Alaska Dispatch News

Subscribe to Alaska Dispatch News feed
Alaska Dispatch News News Feed
Updated: 9 min 7 sec ago

Congress approves bill aimed at curtailing rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans

25 min 1 sec ago

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., right, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., center, listen. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh/)

WASHINGTON — Congress approved legislation Tuesday intended to curtail a striking rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, sending President Joe Biden a bipartisan denunciation of the spate of brutal attacks that have proliferated during coronavirus pandemic.

The bill, which the House passed on a 364-62 vote, will expedite the review of hate crimes at the Justice Department and make grants available to help local law enforcement agencies improve their investigation, identification and reporting of incidents driven by bias, which often go underreported. It previously passed the Senate 94-1 in April after lawmakers reached a compromise. Biden has said he will sign it.

“Asian Americans have been screaming out for help, and the House and Senate and President Biden have clearly heard our pleas,” said Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., who helped lead efforts to pass the bill in the House.

To many Asian Americans, the pandemic has invigorated deep-seated biases that in some cases date back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of more than a century ago. President Donald Trump repeatedly referred to the virus, which emerged in Wuhan, China, as the “China Virus” or the “Kung Flu.” And as cases of the illness began to rise in the U.S., so too did the attacks, with thousands of violent incidents reported in the past year.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said it’s painful for many to “open up the newspaper everyday and see that yet another Asian American has been assaulted, attacked and even killed.”

In February, an 84-year-old man died after he was pushed to the ground near his home in San Francisco. A young family was injured in a Texas grocery store attack last year. And in Georgia, six Asian women were killed in March during during a series of shootings targeting workers at massage parlors. Prosecutors are seeking hate crimes charges. The women who were killed are mentioned in the text of the bill.

“You start to think, ‘Well, will I be next?’” Chu said.

Yet to some activists, including organizations representing gay and transgender Asian Americans, the legislation is misguided. More than 100 groups have signed onto a statement opposing the bill for relying too heavily on law enforcement while providing too little funding to address the underlying issues driving a rise in hate crimes.

“We have had hate crimes laws since 1968, it’s been expanded over and over again, and this new legislation is more of the same,” said Jason Wu, who is co-chair of GAPIMNY-Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders. “These issues are about bias, but also rooted in inequality, and lack of investment and resources for our communities. Not a shortage of police and jails.”

Meng acknowledged some of the concerns raised by the groups, but countered that the widespread underreporting of hate crimes needs to be addressed.

“Law enforcement is currently underreporting these kinds of incidents and it makes it easy to ignore hate crimes all together,” she said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, suggested that the surge in Asian American violence was tied to efforts backed by some Democrats and other progressives to decrease funding for the police.

“This violence, by and large, is happening in Democrat-controlled cities,” said Jordan. If “money wasn’t taken from police and they were allowed to do their jobs, we would probably be in an entirely different position.”

Yet the bill also represented a rare moment of bipartisanship in a Congress that has struggled to overcome partisan gridlock, while underscoring an evolution in Republican thought on hate crimes legislation.

Many conservatives have historically dismissed hate crimes laws, arguing they create special protected classes so that victims of similar crimes are treated differently.

“I’m glad Congress is coming together in a bipartisan way,” said Rep. Young Kim, a California Republican who is Korean American. “Let’s also recognize that we cannot legislate hate out of our people’s hearts and minds.”

Speaking earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said passage of the bill sends a “powerful message of solidarity” to those who have suffered discrimination during the pandemic.

“Discrimination against Asian Americans is, sadly, not a new phenomenon in our nation’s history, but the pandemic brought old biases and prejudices back to the foreground,” the New York Democrat said. “The Senate can be proud it took the lead.”

State Senate approves new ferry board to help ailing Alaska Marine Highway System

1 hour 9 min ago

The M/V Kennicott departs Whittier for Chenega Bay on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

JUNEAU — A new nine-member board will write long-term plans for Alaska’s state ferry system, under new legislation approved Tuesday by the state Senate.

The new ferry board has already been approved by the state House and needs only a procedural vote before advancing to the desk of Gov. Mike Dunleavy for final approval.

The idea was one of 12 pieces of legislation that passed the House or Senate on Tuesday as lawmakers scramble to advance bills before end of the regular session on Wednesday. Except for the budget and a handful of fiscal ideas slated for special sessions this year, bills that do not advance by the end of the day on Wednesday must wait until 2022 for consideration.

The ferry system has repeatedly struggled with long-term planning, and the board members will serve staggered six-year terms, a structure intended to provide stability across multiple governors.

“It’s the highlight of my seven years” in office, said House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak.

The lack of long-term ferry planning has led to significant problems with new Alaska-class ferries built in Ketchikan. Those ferries were designed under Gov. Sean Parnell to serve northern Southeast Alaska, but their design was specific to ferry terminals that were never built. The administration of Gov. Bill Walker continued with construction, leaving the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities under Dunleavy to pay for tens of millions of dollars in modifications.

The Department of Transportation is not required to follow the new board’s planning, which caused critics to say the measure does not go far enough in fixing the system’s problems. Despite those concerns, the bill passed the House and Senate unanimously.

“They will have great influence, if this is done right,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

“It may not be the entire answer, but it takes us forward,” he said.

Coronavirus vaccines may not work for some with underlying health issues

2 hours 26 min ago

"Risk is very different for people in my situation," said Maria Hoffman, a kidney transplant patient who works for the Medical University of South Carolina. (Photo by Brett Lemmo for The Washington Post) (Brett Lemmo/)

Maria Hoffman feels as though she has been left behind. Her adopted hometown of Charleston, S.C., is hopping — with restaurants and bars fully open, park concerts in full swing and maskless friends reuniting with hugs on streets.

Hoffman, 39, is fully vaccinated and eager to rejoin the world. But as a kidney transplant patient, she is hesitant to participate for fear of becoming infected. “Risk is very different for people in my situation,” she said. “I am 100% acting like I am not immunized.”

The state worker is among millions of immunocompromised Americans, about 3 to 4% of the U.S. population, for whom the shots may not work fully, or at all, and who are unsure of their place in a country that is increasingly opening up. Emerging research shows that 15 to 80% of those with certain conditions, such as specific blood cancers or who have had organ transplants, are generating few antibodies.

Federal health officials’ decision last week to rescind almost all masking and distancing recommendations for those who are fully vaccinated only added to the sense of fear, isolation and confusion for those with immune issues. On Twitter and other social media platforms, many such patients expressed frustration that the change might leave them with less — not more — freedom as their risk of infection grows as more of their neighbors and co-workers ditch their masks.

Hoffman, who has been advised by her doctors to act as though she never got the shots, recounted how she visited a grocery store Thursday but became anxious and left after a maskless man struck up a conversation.

“I wear my mask out of respect for others, and for those who are sick,” she said. “If you aren’t wearing a mask, we can’t make you now.”

Vaccine makers excluded immunocompromised people from their clinical trials in an understandable rush to develop a way to protect as many people as quickly as possible. As a result, there’s limited information about how this group is reacting to the shots, as well as to the loosening of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restrictions.

The ability of such patients to fend off the novel coronavirus is not just a footnote in the pandemic involving one unlucky group — but potentially a critical part of the narrative about how new, more contagious variants are continuing to emerge worldwide.

The interaction between immunocompromised people and the virus is perhaps one of the pandemic’s most fraught questions. Case studies have detailed how some patients can have active infections for many months — resulting in questions about whether they can act as incubators for mutations that lead to new variants and underscoring the need for an effective vaccine strategy not just for their sake, but for the greater good.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and White House adviser Anthony Fauci highlighted the challenges of such patients and the vaccines in a recent news briefing in which they acknowledged that the first documented case of the so-called New York variant, B. 1.526, was found in a patient with advanced AIDS.

“Early studies actually show that these variants could emerge in a single host — in a single immunocompromised host,” Walensky said.

But neither the federal government nor vaccine makers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna has stepped up to do a comprehensive study about whether the vaccines protect people with immune issues. As such, most of the research has been conducted piecemeal in academic centers — and many are reaching differing, sometimes conflicting, conclusions.

Early data suggest that the vaccines offer some protection, though perhaps to a lesser degree, for most patients with HIV and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. But there’s worry about people with blood cancers and transplant recipients. Some of the weakened response appears to be related to certain immunosuppressive drugs, and potentially a commonly prescribed steroid.

“The overwhelming majority of transplant patients, even after a second dose of the vaccine, appear to have suboptimal protection — if any protection — from the vaccine, which is frightening, disappointing and a bit surprising,” said Dorry Segev, a researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

For most of the pandemic, Segev said, it was rare to see transplant recipients get sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, because they had been so careful about staying at home. But that changed over the past two months, with newly infected patients now coming in at a pace of nearly one each day, he said.

Many tell the same story: After being fully vaccinated, they had finally ventured out for a meal, reunited with family members or otherwise relaxed their social distancing precautions.

“We expected a slightly blunted effect,” Segev said, “not something this stark.”

The good news, he and other researchers say, is that scientists are prepared with some potential solutions, such as boosters or high-dose shots. They just need to scramble to study them so they can offer them as soon as possible.

The body’s immune system can be a capricious thing.

It can serve as a defensive shield one minute, and then shift into overdrive the next and attack itself. Many scientists believe that figuring out the puzzle of how the different components work together and how to control them is one of the holy grails of medicine that could lead to cures for many of the ills that plague humanity.

But compared to, say, the heart, researchers’ understanding of the immune system is still limited. They’ve long known, for example, that vaccines work better in some people than others but they are still trying to figure out why.

From studying other vaccines, for instance, they know that age and underlying conditions can be factors. People older than 65 have been shown to produce 50 to 75% fewer antibodies in response to flu shots than their younger counterparts, which is why manufacturers produce a high-dose version for them. HIV patients often receive three hepatitis B shots, instead of two.

Given this knowledge, some differences in the coronavirus vaccine response of immunocompromised people were expected.

Most of the work has looked at only one facet of the immune response — the creation of antibodies, which are simple to measure with a blood test. Studies have mostly focused on the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna because they are most widely used.

At the University of California, San Francisco, Monica Gandhi and her colleagues found that HIV patients seem to produce fewer antibodies on average, but she is optimistic that the amount is sufficient to protect most people.

She said one recent study showed that another arm of the immune system — T cells, or the white blood cells that fight infection — appear to respond to the vaccines similarly in both HIV patients and those without the disease.

“With the antibody response being blunted, but the T-cell response not, it may mean more susceptibility to mild infection, but not likely severe disease,” she said.

Gandhi said that although more research is needed, the strong T-cell response may reflect how many people with HIV in the United States are quite healthy because they are treated with retroviral drugs. She said the situation may be different in Africa and other parts of the world for those not on treatment. She said she gave one of her vaccinated patients who had zero antibody response an extra dose of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

For most of her patients, however, she said she has “no concerns yet.”

“We are a very tightknit HIV community. We all talk, and would know if we were seeing a lot of breakthrough infections,” she said. “But fortunately we are not.”

The results have been more disappointing for some other types of immunocompromised patients.

Mounzer Agha, a hematologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and lead author of a study on blood cancers and the vaccines posted online before peer review, described how crushed he felt when he saw the low antibody results for nearly half of the 67 patients his group tracked.

Patients on treatments that impact B-cell function appeared to have the weakest results. That made sense to him because B cells produce antibodies.

But the data also contained what he called an “unwelcome surprise”: Patients with a condition known as chronic lymphocytic leukemia had a very weak response even if they were not undergoing treatment. The condition, which affects the blood and bone marrow, can sometimes be asymptomatic.

“When I found patients who had never received therapy still did not respond to the vaccine, that was very disheartening,” he said. “Now what are you going to do for these individuals?”

Agha said his clinic has been scrambling to reassess care plans in the context of the pandemic. Some patients who are more stable are taking cancer treatment “holidays” while they get the vaccine; others have opted to forgo the shots.

“The information has come out so recently that there are no clinical guidelines, and decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis on the fly,” he said.

Agha said he fears that for some patients, the vaccines may never work even at higher doses, and that they will have to rely on the inoculation of those around them for their safety.

“Everyone should get the vaccine for the sake of their loved ones,” he urged. “Everyone knows someone who has cancer. And if you care about that person, you should get the vaccine and tell your friends to get it.”

As for transplant patients, the early data are also concerning: A May 5 study published in JAMA found that 46% of 658 transplant patients did not mount an antibody response after two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

“Although this study demonstrates an improvement in . . . antibody responses in transplant recipients after dose two . . . these data suggest that a substantial proportion of transplant recipients likely remain at risk for COVID-19 after 2 doses of mRNA vaccine,” the researchers wrote. They think this lack of reaction is probably a result of the immunosuppressive drugs they take.

Segev, a co-author, said that although antibody reaction is only part of the picture, “knowing what we know about immunosuppression, I would be surprised if transplant patients who had no antibody response had a robust T-cell response.”

“The irony of it all is transplant patients were being very, very careful,” he said, adding: “It’s a very scary problem.”

In St. Louis, Washington University’s Alfred Kim said that although the majority of patients with autoimmune conditions who were studied are mounting a healthy antibody response, about 15% had very blunted or undetectable antibody responses. The participants in the study had a wide range of illnesses, including inflammatory bowel disease, systemic lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

The original study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, was based on 133 people, but it has now grown to more than 300, with similar results.

As with the blood cancer study, many of those most severely affected were on B-cell depleting medications, such as rituximab, used to treat certain autoimmune diseases and cancer, or ocrelizumab, a newer drug for multiple sclerosis.

Patients taking drugs for rheumatoid arthritis were likely to have a moderately reduced response.

Kim, an assistant professor in the division of rheumatology, said one perplexing finding is that steroid use also appeared to diminish the vaccine response. Although he cautioned that only a small number of patients were involved, he said prednisone, which is used to treat such conditions as arthritis in adults and breathing difficulties in children, appeared to result in a tenfold reduction in antibody production, regardless of the dose given if administered around the time of the vaccine.

“Right now, we’re telling them to pretend they weren’t vaccinated,” Kim said. “That is the easiest solution but it’s only a short-term one. The step beyond is: What do we do to mitigate this?”

Numerous potential solutions for the immunocompromised are being debated. One simple idea is to provide one or more booster shots for those with weak responses. So an immunocompromised person might get three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, instead of two.

Another possibility is to try preventive doses of lab-produced antibody proteins known as monoclonal antibodies that until now have been mostly used as treatments for those who are infected with the coronavirus.

One thing doctors don’t recommend is for vaccinated people to get antibody tests. First of all, no one knows what levels of antibodies are effective against the virus. Moreover, Kim emphasized that antibodies are only one part of the immune system and that it’s possible that the vaccines have activated other, more difficult-to-measure components.

“It’s not something that we can act on,” he said of such information. “All it can do is mount worries for the patient.”

Many physicians urge immunocompromised patients to continue to practice social distancing and take other precautions.

Seville Christian, 60, an HIV-positive substance abuse counselor in San Francisco, has been working in person through the pandemic and said she plans to continue to do so.

But she said optional social outings will remain off the table. Even though she planned to get her second shot May 12, she will go to restaurants only for takeout, meet friends virtually and minimize her time in stores until the science is clearer.

She’s still weighing whether return to her to church, fully masked, when it reopens.

“I wish I could go back to normal, but there are still a lot of questions I have,” Christian said.

Hoffman, too, is struggling to navigate the new normal in Charleston. After having a kidney transplant at age 9 and spending most of her childhood in hospitals, she is acutely aware of her mortality. So she said she tries to find the right balance between living her life and staying safe.

When a friend gets married in Ohio in a few weeks, she hopes to go and participate in the outdoor events. She is also talking to friends about reserving a socially distant spot for an outdoor band performance. But otherwise, she’s continuing to keep her distance from others.

“I just love talking to people and meeting people,” she said. “It has been crazy and lonely.”

Human bone found in the woods near Campbell Park area, Anchorage police say

3 hours 12 min ago

A human bone was found in the woods near the Campbell Park area last weekend, Anchorage police said.

A person told police that he believed he found a human bone near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Tudor Centre Drive on Saturday, police wrote in an online alert.

“Officers responded and collected the bone for further analysis; it was determined to be human,” police wrote.

The intersection is north of city park land near the Campbell Creek Trail, and the Alaska State Crime Lab has entrances from both of the roadways. It was not immediately clear where in the woods the bone was located.

Investigators and the police’s Crime Scene Team returned to the area Tuesday and police said there were no road closures. No identification or cause of death had been determined by Tuesday, police said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Duct tape can fix almost anything — except Alaska’s economy

3 hours 48 min ago

A Mount Marathon runner in Seward, Alaska hoses off his shoes after finishing the race in 2001. Duct tape is commonly used by mountain and trail runners to help keep small rocks out of their shoes.

I recently caused a friend to almost spit food out her nose while laughing after I told her how I fixed my cabinet knobs. For context, I arrived here 50 years ago and was part of the Alaska that couldn’t always get what it needed to fix stuff. So, ingenuity was a prized quality to have when you needed to get your skidoo going again while you were on the tundra in 40 below weather with just duct tape and hope.

(By the way, as an Alaskan who likes to avoid unnecessary conflict, I will be spelling it as “duct” tape throughout this piece, but with complete acknowledgement of the preference by some for the “duck” tape spelling. So long as it sticks, no one really cares.)

Anyhow, I had knobs on my kitchen cabinets that started twirling uncontrollably when the threads of the screws stripped. I felt a perfectly reasonable solution was to pour superglue into the knob end and then re-screw it into the cabinet on the theory that when the glue dried, all would be held fast. This did not happen. What did happen was that the knobs still twirled around on the screws but now they were superglued into the cabinet door.

While I will admit that is somewhat of a failure of Alaskan ingenuity (and the promise of superglue), I contend that the Alaska I first knew and loved used fixes like this more often than not. I have seen duct tape holding everything together — from pipes to dog collars, diapers and prom dresses.

I can’t help but think the old Alaska is dying. I blame Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Costco collectively. We could get everything we needed to fix stuff and it could be shipped to the most remote parts of our state. But where’s the fun in that? Where’s the thrill of duct taping a pipe back together and then watching breathlessly to see how many pots you’ll need to catch the drips when you turn the water back on?

I find myself wondering what kind of Alaska we will have in the future if we forget how critical duct tape was to our past. We will have to make some choices on what we want to keep as part of the realness of our state and what can go the way of honey buckets. For instance, every time I got on a small plane in the Bush for a flight, the pilot would wait until everyone was seated and then ask you to scream out your weight from the back of the plane to the front so that everyone – and I mean everyone – knew just how badly that last diet went. You could also choose to lie about your weight and risk the possibility of death. That part of Alaska can go away. We can text now.

I can shop in Forever 21, but I’m not. And I’m not fooling anybody when I wear something I buy there. I can live in Alaska and pretend that it’s still the same rugged backwater I first encountered 50 years ago. But when we have a Starbucks on every corner and an Olive Garden in every mall, who do we think we are fooling? The old Alaska is very much gone. The question is, what do we want the new Alaska to look like?

As we look ahead to an Alaska in which the oil industry no longer dominates our every thought and prayer for rescue from our charming fiscal incompetence, what will we have that allows us to stand out and causes young people to want to stay? The answer to that question can’t simply be, “Oh God, give us another boom. We promise not to piss this one away.” It doesn’t work. We always piss it away.

Alaska needs industries that are not dependent on boom and bust cycles, industries that are not here to extract nonrenewable resources and then leave. I don’t know that one industry should ever dominate an economy the way the oil industry has dominated Alaska for so many years. The question about what other industries we can grow locally or entice to relocate – whatever the next step is for Alaska – we’d better start having that conversation now. Or the last oil company leaving Alaska will truly be turning out all our lights.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska columnist and author. Her book “Coming Into the City” is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Bronson slightly widens lead over Dunbar in Anchorage mayoral runoff election

3 hours 55 min ago

Mayoral candidate Dave Bronson and his supporters campaigned on Election Day at the corner of Minnesota Drive and Northern Lights Boulevard on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Dave Bronson remained on track Tuesday to become Anchorage’s next mayor after growing his lead over opponent Forrest Dunbar, according to the latest round of preliminary election results posted online.

He had a 1,212-vote lead over Dunbar on Tuesday, with 45,421 total votes and 50.68% of the vote. Dunbar had 44,209 votes and 49.32% of the vote.

Counted ballots have broken in favor of Bronson since last Wednesday. Results posted last Tuesday, on runoff election night, put Dunbar slightly ahead initially, but Bronson quickly eclipsed Dunbar.

An additional 2,598 ballots were included in Tuesday’s count since the last round of results was posted Friday, and Bronson’s lead has now grown by about 100 votes. The election center has received more than 91,500 ballot envelopes so far.

Mailed ballots are continuing to arrive at the center in small numbers. Regular ballots have until Friday to arrive and be counted. Overseas ballots have until May 25.

Though there are more ballots left to count, it is unlikely that Dunbar could recover enough votes to win.

The results of the election are not official until they are certified by the Anchorage Assembly. Certification is scheduled for May 25.

The runoff election for Anchorage mayor prompted a record voter turnout, breaking the previous record from 2018, during the last mayoral election. Voter turnout is at 37.91% so far. The record in 2018 was 36.3%.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: 4 recent deaths and 56 new cases reported Tuesday

4 hours 7 min ago

We're making this important information available without a subscription as a public service. But we depend on reader support to do this work. Please consider supporting independent journalism in Alaska, at just $3.69 a week for an online subscription. SUBSCRIBE NOW

Alaska on Tuesday reported 56 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths linked to the virus, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

State data showed that the newly reported deaths involved one person from Anchorage, two from Wasilla and one from Delta Junction. All of the deaths occurred recently, officials said Tuesday.

In total, 362 Alaskans and six nonresidents with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic reached the state last spring. Alaska’s death rate per capita remains among the lowest in the country, though the state’s size, health care system and other factors complicate national comparisons.

Alaska’s average daily case counts are now trending down significantly statewide, though a few regions in the state are still in the highest alert category based on their current per capita rate of infection.

Anyone 12 and older who lives or works in Alaska can now receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Alaskans can visit covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322 to sign up for a vaccine appointment, and new appointments are added regularly. The phone line is staffed from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.

Only Pfizer’s vaccine is approved for children as young as 12; the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved only for those 18 and older.

By Monday, 314,000 people — about 52.9% of Alaskans age 16 and older — had received at least their first dose. At least 274,802 people — 47.2% of Alaskans 16 and older — were considered fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard. The vaccine dashboard was not updated as of early Tuesday afternoon.

By Tuesday, there were 27 people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state, far below a peak in late 2020.

Of the 52 cases reported Tuesday among Alaska residents, there were 18 in Anchorage plus two in Eagle River; six in Ketchikan; four in Wasilla; three in Fairbanks; three in Big Lake; three in Palmer; three in Juneau; one in Homer; one in Kenai; one in Seward; one in Soldotna; one in Kodiak; one in North Pole; one in Nome; and one in Bethel.

In smaller communities that are not named to protect residents’ privacy, there was one in the Yakutat plus Hoonah Angoon region and one in the Bethel Census Area.

Four new nonresident cases were also identified: two in Anchorage, one in Fairbanks and one in Ketchikan.

While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.

The state’s data doesn’t specify whether people testing positive for COVID-19 have symptoms. More than half of the nation’s infections are transmitted from asymptomatic people, according to CDC estimates.

— Annie Berman

Alaska’s mental health crisis and its harder impact on minorities

4 hours 29 min ago

Anchorage Police Department activity, Nov. 2, 2013. (Loren Holmes/)

The University of Alaska’s Justice Information Center recently released a report on police use of deadly force in Alaska from 2010 to 2020. Among the findings were:

• More than two-thirds of the incidents involved a person with signs of mental illness with one-third expressing some suicidal intent.

• While more than half of the incidents involved white people, American Indians or Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and Black people were involved almost double their percentage in Alaska’s population.

This should come as no surprise. The ADN has been reporting about the state’s mental health crisis for years – citing organizational failures, and tight budgets. Community mental health services have been declining for two decades. That contributed to overburdening the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, which also experienced headline making downfalls – including almost losing accreditation and operating at partial capacity.

The mental health crisis has a disparate impact on AI/AN and Black people because they suffer higher rates of certain mental illnesses and receive less and poorer treatment than whites.

AI/AN have the highest rates of suicide of any racial/ethnic group in the nation. It’s been rising during the two decades Alaska’s community mental health services have dropped. Compared to the general population, AI/AN endure more risk factors for behavioral health problems with an accompanying higher rate, but have limited access to care.

Black people are about 15% of the population, but constitute more than 25% of those in need of mental health care. Their suicide rate increased 200% since 1980, and Black women suffer depression at a 50% higher rate than white women. Yet Black people are less likely to be given antidepressant medications and are the least likely group to receive therapy.

Bottom line: Racial minorities have less access to mental health services than whites, are less likely to receive needed care, and are more likely to receive poor-quality care when they are treated. That’s according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

That’s where police come in. With Alaska cutting back on mental health services and not addressing the disparate impact on minorities, the police get called to handle the fallout – a task for which they are woefully equipped. You can become a police officer in Alaska if you’re 21, have a high school diploma or G.E.D., a valid driver’s license, and have completed an Alaska Police Standards Council (APSC) certified training program. APSC requires 650 total hours of training on 30 required topics without specifying the number of hours on each.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety and the Anchorage Police Department have tried to squeeze in some introductory training on mental health issues, just as they train on CPR, basic first aid, and use of a heart defibrillator. But the latter doesn’t prepare officers to perform brain surgery at an accident scene, and the former doesn’t prepare them to assess and treat people in mental health crises.

Anchorage has started recognizing police aren’t adequately trained to handle people experiencing mental health crises. Starting this year, the city is using new money from an alcohol tax to fund a team of mental health first responders for calls involving persons with a mental health issue. APD fully supports the move. If the tax raises money sufficient to fund a team 24/7, it could divert 7,300 such calls a year, according to Meg Zaletel, a city assemblywoman and mental health lawyer who sponsored the idea.

Having mental health professionals respond to people experiencing mental health crises makes more sense than tasking police with this crisis of our making. Adequately funding community mental health care and ensuring it is equitably available makes even better sense. It not only reduces mental health crises, it results in reduced overall medical costs, homelessness and incarcerations, and increased employment and wages – for the mentally ill and their families.

Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who now trains and writes on criminal justice topics nationwide. She lives in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

More than 6,000 migrants swim or jump fences to Spanish outpost in North Africa, prompting military response

6 hours 24 min ago

A man lies on the ground as Spanish Army cordon off the area at the border of Morocco and Spain, at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Ceuta, a Spanish city of 85,000 in northern Africa, faces a humanitarian crisis after thousands of Moroccans took advantage of relaxed border control in their country to swim or paddle in inflatable boats into European soil. Around 6,000 people had crossed by Tuesday morning since the first arrivals began in the early hours of Monday, including 1,500 who are presumed to be teenagers. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo) (JAVIER FERGO/)

CEUTA, Spain — Spain deployed its military to the Moroccan border Tuesday and expelled nearly half of the thousands of migrants who jumped fences or swam onto European soil over two days after Rabat loosened border controls amid a deepening diplomatic spat.

Overwhelmed soldiers separated the adults from the young and carried children in their arms while Red Cross workers helped an endless trickle of migrants who were emerging from the water shivering and exhausted. One unconscious woman laid on the sand before she was carried away on a stretcher.

The sudden influx of migrants has fueled the diplomatic spat between Rabat and Madrid over the disputed Western Sahara region and created a humanitarian crisis for Ceuta, the Spanish city of 85,000 in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Morocco by a double-wide, 10-meter (32-feet) fence.

Amina Farkani, a 31-year-old Moroccan woman who commuted to jobs in Ceuta for 18 years until foreign workers were banned from entering when coronavirus outbreaks began to surge last year, said she saw an opportunity to go back to work when she heard that police were not controlling the border.

“They let people pass and stand there without speaking,” Farkani told The Associated Press. “People just pass and pass and pass.”

Farkani was among the thousands of migrants who were sent back to Morocco. AP reporters saw Spanish military personnel and police officers ushering both adults and children through a gate in the border fence. Some tried to resist and were pushed and chased by soldiers who used batons to hasten them.

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska denied that unaccompanied migrants under 18, who are allowed to remain legally under the tutelage of Spanish authorities, were being deported.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez canceled a trip to Paris, where he was to attend a summit on international aid to Africa, and flew by helicopter to Ceuta. While calling Morocco a “friend of Spain,” Sánchez also urged authorities to “respect the shared border.”

A senior Moroccan Foreign Ministry official said the government had recalled its ambassador to Spain for consultations. The official wasn’t authorized to be identified by name in media reports.


A man is held by soldiers of the Spanish Army at the border of Morocco and Spain, at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Ceuta, a Spanish city of 85,000 in northern Africa, faces a humanitarian crisis after thousands of Moroccans took advantage of relaxed border control in their country to swim or paddle in inflatable boats into European soil. Around 6,000 people had crossed by Tuesday morning since the first arrivals began in the early hours of Monday, including 1,500 who are presumed to be teenagers. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo) (JAVIER FERGO/)
Spanish Army take positions at the border of Morocco and Spain, at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Ceuta, a Spanish city of 85,000 in northern Africa, faces a humanitarian crisis after thousands of Moroccans took advantage of relaxed border control in their country to swim or paddle in inflatable boats into European soil. Around 6,000 people had crossed by Tuesday morning since the first arrivals began in the early hours of Monday, including 1,500 who are presumed to be teenagers. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo) (JAVIER FERGO/)
Men sit on the ground after arriving in the Spanish territory at the border of Morocco and Spain, at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Ceuta, a Spanish city of 85,000 in northern Africa, faces a humanitarian crisis after thousands of Moroccans took advantage of relaxed border control in their country to swim or paddle in inflatable boats into European soil. Around 6,000 people had crossed by Tuesday morning since the first arrivals began in the early hours of Monday, including 1,500 who are presumed to be teenagers. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo) (JAVIER FERGO/)

By Tuesday afternoon, nearly 8,000 sea-soaked people had crossed the border into the city since early Monday, the Spanish government said, including some 2,000 thought to be teenagers. The number getting in slowed after Spain deployed additional police officers and soldiers, but the arrivals didn’t stop even when anti-riot police on the Moroccan side dispersed crowds of people hoping to cross over.

At least 4,000 were returned to Morocco, according to Spain’s Interior Ministry. Morocco and Spain signed an agreement three decades ago to expel all those who swim across the border.

Yet many arriving Tuesday were sub-Saharan Africans who often migrate to flee poverty or violence at home. Spain has agreements to return some of those migrants to their native countries, but not all of them.

One young man drowned and dozens were treated for hypothermia or small injuries, the Red Cross in Ceuta said, adding that it was performing coronavirus tests on the new arrivals. The adults were being transferred to Ceuta’s main soccer stadium, while those thought to be minors were sent to warehouses run by charity groups.

Neither the government in Rabat nor local officials have commented about the mass influx or responded to queries by The Associated Press.

“It’s such a strong invasion that we are not able to calculate the number of people that have entered,” said Juan Jesús Vivas, the president of Ceuta, an autonomous city of about 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles).

“The army is at the border in a deterrent role, but there are great quantities of people on the Moroccan side waiting to enter,” he told Cadena SER radio.

Four Spanish armored vehicles parked Tuesday at Tarajal beach in Ceuta, where the border fence leads to a short breakwater. Some people also rushed up the hills surrounding the city and jumped over the fences.

In a video shared by a Spanish police union urging authorities to send in reinforcements, anti-riot officers behind the border fence were using shields to protect themselves from stones being thrown by people in Morocco.

The European Union’s top migration official – Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson – described the incidents as “worrying” and called on Morocco to prevent people from setting out in the first place.

“The most important thing now is that Morocco continues to commit to prevent irregular departures, and that those who do not have the right to stay are orderly and effectively returned,” Johansson told the European Parliament.

“Spanish borders are European borders. The European Union wants to build a relationship with Morocco based on trust and shared commitments. Migration is a key element,” she said.

Morocco’s loosened border watch came after Spain decided to grant entry for medical treatment to the chief of a militant group that fights Morocco for the independence of Western Sahara. Morocco annexed the sprawling region on the west coast of Africa in 1975.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry has said Madrid’s move to assist Brahim Ghali, head of the Polisario Front, was “inconsistent with the spirit of partnership and good neighborliness” and vowed there would be “consequences.”

Vivas, Ceuta’s conservative regional president, said residents were in a state of “anguish, concern and fear” and 60% of the city’s children had not shown up for school on Tuesday. He also linked the sudden mass arrival to Spain’s compassionate assistance to Ghali.

The Spanish government officially rejects the notion that Morocco is punishing Spain for a humanitarian move. Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya summoned Morocco’s ambassador, however, to express the government’s “disgust” and to communicate that Spain rejected “the massive entry of Moroccan immigrants.”

Moroccan Ambassador Karima Benyaich was later recalled by Rabat.

Sánchez appeared on live television to announce he would visit Ceuta and that his top priority was to ensure safety in the city “in the face of any challenge, any eventuality and under any circumstance.”

Over the decades, Spain has built a close relationship with Morocco to crack down on illegal border crossings but also to increase economic exchanges and fight extremism. Sánchez on Tuesday avoided any direct criticism to Rabat in his speech.

“To be effective,” he said, “that cooperation must always be based on respect — respect for the shared border.’'

The prime minister also faced a political storm at home. The far-right Vox party blamed the migration crisis on the government’s “inaction” and sending its leader on a quick visit to Ceuta.

Many African migrants regard Ceuta and nearby Melilla, another Spanish territory, as a gateway into Europe. In 2020, 2,228 chose to cross into the two enclaves by sea or land, often risking injuries or death.

On Tuesday, another 80 African migrants reached Melilla, 350 kilometers (218 miles) east of Ceuta, by jumping over the enclave’s double fence.

Morocco scored a diplomatic victory last year when the previous U.S. administration under Donald Trump recognized Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, paving the way for normalizing relations between Israel and Morocco.

___

Aritz Parra reported from Madrid. AP journalists Bernat Armangué in Ceuta, Spain, Tarik El Barakah in Rabat, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Iain Sullivan in Madrid and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.

Letter: Alaska income tax

6 hours 46 min ago

Once again, the subject of a state income tax has been revived. It’s not obvious to most that our state credit rating is at a minus-tide level. We have to collectively realize that in order to move forward, we need a tax. Money that could go to state expenses is leaving us, in one form or another. The people that are using our infrastructure buy little and take money to their home states. In all likelihood, they contribute to political positions against our wishes.

I personally feel that “progressive” has too many negative political connotations to it. In any event, it’s an uphill battle. I would like to be more involved.

— Matt John Fred

Anchorage

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

Curious Alaska: What happens to the money Alaskans pay for phone calls with people in jail or prison?

7 hours 6 min ago

Getty Images (@LeeAkazaki/)

Curious Alaska is a new weekly feature powered by your questions. What do you want to know or want us to investigate about life in Alaska, stories behind the news or why things are the way they are? Let us know in the form at the bottom of the story.

Curious Alaska: Where does the money that DOC makes off inmate phone calls go?

In Alaska, the majority of money families spend on phone calls with incarcerated people goes right back to paying for the imprisonment itself: For inmate towels, food, bedding and drug testing. The rest enriches a private equity-owned corporation called Securus Technologies Ltd.

It works like this: All phone calls from any Alaska jail or prison have to be made through Texas-based Securus. For at least 30 years, Securus -- or its precursor company Evercom -- has been Alaska’s prison phone service contractor, according to the DOC.

Especially during the pandemic, when in-person visiting was banned for more than a year, Securus controls most live communication between prisoners and the outside world.

Why can’t people in prisons just pick up the phone and call like anyone else? Prison phone providers monitor and record most phone calls, which the correctional departments assert is important for safety. (Calls between inmates and their attorneys are never supposed to be monitored, but that happened in Alaska in 2014.)

The cost burden falls not on the inmates, but on their family and friends outside. That’s because incarcerated people are not allowed to pay for the calls themselves -- only someone on the outside can set up an account and feed money into it for inmates to make calls.

Costs of calls vary widely, depending on where the caller lives. In Alaska, local calls are supposed to be capped at $1 for 15 minutes and long-distance calls at $4. Bills also include various taxes and fees, which users say add up. Some family members report spending hundreds of dollars per month funding conversations with their incarcerated loves ones.

Collectively, family members and loved ones of incarcerated people spent nearly $1.9 million in Securus phone calls to Alaska jails and prisons in the 2020 fiscal year, according to data from the Alaska Department of Corrections.

The DOC has collected about $773,000 in the current fiscal year, through March, according to department spokeswoman Betsy Holley.

Securus’ contract with the state operates under a commission system that guarantees most of the revenues for phone calls return to state coffers. According to data from the DOC, roughly $1.5 million in Securus revenues were returned to the state in 2020. Securus pocketed the remaining $427,000.

“Commission” systems that guarantee states a cut of the profits for choosing a prison phone contractor are common in the industry. Critics call them a system of kickbacks that serve to keep costs high for customers -- the loved ones of incarcerated people -- even as the cost of the service gets cheaper on the free market.

So what does the money get used for?

The DOC says it spent the $1.5 million on defraying the “cost of incarceration.” That includes “inmate food, clothing, bedding, indigent supplies such as toiletries, program supplies such as papers/pencils/etc, drug testing supplies and services, institutional staffing costs, maintenance, etc. as well as other institutional operating costs,” according to Holley.

Angela Hall runs a support group of the families of incarcerated people in Alaska. Her husband is serving a long sentence at Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai.

She’d like to see the DOC investigate cheaper ways for families to talk to incarcerated people. People who can’t afford it spend hundreds of dollars per month on prison phone calls, she said, and the department has no incentive to make it cheaper.

“The DOC uses that kickback they’re getting. They’re not interested in hearing about cost savings,” Hall said. “Cost savings for us means a loss of revenue for them.”

She’d also like to see the Securus funding spent on improvements to communication for families of prisoners, such as infrastructure for video calling. But she’s not optimistic, she said: The status quo benefits the Department of Corrections and the corporation chosen to provide the services.

“These companies are multibillion-dollar companies,” she said. “They are making money off of the most vulnerable in society.”

What do you want to know? Tell us in the form below.

This Biden nominee with Alaska ties has worked for top offshore wind firms. Now he’s poised to help oversee the industry.

7 hours 22 min ago

Tommy Beaudreau appears before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on his nomination to be deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

Tommy Beaudreau spent the Trump years as a corporate lawyer working for energy companies of all stripes, including many of the developers that are key to the Biden administration’s goal of building thousands of offshore wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean.

Beaudreau is now poised to be confirmed as the No. 2 official at the Interior Department, which will decide whether these projects should receive federal permits to start construction after evaluating their environmental impact. Although some environmental groups have criticized him for his corporate work for fossil fuel companies, it’s his private practice work for a wide swath of the offshore wind industry that may force him to sit out key decisions in an area that’s central to President Joe Biden’s climate goals.

Interior has been reviewing 14 wind farm proposals for projects from Maine to North Carolina, which could help meet Biden’s pledge to generate 30 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030. Beaudreau has represented companies behind 10 of those projects while working as a partner at Latham & Watkins, according to his financial disclosure form. They include the Vineyard Wind farm off Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., which received federal approval last week to become the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.

“If there are pending applications, he’ll need to stay out of it,” said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “At the end of the day, you want the public to respect the integrity of the decision-making process.”

Beaudreau has signed an ethics agreement pledging to recuse himself from matters relating to his former clients for two years, as required by law. He has years of experience regulating the nation’s offshore waters, serving as the first director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management during the Obama administration. The agency oversees permitting for offshore oil and gas drilling as well as wind projects.

It is unclear whether Beaudreau, who declined to comment, will curtail his involvement in decisions involving the wind industry more broadly. Current ethics rules require federal officials to recuse themselves from “a particular matter involving specific parties” they have represented in the two years before joining the government. Decisions including lease sales and establishing wind development zones could fall into this category.

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, said in a phone interview that Beaudreau “more than likely is allowed to participate” in such policy deliberations.

“The question still is, depending on the makeup of this industry, is it a best practice for him to participate, or does it cast an appearance of a conflict of interest?” Amey said, adding that one way to address the issue would be for the department to disclose details about Beaudreau’s work in this area.

“Full transparency here would be copies of his calendar and meetings that he’s having to show his former clients aren’t receiving an unfair advantage that isn’t available to other competitors in the industry,” he said.

[Interior Department becomes battlefield in fight over response to climate change]

Beaudreau is likely to be confirmed as deputy secretary during a vote of the full Senate, which could come as soon as this week. Last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gave him strong bipartisan support, voting 18 to 1 to advance his nomination. Chairman Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., described Beaudreau in a statement as “supremely well qualified for the job” and said he thinks “senators on both sides of the aisle will find that he is someone they can work with.”


Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, talks Tommy Beaudreau of Alaska, ahead of his confirmation hearing for deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

Oil and gas companies, as well as coal firms, are among the 35 clients listed on Beaudreau’s financial disclosure form. He also worked on two projects in Saudi Arabia, including Neom, a futuristic desert city being pushed by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“He is a very conflicted person by any standard, and it’s going to be problematic with him being the second most powerful person at Interior,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group. “We don’t think he should be there.”

Interior declined to comment on the matter.

Many environmentalists attacked David Bernhardt, Donald Trump’s first deputy interior secretary, for representing agricultural and fossil fuel interests as well as conservative groups before joining the department in 2017. He carried a card listing all his former clients in his pocket, as a way to demonstrate his adherence to federal ethics laws, and later became interior secretary after Ryan Zinke’s resignation in 2019.

The No. 2 position at the Interior Department is a critical one: The deputy secretary is the only other person aside from the secretary who oversees the entire department.

Beaudreau wasn’t the Biden administration’s initial pick for the job. In March, the White House withdrew its first candidate for the position, Elizabeth Klein, after centrist senators such as Manchin and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, objected to her advocacy to curb fossil fuels. Klein still serves as an adviser to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Beaudreau attended Service High School in Anchorage but left Alaska after oil prices slumped in the 1980s and his father lost a job working for a North Slope oil company.

[2013: Former Alaskan leads listening sessions to start the process for Alaska-focused Arctic drilling rules]

Several environmentalists have praised Beaudreau’s record as a conservationist and his ability to listen and compromise. He served as the Interior Department’s point person on Alaska while he was then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s chief of staff during the Obama administration. He helped establish protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the northern Bering Sea, as well as restrictions on drilling in other coastal waters.

Beaudreau “demonstrated a strong commitment to bringing diverse groups of people together to ensure that our public lands are managed for multiple uses to benefit wildlife, outdoor recreation, clean energy, and local communities,” Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement.

In a letter to senators endorsing Beaudreau’s nomination, Jewell praised his “ethical compass, deep understanding of the law, and ability to bring people of different perspectives together to find common ground.”

But others view him as sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry. At Latham & Watkins, after he left government, Beaudreau worked for such firms as coal mining company Arch Resources, oil and mining firm BHP, and oil major Total.

“What I worry about big picture is that he is being put in there to dampen Secretary Haaland’s ability to really crack down on fossil fuels and make Interior a more responsible steward,” Hartl said.

The offshore wind developers who are poised to start multibillion-dollar construction projects in coming years have won praise from many climate activists, although some environmentalists have voiced concern about potential harm to birds, fish and marine mammals such as the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species.

Interior has established a process so career ethics officials can vet potential conflicts involving Beaudreau and other appointees, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. Some current Interior officials - including Nada Wolff Culver, the Bureau of Land Management’s deputy director of policy and programs, and Principal Deputy Solicitor Robert Anderson - worked as advocates before joining the department.

“You can go from a job in an industry or advocacy group and still be able to work in government,” said Jan Baran, a partner at the law firm Holtzman Vogel. “It’s just that you’ll be limited in what you can do, because of the conflict-of-interest rules.”

Beaudreau’s disclosure form shows he worked for five firms - Avangrid Renewables, Vineyard Wind, Ørsted, Dominion and EnBW North America - that are central to the Biden administration’s offshore wind expansion plans.

The Danish firm Ørsted, for example, has applications before the Interior Department for five major wind projects - Revolution Wind, South Fork Wind, Sunrise Wind, Ocean Wind and Skipjack Wind Farm - that span swaths of ocean from Maryland to Rhode Island. Together, these projects would amount to nearly 3 gigawatts of electricity, or 10 percent of Biden’s 2030 goal.

Beaudreau’s disclosure does not specify the work he did for Ørsted or other companies beyond “legal services.”

A spokesman for Ørsted declined to comment on Beaudreau’s role with the company.

Beaudreau and other lawyers at Latham & Watkins began working with Avangrid Renewables - a part of the Spanish energy company Iberdrola - on “environmental and permitting matters” relating to the company’s Kitty Hawk wind project off North Carolina in late 2018, Avangrid spokeswoman Susan Millerick said.

Beaudreau also provided “legal support for similar matters” for the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project that the Interior Department approved last week in what Haaland described as “a significant milestone in our efforts to build a clean and more equitable energy future while addressing the climate emergency.”

Avangrid Renewables is one of two companies partnering on that project; the other is Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners out of Denmark.

“We congratulate both the Interior Department and Tommy on his nomination,” Millerick said. “He’s an extremely talented professional in offshore wind matters and will be an excellent, high-quality addition to the Interior Department’s leadership team.”

Millerick added that as for other projects brought before Interior by former Beaudreau clients Avangrid or Vineyard Wind, “Tommy would have to answer as to recusing himself.”

Dominion Energy in Virginia is listed as another Beaudreau client. The company operates one offshore wind pilot project, consisting of two turbines, and plans to build a larger project nearby off the coast of Virginia Beach.

The company said that Beaudreau “has not represented Dominion Energy on any matters before the Department of Interior.” Instead, Latham & Watkins has provided legal services “on matters involving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” company spokesman Jeremy L. Slayton said in a statement.

“As part of these services, our lead counsel at Latham & Watkins received limited legal support from Mr. Beaudreau,” he said.

Another Beaudreau client, EnBW North America, a U.S. branch of the German utility, has proposed building an offshore wind farm called Castle Wind 30 miles off Morro Bay in California. The company is also pursuing projects in the new offshore lease area established by the Interior Department called the New York Bight, according to its website.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Letter: Supreme Court decisions

7 hours 23 min ago

I saw in a recent commentary where Supreme Court decisions were referenced. I will take a moment and weigh in on this. The court has one primary function: interpret, defend and follow the Constitution.

On the 2020 election, upholding the decision to allow the Pennsylvania judiciary to usurp the Legislature is a 100% violation of said document. Going back a few years, nothing could have been more unconstitutional than ruling the Affordable Care Act to be upheld. Chief Justice John Roberts determined the penalty was a tax. I’m still trying to figure out where in the Constitution it says each person should be forced to take insurance.

That is not the worst part. I think a majority of Americans are against people being denied coverage when they are the most at need. How this looks in the real world is this: My friend fought breast cancer like a warrior princess. When it came time for her to obtain new insurance, yes, they offered it to her, but quadrupled her rates. This is one of many problems with the ACA: Although she was not denied, offering a rate which folks cannot afford is just the same game by a different name. Adding a layer of government bureaucracy in the private sector is always a bad idea. I am not going to rely on the the Supreme Court anytime soon.

— Brad Stiles

Anchorage

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

Letter: Get your shots

7 hours 26 min ago

In the quick announcement from the CDC last week regarding masks, and the rushed response by state and local governments around the country, many people may have missed the most important piece of the message. Almost everyone heard that you can stop wearing masks if you are fully vaccinated. But the more important message is that you should continue wearing masks indoors in public if you are not fully vaccinated.

In Anchorage, only 42% of the population is fully vaccinated. That means that the other 58% should continue wearing masks.  Being vaccinated means you can go out in public without a mask and not worry about getting infected or spreading COVID-19. Please get vaccinated as soon as possible, or keep wearing a mask, so we can all be safe.

— Janet M. Johnston

Anchorage

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

Letter: Questions about transgender support

7 hours 53 min ago

I have a good friend who is transgender — the economist Deirdre McCloskey, who has published a wonderful memoir (entitled “Crossing”) of her life and transition — but I have some concerns about some current legislation.

Should it be prohibited or allowed for people under the age of 18 to have gender-changing surgery and, for that matter, hormonal treatments with irreversible effects?

While I strongly support treating transgender girls and women as the gender they identify themselves as, there might be exceptions for some sports where growing up male, with the resulting musculature and body build, might give an unfair advantage.

How to deal with these questions? I think it’s not simply “we favor” or “we oppose” — there must be some nuances that reasonable people can discuss.

— Rick Wicks

Anchorage

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

Letter: ADN should have made an endorsement

7 hours 55 min ago

The decision of this newspaper’s editorial board to not endorse a candidate in the Anchorage mayoral runoff election was an act of cowardice and a betrayal of the public trust that the people of Anchorage place in the Daily News. Refusing to endorse a candidate in this highly contentious election implicitly argues that the two candidates are equally far from the ideal.

The ongoing pandemic is one of Anchorage’s greatest crises, and Dave Bronson denies the basic scientific facts. Abstaining from endorsement in this election was not maintaining a balanced political view and was equivalent to right-wing propaganda.

— Daniel Burton

Anchorage

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

Militant rocket kills 2 in Israel after airstrike topples 6-story building in Gaza

8 hours 43 min ago

Palestinian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a paint factory after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Yousef Masoud) (Yousef Masoud/)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A rocket launched from Gaza killed two Thai workers in southern Israel on Tuesday, police said, hours after Israeli airstrikes toppled a six-story building in the Palestinian territory that housed bookstores and educational centers. With the war showing no sign of abating, Palestinians in the region staged a general strike in a rare collective action against Israel’s policies.

Violence erupted at protests in the occupied West Bank, including in the city of Ramallah. Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires and hurled stones at an Israeli military checkpoint. Troops fired tear gas canisters at the crowd, and protesters picked up some of them and threw them back.

One protester was killed and more than 70 wounded — including 16 by live fire — in clashes with Israeli troops in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israeli army said two soldiers were wounded by gunshots to the leg.

The general strike was an uncommon show of unity among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of its population, and those in the territories Israel seized in 1967 that the Palestinians have long sought for a future state. It threatened to further widen the conflict after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the West Bank last week.

Strike organizer Muhammad Barakeh said Palestinians are taking a position against Israeli “aggression” in Gaza and Jerusalem, as well as the “brutal repression” by police. Israel blames the war on Hamas and accuses it of inciting the violence.

Since the fighting began last week between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure, while Palestinian militants have fired more than 3,400 rockets from civilian areas in Gaza at civilian targets in Israel.

The latest attack from Gaza hit a packaging plant in a region bordering the territory. In addition to the two people killed, Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service said it took another seven to the hospital. Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said the wounded were also Thai.

The Israeli military said rockets also were fired at the Erez pedestrian crossing and at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where humanitarian aid was being brought into Gaza, forcing both to close. It said a soldier was slightly wounded in Erez attack.


An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov) (Tsafrir Abayov/)
A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a six-story building which was destroyed by an early morning Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides, now in its second week. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra) (Khalil hamra /)

Israel continued its airstrikes into Gaza, leaving behind a large pile of rubble in its attack on the six-story building with centers used by the Islamic University and other colleges. Desks, office chairs, books and wires could be seen in the debris.

Israel warned the building’s residents ahead of time, sending them fleeing into the predawn darkness. There were no reports of casualties.

“The whole street started running, then destruction, an earthquake,” said resident Jamal Herzallah. “This whole area was shaking.”

Since 2012, Hamed al-Ijla had run a training center in the building, teaching first aid, hospital management and other skills.

When the war is over, “I will set up a tent across the street and resume work,” he said.

The fighting began May 10 when Hamas fired long-range rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.

At least 213 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes since, including 61 children, with more than 1,440 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Hamas and Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 160.

Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks.

The fighting is the most intense since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, but efforts to halt it have stalled so far. Egyptian mediators are trying to negotiate a cease-fire, but the U.S. has stopped short of demanding an immediate stop to the hostilities and Israel has vowed to press on.

The war has also seen an unusual outbreak of violence in Israel, with groups of Jewish and Palestinian citizens fighting in the streets and torching vehicles and buildings.

As the fighting drags on, medical supplies, fuel and water are running low in Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians and under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Nearly 47,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.

Israeli attacks have damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said. Nearly half of all essential drugs in the territory have run out.

Essential supplies and aid have only trickled in during the fighting, some from Egypt through the Rafah crossing it controls and some from Israel when it briefly opened the territory’s main commercial crossing Tuesday before the attack forced it shut.

The WHO said the bombing of key roads, including those leading to the main Shifa Hospital, has hindered ambulances and supply vehicles in Gaza, which was already struggling to cope with a coronavirus outbreak.

The United States signaled it would not pressure the two sides for a cease-fire even as President Joe Biden said he supported one.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bombardments had set the Palestinian militants back many years.

“I am sure that all our enemies around us see the price we have levied for the aggression against us,” he said, speaking in front of an F-16 fighter jet at an air force base in a video released by his office Tuesday.

The Biden administration has declined so far to publicly criticize Israel’s part in the fighting or send a top-level envoy to the region, and it has blocked a proposed U.N. Security Council statement calling for an end to the crisis.

Among the buildings that Israeli airstrikes have leveled was the one housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.

Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday in Iceland that Israel had given the U.S. information about the bombing. Blinken declined to characterize the material, and Israel has not publicly provided any evidence of its claim.

AP President Gary Pruitt reiterated the organization’s call for an independent investigation of the attack.

“As we have said, we have no indication of a Hamas presence in the building, nor were we warned of any such possible presence before the airstrike,” he said in a statement. “We do not know what the Israeli evidence shows, and we want to know.”

___

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Grant Peck in Bangkok and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.

Climate change added $8 billion to damage from Superstorm Sandy, study indicates

8 hours 51 min ago

FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2012 file photo, sea water floods the World Trade Center construction site in New York during Superstorm Sandy. A study released in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, says climate change added $8 billion to the massive costs of 2012's Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) (John Minchillo/)

Climate change-triggered sea level rise added $8 billion in damage during 2012′s Superstorm Sandy, one of nation’s costliest weather disasters, a new study said.

During Sandy - a late fall freak combination of a hurricane and other storms that struck New York and surrounding areas - the seas were almost 4 inches higher because of human-caused climate change, according to a study in Tuesday’s journal Nature Communications. Researchers calculated that those few inches caused 13% of Sandy’s overall $62.5 billion damage, flooding 36,000 more homes. Sandy killed 147 people, 72 in the eastern United States, according to the National Hurricane Center.

While past studies have determined global warming was a factor in extreme weather events, either by increasing the chance of them happening or making them stronger, the new study is one of the first to tally the human costs of climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

“In most cases, flooding was made worse by sea level rise and we show how much worse,” said study co-author Philip Orton, a physical oceanographer at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

Orton said there were places, such as basement apartments in the New York City area, filled with water that would have been dry without human-caused sea level rise.

“There are people who experienced significant losses from Hurricane Sandy who would not have experienced those losses but for climate change,” said study lead author Ben Strauss, a sea level scientist who is CEO of Climate Central, a science-and-journalism venture.

To come up with its damage totals, the study first calculated how much of the storm surge - as much as 9 feet above the high tide line at the Battery in Manhattan - could be attributed to climate change.

Researchers did this by comparing 2012 observations to climate simulations of a world without global warming. They made calculations for sea level rise overall, then did it for each of the main contributors to sea level rise: warmer waters expanding and extra water from melting glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

The researchers determined globally seas in 2012 were 4.1 inches higher than in 1900 because of climate change, but the amount was slightly less in New York: 3.8 inches (9.6 centimeters).

The reason is that Alaska’s melting glaciers and Greenland’s melting ice sheet are relatively close to the East Coast and the physics of sea level rise puts the biggest increases on the opposite end of the globe from the biggest melts, said study co-author Bob Kopp, director of Rutgers University’s Institute of Earth, Oceans and Atmospheric Sciences.

Then the researchers looked at where the flooding was and what computer simulations showed would have happened with four inches (9.6 centimeters) less water. In some places, such as Howard Beach in Queens, it was a big deal, Orton said.

These calculations for sea level rise from climate change alone seem to make sense, said Steve Nerem, a scientist who studies sea rise at the University of Colorado and was not part of the research. Nerem said he wasn’t qualified to comment on the damage calculations but is a bit skeptical because 4 inches (9.6 centimeters) on such a large storm surge doesn’t seem so huge.

Susan Cutter, director of the University of South Carolina’s Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute who also wasn’t part of the research, said the study’s damage estimates seem reasonable to her.

Study author Strauss pointed out that Hurricane Irene in 2011 showed that the first 5 feet of flooding doesn’t do nearly as much damage as what follows. Then, he said, the damage soars at an increasingly higher rate per inch.

One way to think about that, Strauss said, is the extra few inches can put enough water above a house’s lowest electrical outlet to require expensive fixes.

Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency when Sandy struck, said he can’t make a judgement on specific storms like Sandy being more costly because of climate change. But in general, he said, storms are worsening because of climate change.

After Sandy, Fugate said, then-President Barack Obama turned to him and stated: “The debate on climate change is over, we must start talking about climate adaptation.”

Letter: Horrific bill

8 hours 58 min ago

This letter is in response to the ADN article regarding Palmer Sen. Shelley Hughes. She is proposing a bill to the Legislature that would require schools to designate school-sponsored athletic teams or sports as male, female, or co-ed, but most importantly, would bar transgender girls from female sports. In this article she is quoted as stating “Alaskans want Alaskans’ values, American values to be sustained.”

I am an Alaskan, born and raised. As an Alaskan with “Alaskan values,” and as a medical provider with “American values,” I would like to let Sen. Hughes know that her proposed bill does not reflect either. In case she did not notice, our country is in need of love and compassion for one another, recognition and respect for all human beings, and ethical legislation to support the people who live here.

This bill is absolutely horrific, oozing hatred and fear, and without a moral compass. These are not Alaskan or American values, they are Sen. Hughes’. She was elected to represent all people of her district, not as a platform to promote divisive fear-mongering hatred that serves her purpose. She should stop promoting legislation that serves only her insecure self-interests.

— Je’dette A. Green

Advanced Nurse Practitioner

Anchorage

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

Letter: Native corporations deserve relief funds

9 hours 13 min ago

On behalf of the Azachorok Inc. Board of Directors serving more than 520 shareholders throughout Alaska, we strongly encourage support for COVID-19 relief funds going to Alaska Native corporations. The Supreme Court is currently deliberating a case that is holding up $330 million in COVID-19 relief funds that would otherwise go to Alaska’s economy when many in our region need it most right now. If the Supreme Court rules against corporations, then the $330 million could be dispersed nationwide among tribes, resulting in a much smaller investment to our state.

It is important the Congress and the Supreme Court recognize the importance and unique role ANCSA corporations play in Alaska. One hundred thousand Alaska Native people are served by our corporations in much the same way that tribes serve their populations in the Lower 48. Many of our corporations are more efficient at distributing dividends and aid, with infrastructure to do so already set up. We also have mechanisms of accountability that many tribes do not have.

The ANCSA corporate structure has played a critical role in the prosperity and well-being of Alaska Native people. Our corporations should be celebrated and the proper ruling from the Supreme Court should reflect that. The ruling should also follow the intent of the law from Congress and distribute the COVID-19 relief funds directly.

It is disappointing to continue to see infighting between tribes over monetary resources that do not align with our shared cultural values of helping one another and being neighbors and allies. Sharing resources should build partnership, rather than further dividing our Indigenous nations. We need unity during these trying times between our tribal nations.

— Loren Peterson

CEO and Chairman, Azachorok Inc.

Anchorage

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

Pages