovering Alaska

McKenna had arrived in Alaska on Saturday to celebrate her boyfriend’s birthday, Liane said. They met while McKenna was taking flight courses, and he’d recently taken a temporary job as a helicopter pilot for tours in Alaska, Liane said.

When McKenna first visited Alaska last month, she went on a dogsledding tour and checked out glaciers by helicopter, her mother said. McKenna wanted to fly in Alaska to gain credit hours toward her commercial license, Liane said. When she’d returned for her second visit, she was eager to go up in a Cessna, especially because it was a plane she was unfamiliar with, Liane said.

Liane said she worried at first, “as any mother would,” when McKenna decided to become a pilot, but as she watched her daughter’s passion grow and went on a flight with her in the fall, that fear eased.

“For this reason it scared me,” Liane said of the crash. “It put a fear in my heart that I might lose her. ... When I went up in the plane, the turbulence you feel is scary, but I was again inspired by her because she had no fear of the turbulence and she handled it like a champ.”

Liane said Wednesday she doesn’t know what went wrong during the flight but she and her family are relying on their faith to help them through their grief.

“Her slogan to me was YOLO -- ‘You only live once, mom! ...’” Liane said. “She encouraged me to do things outside of my box. She was just that type of adventurous person.”

Alaska Tlingit artist’s ‘Raven Story’ stamp is released by Postal Service

Fri, 2021-07-30 07:22

Alaska Native artist Rico Worl displays an image of the U.S. Postal Service stamp he created on his monitor, at his studio in Juneau, Alaska, Thursday, July 29, 2021. A ceremony marking the release of Worl's Raven Story stamp is set in Juneau for Friday, July 30. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer) (Becky Bohrer/)

JUNEAU — Alaska Native artist Rico Worl said he jumped at the chance to create for the U.S. Postal Service a stamp he hopes will be a gateway for people to learn about his Tlingit culture.

A ceremony marking the release of Worl’s “Raven Story” stamp is set for Friday in Juneau, where Worl lives. It’s a 55-cent “Forever” stamp.

“I think a lot of people already are learning that there’s a lot more richness in authentic work, and authentic work from Indigenous people and the stories that are there,” he said.

Worl said his Twitter following exploded from five to more than 8,000 after he shared the Postal Service’s tweet highlighting the stamp announcement earlier this month, with his own quote tweet adding: “I did a thing.”

I did a thing https://t.co/tqYE3BlJZx

— Rico Worl (@RicoWorl) July 3, 2021

People seem excited, he said. “They know it’s something different, and they want to be a part of that,” Worl told The Associated Press.

Raven, a trickster or transformer, is a key figure in Tlingit culture. Worl described as an influence for the stamp a story in which Raven discovers that a clan leader had in his possession the sun, moon and stars. Raven assumed human form to share those items with the world. The stars were in the last box Raven opened.

[Tlingit artist designs stamp inspired by trickster raven tale for US Postal Service]


In this image provided by the United States Postal Service is the new Raven Story postage stamp created by Rico Worl. Alaska Native artist Rico Worl says he was excited for the chance to create for the U.S. Postal Service a stamp that he hopes will be a gateway for people to learn about his Tlingit culture. A ceremony marking the release of Worl's Raven Story stamp is set for Friday, July 30, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. The Sealaska Heritage Institute says this is the first stamp by a Tlingit artist. (USPS via AP)

In a statement, Worl said he wanted to showcase “a bit of drama,” with Raven trying to hold onto as many stars as possible while transforming back into bird form during a frenzied escape.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute, which is hosting the unveiling, said this is the first stamp by a Tlingit artist. The Postal Service said it plans to feature the story behind the stamp on social media.

Antonio Alcalá, an art director for the Postal Service who worked with Worl on the stamp, said he became aware of Worl’s work while at a gift shop at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. The shop carried work by Worl and his sister, Crystal Worl, through their Trickster Co. Alcalá said a basketball stood out.

“There are many typical types of books, art, and crafts on display in the gift shops of museums presenting American Indian history and culture. But this was the first time I saw a basketball. The fact that it featured a piece of formline art seemed incongruous at first and also very cool,” said Alcalá, who noted he’s “always looking for visually appealing artwork.”

He remembered the ball being credited to Trickster Co., and looked up the business when he was looking for an artist for the stamp.

Worl, who is Tlingit and Athabascan, has a background in anthropology and considers himself a social designer, who uses design to address societal concerns. One of the first products he designed were playing cards, which Worl said was in response to concerns about seeing a tourism market for Native-inspired art not produced by Native artists.

“It was me, experimenting, how can we, as Indigenous artists, break into this economy?” he said. Worl said he hopes more people buy Indigenous pieces, such as art work or hand-carved items. “I think there’s a growing demand for authenticity in the world. But at the same time not everyone can afford that.” For some people, he said, a deck of cards “is a lot more accessible.”

Also… it sparkles ✨ pic.twitter.com/pmuaswvNzm

— Rico Worl (@RicoWorl) July 3, 2021

He said he likes to infuse modern, traditional and playful touches in his work. He cites Trickster’s basketballs, with traditional formline designs, as a way for members of the Native community to “represent who they are” in a light-hearted way.

Art directors can work with photographers, designers, artists or others to bring a stamp from concept to final design. Final designs undergo a legal review and, once cleared, advance to the postmaster general for the last stamp of approval.

David Rupert, a Postal Service spokesperson, said 18 million Raven Story stamps are being produced. He said a stamp unveiling, like the one set for Friday, is meant to be a “momentous occasion.”

Other stamps announced by the Postal Service for this year include those celebrating flowers, the late nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, Japanese American soldiers of World War II, lighthouses, the 200-year anniversary of Missouri statehood, America’s “love of coffee” and barns.

“We look at stamps as often little pieces of art, really, and they represent America,” Rupert said, adding later: “We want to celebrate America and all the great things about it.”

U.S. flies 200 Afghan interpreters and family members to Virginia in first wave of evacuations

Fri, 2021-07-30 07:02

In this Friday, April 30, 2021, photo Ayazudin Hilal, 40, a former Afghan interpreter for the U.S., shows his picture with the US Army soldiers during an interview to The Associated Press after a protest against the U.S. government and NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) (Mariam Zuhaib /)

KABUL, Afghanistan - About 200 Afghan interpreters and their families arrived in Virginia on Friday, the first evacuations of thousands imperiled because of their work with the United States in Afghanistan as the Taliban gains control of more territory nationwide, U.S. officials said Friday.

The first flight departed Kabul with Afghans on their first leg of travel to Fort Lee, Va., where they will finish the last rounds of processing over the next several days before being resettled across the country.

“Today is an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

The Afghans are part of a broader group of about 2,500 who are furthest along in the special immigrant visa process and who will arrive in subsequent flights, said Russell E. Travers, a senior adviser at the National Security Council, in a call with Biden administration officials Thursday.

The evacuees escaped the clutches of Taliban militants who have targeted interpreters, in some cases killing them as retribution for their work with U.S. troops on the front lines and as crucial guides for diplomats and aid workers. The urgency has mounted in recent months as the Taliban has wrested control of wide swaths of the country from the Afghan government, including its takeover of about half the country’s district centers, U.S. officials have said.

“These arrivals are just the first of many as we work quickly to relocate [Special Immigrant Visa]-eligible Afghans out of harm’s way-to the United States, to U.S. facilities abroad, or to third countries-so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications,” Biden said.

But the initial flight is a small fraction of thousands of Afghans who have spent years in bureaucratic limbo waiting on their visas to be approved after the rigorous and, many say, at times confounding screening process.

About 20,000 Afghans had applied for the special immigrant visa as of July 15, according to the White House. That number does not include family members; a U.S. government official said the total number of people in the applicant pipeline including family members could be as high as 100,000.

That is more than the roughly 74,000 Afghans resettled in the program since it was implemented in 2009, according to the State Department.

The Senate on Thursday cleared more than $1 billion to pay for the evacuations, including transportation and housing provided by the Defense and State departments. The bill would also lessen requirements for applicants and allow 8,000 more visas on top of the 26,500 currently allocated for the program. President Biden is expected to sign the bill.

Underscoring the complexity of the effort, dubbed Operation Allies Refuge, is the fact that applicants live all over Afghanistan, many in Taliban-controlled or -contested territory.

The Association of Wartime Allies, an interpreter advocacy group, estimates about half of applicants still waiting live outside Kabul. Many roads outside the capital are dotted with Taliban checkpoints. The Afghan air force, beleaguered and overtaxed in battles with the militants, does not seem capable of ferrying applicants, said Matt Zeller, a former Army officer and board chair of the group.

The reality is some of these people are going to die. Why didn’t the U.S. military evacuate them when we had the ability?” asked Zeller, who said Biden administration officials ignored his warnings in January to prepare for mass evacuations.

Tracey Jacobson, the State Department’s Afghanistan Coordination Task Force director, told reporters on the call Thursday that the United States had no ability to bring applicants to the capital or house them while they wait for clearance to fly.

Other applicants not as far along in the process will be moved to a third country for safe processing, Jacobson said.

Advocates and interpreters have said the evacuation so far has been beset by confusion and tension.

One former interpreter, who said he worked with a U.S. contractor for eight years in Kandahar, including time translating for U.S. troops training Afghan soldiers, said he was notified to pick up his passport but that he had received no further information.

The former interpreter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from the Taliban, watched news of the initial flights trickle out while waiting to see if he, his wife and six children would be among the next wave.

“Pray for me,” he texted a reporter on WhatsApp. “Very tired … faced with too much problems to get out of here.”

- - -

The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed to this report.

Djokovic’s Golden Slam tennis bid is over for this Olympics with 3-set loss to Germany’s Zverev

Fri, 2021-07-30 06:53

Alexander Zverev, of Germany, embraces Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, after defeating Djokovic in the semifinal round of the men's tennis competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

TOKYO — With his Golden Slam bid over for at least another three years, Novak Djokovic rested his head on Alexander Zverev’s shoulder as his German opponent and friend consoled him.

“I told him that he’s the greatest of all time,” Zverev said. “I know that he was chasing history.”

Djokovic was attempting to become the first man to win all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold in the same year. He won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon this year and needed the Olympic and U.S. Open titles to complete the Golden Slam collection.

“I feel so terrible right now,” Djokovic said. “I can’t be positive right now.”

Steffi Graf in 1988 remains the only tennis player to achieve the Golden Slam. But Djokovic can still go after the calendar-year Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open — something no man has accomplished since Rod Laver in 1969.

“He won 20 Grand Slams,” Zverev said. “So you can’t have everything.

“At the end of the day he’s the greatest of all time, because he’s going to win the most Grand Slams, he’s going to win the most Master Series, he’s going to be the longest at the world No. 1, and I’m sure 99% that this is the case when it’s all said and done,” Zverev said.

Zverev’s opponent in the gold-medal match will be Karen Khachanov. The Russian beat Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 6-3, 6-3.

Djokovic will play two bronze-medal matches on Saturday. He’ll face Carreno Busta in singles then will team with Serbian partner Nina Stojanovic in mixed doubles against Ash Barty and John Peers of Australia.

On a humid and muggy evening, Djokovic committed a series of uncharacteristic errors after a strong start as the 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Zverev started to win free points with his big serve.

Djokovic was up a set and a break in the second before Zverev won 10 of the final 11 games.

“It’s just sport. He played better,” Djokovic said. “I got to give him credit for turning (the) match around. He served extremely well. I mean I was not getting too many looks on the second serve. My serve just drastically dropped. I didn’t get any free points from 3-2 up in the second. My game fell apart.”

Djokovic hadn’t lost since getting beaten by Rafael Nadal at the Italian Open final 2½ months ago.

“He’s gone these last few months without any losses and for him it’s a big loss ... just collapsing in the end,” said Marin Cilic of Croatia, who won silver in doubles.

Cilic noted that the extreme heat and humidity at the Ariake Tennis Park throughout the tournament may have caught up with Djokovic.

“It’s very unfortunate for him but still he’s an unbelievable champion and he still has so many years ahead of him to achieve many great things,” Cilic said.

When Zverev hit a backhand winner down the line that Djokovic didn’t move for to close it out, Djokovic walked to the net where he received a warm hug from Zverev as the pair exchanged some words.

“Of course I’m happy that I’ve won, but in the end of the day I also know (how) he feels,” Zverev said.

Djokovic’s only Olympic medal was bronze in singles at the 2008 Beijing Games — his first.

Djokovic came back on the court little more than an hour later with Stojanovic in the mixed semifinals and lost that match, too, getting beaten by the Russian duo of Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev 7-6 (4), 7-5.

“I feel terrible right now in every sense but tomorrow hopefully fresh start I can recover and at least win one medal for my country,” Djokovic said.

It was the third consecutive day that Djokovic played two matches.

Viktor Troicki, Serbia’s Olympic team coach, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the entire team was against Djokovic playing mixed doubles because they didn’t want the event to tire him out with so much on the line in singles.

“I’m sure he’ll get stronger after this and hopefully learn a few things,” Troicki said Friday.

The 34-year-old Djokovic is the first man since Laver that year to win the first three major tournaments in a season.

He also matched his longtime rivals Roger Federer and Nadal by winning Wimbledon this month for his 20th Grand Slam title. He was the only member of the Big Three to travel to Tokyo and Djokovic has been soaking in the OIympic experience like few other athletes.

Without Djokovic, though, the gold-medal match in singles will be lacking star power. Zverev’s best career result was reaching the final of last year’s U.S. Open, while the 25th-ranked Khachanov is coming off a quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon and is now in the biggest final of his career.

Zverev called it “maybe the proudest moment of my career so far.

“Because I’m not only playing for myself I’m not only playing for my parents, for my brother, for my family,” he added. “But I’m also playing for everybody, all the (German) athletes here back at the base and everybody back at home watching.”

In men’s doubles, the top-seeded pair of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic beat Cilic and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 in an all-Croatian final. It was Croatia’s first gold and first silver in Olympic tennis, previously having won three bronzes.

The New Zealand team of Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus took bronze by beating Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren of the United States 7-6 (3), 6-2.

Daniell and Venus became the first New Zealand players to win a medal in tennis since 1912, when Anthony Wilding took bronze in singles while representing Australasia. Wilding, New Zealand’s only Grand Slam singles champion with six titles, was killed during World War I in 1915 at the age of 31.

___

Associated Press reporter Syd Fryer contributed to this report.

Letter: London and Oakland

Fri, 2021-07-30 01:24

I was saddened but not surprised to see, in Michael Carey’s recent and otherwise entertaining and enlightening essay about Jack London’s time in the Klondike, a reference to San Francisco as London’s “hometown.”

Jack London was born in San Francisco, under fraught circumstances, but taken to Oakland as an infant, where he thrived. His schooling was all in Oakland, and he lived there for the vast majority of his 40 years (when he was not traveling). Even during his year as an undergraduate at Berkeley, which immediately preceded his 18 months in the Klondike, he did his school work at a saloon on Oakland’s bustling waterfront. The vast majority of his writing was done in Oakland, and his two children were born there. He ran for mayor of Oakland twice.

This is a sore point for Oaklanders (or, as we sometimes call ourselves, the Oaklandish). The city, which gave us not only London, of course, but such notables as Gertrude Stein, Robert McNamara, Earl Warren, Clint Eastwood, Bill Russell, Sly and the Family Stone, Tom Hanks, Rickey Henderson, Damian Lillard and the Black Panther Party, has often been overshadowed in the public imagination by its more glamorous neighbor to the west.

Most galling to Oaklanders has been the misinterpretation of Stein’s statement, “There is no there, there,” almost universally taken as a negative comment on our city. In reality, it was merely Stein’s lament upon discovering, many years after her rise to prominence, that her childhood home in Oakland had been demolished.

Mr. Carey will perhaps forgive this minor correction to his essay, especially in light of his own obvious fondness for the environs of his youth — a charming and even touching thread that has run through his many contributions to these pages over the years.

— Doug Miller

Anchorage

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Letter: Peaceful transfer of excellence

Fri, 2021-07-30 01:14

What a wonderful display the Olympics presented of the peaceful, nay, the joyful, transfer of reigning excellence in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke! Hugs were shared between the top finishers, not bitterness.

— Philip Dunne

Palmer

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Letter: Masks and vaccines

Fri, 2021-07-30 01:12

David Morgan’s recent statement likening the choice to wear a mask with the choice to wear a tie to work is not only deeply flawed but irresponsible. The main problem with the analogy is obvious — who has ever considered mask-wearing a style choice? — but I find the underlying message alarming. Morgan seems to think that our response to the coronavirus’s spread in our community should be informed by our taste, rather than a sense of civic responsibility. Protecting one another should be the constant consideration of us all, especially the director of the Anchorage Health Department. We all know by now that done en masse, mask-wearing is an important part of protecting the community; for Morgan to misrepresent this is inexcusable.  

The CDC’s statement in May, when it announced that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks indoors, seems to be willfully misinterpreted, to the detriment of us all. It is the very denial of social responsibility that has left us susceptible to the delta variant, with fewer than half of Alaskans vaccinated.  

Now that the CDC’s May declaration is out of date, with the more virulent delta variant rapidly spreading in our state and nation, we would do well to follow Anne Zink’s advice — based on weekly data — to eat out of doors and mask up indoors even if we are vaccinated. I applaud communities like Sitka and Juneau, which take the threat seriously, and have asked for masking up indoors in order to try to stem the spread. I hope that Mayor Dave Bronson will be open-minded enough to reconsider his campaign platform, and to have the common sense to follow suit.

I also hope that the Anchorage School District will make decisions based on prevailing science, numbers and a collective view of protecting teachers and staff, children and families. I have three children who are not old enough yet to get vaccinated, and while I eagerly anticipate the immeasurable benefits of in-person learning, I also want to know they will be in the safest environment possible.

Of course, the easiest and and most effective solution is for everyone to get vaccinated. Imagine the benefits to the educational system, to the health care system, to the economy and to the overall health of our community if we were collectively protected.

— Amy Purevsuren

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Charlotte Hornets pick JT Thor of Anchorage in 2nd round of NBA draft; Daishen Nix goes undrafted

Thu, 2021-07-29 21:05

JT Thor, who started playing basketball as a kid in Anchorage, was the 37th pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.

Daishen Nix, who often shared the court with him, went undrafted.

A 6-foot-9 power forward, Thor was selected by the Charlotte Hornets, who made him the seventh pick of the second round. He’s the first NBA draft pick from Alaska since two-time NBA champion Mario Chalmers of Anchorage in 2008.

Ak stand up. Jt thor congrats on makin it to the next league. One down one to go….Nix u next homie keep ya head up.

— Mario Chalmers (@mchalmers15) July 30, 2021

Nix, who was expected by many to also get drafted, was not one of 60 players chosen Thursday.

Thor, who turns 19 next month, played at three high schools in three states before winding up at Auburn University for his recently concluded freshman season.

At age 14, he left Anchorage, where he attended West High, he left Alaska to pursue basketball at a prep academy in West Virginia. From there he went to a high school in Georgia, and then on to Auburn.

The Hornets acquired the No. 37 pick earlier Thursday in a trade with the Detroit Pistons that sent center Mason Plumlee and the No. 37 draft pick to the Hornets.

Nix, a 6-5 point guard, also left Anchorage when he was young to play high school basketball in the Lower 48. He was one of the nation’s top high school prospects as a senior at Trinity International in Las Vegas.

He signed a letter-of-intent with UCLA early in his 2019-20 senior year, but later changed his mind and skipped college to spend the 2020-21 season in the G League, a developmental league for the NBA.

South African sets world swim record; Aussies add 6th gold

Thu, 2021-07-29 21:03

From left, Lilly King, of United States, Tatjana Schoenmaker, of South Africa, and Annie Lazor, of United States, pose at the podium after the women's 200-meter breaststroke final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull/)

TOKYO — South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker was the star of the day, setting the first individual swimming world record at the Tokyo Olympics.

Others shined, too.

Evgeny Rylov completed a backstroke double for Russia, Emma McKeon gave the Aussie women another gold, and China earned a return trip to the top of the medal podium.

The mighty Americans? For the first time in the meet, they spent the entire session Friday watching others win gold.

Schoenmaker, a 24-year-old South African, won the women’s 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2 minutes, 18.95 seconds, breaking the mark of 2:19.11 set by Denmark’s Rikke Moller Pedersen at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona.

It was the third world record at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, with the first two coming in women’s relays.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” said Schoenmaker, who added to her silver in the 100 breast. “It couldn’t have been a better race. It still just doesn’t sink in, maybe one day.”


Rylov thoroughly snuffed out America’s dominance in the backstroke, adding the 200 title to his victory in the 100 back.

Rylov won with an Olympic-record time of 1:53.29, while American Ryan Murphy wound up with the silver (1:54.15).

Murphy was a double-gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he extended an American winning streak that began at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The U.S. won 12 straight men’s backstroke events over six Olympics, but that streak ended with Rylov’s victory in the 100. He made it 2-for-2 in the longer race, while Murphy settled for bronze and silver in the two events.

Britain’s Luke Greenbank grabbed the 200 bronze in 1:54.72.

McKeon touched first in the 100 freestyle with an Olympic-record time of 51.96, becoming only the second woman to break 52 seconds in the sprint.

Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey earned the silver in 52.27, while another Aussie, Cate Campbell, took the bronze in 52.52. American Abbey Weitzeil was last in the eight-woman field.

The Australians have won four individual women’s events at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, in addition to setting a world record in a 4x100 free relay that included both McKeon and Campbell.

The team from Down Under has six golds overall, tied with the Americans, though the U.S. has the lead in the overall medal count.

The Americans won three medals Friday, also claiming the other two spots on the podium behind Schoenmaker.

But it was the first time the U.S. team went through an entire sessions of finals in Tokyo without winning at least one gold.

Lilly King set a blistering pace early in the 200 breast and held on for a silver in 2:19.92, adding to her bronze in the 100 event. Annie Lazor nabbed the bronze in 2:20.84.

“I don’t come from behind, that’s for sure, so I just wanted to put it out there and see where it goes,” King said. “I thought I did great.”

A day after winning its first two golds at the pool, China picked up another victory when Wang Shun touched first in the men’s 200 individual medley.

Wang edged Britain’s Duncan Scott with a time of 1:55.00. Scott took the silver in 1:55.28, while the bronze went to Switzerland’s Jeremy Desplanches in 1:56.17.

It was another disappointment for hometown star Daiya Seto, who didn’t even qualify for the final of his first two events. He got through in the 200 IM, but just missed out on a medal with a fourth-place finish -- a mere five-hundredths of a second behind the Swiss bronze medalist.

American Michael Andrew led after the third leg, powering to the top spot on the breaststroke. But he faded badly on the freestyle to wind up in fifth, more than 2 seconds behind the winner.

“I think it hurt worse than it looked, and it looked pretty bad,” Andrew said. “I knew I had to be fast at the 150 and I was praying for some Holy Spirit power to get me home in that (final) 50, but it wasn’t all there.”

But the U.S. has several good chances to claim gold over the last two days of the swimming competition.

Caeleb Dressel has two individual finals remaining, and Katie Ledecky is a big favorite in the 800 free.

Dressel set another Olympic record in the semifinals of the 100 butterfly.

Minutes after Hungary’s Kristof Milak took down the mark in the first semifinal heat, Dressel went even faster with a time of 49.71 in the second heat.

“I feel fine,” Dressel said. “I’m not worried about the schedule. I’ve had it written down for a couple weeks now. I know what’s coming. I know how to pace it correctly. I know how to take care of my body.”

It was the third-fastest time in history and left Milak as the second-fastest qualifier at 50.31.

In the preliminaries, Dressel tied the former Olympic record of 50.39 set by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling to win gold at the 2016 Rio Games.

Dressel will be a big favorite in Saturday morning’s final, though he could get pushed by Milak. The Hungarian already won the 200 fly with a dominating victory.

Dressel picked up the first individual gold medal of his career with a win in the 100 freestyle.

___

Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry

Texas Gov. Abbott issues executive order prohibiting cities from requiring masks, vaccines

Thu, 2021-07-29 20:53

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas in June. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (Eric Gay/)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, on Thursday signed an executive order prohibiting cities and other government entities in the state from enacting vaccine requirements or mask mandates to protect against the coronavirus, even as the virus’s more contagious delta variant drives another surge in covid-19 cases in Texas.

Abbott’s order applies to any government entities receiving state funds, including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities and government officials. He also declared that there be “no covid-19-related operating limits for any business or other establishment” in the state in order to “ensure the ability of Texans to preserve livelihoods while protecting lives.”

The order, Abbott said in a statement, was to “provide clarity and uniformity” in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The governor claimed that Texans had “mastered the safe practices” that help prevent and avoid the spread of covid-19.

“The new Executive Order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates,” Abbott stated. “Texans... have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities.”

The governor added that vaccines remain the most effective defense against the virus but would never be forced in the state.

Abbott’s executive order made official his repeated statements that he would not enforce mask or vaccine mandates in Texas, even as covid-19 cases in the state have returned to levels not seen since early spring. Covid-related hospitalizations in Texas have risen nearly 40% in the past week.

Many officials have voiced concern that covid cases are rising again just before the academic year is set to begin in many school districts across Texas, while children under 12 remain ineligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week changed its guidance to recommend all children over 2 years old wear a mask when they return to school, regardless of vaccination status.

The Texas State Teachers Association on Tuesday called on Abbott to withdraw his prohibition on mask mandates and leave the decision up to individual school districts.

“If Gov. Abbott really cares about the health and safety of Texas students, educators and their communities, he will give local school officials and health experts the option of requiring masks in their schools,” Ovidia Molina, president of the teachers union, said in a statement.

Several Democrats blasted Abbott’s executive order Thursday, accusing the governor of caring more about his political career than his constituents. Abbott is running for reelection next year for a third term and two of his Republican primary challengers have criticized him as being overly reliant on the federal government in his response to the pandemic.

“If he wasn’t running for office he’d be more responsible. Instead, people are going to get sick, or worse,” Texas state Rep. Diego Bernal, a Democrat, tweeted.

Texas state Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat, called Abbott’s ban “beyond reckless.”

“Governor Abbott has decided Texans will die to maintain his political ambitions,” Wu tweeted.

Abbott’s executive order came the same day President Joe Biden announced that all federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Federal employees who chose not to get the vaccine will be required to wear a mask and practice social distancing at work, as well as be tested regularly for the coronavirus.

“This is not about red states and blue states. It’s literally about life and death. It’s about life and death,” Biden said Thursday, once again urging those who have not yet gotten the vaccine to do so right away.

On Wednesday, Abbott issued another executive order allowing state troopers to stop and “reroute” vehicles transporting migrants - warning that those migrants “pose a risk of carrying covid-19 into Texas communities.” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland immediately declared that order “dangerous and unlawful” and urged Abbott to rescind the directive.

As COVID-19 cases rise, Anchorage Mayor Bronson says he won’t enact restrictions and doesn’t plan to get vaccinated

Thu, 2021-07-29 20:11
At a news conference on July 29, 2021, Anchorage Chief Medical Officer Michael Savitt encouraged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

As COVID-19 cases spike in Anchorage, driven largely by the more contagious delta variant, Mayor Dave Bronson on Thursday reiterated that he will not require masks in the city or implement any precautions such as capacity restrictions.

“I’m not here to compel people to wear masks or get vaccinated,” Bronson said. “My focus as a government leader is to provide the absolute best information that’s available.”

The city is seeing its largest surge in hospitalizations since January. Most regions of Alaska, including Anchorage, are at the highest alert level for coronavirus risk.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Bronson emphasized personal choice when it comes to COVID-19 precautions. He said rather than enacting COVID-19 restrictions and mandates, the city is there to provide information, testing and vaccinations to people who want them.

Members of his administration also made statements that contrasted with a warning this week from Alaska hospital administrators about threatened hospital capacity if current COVID-19 trends continue.

Bronson also again called the coronavirus vaccine “experimental,” and said he will not get one now.

Bronson also deferred to the Anchorage Health Department’s new chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Savitt, on information about COVID-19 precautions and vaccinations. Savitt emphasized the safety and effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines.

Bronson introduced Savitt at Thursday.

“I’m fulfilling my duty to the public by providing the best information available. And I do that by hiring the right people,” Bronson said.

Savitt, a pediatrician, will be “filling the gap” until the department hires a new epidemiologist, according to a written statement from the health department. Former health department epidemiologist Janet Johnston announced her immediate resignation earlier this week.

Savitt said the vaccines work well and are “safe, by and large.”

“Please, if you’re not vaccinated, get information, get educated, get informed, and you will decide for yourselves whether you need a vaccination or not,” Savitt said. “I urge you, if you want to protect yourself, your family and friends, the vaccination is the most important tool we have right now.”

[State encourages vaccinated Alaskans in places with high rates of COVID-19 transmission to mask up — again]

Bronson, who last year fell ill with the virus, said he is not vaccinated and has “no intention of getting the vaccine.”

“In the airplane world, for example, you never fly the A-model of anything,” said Bronson, a retired military and commercial pilot. “My thing is, if somebody wants to get vaccinated, I’m going to you know, I’m going to have them defer to the doctor. I may take the vaccine. I’m not saying I’m never going to take it. I’m very much pro-vaccine in general. I’ve got lots of them.”


Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks with reporters at City Hall on July 29, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Bronson’s approach to COVID-19 is a stark contrast from previous administrations of former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, who enacted mask mandates and other COVID-19 precautions such as capacity restrictions during previous spikes in cases and hospitalizations.

Bronson when campaigning for mayor also made a series of statements downplaying the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Anchorage and rejecting the advice of public health experts who urged caution at the time, saying at one point, “This pandemic — if there was a pandemic — was over last summer.” Bronson later walked back that statement, saying he “misspoke” by using the word “if” and that, by its definition, there “was a pandemic, certainly.”

When asked Thursday whether he would consider encouraging Anchorage residents to wear masks, Bronson said that the policy of his administration is to follow the guidance of Savitt.

Savitt said that people who are vaccinated “probably don’t need to wear a mask as much as if you are not vaccinated.”

“Continue to use a mask if you’re unvaccinated. If you are vaccinated, and you’re in a situation where you should be wearing it, protect yourself — wear a mask. If you’re unsure, and you just want to wear a mask, wear a mask, no one’s going to stop you from wearing a mask. Hand washing — very important. Social distancing should be maintained whenever possible,” Savitt said.

The CDC on Tuesday revised its guidance on masks, saying that people who live where coronavirus transmission is substantial or high should wear masks when they are indoors in public places, even if they are vaccinated. State public health officials have also encouraged fully vaccinated Alaskans to wear masks in places with high COVID-19 rates such as Anchorage.

Savitt on Thursday said that the current COVID-19 situation is different from last year because there is now more information about treatments along with vaccines to protect against the virus.

He said that the situation is “in all likelihood not going to be as severe as it was a year ago.”

“The hospitals in Anchorage are preparing for this. They know how to assign bed capacity, keep them in reserve for an influx of patients. It’s important to realize that intensive care units run almost at full capacity all year long — long before COVID came around,” Savitt said. “So they know how to handle, they know how to plan for this.”

Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association president and CEO Jared Kosin on Tuesday called the state’s health care system fragile in comparison to last winter, when the pandemic peaked. He also said that hospitals less room, less staff and a burned-out workforce.

“We trust and listen to the hospital operators who are actually on the ground and have been for the last year and a half,” Kosin said on Thursday, following the Bronson’s remarks.

City manager Amy Demboski said the administration is “committed to adequately responding to the COVID pandemic, whatever that looks like.”

The city’s efforts include continued COVID-19 testing and vaccinations and engaging in an “education campaign,” she said.

“We want to make sure that if people want to be tested, if people want to get the vaccination, they know how to do that where to go. And they’ll have a whole host of information relating to COVID,” including testing and vaccinations, Demboski said.

Daily News reporter Zaz Hollander contributed.

Alev Kelter & Co. head to Olympic women’s rugby quarterfinals after going undefeated in pool play

Thu, 2021-07-29 19:59

Kristi Kirshe of the United States, center, celebrates with teammates Nicole Heavirland and Alev Kelter, and in their women's rugby sevens match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 30, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Shuji Kajiyama / Associated Press) (Shuji Kajiyama/)

Alev Kelter and her teammates knocked off the reigning Olympic champion Thursday to complete an undefeated run through pool play and win a spot in the quarterfinal round of the women’s sevens rugby tournament.

The United States rallied in the second half to beat Australia 14-12 at Tokyo Stadium to finish pool play with a 3-0 record.

Kelter, a Chugiak High graduate, played sparingly in both halfs. She made an almost immediate impact when she entered the match in the second half, busting off a big run before making a pass that led to the winning try.

The Americans will play a quarterfinal game at 1:30 a.m. ADT Friday. A victory would put them in a medal game about 24 hours later, because all four semifinal teams advance to the medal round.

The semifinals are set for 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. ADT Friday. Winners play for gold and silver at 1 a.m. ADT Saturday; semifinal losers play for bronze at 12:30 a.m. ADT Saturday.

If the Americans lose their quarterfinal match, they play for fifth place Friday afternoon. Fifth place would match the team’s finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where both Kelter and the sport of rugby sevens made its Olympic debut.

Australia captured the gold medal in 2016 and won its first two pool games decisively (48-0 over Japan and 26-10 over China).

Against the Americans, the Aussies took a 12-0 lead but couldn’t protect it.


Abby Gustaitis of the United States gets past Australia's Charlotte Caslick on her way to score a try in her team's 14-12 victory Thursday at the Olympics. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama) (Shuji Kajiyama/)

They scored the only points in the first half for a 7-0 lead and made it 12-0 by adding another try in the opening 65 seconds of the second half. But they missed the conversion kick — and ultimately that cost them the game.

Kelter entered early in the second half and made a big run with the ball and then passed it to Cheta Emba, who took it across the goal line. Nicole Heavirland made the conversion to make it 12-7.

A little more than a minute later, Abby Gustaitis scored to tie the game. Heavirland’s kick made it 14-12 with less than three minutes left in the 14-minute game, and the Americans kept Australia scoreless the rest of the way.

“It took everything we had. We’re just thankful we got it done together,” Emba told reporters in Tokyo after the match.

The United States opened play with a 28-14 win over China and added a 17-7 win over Japan early Thursday morning.

Navy brings charges against sailor suspected of starting catastrophic ship fire

Thu, 2021-07-29 19:47

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. The U.S. Navy said Thursday, July 29, 2021, that charges have been filed against a sailor who is accused of starting a fire last year that destroyed a warship docked off San Diego. The amphibious assault ship called the USS Bonhomme Richard burned for more than four days and was the Navy's worst U.S. warship fire outside of combat in recent memory. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File) (Denis Poroy/)

WASHINGTON - The Navy will bring criminal charges against a sailor suspected of setting a fire on the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, which burned for four days at pier in San Diego last summer and was eventually scrapped with at least $2.5 billion in repairs needed.

The service announced the charges in a statement on Thursday, saying authorities have collected enough evidence to schedule a hearing in the case. The sailor, a former member of the Bonhomme Richard crew who has not been identified, is charged with aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel, said Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Navy spokesman. The sailor is a seaman apprentice, Robertson said.

Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, the commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet, will consider whether to proceed with a court-martial, Robertson said.

Separately, the Navy has two other investigations underway that are reviewing the circumstances involving the fire. One is focused on safety aspects of the case, while the other will examine circumstances within the command when the fire occurred.

The blaze swept across the 14-deck, 40,000-ton ship on July 12, 2020, after beginning in a cargo hold, Navy officials have said. Flames burst from openings in the ship, and black smoke belched for miles. At times, the temperature inside the ship exceeded 1,000 degrees, Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said in a meeting with reporters last summer. Wind also played a significant factor in the fire spreading, he said.

The ship had a small crew at the time while at pier to receive $250 million in upgrades. About 400 sailors from 16 vessels assisted in putting the fire out, along with helicopter crews who dumped water on it, Gilday said.

Sailors who fought the fire have described in interviews a terrifying situation in which metal twisted and each deck above the ship’s waterline suffered damage. No sailor or firefighter suffered serious injuries, but a few dozen people were treated for smoke inhalation.

“I’m not going to lie - I was scared,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Hayley Craig, a sailor aboard the ship, recounted to a handful of reporters alongside the burned-out ship in September. “I think everybody was. You couldn’t really see nothing. It was incredibly hot. I didn’t know your body could take that much heat.”

In the days after the fire, Navy officials declined to say whether the ship would be scrapped. But in November, the service announced it would scrap the ship after assessing that repairing it would cost between $2.5 billion and $3.2 billion. Scrapping the ship is expected to cost the Navy about $30 million. The vessel was decommissioned in April, and towed to Texas through the Panama Canal.

The loss of the Bonhomme Richard has complicated deployment schedules and the Navy’s ability to project power at sea. The ship was one of 10 amphibious assault ships the service was considering using in unconventional ways in the growing U.S. competition against China, including as a miniature aircraft carrier for F-35B jets.

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