Alaska Dispatch News
FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen instructs his players during NFL football training camp in Nashville, Tenn. (George Walker IV/The Tennessean via AP, Pool, File) (George Walker IV/)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans suspended in-person activities through Friday after the NFL says three Titans players and five personnel tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first COVID-19 outbreak of the NFL season in Week 4.
The outbreak threatened to jeopardize the Titans' game this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers and posed the first significant in-season test to the league’s coronavirus protocols.
The NFL issued a statement Tuesday saying both the Titans and Minnesota Vikings suspended in-person activities Tuesday following the Titans' test results. The Titans beat the Vikings 31-30 in Minneapolis last weekend.
“Both clubs are working closely with the NFL and the NFLPA, including our infectious disease experts, to evaluate close contacts, perform additional testing and monitor developments,” the league said.
A person familiar with situation told The Associated Press the eight test results were all confirmed positives, making this the first outbreak since the season began on Sept 10. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of health privacy regulations.
The Vikings released a statement saying they had not received any positive results from their testing after Sunday’s game against the Titans and followed NFL protocol by closing their facility immediately. They will remain closed at least through Wednesday. They also scheduled a video conference call for Wednesday morning with GM Rick Spielman and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, who is in charge of the team’s COVID-19 protocols.
Minnesota is scheduled to visit Houston (0-3) on Sunday.
The Titans (3-0) are scheduled to host the Steelers (3-0) on Sunday in a matchup of two of the league’s seven remaining undefeated teams. With the Titans unable to practice until Saturday at the earliest, when that game might be played is unknown.
“I just wanna play,” Titans starting left guard Rodger Saffold tweeted.
“All decisions will be made with health and safety as our primary consideration,” the NFL said. “We will continue to share updates as more information becomes available.”
Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to teams Tuesday noting the protocols set up by the league and the NFLPA are being followed. Those who tested positive will be isolated, monitored and offered medical care, and family members also are offered testing. Officials and others who worked the game will be tested.
“This is not unexpected; as Dr. Sills and others have emphasized, there will be players and staff who will test positive during the season,” Goodell wrote in the memo obtained by The Associated Press, referencing the NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills. “We are exploring in more detail the nature of the close contacts to determine where they occurred (locker room, flights, etc.), and identify any additional learnings that can be shared with all clubs.”
Goodell asked NFL teams to look at what they’ve done to limit contact, especially when traveling and within position groups, and to review how they bring in players for tryouts. He noted the test results confirm the need to follow health and safety protocols “to the fullest extent.”
The NFL has been fining coaches and teams for coaches seen not following the league rules requiring face coverings during games.
Pittsburgh spokesman Burt Lauten said the Steelers have been in contact with the NFL about the Titans' positive tests.
“We have been informed to proceed with our game preparations for Sunday’s game until we are informed otherwise,” Lauten said in a statement.
Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward wrote on Twitter that the guys playing the next week now wind up affected.
“This is wild but this is the world we live in now,” Heyward wrote.
The Titans initially announced Tuesday morning that they would be working remotely “out of an abundance of caution” after several test results came back positive. They beat the Vikings in Minneapolis without outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen, who did not travel with the Titans following a test result Saturday.
Coach Mike Vrabel said Monday that Bowen was not with the team. Rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson, their top draft pick out of Georgia, also has been on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the Titans since Sept. 6.
The Titans use devices that detect whenever someone is within 6 feet of another device and records how long they are that close together. That provides a recording of everyone’s interactions from inside the team headquarters to the practice field, an airplane, inside a hotel and at a stadium.
That information should help the Titans and the infectious disease experts know which players and coaches were at risk. With the Titans' facility now closed for four days, that should also help limit further spread of the virus.
The Titans were due to have about 7,000 fans in Nissan Stadium on Sunday as local restrictions eased, expanding to about 8,500 on Oct. 11 for a game against Buffalo and up to 10,000 on Oct. 18 when Houston is scheduled to visit.
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
The flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state in the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Ginsburg died at the age of 87 on Sept. 18 and was the first women to lie in state at the Capitol. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool) (Erin Schaff/)
ARLINGTON, Va. — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was buried Tuesday in a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, laid to rest beside her husband and near some of her former colleagues on the court.
Washington last week honored the 87-year-old Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18, with two days where the public could view her casket at the top of the Supreme Court’s steps and pay their respects. On Friday, the women’s rights trailblazer and second woman to join the high court lay in state at the U.S. Capitol, the first woman to do so.
Already the capital is looking ahead to confirmation hearings expected to begin Oct. 12 for Amy Coney Barrett, whom President Donald Trump announced Saturday as his nominee for Ginsburg’s seat. Barrett was meeting with senators on Tuesday.
Arlington, just over the Potomac River from Washington, is best known as the resting place of approximately 400,000 service members, veterans and family members. But Ginsburg is the 14th justice to be buried at the cemetery.
Ginsburg’s husband Martin Ginsburg was buried at the cemetery in 2010 following his death from cancer. He had served in the Army as an artillery school instructor at Fort Sill in Oklahoma when the couple were newlyweds. The couple was married for 56 years and had two children. The justice had kept the framed, folded flag from her husband’s casket in her office at the court.
While the cemetery is known for its rows of white headstones, the section where the Ginsburgs are buried, called Section 5, is an older section of the cemetery where markers chosen by families are allowed, and their headstone is black, with a Star of David at the top.
The gravesite is just below the final resting place of former President John F. Kennedy. The Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument are in the distance. Nine other justices are buried in that section, including three that Ginsburg served with.
Other justices buried at the cemetery include President William Howard Taft, who served as chief justice after he was president, and Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights champion who argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case and became the court’s first black justice when he joined the bench in 1967. Harry Blackmun, the author of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion, is buried next to Marshall in Section 5.
The last justice to be buried at the cemetery was retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who died in 2019 at the age of 99. In addition to Stevens, the other justices Ginsburg served with who are buried at the cemetery are Blackmun and Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gives a speech on the Supreme Court at The Queen Theater, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)
WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden paid nearly $288,000 in federal income taxes last year, according to returns he released just hours before his Tuesday night debate with President Donald Trump.
The move came following a report from The New York Times that Trump paid just $750 in income taxes in 2016, the year he ran for president, and in 2017, his first year in the White House.
Biden and his wife, Jill, along with Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, released their 2019 federal and state returns as the president contends with the political fallout from a series of Times reports about Trump’s long-hidden tax returns. The Times also reported that Trump paid no income tax at all in 10 of the 15 years prior to 2017.
The Bidens' payment of $287,693 to the federal government in 2019 showed a substantial drop from the $1.5 million they paid in income taxes in 2018, reflecting a decline in Biden’s book revenue, his decision to run for the presidency and his leave of absence from an academic post at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
After paying $91,000 in 2016, Biden’s last year as vice president in the Obama administration, the Bidens paid $3.7 million to the government in 2017, largely because of income from book deals. Their latest return shows that the couple’s adjusted gross earnings of $985,233 came from his vacated Penn position, Jill Biden’s community college teaching job and corporate entities that hold their speaking and writing payments.
Harris and her husband, attorney Douglas Emhoff, paid $1,185,628 in combined federal and state taxes on earnings of $3,018,127.
The Biden campaign has moved aggressively to capitalize on the Times reports about Trump’s tiny tax payments. The campaign released a media ad showing that nurses, firefighters and other working-class Americans pay far more in annual federal taxes than the $750 Trump tax payments described by the Times.
Trump has denied the Times report, dismissing it as “fake news” at a press conference, but he has provided no evidence to refute it.
With the release of their 2019 returns, the Bidens have now made public 22 year of tax documents, dating back to the late 1990s, when he was a U.S. senator representing Delaware. Harris has released 15 years of tax returns dating to her stint as San Francisco district attorney.
Kate Bedingfield, a Biden deputy campaign manager, said the release of the documents shows “a historic level of transparency meant to give the American people faith, once again, that their leaders will look out for them and not their own bottom line.”
It was a not-too-subtle dig at Trump’s refusal — since his 2016 presidential campaign — to make public his personal income taxes. Trump has long insisted that he is unable to provide his tax returns because they are under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, despite no legal conditions preventing him from making them available.
The Times reported that Trump has, in fact, been under audit from the IRS for his request for a $72 million refund in 2010 by claiming a questionable $1.4 billion worth of losses in 2008 and 2009.
Mixing of the planet’s ocean waters is decreasing, and that is speeding up global warming, study finds
An iceberg floats past Bylot Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) (David Goldman/)
The layers of the world’s oceans aren’t mixing like they used to due to climate change, potentially speeding up how fast the planet will warm in the coming decades. This new finding, contained in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, finds that the reduction in the mixing of ocean layers is piling up warm water near the surface while cutting back on the circulation of cold, deep water.
The reduced up and down mixing is expected to have sweeping implications beyond just accelerating global warming. It is projected to increase energy available to hurricanes and other storms, reduce essential nutrients for fish in upper ocean layers and diminish the oceans' ability to store carbon, among other impacts.
The study assesses how the separation of seawater layers, known as stratification, has changed based on new temperature, salinity and density data. It finds substantial shifts have occurred as the ocean has absorbed more heat in the upper 6,500 feet of water.
The study, from researchers in China as well as the United States, found stratification has increased by about 5.3% during the 1960 to 2018 period, for a rate of 0.9% per decade.
The way the ocean layers are separated is similar to a basic vinaigrette salad dressing, where lighter oil sits at the top, and more dense vinegar sits near the bottom. Once shaken, however, the layers mix, forming the familiar dressing. What’s happening in the oceans now is that there’s less shaking going on.
The ocean trends are especially significant since computer models used to simulate how human-caused climate change is likely to play out don’t include such a rapid uptick in ocean stratification, which could be causing them to downplay future warming rates.
The majority of the stratification trends, the study finds, are due to the rapidly warming topmost 700 feet of water, which is growing fresher and lighter over time. Ocean heat content in the upper ocean has reached record levels, as the oceans continue to absorb the vast majority of added heat from global warming.
The results also suggest a reduced ability of the oceans to act as a massive carbon savings account, otherwise known as a carbon sink. The ocean absorbs huge amounts of carbon dioxide annually, and it is circulated through mixing into the deep ocean, to remain there for decades or longer.
A more divided ocean, with less exchange between layers, means there may be less carbon absorption over longer time periods. This could lead to more carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere that will lead to greater and faster global warming.
The results are also important for understanding changes in the ability of ocean layers to support marine life, since the overturning of water helps bring nutrients up from the deep, and some parts of the globe have already been seeing decreases in the amount of oxygen available in the upper layers of ocean waters.
The study also spells trouble for some of the most important ocean currents in the world, which are powered by the exchange of lighter surface waters and deeper, colder and saltier ocean layers.
One such current is the global ocean conveyor belt, formally known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, of which the Gulf Stream is a part. This circulation sends warm, salty waters northward within the upper layers of the Atlantic, where the water becomes saltier and more dense, and sinks as it flows southward into the Southern Hemisphere.
The Gulf Stream helps moderate the climate of Europe and plays a major role in powering storms along the U.S. East Coast.
This current helps distribute heat around the world and regulate the burying of carbon within the oceans. Studies show that as the Greenland ice sheet melts and dumps lighter freshwater into the North Atlantic, this current is slowing down.
Hurricane season implications
The results indicate that there may be more energy available to power future hurricanes and other storms that draw their strength in part from warm ocean waters.
“So many key impacts (ocean biological productivity, carbon absorption and burial, surface warming and effects on e.g. hurricane intensities) are impacted by ocean stratification and changes therein,” said study co-author Michael Mann, who directs the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Pennsylvania State University, in an email.
Mann said the results show that warm waters are getting bottled closer to surface waters, which may be resulting in more frequent hurricanes and more intense and water-laden storms.
“I do think that this may be playing a role in the trend toward greater hurricane activity in regions of the ocean like the tropical North Atlantic that are warming rapidly. The anomalous warmth in the tropical Atlantic this year was the main ingredient in our preseason prediction of a hyperactive season,” Mann said.
Paul Durack, a research scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California who has published studies on climate change’s effects on ocean currents, said the study “fills a void” in the scientific literature by quantifying the rate of change. But, he said, the new estimates may still be too low.
“I would not be surprised if this study underestimates the observed change,” he said via email. Durack was not involved in the new study.
Mueller pushes back on insider book faulting special counsel for not doing more to hold Trump accountable
Special counsel Robert Mueller testifies in July 2019 before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) (Alex Brandon/)
WASHINGTON - Former special counsel Robert Mueller pushed back Tuesday against a prosecutor in his office who says in a tell-all book that investigators should have done more to hold President Donald Trump accountable, suggesting that the account is “based on incomplete information” and asserting that he stands by his decisions in the case.
The rare public statement from Mueller came on the day Andrew Weissmann, a former prosecutor in the special counsel’s office, released a book alleging that the group did not fully investigate Trump’s financial ties and should have stated explicitly that it believed he obstructed justice.
Although Mueller’s statement did not name Weissmann or the book, “Where Law Ends,” it seemed clearly designed to address some of his complaints - particularly those directed at Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s top deputy, whom Weissmann said was not sufficiently aggressive.
“It is not surprising that members of the Special Counsel’s Office did not always agree, but it is disappointing to hear criticism of our team based on incomplete information,” Mueller said.
Mueller said the team operated “knowing that our work would be scrutinized from all sides” and he sought to make clear that he was the office’s ultimate decider.
“When important decisions had to be made, I made them,” he said. “I did so as I have always done, without any interest in currying favor or fear of the consequences. I stand by those decisions and by the conclusions of our investigation.”
Through a representative, Weissmann declined to comment.
Mueller’s statement offered another indication of tension among those who investigated whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, and whether Trump sought to obstruct that inquiry. Last week, the Justice Department also made public an interview with an FBI agent assigned to Mueller’s team who criticized what he called a “get Trump” attitude among some prosecutors.
Weissmann’s book acknowledged what he considered the team’s failures, asserting that investigators' efforts were limited by the ever-present threat of Trump disbanding the office and by their own reluctance to take aggressive steps. He took particular aim at Zebley for stopping a broader look at Trump’s finances, comparing him unkindly to “timorous” Civil War Gen. George B. McClellan, whom President Abraham Lincoln famously relieved of his command in part over concerns that he was not aggressive enough.
“It was agonizing to be told, again and again by Aaron, not to follow any of these leads, and always according to the same defective rationale: that we couldn’t afford to be fired over it,” Weissmann wrote.
In the statement, Mueller said Zebley “was privy to the full scope of the investigation and all that was at issue” and broadly praised his work.
“I selected him for that role because I knew from our ten years working together that he is meticulous and principled,” Mueller said. “He was an invaluable and trusted counselor to me from start to finish.”
In previous interviews with The Washington Post, Weissmann conceded that it was Mueller, rather than Zebley, who was in charge of the office, and he made some of the most critical decisions with which Weissmann disagreed, including not saying explicitly that Trump obstructed justice.
The special counsel’s final report outlined significant evidence of possible obstruction but did not draw a conclusion about whether Trump had obstructed justice - citing previous Justice Department opinion that a sitting president cannot be federally indicted, combined with concerns about the fairness of leveling an allegation against someone who would not be able to answer a charge in court.
“Director Mueller’s decision was to not make that conclusion, and by the way, I would have done it,” Weissmann said. “I told him why I would have done that.”
Ultimately, Attorney General William Barr and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reviewed the case and decided the evidence was not sufficient to make an obstruction case.
Mueller was famously silent throughout the special counsel investigation, although he held a brief news conference when he formally closed his office, testified before Congress about the work and wrote a Washington Post column in July defending the prosecution of Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone, a case the special counsel’s office had initiated.
Michael Flynn at Trump Tower in New York in January 2017. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)
WASHINGTON - Michael Flynn’s lawyer asked President Donald Trump not to pardon his former national security adviser and personally briefed the president on Flynn’s case in recent weeks, his attorney told a judge during a Tuesday hearing reviewing the Justice Department’s bid to dismiss the prosecution.
Sidney Powell, a lawyer for Flynn, told the judge she had talked with Trump and a legal adviser for his campaign and “asked him not to issue a pardon and gave him the general update.”
Powell said that was the only time she had talked with Trump about Flynn’s case. She told the judge she had not asked the president to have Attorney General William Barr intervene and assign new attorneys to the matter.
The exchange between Powell and U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan was one of the most notable during a hearing for the court to assess whether to grant a request from the Justice Department and Flynn’s attorney to dismiss the former three-star general’s prosecution. Flynn was the highest-ranking Trump adviser charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Throughout the hearing, Sullivan emphasized that his role is not to serve as a “rubber stamp” in reviewing Barr’s request to close the case after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts before Trump took office in 2017.
The Justice Department pushed back forcefully Tuesday against assertions that it had abandoned the case against Flynn for political reasons. Kenneth Kohl, a veteran career prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, told Sullivan that the “allegations against our office that we somehow acted with a corrupt political motive are just not true. It didn’t happen here.”
The decision to dismiss the case, he said, “was the right call for the right reasons.”
The climactic confrontation could help define the limits of executive- and judicial-branch powers and comes weeks before an election in which Flynn’s contentious prosecution has electrified Trump’s supporters and opponents.
The hearing follows an 8-2 decision from the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in August that denied Flynn’s request, backed by the Justice Department, to shut down Sullivan’s planned review. The court’s order also directed Sullivan to act “with appropriate dispatch.”
Flynn, 61, has been awaiting sentencing since pleading guilty in December 2017 to lying about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador after Moscow intervened to support Trump in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump and his allies have made Flynn’s cause a focus of efforts to discredit the criminal inquiry into whether individuals associated with Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russia’s illegal assistance. The efforts include government disclosures that have drawn fresh scrutiny to the judgment of FBI agents and Mueller prosecutors but have not undercut findings that the FBI had a legal basis to open the wider investigation and acted without political bias.
The Justice Department in May moved to drop Flynn’s guilty plea to lying about his pre-inauguration contacts with then-Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Flynn asked that Moscow not respond to U.S. sanctions until Trump took office. The department based the reversal on Barr’s conclusion from a review he ordered that Flynn’s interview by the FBI “was unjustified by the counterintelligence investigation into [him]” and so his lies were immaterial to any crime.
A battle is looming over a judge’s power and an attorney general’s motives in the case of Trump’s former national security adviser
Law enforcement officials and Democratic critics condemned the turnabout, accusing Barr of undermining the department and protecting the president, citing the drive to exonerate Flynn and soften the sentencing of Trump friend Roger Stone for lying to investigators in a House Russia probe. They also point to efforts to facilitate the early prison release of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, convicted of crimes stemming from his lobbying for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine.
Tuesday’s hearing turns on a federal rule that requires U.S. prosecutors to obtain “leave of court” - or permission from a judge - before dismissing a prosecution. Sullivan, the longest-serving active federal judge on the district court in Washington and a judicial nominee of presidents of both parties, appointed former New York federal judge John Gleeson to argue against the government to preserve an adversarial proceeding.
Sullivan cited Gleeson’s argument Tuesday that the rule gives judges a limited but vital role and was passed specifically to guard against “politically corrupt dismissals.” Sullivan stressed his authority to decide the matter, reading twice from an earlier court opinion that a judge not “serve merely as a rubber stamp” on a prosecutors' decision to dismiss a case.
Sullivan also sounded skeptical of the Justice Department’s assertion that Flynn’s lies were irrelevant because they were not connected to another crime. The judge said it is never a defense to lying to say that “the government was not actually deceived,” or to argue that prosecutors cannot investigate a subject who lies.
Justice Department lawyer Hashim Mooppan told Sullivan that the government was “not suggesting that this court is a rubber stamp, or that the court has no role to play whatsoever.” But he said the court should not “second guess the executive branch’s authoritative position.”
The hearing was held remotely Tuesday via video and telephone conference because of the coronavirus pandemic. The proceedings were interrupted for a stretch because of technical problems.
A swift ruling is expected. Flynn’s attorneys claim the judge has engaged in a “flagrant personal and partisan assault” against him. The Justice Department asserts the executive branch has sole power to dismiss cases. Gleeson argues the Supreme Court intended for the judicial branch to weigh whether dismissal is in the public’s interest before approving corrupt or politically motivated requests.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying in an FBI interview on Jan. 24, 2017, to conceal conversations with Kislyak. Flynn repeated the lie to White House staffers and Vice President Mike Pence, leading to the firing of Trump’s first national security adviser three weeks later.
Flynn cooperated with the Mueller probe, and leniency was initially recommended at sentencing. But he switched course after Mueller’s investigation, accusing prosecutors and his former defense attorneys of concealing FBI misconduct and coercing him into pleading guilty.
The department rejected those claims through the past year, and Sullivan ruled Flynn was relying on bogus theories to deny Mueller’s central finding of Russian interference and to wriggle out of his repeated sworn admissions of misconduct.
“The sworn statements of Mr. Flynn and his former counsel belie his new claims of innocence and his new assertions that he was pressured into pleading guilty to making materially false statements to the FBI,” Sullivan wrote in December.
But at Barr’s direction, the Justice Department launched a review of the case in January. In moving to dismiss Flynn’s conviction on May 7, it cited “frail and shifting justifications for its ongoing probe,” the FBI’s irregular moves to question him and earlier abuses in surveillance applications.
The department cited recently uncovered FBI records including communications showing the bureau had decided to close a counterintelligence investigation of Flynn - dubbed Operation Razor - before learning of his December 2016 calls with Kislyak. The Justice Department also said that the FBI knew from transcripts that the calls probably did not give rise to a crime by themselves and that FBI officials differed over how to handle or interpret his actions.
In response, more than 1,100 former prosecutors said in a friend-of-the-court brief that the Justice Department distorted facts and appeared to have been bent to serve the president’s will.
Gleeson urged Sullivan to deny the dismissal motion, calling it “a gross abuse of prosecutorial power.”
“The Government has engaged in highly irregular conduct to benefit a political ally of the President,” Gleeson summarized, saying, “There is clear evidence . . . [that it] reflects a corrupt and politically motivated favor unworthy of our justice system.”
Gleeson argued the FBI had ample, legitimate grounds to investigate Flynn’s lies, which went to the heart of the investigation of whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia’s intervention in the election, whether Flynn was seeking to reward Russia at Trump’s direction or that of others, and whether his lies exposed Flynn to Russian blackmail.
Flynn faces a sentence of zero to six months under his initial plea deal. Flynn’s initial defense team postponed a December 2018 sentencing hearing after Sullivan balked at a recommendation of probation. At one point, Sullivan summarized Flynn’s lies to the FBI and to the White House and about his lobbying work for Turkey by saying, “Arguably, you sold your country out.”
Flynn hired new attorneys in June 2019, led by former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell, who called Sullivan’s actions in the case unconstitutional. She argued that the “Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case.”
The Justice Department agreed. Acting solicitor general Jeffrey Wall called Sullivan’s inquiry impermissible, arguing to the D.C. Circuit that it “would usurp the core executive power to decide whether to continue a prosecution.”
Former Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier. (Loren Holmes / ADN archive 2017) (Loren Holmes/)
Alaska’s House minority leader and the group opposing Ballot Measure 2 are returning or donating campaign contributions from Tom Collier, the ousted CEO of the group that plans to build Pebble mine. They and other state lawmakers said they will not return donations from other Pebble employees.
Last week, an environmental group released recordings of Collier and other mining executives discussing their influence over Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska politicians. Pebble mine would be located in the headwaters of several rivers that flow into Bristol Bay, and the mine has been intensely controversial since it was proposed.
Collier donated $2,500 to Defend Alaska Elections, a group opposed to Ballot Measure 2, an election-reform proposal that would install ranked-choice voting and an open primary, and require additional disclosure for some campaign contributions.
“The decision to return Mr. Collier’s donation was an easy one,” said Defend Alaska Elections Chairman John Sturgeon in a written statement. “While we are pleased to have the support of Alaskans from every political stripe, we won’t tolerate unethical behavior from our donors.”
The group has not announced plans to refund $800 in contributions from other Pebble employees that are listed in state campaign finance documents.
House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, received a $500 donation from Collier and said he is sending it to an undisclosed charity.
“What he was saying was implying things I am not OK with … that this idea that he ‘owned’ different people,” Pruitt said, referencing comments made in last week’s recordings.
Other Pebble employees donated another $700 to Pruitt’s campaign, and he said he will keep that money.
“I have no indication that they were giving money with any strings attached, so therefore, I’m not going to put them in the same boat. But what Tom said was a whole different ballgame,” he said.
Seven other sitting state lawmakers have taken donations from Pebble employees: Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage ($1,750); Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage ($1,500); Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage ($700); Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River ($700); Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage ($100); Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River ($100) and Rep. Mel Gillis, R-Anchorage, ($100).
None of those donations were from Collier.
Asked about her intentions, Rasmussen said, “My position on issues is guided by my conversations with my constituents — not the employers of campaign contributors.”
Merrick said campaign contributions “in no way determine the decisions I make as a legislator.”
Shaw said the two donations he received came from a longtime friend and a fellow veteran and that he has no plans at the moment on how he will spend the money. (He is unopposed in the Nov. 3 general election.)
In the tapes, Collier claimed to be one of the “organizers of a business group” that raised money to defeat Republican incumbents that he said were insufficiently supportive of Pebble mine and of Dunleavy.
Giessel and Jackson both supported the mine and received donations from Pebble but were among the lawmakers that Collier claimed to have defeated.
After the tapes became public, Giessel said she received a call from Collier, who told her that no such group existed.
Among federal candidates, Collier donated $4,400 to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s re-election campaign, part of a combined $7,850 donated by all Pebble employees, according to federal campaign finance reports. Sullivan’s opponent, Democratic-nominated independent Al Gross, has called for Sullivan to return the money.
Sullivan’s campaign did not respond on the record Monday afternoon.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s re-election campaign received $1,500 from Collier in March.
U.S. Rep. Don Young received $1,000 from Pebble employees, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia received $2,250 from a Pebble employee in that state. U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma, received $250 from a Pebble employee.
Josiah Patkotak (foreground) is seen with his younger brother, Samuel, on Sept. 5, 2020 while bowhead whale hunting off the coast of Utqiagvik. Josiah, an independent candidate for House District 40, has been quarantined in Anchorage after a positive COVID-19 test. (Josiah Patkotak photo)
Josiah Patkotak, the independent candidate for the Alaska House district that covers the North Slope and Northwest Arctic Borough, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is quarantining in Anchorage, he said.
No other Alaska candidates have publicly announced a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“It’s been really rough on me. I’ve been feeling very tired most of all and have had many of the symptoms you read about associated with COVID. My wife also has not been feeling well,” he said by email Friday.
Patkotak, who lives in Utqiagvik and is a member of the North Slope Borough Assembly, drove from Prudhoe Bay to Anchorage with his family, arriving Sept. 16, he said. They stopped overnight in Fairbanks “but had very little contact with people other than checking in at the hotel,” he said.
He started feeling symptoms the day after he arrived in Anchorage.
“At that point, I decided to go get a rapid test and it came back positive. I’ve been quarantined in my hotel room with my wife and kids ever since,” he said.
Incumbent state Rep. John Lincoln, I-Kotzebue, is not running for re-election. Patkotak is running against Democratic candidate Elizabeth Ferguson of Kotzebue. He says his campaign is “still in full swing."
Patkotak attended one fundraiser by Zoom on Sept. 22.
“My contact with people prior to getting sick was mostly through telephone and social media platforms, so I am able to keep that up. Of course even that has been hard sometimes when I just don’t have much energy. But I’m not a quitter. I was born into a whaling family and I’m co-captain of a whaling crew. We don’t give up,” he said.
A plane on floats lands on Mirror Lake in Chugiak on September 25, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Fall colors continue to dazzle in Southcentral Alaska. There hasn’t been a major wind event that would strip the trees of their finery.
Trees lose their leaves in a section of parking lot landscaping outside the Anchorage School District Education Center on Sept. 26, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
Fall colors decorate trees on the edge of Chugach State Park on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
A bull moose walks along a fence in Kincaid Park on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Fall colors light up the Eagle River valley Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Anne Raup / ADN)
Rosie Frankowski runs along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail near Earthquake Park on Monday, September 28, 2020. Frankowski, from Minneapolis, is a member of the Alaska Pacific University’s elite cross country ski team and a member of the 2018 U.S. Olympic team in Pyeongchang. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Golden leaves rest on the ground along E. 26th Avenue in Anchorage on Sept. 24, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
McHugh Creek tumbles through Chugach State Park as fall colors show in the forest on Wednesday, September 23, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Bartlett, left, and East High cheerleaders perform during halftime during a football game on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020 at East High. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
A rainbow trout leaps into the air as Gary Llaneza caught and released several rainbows and an arctic char while fly fishing at Little Campbell Lake on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Leaves turn bright red and poke through a wooden fence in Anchorage on Sept. 25, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
Fall colors reflect on Mirror Lake in Chugiak as kayakers paddle across on September 25, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
A school bus travels on South Bodenburg Loop near the Butte while dropping off students after school on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (Bill Roth/ADN)
A man shakes the branch of a tree and watches as golden leaves flutter to the ground near Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage on Sept. 25, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
Googly eyes are affixed to a tree at the Alaska Botanical Garden on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. The garden has decorated the paths with halloween-themed displays that will be up through October 24. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
A healthcare worker performs an antigen test at a COVID-19 testing site outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee/)
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump heralded new rapid coronavirus tests on Monday as game changers - fast, cheap and easy to use. But his administration’s deployment of the new tests to nursing homes has been plagued by poor communication, false results and a frustrating lack of planning, state leaders say.
Health officials in several states say they have been allowed no say in where the new tests are being sent and sometimes don’t know which nursing homes will receive them until the night before a shipment arrives. That has left some facilities ill-trained in how to use the tests and what to do with results. And it may be contributing to false-positive test results - when people are identified as being infected but aren’t.
The lack of federal planning also has left states with no standardized way to capture results from the new tests and include them in daily counts of infections and tests. Consequently, as the rapid tests become more widely distributed, the data and dashboards being used each day to guide the nation’s coronavirus response are becoming more inaccurate.
“This is data we need, and there’s just no way of capturing it,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. “We need a reporting structure and not just hundreds of faxes being randomly sent from nursing homes and other facilities.”
Many states are trying to create their own way to capture and classify the new data. Epidemiologists say that piecemeal approach could result in differing data sets, making it harder to pinpoint where infections are growing most this winter when infections are expected to spike.
Fueling such problems, public health officials say, is the White House’s continued refusal to take responsibility for leading the country through the pandemic and to lay out an overarching strategy on testing, instead of repeatedly pushing that onus onto the states.
“It’s the utter lack of planning and guidance that’s creating problems,” said one state official, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear that federal officials might retaliate by giving the state less aid. "Their approach is to just throw things over the fence to the states and to say, ‘Take this and deal with the problem.’ "
In interviews, Trump administration officials dismissed the complaints as baseless. Instead, on Monday, Trump held a briefing in the Rose Garden to boast about his administration’s deployment of the new tests.
President Donald Trump speaks about coronavirus testing strategy, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)
“My administration has built the most advanced testing system in the world. There has never been anything like this,” Trump said. “Nobody could have done this.”
At a news briefing Friday, Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir dismissed complaints about false-positive responses as routine. “We know with every test that there are false positives,” said Giroir, whom Trump appointed the testing czar in the spring.
Similarly, Giroir dismissed the lack of a standardized reporting system as a result of the administration moving swiftly to implement testing.
“If we wanted to get everything perfect, we would have waited months to do that. The important thing was to get these out to nursing homes now,” he said. “We’d rather save lives.”
On Monday, after receiving repeated complaints from state officials, the Trump administration said governors will be given more discretion to decide where future test shipments go.
In recent days, as coronavirus cases have begun inching up again, Trump has repeatedly hailed the new rapid tests, called antigen tests. Although antigen tests for other diseases have existed for years, such tests for the novel coronavirus have been available only since May. And the latest - now being deployed by the White House - was approved at the end of August.
“We’re sending hundreds of thousands of additional rapid tests to nursing homes,” he said at a news briefing last week. “The staff now is being tested on a very, very powerful and on a regular basis, but very strongly at the finest level, the highest level, and the best tests.”
His administration has sent more than 3.3 million of the newest antigen test - Abbott’s BinaxNOW - to nursing homes, disaster relief groups, historically black colleges and others, and has signed a $760 million agreement to acquire a total of 150 million of those tests.
Experts emphasize that despite problems with planning and distribution, the emergence in recent months of new antigen tests could significantly boost efforts to control the virus in the coming year.
The older coronavirus test - infamous for the sometimes painful deep nasal swabbing required - is still the most widely used, but it is much more expensive and time-consuming. That polymerase chain reaction test - widely known as a PCR test - must be sent to a laboratory to detect the virus’s genetic material.
It remains the gold standard because it can diagnose infections with even a small bit of genetic material. But shortages of chemicals used in PCR tests and backlogged labs led in the past to long wait times and delayed results.
Antigen tests are simpler, cheaper and often require no lab work. The latest version, the Abbott BinaxNOW, is a small card that costs $5 and can yield results in 15 minutes. Using a shallow nasal swab, the test yields results that can be read from the card like a pregnancy test - a color-coded line indicates testing positive.
The trade-off is that the new antigen tests are less sensitive and need more virus to be present in the body to generate a positive result.
Coronavirus antigen tests such as Abbott’s BinaxNOW are faster but less sensitive than PCR tests. (U.S. Abbott Labs)
Health officials knew the antigen tests could be less reliable. But in recent months, they have encountered more false positives than expected.
In Manchester, Vt., antigen tests manufactured by the company Quidel identified 65 patients at an urgent-care center as infected. But after health officials retested them using the more rigorous PCR tests, they found only four cases. The company has said it stood by the results and “found no testing site or product-related issues.”
“It’s not clear if it was problem with the machine, sampling or human error,” Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said. Although several nursing homes in Vermont recently received the federal government’s shipments of antigen tests, Levine said state officials are holding them in reserve until they decide how best to use them.
In Maine, antigen tests used at a children’s camp produced about two dozen false positives, making it appear as though a massive outbreak was occurring. But when health officials retested the children with the PCR test, they found no infections. Some children had to be tested three times to be sure.
“I don’t want to overstate the problem because it’s not like we should throw out antigen tests,” said Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “What we need is more testing, not less.”
Shah and other state officials have pushed for the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies to investigate and determine why the false positives are happening.
They said they fear it could undermine public confidence in the tests and waste already-strained resources as health officials are forced to retest people with PCR tests and deploy contact tracers to fight phantom outbreaks.
State officials also have asked for clearer guidance from the federal government on the use of antigen tests.
Because of the tests' diminished sensitivity, the FDA has approved them to be used only to confirm the coronavirus in people showing symptoms. But the Trump administration is deploying the tests more widely to screen asymptomatic people in nursing homes, on Indian reservations, at historically black colleges and in public schools - and told health officials to disregard the FDA policy.
Adding to the confusion, state officials say shipments have arrived with little guidance for those facilities about the circumstances in which the antigen tests can be used most effectively.
“There’s been little national guidance to say, ‘These are the best places to use them, this is what you do under various circumstances if you get positives and this is how to report the data,’” said Michael Fraser, chief executive of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents state health departments. “We are still waiting to reach consensus on when and where health departments should use these tests.”
In a phone interview, a senior Trump administration official disputed that characterization. “I have no idea where these people have been hiding,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The official said the administration has held weekly conference calls with state leaders and said health officials should raise concerns then.
Several state health officials said they have repeatedly highlighted problems in those meetings.
Medical staff holds swabs for rapid COVID-19 antigen tests at a high school in Rome. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP) (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse/)
Under new rules issued by the Trump administration, nursing homes are required to screen at least once a month and as often as twice a week, or face citations or fines.
The problem is that nursing homes have little experience conducting such diagnostic tests and have no systems to report results to states offices. In recent weeks, some have neglected to send data, state officials say. Others are writing the information by hand and faxing or emailing it case by case, making the data painstakingly difficult to process.
That problem is likely to grow as the new rapid tests become more widely used in schools, doctor’s offices, workplaces and private businesses. Some states don’t report positive antigen test results, resulting in an incomplete portrait of the disease’s spread. Others have begun to categorize them as “probable” rather than confirmed infections.
Companies are developing antigen tests people can take at home. If they become widely available, Americans could administer the test themselves weekly or even daily, experts say. That could be a powerful weapon to stop transmission. But it would be a nightmare for recording data if a nationally standardized system is not established.
Without that data, the country would be flying blind as it navigates later stages of the pandemic, experts say.
“The government should be putting some of the onus on manufacturers to report where they are selling the point-of-care tests,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. Because manufacturers are distributing the tests, they are best positioned to build data reporting into their tests. “It should be part of the licensing process to require that data be reported to public health in some automated way.”
Trump administration officials said one of the antigen tests they are distributing - the Abbott BinaxNOW - comes with a smartphone app that could help with data reporting. But the app isn’t an automated part of the test or required. It is not set up to send the data to health authorities and does not include the level of detail needed to be included in case counts, epidemiologists say.
State officials also note that the Trump administration has promised to provide only an initial round of rapid tests to nursing homes, some schools and vulnerable facilities. Some facilities say that without federal coordination, they could be left competing and bidding against one another - similar to the price gouging and competition involving N95 masks and personal protective equipment.
“I want to make clear we appreciate the federal government for sending what they have,” said Levine, the Pennsylvania health secretary. “But we have 693 nursing homes in Pennsylvania alone, and they’ve been sent enough tests to do only a few runs. It won’t last long. Where is the money going to come from to resupply them?”
This summer, as controversial new procedures at the U.S. Postal Service snarled the nation’s mail delivery and stirred fears of how the agency would handle the election, rank-and-file workers quietly began to resist.
Mechanics in New York drew out the dismantling and removal of mail-sorting machines until their supervisor gave up on the order. In Michigan, a group of letter carriers did an end run around a supervisor’s directive to leave election mail behind, starting their routes late to sift through it. In Ohio, postal clerks culled prescriptions and benefit checks from bins of stalled mail to make sure they were delivered, while some carriers ran late items out on their own time. In Pennsylvania, some postal workers looked for any excuse - a missed turn, heavy traffic, a rowdy dog - to buy enough time to finish their daily rounds.
“I can’t see any postal worker not bending those rules,” one Philadelphia staffer said in an interview.
With the Postal Service expected to play a historic role in this year’s election, some of the agency’s 630,000 workers say they feel a responsibility to counteract cost-cutting changes from their new boss, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, that they blame for the mail slowdowns. They question whether DeJoy - a top Republican fundraiser and booster of President Donald Trump - is politicizing the institution in service to a president who has actively tried to sow distrust of mail-in voting, insisting without evidence that it will lead to massive fraud.
DeJoy insists the operational shifts were not politically motivated, emphasizing that he inherited an agency on the verge of financial collapse. At the time of his arrival in June, the Postal Service also was trying to fend off a takeover by Trump’s Treasury Department, according to internal Postal Service documents. Its workforce was getting flattened by the pandemic as a result of surging absences and package volumes, and its biggest customer, Amazon, was threatening to pull its multibillion-dollar business.
A postal worker is photographed in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sept. 11, 2020. (Photo for The Washington Post by Calla Kessler)
With a mandate to stabilize the Postal Service’s balance sheet, especially its $160.9 billion deficit, DeJoy imposed stricter dispatch schedules on transport trucks that prohibited late and extra trips, forcing workers to leave mail behind. Managers cracked down on overtime, though DeJoy contends they did so of their own accord. He also declined to reinstall hundreds of mail-sorting machines and blue collection boxes removed under his watch despite public backlash. And, DeJoy told lawmakers last month, “dramatic” changes are in store after the November election, including cuts in service and price increases for Americans in rural areas.
DeJoy’s approach marks a fundamental shift, experts say, modeling the agency as more business enterprise than government service. But it also has profound implications for employees in the form of heavier workloads and lost overtime.
In interviews, 15 Postal Service workers and local union leaders in eight states described a deep decline in morale since DeJoy made clear his intent to retool the Postal Service - with little input from the heavily unionized workforce - that have fixed intense public and congressional scrutiny on the agency. They also say they are prepared to defy directives that would limit how they do their jobs.
Most of the workers interviewed for this report spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were acting against agency guidance. Last month, an internal Postal Service memo warned employees not to speak to journalists and to be wary of customers who ask “a series of questions.”
The Postal Service’s dire financial situation, coupled with mounting political pressure, has begun to overwhelm its workforce.
“People are burned out,” one New Jersey letter carrier said. "I haven’t been this burned out in a long time, and I’ve been doing this a long time. We’ve never had a summer like this. I tell my customers, ‘Call your congressman, because I’m being told not to deliver your mail.’ "
A postal worker delivers packages in Brooklyn on Sept. 10, 2020. (Photo for The Washington Post by Calla Kessler)
‘Every piece, every day’
New postal workers are introduced to the agency’s unofficial motto within their first days on the job: “Every piece, every day.” It’s referenced so frequently that “EPED” is shorthand to work faster, or longer, when mail piles up. Any conscious effort to delay mail is, under federal law, punishable by fine and as much as five years of imprisonment.
Many postal workers see the changes that have slowed mail as violating the spirit, if not the letter, of that law.
They view themselves as couriers of prescription medications, paychecks, bills and more, and also as neighbors to the people on their routes, checking in on elderly residents and delivering life’s necessities. The coronavirus pandemic has only magnified that sense of responsibility, they say.
“You look at the news and you get worried,” said one Philadelphia postal worker. “Are we going to be the end-all, be-all of election integrity and covid response for this country? Having your own personal problems, too, it all adds up. I think it’s really starting to get to people, both newer and seasoned veterans of the job.”
Since his June 15 start, DeJoy has focused on shoring up the Postal Service’s finances. Despite surging package volumes during the pandemic, the agency has been losing ground on first-class and marketing mail - its most profitable products - for years.
“The thing is, right now the size of their hole is so big and continuing to grow, there is no one silver bullet to fix this,” said Kenneth John, president of the Postal Policy Associates consultancy and a former senior analyst at the Government Accountability Office. “They’ve done a lot of the low-hanging fruit already, so you’re left with a set of really difficult choices. You’re left with really big changes.”
What’s more, he added, DeJoy’s efforts can close only a relatively small portion of the agency’s deficit. “You’re either left with these difficult choices and big changes, or ultimately, Congress is going to need to pay for it.”
Much of the Postal Service’s financial difficulty is structural: Congress reorganized the agency in 1970 and essentially ordered it to operate as both a public service and business. As such, it is supposed to be self-sustaining without benefit of taxpayer funding. But the passage of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act mandated that it prepay employees' retirement and health-care benefits, an obligation held by few other government agencies, let alone private companies. Today, retiree costs account for nearly three-fourths, or $119.3 billion, of its deficit.
Because the Postal Service lacks revenue streams divorced from mail volumes, nearly any cost-cutting maneuver would almost certainly hurt service, an issue that draws heaps of congressional attention even as lawmakers have put off substantial postal reform. But some of DeJoy’s changes go right to the heart of the agency’s operations. Some flexibility in delivery schedules, such as allowing late or extra delivery trips, ensures that mail arrives on time, experts say, and prevents backlogs.
Postal leaders have long relied on overtime to keep the mail moving, as it is more cost efficient than expanding payroll. That supplemental income is a boon for many workers - comprising nearly 10 percent of all work hours within any given pay period - but an albatross for agency finances. Yet government watchdog groups, including the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General, have identified overtime as a potential source of cost savings.
“If it means you’re going to hire more workers, there are going to be more families that have a family-sustaining union job, that’s fine with us,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which represents more than 200,000 current and retired postal employees. “If it means you’re going to cut out overtime and, therefore, the people are not going to get the service that they need and deserve, then it’s horrible.”
The cost-cutting efforts have led to multiday delays in communities all over the country. As of the final week of August - five weeks after DeJoy’s changes took effect - on-time delivery rates for first-class mail had declined from more than 90 percent to roughly 85 percent, according to Postal Service data provided to Congress. For periodicals, they went from 80 percent to 75 percent.
John Barger, a Republican member of the Postal Service’s governing board, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this month that DeJoy’s changes were starting to “bear fruit” and that the board was pleased with his performance. “The board is tickled pink,” he said.
“Thanks to the great work and dedication of our employees, our service performance continues to improve,” a Postal Service spokesman said in an emailed statement to The Post.
But some workers vividly recalled scenes of mail and packages piling up, days at a time, this summer during the worst stretches of the transition. Postal workers in Michigan and Iowa described seeing entire pallets of boxes go unsorted and sit outdoors in the rain or summer heat. Sometimes the smell of rotting food attracted swarms of flies, they said.
At the Royal Palm Processing and Distribution Center in Opa-locka, Fla., massive stacks of marketing mail sat untouched for 43 days, according to local union officials.
“You know, it’s just disheartening,” said Dana Coletti, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 230 in Manchester, N.H.
A postal carrier drives past protesters during a rally against changes to the United States Postal Service, in Newport Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Aug., 18, 2020. (Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP) (Jeff Gritchen/)
‘The stakes definitely feel higher’
The long mail delays made some postal workers think more about the role they’d be playing come election season.
The Pennsylvania primary in early June provided a taste of what was to come, said the Philadelphia worker. Though the pandemic was the biggest worry at the time, “we had a lot of issues. There were people at the plant that weren’t coming in or were sick. We were seeing delays with that. So now we’re looking at this [general election] and going, ‘Oh, jeez, this is not going to be good.’ The stakes definitely feel higher, especially given what this election really means.”
In Michigan, one postal worker considered the removal of public mailboxes, which are subject to periodic checks to ensure they are being used, as disproportionately affecting people of color. When a collection box is removed in a wealthy suburb, residents have the time and resources to push back, said the carrier, who is Black. But when it’s removed in a racially diverse working-class neighborhood, it’s just another government service that’s been clawed back.
“It’s kind of like everything else. It wasn’t built for us,” the worker said of the Postal Service and its relationship with Black people.
DeJoy’s background - he’s donated more than $2 million to the Trump campaign and GOP causes since 2016 - doesn’t help matters, the postal worker said, and makes him feel as though the Republican Party has co-opted the Postal Service.
Taken together, Trump’s repeated attacks on mail-in voting, his connection with DeJoy, and DeJoy’s operational changes look too conspicuous to be coincidental, the carrier said, even if DeJoy has stated publicly that he’d stand up to the president when necessary. Some postal workers say the pushback has to start with them to show that DeJoy’s instructions go against the mail service’s operational and ethical mandates. Plus, they say, they are legally bound to ensure the timely delivery of mail.
In New York, one mechanic expressed dismay that he is surrounded by a “bunch of yes men” who are simply going to follow orders.
“It’s disheartening to hear from my boss that he wants me to do something that could very potentially cripple the system. It’s disheartening to hear that people think we’re going to fail. We handle this kind of volume all the time,” he said of the election. "But if they do these things with delivery times and we get high volume around holiday season and the election, it will fail. No question. It will fail. We should get the ballots out. We really should, but all it would take is one person in a nice shiny suit to say, ‘Leave those ballots, take the other mail.’ And everyone would say, ‘Yes sir.’
“There’s a point where I got angry. I’m not happy at all that I’m being politicized. I’m literally trying to do my job, and they’re telling me that I can’t.”
A United States Postal Service worker makes a delivery with gloves and a mask in Warren, Mich. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya,File) (Paul Sancya/)
‘Don’t do anything illegal, unsafe, immoral’
DeJoy on Aug. 18 suspended parts of his cost-cutting program after congressional and public blowback - much of it on social media, where images of mailbox removals were met with suspicion and outrage. But it was too late for most of the 671 mail-sorting machines that had been tapped for dismantling and removal across 49 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
The agency said that the massive machines, representing close to 10 percent of its inventory and capable of sorting 21.4 million pieces of paper mail per hour, had been earmarked long before DeJoy and that their decommissioning was simply a reflection of Americans' diminishing use for letters and growing reliance on package delivery. But many workers saw it as further erosion of a finely calibrated infrastructure, one with real ramifications for customers who rely on the agency for their prescription medications and other crucial deliveries.
“It bothers me, because I like to do my job. Some of us do this for 20 years,” said the New Jersey letter carrier. "You see kids grow up from babies and watch them get married. They see you in Wawa, and they buy you a coffee. They say, ‘This is my mailman, he’s a great guy.’ Now they say, ‘Where’s my mail?’ "
Postal workers' responses varied from insubordination to small acts of neighborly heroism. In Florida, one manager told of instructing employees to meticulously document their hours and what happens to mail to uphold accountability standards. There are forms for reporting late or undeliverable mail and to record overtime, though several postal workers say supervisors have downplayed the need to complete them in recent weeks.
“What I try to tell people is this: Yes, if you get an instruction, you should follow the instructions of your supervisor,” the manager said. “But every manual says the same thing: Don’t do anything illegal, unsafe, immoral. Well, my manager knows that if he doesn’t want mail to be reported late, to keep the mail out of my building.”
Last month in New York, machinists were ordered to remove sorting machines and use spare parts to augment another, one of the workers said. The person told supervisors that such a move wouldn’t help; the enlarged sorter would be able to collate mail into more carriers' routes, but it also would process letters more slowly than two machines doing the job simultaneously. When his supervisor told him to repeat the process for another set of machines, the machinist and colleagues balked and drew out the steps required to implement the change. Eventually, superiors gave up on the order.
By then, House and Senate committees had called emergency hearings to cross-examine DeJoy over his relationship with Trump and his operational changes. “I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” DeJoy testified before the House Oversight Committee on Aug. 24. Days later, he told a Senate panel he planned to vote by mail.
In Toledo, mail is shipped to the Michigan Metroplex outside Detroit for processing. When items arrive too late for the trucks headed to Michigan, a manager not eligible for overtime will hop into a Postal Service van and transport that mail separately, said Martin Ramirez, president of the APWU Local 170. That way, the Toledo offices won’t log overtime hours, even though that worker still puts in extra time.
“This is the dancing between the raindrops,” Ramirez said.
As Toledo’s trucks arrive at distribution centers, clerks scan the wire racks carrying the mail to try to spot medications, checks and bills, said Jennifer Lemke, the clerk craft director at Local 170. Even if the day’s mail gets delayed, Lemke and other clerks will retrieve essential items and send them off with carriers.
When angry customers call the post office or come to the retail window, Lemke said, she apologizes for mail delays, then sends for the local postmaster.
“I will put it off on the people that are causing the damage,” she said.
“My message to [local union members] is: You do what you can to satisfy the customer,” Ramirez said. “Look, we’re going to fight from national on down. I don’t need you losing your job.”
JUNEAU- The coronavirus pandemic has caused a national increase in the number of people enrolling in the federal Medicaid health payment program and officials have said Alaska residents are joining at unprecedented levels.
Over the last six months, more than 12,000 people in Alaska have joined Medicaid, known in the state as DenaliCare and Denali KidCare, Juneau Public Media reported Friday.
Alaska’s program covered 232,735 participants as of Aug. 31, or nearly one out of three state residents, including most children.
Alaska’s Medicaid enrollment increase of more than 5% is still smaller than most other states have reported.
Among those taking out the coverage in Alaska at the highest levels are women and people living in northern, western and southwest Alaska. The highest concentration of new enrollments has been among young adults.
Job losses are among the top reasons for the increase.
The federal government now pays a larger share of the costs for most Medicaid program members, covering 56.2% instead of the normal equal percentage split between the federal and state governments.
As a term of the increased payment coverage, the federal government prevents the state from dropping people from the program during the pandemic. The state can only end Medicaid coverage for people who have died, moved out of state or asked to be removed.
“The intent is really to keep more people eligible during the pandemic and not have folks without health care,” said Shawnda O’Brien, the director of the Alaska Division of Public Assistance who oversees Medicaid enrollment.
Alaska previously experienced a Medicaid enrollment jump five years ago when the program was expanded under the Affordable Care Act.
Enrollment increased from 125,616 in September 2015 to 219,260 at the end of 2019, with most of increase due to the expansion.
President Donald Trump leaves after an event about coronavirus testing strategy, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)
WASHINGTON - Security teams at U.S. spy agencies are constantly scouring employee records for signs of potential compromise: daunting levels of debt, troubling overseas entanglements, hidden streams of income, and a penchant for secrecy or deceit to avoid exposure.
President Donald Trump would check nearly every box of this risk profile based on revelations in The New York Times from his long-secret tax records that former intelligence officials and security experts said raise profound questions about whether he should be trusted to safeguard U.S. secrets and interests.
The records show that Trump has continued to make money off foreign investments and projects while in office, that foreign officials have spent lavishly at his Washington hotel and other properties, and that despite this revenue he is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt with massive payments coming due.
“From a national security perspective, that’s just an outrageous vulnerability,” said Larry Pfeiffer, who served as chief of staff at the CIA. Pfeiffer, who now serves as director of the Hayden Center for Intelligence at George Mason University, said that if he had faced even a fraction of Trump’s financial burden, “there is no question my clearances would be pulled.”
The disclosures show that Trump’s position is more precarious than he has led the public to believe, and he faces the need for a substantial infusion of cash in the coming years to avert potential financial crisis.
As a result, officials and experts said Trump has made himself vulnerable to manipulation by foreign governments aware of his predicament, and put himself in a position in which his financial interests and the nation’s priorities could be in conflict.
The revelations add to long-standing suspicions about Trump’s approach to foreign policy and seeming deference to leaders of countries where he has either pursued real estate projects or could do so after leaving office.
The list includes the Philippines, Russia and Turkey, where Trump has sought to erect office towers bearing his name or made millions of dollars from licensing deals and other ventures.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused Trump of putting the country’s security in jeopardy. “This president appears to have over $400 million debt,” Pelosi said in an NBC television interview. “To whom? Different countries? What is the leverage they have?”
“For me,” she said, “this is a national security question.”
Trump dismissed the report on his taxes as “fake news” but has neither directly disputed its most salient assertions - including that he paid $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017 - nor indicated that he will release his tax records.
Intelligence officials said the magnitude of Trump’s debts pose a vulnerability that is compounded by his determination to prevent his financial records from becoming public.
“It’s the hiding of a vulnerability that is a real indicator” of potential security risk, said Jeffrey Edmonds, a former CIA analyst who served in the Trump White House as deputy director for Russia on the National Security Council. “The more you try to hide something like that, the greater lengths you will go to keep it concealed.”
Officials said the tax records seem to reflect other Trump traits that would probably trouble counterintelligence experts. They cited the disorganized structure of his companies, apparent contempt for the tax code, discrepancies in his valuations of assets, and potentially illegal practice of paying consulting fees to family members.
“All of that goes to how trustworthy a person is to hold highly classified, sensitive material,” Pfeiffer said.
The tax records provide a new lens through which to view Trump’s behavior toward foreign autocrats.
Trump’s aversion to challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin has been particularly baffling to national security officials. Trump has dismissed evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, downplayed reports that Russia paid bounties to forces in Afghanistan targeting U.S. soldiers, and this month refused to even address questions about the poisoning of a Russian political activist.
Beyond his pursuit of a Trump Tower in the Russian capital, the tax files show that Trump made at least $2.3 million from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Trump has praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job” in a crackdown on drugs that has killed thousands and been condemned by the State Department. Tax files show that Trump has made millions after licensing his name to a Manila tower 10 years ago.
More recently, Trump boasted to journalist Bob Woodward that he “saved” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from severe repercussions from the United States after the CIA concluded that the Saudi royal was complicit in the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Ethics experts and congressional Democrats have repeatedly raised concerns that Trump is using the office to enrich himself, refusing to recuse himself from the family business even as foreign dignitaries and lobbyists flock to his hotels and other properties.
Lobbyists funded by Saudi Arabia paid for an estimated 500 nights at Trump’s Washington hotel in 2016 within a month of his election, The Post reported in 2018. Then-Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak patronized the Trump hotel in the District of Columbia in 2017.
Officials said that the power of the presidency makes it difficult for U.S. intelligence or national security officials to take any steps to respond to the revelations about Trump and take any steps to minimize risks to security.
“My guess is there may be less detail provided about sources and methods” to Trump than to previous presidents, Pfeiffer said. “But presidents, by our norms and the fact that they have been elected, have access to classified information. You can’t take it to zero.”
A grave digger works at the city's main Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell) (Denis Farrell/)
NEW DELHI — The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus has eclipsed 1 million, nine months into a crisis that has devastated the global economy, tested world leaders' resolve, pitted science against politics and forced multitudes to change the way they live, learn and work.
“It’s not just a number. It’s human beings. It’s people we love,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of medical history at the University of Michigan who has advised government officials on containing pandemics and lost his 84-year-old mother to COVID-19 in February.
“It’s our brothers, our sisters. It’s people we know,” he added. “And if you don’t have that human factor right in your face, it’s very easy to make it abstract.”
The bleak milestone, recorded on Monday in the U.S. by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Jerusalem or Austin, Texas. It is 2 1/2 times the sea of humanity that was at Woodstock in 1969. It is more than four times the number killed by the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
Even then, the figure is almost certainly a vast undercount because of inadequate or inconsistent testing and reporting and suspected concealment by some countries.
And the number continues to mount. Nearly 5,000 deaths are reported each day on average. Parts of Europe are getting hit by new outbreaks, and experts fear a second wave in the U.S., which accounts for about 205,000 deaths, or 1 out of 5 worldwide. That is far more than any other country, despite America’s wealth and medical resources.
“I can understand why ... numbers are losing their power to shock, but I still think it’s really important that we understand how big these numbers really are,” said Mark Honigsbaum, author of “The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris.”
The global toll includes people like Joginder Chaudhary, who was his parents' greatest pride, raised with the little they earned farming a half-acre plot in central India to become the first doctor from their village.
After the virus killed the 27-year-old Chaudhary in late July, his mother wept inconsolably. With her son gone, Premlata Chaudhary said, how could she go on living? Three weeks later, on Aug. 18, the virus took her life, too. All told, it has killed more than 96,000 in India.
“This pandemic has ruined my family,” said the young doctor’s father, Rajendra Chaudhary. “All our aspirations, our dreams, everything is finished.”
When the virus overwhelmed cemeteries in the Italian province of Bergamo last spring, the Rev. Mario Carminati opened his church to the dead, lining up 80 coffins in the center aisle. After an army convoy carted them to a crematory, another 80 arrived. Then 80 more.
Eventually the crisis receded and the world’s attention moved on. But the pandemic’s grasp endures. In August, Carminati buried his 34-year-old nephew.
“This thing should make us all reflect. The problem is that we think we’re all immortal,” the priest said.
FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo, workers lower a coffin containing the body of a suspected COVID-19 victim into a grave during a burial at the special section of Pondok Ranggon cemetery which was opened to accommodate the surge in deaths during coronavirus outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File) (Dita Alangkara/)
The virus first appeared in late 2019 in patients hospitalized in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first death was reported on Jan. 11. By the time authorities locked down the city nearly two weeks later, millions of travelers had come and gone. China’s government has come in for criticism that it did not do enough to alert other countries to the threat.
Government leaders in countries like Germany, South Korea and New Zealand worked effectively to contain it. Others, like U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, dismissed the severity of the threat and the guidance of scientists, even as hospitals filled with gravely ill patients.
Brazil has recorded the second most deaths after the U.S., with about 142,000. India is third and Mexico fourth, with more than 76,000.
The virus has forced trade-offs between safety and economic well-being. The choices made have left millions of people vulnerable, especially the poor, minorities and the elderly.
With so many of the deaths beyond view in hospital wards and clustered on society’s margins, the milestone recalls the grim pronouncement often attributed to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin: One death is a tragedy, millions of deaths are a statistic.
The pandemic’s toll of 1 million dead in such a limited time rivals some of the gravest threats to public health, past and present.
It exceeds annual deaths from AIDS, which last year killed about 690,000 people worldwide. The virus’s toll is approaching the 1.5 million global deaths each year from tuberculosis, which regularly kills more people than any other infectious disease.
But “COVID’s grip on humanity is incomparably greater than the grip of other causes of death,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University. He noted the unemployment, poverty and despair caused by the pandemic, and deaths from myriad other illnesses that have gone untreated.
For all its lethality, the virus has claimed far fewer lives than the so-called Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 40 million to 50 million worldwide in two years, just over a century ago.
That pandemic came before scientists had microscopes powerful enough to identify the enemy or antibiotics that could treat the bacterial pneumonia that killed most of the victims. In the U.S., the Spanish flu killed about 675,000. But most of those deaths did not come until a second wave hit over the winter of 1918-19.
Up to now, the disease has left only a faint footprint on Africa, well shy of early modeling that predicted thousands more deaths.
But cases have recently surged in countries like Britain, Spain, Russia and Israel. In the United States, the return of students to college campuses has sparked new outbreaks. With approval and distribution of a vaccine still probably months away and winter approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, the toll will continue to climb.
“We’re only at the beginning of this. We’re going to see many more weeks ahead of this pandemic than we’ve had behind us,” Gostin said.
Geller reported from New York. Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.
A damaged vehicle and wine warehouse stand, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Calistoga, Calif., at Castello di Amorosa, which was damaged in the Glass Fire. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) (Noah Berger/)
SAN FRANCISCO — Northern California’s wine country was on fire again Monday as strong winds fanned flames in the already scorched region, destroying homes and prompting orders for nearly 70,000 people to evacuated. Meanwhile, three people died in a separate fire further north in the state.
In Sonoma County, residents of the Oakmont Gardens senior living facility in Santa Rosa boarded brightly lit city buses in the darkness overnight, some wearing bathrobes and using walkers. They wore masks to protect against the coronavirus as orange flames marked the dark sky.
The fire threat forced Adventist Health St. Helena hospital to suspend care and transfer all patients elsewhere.
The fires that began Sunday in the famed Napa-Sonoma wine country about 45 miles north of San Francisco came as the region nears the third anniversary of deadly wildfires that erupted in 2017, including one that killed 22 people. Just a month ago, many of those same residents were evacuated from the path of a lightning-sparked fire that became the fourth-largest in state history.
“Our firefighters have not had much of a break, and these residents have not had much of a break,” said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.
Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin evacuated her property in the Oakmont community of Santa Rosa at about 1 a.m. She is rebuilding a home damaged in the 2017 fires.
Gorin said she saw three neighboring houses in flames as she fled early Monday.
“We’re experienced with that,” she said of the fires. “Once you lose a house and represent thousands of folks who’ve lost homes, you become pretty fatalistic that this is a new way of life and, depressingly, a normal way of life, the megafires that are spreading throughout the West.”
Charred wine bottles rest at Castello di Amorosa, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Calistoga, Calif., which was damaged in the Glass Fire. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) (Noah Berger/)
A firefighter carries hose while battling the Glass Fire in the Skyhawk neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) (Noah Berger/)
Fire crews from the Los Angeles County Fire Department watch an air tanker drop retardant onto the Martindale Fire, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Santa Clarita, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) (Marcio Jose Sanchez/)
More than 68,000 people in Sonoma and Napa counties have been evacuated in the latest inferno, one of nearly 30 fire clusters burning across the state, said Cal Fire Division Chief Ben Nichols.
In Napa County, the entire town of Calistoga, population around 5,000, was ordered to evacuate Monday evening.
Many more residents have been warned that they might have to flee, even though winds eased significantly Monday afternoon, giving firefighters an opportunity to make some progress, he said.
“The smoky skies that we’re under are a sign that there’s not a lot of air movement out there moving the smoke around,” Nichols said at an evening briefing. “Not good for air quality, and folks outside exercising, but great for us to work on containing this fire and working on putting it out.”
The Glass Fire broke out before 4 a.m. Sunday and merged with two other fires to scorch more than 56 square miles as of Monday. There was no containment. Officials did not have an estimate of the number of homes destroyed or burned, but the blaze engulfed the Chateau Boswell Winery in St. Helena and at least one five-star resort.
Logan Hertel of Santa Rosa used a garden hose to fight flames at a neighbor’s house in the Skyhawk neighborhood until firefighters could relieve him.
“Seems like they got enough on their hands already. So I wanted to step in and put out the fire,” Hertel said.
Dominic Wiggens, who lives in the same neighborhood, evacuated but returned later Monday. His home was still standing, but many others were gone. “It’s so sad,” he said.
Pacific Gas & Electric was inspecting its equipment as it sought to restore power to more than 100,000 customers who had it turned off in advance of gusty winds and in areas with active fire zones. The utility’s equipment has caused previous disasters, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
By Monday night, the utility said it had restored electricity to essentially all of those customers. However, PG&E said about 24,000 people remained without power in areas affected by two fires in Napa, Sonoma, Shasta and Tehama counties.
More than 1,200 people were also evacuated in Shasta County for the Zogg Fire, spread over 23 square miles by Monday.
Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said three people died as a result of the fire, though he gave no details.
“It’s with a sad heart that I come before you today,” he said, urging residents to heed advice to leave. “When you get that order, evacuate immediately. Do not wait.”
Residences are widely scattered in the forested area in the far northern part of the state. The region was torched just two years ago by the deadly Carr Fire — infamously remembered for producing a huge tornado-like fire whirl.
The causes of the new fires were under investigation.
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said 2020 has been challenging.
“The silver lining to it is that people who live in California become more prepared, they’re more aware, they know these events take place and we’re seeing a citizenry that does get it and is working hard to be prepared,” he said.
Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.
The latest fires erupted as a giant ridge of high pressure settled over the West, producing powerful gusts blowing from the interior toward the coast while slashing humidity levels and raising temperatures.
So far in this year’s historic fire season, more than 8,100 California wildfires have now killed 29 people, scorched 5,780 square miles, and destroyed more than 7,000 buildings.
Most of the losses occurred after a frenzy of dry lightning strikes in mid-August ignited a massive outbreak of fires.
Fire worries were developing across Southern California, although it was unclear how strong the predicted Santa Ana winds would become. Heat and extreme dryness were also expected to create problems.
Conditions were also hot, dry and windy in parts of Arizona, where the Sears Fire in Tonto National Forest north of Phoenix has grown to more than 14 square miles since it erupted Friday. Authorities reported zero containment.
Associated Press reporters Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles, Juliet Williams in San Francisco and Haven Daley in Santa Rosa, California contributed to this report.
Some surprising results are revealed in the first of a series of briefing papers showing how Alaska’s seafood industry has been affected by the pandemic from dock to dinner plates.
The updates, compiled by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, show that so far the amount of seafood that has been harvested is in line with previous years.
“While 2020 harvests have been significantly lower in some salmon fisheries … the declines are due to weak runs rather than reduced effort or other forces that might have some connection with the pandemic,” according to the latest brief.
“If we forgot about the pandemic and we just look at how much has been harvested, we’re similar to past years, so that’s a vote of confidence there,” said Garret Evridge, a McDowell fishery economist.
Market disruptions and increased operating costs definitely put downward pressure on the value of all that seafood, with the price plummet at Bristol Bay being perhaps the most striking example. The preliminary value of the Bay’s fishery this year is $140.7 million (not including post-season bonuses), compared to the all-time high of $306.5 million in 2019.
“And that certainly seems to be the trend across nearly all species. Generally, the pandemic has depressed prices across the board,” Evridge said.
Also pushing down the value was a smaller processing work force. The extra efforts to manage and mitigate COVID-related risks “are believed to be the primary cause of a 13% overall decline reported for July 2020, a decline of 2,500 jobs from July 2019,” the September brief said. Chaotic market changes also forced workers to produce lower valued salmon products.
Using Bristol Bay again as an example, where a compressed run plugged processing plants with millions of salmon, time and labor constraints meant that most of the fish had to be headed/gutted and frozen or canned instead of being trimmed up for pricier fresh or frozen fillets.
“What that effectively does is it reduces the average value per pound of the Bristol Bay pack, which is particularly difficult in a year when operating costs have increased so much,” Evridge said.
Those added costs aren’t going away anytime soon.
There are no hard data yet but interviews with processors indicate at least $50 million has been spent so far by inshore and offshore sectors, said Dan Lesh, a McDowell senior analyst.
“It’s definitely an estimate and it’s a number that’s likely to increase, not only through the end of 2020, but into 2021 and as long as this pandemic is in effect. We’re trying to communicate that the industry is sustaining real operating cost increases,” Lesh said.
“The industry is taking on these costs out of pocket at the same time we are facing severe disruption in key markets and multiple pre-COVID cost burdens,” said Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods at a July 29 U.S. Senate committee hearing.
“While a fraction of these costs may be reimbursed, we face significant uncertainty because there’s no specific congressional directive to support health and safety protocol costs for critical seafood supply chains,” Campbell said, adding that COVID prevention measures have not been included so far in federal relief loans and funds.
The McDowell team is waiting a few more months to get a better understanding of how COVID has affected volumes and values of Alaska’s top export. August and September are the peak export months for Alaska seafood; for salmon, about 75% of annual exports (by value) occur between July and October.
One advantage, Evridge said, is that global currency rates are playing in our favor. The dollar has trended weaker since February, making Alaska seafood more affordable to foreign buyers.
“It’s important to focus on these bright spots,” Evridge said. “But there still is a big trade imbalance there with Russia, not to mention the ongoing trade war with China,” he said.
Overall, and despite all the difficulties, Evridge called 2020 “largely a success” for Alaska’s fisheries.
“We’re still harvesting five to six billion pounds of seafood, the values are down, but we haven’t fallen off a cliff,” he said. “If you just think back to the early stages of the pandemic, we were talking about the possibility of Bristol Bay not even opening and some of the worst scenarios weren’t actually realized. So that’s a real positive.”
Dinner plate update - Seafood is benefiting from three major eating trends during the pandemic, and they are expected to continue.
“The first is the huge increase in home cooking as fewer people eat in restaurants,” said John Sackton, founder of SeafoodNews.com. “Second is the big increase in using frozen food, which is especially advantageous for the seafood industry, and third is the continued emphasis on health and diet during the pandemic.”
He added that national trend tracker IRI has been reporting on changes in protein and frozen food at retail grocery, and that the trends for both frozen and fresh seafood continue to be more positive than any other category.
“The continued strength of seafood consumption suggests that the strong performance of seafood at home will continue through the holidays and into the Lent season next year,” Sackton said.
That’s backed up by surveys done by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which has been quickly adapting to the challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic.
“In December of 2019 before COVID, 70% of consumers cooked three times a week at home, and since COVID, 66% said they now cook at home more frequently,” said Arianna Elnes, an ASMI spokesperson.
She added that for the first half of 2020 restaurant sales were $65 billion lower, while U.S. grocery store sales for all products were up $43 billion from the same time last year.
To accommodate the increased interest in frozen foods and food safety, Elnes said ASMI quickly revamped its flagship Cook It Frozen campaign.
“This focused on filling the pantry and freezers and featured at a glance cooking tips and recipe ideas to help consumers build confidence in cooking wild Alaska seafood at home,” Elnes said. “The campaign was launched in March, right at the onset of COVID, and in May frozen seafood sales at retail were up 66%.”
ASMI also has partnered with notable chefs and dietitians on Instagram for Seafood Sundays and other cooking specials.
Its survey of over 13,000 consumers also showed that consumers want to know where there food comes from and that fishermen and farmers hold the most trust at nearly 70%.
“We’re really trying to focus on origin,” Elnes said. “When we talk about local eating, it doesn’t just mean in terms of distance, but local as in knowing where it comes from. So we’ve launched a Choose Alaska campaign and it pitches seafood as critical to the national and global food supply chain, and it lets people know that when they’re buying Alaska, they’re supporting people’s livelihoods.”
Elnes added that direct marketing by more fishermen also is on an upward trajectory. ASMI has posted a short survey to identify ways to assist with direct sales.
Fishy questions? Questions are being solicited for the upcoming virtual debate between Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and independent challenger Al Gross. The questions must focus on a sole topic: Alaska’s seafood industry.
The fisheries debate, hosted by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Rhonda McBride, is set for Oct. 10 at 5 p.m. It will take place over Zoom and be livestreamed to www.KodiakChamber.com, www.ComFishAK.com, and both the Kodiak Chamber and ComFish Alaska Facebook and YouTube channels. It also will be broadcast via KMXT to public radio stations statewide. Send topics or questions via email by Sept. 30 to Chamber@kodiak.org.
The emotional toll of the coronavirus pandemic is steep for most everyone, but it turns out that one group is handling it better than the rest: retirees.
That might seem counterintuitive, since the virus is more dangerous for older people, but studies looking at mental health in the pandemic show that retirees who live at home are free from two of the stressors that are squeezing their younger counterparts - job security and parenting children as they navigate at-home learning and isolation.
“My life hasn’t changed all that much,” said Claine Tanner, 71, a retired banker who lives in Hurricane, Utah.
Tanner, who teaches part time at a boys school to supplement his Social Security income, said the biggest changes in his life since the pandemic hit are not being able to go to church on Sundays, and observing the social distancing measures the school put in place.
Younger generations are feeling angst from the pandemic more acutely.
According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, younger adults are among those who have “experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation” during the pandemic.
People who were already juggling day care or raising children while simultaneously establishing careers have had their lives upended on nearly every front. Many now work at home while also tending to their children, or send their kids to day care while hand-wringing about the safety of it. Young people without children often feel they are bearing the burden of extra assignments from work to pick up the slack.
The CDC study found that 46 percent of people ages 18 to 24 report experiencing pandemic-related “anxiety and stress disorder.” That number dropped steadily as people age, with just 9 percent of people 65 and older reporting pandemic-related despair.
Another study, this one from the financial services company Edward Jones and think tank AgeWave, surveyed more than 9,000 people across the United States and Canada and found that 39 percent of the “silent generation” - those age 75 or older - and 33 percent of boomers reported that they were faring “very well,” when asked how they were coping emotionally during the pandemic. That number decreased to 29 percent for Generation X and to 26 percent for millennials.
On the other end of the spectrum, 24 percent of millennials (ages 24-39) answered the same question that they were “not well,” compared with 15 percent for Gen-Xers (ages 40-55) and boomers (ages 56-74). Only 5 percent of the silent generation said they weren’t faring well.
“Most retirees are no longer worried about losing their job or helping their schoolkids cope with learning from home,” said Ken Dychtwald, president and CEO of AgeWave. “Pre-retirees, on the other hand, are getting the wind knocked out of them right now.”
On social media, comments such as “exhausted,” “overwhelmed,” “depressed,” and “pushed over the edge,” came from a group of 20-something to 40-something men and women in response to how they were holding up.
“I’ve been working through severe depression that I’ve never experienced before now,” said Kimberly Jones, 32, a mother of three in Spanish Fork, Utah, who now works from her home for a paint and glass company.
She said the pressure of her husband losing his job and her young children being mostly homebound caused her to be “put on suicide watch.”
Another woman, Patti Johnston, 37, a stay-at-home mother of three in Idaho Falls, Idaho, said her alopecia recently flared up from anxiety. “I ended up losing about 2/3 of my hair,” she said.
The enormous caveat, of course, is that older people in assisted-living facilities are under the most stress of all.
“For those living in nursing homes and similar situations, it’s been a terrible nightmare,” Dychtwald said. “Older generations are definitely feeling vulnerable because of the likelihood of contagion and its serious consequences.”
Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, said the fear of getting sick is a stress factor for younger and middle-aged adults as well, “but for some that may be more abstract” than many of the more practical day-to-day challenges of paying bills, working and tending to children.
A study from the University of British Columbia found that among its 776 participants, younger adults were struggling more from the pandemic, in part, because they were in a time in their lives with more responsibilities.
“Younger and middle-aged adults were more concerned about their finances, losing their job, and not reaching an important goal,” said Patrick Klaiber, one of the researchers who worked on that study.
Erin Berman, a clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, said her findings about pandemic stress were similarly based in part on age. She emphasized that “younger generations may also be experiencing a larger number of stressors at one time.”
“Anxiety often finds its fuel in uncertainty and this is very true during these uncertain times,” she said, adding that, “it may be possible that older adults are more accustomed to dealing with uncertainty, and getting used to uncertainty does help people learn how to cope.”
In fact, Tanner, the retired banker, said he has the benefit of life experience to rely on.
“I’ve survived recessions and depressions and the polio pandemic that took the life of two of my cousins and partially crippled my sister,” Tanner said.
Elena Man, a pediatrician in Brooklyn, N.Y., said in addition to less life experience, young and middle-aged adults now often find themselves stalled as they are trying to establish themselves.
“This stage of life usually includes developing crucial components of identity, financial and living independence, professional and social connections, and the pursuit of individual interests and passions,” Man said. “Instead, these critical steps that bring importance and meaning to life at that age have been disrupted.”
She suggested that parents seek professional help if they or their kids are struggling. “One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that effective mental health help is now more widely available virtually,” she said.
Koenen, the professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, suggested one way millennials and Gen-Xers can better cope with feeling overwhelmed.
“Acknowledge none of this is normal,” Koenen said. “We are in a global pandemic. Calibrate expectations to be realistic to your situation. If you’re juggling too much, relaxing some of your rules might make things more manageable.”
Klaiber, who worked on the University of British Columbia study, said younger generations can learn from their older counterparts, many of whom are taking time to Zoom with old friends and spend time outdoors.
“Older adults, for example, were more likely to spend time in nature or to create positive social interactions remotely,” he said.
Berman addressed the benefits of unplugging from time to time if possible, even if it seems like an impossibility with all of the responsibilities on their shoulders.
“Don’t forget that it’s also important to find times when you can shut down the computer and put away the phone,” she said. “Immerse yourself in a hobby, do whatever it is that allows you to rest and recharge.”
Dylan Gee, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, suggests other anxiety-reducing habits for young adults that might seem obvious, but make a big difference, including exercise, maintaining a consistent schedule and getting adequate sleep.
Above all, Gee advises that people not be too hard on themselves - regardless of which generation they’re a part of.
“Nobody is going to be at their best during a global pandemic. Just acknowledging this fact can be helpful and validating. We need to be compassionate with ourselves.
A worker sprays sanitizer on a lectern as preparations take place for the first Presidential debate in the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Cleveland. The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to take place Tuesday, Sept. 29. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)
WASHINGTON - The first presidential debate between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump has a strong chance of being the most-watched political event in U.S. history, and the enormous potential audience on Tuesday is just one factor that has heightened the stakes for both candidates.
For Trump, stuck for months on a losing trajectory, the debate stands as one of the few remaining opportunities to shift how Americans view the election and to reach voters beyond his deeply committed core of supporters.
For Biden, who has maintained a significant, but not unbeatable, lead nationally and in crucial swing states, the encounter provides a chance to bolster his standing with a key slice of the electorate - voters who have turned against the president but remain unconvinced about his challenger.
With that opportunity, however, comes risk for the former vice president, who, in debates during the primary elections, sometimes appeared to lack energy or focus.
Debates are often overrated as a turning point in campaigns, said Mike Murphy, the veteran Republican strategist and fervent Trump critic who co-directs USC’s Center for the Political Future. Research by political scientists shows that for all the attention they get, general-election debates only rarely have an impact that lasts more than a week or so.
“This debate is a little different,” Murphy said, in part because Trump and his campaign have worked furiously to raise doubts in voters' minds about Biden’s mental fitness and physical stamina.
“For Biden to break through and show he’s sharp and on top of it, that’s an opportunity but also a risk,” Murphy said. “If Biden has a bad debate, Trump has a whole month to exploit it.”
Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg agreed. “Republicans have been very effective” in spreading the idea that Biden is physically or mentally impaired, she said. “You hear a lot of it” in focus groups of voters.
Since most swing voters don’t pay much attention to political news, the debate “will probably be the first opportunity that a lot of voters have to see Biden and see that he’s not impaired,” she said. “That’s the main thing.”
Indeed, many Republicans worry that Trump, with his frequent references to Biden as “sleepy” or “out of it,” has “lowered the bar” too much for what voters may expect from the Democratic challenger, said Republican strategist Alex Conant, a former top aide to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
“That’s definitely a risk they run.”
A potential parallel could be the 1980 election between President Carter and his Republican opponent, Ronald Reagan. The two held only one debate, on Oct. 28, just one week before the election. Carter entered the debate holding a narrow lead. But when voters saw Reagan onstage, he did not seem like the scary war hawk Democrats had warned against. Over the campaign’s final days, which included other events that damaged Carter, Reagan’s standing rose steadily, and he won by a large margin.
Biden has participated in dozens of debates during three presidential bids as well as vice presidential debates in 2008 and 2012. He got high marks for the 2012 matchup against then-Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the GOP’s nominee. In 2008, his skill in the primary debates impressed his rival, then-Sen. Barack Obama, and was one of the reasons Obama picked him as a running mate.
“He was strong, smart and much more disciplined than I expected,” Obama said to advisor David Axelrod when they first discussed Biden as a potential running mate, according to Axelrod’s memoir, “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.”
Biden participated in 14 debates that primary cycle even though he dropped out of the race just after the Iowa caucuses in January 2008. His most memorable debate line jabbed a Republican, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani: “There only three things he mentions in a sentence: A noun and a verb and 9/11. I mean, there’s nothing else.”
His 2012 matchup with Ryan came at a crucial moment: Obama had done poorly in his first debate with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, and Democrats badly needed Biden to do well to compensate.
He did: With an aggressive, in-your-face performance, Biden belittled the conservative lawmaker who was decades younger than him. Republicans called Biden’s smirking and condescension disrespectful, but Democrats were reinvigorated.
“We needed him to deliver an incredible performance against Paul Ryan,” said Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama advisor at the time. “Biden did well. It was a huge boost to our campaign.”
In this election cycle, Biden’s primary debates were uneven. In the early going - the debates that got the biggest audiences - he often seemed halting. Supporters say that reflected rustiness after seven years off the debate stage and note that this spring, when he went one-on-one with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, he did much better.
Trump, by contrast, did not fare especially well during the debates four years ago. The most memorable image of the encounters - his walking behind Hillary Clinton onstage as she spoke - drew cheers from his fans, who saw the move as bold, and protests from her supporters, who called him a stalker. The divided reaction illustrates the degree to which most viewers filter a debate through their own preconceptions.
The fact that Trump won the election has created an impression in retrospect that he must have beaten Clinton in the debates. But polls at the time generally showed him losing ground after the encounters, then climbing back up as the debates faded from the news.
That year, more than 84 million people watched their first debate, according to Nielsen’s ratings. That set a record. With attention to this year’s election at an all-time high, the audience could be larger. Viewership in that range could approach two-thirds of the number of people expected to vote.
In today’s fractured media world, no other moment in a campaign draws such a mass audience. In particular, debates get attention not only from hardcore partisans, but also less committed voters.
Those swing voters will form a prime audience for both candidates Tuesday.
Polls show that the vast majority of voters have firmly made up their minds about which candidate they support. For them, a debate can serve as a motivational exercise.
But a small group of voters do remain undecided. A few swing back and forth between Trump and Biden. A somewhat larger group “swings between voting and their couch,” said Ashley Kirzinger, associate director of survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has looked at uncertain voters in key states.
A recent survey by Kaiser and the Cook Political Report of voters in three Sun Belt battleground states - Arizona, Florida, North Carolina - found that three-quarters of voters had definitely made up their minds. They were almost evenly divided between the two sides. One in 10 said they were undecided, while an additional 3% said that they would probably vote for one candidate but that a chance remained that they might change their minds.
Those less uncertain voters were younger than average, not particularly partisan and, at least in the three Sun Belt states, significantly more likely to be Latino, Kirzinger said.
Across the three states, a majority of them had a negative view of Trump and a positive view of Biden.
Two-thirds of the swing voters see Trump as “unpredictable” - a quality they see as bad, Kirzinger said. They prefer Biden’s leadership style and his position on issues including healthcare and handling the coronavirus.
But they remain uncertain in part because “nearly half say they think Biden is too old to be president,” she said, and only 4 in 10 see him as a “strong leader.”
Strategists in both parties said Trump’s goal in appealing to those uncommitted voters should be to shift the election from a referendum on him - a contest he has little chance of winning - to a more direct focus on Biden’s flaws.
That’s a difficult task for any president, because reelection campaigns typically focus on the incumbent. It’s even harder for Trump, who hates to cede attention to anyone else.
Biden’s challenge is different: Keep the focus on Trump while generating more enthusiasm for himself, which could boost turnout on his side.
The same polls that show Biden with a persistent lead also show that a large share of his voters say they’re motivated more to cast a ballot against Trump than for Biden.
Those surveys also show that despite Biden’s decades in public life, a lot of voters - especially younger Americans, people in immigrant communities and less partisan voters who don’t pay huge attention to politics - still don’t know that much about him.
“Biden is not that well defined” in a lot of voters' minds, Murphy said. That may be hard to believe, he said, for people who are immersed in the political world, but for a lot of people “he’s just an old senator.”
In Florida, where anti-Trump groups have done extensive research, a lack of information about who Biden is and what he stands for is an issue for many Latino voters and young people, he said.
“He’s got 40 days to fill that picture in,” Murphy said.
The debate is a key part of doing so. The uncertain voters are “not political news consumers, and reaching them is really hard,” Kirzinger said. “They may not watch the debate, but they’ll definitely hear the narrative coming out of it.”
Watch livestream coverage of the debate at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, at adn.com.
This Aug. 26, 2003 image made available by NASA shows Mars as it lines up with the Sun and the Earth. Photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope, it was about 55.8 million kilometers (34.6 million miles) from Earth. A network of salty ponds may be gurgling beneath Mars’ South Pole alongside a large underground lake, raising the prospect of tiny, swimming Martian life. Italian scientists reported their findings Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 two years after identifying what they believed to be a large subglacial lake. (J. Bell/NASA via AP)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A network of salty ponds may be gurgling beneath Mars' South Pole alongside a large underground lake, raising the prospect of tiny, swimming Martian life.
Italian scientists reported their findings Monday, two years after identifying what they believed to be a large buried lake. They widened their coverage area by a couple hundred miles, using even more data from a radar sounder on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.
In the latest study appearing in the journal Nature Astronomy, the scientists provide further evidence of this salty underground lake, estimated to be 12 miles to 18 miles (20 kilometers to 30 kilometers) across and buried 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) beneath the icy surface.
Even more tantalizing, they’ve also identified three smaller bodies of water surrounding the lake. These ponds appear to be of various sizes and are separate from the main lake.
Roughly 4 billion years ago, Mars was warm and wet, like Earth. But the red planet eventually morphed into the barren, dry world it remains today.
The research team led by Roma Tre University’s Sebastian Emanuel Lauro used a method similar to what’s been used on Earth to detect buried lakes in the Antarctic and Canadian Arctic. They based their findings on more than 100 radar observations by Mars Express from 2010 to 2019; the spacecraft was launched in 2003.
All this potential water raises the possibility of microbial life on — or inside — Mars. High concentrations of salt are likely keeping the water from freezing at this frigid location, the scientists noted. The surface temperature at the South Pole is an estimated minus 172 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 113 degrees Celsius), and gets gradually warmer with depth.
These bodies of water are potentially interesting biologically and “future missions to Mars should target this region,” the researchers wrote.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Gross campaign releases record of his killing of a bear in self-defense, a major campaign talking point
US Senate candidate Al Gross with a bear he killed in self-defense on Oct. 19, 1995 in Sweetheart Flats, south of Juneau. (Photo provided by Al Gross campaign)
After a request for public records from an opposition research firm and news media, the campaign of U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross has released records documenting that he was involved in the killing of a bear in self-defense.
On Sept. 16, America Rising Corp.'s senior vice president Allan Blutstein requested documents about the bear kill from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. America Rising is a Virginia-based opposition research firm “whose mission is to help its clients defeat Democrats," according to its website.
Citing that request, a Newsweek article published Monday references a record from the Alaska Department of Public Safety confirming that Gross filed a report that he and another man killed a bear in defense of life or property on Oct. 19, 1995 at Sweetheart Flats, south of Juneau. The report was filed two days after the incident occurred.
The record and a photo were provided to Newsweek by the Gross campaign, and subsequently to the Daily News.
Gross has routinely said he killed a grizzly bear. The state records show he and another man killed a sow.
Federal Elections Commission filings show no records of the Sullivan campaign paying America Rising. Sullivan’s campaign manager, Matt Shuckerow, said the campaign has not hired America Rising to do opposition research on Gross.
Gross, born and raised in the state, has sometimes framed his challenges to Sullivan, an Ohio native, around being an authentic Alaskan.
An introductory campaign commercial boasted he was “born in the wake of an avalanche," bought his first fishing boat at 14, prospected for gold and once killed a bear. Other ads show him on a commercial fishing boat, or backcountry skiing.
Many of Gross' ads feature the bear reference, including the recently released campaign music video “Bear Doctor.” The bear story comes up in most national articles on Gross, and was featured in a recent segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
In addition to America Rising Corp., the Daily News, the Washington Post and the Alaska Landmine also put requests in for documentation of the incident with state Fish and Game.
On Friday, Fish and Game said it did not find any records responsive to the request, but suggested the inquiring parties file a similar request with the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
The Daily News first inquired about the bear incident on Sept. 14. Campaign spokeswoman Julia Savel said then that Gross did not have a copy of the incident report. On Monday, she said the campaign had recently received the report through a records request.
According to the report, Gross and a man accompanying him, named Jeffrey Jones, shot a sow bear in defense of life or property. Savel said that Gross did shoot it, but was not sure if Jones also shot the bear.