I hike Flattop Mountain 30-40 times per year. We are old friends. I remember being excited when the trail was improved and the stairs were built. Sadly, the stairs have eroded so badly the past few years that portions are now an obstacle rather than a way up. The middle stairs are actually dangerous. Some sections are just railroad ties suspended in the air on their spindley rebar anchors. They are broken ankles waiting to happen. The stairs themselves are perfect examples of what works and doesn’t work. The lower section has risers bolted on each side of the steps, and they are still viable. Those sections with cross-members along each side have mostly remained usable. Only the sections where the steps are not interlocked are completely failing.
In the past 10 years, I have never seen a park employee along the trail, nor have I seen trail upkeep taking place. Only once have I met an employee in the parking lot. I asked him why the trail was allowed to fall into such disrepair. He laughed and said they had a real predicament. He said the trail was so busy they couldn’t find time to work on it. Sheesh. I pointed out that Lake Otis Parkway and Tudor Road could never have been upgraded if that logic were true. I can think of about six methods to work around trail traffic.
I am just astonished that the busiest hiking trail in Alaska gets so little attention. If the state park service needs money, all they have to do is start collecting it. I have never seen a ticket on a windshield in the parking lot, yet few people buy the parking pass. You can walk by entire rows of parked cars without seeing a single pay stub on their dash. Those parking lots should be bringing in thousands of dollars a day. It is common for them to be overflowing with cars.
When you search the internet for things to do in Anchorage, the number one suggestion is to climb Flattop. I meet people from all over the world up there. Yes, the view is wonderful, but the journey up could be wonderful, too. We could have a showpiece of a trail, something that visitors rave about. How ‘bout we do that with the busiest trail in Alaska, rather than nothing?
— Hank Brinker
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This is Huhnkie Lee again, running for U.S. Senate in 2022 as an independent Alaskan.
So. I’m pro-Pebble. I understand why you may disapprove. But please, allow me to prove to ya that Pebble is good.
You may have heard and read that Pebble will kill salmon. I say that is a lie. I don’t think a single salmon would die from Pebble. What if I tell ya, Pebble won’t kill salmon, but Pebble will save people instead?
You may have seen the ugly picture of a decommissioned open-pit mining site that anti-Pebble people posted online.
My advice? Don’t look at it. Don’t even think about it. All you need to think about is the revenue windfall that Pebble will bring you, Alaskans.
So what will we do with all that money? We’ll lower taxes. We shall shall educate and train the criminals, the homeless, the drug addicts, so they learn how to study, how to work, and how to pursue happiness legally.
Ladies and gentlemen, we shall save Alaskan lives.
— Huhnkie Lee
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It took about a year and a half for the COVID-19 virus to mutate into a much stronger version, spreading six times as much than the original. It is now known as the delta variant, and it isn’t about to stop at that. Delta is scary enough that even some anti-vaccine politicians and newscasters are now telling people to get the vaccine.
In another two years, possibly sooner, the delta variant will mutate into another version, potentially even stronger. Maybe then folks will realize who was spreading the fake news. This latest version won’t go away when it gets warmer, either.
— David Ulmer
Have something on your mind? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.
Back in the 1990s, I was chief mate aboard a supertanker at anchor one nautical mile from Drift River Terminal in Cook Inlet. The pumpman was making his morning rounds in the pump room. He was in the process of blowing down the water in the compressed air line water separator when the plastic bowl exploded, sending a shard through his lower lip and jaw into his mouth. I, being the medical officer, took one look at him and didn’t want to scar him for life. My practice of suturing at my 30-day med school consisted of stitching up a sponge. What a butcher job I did. Any other part of the body and I would have gladly “practiced” on him.
I called the Coast Guard and asked if they could help. They said that unless it was an emergency, their nearest boat from Anchorage was five hours one-way. “Sorry.” I called Drift River Terminal and they said “sorry.” I was out on the port bridge wing contemplating my next move when I noticed a helicopter flying out from the shore terminal. Nothing unusual, as they fly out to the loading platform for maintenance when unmanned. This helicopter started flying at us; he came up to the port bow, flew down the port side, around the stern, up the starboard side around the bow, down the the port side again and then landed on top of the port ballast tank. That was incredibly skilled/stupid.
I ran down to the main deck; the helicopter pilot was strolling toward me, “Where’s the patient.” The unmanned helicopter rotor blades were swishing just feet from the mast and center cargo purge standpipe. One slice through that and the boom could have been heard in Anchorage. That was the only spot he could have landed; the rest of the deck was cluttered with pipelines, winches, valves, etc. The unofficial motto of Alaska is “Get R Done.”
The pumpman was flown to Nikiski for transport to the hospital and, hours later, brought back on board. Ten days later, I removed the stitches; the stitches in the mouth were dissolvable. Little does that pumpman know today that if it hadn’t been for that crazy pilot, he might have looked like a pirate who lost a knife fight.
— Jack Worman
The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation's Juneau offices. (James Brooks / ADN)
The 2021 fiscal year results are in, and the Alaska Permanent Fund is a big winner.
Alaska’s primary revenue source ended June with a total value of nearly $81.1 billion after starting the year at $65.3 billion.
The 24 percent growth in the Fund over the fiscal year was on the back of nearly unprecedented overall investment returns, which totaled 26.5 percent for the year through May 31, the most recent performance figures available from the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.
The corporation has achieved full-year returns greater than 20 percent just three times in the history of the fund, the greatest being a 25.6 percent return in 1985, according to APFC records.
The Fund had an unaudited value of $81.3 billion on July 27.
Its monthly reported value bottomed out at just more than $60 billion during the early days of the domestic pandemic in March 2020.
As of June 30, the constitutionally protected corpus portion of the fund alone exceeded $60.1 billion; the remaining approximately $20 billion was in the Earnings Reserve Account, which lawmakers can spend.
Royalty deposits, investment gains and legislative appropriations have caused the corpus to grow by nearly 50 percent since March 2020 and another $4 billion legislative transfer from the ERA to the corpus this month will add further to the un-spendable portion of the Fund.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy intended to veto a $4 billion ERA-to-corpus transfer approved in the state budget passed by the Legislature and announced as much in a press briefing and materials from his office. However, the veto was mistakenly absent from the final enacted version of the budget and Dunleavy decided against further pressing the issue when legislative leaders rejected his request to change the final budget.
The veto issue would become a moot point if the Legislature, and eventually voters, would approve the portion of Dunleavy’s constitutional amendment proposal to combine the ERA and corpus into a single, more traditional endowment-like account.
The structural change to the Fund generally has support amongst legislators who prioritize adhering to the 5 percent annual draw limit over dividend appropriations, but it remains unclear if the governor’s broader Permanent Fund and dividend proposal, which includes a $3 billion draw in excess of the 5 percent limit, will gain traction in the upcoming special session set for August. The draw has covered about 70 percent of the state budget since being approved in 2018.
Regardless of the long-term outcome of the proposed constitutional changes to the fund, the $4 billion transfer will leave approximately $9.3 billion in unobligated, realized earnings available for appropriation. Department of Revenue officials have generally said the state should try to maintain an ERA balance several times larger than the $3 billion-plus annual draw as a buffer against years of poor investment returns.
The current impressive returns have been driven by a continued strong run in stocks. Public equities accounting for 38 percent of the fund’s investment portfolio generated returns of 47.1 percent in the fist 11 months of the fiscal year, though gains have been more modest in recent months.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased 38 percent over the same period.
Matching the fund’s public equity performance was its private equity and special opportunities portfolio — approximately 18 percent of the fund’s portfolio at 14.7 billion — which netted an 11-month return of 47.5 percent.
Fund managers expect to gradually step-down the public equity allocation from 39 percent today to 33 percent of the Fund by the end of 2025, according to a chart published by the APFC. Fixed income investments are similarly planned to be a smaller portion of the fund, expected to go from 21 percent to 18 percent of the fund’s portfolio.
Those allocations are likely to shift to private equity and real estate, which are planned to go from 15 percent and 7 percent of the fund to 19 percent and 12 percent, respectively. The allocations of other asset classes such as private income, and absolute return are expected to remain steady. About 2 percent of the Fund is consistently held in cash.
APFC spokeswoman Paulyn Swanson wrote in an emailed response to questions about the asset allocation changes that the corporation’s investment team has taken an active approach to rebalancing the public equities portfolio during the market run-up and the future target allocations were first approved by the APFC trustees in May 2020.
Chief Investment Officer Marcus Frampton also said in an emailed statement that the multiyear increases in private investment allocations are indicative of the time it takes for those investments to begin generating corresponding returns.
“The reduction in public equities over time reflects the growth in these private asset classes as opposed to a reaction to (the) current market market environment for stocks or a desire to lock in gains from recent market moves,” Frampton said.
(Getty Images) (Dmitry Melnikov/)
As noted last week, getting a great question makes my life as a columnist much easier. A wrong answer, however, does not. After noting last week that one needs two plants of the same cultivar to produce honeyberries, I received a nice correction from a guy who knows his honeybees: Kevin has five acres and over 100 plants with 30 different varieties.
He corrected me. “One ‘must’ have a different variety that is unrelated and blooms at the same time. Varieties that have ‘blue’ in their name typically will pollinate each other.” (He pointed out some Russian varieties imported by One Green World which are typically found in catalogs.)
The correction continued, “Of the varieties that Home Depot carries, Aurora will pollinate Borealis and Tundra or Honey Bee (all are Canadian Varieties from the University of Saskatchewan). Tundra and Borealis are too closely related to pollinate. Berry Blue will pollinate any of the aforementioned varieties.
Incidentally, our considerate reader also noted that birds will carry the seeds. Be careful and be on the lookout.
Next, clover is a big deal to many people. Some of us love it, but this week I got three emails about not loving it and asking how to get rid of it. It can be done. It isn’t always so easy, however.
You can use all of the traditional, organic weed removal methods on clover. These include hand pulling, using a thatching rake, spraying with a vinegar mixture (one to one with water and few drops o Dawn type detergent), soothing the area with black plastic for a couple of weeks and flaming it. The latter two methods will also kill the grass. The salt-based A.D.I.O.S. product is also useful and won’t kill as much lawn grass. Letting the grass get to 3 or 4 inches can serve as a control, but won’t eradicate clover.
High nitrogen, chemical fertilizer encourages clover. They lower the pH which encourages clover over grass. Stick with organic ferts.
Or, learn to love clover. The only reason it isn’t in lawn seed mixes anymore is because we have been brainwashed into thinking this nitrogen providing plant is a weed and not part of a normal lawn. Making it a weed, enables herbicide manufacturers and chemical based lawn maintenance companies to make money and damage the environment.
Next, a request to identify a bug, “¼ inch long, yellow with beautiful red markings and a triangular shape. I thought I was looking at a tiny, art-deco piece of jewelry! I think I have made a new discovery.”
This has to be a leafhopper, Cicadellidae (Jassidae). These sap-sucking insects are actually pretty common here. There are a number of different kinds and each is pretty host specific. They go through several life stages, and cause damage by sucking sap and laying eggs in plant tissue, serving as vectors for plant diseases, curling leaves and more.
Yes, leafhoppers can be incredibly beautiful. The one described goes by the nickname “Candy stripe.” I think it likes asters, but I am not quite sure. [Check out some of the other beauties and the plants they hit and damage caused: britannica.com/animal/leafhopper.]
Finally, right on schedule, a reader wants to know what the real story is with regard to fireweed blooms and the appearance of winter? The stuff is in full glory in many parts of Southcentral and getting there in others.
I know there is debate about this. Some insist the six week warning that cold weather is coming is when the last flower turns to fluffy seeds. Others insist that when the last flower opens, there are six more weeks before winter will rear its ugly head. I go with the latter, but it is probably a great idea to keep records. I always write about phenological events that herald warm temperatures. The arrival of winter is just as important, obviously.
Jeff’s garden calendar:
New potatoes: These are nothing more than young spuds. You might stick your hand into a hill and see if you can find some the size you like.
Lawns: Let them get a bit higher than normal to compete with dandelions.
Broccoli: Carefully remove florets and more will develop. Do not pull the whole plant.
Picnic in the Alaska Botanical Garden: Reserve a table and a meal for family and friends at this fundraiser catered by South Restaurant. $30 and $60 for adults includes an entree, side, dessert and beverage. 6-8 p.m. Aug. 5, 19, 26. alaskabg.org.
Three people were taken to hospitals and about 900 gallons of oil was spilled early Tuesday when a semi pulling tanker trailers collided with a pickup truck near Ninilchik on the Sterling Highway, officials said.
Troopers were called to Mile 142, about 7 miles south of Ninilchik on the Kenai Peninsula, at 7:14 a.m., spokesman Tim DeSpain said in an email.
A northbound semi pulling tanks of crude oil, driven by Aaron Miller, 47, of Homer, was struck head-on at an angle on the passenger side by a southbound Ford F-150 pickup driven by Yvette Lemaster, 57, of Anchorage, troopers wrote in an online statement.
Lemaster suffered severe injuries and was flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, troopers said. A passenger in the pickup and Miller were brought to Southern Peninsula Hospital for treatment of minor injuries, according to troopers.
The Carlile Transportation Systems tractor-trailer was carrying about 12,500 gallons of crude oil in two tanks, the Department of Environmental Conservation said in an online statement. One of the trailers was damaged, and the department estimated about 900 gallons of crude oil had spilled.
Remaining oil was removed from the tank by Tuesday afternoon and it was no longer leaking, the statement said.
No immediate impacts to wildlife were reported, but the extent of environmental contamination is under investigation, the department said.
Investigation is ongoing into the cause of the crash, troopers said.
Merrill Field Airport with the Chugach Mountains beyond. (ADN archive)
A 23-year-old Anchorage flight instructor and a 27-year-old Hawaii woman died Monday when their plane crashed in the Eagle River Valley, Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday.
The bodies of pilot Dakota Bauder and McKenna Vierra were recovered from the steep mountainside crash site Tuesday evening, troopers wrote in an online statement.
Bauder was an instructor at Angel Aviation Flight School, said Clint Johnson, the National Transportation Safety Board Alaska office chief. The school operates out of Merrill Field Airport and offers aircraft rental as well as flight instruction, according to the company’s website.
He was doing a discovery flight with Vierra, a prospective student, Johnson said.
The Cessna 172P left Merrill Field Airport in Anchorage and flew up Knik River Valley before heading into Chugach State Park, said spokesman Austin McDaniel. The plane crashed in the southeast end of Eagle River Valley likely between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday, Johnson said.
Officials were notified of the overdue flight around 8 p.m. and by 10:45 p.m. a good Samaritan searcher in a plane located the wreckage, troopers said.
It was not immediately clear what may have caused the crash.
Officials from the NTSB are working to recover the wreckage and investigate the crash, Johnson said.
In this April 24, 2021, file photo, people walk along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas. Masks are back in Las Vegas, where regional health officials pointed to a rising number of coronavirus cases and required everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear facial coverings in crowded indoor places. (AP Photo/John Locher, File) (John Locher/)
Mask requirements are popping back up again across the United States following new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in public in high-transmission communities.
Nevada quickly reinstalled a statewide mask mandate within hours of the CDC’s Tuesday announcement, requiring that face coverings be worn indoors in public in counties with “substantial or high transmission” starting Friday. Twelve of Nevada’s 17 counties fit that criteria, the state said.
That includes Clark County, home to Las Vegas, where the renewed mandate has raised questions about how it will impact its tourism industry, which had been on what was seen as an upward trajectory toward recovery from the pandemic.
“Let’s mask up to keep one another safe,” tweeted Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D).
Also Tuesday, the Democratic mayor of Kansas City, Mo., Quinton Lucas, said that in light of the CDC guidance, he would reinstate an indoor mask mandate in the city.
The move was sudden: Just two days earlier, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Lucas said that “at this point” mask mandates were unnecessary. In announcing the new mandate, Lucas said he would “provide further details in the morning.”
The mandate in Nevada drew confusion and frustration on social media, with questions about what the sudden changes meant for businesses like nightclubs. It also left some tourists less excited about upcoming trips to Las Vegas, leading some to cancel their plans.
Amy Boike of Lakeville, Minn., had been planning to travel to Las Vegas at the end of August for a concert, but said that she would cancel her trip if she could get a refund for her tickets to the show, as her airfare and hotel were refundable.
“I don’t want to wear a mask the whole time I am there,” she said in a text message. “I don’t want to spend all that money for a trip and then have to suffer through a mask.”
Boike, 44, said that she was fully vaccinated and that it was “beyond frustrating” that the Nevada mandate includes vaccinated people. Echoing a question many had voiced since the CDC’s announcement on Tuesday, she asked, “What’s the point of the vaccine if we still have to wear a mask?”
Medical experts point to the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing severe illness or death from covid-19.
Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said that with the delta variant raging across the United States, especially in places with low vaccination rates, the new guidance was necessary. New cases in the United States have risen 63 percent in the past week, spiking in states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, which are among the states with the lowest vaccination rates.
“It is not a welcome piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people’s lives who have already been vaccinated,” Walensky said. “This new guidance weighs heavily on me.”
But the about-face from the CDC left some wondering how it could impact the many Americans who have yet to be vaccinated. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), said she was concerned that the guidance would “erode public trust in the three safe and effective American vaccines.”
“We need to follow the science and encourage people to get vaccinated so that we can all safely return to our normal lives and put this pandemic in the past,” she said in a statement.
Some local governments had put mask mandates back in place before the CDC’s new guidance sent officials shuffling on Tuesday to react. Los Angeles County reinstalled its indoor mask mandate earlier this month, and St. Louis on Monday made masks required indoors regardless of vaccination status.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board reinforced the new mandate, telling casinos and other businesses it issues licenses to in a notice that it would “continue to ensure that best practices are used in the mitigation of covid-19.” The board reminded casinos and other licensees that they were required to have signs about where masks need to be worn.
In compliance with the mandate, MGM Resorts, the largest operator on the Las Vegas Strip, will require “all guests and visitors” to wear masks indoors in public areas starting Friday, a spokesman said in an email. MGM requires its employees to either be vaccinated or be tested regularly, the spokesman said.
Workers in Las Vegas, and throughout Clark County, had already been required to wear masks since the county enacted a mandate earlier this month, which excluded patrons.
Ahead of her trip to Las Vegas, Boike is planning to go to Boston, which she hopes staves off a mask mandate. The possibility of having to wear masks again widely was exasperating for her.
“I feel like it’s never ending,” she said.
A scene from "FBoy Island." (Jordan Rankine/HBO Max)
After more than a year of being told to stay home, shrink our social circles and treat all strangers like they could be Typhoid Mary, IRL dating is kinda-sorta back - and so are reality dating shows.
Premiering within an eight-day span this late July are Netflix’s “Sexy Beasts,” in which participants attempt to woo each other while wearing animal or monster masks; HBO Max’s “FBoy Island,” in which a trio of women strive to separate the nice Adonises from the nasty ones; and a reunion special of Netflix’s megahit “Love Is Blind,” in which singles shared heart-to-hearts through a wall and a handful got engaged before ever laying eyes on one another. (In the end, two couples actually tied the knot.)
Forget roses; the summer’s dating shows are collectively shoving a bouquet of absurdities in our faces.
The reliance on gimmickry isn’t surprising: In an overcrowded and hypercompetitive marketplace like television right now, memorable concepts and viral trailers, which all three shows enjoyed, are invaluable for networks. Plus, the bonkers factor reflects some of the confusion of dating in 2021, when the usual chaos of searching for love is exacerbated by the pandemic and the ensuing explosion of dating norms. When the road to romance is this hard to navigate, why not try dressing up as a panda?
Unfortunately - but not unexpectedly - these high-concept ideas don’t always translate to good TV. “Sexy Beasts,” for example, is a downright dud. Like so many other reality shows, it bills itself as a social experiment, in this case an inquiry into whether concealing potential partners’ faces will help forge a deeper connection. But a successful first date requires a careful study of the person across the table’s reactions and micro-expressions, which the heavy prosthetics largely obscure. And if the spotlight is meant to be on the subjects’ personalities, well, it’s not, because the twist is that they’re all young and hot and boring. Comedian Rob Delaney, who offers a lightly mocking voice-over narration, is the only person to offer any interest to the series. And he knows better than to show his face on screen.
A scene from "Sexy Beasts." (Netflix)
The three-part “Love Is Blind” special isn’t any more fun, with the series catching up with the competitors two years after filming. There’s a sweaty high school reunion feel to the proceedings - an exhausting clamminess in the air from the “main characters’” desperate efforts to impress one another with their, uh, romantic achievements.
Whatever light mirth there was in watching the participants subject themselves to the ridiculous parameters of the game - then seeing at least one seemingly wholesome couple emerge from it - is dissipated by the key players’ status-jockeying about their wifey or girlfriend position. Off-screen drama about who DM’d whom and when only adds to the reunion’s overgrown mean-girl vibe. More quickie-marriage reality shows should be intrepid enough to give viewers a two-years-later update, but this one just feels over-engineered to start catfights.
Francesca, Giannina and Damian in a scene from "Love is Blind: After the Altar."(Netflix)
“Sexy Beasts” and “Love Is Blind” play on an age-old anxiety turbo-fueled by technology: that we’re too shallow to pick the right partner for us. The deliciously twisty “FBoy Island” - created by Sam Dean and former “Bachelor” franchise executive producer Elan Gale - is premised on two related worries: that women can’t tell the difference between a good guy and a player, or even worse, that they might end up preferring a handsome jerk to a just-as-good-looking sweetheart. (“Do you want ... someone you can introduce to your mom?” comedian-host Nikki Glaser asks the female contestants. “Or do you want an fboy ... who you also introduce to your mom, but he’ll probably try to bang her?”) Shot on a beach in the Cayman Islands, “FBoy Island” is “The Bachelorette” meets “Bachelor in Paradise” meets the kind of judicious producer interference that makes a summer-treat show like this delectably icy.
Glaser, who effortlessly rises to the top tier of reality hosts with this single season, embodies the vengeful wink at “fboys” underlying the series. The three women - all model-types - are offered up two-dozen beefcakes, half of whom identify as “nice guys,” half of whom as “fboys.” (“He looks like a guy who has two phones,” observes one woman about a male competitor.)
As on “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” “FBoy Island” is ultimately a seduction contest, a game to see who has the most game. But here, the fact that there are multiple women looking for love gives the show some potential for sisterhood, as well as mayhem. When one of the women is insulted by an “fboy,” the others let the badmouther have it. But the women may also disapprove of each other’s choices, or even pursue the same guy.
“Fboy Island” works so well because it takes the “fboy” part seriously: They’re there to be ogled, judged and ultimately taken down a peg - at least that’s the way it should go. The “fboys” are given real opportunities to flex their flirting skills and, later, to screw the women over, in part by convincing them that love has made them give up their bad-boy ways. The final few episodes flag from a lack of character development - the show doesn’t bother to distinguish the women from one another, and most of the men get even less definition - but it’s got a mesmerizing villain in Garrett M., who keeps revealing new layers of callousness, like a rotting onion. Like many of his fellow competitors, Garrett M. has an “fboy” job par excellence - he’s a bitcoin investor. (“That just means he doesn’t have a job,” my viewing partner joked.)
With her sarcastic, you-know-better world-weariness, Glaser serves as a prod to the women to exercise good judgment. But, of course, the show wouldn’t work if they did. “I chose you because I thought we’d look good together,” says one woman at the end of the first episode - and she’s later revealed to be arguably the savviest of the three. And yet, there’s something encouraging about a show that isn’t just about whether a woman can find a man, but the right one for her.
- - -
“FBoy Island” premieres Thursday on HBO Max. New episodes stream weekly.
“Sexy Beasts” (six episodes) and “Love Is Blind” (three episodes) are streaming now on Netflix.
A leak at a chemical plant in Texas late Tuesday killed two people, and local authorities are describing it as a “mass casualty incident.”
The leak of acetic acid, a food preservative that is commonly used in vinegar and can be flammable, occurred 7:35 p.m. Tuesday at the LyondellBasell facility, which is the world’s third-largest producer of the acid, according to the company.
The facility is part of the company’s La Porte Complex, about 25 miles east of Houston, which also manufactures plastics and other chemicals used in paint, toys and food packaging.
Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen said at a news conference Tuesday night that two people had died at the scene.
In a statement sent to The Washington Post on Wednesday, LyondellBasell said 30 potentially affected workers were taken to hospitals for evaluation and treatment, 24 of whom were later released.
“We continue to monitor their conditions,” the company said.
Among the chemicals being used in the plant were hydrogen iodide and methyl acetate, Christensen told reporters, which could be toxic if inhaled and could cause severe burns. She underscored that the impact of the leak was “contained” and that specialists would continue to review safety measures.
The LyondellBasell Industries La Porte Complex in La Porte, Texas, on Dec. 17, 2010. (Bloomberg photo by Aaron M. Sprecher)
The City of La Porte issued a statement saying the leak had “been isolated, and air monitoring at the facility perimeter indicates no off-site impact.”
The company said an “all clear” was given at 5:17 a.m. Wednesday.
“Approximately 100,000 pounds of a mixture which includes acetic acid was released. Cleanup is continuing at this time,” the company said in the statement. “Air monitoring conducted during the incident did not indicate actionable levels and monitoring is ongoing.”
In an earlier statement, LyondellBasell spokeswoman Chevalier Gray said that “all appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it is aware of the chemical leak and has “deployed regional personnel to the site.”
LyondellBasell officials said that emergency responders from La Porte and Channel Industries Mutual Aid were at the scene Tuesday night, and that all personnel working within the acetals area of the La Porte Complex, where the leak occurred, had been accounted for.
The Harris County fire marshal’s office said early Wednesday that after investigators had conducted an initial review and found there was no explosion or fire, it had turned the investigation over to the Harris County Precinct 8 Constable’s Office.
The people who died have not yet been identified by the company or local authorities.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted that she was “heartbroken” to learn of the deaths and said “county and other first responder agencies are working to support the other workers impacted and to verify that the incident is contained.”
LyondellBasell said it is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.
Alev Kelter, 30-year-old rugby sevens player for Team USA, is in her second Olympics. (Photo by Travis Prior / USA Rugby) (Travis Prior/)
The Summer Olympics will come rushing at Eagle River’s Alev Kelter today.
Kelter and her U.S. women’s rugby sevens teammates will play three games in less than 25 hours at Tokyo Stadium, a blitz that begins at 5 p.m. ADT Wednesday with a match against China.
The Americans face Japan at 1 a.m. Thursday and wrap up pool play with a match against Australia at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The compact schedule is manageable because a game lasts about as long as Katie Ledecky’s gold-medal swim in the 1,500-meter freestyle. There are two seven-minute halves separated by a two-minute halftime -- 16 minutes from start to finish.
This is the second Olympics for Kelter, 30. Rugby sevens made its Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Games, where Kelter helped the Americans to a fifth-place finish.
The Chugiak High graduate is a force. She’s a star in the World Rugby Seven Series, the major leagues of rugby, where she is U.S. Rugby’s all-time leader in points (802), tackles (250), tries (93) and match appearances (33).
The United States is one of 12 teams competing in Tokyo and expected to be in the mix for a medal; the Associated Press predicts bronze.
Kelter thinks that’s a fair expectation. “This team is extremely gifted,” she said.
Teams are divided into three pools, four to a pool. The top eight will advance to the knockout round, aka the quarterfinals, late Thursday night. The semifinals and the matches for gold and bronze are early Friday evening.
A car passes a hiring banner in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, July 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) (Rich Pedroncelli/)
The 20 Republican-led states that reduced unemployment benefits in June did not see an immediate spike in overall hiring, but early evidence suggests something did change: The teen hiring boom slowed in those states, and workers 25 and older returned to work more quickly.
A new analysis by payroll processor Gusto, conducted for The Washington Post, found that small restaurants and hospitality businesses in states such as Missouri, which ended the extra unemployment benefits early, saw a jump in hiring of workers over age 25. The uptick in hiring of older workers was roughly offset by the slower hiring of teens in these states. In contrast, restaurants and hospitality businesses in states such as Kansas, where the full benefits remain, have been hiring a lot more teenagers who are less experienced and less likely to qualify for unemployment aid.
The findings suggest hiring is likely to remain difficult for some time, especially in the lower-paying hospitality sector. The analysis also adds perspective to the teen hiring boom, revealing that more generous unemployment payments played a role in keeping more experienced workers on the sidelines, forcing employers to turn to younger workers. It indicates teen hiring could slow further in September, as unemployment benefits are reduced across the country and young people return to school.
There’s a growing trend in help wanted ads of lowering the age and experience requirements, especially in the hospitality sector, according to QuickHire, a recruiting firm in Wichita.ngest employee is 15, and she has many teens working as hostesses, assistant servers and table bussers. Weiss said she has been inundated with applications from teens this summer, but few from workers in their 20s or 30s.
“We’ve definitely lowered that minimum age,” said Weiss, a part owner of 715 who has worked there since it opened in 2009.
The federal government is providing unemployed workers an extra $300 a week through Sept. 6, roughly doubling how much the typical unemployed American would otherwise receive in aid. Yet, federal benefits have ignited political debates, because hiring in recent months has been weaker than expected. Republicans say the enhanced payments are playing a major role in keeping workers at home, while Democrats argue the money is a needed lifeline to help people still unable to return to work or those hoping to find a better job.
So far, early data suggests that cutting the benefits given to Americans who lost their jobs during the covid-19 pandemic has not led to a big pickup in hiring. The 20 states that reduced benefits in June had the same pace of hiring as the mostly Democrat-led states that kept the extra $300-a-week unemployment payments in place, according to state-level data from the Labor Department. Survey data from the Census Bureau and Gusto’s small-business payroll data show similar results.
Many economists and business owners say other issues such as health concerns, child-care problems and workers reassessing their career choices appear to be larger factors keeping them home.
“If what we want is a speedy economic recovery, ending unemployment insurance is not the silver bullet,” Gusto economist Luke Pardue said. But, he added, “unemployment insurance was at least partially a cause of the boom in teen employment.”
There’s a growing trend in help-wanted ads of lowering the age and experience requirements, especially in the hospitality sector, according to QuickHire, a recruiting firm in Wichita.
“Almost all of the restaurants that we work with are willing to hire kids as young as 16 now,” said Deborah Gladney, co-founder of QuickHire. “We saw a big shift in May when we started seeing a lot of restaurants drop their age requirements and offer bonuses.”
The teen unemployment rate is at its lowest level since the 1950s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The more generous unemployment benefits allowed older workers to stay home, care for children or relatives, and avoid the deadly coronavirus. Teenagers often don’t qualify for unemployment assistance, because many weren’t working pre-pandemic, and they are often still supported by parents or guardians.
At 715, Weiss and her business partners raised wages for all employees and began offering signing and referral bonuses. Even with those changes, the bulk of their applicants were teens. Weiss is hopeful that might change in September as more college students return to the University of Kansas and the unemployment benefits are reduced, but she is not banking on it.
“We are only open five days a week right now. We’re only doing dinner shifts. The main reason for that is we don’t have the staff to expand our hours,” she said. She has been telling customers that lunch and brunch probably won’t return until 2022.
The Kansas-Missouri state line provides an interesting test case for what happens when one state changes its unemployment policies. When Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced in May the state would end federal expanded unemployment assistance programs as of June 12, the Republican said it “ensures that we will fill existing jobs, as well as the thousands of new jobs coming to our state as businesses continue to invest and expand in Missouri.”
So far, there hasn’t been a major hiring boom in Missouri. Business owners who operate in both Missouri and Kansas told The Post that Missouri’s reduction of jobless benefits had a small impact on hiring. Total employment in Missouri rose by 4,200 jobs in June with a slight increase in hospitality jobs, according to the Labor Department. Across the border in Kansas, overall employment increased by 8,100 in June and was flat in the hospitality industry.
Restaurant owners say that while unemployment benefits may be keeping some workers at home, their biggest issue is that so many workers are rethinking their lives post-pandemic and may not want to return to grueling restaurant work.
“Employees went out and found other industries. And that’s been a bigger problem than just the unemployment insurance. Getting restaurant hospitality workers back to our industry has been a challenge for almost every restaurant in the Midwest,” said Kevin Timmons, owner of sports bar Nick and Jake’s and former president of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association.
Some businesses that operate in both Kansas and Missouri say they have noticed more serious applicants from the Missouri side, especially in the hospitality industry.
One recruiting firm that works in both states has noted some hiring differences. Ken Meeks, chief executive of hospitality-recruiting firm ResourceOne, said he has been frustrated by the number of “ghost applicants” in Kansas, in which people apply but when his firm calls, texts and emails them to follow up, they say they still haven’t found a job but they aren’t interested in talking further. He said the situation has been a lot better in Missouri since the unemployment benefits were cut.
“We’ve seen a bump in applications over on the Missouri side in servers, bartenders and cooks coming back into the fold,” Meeks said. “No one was against unemployment when restaurants were closed. But now the jobs actually exist.”
Lately in Missouri, Meeks has also seen restaurants scaling back pay. Jobs that were paying $18 an hour now pay $15, but “employees are taking it because they’ve lost leverage on the Missouri side,” Meeks said.
The Gusto analysis also noted that among more experienced workers who returned to the workforce as benefits ended, people who had worked for a company before the pandemic were especially likely to return to their prior employer when states announced benefits would end early.
For policymakers, it’s a difficult balance figuring out when to scale back unemployment insurance for the nation’s 9.5 million unemployed. As the delta variant of the coronavirus flares up, some workers are reluctant to return to jobs in which they encounter a lot of people.
Economist Arindrajit Dube of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that a lot more people reported having a hard time paying their bills in states where unemployment benefits were slashed in June. He analyzed Census Bureau survey data and found a roughly 60% drop in the number of people on unemployment in the states that ended the extra $300 and the aid for self-employed and gig workers in June, but no increase in employment.
“There is evidence that the reduced UI benefits increased self-reported hardship in paying for regular expenses,” Dube wrote, adding, “Of course, this evidence is still early.”
A restaurant owner asked President Joe Biden at the recent CNN Town Hall in Ohio about what the White House is doing to help businesses hire. Biden reiterated his stance that he does not think unemployment insurance is holding workers back, but even if it is, the extra payments are soon coming to an end.
“I see no evidence [unemployment insurance] had any serious impact on it. But you can argue it. Let’s assume it did. It’s coming to an end,” Biden said.
In Kansas City, Mo., restaurant owner Jerry Rauschelbach was optimistic that the cut in unemployment benefits would help drive more talented workers back to his industry. He has been looking for another manager for Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque for six months.
In the two weeks after the unemployment money scaled back in Missouri, Rauschelbach said he was flooded with applications for the manager position, but few had worked in the industry before.
“The type of employee applying is not what I’m used to,” Rauschelbach said. “The people applying are grasping for any job. I’m looking for somebody who is committed to the industry. It’s a hard life.”
The manager position pays about $50,000 a year and remains unfilled. Like many, Rauschelbach described this summer as both the best and worst of times - business is “hitting numbers we haven’t seen in years” as customers return and the mail-order meat business he started during the pandemic remains strong, but his staff of 20 is stretched.
He still thinks the generous unemployment benefits hurt hiring, but his recent experience has also caused him to realize a lot of Americans are reassessing their careers and no longer want to work 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Simone Biles, of the United States, waits to perform on the vault during the artistic gymnastics women's final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo. The American gymnastics superstar has withdrawn the all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull/)
TOKYO — Simone Biles will not defend her Olympic title.
The American gymnastics superstar withdrew from Thursday’s all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday that the 24-year-old is opting to not compete. The decision comes a day after Biles removed herself from the team final following one rotation because she felt she wasn’t mentally ready.
Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take Biles’ place in the all-around. Carey initially did not qualify because she was the third-ranking American behind Biles and Sunisa Lee. International Gymnastics Federation rules limit countries to two athletes per event in the finals.
The organization said Biles will be evaluated daily before deciding if she will participate in next week’s individual events. Biles qualified for the finals on all four apparatuses, something she didn’t even do during her five-medal haul in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The 24-year-old came to Tokyo as arguably the face of the Games following the retirement of swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt. She topped qualifying on Sunday despite piling up mandatory deductions on vault, floor and beam following shaky dismounts.
She posted on social media on Monday that she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. The weight became too heavy after vaulting during team finals. She lost herself in mid-air and completed 1 1/2 twists instead of 2 1/2. She consulted with U.S. team doctor Marcia Faustin before walking off the field of play.
When she returned, she took off her bar grips, hugged teammates Sunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles and turned into the team’s head cheerleader as the U.S. claimed silver behind the Russian Olympic Committee.
“Once I came out here (to compete), I was like, ‘No mental is, not there so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself,’” Biles said following the medal ceremony.
The decision opens the door wide open for the all-around, a title that was long considered a foregone conclusion. Rebeca Andrade of Brazil finished second to Biles during qualifying, followed by Lee and Russians Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova. The four were separated by three-tenths of a point on Sunday.
Carey now finds herself in the final, capping a remarkable journey for the 21-year-old from Phoenix. She spent two years traveling the globe in an effort to pile up enough points on the World Cup circuit to earn an individual nominative spot, meaning she would be in the Olympics but technically not be part of the four-woman U.S. team.
Carey posted the second-best score on vault and the third-best on floor during qualifying, earning trips to the event finals in the process. Now she finds herself competing for an all-around medal while replacing the athlete considered the greatest of all-time in the sport.
Anchorage Assembly agrees to negotiation plan on homelessness after again rejecting mass shelter proposed by Mayor Bronson
Assembly members on Tuesday approved the beginnings of a formal negotiation process with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration on the city’s homelessness policy while denying another push from Bronson to build a 400-person homeless shelter in East Anchorage.
Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting was marked by acrimony and sharp exchanges between Assembly members and members of the administration. Bronson indicated he is continuing to pursue his own ideas on homelessness, including his proposed large shelter at Tudor and Elmore roads, and selling the Golden Lion building purchased by the last administration to use as a treatment center.
Meanwhile, pressure on the Assembly is mounting from homeless providers and others in the community who want to see Sullivan Arena returned to its normal use and a long-term plan for homelessness in place.
There is currently no plan in place to stand down the city’s mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena by the end of September, the Assembly’s previous goal.
The Assembly passed a resolution in an 8-2 vote. It lays out a formal negotiation process, using neutral third-party facilitator, between the Assembly, the administration, homeless services providers and the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness.
It also says that the city will commit to designing one or more homeless shelter and navigation centers, but does not say where they would be or how large. Tuesday’s resolution reiterated the continued need for mass shelter in Anchorage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This crisis is real, these people’s lives are worth providing for,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said to the administration during the meeting. “And we as a body, you, as an administration, have a duty collaboratively to figure this out. And it doesn’t happen by telling us, ‘Give us our plan, and then we’ll come to the table and have a conversation.’ It happens the other way around. In my opinion, we come to the table and have a conversation about what the plan is.”
Constant drafted the resolution, along with member Meg Zaletel, who is the chair of the committee on housing and homelessness, and member John Weddleton. Members of the mayor’s administration also worked during the drafting process, but the administration later pulled its support, Constant said.
Craig Campbell, Bronson’s chief of staff, said the administration has been negotiating with the Assembly for over a month and has compromised by bringing their original proposal for a 1,000 person shelter down to 400.
Earlier this month the Assembly refused to move Bronson’s proposal forward in the public process, temporarily killing it by refusing to put it on the agenda for a public hearing.
“Please don’t try to blame this administration four weeks into it that we are not working hard to solve the problem. We’ve given you solutions. We’ve compromised three times,” Campbell said. “We asked for a public hearing you would not give us and we’re here tonight saying time is working against you. You can’t kick the can down the road anymore.”
Bronson at the meeting Tuesday had proposed an amendment to the resolution that sought to first have the Assembly and administration agree to build and operate the 400-bed homeless shelter, before negotiating further long-term plans. The Assembly voted it down in an 8-2 vote.
Tense exchanges followed the introduction of Bronson’s amendment. Assembly members, Bronson and his administration all expressed frustration with the negotiation process so far.
At one point, Bronson implied that members of the Assembly had not told the truth during recent negotiations, which Constant said was untrue and an unfair characterization.
“So just tell me who to negotiate. Give me one or two names. I’ll put one or two people in the room, including me, and we’ll negotiate this. That’s how it works,” Bronson said.
Some members of the Assembly said the amendment amounted to Bronson attempting to skirt negotiations and the public process to push his project through.
“This feels like grandstanding by the administration. And frankly, I think it’s a farce. This proposal was already rejected,” Assembly member Meg Zaletel said of Bronson’s amendment.
Zaletel said the resolution provides an opportunity to go through a comprehensive process to evaluate the mayor’s mass shelter idea, among other options.
“And that seems to be rejected by the administration. That doesn’t feel like a very good faith effort to work together. The time is ticking,” she said.
Bronson’s amendment, which did not pass, sought to keep the Sullivan Arena shelter operational until the mass shelter and Tudor and Elmore would be completed.
Zaletel has said it would be possible to move the mass shelter operations into one or more other buildings in the city, and on Tuesday she said the city has other options.
Still, Bronson said he sees no way to stand down the Sullivan shelter without building his proposed replacement facility, which would be a semipermanent structure.
“There’s no other way of doing it. It’s called math. I’m sorry,” Bronson said. “And we will work hard with you. We will cooperate with you to put as many people into the auxiliary shelters, hotels. You find the beds, we will help you get the get those people have navigated to them. But in the meantime, what about the people that are going to freeze to death on the streets?”
The negotiation team will start working with a facilitator to find common ground with the Administration on Aug. 1, according to the resolution. Constant said that the Assembly members on the team will include himself, Zaletel and John Weddleton.
Bronson’s push for building a large shelter is an approach to the city’s homelessness issues that is largely different from the plans of the previous administrations and the Assembly. Many Assembly members have indicated they prefer multiple smaller shelters and treatment services in the city.
Part of the previous administration’s plan was the purchase of the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel for treatment services, which the city finalized in December.
Bronson while campaigning criticized the city for its building purchase plans and said he would sell the Golden Lion. On Tuesday, he said that his administration is “working to find a resolution to the Golden Lion” and that selling the building is on the table.
Bronson also indicated that he is looking for other places to create services such as drug and alcohol treatment in Anchorage, including in Midtown, where the Golden Lion is located.
The administration has “had interest expressed” in opening a drug, alcohol and psychiatric treatment facility near Alaska Pacific University, Bronson said. He said it would necessitate a road extension in the area, a proposal the city has previously considered and was tabled by former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Meanwhile, a plan to increase the city’s shelter capacity this winter is needed soon.
The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness estimated in a report to the Assembly last week that about 465 more people will need shelter this winter, on top of the people currently in the Sullivan Arena and those housed in hotel rooms.
The Anchorage Wolverines, a junior hockey team new to the city this year, were scheduled to play their games in Sullivan Arena starting in October.
Kai Binkley Sims, one of the owners of the team, at the meeting urged the Assembly to find a permanent solution to homelessness and return the Sullivan to its normal uses. A few members of the team also spoke during public testimony.
“We’ve heard that progress has been made toward a long-term solution to house the homeless. And while the Sullivan is still being used as a shelter, it’s really hard to see that progress,” she said.
The ownership group for the Wolverines includes Aaron Schutt, Ryan Binkley, Kai Binkley Sims, John Ellsworth Jr. and Jay Frawner. Binkley and Sims are part of the Binkley Co., which also owns the Anchorage Daily News.
Binkley Sims and Lisa Sauder, CEO of Bean’s Café, which runs the mass care shelter at Sullivan, also called on the Assembly to find long-term solutions and more permanent housing for the city’s homeless population in a joint letter to the Assembly sent Tuesday.
“Now is the time for the Assembly to come together with the Mayor’s office to find a pathway forward. Taking no action is unacceptable,” they said in the statement.
The resolution passed on Tuesday also set several other actions in motion:
-- It commits the city to designing a homeless and transient shelter that includes a navigation center. It does not say where that shelter might go. A plan that includes the design, site criteria and services offered and a public engagement process should be identified no later than Oct. 1, according to the resolution.
-- It continues the city’s mass care response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the shelter at Sullivan Arena. It does not say that the mass shelter has to stay at Sullivan Arena, only that the mass care response needs to continue.
-- It specifies that the negotiation team regularly report to the Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Homelessness and engage the public, such as through community councils.
-- By the city’s 2022 budget revisions in April, the team will identify existing facilities and or design purpose-built facilities that meet the gaps in the city’s housing and homelessness response services for purchase or construction. The Assembly will consider using remaining federal relief funds from the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act, according to the resolution.
Lydia Jacoby of the United States, left, celebrates winning the 100m breaststroke final with Lilly King of the United States as Tatjana Schoenmaker looks on during Day 4 of swimming at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Tuesday, July 27. Washington Post photo by Toni L. Sandys
TOKYO - The stickers were hot sellers around Seward, Alaska. Each sale of each sticker - “Go Lydia!” on a white stripe between red and blue, with 2021 Olympic Games written above - would put a little money in the pocket of the Seward Tsunami Swim Club. Each sale of each sticker would cause the staff of Zudy’s Café to yell out, “Go Lydia!”
“Sometimes,” said Judy Odhner, one of the cafe’s co-owners, “it would get a little disruptive to the eating.”
There are moments at an Olympics that change a life. There are moments at an Olympics that redefine a town. And there are moments at an Olympics that make you say, “That’s why I watch. That’s why I came. That’s what it’s about.”
Lydia Jacoby, daughter of Seward, Alaska, provided just that Tuesday morning, the swim of her life, which means a lot, even if her life has lasted just more than 17 years. Lilly King is the queen of the 100-meter breaststroke, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist and the world-record holder. And Jacoby - more accustomed to performing in front of audiences at bluegrass festivals around Alaska than as an athlete on international television - simply stalked her, caught her, passed her, and beat her.
Eagle River pitcher Luke Barch, right, celebrates with catcher Cam Witte after a 1-0 victory over South in the title game of American Legion state tournament at Mulcahy Stadium on Tuesday. Barch pitched a two-hitter and Witte was named the tournament MVP. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Once the jubilant mob scene behind the mound dissipated, leaving a few hats, gloves and even the game ball scattered across the diamond, Luke Barch was the last of the Eagle River Wolves to walk toward the dugout.
The dude rightfully deserved the stage to himself.
A couple of months removed from his freshman year of high school, Barch pitched brilliantly Tuesday night to help the Eagle River baseball team earn its first taste of championship glory.
He tossed an 85-pitch, two-hit complete game and hulking first baseman Orazio Ramos homered for the game’s only run in the Wolves’ swift and stunning 1-0 victory over the South Wolverines in the American Legion state championship game at Mulcahy Stadium.
The unofficial game time for the seven-inning finale was 79 minutes. The duel between Barch and South pitcher Reid Brock featured a scant five hits and 11 baserunners
The Wolves (22-8) are set to represent Alaska in the American Legion Northwest Regional next week in Gillette, Wyoming.
“Man, I just knew this was the last year for a lot of my big, (older) guys, the ones that kind of coached me up for the season,” said Barch, 15. “I was really pushing to see this one through for all of them.”
Luke Barch throws a pitch in his two-hit, complete-game gem for the Wolves. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Eagle River advanced to its first Legion title game after winning two of its three round-robin games and spanking Ketchikan 7-0 in Monday’s semifinals.
South (26-3) entered the tournament as the top seed and won a combined 43 of 45 games during the Legion and high school seasons. The Wolverines rolled to the Alaska School Activities Association Division I title last month in dominating fashion.
Barch shut them down with assistance from a couple of timely double plays, including one with no outs in the bottom of the seventh. He retired the first 11 batters he faced.
“I was just winging it, throwing the ball as hard as I could,” said Barch, who was named top pitcher in the eight-team tournament. His teammate, Cam Witte, was named MVP.
After the Wolves’ on-field celebration, Barch walked off the mound for one final time, doffing his hat to South in a show of sportsmanship. The Wolverines returned the favor from their dugout steps.
“He threw strikes the entire night, really good strikes,” said South shortstop Kellen Curtis, the tournament’s Gold Glove winner. “And sometimes in baseball you hit the ball to the wrong place.
“But (Barch) had a great game.”
One ball was hit to the right place, and it came off the bat of Ramos in the top of the fourth inning.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, the 18-year old bludgeoned the first pitch he saw well over the fence to left-center field. It was a no-doubt homer for Ramos, who led the league during the regular season with a .511 average.
“It’s just one of those moments where your mind goes blank,” said Ramos, who recently completed his first year at Cuesta College in California. “You get lost in the moment and can’t really think of anything.
“It felt like I got a real piece of the ball and it had a chance.”
Why be modest? The rocket would’ve easily cleared most parks.
South's Joey Serra dives back safely as Eagle River first baseman Orazio Ramos waits for the ball during a seventh-inning pickoff attempt. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
The home run spoiled an otherwise sterling effort from South’s Brock, who surrendered three hits, walked one and struck out five.
Brock also picked up one of his team’s hits, a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Ramos, who made a couple nice defensive picks at first, said he loved witnessing Barch’s masterpiece.
“It’s rare to see someone so young do something so great,” he said. “But it’s not just Luke. Everyone on this team came together.”
Next stop? Wyoming.
“First visit,” Ramos said. “I’m going to be so happy when we get down there.”
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590) Saturdays at 11 a.m. Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
State tournament awards
MVP — Cam Witte, Eagle River
Top pitcher — Luke Barch, Eagle River
Gold Glove — Kellen Curtis, South
Big Stick — Kaden Bevegni, South
A sign advises shoppers to wear masks outside of a store Monday, July 19, 2021, in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) (Marcio Jose Sanchez/)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance Tuesday on wearing masks to help protect against infection from the coronavirus. Under the new recommendations, the agency urges vaccinated Americans to wear masks indoors in certain circumstances.
What exactly does the revised guidance say?
Fully vaccinated or not, people who live where coronavirus transmission is classified as substantial or high should wear masks when they are indoors in public places.
The agency also called for universal mask-wearing in K-12 schools, where masks should be worn by teachers, other staff members, students and visitors. The recommendation applies to everyone over the age of 2. While vaccines are authorized for adolescents, studies are ongoing in children under age 12. And according to the CDC, just 30% of youngsters age 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated.
The CDC tracks the case rates of covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, in every county. The tracking focuses on the number of new cases per 100,000 people during the previous seven days. Substantial transmission is defined as 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 people, while high is defined as more than 100 cases per 100,000. As of Tuesday, more than 63% of U.S. counties met that definition, including swaths of the South and Midwest, up from about 46% of counties one week ago. States including Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Missouri are reporting “high” transmission levels across nearly every county. The CDC is recommending that vaccinated and unvaccinated people keep tabs on their county’s transmission rate to figure out whether they should wear a mask indoors in public. The tracker is here.
The CDC is not exploring the idea of recommending that all vaccinated people wear masks indoors no matter where they live or how much the virus is circulating in their community. Still, the agency now says that no matter how much virus is circulating in an area, wearing a mask is important for people at heightened risk of severe illness from covid-19 because of a weakened immune system, an underlying medical condition or advanced age.
The CDC continues to urge everyone to get one of the three coronavirus vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States, saying the shots continue to offer a high degree of protection against becoming seriously ill. President Joe Biden is expected to announce Thursday that all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated or face testing requirements, a White House official said. The federal government can require vaccination on federal property and for its own workforce but otherwise can make only recommendations. The new mask guidance does not change vaccine recommendations.
Why did the CDC change its guidance?
The rapidly spreading delta variant of the coronavirus, which accounts for an overwhelming majority of new cases in the United States, has altered the equation considerably. During the spring, before this variant was so plentiful, research showed that fully vaccinated people were at very low risk of illness, hospitalization or death from the virus. The odds of them transmitting the virus was also thought to be very low. With delta in the picture, the CDC says, recent research from several states and other countries has shown that breakthrough infections among vaccinated people are still rare, and people who have not been vaccinated represent the bulk of the nation’s hospitalizations and deaths.
But the CDC said the delta variant is different from earlier versions of the virus, and new research, not yet published, suggests that fully vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections may have similar viral loads to unvaccinated people who become infected. That suggests that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can spread the virus. That is the main reason the mask rules have been changed.
In addition, the change recognizes that fewer Americans are fully vaccinated than the Biden administration had hoped for by this time. In issuing its new mask guidance, the CDC continued to strongly encourage people who have balked at getting vaccinated to change their minds.
The CDC says its new advice is intended, in part, to help protect children under age 12 who are not allowed to be vaccinated and other people who have been vaccinated but are not well-protected because their immune systems are weak.
What was the previous guidance?
On May 13, the CDC announced that people who are fully vaccinated did not need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors in most circumstances. At the time, before the delta variant proliferated in the United States, research showed that vaccinated people had low risk of getting sick or spreading the virus. The Biden administration hoped that saying vaccinated people could shed their masks would motivate more people to get the shots. Critics doubted the motivational effect, pointing out that people opposed to getting a coronavirus vaccine tended to also resist wearing masks - and that it would be impossible to tell who among the newly unmasked was vaccinated.
The May guidance did not eliminate all mask requirements. Under federal rules, people still needed to wear them on planes, buses, trains and other public transportation, and they also had to observe state or local mandates on masks.
Haven’t some places begun requiring masks again on their own?
Yes. As of July 16, Los Angeles County resumed requiring people to wear masks indoors, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. The county, the nation’s most populous, with about 10 million residents, said it was responding to a resurgence of cases and to a rise in hospitalizations. But the Los Angeles County sheriff said deputies would not enforce the mandate, contending it “is not backed by science” and contradicted CDC guidance at the time. It is unclear how the new CDC advice will affect that stance.
A mask mandate also took effect again Monday in the St. Louis area. It requires everyone 5 and older to wear a mask when indoors in public places and on public transportation. The Missouri attorney general is suing to try to block the requirement.
Provincetown, Mass., revived its indoor mask mandate Sunday because of a surge of cases in the Cape Cod community after the July Fourth holiday.
So, where should I be wearing a mask?
Where you are matters. Even if you are fully vaccinated, you should put on a mask when going to a public indoor space if you are in a county where the CDC’s coronavirus tracking shows the case rate falls within the substantial or high range. And masks are recommended in schools everywhere for children over age 2 and all adults.
Simone Biles, of the United States, embraces teammate Jordan Chiles after she exited the team final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull/)
Shortly after news broke that Simone Biles had unexpectedly withdrawn from the women’s gymnastics team final at the Olympics because, as she later put it to reporters, she felt she wasn’t in “the right head space” to continue competing, reactions to the stunning decision poured forth.
While many people were supportive as they praised Biles, 24, for taking care of her well-being, others appeared to be far less understanding — reflecting what experts say is a long-standing, and problematic, view of mental health challenges, particularly among elite athletes and other public figures.
“Being an Olympian doesn’t mean that she gets to destroy her body and her mind for America,” said Theresa Nguyen, a licensed clinical social worker and chief program officer of Mental Health America. “The words from comments that people make online are exponentially damaging. We as American people have the ability to make a choice about whether or not to post something hateful and unsupportive or encouraging and loving.”
Now, Nguyen emphasized, “is not the time to be a jerk.”
“We all know this feeling when we’re in a tough spot and someone beats you down even further, it does not make you feel encouraged,” she said. “It just makes you feel more broken and smaller.”
Biles’s very public decision offers an opportunity to learn about the right and wrong ways to support someone — whether they’re an Olympian or not — who is going through a difficult time mentally or emotionally. Here are some do’s and don’ts from mental health experts.
Do: Offer a safe space to talk and listen
“The first step is providing the space and providing the invitation for the person to explore what’s going on,” said Mark Aoyagi, co-director of sports and performance psychology at the University of Denver.
If the person takes you up on your invitation, ask them how they are doing. You don’t have to shy away from potentially sensitive subjects, Aoyagi said: “A lot of times nobody else in their life has ever invited that conversation, and so sometimes it’s just opening that door for them to have a trusted person that they can communicate with about that.”
It’s also important to figure out where a person is in their decision-making process about how to handle their mental health issue, Nguyen said, which can then guide how you provide support. If, for instance, a person is still trying to make sense of what their next step is, you may be able to help them think it through.
But above all, experts said, you need to prioritize listening. “When we’re in moments of suffering, what we want is empathy and listening,” Nguyen said. “We all know what it feels like to talk to somebody in that moment of crisis and get advice or see that someone is not listening because they’re already crafting in their minds what they’re going to do next.”
Don’t: Be pushy about talking or dispensing advice
Many people have a tendency to want to immediately fix what’s wrong. Fight that urge, experts said.
“The more you’re able to listen and the less providing advice — unless you’re explicitly asked to provide advice — the better,” said Lynn Bufka, a senior director at the American Psychological Association.” You want to have the opportunity for the person to tell you what’s going on in the most nonjudgmental way possible.”
If the person asks you for space, respect their wishes, said Akua K. Boateng, a licensed psychotherapist in Philadelphia. Even though you may be reaching out with good intent to offer support, Boateng said, “if they’re not asking for that, that’s not helpful.”
Do: Validate and affirm decisions
When someone is going through a tough time, it helps to know that others understand and accept their struggle. Acknowledge and validate their feelings, experts said, and if they have made a decision about their next move — to take a step back from a challenging situation, for example — you should affirm that choice.
“Sometimes people feel alone in making strong decisions,” Boateng said. To counter that, she suggested reinforcing that you’re going to be there for that person to listen and support them.
If someone has made up their mind, try to avoid asking questions such as “Are you sure?” Nguyen said, which can put people in a position of defensiveness.
Instead of second-guessing someone’s decision, she and other experts recommended shifting your focus to how you can help the person navigate next steps.
Do: Ask how you can support them
Keep in mind that people’s needs are different. While one person may want reassurance and affirmation that they made the right decision, that approach may not be helpful for someone else, Boateng said.
It’s important to ask someone how you can be most helpful to them, experts said, which will then help you know the right things to say and do. Try to be positive without “bypassing or overlooking the pain and suffering” someone is experiencing, Boateng said.
Don’t: Engage in toxic positivity
Oftentimes not knowing what to say can turn into being overly positive, which may do more harm than good. “Toxic positivity,” or the tendency to cope with a bad situation by putting a positive spin on it and ignoring the negative, can be “disguised as genuine support,” Boateng said. “They’re thinking they’re saying the best thing.”
Toxic positivity can sound like phrases such as “push through,” “everything is going to be fine” or “there’s always next time.”
“You almost assuredly have not walked in that person’s shoes and experienced the things that that person has, so trying to tell the person, ‘Oh, it’s going to be okay,’ while well-meaning, it often feels devaluing of what the person’s struggle is,” Bufka said.
Additionally, toxic positivity may encourage a person to stay in a situation that they’ve already determined isn’t healthy for them, Nguyen said. “You’re using positive words, but you’re still pushing someone to do something they don’t want to do.”
Do: Respect privacy
You may be asked by others why someone is taking time to care for their mental health. Be sure to ask that person how much information about their situation they would feel comfortable with you sharing, Bufka said. If you don’t have permission, “it’s best to assume you shouldn’t be sharing anything private about other people’s lives,” Nguyen noted.
But if you are asked, it’s important to be honest without disclosing information, Bufka said. Some possible responses include, “It was a very personal/ difficult decision/ situation,” or “They could use support right now,” she said.
Do: Offer to help
You can help someone establish perspective and encourage them to give themselves permission to make a change, Aoyagi said.
And similar to how you would support someone who is grieving, experts recommend offering help beyond emotional support. Ask if you can provide meals or run errands, or simply be a physical presence in the person’s life by scheduling walks or going over to spend time with them.
If someone decides they want professional support, Bufka recommended helping them get them connected.
Don’t: Take on more than you can handle yourself
“We don’t have to be perfect in our answers,” Boateng said. “Just doing your best sometimes may not be the complete support that they need. That’s why it really takes a community, not just one person.”
As you’re providing support, it’s important to realize your own limits and know when it might be time to involve a mental health professional, Bufka said.
A family member or friend, she said, should “be a willing companion on the journey as opposed to the person leading the journey.”
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Kelly Tshibaka campaigns during the Bear Paw Festival parade on Saturday, July 17, 2021 in Eagle River. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
Alaska Wildlife Troopers are investigating whether U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka illegally obtained a resident sportfishing license for a Kenai River sportfishing event in 2019.
Records indicate Tshibaka, a leading challenger to incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, received a resident sportfishing license despite failing to meet the requirements.
Knowingly violating the law on fishing licenses is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $300. A senior adviser to Tshibaka’s campaign said he believes she did not intend to break the law.
Troopers regularly cite fishermen for illegally buying a resident-only permit, and other political figures have run afoul of the residency requirement.
“The Alaska Wildlife Troopers are aware of the recent media reports regarding Mrs. Tshibaka and are looking into them. No criminal charges or citations have been issued at this time,” said Austin McDaniel, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
Tshibaka announced her run for U.S. Senate in March and on July 15 released a fishing-themed video ad filmed at a setnet site owned by former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman. The video raised questions about Tshibaka’s fishing history, including whether she has a commercial license.
Public records do not show a commercial license but do show Tshibaka obtained a resident sportfishing permit in August 2019, eight months after a state-paid move brought her to work as the leader of the Alaska Department of Administration.
To qualify for a resident fishing license, someone must have lived in the state for “12 consecutive months immediately preceding (the) application for a license.” There is an exception for someone who temporarily leaves the state, but that exemption ends when that person establishes residency in another state. Tshibaka was a registered Maryland voter and owned a home there until hired by the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
Copies of the license application show Tshibaka listed her Alaska residency time as 15 years and 8 months. Born and raised in Anchorage, Tshibaka left Alaska at age 15 but returned in January 2019.
“Our records indicate and our APOC records also indicate that yes, Kelly Tshibaka did attend the 2019 Kenai River Classic,” said Ben Mohr, director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, which conducts an annual fundraiser and advocacy event each year.
“She was issued a sportfishing license at that event,” Mohr said.
The license application contains contradictory information: It shows a hole punch and a written code indicating that it’s an application for a resident-only license, but it also has a handwritten start and end date used only when applying for a temporary nonresident license.
“The form is filled in for a license that expires after one day, going from August 22nd to the 23rd, which is only available to non-residents. This shows clear intent to purchase a non-resident license, not a resident license,” said Tim Murtaugh, a senior adviser to the Tshibaka campaign.
The state recorded it as a resident license application and awarded one to her.
The political website Alaska Landmine was first to obtain the license records and accused Tshibaka of breaking the law.
The license application was co-signed by a person working for the association, but Mohr said the association acted only as a vendor for the license. The state’s manual for vendors emphasizes that vendors “should not challenge possible false statements made by the licensee” and should refer questions to the Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.
“Kelly attended the 2019 Kenai River Classic in her capacity as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration,” Murtaugh said. “Her confirmation hearings had been very public and it was well known that she had recently returned to the state to serve in the governor’s cabinet. The event organizers asked if she had a current fishing license, and when she said she didn’t, they issued her one. Lisa Murkowski’s allies are clearly worried about Kelly, if they are willing to attack her on this.”
Jeff Landfield, owner and operator of the Alaska Landmine, said his accusations weren’t the result of prodding by people aligned with Murkowski. After watching the July 15 video, he just wanted to see if she had a commercial fishing crew license. The sportfishing license issue is a “self-inflicted error,” he said.
In the video, Tshibaka is seen removing fish from a net and placing them in a brailer bag that is then transferred to another boat. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the video was staged or involved real fishing. The campaign is declining to answer questions on that, Murtaugh said. Wildlife troopers are investigating.
In 2015, residency issues caused Roland Maw, a pick for the Alaska Board of Fisheries, to withdraw his name from consideration. Maw was fined and charged with seven misdemeanors in Montana after claiming resident hunting and fishing licenses in that state. In Alaska, Maw was charged with Permanent Fund dividend fraud.
Three years before that, a selectee for the International Pacific Halibut Commission also ran into residency issues. And in 2010, under similar circumstances, Murkowski challenger Joe Miller was accused of improperly obtaining a license during the time he attended college Outside.