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Success depends on putting Alaska’s fiscal house in order

Sat, 2021-10-16 10:47

The Alaska Capitol is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. There is interest among lawmakers and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy in settling a dispute over the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend program, but no consensus on what the program should look like going forward. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer) (Becky Bohrer/)

Alaska is a challenging place to live. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed our economy and exacerbated many of the factors that make it difficult to live and work in Alaska. We have the highest health care costs in the nation while our health care system is strained to its breaking point. We pay extremely high energy prices just as many experts are predicting costs will skyrocket this winter. Alaskans also face high costs for food, housing and other necessities like child care and transportation.

Alaska is also the best place to live. That’s why we live here and why we are dedicated to the long-term success of our great state. However, success depends on putting Alaska’s fiscal house in order and ending the political dysfunction that continues to destabilize our economy and the Alaska way of life. That’s why the four of us are working together, to push for action.

This week, Alaskans received Permanent Fund dividend, or PFD, checks of $1,114. Unfortunately, the value was not set using the established formula in state law, nor was the amount set on the much-talked-about 50-50 split of the annual Percent of Market Value, or POMV, draw.

Instead, it was determined at the last possible moment based on how much money was left over in the budget. Fiscal work was to continue in hopes to send out an additional check.

Significant progress was made during the third special session through the Joint Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group established on the last day of the second special session. This group did great work this summer when the members broadly agreed on what must be part of a comprehensive fiscal plan. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn progress after that was slow.

Now we are called into a fourth special session to further develop and implement a comprehensive fiscal plan and to permanently protect the PFD. They both go hand in hand toward stabilizing our economy and giving all Alaskans certainty to the future. Our work isn’t done.

The working group’s recommendations are a great starting point for the hard work of drafting, deliberating and ultimately passing legislation to fix Alaska’s fiscal problems.

We view a statutory PFD as a contract between the government and the people of Alaska. Some people need the PFD — especially right now due to the pandemic; some don’t, but we cannot deny the impact it has on our economy. Alaska needs this issue resolved.

No matter your views about the size of the PFD, we can all agree it is a bad idea to let lawmakers arbitrarily set the amount based on the way the political winds are blowing that day. Ignoring state law breaks the trust of Alaskans while also setting a dangerous precedent for future Legislatures. Without changing the formula, voters are denied a voice at the polls through a potential referendum vote on whether the new formula is acceptable or not.

As part of a comprehensive fiscal plan, we support the payment of a supplemental PFD payment as soon as possible. This payment would do so much good for those who are struggling to make it through this pandemic. It’s the right and fair thing to do.

There are multiple reasons Alaskans support a dividend. Many see the royalty tie to our vast resources, while others see the benefit to our economy and how it uplifts working families. The specifics of the formula can be worked out, but we can’t allow disputes about the PFD to continue to deadlock the budgeting process and the work we were elected to do.

Finally, it’s time for lawmakers and the governor to put aside the campaign rhetoric and embrace the language of state leaders. It’s time to do less finger-pointing and come together to make good public policy. It’s time to sit down and do what’s best for Alaska. That’s exactly what we will be doing, and we hope that the rest of our colleagues will join us in that discussion to secure Alaska’s future.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen,R-Anchorage; Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage; Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage; and Rep. Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiaġvik, are members of the Alaska House of Representatives.

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.

To ensure fair elections, Alaska’s campaign finance laws need teeth

Sat, 2021-10-16 10:30

Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. Alaska Public Offices Commission sign. (Alex DeMarban / ADN)

On Monday, the Alaska Public Offices Commission — the state’s enforcer of laws related to campaign finance and lobbying — levied a major fine against Mayor Dave Bronson for serious reporting issues relating to the funding of his campaign. The group found that Bronson’s campaign filed reports late, misreported or failed to report tens of thousands of dollars of spending during the campaign, and took in donations in excess of Alaska’s legal limits from several people. APOC fined Bronson’s campaign $38,500, adding to the $33,500 it fined him in August for failing to report contributions in a timely manner.

For most of us, $72,000 is no small sum — a debt that size would significantly hamper the average Alaska family. But when it comes to politics, pockets are often deep enough that such a fine, though undesirable, might well be seen as the cost of doing business. After all, Bronson won his race, so any fines incurred by the campaign are water under the bridge when it comes to achieving its end goal. And surely a sitting mayor — even if his campaign doesn’t have enough cash on hand to dispense with the fine immediately — will be able to raise money to retire the debt with little difficulty.

This isn’t to say Bronson wouldn’t have won the race regardless, or that campaign staff intentionally misreported finances. As the adage known as Hanlon’s Razor goes, “never attribute to malice that which may be adequately explained by incompetence.” Campaigns are hectic, and if campaigns don’t keep good track of their income and outflows, it’s easy to make errors — even major ones — in reporting. And if the end result is just a fine payable after the dust from the race has settled, campaign managers may well ask themselves: Why bother being scrupulous with their reporting while there are a hundred other ways to spend time and money that would be more effecting in getting more votes?

The problem, of course, is that these finance disclosures, overseen by APOC, are the only window the public has into who’s paying for campaigns — and who’s being paid by them. Without that oversight, we can have no confidence that candidates aren’t taking illegal contributions, running dirty, unattributed hit-piece ads, and all the other skulduggery that exists on the fringes of our political system.

And right now, APOC doesn’t have the authority or the resources to punish violations — and stop them — when they occur. Imagine if there were instant replay in pro sports, but instead of pausing the game to make sure the right call was made, league officials looked at game tape a week later and handed out thousand-dollar fines to offending teams but left all the results, from touchdowns to completed passes to the final game score, intact? That’s the system we have now for campaign finance regulation in Alaska, and it’s no wonder campaigns often don’t pay more attention to their accounting. All reactive punishment does is teach campaigns they need to build a sufficient war chest of donations that fines don’t matter.

In APOC’s defense, it has been hamstrung, either by accident or design, by state lawmakers. Ten years ago, the agency’s budget allocation was just shy of $1.5 million, funding 14 staff members. That sum might seem sufficient to manage campaign finance laws in Alaska, but the group trains candidates, state and municipal officials and their staff on reporting, handles and error-checks thousands of reports per year, maintains a state database online where Alaskans can reference them, and fields, investigates and adjudicates dozens of election-related complaints. Even in 2011, near the height of Alaska’s oil-fueled budget largesse, APOC’s budget was a relative pittance.

So what’s APOC’s budget now? Far less than it was a decade ago, a total of $920,000. Seven employees. And, crucially, the allocation for the APOC board allows for just 10 meetings per year. In the meantime, the proliferation of SuperPACs and independent expenditure groups has made the task of keeping tabs on campaign finance vastly more complex, as has a court decision lifting Alaska’s lower-than-the-U.S. donation limits. And those independent groups, by design, obfuscate the picture of where a candidate’s support is coming from. It all adds up to a system where APOC has to delay action until long after it would matter.

Is there a solution? Sure. For starters, APOC is underfunded if we want it to be able to act quickly, while campaigns are underway and fines or other sanctions might make a difference. More money is needed if we want finance laws enforced proactively and not reactively.

But simply throwing more money at the agency isn’t sufficient. APOC also needs authority to act swiftly and put a halt to violations while campaigns are ongoing. Picture a version of the commission that has the authority and means to summon representatives from campaigns on both sides of a complaint and act on it within 48 hours of its filing during the final 30 days of a campaign — levying fines, pulling illegal ads, requiring better disclosure. Having an agency that could suss out whether bad behavior is occurring, effectively in real time, would have tremendous value in building and sustaining Alaskans’ trust in our elections. The commission would also be better able to shut down frivolous complaints meant to game the court of public opinion, which now often go unaddressed until after Election Day just the same as those that have merit.

Both pieces of this solution for a better-equipped APOC require impetus in the Legislature to make it happen, which has been a sticking point so far — legislators who benefit from lax oversight can be disinclined to give themselves stricter rules to follow. But pressure from the public to do the right thing — coupled with the threat of an initiative if they don’t follow through — can work wonders. Regardless of our political stripes, we should all be able to get behind a more functional system of keeping races honest and elections fair.

Alaska will allow ATVs on roads starting Jan. 1, but snowmachines and hovercraft aren’t included

Sat, 2021-10-16 10:27

People travel on a four wheeler towards the village of St. Michael on the gravel road that connects Stebbins and St. Michael on the Norton Sound coast in Western Alaska on Thursday, June 27, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Beginning in 2022, Alaskans can drive four-wheelers and other “all-purpose vehicles” on public roads that have speed limits of 45 mph or less.

Snowmachines and hovercraft remain prohibited on state roads, but on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer signed regulations that remove restrictions on many other vehicles starting Jan. 1.

Local governments’ bans are not affected. In the Municipality of Anchorage, for example, those vehicles will still be banned. Many other cities and boroughs lack similar rules, and places like the Fairbanks North Star Borough and Matanuska-Susitna Borough lack policing and road authority, which may make it impossible to create local bans.

Vehicles eligible under the new rules must follow certain guidelines:

• All-purpose vehicles must have a headlight, a rear-facing red light, a rear-facing red reflector and a rear-facing red brake light. The vehicle must have brakes, a muffler, carburetor and throttle.

• Drivers must have a valid driver’s license and insurance but don’t have to wear a helmet. Passengers need to wear helmets.

• If the vehicle has seatbelts, they must be used, and any vehicle with seatbelts must use a child seat when carrying a child young enough.

• The vehicle must be registered and have license plates.

Alaska’s rule change began with a push this spring by the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The Department of Administration — which operates the state’s DMVs — and the state Department of Public Safety proposed it together.

Soon after the rule change was proposed, former Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price said on social media that within her department, it was assumed that the idea came from a close friend of the governor or a donor to his campaign. She said officials within the department cautioned the governor’s office against moving forward, saying it could result in additional road deaths.

She reconfirmed those comments Saturday morning but said she doesn’t know what the agency discussed later. Price resigned in February, before the proposal was launched.

The Department of Public Safety and Department of Administration told the Alaska Legislature in April that the goal was “to provide Alaskans the greatest opportunity to safely and affordably travel throughout the state.”

Snowmachines and four-wheelers are already used in rural Alaska as regular forms of transportation, and numerous small towns and villages permit them on locally owned roads.

The spring proposal would have allowed snowmachines and hovercraft, as well as wheeled vehicles, on state-owned roads.

That garnered a mixed reaction, as Alaskans submitted dozens of comments for and against the proposal. Opponents generally criticized the idea on safety grounds.

Alaska House Transportation Committee chairman Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, was particularly skeptical. In an April hearing he hosted, University of Alaska Fairbanks civil engineering professor Nathan Belz, assistant director of the Center for Safety Equity in Transportation, called the original proposal “potentially dangerous and ill-advised.”

Hopkins said Friday that his views haven’t changed. He believes municipalities should be able to opt into the changes, not be forced to opt out by enacting rules.

“This is so dangerous,” he said.

Proponents have said other states — including Arizona, Utah, Montana and Wyoming — already allow off-road vehicles under certain circumstances, and Alaska should do the same.

“The vast majority will use this to enjoy Alaska in the respectful spirit of our culture,” said Charles Preston of Chugiak.

4.6 earthquake shakes Kenai Peninsula

Sat, 2021-10-16 10:14

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake near Ninilchik occurred at 9:47 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Shaking was felt throughout the Kenai Peninsula and as far away as Anchorage. (Screengrab from Alaska Earthquake Center website)

An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.6 on the Kenai Peninsula shook Southcentral Alaska on Saturday morning.

The earthquake, which occurred at 9:47 a.m., was centered about 9 miles northeast of Ninilchik and occurred at a depth of 28.1 miles, according to the Alaska Earthquake Center.

We have reviewed a magnitude 4.6 event at 09:47 AM on 10/16, located 28 miles deep and 7 miles SSW of Clam Gulch.
This earthquake was felt in many Kenai Peninsula communities and as far as Anchorage.
The event page is available at https://t.co/MSPWRcukjl pic.twitter.com/sWkrh6XVGl

— Alaska Earthquake Center (@AKearthquake) October 16, 2021

Shaking was felt throughout the Kenai Peninsula and as far away as Anchorage.

No tsunami was expected, the National Tsunami Warning Center said.

Tsunami Info Stmt: M4.8 035mi N Homer, Alaska 0947AKDT Oct 16: Tsunami NOT expected

#NTWC

— NWS Tsunami Alerts (@NWS_NTWC) October 16, 2021

Lawmaker’s killing wounds British tradition of openness

Sat, 2021-10-16 09:17

Flowers are laid near the Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 where British Conservative lawmaker David Amess died after being stabbed at a constituency surgery on Friday. Leaders from across the political spectrum came together Saturday to pay their respects to Amess who was stabbed to death in what police say was a terrorist-related attack. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali) (Alberto Pezzali/)

The name alone — “the surgery” — evokes a place where help is sought and given. British lawmaker David Amess, like others, hosted his all-are-welcome surgeries regularly, meeting the voters he represented with a smile and a ready ear for whatever concerns, problems, gripes and hopes they might have.

Shockingly for a country proud of its parliamentary democracy that has served as a model for systems of government elsewhere, Amess’ availability ultimately also cost him his life.

The fatal stabbing of the long-serving Member of Parliament in an attack Friday that police were investigating as a terrorist incident immediately cast fresh doubt on whether it remains safe and reasonable for British parliamentarians to continue meeting so readily and openly with voters.

Their so-called “surgeries” set British MPs apart from lawmakers in other countries where the governed rarely — if ever — get to meet those who govern them. Being able to drop by, even without an appointment, to chat with and perhaps to chide those in power helps keep British politicians engaged with their communities and allows voters to raise and vent about problems that otherwise could fester if ignored.

Or so the thinking went.

In an era of polarized politics, terrorism threats, social media awash with fury and — not limited to Britain — eroded respect for figures of authority, public accessibility has become increasingly fraught with risk. The stabbing of Amess came five years after another MP, Jo Cox, was slain by a far-right extremist in her small-town constituency. In 2000, a man wielding a sword also attacked lawmaker Nigel Jones and his aide Andrew Pennington, killing him and wounding the MP.

Those assaults did force MPs to be more careful. But they remain remarkably accessible — and potentially vulnerable.

Don Foster, who served for 23 years as MP for Bath until 2015 and now serves in the upper chamber, the House of Lords, says he was often unaccompanied at his surgeries, listening to constituent concerns about housing, schools, money, utilities, hot-button topics like immigration and where the MP stood on this or that issue. Others sent emails or letters and telephoned, generating hundreds of cases each week for Foster and his staff to handle.

At surgeries, “people would turn up, sit in an outer room and be called in by me every 10 minutes or so until I had seen everyone. I would make notes of the issue and suggest what action my staff should take,” Foster told The Associated Press.

Constituents also came to him during off-hours, collaring him when he was shopping. Following police advice, he beefed up his office security after the attack on Jones. Foster also he kept a private list of people whom he would not meet alone. He says they included a stalker “who had a fixation about me” and a man who had lost his job and felt the MP should find him a new one.

“By the time I retired, there were over 20 people on that list,” Foster told the AP. “There were several people who came to see me on a very regular basis – often people I judged to have mental health issues.”

Police arrested a 25-year-old British man for the attack on Amess. A lawmaker since 1983, Amess would put up a placard outside — “Meet Your Local MP” — to let constituents know when his door was open. He tweeted about his final surgery three days in advance, with an email address and a phone number for people to book appointments and the full address and even a photo of the meeting point, the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, to make him easy to find.

Even compared to some other European democracies, British MPs stand out with their regular and roving surgeries. Lawmakers are available via appointment in Germany. In France, lawmakers do regularly roam from town to town to make themselves available to voters, and not all require appointments. A Normandy lawmaker has been criss-crossing his constituency in a van with a mobile phone number on the side door and a folding table inside. And in Greece, voters can drop by MPs’ offices. But regular open-house meetings aren’t a thing in Italy or Spain.

In the United States, Congress members’ town meetings with constituents also are less frequent and easy-going than their British counterparts’ surgeries. Security precautions have ramped up since 2011, when a gunman killed six people and injured 13, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, during the Arizona congresswoman’s “Congress on your corner” event.

While aware of the risks, Amess didn’t want to become inaccessible.

“We are advised to never see people alone, we must be extra careful when opening post and we must ensure that our offices are properly safe and secure,” he wrote in “A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster,” published last year.

“In short,” he added, “these increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.”

In New Hampshire, vaccine fights and misinformation roil GOP

Sat, 2021-10-16 09:14

FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2021, file photo, demonstrators attend a press conference that turned into a rally against vaccine mandates outside the Statehouse in Concord, N.H. Republicans in New Hampshire are struggling to contain a wing of their party that is promoting conspiracy views around the Covid-19 vaccine and pushing back, sometimes aggressively, regarding federal mandates to get the shot. (Geoff Forester /The Concord Monitor via AP) (Geoff Forester/)

BOSTON — Republican Rep. Ken Weyler was known around the New Hampshire Statehouse for dismissing the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines and opposing tens of millions of dollars in federal funds to promote vaccinations.

But when the 79-year-old Weyler, a retired commercial pilot and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who chaired the legislature’s powerful fiscal committee, sent a 52-page report likening vaccines to “organized mass murder,” Republican leaders were compelled to act.

“I don’t know of anyone who agrees with it. It’s absolute craziness,” said Republican House Speaker Sherman Packard, who quickly accepted Weyler’s resignation from his committee post.

The episode was especially piercing in New Hampshire, where the previous House speaker died of COVID-19 last year. It has also exposed Republicans’ persistent struggle to root out the misinformation that has taken hold in its ranks across the country.

A year and a half into the pandemic, surveys show Republicans are less worried about the threat from COVID-19 or its variants, less confident in science, less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats and independents and more opposed to vaccine mandates.

It’s a combination of views that comes with clear health risks — and potential political consequences. In a place like New Hampshire, where Republicans are hoping to win back congressional seats next year, politicians with fringe views stand to distract voters from the party’s agenda, driving away independents and moderates.

The risk is particularly clear in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, where the fight over vaccines has activated the libertarian wing of the GOP. The divisions have the potential to dominate Republican primaries next year.

“What I wonder over the next year is whether all of this is the tip of the iceberg or the whole iceberg,” Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said.

Republicans in New Hampshire have struggled to unify around a common position since the pandemic first emerged.


In this Thursday, Oct. 13, 2021 file photo, New Hampshire State Police remove an audience member, who interrupted proceedings, during a meeting of New Hampshire's Executive Council in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer, File) (Holly Ramer/)
In this Wednesday. Oct. 13, 2021, file photo, audience members gather during a meeting of New Hampshire's Executive Council in Concord, N.H. . (AP Photo/Holly Ramer, File) (Holly Ramer/)

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has been widely praised for his handling of the pandemic, but has also come under fire from conservative critics. They have pushed back on his state of emergency, which put limits on business operations and public gatherings, often holding rowdy protests, including some at his house.

Sununu, who is eyeing a run for Senate next year against Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, joined other Republican leaders in opposing a federal vaccine mandate. But that did little to placate his critics, who repeatedly shouted down fellow Republicans during a press conference last month to protest the federal mandate.

Holding signs saying “I will die before I comply” and including one protester with an automatic weapon strapped to his back, the crowd took over the podium and put up their own speakers who predicted, without evidence, that the mandate would force the state’s hospitals to close.

The opposition from Republican leaders to federal vaccine mandates prompted one Republican lawmaker, Rep. William Marsh, to switch parties.

“The belief that is being put forward is that their individual rights trump everything, that no one has the right to impose, in this particular case, a vaccine mandate on a person ever,” said Marsh, a retired ophthalmologist, who was the vice chair on the House Health and Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee. “I am of the belief that, for people in a civilized society, individual rights are limited once they start to impinge on the rights of others.”

The Weyler controversy started last month when he first questioned Health and Human Services data about hospitalizations in the state. He suggested most of those hospitalized had been vaccinated, which prompted the state’s health commissioner to accuse him of spreading misinformation. In fact, 90% of those hospitalized had not been vaccinated, she said.

Gallup polling from September found 57% of Democrats are very or somewhat worried about getting the coronavirus compared with 18% of Republicans. The Democrats are also more confident that vaccines will protect against new variants and more confidence in science — 79% compared to 45% of Republicans..

Weyler was among a group of Republican lawmakers who are so opposed to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates that they pushed to reject millions in federal funding meant to assist with vaccination efforts. This week, $27 million was rejected by a Republican-controlled Executive Council, a five-member panel that approves state contracts, despite calls from Sununu to accept the funding.

The money would have allowed the state to hire a public health manager and a dozen workers to address public vaccine concerns. But opponents feared it would have required the state to comply with any “future directives” issued by the Biden administration regarding COVID-19, such as vaccine mandates.

After the vote, Sununu was forced to push back against a suggestion that this is the new Republican Party stance.

“I don’t believe most of the people protesting were part of the Republican Party. These are anti-government, shut-it-down, no-government-at-all-costs type individuals,” he told reporters.

One of the groups opposing the mandates, Rebuild NH, responded Friday to arrests of protesters at the Executive Council meeting by calling Sununu a despot and demanding he be censured for his role in “this crime against the people of New Hampshire.”

Democrats have seized on the GOP divisions, saying Republicans were too slow to seek Weyler’s resignation and accusing Weyler and his colleagues of hurting the state’s reputation, slowing vaccination efforts and enabling anti-vaccine extremists.

The report Weyler sent alleged that the shots were perpetuating the “greatest organized mass murder in the history of our world.” It included claims about vaccines containing living organisms with tentacles and unsubstantiated reports about babies from vaccinated parents in South America born with signs of premature aging.

“I was pretty much astonished that someone would be sending this to us,” said Democratic Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, who received the report by email.

In his resignation letter, Weyler said he was stepping down so he wouldn’t be a distraction and apologized for not vetting the material that contained “conspiracy theories and sections that are offensive to groups of people.” He remains in the 400-member House.

Asked for further comment, Weyler said he had nothing to say to The Associated Press.

Several experts who reviewed the report said it was filled with misinformation and unverifiable claims pulled from social media.

“There is no way for you, me, or anyone on the receiving end to fact-check the content or evaluate the accuracy of the statements therein,” Al Ozonoff, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in an email.

The report’s authors, which include a doctor who has falsely promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, told the AP they stood by their findings.

“Sticking your head in the dirt, doesn’t change reality. It just makes you blind and ignorant,” one of the authors, David Sorensen, said in an email interview.

Vaccine mandates stoked fears of labor shortages. But hospitals say they’re working.

Sat, 2021-10-16 07:18

In this Oct. 5, 2021, file photo, a healthcare worker receives a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) (Lynne Sladky/)

At Houston Methodist - one of the first American health-care institutions to require workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus - the backlash was short-lived.

More than 150 employees were fired. There were legal battles and protests. But President and CEO Marc Boom has no regrets: 98% of staff have been vaccinated, and they and patients are safer as a result, he said.

“I can unequivocally say [it was] the best decision we ever made,” Boom said in an interview.

Houston Methodist is not alone in requiring its employees to be vaccinated. About 41% of hospitals nationwide - roughly 2,570 facilities - have some sort of vaccine mandate, according to data collected by the American Hospital Association, a trade group. Others are expected to follow after President Biden announced last month that he would require most health-care facilities that accept Medicaid or Medicare funding - many of which also treat immunocompromised people who are at high risk of getting severely ill from covid - to vaccinate their employees.

Most health-care systems that require vaccination have touted widespread compliance. In interviews, administrators at some of the nation’s largest hospital systems said the mandates worked: Officials said that they have very high vaccination rates they attributed to the requirement and that they have seen coronavirus infections - and sick leaves - noticeably drop.

At Novant Health, a 35,000-employee health-care system in four Southeast states, more than 99% of workers have complied with a vaccine mandate, spokeswoman Caryn Klebba wrote in an email.

“Without a vaccine mandate for team members, we faced the strong possibility of having a third of our staff unable to work due to contracting, or exposure to, COVID-19,” she said. “This possibility only increases heading into a fall season with the more contagious and deadly Delta variant.”

California-based Kaiser Permanente, with 216,000 employees and 23,000 physicians, reported that more than 92% have been vaccinated as of Sept. 30, when staff members were required to get the shot, spokesman Marc Brown wrote in an email. About 6% of the workers were unvaccinated but sought exemptions, leaving 2% who did not comply and were placed on unpaid administrative leave, Brown said. He said since then, “many” of those workers have agreed to get vaccinated or applied for an exemption, but he did not specify a number.

In New York, a statewide vaccine mandate for health-care workers, which went into effect on Sept. 27, increased the number of people getting immunized. Ninety percent of the state’s health-care workforce is now vaccinated, according to state data. Northwell Health, the state’s largest provider, said it fired 1,400 employees - less than 2% of its 76,000-member workforce - for refusing to get vaccinated. Northwell said it expects no interruptions to its service as a result of the terminations.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the state must continue to allow health-care workers to request religious exemptions as a lawsuit over the state’s vaccine requirement proceeds.

But many hospitals still lack mandates, and efforts to vaccinate every eligible staff member have lagged. Some officials fear that staff members, overwhelmed from the summer delta variant surge, could remain exposed amid a potential “twindemic” of covid and flu spikes this winter.

The federal government does not require health-care facilities to share their vaccination data. But at more than 2,000 facilities nationwide that voluntarily reported numbers to the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 1 in 4 hospital workers are unvaccinated, according to data provided last month.

CommonSpirit Health, with 137 hospitals in 21 states, said “most” employees are vaccinated ahead of a Nov. 1 deadline to respond to the system’s mandate. At CommonSpirit’s California facilities, where a statewide mandate went into effect Sept. 30, more than 90% of the system’s employees are vaccinated or have received an approved exemption, according to a company statement.

Even at hospitals that have not yet mandated shots, administrators have touted their vaccination rates. A spokesman for HCA Healthcare, which has 185 hospitals in 20 states and the United Kingdom, said the “majority” of its employees are vaccinated, but did not give a specific figure.

Yet the unvaccinated minority of hospital workers have drawn the public’s attention with their vocal opposition in the form of protests and lawsuits. Hospital workers have filed or joined lawsuits in at least eight states - including Oregon, Minnesota and New York - against their employers or public agencies over vaccine mandates.

Houston Methodist, too, made headlines over the summer for suspending 178 employees who did not get vaccinated - after a judge dismissed a lawsuit from 117 employees who challenged the mandate, alleging it was reminiscent of Nazi-era “nonconsensual human experimentation.”

But Boom says the headlines belie the fact that very few - less than 0.6 - of Houston Methodist’s 26,578 employees quit or were fired because they refused the vaccine. Ninety-eight percent are now vaccinated and 2 were exempt or allowed to defer, most for medical reasons, Boom said.

On Monday, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from requiring vaccinations for employees or customers. Boom said he was “grateful” the hospital had mandated vaccinations “early so the order will not have an immediate impact.”

Jared R. Woodfill, a lawyer representing workers who were terminated, said in an interview and a letter sent to the hospital that Abbott’s order applies to his clients and they should be reinstated - an argument he said he plans to make in his ongoing lawsuits against the hospital in state and federal court. Stefanie Asin, a hospital spokeswoman, said, “There is no merit to what he is saying.” The hospital will not rehire the unvaccinated former employees, Asin said.

Boom credited the widespread vaccinations with keeping 300 workers from getting sick over the summer, according to an analysis the hospital conducted of short-term disability leaves. Staff members who did get sick with covid-19 reported less severe cases, Boom said, and no employees died over the summer. Houston Methodist lost two workers to covid-19 in summer 2020.

Despite the clinical and real-world evidence that vaccination not only protect the person who gets their shots but those around them, some hospital workers have still declined to get vaccinated, leaving hospitals in some parts of the country struggling to convince them.

Arnhild Espino, a registered nurse at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham, Ore., was put on administrative unpaid leave on Sept. 30 for refusing to get vaccinated. She was among 794 workers - approximately 5 of Legacy’s 14,000 employees - who were not yet vaccinated. Espino is searching for employment elsewhere and is considering seeking a license in Florida, where vaccination requirements are lax. After Abbott’s order, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged in a news conference to explore options to prevent employers from firing workers over not getting vaccinated.

“Oregon state is stripping away my livelihood and everything I hold true,” Espino said.

Since Espino and others were put on administrative leave, 114 employees have come into compliance and 97 are on their way to becoming fully vaccinated, Legacy spokeswoman Kristin Whitney said. Still, the system of six hospitals and about 70 clinics has temporarily consolidated or closed services, including CT, mammography and ultrasound, at about 10 facilities to lessen the burden on staff from employees on leave. There were 986 exemption requests, of which at least 897 were denied, according to an internal presentation shared with The Washington Post.

One nurse in Washington state, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because her employer does not allow employees to speak to the media, had initially sought an exception and was denied and suspended.

The nurse said she considered going into child care. Her family sold one of their cars and she weighed applying for food stamps. Unemployment was not available to those who lost their jobs because they declined to get vaccinated, she said.

But after taking a break from social media, praying and talking to her husband about the financial risks of losing her well-paid job, she said she changed her mind. Now, she plans to get vaccinated and return to work.

Workers leaving their jobs are also reckoning with stepping away from hospitals at a time when staffing is most needed.

When asked what a loss of 1 of health-care workers could look like in New Mexico - which has mandated vaccination for those employees - David Scrase, the acting head of the state’s Health Department, said the impact on an already strained system is considerable. But he added that even if unvaccinated workers kept their jobs, they could be out for long periods if they became infected and got seriously ill.

“A 1% impact on health-care workers in our state would mean that all the other health-care workers would have to work 1 harder,” he told reporters on a call last month. “They’re already working as hard as they can, so I think it’s a big deal.”

The high compliance numbers that many hospitals cite do not always tell the full story. Some hospitals are more lenient than others in granting exemptions, which may lead to a larger share of unvaccinated staff choosing to skip vaccination without losing their job.

About 10% of the 20,000 employees of MUSC Health, the clinical network of the Medical University of South Carolina, received permission to skip vaccination for religious or medical reasons, according to Patrick Cawley, its CEO. In a typical flu season, less than 1% of MUSC Health employees are exempt from the influenza vaccine, Cawley said.

Unlike some other hospitals that set up committees to examine exemption requests for merit and decide whether to grant them, MUSC Health “did not do that,” Cawley said. “I have everybody’s explanation . . . and at the moment we haven’t done anything with that other than accept it.”

“I do think some people probably used those exemptions more than they should have,” Cawley said.

Other hospital networks have reported small fractions of workers receiving exemptions. Less than 4 of UNC Health’s 30,800-person workforce were granted religious or medical exemptions, according to Matthew Ewend, the chief clinical officer of the state-owned network of 14 hospitals, 18 hospital campuses and more than 500 clinics in North Carolina.

Ninety-nine percent of the workforce is vaccinated or exempt, Ewend said, but the system could lose nearly 300 staff members if they don’t get vaccinated by Nov. 2, the end of a probationary period.

“We’re talking a lot about the 2 who aren’t in compliance, but a huge swath of our workforce came into compliance, and not only did that, but did it willingly,” Ewend said. “And I think their voice sometimes is lost because we are thinking about the folks who have struggled with this.”

New volume explores the seldom-told story of Valdez’s relocation after the 1964 Alaska Earthquake

Sat, 2021-10-16 07:09

Valdez Rises: One Town’s Struggle for Survival After the Great Alaska Earthquake

By Tabitha Gregory. Sapphire Mountain Books, 2021. 325 pages. $19.95.


"Valdez Rises: One Town’s Struggle for Survival After the Great Alaska Earthquake," by Tabitha Gregory

A visitor to Valdez today may very well look around and say (or think), “Wow, this place has a spectacular setting, but why is the town so characterless and unattractive?” Of course, the pipeline years, when Valdez became the terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, had a role in that. The bigger story, told now in detail by Tabitha Gregory, has to do with the relocation of the entire community after the devastating 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake.

Gregory, who now lives in Spokane, Washington, lived in Valdez for 22 years and served as director of the Valdez Museum. She’d wondered why, in a museum heavy on the town’s gold rush history, the earthquake, the building of the pipeline, and even the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there was next to nothing to tell the story of how the entire town was moved. She set out, with intensive archival research and interviews with long-time Valdezans, to recover the untold story.

Nearly 60 years after the events, she’s produced a definitive and readable text that’s also instructive for our present time.

The author enlivens the story by supplementing her research-based narrative with the personal stories, told in their own words, of key characters, plus excerpts from newspaper stories and gossip columns, letters and other primary sources. What might have been a dry telling of this-happened-and-then-that-happened becomes a story driven by personalities and anecdotal details. Period photos, maps, drawings and footnotes all add to the effect.

The first section sets the stage with the introduction of several characters who each tell of their earthquake experiences through oral history, interviews and other documents. Facts of the earthquake, its extensive damage to infrastructure, the deaths of 32 local people and the immediate aftermath are described. The town’s history, going back to its gold rush days and proceeding, fills out this section. We learn of the town’s character through the lives of its intrepid pioneers and the challenges of living with severe weather.


Anchorage Times / ADN archive Valdez was destroyed during the 1964 earthquake and the following tsunami. March 29, 1964

The next section, covering the rest of 1964, tells of the arrival of help (so many agencies with so many acronyms that residents referred to them collectively as “the government people”) and all the confusion and chaos of disaster response. Geologic studies quickly determined that the town’s location on an outwash delta built of fine sediments was inherently unstable and was continuing to slide seaward. Fortunately, it seemed, there was an alternative. A couple of pioneer families owned a large, flat parcel 4 miles to the west, resting on cobble gravel. The owners were willing to donate it to the city. (The “donation” became something less than that and resulted in years of litigation, but at the time seemed a perfect, altruistic solution.) A decision was made to move the entire town, and a planner was hired to lay out a model community with separate commercial and residential districts and a park strip.

From today’s point of view, when just getting a building permit can take months and improving a road can involve years, things in Valdez moved impressively fast. Meetings — many meetings — were held, plans drawn up, properties appraised, construction begun. A new school built of steel was up and running by fall. (Today it houses the community college.) A commercial dock and harbor soon followed. Families began building new homes on lots distributed by an agreed-upon system, while others moved and upgraded existing buildings. The federal deadline for the complete move was Oct. 1, 1967, at which point whatever was left at the old site was to be razed and burned.

Not everything went smoothly, of course. The city council, with non-stop meetings and weighty decisions, faced exhaustion, infighting, and a very high turn-over. Some people resisted the move until the very end and had to be evicted. Neighbors fought over property lines and with contractors. A significant portion of families left Valdez altogether — although new ones moved in, attracted by construction and other jobs. By February 1968 the old town was finally abandoned and the new, modern one up and running, with 225 dwelling units and 40 commercial and public buildings.

One thing that didn’t happen was any preservation of the old town and its heritage (other than what residents took with them.) A late effort to save some of the historic buildings in a “pioneer village” or as a state park came close to success but ultimately fizzled. Today, all that’s left of the old town is the foundation of its post office.

There was barely time for the residents of the new town to settle in before word came of an oil pipeline. Gregory makes the point that “Valdez’s leadership was quick to recognize opportunity.” Its administration and council had just completed a massive bureaucratic and labor-intensive project and had significant experience working with state and federal agencies, congresspeople and engineers. When the town won the terminal, Gregory writes, “The memories of the relocation epic faded quickly. The pipeline tsunami overwhelmed and overwrote the years of upheaval, tedious processes, burn out, and loss along with the hope, tenacity and resilience” that resulted in the new town.

“Valdez Rises” should appeal to anyone interested in the community of Valdez and its people, local history, planned communities, and the functioning of communities following disasters. In its final section, where Gregory considers “lessons learned,” she discusses the new reality of community relocation due to climate change and other environment disasters. The story of a town forced to relocate in a sudden emergency shows that with community commitment and government help it can be done. Preplanning and careful execution of a move can make the job easier — if never easy.


Publix heiress, funder of Jan. 6 rally, gave $150,000 to GOP attorneys general group

Sat, 2021-10-16 07:06

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, the face of President Donald Trump appears on large screens as supporters participate in a rally in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) (John Minchillo/)

WASHINGTON - A wealthy Trump donor who helped finance the rally in Washington on Jan. 6 also gave $150,000 to the nonprofit arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, records show, funds that a person familiar with the contribution said were intended in part to promote the rally. The nonprofit organization paid for a robocall touting a march that afternoon to the U.S. Capitol to “call on Congress to stop the steal.”

On Dec. 29, Julie Jenkins Fancelli, daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain, gave the previously undisclosed contribution to RAGA’s nonprofit Rule of Law Defense Fund, or RLDF, records reviewed by The Washington Post show. On the same day, the records show that Fancelli gave $300,000 to Women for America First, the “Stop the Steal” group that obtained a permit for the rally featuring former president Donald Trump.

Funding for the events in Washington that day is a focus of the House select committee investigating the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol that followed the rally. The panel is also interested in the role state officials, including attorneys general, played in encouraging people to go to Washington on Jan. 6 and in supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, according to people familiar with the committee’s work.

The leaders of Women for America First have been subpoenaed by the committee, as has Caroline Wren, a Republican fundraiser who was listed on that group’s permit as a “VIP ADVISOR.” Both of Fancelli’s donations were arranged by Wren, according to the records and the person with knowledge of the contributions, who like some others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“We have many questions about coordination and funding, and we are actively seeking records and testimony that will answer those questions,” said committee spokesman Tim Mulvey. “Many witnesses are already engaging with the committee, and we expect cooperation to help us get the answers we’re seeking.”

The documents sought by the subpoenas sent to rally organizers were due Wednesday.

Fancelli, who is not involved in Publix business operations, did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment,and it is unclear if she knew about the robocall ahead of time. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, which reported in January that Fancelli had given approximately $300,000 to support the rally, she said: “I am a proud conservative and have real concerns associated with election integrity, yet I would never support any violence, particularly the tragic and horrific events that unfolded on January 6th.”

Alex Jones, a far-right talk show host and conspiracy theorist who was involved in the Jan. 6 rally, has said that it cost “close to half a million dollars.” He has also said a donor he did not identify paid for 80% of the rally.

In a statement to The Post, Wren’s lawyer said: “Ms. Wren, in her role as an event planner, assisted many others in providing and arranging for a professionally produced and completely peaceful event at the White House Ellipse with hundreds of thousands of Americans who were in D.C. to lawfully exercise their first amendment rights, a primary pillar of American democracy. Ms. Wren was not present at the United States Capitol or the Capitol Grounds on January 6th.”

Before the rally, the robocall showed that the effort to get people to march on the Capitol was backed not just by Trump activists but by a law-and-order organization in the GOP establishment.

After the riot, the robocall led to upheaval at RAGA. Then-executive director Adam Piper - who was also president of the RLDF, according to a source familiar with the organizations - resigned amid a furor. Several corporate donors said they would no longer support the group.

Piper was replaced in April by Peter Bisbee, who was executive director of RLDF at the time of the rally. Bisbee’s ascension was followed by more than a half dozen resignations, many in protest, including that of then-finance director Ashley Trenzeluk. Trenzeluk’s resignation letter, which was reported by Alabama Political Reporter, said Bisbee approved the robocall expenditure.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr stepped down as RAGA chairman after Bisbee was elected executive director, citing disagreements over the direction of the organization. Carr was also among the minority of Republican attorneys general who did not back Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s failed effort at the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge Joe Biden’s victory in four states, including Georgia.

“This fundamental difference of opinion began with vastly opposite views of the significance of the events of January 6,” Carr wrote in his resignation letter. “The differences have continued as we have tried to restore RAGA’s reputation internally and externally and were reflected once again during the process of choosing our next executive director.”

Bisbee declined to comment for this story. A RAGA spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, did not respond to detailed questions about the robocall, including its cost, but said in a statement: “Over the last 10 months, the Republican Attorneys General Association and every Republican AG have repeatedly condemned the violence that took place on January 6. RLDF’s participation in the events was limited to a robocall and those involved with those decisions are no longer with the organization.”

Piper did not respond to numerous calls and texts from The Post.

“What took place at the Capitol on Wednesday truly sickens me,” he wrote in a Jan. 11 email to RAGA staffers that was obtained by The Post. “It is fully inconsistent with what I have spent my entire career fighting for - the preservation, promotion and protection of freedom and opportunity.”

RLDF, a tax-exempt organization, is not required by the Internal Revenue Service to disclose its donors. The nonprofit “promotes the rule of law, federalism, and freedom in a civil society,” according to its website.

“I’m calling for the Rule of Law Defense Fund with an important message,” stated the robocall, which was first reported by Documented, a watchdog group that focuses on corporate influence. “The March to Save America is tomorrow in Washington D.C. at the Ellipse in President’s Park between E St. and Constitution Avenue on the south side of the White House, with doors opening at 7 a.m. At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal. We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections. For more information, visit MarchtoSaveAmerica.com. This call is paid for and authorized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, 202-796-5838.”

The voice on the call belonged to an RLDF staffer, according to former RAGA staffers.

The website it mentioned was created by right-wing activist Ali Alexander’s “Stop the Steal” team that was urging Congress to object to Biden’s victory, according to a person familiar with the website and records reviewed by The Post. The website identified RAGA as a “coalition sponsor” on the morning of Jan. 3, and then later referred to RLDF as a “participating organization” in the run-up to Jan. 6, according to archived versions of the page that are no longer online.

The robocall was also promoted, along with the website, in a text sent out by American Principles Project, a Virginia-based conservative nonprofit. The text, which included a telephone number where callers could hear the RLDF robocall, called on supporters to join the president and Paxton “in DC tomorrow 2 fight for the integrity of our elections!” The Texas attorney general spoke at the rally.

Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, declined to comment Friday. Paxton did not respond to requests for comment.

The Post was not able to determine how many people received the robocall or the text.

Fancelli, who goes by the first names Julie and Julia in public records, donated nearly $1 million to a joint account for the Trump campaign and Republican Party in 2019 and 2020, according to Federal Election Commission records.

She has been registered as a nonpartisan voter in Polk County, Florida since 2001, public records show.

Publix Super Markets has distanced itself from Fancelli, noting in a Jan. 30 tweet that she “is not involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way.”

After the 2020 election, many RAGA members joined with Trump in promoting baseless allegations of massive voter fraud. Seventeen of the 26 GOP attorneys general signed on to a brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the election results from four battleground states won by Biden.

After Jan. 6, however, Piper said in a statement that no Republican attorney general had “authorized the staff’s decision” to promote the rally. “Organizationally and individually, we strongly condemn and disavow the events which occurred. Yesterday was a dark day in American history and those involved in the violence and destruction of property must be prosecuted and held accountable.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who was then the chairman of RLDF, told reporters that decisions to support the rally were made without his knowledge and that he had ordered an internal review. “Every decision Adam made on behalf of RLDF was with the best of intentions and with the organization’s best interests in mind,” Marshall said in a statement at the time.

A handful of other Republican attorneys general expressed outraged. “I am shocked and angered by this unauthorized act by a rogue staffer, which I found out about through a press report,” Ohio’s Republican attorney general, Dave Yost, said in a Jan. 9 tweet. “It is the opposite of the rule of law and contrary to what I stand for.”

RAGA has been a fundraising powerhouse in recent election cycles. But since Jan. 6, the organization’s fundraising prowess has suffered. RAGA raised about $2 million less in the first half of 2021 than the $8.5 million it raised during the same period in 2019, according to IRS records.

A person familiar with RAGA funding said those numbers need to be considered in light of the pandemic, and noted that 2019 was an especially expensive year for the organization. Even so, after the group’s role in the events of Jan. 6 was disclosed, several companies vowed to cut off donations, including Facebook and Lyft.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has supported RAGA substantially in the past, did not donate during the first half of this year.

Of the $6.7 million RAGA has received through June 2021, $2.5 million came from the Concord Group, a conservative organization founded in part by Federalist Society co-chairman Leonard Leo, according to published reports. Bisbee previously worked at the Federalist Society.

The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey, Emma Brown and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Lawsuits demand unproven ivermectin for COVID patients

Sat, 2021-10-16 07:01

Packaging and a container of veterinary ivermectin. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell, File) (Denis Farrell/)

NEW YORK — Mask rules, vaccination mandates and business shutdowns have all landed in the courts during the COVID-19 outbreak, confronting judges with questions of science and government authority. Now they are increasingly being asked to weigh in on the deworming drug ivermectin.

At least two dozen lawsuits have been filed around the U.S., many in recent weeks, by people seeking to force hospitals to give their COVID-stricken loved ones ivermectin, a drug for parasites that has been promoted by conservative commentators as a treatment despite a lack of conclusive evidence that it helps people with the virus.

Interest in the drug started rising toward the end of last year and the beginning of this one, when studies — some later withdrawn, in other countries — seemed to suggest ivermectin had some potential and it became a hot topic of conversation among conservatives on social media.

The lawsuits, several of them filed by the same western New York lawyer, cover similar ground. The families have gotten prescriptions for ivermectin, but hospitals have refused to use it on their loved ones, who are often on ventilators and facing death.

There has been a mix of results in state courts. Some judges have refused to order hospitals to give ivermectin. Others have ordered medical providers to give the medication, despite concerns it could be harmful.

In a September case on Staten Island, state Supreme Court Judge Ralph Porzio refused to order the use of ivermectin in a situation where a man sued a hospital on behalf of his ill father, citing its unproven impact.

“This court will not require any doctor to be placed in a potentially unethical position wherein they could be committing medical malpractice by administering a medication for an unapproved, alleged off-label purpose,” he wrote.

It’s astonishing, said James Beck, an attorney in Philadelphia who specializes in drug and medical device product liability and has written about the influx of cases. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

In some cases, an initial order to give the drug has been reversed later.

Hospitals have pushed back, saying their standards of care don’t allow them to give patients a drug that hasn’t been approved for COVID and could potentially cause harm, and that allowing laypeople and judges to overrule medical professionals is a dangerous road to go down.

“The way medicine works is, they are the experts, the doctors and ... the hospitals,” said Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “When you go there, you’re not going to a restaurant. You don’t order your own treatments.”

“You can’t have a medical field that’s subjected to having to practice according to patient demand backed up by court orders. That is positively horrible medicine” Caplan said.

Ralph Lorigo doesn’t see it that way. The attorney from Buffalo, New York, filed his first of several ivermectin lawsuits in January after being approached by the family of an 80-year-old woman who was in the hospital on a ventilator. His second case was later that month, for a hospitalized 65-year-old woman.

In both cases, judges ordered hospitals to give the women get ivermectin as their families wanted. Both women survived their hospitalizations.

Lorigo, who has taken on numerous cases since, is adamant that ivermectin works. Health experts and federal agencies say that any evidence of it being effective against COVID-19 is slim and more research needs to be done. Studies are currently underway.

Ivermectin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat infections of roundworms, lice and other tiny parasites in humans. The FDA has tried to debunk claims that animal-strength versions of the drug can help fight COVID-19, warning that taking it in large doses can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, delirium and even death.

Lorigo said his clients haven’t sought those kinds of doses, only the versions of the medication made for humans.

Of doctors refusing to treat patients with ivermectin, Lorigo said, “they are not gods because they wear white jackets,” he said. “I take issue with their stance.”

And as for hospital administrators, “it’s like only they rule the roost, only they make a decision in their hospital. I’m not accepting that as a rule of law for us.”

The court fights over the drug have taken place as courts have also wrestled with issues like whether employers or states can order workers to be vaccinated against the virus, which has killed more than 700,000 people in the U.S.

Beck, the drug liability lawyer, said that doctors do have the power to prescribe ivermectin to treat COVID, even though it hasn’t been approved by the FDA for that disease, if they think it has therapeutic value — a so-called “off label” use.

“I have never seen a case before this where the judge was asked to force someone to engage in an off label use,” he said.

Lorigo said he has received more inquiries from families about the drug in the last 10 weeks and now has four attorneys working on these cases, including two he recently hired.

Supply shortages in Alaska continue, forcing retailers to stock up on goods and hope for the best

Sat, 2021-10-16 06:43

Janet Gregory is owner of Over the Rainbow, a toy store in South Anchorage, on October 12, 2021. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News) (Marc Lester/)

Kinks in the global supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to ripple to Alaska, causing widespread shortages and higher prices for a variety of products.

Anchorage business owners say they’ve kept their shelves largely full, but they’re increasingly anxious about future shipments that may or may not arrive as holiday spending ramps up.

As a safeguard, they’re ordering items months in advance and in much larger quantities than ever before. Facing unexpected spot shortages of items, they’re also stockpiling products wherever they can over concerns they’ll become unavailable in the coming months, they say.

Janet Gregory, owner of Over the Rainbow Toys in South Anchorage, said she’s crossing her fingers in hopes that most items she’s ordered show up to meet Christmas demand.

“That, and trying not to pull out what hair I have remaining, is about the best I can do right now,” Gregory said.

The toy store has been waiting months for some items, such as a shipment of giant stuffed snakes hampered by pandemic-related factory shutdowns in India, she said.

A pallet of sleds is trapped at the port in Los Angeles, because there are not enough truck drivers to haul it, she said.

“I keep telling people as close we are to the North Pole, we work close with the big guy,” Gregory said. “But even his elves are struggling this year, I can tell you that.”

‘It’s not one thing, it’s many things’

Experts generally blame the spot shortages in Alaska on the same global, pandemic-related wrinkles that have led to higher-profile disruptions for products like bikes, cars and lumber.

For starters, Americans with extra savings have been buying more stuff while they’ve been stuck at home, such as new computers, causing the microchip shortage that’s hurt the availability of new cars.

That demand, and complications caused by COVID-19 like virus outbreaks at warehouses, have led to cascading problems that are impacting a variety of products, said Ralph Townsend, head of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“It’s not one thing, it’s many things,” Townsend said.


The Port of Los Angeles with containers, ships and trucks is shown on Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 13, 2021. President Joe Biden announced a deal to expand operations at the Port of Los Angeles in hopes of ending the logjam of ships waiting to unload. The supply chain squeeze has caused climbing prices and delays in delivery that are threatening the U.S. economy and holiday shopping. (Dean Musgrove/The Orange County Register via AP) (Dean Musgrove/)

The surge in demand has caused bottlenecks at West Coast ports that take product from Asia, including at Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, said economist Darren Prokop, a professor of logistics and supply chain management at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Dozens of ships are moored offshore at those California ports, waiting for their chance to deliver many thousands of product-filled containers, he said.

[Inside America’s broken supply chain]

Labor shortages add to the snarls, affecting warehouses from Asia to the U.S., as well as the transportation workers needed to move the product after it reaches land in the Lower 48, he said.

The good news is that once items reach Tacoma, Wash., they’re moving on-time to Alaska without the hassles experienced earlier in the chain, maritime shippers say.

“The domestic maritime industry has remained incredibly stable through this period,” said Alex Hofeling, vice president and general manager for Tote Maritime.

“The long ship delays at the major ports are not happening on the Alaska lanes,” said Jim Jansen, chairman of Lynden.


From left, the container ship Matson Kodiak, bulk carrier Sandy Bay, and tanker Oak Express ships are docked at the Port of Alaska on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Anchorage. The Port of Alaska typically has four scheduled container ship visits per week, two each from Matson Navigation Company of Alaska and TOTE Maritime Alaska. The Sandy Bay is delivering cement, and the Oak Express is delivering fuel. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Tote and Matson, the major maritime shippers to Alaska, own their own terminals in Tacoma, along with the dedicated infrastructure needed to move freight, said Jim Jager, a spokesman at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage.

Their ships don’t need to wait in Tacoma like others do, he said.

“We have a nice little closed system, so we have no direct impact from the cargo crisis,” he said.

But there are indirect impacts, he said. Not every product gets to Tacoma.

Items are moving through the clogged U.S. ports erratically, Prokop said.

Some products are delayed offshore as others surge through, he said. Items can also get snagged onshore, if trucking companies don’t have the manpower to quickly move them.

“It’s like holding a hose tight,” Prokop said. “All the water builds up behind the hose, and you let go and all the water gushes out, and the hose zigs and zags all over place. It becomes a mess.”

As winter arrives, supply pinch hits skis and Icebug shoes

The shortages have caused uncertainty for retailers who aren’t certain what orders, or how much an order, will show up.

Alaska Mill and Feed usually sells the latest batch of studded Icebug shoes starting in late summer, said Brooke Shortridge, the store’s marketing and e-commerce manager. The shoes are extremely popular, keeping Anchorage’s dog-walkers upright on the ice, she said.

But the store is down to last year’s stock, and awaiting shipments. The shoes are designed in Sweden and made in Vietnam, she said. Pandemic-related customs issues in Vietnam appear to be the reason for their delay, she said.

A small supply is expected to arrive soon, but she’s not certain if the full order will arrive in time.

“I think they’ll all eventually make it,” she said. The question is when.


Sam Skolnick stocks ski boots on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 at Play It Again Sports in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Don Bruno with Play it Again Sports in Anchorage, said prices for bodybuilding weights have jumped 50%.

The costs of shipping freight to the Lower 48, from Asia or Europe, is four times higher than it used to be, he said.

“You have to eat some of that, but you don’t always have a choice,” he said.

He stocked up snowboards and skis, both cross-country and downhill, well in advance, he said.

But some vendors have said there won’t be any reorders this winter.

A good snow year could sharply reduce his supply of skis in the coming months, he said.

Alaska, like the rest of the U.S., has seen remarkable price inflation in recent months, in part because of the global shipping problems, experts say.

Facing higher freight costs, Anchorage store owners have no choice but to raise their prices in turn, Prokop said.

“This is supply chain inflation,” Prokop said. “The worry down the line is what if we have general inflation. We’re not there yet, but when too much money is chasing too few goods, that’s where price inflation happens.”

Construction woes continue

In the construction industry, shortages of building materials have eased somewhat, industry observers say.

But delays continue.

A giant outdoor Nordic spa under construction at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood has been waiting three months for interior doors and frames, far longer than normal, said Larry Daniels, the resort’s senior project manager.

The spa was originally supposed to open in summer, but that’s now targeted for late next month, if the last remaining materials arrive in time. The delays and higher prices have helped boost the cost of the project to $15 million, up by $3 million, Daniels said.

Marco Zaccaro, lead architect for the spa, also designs new homes.

New residential construction has jumped more than 10%, he said.

One missing part at a warehouse can hold up a project, he said. At times suppliers have had high-end faucets for bathrooms, but not the handles.

“We call the suppliers and they say, ‘we have all these things, but not the one part to make it work,’ ” he said.

No end in sight, so ‘get ‘em while you can’

No one knows how long the supply-chain snafus will last.


A man wades through the water in Seal Beach Calif., Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, as container ships waiting to dock at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are seen in the distance. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong/)

Prokop, the logistics professor, said on Friday that the Los Angeles port will operate 24/7 to help resolve the backlog of goods. It’s part of an agreement involving President Joe Biden, port officials and business and union leaders.

“It will not be like turning on a light switch,” he said. “It will take time to make it happen and everyone has to be on same page before this works out.”

If successful, it could alleviate some of the problems in the coming months, he said.

But delays for some individual items will linger, he said.

New car dealers have said fleet numbers won’t return to normal for at least two years, said Rachelle Alger, purchasing director for the Municipality of Anchorage.

Prices for new cars are expected to continue rising, so the city is working to replace aging vehicles with new ones, she told Anchorage Assembly members Tuesday night.

Buying new cars hasn’t been easy because of the shortage, she said.

“We attempted to buy some Tahoes that the manufacturer canceled,” she told the Assembly. “We attempted to buy some Expeditions that the manufacturer canceled. Same thing with some Equinox vehicles.”

The city is now looking to acquire Ford Escapes, she said.

At the meeting, Assembly member John Weddleton initially questioned the purchases because of rising prices, but was satisfied after hearing Alger’s explanation.

It’s a “get ‘em while you can” situation, he said.

Anchorage Wolverines hockey team win their first game on home ice

Sat, 2021-10-16 06:40

The Anchorage Wolverines beat Springfield Jr. Blues 6-2 in front of a capacity crowd at Ben Boeke Ice Arena on Friday night.

The Wolverines are Alaska’s third team in the North American Hockey League, a Tier II junior league for hockey players under the age of 21. Additional games will be held on Saturday and Sunday at Ben Boeke.


Springfield Jr. Blues goalie Ethan Roberts reacts after the Anchorage Wolverines scored a goal during a hockey game on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey player Clay Allen tries to reach the puck during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey player Campbell Cichosz gets high-fives from his team after a point was scored during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Young hockey fans get high-fives from Anchorage Wolverines players after the first period during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey fans celebrate a point during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey players are introduced before a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines head coach Mike Aikens talks with a player during a hockey game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey fans stand between periods during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey players Hunter Bischoff, left, and Skylar Gutierrez chase the puck during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Springfield Jr. Blues goalie Ethan Roberts deflects the puck during a hockey game against the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Young hockey fans get high-fives from Anchorage Wolverines players before the second period during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines coach Keith Morris looks at player Aiden Westin after Westin was hit in the face with a stick during a hockey game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Hockey players slide into Anchorage Wolverines goalie Raythan Robbins during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines head coach Mike Aikens talks with his team after the first period during a hockey game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey players watch the action from the bench during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines and Springfield Jr. Blues hockey players fight during a game on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines head coach Mike Aikens shouts to his team during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey fans build a tower of empty beer and hard seltzer cans on the edge of the ice rink during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey fans cheer their team as they are introduced before a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey players rush the rink after winning a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. The Wolverines won 6-2. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey players surround their goalie after winning a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. The Wolverines won 6-2. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage Wolverines hockey players gather on the ice after winning a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. The Wolverines won 6-2. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Springfield Jr. Blues hockey player Noah Marino fills a water bottle at a break between periods during a hockey game against the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)




14 players score points in lopsided win for Anchorage Wolverines junior hockey team

Sat, 2021-10-16 06:38

Talon Sigurdson scored his second hat trick of the season and 13 other players collected points Saturday night for the Anchorage Wolverines junior hockey team in a 7-1 rout of the Chippewa Steel.

Joey Moffatt scored twice and Cameron Morris and Hunter Bischoff each supplied two assists in the North American Hockey League game in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

The Wolverines won two out of three games against the Steel to improve to 5-3. The Tier II team will make its home debut Oct. 15 at Ben Boeke Ice Arena with a three-game series against the Springfield Jr. Blues of Illinois.

Sigurdson scored the game’s first goal and added two more in the third period to give Anchorage a 7-0 lead. Chippewa deprived goalie Shane Soderwall (25 saves) of the shutout by scoring midway through the final period.

Both of Moffatt’s goals came in the first period as Anchorage jumped to a 3-0 lead.

Alexander Babich and Jackson Reineke added second-period goals for a 5-0 lead, and Sigurdson wrapped up the scoring with his eighth and ninth goals of the season. Sigurdson owns a share of the NAHL goal-scoring lead with Amarillo’s Kristaps Skrastins and ranks second in points with 13.

This story has been updated with the correct date of Anchorage’s homer opener.



Anchorage Wolverines junior hockey team loses back-and-forth game to Minnesota Magicians

Sat, 2021-10-16 06:35

First the Minnesota Magicians made Anchorage’s two-goal lead disappear, then they conjured up a goal with three minutes left to beat the Wolverines 6-5 Friday in a North American Hockey League game in Richfield, Minnesota.

The loss dropped the Wolverines to 2-3 in the Tier II junior hockey league. Minnesota improved to 5-2.

Talon Sigurdson scored a goal and an assist and Drake Albers tallied two assists to lead Anchorage, which returns to Richfield Ice Arena for a rematch Saturday at 4 p.m. ADT.

The game was tied three times, at 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5. Each time, Minnesota scored the go-ahead goal.

Anchorage jumped to a 2-0 lead in the game’s first five minutes on goals from Aiden Westin and Hunter Schmitz. The Magicians scored 21 seconds after the Schmitz goal, but the Wolverines regained a two-goal lead on Alexander Babich’s goal with six minutes left in the period.

Down 3-1, Minnesota scored three straight goals, two on the power play, to grab a 4-3 lead midway through the second period.

The Wolverines never led again, but they tied it with about five minutes left in the second period when Sigurdson struck on the power play.

The goal, Sigurdson’s fifth in five games, made it 4-4 going into the third period.

The Magicians needed less than three minutes to take a 5-4 lead, and they held onto it until Andy Ramsey’s unassisted goal for the Wolverines knotted the score with 4 minutes, 32 seconds left.

With 2:54 to go, Minnesota’s Trevor Kukkonen scored the game-winner with an unassisted goal.

Minnesota goaltender Sami Molu stopped 28 of 33 shots, and Anchorage goaltender Shane Soderwall stopped 23 of 29.



Anchorage Wolverines junior hockey team falls 4-3 to Chippewa Steel

Sat, 2021-10-16 06:35

The Chippewa Steel reeled off three goals in the second period en route to a 4-3 victory over the Anchorage Wolverines in a North American Hockey League game Thursday in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

Hunter Bischoff scored twice for the Wolverines, who fell to 3-4 in the Tier II junior hockey league.

The Steel outshot Anchorage 38-26, including 28-15 in the first two periods. The game was scoreless for the final 27.5 minutes.

Anchorage owned a short-lived 1-0 lead when Joey Moffatt scored his first goal of the season on the power play with four minutes left in the first period.

Chippewa evened the score two minutes later and then grabbed the lead for good, 3-1, by scoring twice in a 28-second span early in the second period.

The Wolverines made it a one-goal game on Bischoff’s first goal. Chippewa answered on the power play for a 4-2 lead midway through the second period, and Bischoff again scored to make it a one-goal game.

The goals were the first of the season for Bischoff, an 18-year-old forward from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Campbell Cichosz had a pair of assists and Shane Soderwall made 32 saves for Anchorage, which plays the Steel again Friday and Saturday.


Anchorage Wolverines get goals from 5 players in junior hockey win over Chippewa Steel

Sat, 2021-10-16 06:34

Five players provided goals Friday night to propel the Anchorage Wolverines past the Chippewa Steel 5-2 in a North American Hockey League game Friday night in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

Anchorage scored four straight goals before Chippewa found the net four minutes into the third period.

Goals came from Clay Allen, Tyler Braccini, Aiden Westin, Collin Pederson and Hunter Bischoff. The Wolverines led 2-0 after one period, 3-0 after two and 4-0 after Pederson’s goal 98 seconds into the third period.

Chippewa scored twice to make it 4-2 before Bischoff scored into an empty net for his third goal in two games against the Steel.

The Steel owned a slight shot advantage, 28-26, but Anchorage goaltender Raython Robbins turned back 26 shots.

The Wolverines improved to 4-4 and Chippewa fell to 5-3. The Tier II junior teams play again Saturday.

More than 90 rattlesnakes found under Northern California home

Fri, 2021-10-15 18:02

This Oct. 2, 2021 shows a group of venomous Northern Pacific rattlesnakes which were extracted from a under a home in Santa Rosa, Calif. (Sonoma County Reptile Rescue via AP) (Sonoma County Reptile Rescue/)

SAN FRANCISCO — Al Wolf is used to clearing one or two snakes from under houses but recently was called by a woman who said she had seen rattlesnakes scurry under her Northern California house and was surprised to find more than 90 rattlesnakes getting ready to hibernate.

Wolf, director of Sonoma County Reptile Rescue, said he crawled under the mountainside home in Santa Rosa and found a rattlesnake right away, then another and another. He got out from under the house, grabbed two buckets, put on long, safety gloves, and went back in. He crawled on his hands, knees and stomach, tipping over more than 200 small rocks.

“I kept finding snakes for the next almost four hours,” Wolf said Friday. “I thought ‘oh, good, it was a worthwhile call’ but I was happy to get out because it’s not nice, you run into spider webs and dirt and it smells crappy and it’s musty and you’re on your belly and you’re dirty. I mean it was work.”

But the work paid off. He used a 24-inch snake pole to remove 22 adult rattlesnakes and 59 babies when he first visited the home in the Mayacamas Mountains on Oct. 2. He returned another two times since and collected 11 more snakes. He also found a dead cat and dead possum.

All the snakes were Northern Pacific rattlesnakes, the only venomous snake found in Northern California, he said.

Wolf, who has been rescuing snakes for 32 years and has been bitten 13 times, said he responds to calls about snakes under homes in 17 counties and has seen dozens of them in one place in the wild but never under a home.


This Oct. 2, 2021 shows a group of venomous Northern Pacific rattlesnakes that were extracted from a under a home in Santa Rosa, Calif. (Sonoma County Reptile Rescue via AP) (Sonoma County Reptile Rescue/)

He said he releases the rattlesnakes in the wild away from people and sometimes in private land when ranchers request them for pest control.

Wolf said there are plans to return to the house again before the end of the month to see if any more snakes arrived.

“We know it’s a den site already because of the babies, and the amount of females I found,” he said.

Rattlesnakes usually hibernate from October to April and look for rocks to hide under and warm places and will return to the same place year after year. The homeowners didn’t remove any rocks when they built the house, making it an attractive place for the reptiles, Wolf said.

“The snakes found the house to be a great place for them because the rocks give them protection but the house, too, gives them protection from being wet during the winter so, it’s double insulation for them,” he said.

The fragile internet is a threat to the economy

Fri, 2021-10-15 16:50

FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2013 file photo, Chuck Goolsbee, site director for Facebook's Prineville data centers, shows the computer servers that store users' photos and other data at the Facebook site in Prineville Ore. Details from more than 500 million Facebook users have been found available on a website for hackers. The information appears to be several years old, but it is another example of the vast amount of information collected by Facebook and other social media sites, and the limits to how secure that information is. (Andy Tullis/The Bulletin via AP, File) (Andy Tullis/)

It has been a rough few months for the internet.

In June, Fastly Inc.’s content-delivery network failure forced some of the world’s biggest e-commerce and media websites offline. Later, there were massive data breaches at T-Mobile US Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch streaming service. And last week, Facebook Inc.’s main social network, Instagram and WhatsApp were down for about six hours. Then on Friday, it happened again, albeit more briefly.

All the incidents had a common corporate response. It goes something like this: We are sorry, it was an unintentional configuration error, we’ll do better next time! After Facebook’s outage, the engineering director at security software firm Cloudflare Inc. called it a reminder about the fragile nature of the internet, where millions of interconnected systems are dependent on each other to make it work.

There was a time in the early days of the web when these excuses would be acceptable. But the internet, and many of these companies, now constitute the backbone of the modern economy. Billions of consumers and millions of small businesses rely on Facebook’s communication tools for daily living. If the web is held together by rubber bands and toothpicks, it’s clear that the U.S. needs to take urgent action to mitigate those vulnerabilities.

What can be done? First, we should hold companies accountable when they fail to implement proper safeguards and security policies. The sheer frequency of the problems shows the industry, in aggregate, doesn’t take the issue seriously. Companies don’t prioritize the problem or invest enough to fix it. That’s why it’s important to make negligence much more painful by raising the size of financial penalties and increasing the liabilities for management teams.

T-Mobile is one of the most egregious examples. According to the Wall Street Journal, a self-proclaimed hacker said he was able to get inside the wireless carrier’s systems through an unprotected router, with devastating consequences. The company revealed in August that personal data for nearly 50 million accounts were compromised — including some Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses. Incredibly, this last incident is T-Mobile’s fifth data breach over roughly the last three years.

Another possible fix would be to increase governmental oversight. With Facebook and Fastly saying their outages were based on simple employee errors, I shudder to consider the level of damage a rogue employee or a state-sponsored actor could cause. Similar to how the Federal Reserve’s bank examiners aim to prevent systemic risk by working on-site at financial institutions, a new team of regulators should get authority to inspect key technology companies’ redundancy and security plans. At a minimum, we need to do whatever it takes to reduce future human network configuration errors.

Yes, the Biden administration has acknowledged the importance of the country’s internet vulnerabilities on national security and economy security grounds. But thus far, the White House has not done much to closely regulate the private sector other than to develop voluntary standards. Governments need to be more forceful.

We can’t keep letting companies off the hook. There’s much to be done to prevent the worst-case scenario from becoming a reality.

Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Bloomberg editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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.

Group pushing for Anchorage Assembly member’s recall receives $75,000 from paving company co-owner

Fri, 2021-10-15 16:24

A large sign promoting the recall effort against Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel is placed along the northern edge of the Kriner’s Diner parking lot in Anchorage, photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

A group supporting the recall of Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel is planning a significant mail, radio and door-to-door campaign using money contributed from the co-owner of an Anchorage paving company.

According to campaign finance disclosures published this week, McKenna Brothers Paving co-owner Marc McKenna donated $75,000 on Sept. 29 to a third-party group supporting Zaletel’s removal from office.

McKenna’s donation was to Recall Meg, a registered group chaired by Andy Kriner. Kriner is the owner of Kriner’s Diner, which defied previous COVID-19 restrictions in Anchorage.

It’s the largest single donation to either side of the recall election. The money will be used to buy radio ads and mailed flyers coordinated by Axiom Strategies, the company that employs Alaska Republican strategist Art Hackney.

One of the flyers sent to District 4 voters emphasizes the size of a national labor union’s $70,000 donation to a group working to keep Zaletel in office.

The donation and spending arrive as Midtown voters are beginning to fill out and return ballots in the special by-mail recall election. Ballots must be returned by Oct. 26.

The official reason for the recall is proponents’ claim that Zaletel violated a city COVID-19 emergency order by participating in an Assembly meeting last year that exceeded capacity limits. Recall supporters, however, have been more likely to criticize her for other actions including supporting COVID-19 restrictions, like her introduction of the new mask emergency ordinance in Anchorage.

An employee answering phones at McKenna Brothers Paving said Marc McKenna was not available by phone, and he did not respond to an emailed request for an interview or a message left at the company.

Before this year, public records show McKenna was an infrequent contributor to political campaigns. He gave $500 to the unsuccessful 2014 mayoral campaign of Dan Coffey and gave the same amount to Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s campaign earlier this year.

Donations to third-party organizations are not limited, and during this year’s mayoral election, McKenna Brothers contributed almost $85,000 in non-monetary donations to a third-party group called Conservatives for Bronson. Company trucks carried Bronson signs during the campaign.

Since the election, Zaletel and Bronson have frequently clashed on issues affecting the city.

In addition to McKenna’s donation, the Recall Meg group received a $15,000 donation from James Protzman, an Anchorage business owner, and $5,000 from Diane Louise, a retiree.

Those and other donations give the Recall Meg group $96,200, more than the $70,000 raised by Stand Up for Meg Zaletel, the leading anti-recall third-party group.

Both sides’ third-party spending exceeds the amount raised directly by the two campaigns. Through Oct. 9, the campaign to keep Zaletel in office had raised $52,723. The pro-recall campaign had raised $22,763 through Wednesday.

If a majority of the votes favor recall, Zaletel will be removed from office, and the Assembly will name a replacement. That person will be subject to election in the spring. If a majority of votes oppose a recall, Zaletel will face reelection in the spring.


Alaska reports 3 deaths and nearly 1,000 COVID-19 cases Friday

Fri, 2021-10-15 15:51

Alaska on Friday reported three deaths, 984 new virus cases and just over 200 COVID-positive patients hospitalized around the state.

The three deaths reported by the state health department involved a Nome man in his 60s, an Anchorage woman in her 40s and a man from out of state who was initially diagnosed with the virus in Utqiagvik. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital also separately reported the death of a patient in their 40s, though it wasn’t immediately clear when that death would be reflected in state totals.

In Anchorage, where half of Friday’s new cases were reported, an emergency mask mandate went into effect on Thursday evening after the city Assembly voted to override Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of the ordinance.

Anchorage residents are now required to wear a face covering in in places that are open to the public, or in communal areas with people outside their household.

[On Anchorage’s new mask ordinance: Who it applies to, how it’s enforced and when a face covering is required]

Testing location hours at city-controlled sites will be restored starting Monday after Anchorage scaled back testing efforts in response to what officials described as a funding issue. Six days a week, Anchorage residents will have testing options available from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with more limited hours on Sundays, the mayor’s office said in a statement. Total testing hours will increase from 120 per week to 192 per week, according to the statement.

Anchorage residents can visit anchoragecovidtest.org daily for an up-to-date listing of open testing sites in the municipality.

The latest case count is part of what state health officials say may be a plateauing of virus incidence around Alaska in recent days. They say weekly trends are better indicators than daily counts, which can fluctuate based on when cases are reported by labs.

Despite the flattening, a large amount of virus is circulating around the state. Alaska continues to have the highest seven-day COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 202 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday, a slight dip from the 208 reported Thursday and roughly 180 throughout most of last week — a reflection of the continued burden on hospitals around the state as the delta variant continues to spread through communities.

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

[Anchorage Assembly set to vote on override after mayor vetoes emergency ordinance requiring masks]

Alaska’s overall death rate is among the lowest in the country since the pandemic began, and Alaska currently falls in the bottom third among U.S. states for its death rate per 100,000 over the past week. At least 594 Alaskans and 23 nonresidents have died with coronavirus infections.

The state also had a 10.68% positivity rate based on a weeklong rolling average. Epidemiologists say anything above 5% can indicate widespread transmission and not enough testing.

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