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Biden rallies NATO support ahead of confrontation with Russian President Putin

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 15:12

President Joe Biden and other NATO heads of the states and governments pose for a family photo during the NATO summit at the Alliance's headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, Monday, June 14, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP) (KEVIN LAMARQUE/)

BRUSSELS — President Joe Biden used his first appearance at a NATO summit since taking office to call on Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from provocative actions targeting the U.S. and its allies on Monday. NATO leaders joined the United States in formally accusing Moscow and Beijing of malign actions.

Biden’s sharp words for Russia and his friendly interactions with NATO allies marked a sharp shift in tone from the past four years and highlighted the renewed U.S. commitment to the 30-country alliance that was frequently maligned by predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden, wearing a NATO lapel pin, said that in his extensive talks with NATO leaders about his planned meeting with Putin on Wednesday, all were supportive of his plans to press the Russian leader to halt Russian-originated cyber attacks against the West, end the violent stifling of political dissidents and stop interfering in elections outside its borders.

“I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses,” Biden told reporters as he ended his day at NATO headquarters. “And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and other activities, then we will respond, we will respond in kind.”

Biden is on an eight-day visit to Europe in which he is seeking to rally allies to speak with a single voice on countering Russia and China.

To that end, NATO leaders on Monday declared China a constant security challenge and said the Chinese are working to undermine global order, a message in sync with Biden’s pleas to confront Beijing on China’s trade, military and human rights practices.

In a summit statement, the leaders said that China’s goals and “assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security.”

The heads of state and government expressed concern about what they said were China’s “coercive policies,” the opaque ways it is modernizing its armed forces and its use of disinformation.

The NATO leaders also took a big swipe at Russia in their communique, deploring what they consider its aggressive military activities and its snap wargames near the borders of NATO countries as well as repeated violations of their airspace by Russian planes.

They said that Russia had ramped up “hybrid” actions against member countries by attempts to interfere in elections, by political and economic intimidation, by disinformation campaigns and “malicious cyber activities.”

“Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual,’” they said.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an alliance of European and North American countries formed after World War II as a bulwark against Russian aggression. The new Brussels communique states plainly that the NATO nations “will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance.”

Biden arrived at the NATO summit after three days of consulting with Group of Seven allies in England, where he successfully pushed for a G-7 communique that called out forced labor practices and other human rights violations impacting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s western Xinjiang province.

However, differences remain among the allies about how forcefully to criticize Beijing.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said NATO’s decision to name China as a threat “shouldn’t be overstated” because Beijing, like Russia, is also a partner in some areas. China is Germany’s top trading partner, and she said it is important to “find the right balance.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron urged the alliance not to let China distract it from what he saw as more pressing issues facing NATO, including the fight against terrorism and security issues related to Russia.

“I think it is very important not to scatter our efforts and not to have biases in our relation to China,” Macron said.

The Chinese Embassy to the United Kingdom on Monday issued a statement saying the G-7 communique “deliberately slandered China and arbitrarily interfered in China’s internal affairs.” There was no immediate reaction from the Chinese government to the new NATO statement.

Biden arrived at his first NATO summit as president as leading members declared it a pivotal moment for an alliance beleaguered during the presidency of Trump, who questioned the relevance of the multilateral organization.

Biden sat down with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and underscored the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the alliance charter, which spells out that an attack on any member is an attack on all and is to be met with a collective response.

“Article 5 we take as a sacred obligation,” said Biden. “I want NATO to know America is there.”

It was a marked contrast to the days when Trump called the alliance “obsolete” and complained that it allowed for “global freeloading” countries to spend less on military defense at the expense of the U.S.

Biden was greeted by fellow leaders with warmth and even a bit of relief.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said Biden’s presence “emphasizes the renewal of the transatlantic partnership.” De Croo said NATO allies were looking to get beyond four stormy years with Trump and infighting among member countries.

“I think now we are ready to turn the page,” de Croo said.

The alliance also updated Article 5 to offer greater clarity on how the alliance should react to major cyber attacks — a matter of growing concern amid hacks targeting the U.S. government and businesses around the globe by Russia-based hackers.

Beyond extending potential use of the mutual defense clause to apply to space, the leaders also broadened the definition of what might constitute such an attack in cyberspace, in a warning to any adversary that might use constant low-level attacks as a tactic.

The organization declared in 2014 that a cyber attack could be met by a collective response by all 30 member countries, and on Monday they said that “the impact of significant malicious cumulative cyber activities might, in certain circumstances, be considered as amounting to an armed attack.”

The president started his day meeting with leaders of the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank as well as separate meetings with leaders of Poland and Romania to discuss any threat posed by Russia and the recent air piracy in Belarus.

Biden also met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the summit sidelines.

Biden has known Erdogan for years, but their relationship has frequently been contentious. Biden, during his campaign, drew ire from Turkish officials when he described Erdogan as an “autocrat.” In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide” — a term that U.S. presidents have avoided using.

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Associated Press writers Frank Jordans, Sylvie Corbet, Zeke Miller and Alexandra Jaffe contributed reporting.

Pedestrian struck by truck and injured in north Anchorage, police say

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 14:43

A woman was seriously injured Saturday when she was struck by a pickup truck in north Anchorage, police said.

The woman was in the roadway when a red 1997 Dodge pickup eastbound on East Third Avenue struck her around 8:50 p.m. near the intersection with Concrete Street, police spokeswoman Renee Oistad said in an email.

“The adult male driver pulled into a nearby parking lot and then walked back to the scene and made contact with police,” Oistad wrote.

The woman was brought to a hospital and is expected to survive her injuries, according to Oistad.

Police did not say who had the right of way at the time of the collision.

Charges have not been filed and Oistad said a decision will be made after toxicology results are received by the department.

Police closed East Third Avenue between Sitka and Concrete streets on Saturday for several hours while officers investigated the scene. Oistad said Monday that the investigation is ongoing.

Turn my PFD into a personal flotation device for future Alaskans

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 14:24

FILE - In this May 18, 2020 file photo, a woman walks past the Alaska Capitol in Juneau. Alaska lawmakers are set to convene amid a near decade-long run of deficits and economic fallout from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Go-to reserve accounts are depleted, and tough decisions await on how to use the state's nest-egg oil-wealth fund. It's unclear who will lead those debates: neither the House nor the Senate has organized. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File) (Becky Bohrer/)

With the Permanent Fund dividend question so front-and -center in the debate before the Alaska Legislature, I’ve been thinking about the original intent of the dividend. As I learned from Gov. Jay Hammond it was to create a vested interest in protecting the principal of the Fund from excessive government spending; thus, investing more in the Permanent Fund. He was also adamant about giving each Alaskan a share of the oil resource they collectively own. In his book, “Tales of Alaska’s Bush Rat Governor” (published in 1994), Hammond reflected, “Today, most Alaskans recognize that without the dividend program, the billions now invested in the Permanent Fund would have long since been squandered.”  In terms of creating an interest in protecting the rainy-day account (now at $77.8 billion), the dividend has been a huge success, larger than Gov. Hammond’s woodpile. I highlight the term interest because it differs from the sense of entitlement that pervades the current “how much” debate.

The whole design of the Permanent Fund was to be able to fund government off the interest earned. To accomplish this meant determining what budget is the right size for providing essential public services. This has been the focus of the Alaska Legislature since about 2015. According to fiscal analyst Cliff Groh, “The state of Alaska has cut the budget substantially — it is 43% lower this year than eight years ago. After adjusting for population and inflation, the state’s spending is lower now than before the big oil revenues started to arrive four decades ago.”

Without commenting on whether or not this is the right size, it appears that the Alaska Legislature has finally come to agreement on the level of government spending. As noted in a recent opinion piece, Speaker Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) said, “Today, there is broad agreement that the level and type of services is close to where the state needs to be.” Now the focus switches to the PFD side of the equation. As it turns out, in order to sustain a meaningful dividend check, the state must now either overdraw or look at taxes.

In a recent article on Gov. Dunleavy’s dividend plan, Sen. Natasha von Imhof, (R-Anchorage) pointed out that it doesn’t make sense to tax Alaskans in order to pay them a dividend - unless the tax proposal has some other policy objective, like switching from a regressive tax to a progressive tax, where the tax rate increases with an increase in the taxpayer’s income.

I absolutely agree with Sen. von Imhof’s assessment that it makes no sense to tax for the sole purpose of a generating a handout back to the taxpayer. It’s all administrative costs, with little to no public benefit.

The other aspect of the ongoing debate in the Legislature that I find troublesome is the “just this once” thinking. As Speaker Stutes said, What the disagreement now boils down to this year is whether to spend more than we can afford “just this once.” That’s like saying, “Let’s eat the seed corn just this once.”

How did we get to this point in our fiscal considerations? In part we got here because of massive tax breaks given to the producers of Alaska’s legacy oil fields. In part, we got here because many Alaskans think of the PFD as an entitlement. And in this regard, it’s important to note that once there is a sense of entitlement, it will be extremely difficult to overdraw “just this once” for a higher PFD amount.

The dividend program was not set up to become the obstacle in gaining a budget sustainably funded by Permanent Fund earnings; rather it was established to be a pathway toward fiscal stability not only for Alaskans today but for future generations. As noted earlier, the dividend program succeeded in creating such a pathway. Now we must decide if we want this pathway to continue for future generations or not.

If the only way to keep future generations in mind is to reduce the check amount to a level that avoids an overdraw, so be it. I realize this is easy for me to say because I have enough income where I’m not dependent on a PFD check to make ends meet. If there is a way to make the dividend more needs based and still not overdraw, that could work as well. Ultimately, the objective should be to set or alter the PFD amount in a way that it acts as personal-floatation-device for future budgets.

I may not be entitled to an annual check, but I am entitled to encourage common-sense budgeting that is forward thinking.

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has over 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas. She is a former board member of Alaska Common Ground, which has hosted several forums on the state’s fiscal situation.

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.

After more than a decade, Israelis wake up to a government without Netanyahu

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 13:01

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to right-wing opposition party members a day after a new government was sworn in, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo) (Maya Alleruzzo/)

TEL AVIV - A new, odds-defying unity government began laying the groundwork Monday for an Israeli political scene that - for the first time in 12 years - will be defined by factors beyond Benjamin Netanyahu, his divisive rhetoric and his proclivity for testing the country’s democratic founding principles.

Immediately after a Sunday evening confidence vote in the Knesset confirmed the new coalition government, demonstrations for and against Netanyahu erupted on the streets, across social media and in family and community WhatsApp groups. The outpourings highlighted the sharp divide between those who have long seen Netanyahu as “crime minister” - borderline dictator, embroiled in corruption charges, willing to take the country down with him - and those who see him as “King Bibi,” the blameless victim of what he calls leftist “witch hunts.”

On Sunday, Tel Aviv, Israel’s liberal hub, burst into celebration. Thousands of Israelis flooded Rabin Square, waving blue and white Israeli flags and dancing to Beatles ballads and Israeli pop songs while being sprayed with foam machines. “We are rid of Haman!” Israeli singer Achinoam Nini exclaimed from the stage, referring to the villain from the biblical story of Purim. The cheers exalting the end of the Netanyahu era echoed across town, as Israelis stripped down and splashed in the water of public fountains at Dizengoff Square and the Habima theater.

Netanyahu supporters, on the other hand, attended somber protests near the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, where demonstrators hoisted Israeli flags featuring Netanyahu’s face. They decried the new governing coalition as “dangerous” and “left-wing,” and they chanted for the return of Netanyahu to power.

“Bibi, King of Israel,” one group chanted into the evening, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname and prompting a thank-you tweet from him.

“I love you! We are not afraid of a long journey!” he wrote.

There were immediate signs of a shift from Netanyahu’s conservative focus. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz of the liberal Meretz party announced plans to lift restrictions on gay men donating blood, reversing an AIDS-era policy that many in the LGBTQ community see as discriminatory.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for a state inquiry into an April stampede at Mount Meron, where 45 people were killed at a religious event. An official probe of the disaster was thwarted by ultra-Orthodox politicians. The call for an investigation marked an early sign that the leniency Netanyahu often showed to ultra-Orthodox leaders is changing.

The unity government - which calls for right-wing former defense minister Naftali Bennett to serve as prime minister for two years before handing over the job to centrist Yair Lapid - is composed of eight ideologically disparate parties from the left, center and right, including, for the first time in Israel’s history, a party from the country’s Arab-Islamist community.

United by the mission of dislodging Netanyahu from power, the coalition also includes the left-wing Meretz party, led by Nitzan Horowitz. It had been relegated for years to the fringes of the opposition, as its main rallying cry - the two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - was seen as increasingly irrelevant.

Of the 27 ministers, nine are women, including Labor Party leader and vocal feminist Merav Michaeli. Their roles represent a sharp contrast with Netanyahu’s previous cabinets, which were deeply influenced by ultra-Orthodox parties that opposed the participation of women in government. One ultra-Orthodox newspaper blurred out the faces of women in the coalition’s first group photograph.

The newcomers, who have pledged to improve strained bipartisan relations with the United States, basked in a flurry of congratulatory messages from Washington, including phone calls from President Joe Biden to Bennett, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Gantz and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Lapid, the new foreign minister. That, too, was a change from Biden’s weeks-long delay in calling Netanyahu after entering the White House.

“The outgoing government took a terrible gamble, reckless and dangerous, to focus exclusively on the Republican Party and abandon Israel’s bipartisan standing,” said Lapid, who accepted Blinken’s invitation to Washington.

Netanyahu, on the government’s first day, predicted that the new coalition would topple soon.

“The fraudulent government will fall quickly,” Netanyahu said Monday. “Three things unite it: hatred, exclusion and domination. With such hatred it is impossible to hold a government for long.”

His allies, including far-right religious nationalists and ultra-Orthodox parties, are also pledging a comeback.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council that enjoyed elevated status during Netanyahu’s tenure, led a prayer alongside other influential rabbis at the Western Wall on Sunday. They prayed for the failure of a government that they said “wants to erase the Jewish identity in the state of Israel” . . . and “harm the holiness” of Jewish laws and customs.

The new government will have little room for error as it tries to get its footing. The leaders have pledged to focus largely on Israel’s budget, which has not been updated in more than two years. But Israeli negotiators are still working on a longer-term cease-fire with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. And tensions remain high in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. On Tuesday, a group of right-wing nationalists has planned a march through the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

“You don’t get the 100 days of grace period any more,” said Tamar Hermann, a political scientist at the Israel Democracy Institute and the Open University. “The honeymoon is like an hour or two before the media starts to criticize.”

On Monday, Netanyahu refused to participate in the customary handover-of-power ceremony for Bennett, instead opting for an abbreviated half-hour meeting.

The last time Netanyahu was unseated, in 1999, he raised a glass to then-Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, who had defeated him at the polls. But then, Barak has said, it took Netanyahu and his family six weeks to evacuate the prime minister’s residence.

The ever-present anti-Netanyahu protesters on Balfour Street near the residence said they would maintain their vigil until the Netanyahus move out.

“We’re not leaving until he’s gone,” said Sylvia Strumpfma, a 68-year-old pensioner who has been part of the encampment for more than a year.

Letter: Division

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 12:03

To my friend Kenny Ziegahn in his recent letter, “Truth matters”: I’m not sure where he got some of his statistics, but this kind of rhetoric does nothing to bring us together as a country — it will further divide us. As both of us are former educators, I would hope he would understand this.

— Greg Svendsen

Anchorage

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

Letter: Downtown summer

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 11:56

When I left the office on Friday evening, I was amazed by the energy in downtown! Lines of runners waiting outside Skinny Raven to begin the Twilight 12K. Outdoor seating in new places, and even new places I hadn’t heard of yet.

Blankets and people dotted across the museum lawn. Shops and galleries reminded people how much they missed First Fridays. Faces and voices from across the world strolling our sidewalks, smiles everywhere, enjoying the sun that would not be setting for hours yet. Probably some first dates; definitely also some first “date nights” in a long time. We’re only one week into June, and downtown is totally transformed from the past year: The events are back, the restaurants are back, the people are back. Downtown Anchorage is back!

Have you been to downtown lately? Don’t miss out on the fun!

— Anna Brawley

Anchorage

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

Myanmar military puts Suu Kyi on trial on charges critics call bogus

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 11:40

In this Dec. 11, 2019, photo, Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi waits to address judges of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Commission has found that ousted national leader Aung San Suu Kyi had accepted bribes and misused her authority to gain advantageous terms in real estate deals, government-controlled media in the military-ruled country reported Thursday, June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File) (Peter Dejong/)

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial Monday on charges that many observers say are an attempt by the junta that deposed her to eliminate her as a political force, erase the country’s democratic gains and cement the military’s power.

Suu Kyi’s prosecution poses yet another major setback for Myanmar, which had been making slow progress toward democracy when a February coup prevented elected lawmakers from her National League for Democracy party from taking office following last year’s landslide victory.

Human Rights Watch said that the allegations being heard in a special court in the capital, Naypyitaw, are “bogus and politically motivated” with the intention of nullifying the victory and preventing Suu Kyi from running for office again.

“This trial is clearly the opening salvo in an overall strategy to neuter Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy party as a force that can challenge military rule in the future,” said Phil Robertson, the organization’s deputy Asia director.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, responding to a question on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ reaction to the trial, said the U.N. position is clear: “We want her and all of the senior members of her administration to be freed.”

“The secretary-general has called for and continues to call for a reversal of the Feb. 1 coup and the restoration of the legitimate government of Myanmar, of whom Aung San Suu Kyi is a member,” Haq said.

The army seized power on Feb. 1 before the new lawmakers could be seated, and arrested Suu Kyi, who held the post of special counsellor, President Win Myint and other members of her government and ruling party. The Southeast Asian country went seemingly overnight from an emerging democracy to the international pariah it had been for decades while under military rule.

The army justified its coup by alleging the government failed to properly investigate accusations of voting irregularities. Since then it has said it has found evidence of fraud — an assertion contested by the independent Asian Network for Free Elections and many others. Junta officials have threatened to dissolve the National League for Democracy and any conviction for Suu Kyi could see her barred from politics.

The junta has claimed it will hold new elections within the next year or two, but the country’s military has a long history of promising elections and not following through. The military ruled Myanmar for 50 years after a coup in 1962, and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years after a failed 1988 popular uprising.

The military’s latest takeover sparked nationwide protests that continue despite a violent crackdown that has killed hundreds of people. Although street demonstrations have shrunk in number and scale, the junta now faces a low-level armed insurrection by opponents in both rural and urban areas.

The trial against the 75-year-old Suu Kyi is closed, but her lawyers said at the end of the day’s hearing that the prosecution began presenting its case.

Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally importing walkie-talkies for her bodyguards’ use, unlicensed use of the radios and spreading information that could cause public alarm or unrest, as well as for two counts of violating the Natural Disaster Management Law for allegedly breaking pandemic restrictions during the 2020 election campaign, her lawyers said Sunday.

“All these charges should be dropped, resulting in her immediate and unconditional release,” said Human Rights Watch’s Robertson. “But sadly, with the restrictions on access to her lawyers, and the case being heard in front of a court that is wholly beholden to the military junta, there is little likelihood she will receive a fair trial.”

Government prosecutors will have until June 28 to finish their presentation, after which Suu Kyi’s defense team will have until July 26 to present its case, Khin Maung Zaw, the team’s senior member, said last week. Court sessions are due to be held on Monday and Tuesday each week.

Two other more serious charges against Suu Kyi are being handled separately: one for breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum 14-year prison term, and another for bribery, which has a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine.

Although Suu Kyi faced her first charge just days after the February coup, she not allowed her first face-to-face meeting with her lawyers until May 24, when she made her first actual appearance in court for a pre-trial hearing. Since then, she had another brief meeting with them before seeing them in court Monday.

A photo of her May 24 appearance released by state media showed her sitting straight-backed in a small courtroom, wearing a pink face-mask, her hands folded in her lap. Alongside her were her two co-defendants, the former president as well as the former mayor of Naypyitaw, Myo Aung.

More than four months since the coup, members of the U.N. team on the ground “remain deeply concerned over the security forces’ use of violence, with reports of deaths and injuries on a daily basis,” deputy spokesman Haq said.

The team reports at least 861 women, children and men killed since Feb. 1, thousands more injured and 4,800 people in detention including politicians, authors, human rights defenders, teachers, health care workers, civil servants, journalists, monks, celebrities and ordinary citizens, Haq said.

The U.N. calls on security forces again “to protect civilians as widespread and systematic breaches of human rights law – such as extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment, and enforced disappearance – continue,” Haq said.

Reality Winner, federal contractor who leaked secrets to media, released from prison to home confinement

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 11:25

FILE- In this June 26, 2018 file photo, Reality Winner walks into the Federal Courthouse in Augusta, Ga. Winner, 29, a former government contractor who was given the longest federal prison sentence imposed for leaks to the news media, has been released from prison to home confinement, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Monday. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, File) (Michael Holahan/)

WASHINGTON — A former government contractor who was given the longest federal prison sentence imposed for leaks to the news media has been released from prison to home confinement, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Monday.

Reality Winner, 29, has been moved to home confinement and remains in the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons, the person said. The person could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

She pleaded guilty in 2018 to a single count of transmitting national security information. Winner was sentenced to five years and three months in prison, which prosecutors said at the time was the longest ever imposed for leaking government information to the news media.

Her release was hailed as a cause for celebration after advocates had spent years fighting for her release or a pardon. Her lawyer, Alison Grinter Allen, said in a statement that Winner and her family are working to “heal the trauma of incarceration and build back the years lost.”

She said they are “relieved and hopeful” after her release from prison.

The former Air Force translator worked as a contractor at a National Security Agency office in Augusta, Georgia, when she printed a classified report and left the building with it tucked into her pantyhose. Winner told the FBI she mailed the document to an online news outlet.

Authorities never identified the news organization. But the Justice Department announced Winner’s June 2017 arrest the same day The Intercept reported on a secret NSA document. It detailed Russian government efforts to penetrate a Florida-based supplier of voting software and the accounts of election officials ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The NSA report was dated May 5, the same as the document Winner had leaked.

At the time of her sentencing, Winner was given credit for more than a year she spent in jail while the case was pending in U.S. District Court. She was sent to home confinement just a few months ahead of her release date of Nov. 23, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

“My actions were a cruel betrayal of my nation’s trust in me,” Winner told the judge at her sentencing in August, 2018.

Previously, Winner had unsuccessfully tried to shorten her sentence by seeking a pardon from President Donald Trump — whom she had once mocked on social media as a “soulless ginger orangutan” — and by arguing she had health conditions that made her more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Her sister said last July that Winner tested positive for the coronavirus but didn’t show symptoms.


Boris Johnson delays easing of U.K. COVID restrictions for 4 weeks as virus variants spread

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 11:17

A couple wear face masks as they shelter from the sun under an umbrella, while they walk in Covent Garden, in London, Monday, June 14, 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Monday that the next planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England will be delayed as a result of the spread of the delta variant first identified in India. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali) (Alberto Pezzali/)

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Monday that the next planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England will be delayed by four weeks, until July 19, a decision he said will save thousands of lives as the government speeds up its vaccination drive.

In a press briefing, Johnson voiced his confidence that the new date for the lifting of restrictions on social contact will be the final one as the vaccination drive is accelerated to counter the delta variant that scientists reckon is between 40% and 80% more transmissible than the previous dominant strain in the U.K.

“I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer,” he said. “Now is the time to ease off the accelerator, because by being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people.”

He said that by July 19, two-thirds of the adult population will have been double-vaccinated, including everyone over the age of 50, and that everyone over the age of 18 will have been offered a jab, earlier than the previous target of the month’s end. The gap between the two doses for over 40s is also being reduced to eight weeks from 12 to provide the maximum protection against the variant sooner.

New analysis Monday from Public Health England showed that two doses of the main vaccines in the U.K.’s rollout are highly effective against hospitalization from the delta variant, which was first identified in India. It said the Pfizer vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalization after 2 doses while the AstraZeneca jab is 92% effective.

“It’s unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine rollout has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves,” Johnson said.

Under the government’s plan for coming out of lockdown, all restrictions on social contact were set to be lifted next Monday. Many businesses, particularly those in hospitality and entertainment, voiced their disappointment about the delay to what had been dubbed by the British media as “Freedom Day.” Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has been particularly upset at the prospect of a delay and has said he will reopen his theaters regardless, a move that would risk him being arrested.

A delay is particularly bitter pill for nightclubs, as they have not been allowed to reopen since March 2020.

It will also likely impact how many fans are allowed into the Wimbledon tennis tournament and the European Championship soccer matches at Wembley Stadium, which will host the tournament’s semi-finals and final. However, actual numbers may be higher at certain events as Johnson said the government will carry on with its test program to allow more fans into stadiums.

The Confederation of British Industry said the delay is “regrettable” but “understandable” and urged the government to provide more support to those businesses affected.

“But we must acknowledge the pain felt by businesses in hospitality, leisure and live events,” said the CBI’s director-general Tony Danker. “At best they’re operating with reduced capacity hitting revenues, and at worst, some aren’t open at all.”

When Johnson first outlined the government’s four-stage plan for lifting the lockdown in England in February, he set June 21 as the earliest date by which restrictions on people gathering would be lifted. However, he stressed at the time that the timetable was not carved in stone and that all the steps would be driven by “data not dates” and would seek to be “irreversible.”

Though daily infections have increased threefold over the past few weeks they are still way down from the nearly 70,000 daily cases recorded in January. On Monday, the British government reported 7,742 new confirmed cases, one of the highest daily numbers since the end of February. The delta variant accounts for around 90% of all new infections. The number of peopled being hospitalized with the virus has edged up over recent days.

Many blame the Conservative government for the spike, saying it acted too slowly to impose the strictest quarantine requirements on everyone arriving from India, which has endured a catastrophic resurgence of the virus.

Despite the government having faced criticism for that decision, it has won plaudits for the speedy and coherent rollout of vaccines. As of Monday, around 62% of the British population had received one shot, while about 45% had got two jabs.

The rapid rollout of vaccines and a strict months-long lockdown helped drive down the number of virus-related deaths in the U.K. in recent months. Despite that, the country has recorded nearly 128,000 virus-related deaths, more than any other nation in Europe.

But infections are now going the wrong way, upending the government’s plans as well as those of many businesses.

“The reality is we have marched the troops up the hill,” said Howard Panter, joint CEO and creative director at theater operator Trafalgar Entertainment.

Shellfish and seaweed mariculture is focus of new Alaska industry alliance

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 09:45

The Hump Island Oyster Co. in Ketchikan. (Photo courtesy Hump Island Oyster Co.)

Alaskans who are engaged in or interested in mariculture are invited to become founding members in a group that will advance the growing industry across the state.

The newly formed Alaska Mariculture Alliance (AMA) is a private, nonprofit successor to a five-year task force formed in 2016 by Gov. Bill Walker and re-authorized in 2018 by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The task force will sunset on June 30.

“One of the priority recommendations was to create a long term entity that would coordinate and support development of a robust and sustainable mariculture industry to produce shellfish and aquatic plants for the long-term benefit of Alaska’s economy, environment and communities,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which administrated the task force and will do so for the AMA.

Decker clarified that Alaska mariculture encompasses farming of shellfish and aquatic plants and also includes enhancement and restoration projects.

There are 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska that when combined with 35 pending new applications, comprise 1,631 acres, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Some growers also are interested in sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and abalone.

Twenty-eight growers are making sales so far which in 2020 dropped to $1.08 million, down from $1.5 million, with Pacific oysters making up about 80% of the value. Sales of ribbon and sugar kelp doubled, topping 230,000 pounds valued at nearly $200,000, a nice jump from $60,000 in 2019.

“Seaweed is a newer industry even for the U.S. so there’s still a lot to learn,” Decker said. “One of the big challenges is we really need people and companies to jump into seaweed processing. That’s the real bottleneck right now - for the number of people who are interested in farming we need more companies doing the processing.”

Besides its wide usage in foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, fertilizers and industrial products, seaweeds also benefit the planet, said Sam Rabung, director of Fish and Game’s commercial fisheries division who has more than 35 years of experience in mariculture.

“We’re dealing with ocean acidification and one of the main things that drives seaweed or kelp growth is extracting carbon from the water. It can have what they call a halo effect with lower acidic levels in areas that have high levels of seaweed growth. That benefits everything,” he said.

The newly forming Alliance has a good foundation, Decker added, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“It’s exciting to be in on the ground floor of something new. It can also be frustrating because there’s no written book, and in some cases we’re learning as we go. But we have our eyes wide open and it’s an exciting time for Alaska mariculture. So, if you care about this and want to have an impact, it’s important to get a seat at the table” she said.

Ultimately, the goal is to grow a $100 million industry by 2038. Decker said some believe that value is conservative due to increasing demand for shellfish and sea plants.

“It’s a matter of putting the pieces in place and everybody rowing in the same direction. That means the state administration, the legislature, the industry and even the public. You must have public support for being able to use public lands on public waters. And so far, we have that for the most part,” Decker said.

Alaska shellfish/seaweed harvesters, processors, nursery or hatchery operators, tribes, community development groups, researchers and cities/boroughs are invited to become full founding AMA members at $75. The dues for associate members, including businesses or nonprofits, is $50.

Applications are due by June 23. Send to jdecker@afdf.org or Alaska Mariculture Task Force, P.O. Box 2223, Wrangell, AK 99929.

Ranking seafood instructs voting - Alaskans opted in 2020 for ranked-choice voting as the way to elect candidates starting next year. Voters will get one ballot and rank several candidates for a given office by their preference; the one getting the majority of votes wins.

State election officials are using Alaska seafood to test out the new voting method in a mock online primary. Voters can select from 18 choices -- so far, Alaska pollock, scallops, king crab and halibut are leading the pack.

“At the close of polls at 5 p.m. on June 15, we will tally the top four, and then we will create a general ranked-choice voting election,” Gail Fenumiai, election division director, told Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin.

As in a real election, if no seafood wins a majority of votes in round one, the last place finisher is eliminated and those votes are given to the remaining three until one seafood favorite gets a majority.

“People will be able to see how that works, what the ballot is going to look like, and familiarize themselves with what to expect when they go to the polls And they’ll be able to see how the various rounds of tabulation work,” Fenumiai said.

Although the seafood mock election is online, voters in next August’s primary will cast ballots in normal ways – in person, or absentee by mail or fax.

“In the primary, you’re still going to get one ballot, there will no longer be multiple ballots to pick from, and you will still be selecting one choice for each race that appears on your ballot,” she explained.

Salmon slump - Salmon catches throughout the North Pacific dropped last year to the lowest levels in nearly four decades.

That’s according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC), which each year tracks salmon abundances and catches as reported by its five member countries - Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia and the U.S. The Commission also coordinates research and enforcement.

Based on 2020 commercial catches, Pacific salmon abundance at 322.5 million fish was the lowest since 1982 and compares to a total take that topped 563 million fish in 2019, and 651 million salmon in 2018.

Russia took 48% of the salmon catch last year, followed by the U.S. at 41% with all but about 5,000 tons of that coming from Alaska. Just 10% of the 2020 salmon catch was taken by Japan followed by Canada at 1% and less by Korea.

Pink salmon comprised 46% of the five nations’ catches by weight, followed by chums at 27% and sockeye salmon at 23%. Cohos comprised 3% of the harvest, with chinook salmon at less than 1%.

The total 2020 North American salmon catch of nearly 556 million pounds was the lowest since 1977. The sockeye catch of just over 236 million pounds compares to a five-year average of 294 million pounds. For chums, a catch of 67.3 million pounds was a drop from nearly 223 million pounds taken in 2017.

The total combined salmon catch for Washington, Oregon, and California of 9.9 million pounds in 2020 was the lowest in the commission’s database.

For salmon that got their start in hatcheries, total releases by the five nations at about 5 billion fish have been stable since 1993.

The U.S. led with 39% of total releases; 31% were from Japan, followed by Russia at 25%, 4% from Canada and less than 1% were released from Korea.

Of the combined hatchery releases 65% were chum salmon and 25% were pinks, followed by chinook and sockeye releases at 4%.

Eat more fish! Americans are eating more seafood, and it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing. The latest data compiled by the National Fisheries Institute from the Fisheries of the United States report shows that Americans ate 19.2 pounds of seafood on average in 2019, an increase of two-tenths of a pound over 2018.

Shrimp remained as the favorite, with Americans eating 4.7 pounds per capita. Salmon held on to the second spot at 3.1 pounds, up more than a half-pound. Canned tuna ranked number 3, with Alaska pollock and tilapia in the top five. Rounding out the top 10 were cod, catfish, crab, pangasius and clams.

The numbers will certainly be much higher when seafood consumption in 2020 is measured, as Americans opted for fish and shellfish in droves during the COVID pandemic due to its proven health benefits.

And where in the world do they eat the most seafood? In the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, people consumed nearly 366 pounds per capita. The landlocked countries of Afghanistan and Tajikistan each showed the least seafood consumption at well below a quarter of a pound.

Letter: Help our pets

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 09:33

Regarding the pet health care problem, as articulated in Dr. Ashley Harmon’s recent commentary, I appreciate her contribution — not only because her last name is my maiden name, but most importantly, because all of us pet owners are given a reason to have been unable to have our pets seen in a reasonable time.

She gave an explanation that helps us understand why it has been common for us to wait many hours for our pet to be seen. What she didn’t give us is a solution to this very real problem. Please help our pets!

— Barbara Karl

Anchorage

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

Letter: The Pledge and the Bible

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 09:30

“A new Bible that includes the U.S. Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance is generating controversy,” read an article in the ADN on June 4. What a wonderful opportunity for public education.

God did not appear in the pledge until 1954. Our “We the People” Constitution was ratified in 1787.  The first 10 amendments, our Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791, when our founding fathers were still around. “No religious test shall ever be required to hold any Office or Public Trust” helps to explain what they thought about religion trying to interfere with government. So, too, does our First Amendment — “no law respecting an establishment of religion” by our government.  Religion is a private matter.

If God exists, he would want people to learn about our Constitution. He would want people to be reasonable, and to be nice to each other. He would honor truth, education and learning, even if it caused his followers to question his existence. In reason we trust. God, country, patriotism — which one of these is not like the others?

— Dave Carter

Anchorage

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

Letter: Supporting book clubs

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 09:20

I am writing to express my support for the Anchorage Public Library’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color, or BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ book clubs.

As an educator and a community member, I am thankful that the library is engaging in this healthy and inclusive programming.

This work makes our community healthier and supports liberty and justice for all.

— Adam Mackie

Anchorage

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

Man drove vehicle into Dimond Center entrance and threatened mall security with machete, police say

Alaska News - Mon, 2021-06-14 09:07

An entrance on the south side of the Dimond Center mall was closed Monday, June 14, 2021, after a man drove his vehicle into the building and threatened mall security with a machete around 2 a.m., Anchorage police said. (Tess Williams / ADN)

A 44-year-old man drove his vehicle into an entrance of the Dimond Center mall early Monday and threatened security officers with a machete, Anchorage police said.

Officers were called to the south entrance of the mall off Old Seward Highway just before 2 a.m., police wrote in an online alert. Officers tried to negotiate with the man, who was later identified as Rogelio Rogel, outside the mall, the statement said.

“Rogel refused to comply with all instructions given to include putting down his weapon,” police said.

Officers deployed a police dog that bit Rogel on the leg, according to the statement. Rogel swung the machete at the dog and caused a laceration to one of his legs. An officer deployed a stun gun and several other officers were able to remove the machete from Rogel’s hand and handcuff him, police said.

Rogel was treated at a hospital for the dog bite, police said. He is facing charges of harming a police dog, five counts of assault, criminal mischief, resisting arrest, driving while license is revoked and felony operating under the influence.

No mall security personnel were injured and the K9 was released back to duty after receiving staples in its leg, police said.

Monday morning, a glass doorway on the south side of the mall was paneled over and caution tape surrounded the entrance.

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