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Boeing lost hundreds of experienced Seattle-area engineers last month

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 19:39

A pension system quirk is costing Boeing hundreds of veteran engineers who’ve opted to retire. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS) (Mike Siegel/)

Last month, hundreds of very experienced Seattle-area Boeing engineers walked out the door. They chose to retire early with the realization they’d have a significant cut to their pension payouts if they delayed.

Though this quirk in traditional pension plans is not unique to Boeing, the outcome is a local brain drain that will accentuate a looming experience gap at the jetmaker.

Boeing has pushed out the launch of an all-new airplane toward the end of this decade. By then, there’ll be a limited number of senior engineers left who worked on development of the last all-new plane — the 787, delivered in 2011 — and have detailed knowledge of that complex process and its pitfalls.

Boeing’s white-collar union said more than 500 highly experienced U.S. engineers and more than 130 technical staff retired in November.

For most of them, it was because a pending interest rate adjustment would otherwise have dramatically slashed their lump sum pension payouts by as much as an entire year’s salary.

To try to retain the most critical expertise, Boeing identified 26 key engineers represented by its white-collar union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, and offered them specific financial enticements to stay, SPEEA spokesperson Bill Dugovich said.

Boeing offered each “about $400,000, mostly in Boeing stock” if they stayed two years. Only nine accepted the offer, he said.

Lynne Hopper, Seattle-based Boeing vice president of engineering strategy and operations, in an interview said the jetmaker is hiring engineers at a strong clip.

She cited substantial engineering development work in progress across the company where those new hires can gain experience.

That includes innovative defense and space engineering projects in addition to work in the Puget Sound region at the commercial airplanes unit certifying jets that are derivative variants of prior models, such as the 777X.

“I think we have lots of opportunities to build the capabilities that we’ll need,” Hopper said. “I anticipate we’ll use that talent for future products.”

Outflow of experience

Boeing Commercial Airplanes has about 17,000 engineers in total, with more than 14,000 of those located in the U.S., including about 12,000 in the Puget Sound region.

That Boeing would lose hundreds of its most experienced local engineers this year became inevitable as employees assessed their pension situation.

Only employees with a traditional pension that offers the option of a lump sum payout rather than monthly checks were affected. It doesn’t apply to Boeing machinists, who don’t have that type of plan.

With inflation rising steeply, many engineers choose to take their Boeing pension payout in a single lump sum that they can invest, rather than a monthly check that is not adjusted as the cost of living rises.

For those employees close to retirement, choosing to exit after the end of November would have slashed about a year’s salary out of their lump sum payout.

That’s because the lump sum equivalent in actuarial terms to a lifetime of monthly checks is calculated under a formula set by the Internal Revenue Service based on interest rates. When rates go up, the expectation is that a lump sum invested will yield higher growth and so a lower amount is granted.

For the engineers, the rates adjust annually each November. Anyone who retired before the end of November got a lump sum based on last year’s interest rates.

Inputting this year’s much higher interest rates into the IRS formula means employees retiring from December qualify for a substantially smaller lump sum.

SPEEA said 560 engineers and 135 technical staff chose to leave in November, the vast majority close to retirement age. For the year through November, SPEEA lost a total of 1,375 engineers at Boeing along with 471 technical staff.

One 36-year Boeing veteran whom the company appointed a technical fellow, its elite category of engineers, said he retired last month to avoid taking a big financial hit.

“I couldn’t ignore that,” said the engineer. “It would be irresponsible.”

While acknowledging the loss of experience, Hopper, the engineering vice president, said Boeing has been adding significant numbers of new engineers to its technical workforce.

“We were on a really strong hiring spree in 2022. We exceeded our growth plan,” she said. “We’re constantly hiring, whether it’s brand new engineering graduates or people with established skills in aviation.”

Across all divisions — Commercial Airplane, Defense and Space, and Global Services — Boeing currently employs a total of 57,600 engineers.

She said Boeing has been able to attract and retain engineers even in the “very competitive talent market, especially here in Puget Sound.”

By the end of this year, it will have hired about 9,000 engineers, about 6,500 of those in the U.S.

And Boeing has been documenting how its engineering work is done and standardizing technical design reviews so the “tribal knowledge” acquired through experience can be more readily passed down to younger engineers.

The loss of so many senior people exiting this year will be a stiff test of that strategy.

Anchorage School District extends school closures into Thursday after heavy snowfall

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 18:21

Snow covers benches at Elderberry Park near downtown Anchorage on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

The Anchorage School District extended its school closures into Thursday after more than a foot of snow had fallen across Anchorage by Wednesday afternoon.

In a message to families and staff, the district said school and support facilities would be closed Thursday because unsafe road conditions were expected. The district had also kept schools and facilities closed, and canceled after-school activities, on Wednesday due to the snowstorm.

District officials said they would make a decision regarding Thursday after-school activities by noon Thursday and that schools would reopen Friday unless otherwise announced.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District closed schools on Wednesday as well, but did not appear to have posted a decision regarding school closures for Thursday by Wednesday evening.

Related stories:

More than a foot of snow creates difficult driving conditions in Anchorage

Photos: Snow day in Anchorage

Oldest known DNA reveals life in Greenland 2 million years ago

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 17:39

This illustration provided by researchers depicts Kap Kobenhavn, Greenland, two million years ago, when the temperature was significantly warmer than northernmost Greenland today. (Beth Zaiken via AP) (Beth Zaiken/)

NEW YORK — Scientists discovered the oldest known DNA and used it to reveal what life was like 2 million years ago in the northern tip of Greenland. Today, it’s a barren Arctic desert, but back then it was a lush landscape of trees and vegetation with an array of animals, even the now extinct mastodon.

“The study opens the door into a past that has basically been lost,” said lead author Kurt Kjær, a geologist and glacier expert at the University of Copenhagen.

With animal fossils hard to come by, the researchers extracted environmental DNA, also known as eDNA, from soil samples. This is the genetic material that organisms shed into their surroundings — for example, through hair, waste, spit or decomposing carcasses.

Studying really old DNA can be a challenge because the genetic material breaks down over time, leaving scientists with only tiny fragments.

But with the latest technology, researchers were able to get genetic information out of the small, damaged bits of DNA, explained senior author Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge. In their study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, they compared the DNA to that of different species, looking for matches.

The samples came from a sediment deposit called the Kap København formation in Peary Land. Today, the area is a polar desert, Kjær said.

But millions of years ago, this region was undergoing a period of intense climate change that sent temperatures up, Willerslev said. Sediment likely built up for tens of thousands of years at the site before the climate cooled and cemented the finds into permafrost.

The cold environment would help preserve the delicate bits of DNA — until scientists came along and drilled the samples out, beginning in 2006.

During the region’s warm period, when average temperatures were 20 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 19 degrees Celsius) higher than today, the area was filled with an unusual array of plant and animal life, the researchers reported. The DNA fragments suggest a mix of Arctic plants, like birch trees and willow shrubs, with ones that usually prefer warmer climates, like firs and cedars.

The DNA also showed traces of animals including geese, hares, reindeer and lemmings. Previously, a dung beetle and some hare remains had been the only signs of animal life at the site, Willerslev said.

One big surprise was finding DNA from the mastodon, an extinct species that looks like a mix between an elephant and a mammoth, Kjær said.


Professors Eske Willerslev and Kurt H. Kjaer expose fresh layers for sampling of sediments at Kap Kobenhavn, Greenland. Scientists have analyzed 2-million-year-old DNA extracted from dirt samples in the area, revealing an ancient ecosystem unlike anything seen on Earth today, including traces of mastodons and horseshoe crabs roaming the Arctic. (Svend Funder via AP) (Svend Funder/)

Many mastodon fossils have previously been found from temperate forests in North America. That’s an ocean away from Greenland, and much farther south, Willerslev said.

“I wouldn’t have, in a million years, expected to find mastodons in northern Greenland,” said Love Dalen, a researcher in evolutionary genomics at Stockholm University who was not involved in the study.

Because the sediment built up in the mouth of a fjord, researchers were also able to get clues about marine life from this time period. The DNA suggests horseshoe crabs and green algae lived in the area — meaning the nearby waters were likely much warmer back then, Kjær said.

By pulling dozens of species out of just a few sediment samples, the study highlights some of eDNA’s advantages, said Benjamin Vernot, an ancient DNA researcher at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who was not involved in the study.

“You really get a broader picture of the ecosystem at a particular time,” Vernot said. “You don’t have to go and find this piece of wood to study this plant, and this bone to study this mammoth.”

Based on the data available, it’s hard to say for sure whether these species truly lived side by side, or if the DNA was mixed together from different parts of the landscape, said Laura Epp, an eDNA expert at Germany’s University of Konstanz who was not involved in the study.

But Epp said this kind of DNA research is valuable to show “hidden diversity” in ancient landscapes.

Willerslev believes that because these plants and animals survived during a time of dramatic climate change, their DNA could offer a “genetic roadmap” to help us adapt to current warming.

Stockholm University’s Dalen expects ancient DNA research to keep pushing deeper into the past. He worked on the study that previously held the “oldest DNA” record, from a mammoth tooth around a million years old.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you can go at least one or perhaps a few million years further back, assuming you can find the right samples,” Dalen said.

FBI got tip about Colorado nightclub shooting suspect a day before his 2021 arrest

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 16:31

In this image from video provided by Leslie Bowman, Anderson Lee Aldrich surrenders to police at a home where his mother, Laura Voepel, was renting a room in Colorado Springs, Colo., on June 18, 2021. (Leslie Bowman via AP) (Leslie Bowman/)

DENVER — Authorities said the person who would later kill five at a Colorado gay nightclub was on the FBI’s radar a day before being arrested for threatening to kill family members, but agents closed out the case just weeks later.

The disclosure by the FBI to The Associated Press creates a new timeline for when law enforcement was first alerted to Anderson Lee Aldrich as a potential danger. Previously it was thought Aldrich only became known to authorities after making the threat on June 18, 2021.

The details of the June 17, 2021, tip to the FBI are not known. But the next day, Aldrich’s grandparents ran from their Colorado Springs home and called 911, saying Aldrich was building a bomb in the basement and had threatened to kill them. Details of the case remain sealed, but an arrest affidavit verified by the AP detailed how Aldrich was upset the grandparents were moving to Florida because it would get in the way of Aldrich’s plans to conduct a mass shooting and bombing.

The grandparents were concerned about Aldrich even before the 911 call, according to the document, with the grandmother telling authorities she and her husband had been “living in fear” because of Aldrich’s “recent homicidal threats toward them and others.”

As part of the FBI’s probe, the agency said it coordinated with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which had responded to the June 18, 2021, call from Aldrich’s grandparents and arrested Aldrich, now 22, on felony menacing and kidnapping charges. But about a month after getting the tip, the FBI closed its assessment of Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.

“With state charges pending, the FBI closed its assessment on July 15, 2021,” the FBI said.

Those charges were later dropped for unknown reasons. Under Colorado law, cases that are dismissed by either prosecutors or a judge are automatically sealed to prevent people from having their lives ruined if they do not end up being prosecuted. Authorities have cited the law in refusing to answer questions about the case but a coalition of media organizations, including the AP, has asked the court to unseal the records.

[‘Next mass killer’: Dropped case foretold Colorado bloodbath]

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, Sgt. Jason Garrett, declined to comment on the FBI’s statement or on whether his agency had any tips about Aldrich before Aldrich’s 2021 arrest, citing the sealing law.

The shooting occurred more than a year later at Club Q just before midnight on Nov. 19 when Aldrich opened fire as soon as they entered the club, firing indiscriminately with an AR-15-style rifle while wearing a ballistic vest, according to an arrest affidavit that was written the day after the shooting but not unsealed until Wednesday evening.

The affidavit does not provide any new information about what motivated Aldrich, but says that Aldrich expressed remorse to medical staff shortly after the shooting and said they had been awake for four days, according to police officers guarding their room at the hospital. It doesn’t including anything more about what Aldrich may have told investigators.

The document also includes an image from the club’s surveillance video showing a blast coming out of the rifle barrel as Aldrich entered the club.

Aldrich’s mother told police that they were supposed to go to a movie at 10 p.m. that night, about two hours before the attack, but said Aldrich had left before then, saying they had to do quick errand.

The FBI is now helping to investigate the shooting. Xavier Kraus, a former neighbor of Aldrich and their mother, told the AP Wednesday that agents have interviewed him in recent days about a free speech website Aldrich created that has featured a series of violent posts, glorifying violence and racism.


Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, left, walks in front of a memorial set up outside Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor in the United States, paid tribute to the victims who were killed in the mass shooting at the gay nightclub. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP) (Jerilee Bennett/)

“It was meant for people to go and pretty much say whatever they want with the exception of the two rules: No spamming and no child pornography,” Kraus said. “If I would have known what it was going to turn into, that would have struck a different chord with me.”

Kraus said that after the bomb threat charges were dropped, Aldrich began boasting about recovering the guns, and once showed Kraus two assault-style rifles, body armor and incendiary rounds.

Kraus said Aldrich “was talking about bullets that could pierce through police-grade armor,” said Kraus, who said it seemed like Aldrich was hoping someone would break into their home.

The information conveyed to the FBI about Aldrich, which has not been previously reported, marks the earliest known instance of law enforcement officials being warned about Aldrich, and the shooting is the latest attack to raise questions about whether people who once caught the attention of law enforcement should have remained on the FBI’s radar.

On the night of Nov. 19, more than a year after the assessment was closed, authorities said Aldrich entered the Club Q gay nightclub in Colorado Springs while carrying an AR-15-style rifle and opened fire, killing five people and wounding 17 others before an Army veteran wrestled the attacker to the ground.

[22-year-old suspect in massacre at Colorado gay club charged with hate crimes and murders]

An FBI assessment is the lowest level, least intrusive, and most elementary stage of an FBI inquiry. Such assessments are routinely opened after agents receive a tip and investigators routinely face a challenge of sifting through which of the tens of thousands of tips received every year could yield a viable threat.

There have been several high-profile examples of the FBI having received information about a gunman before a mass shooting. A month before Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at a Florida high school, the bureau received a warning that he had been talking about committing a mass shooting. A man who massacred 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in 2016 and another who set off bombs in the streets of New York City the same year had each been looked at by federal agents but officials later determined they did not warrant continued law enforcement scrutiny.

FBI guidelines meant to balance national security with civil liberties protections impose restrictions on the steps agents may take during the assessment phase. Agents, for instance, may analyze information from government databases and open-source internet searches, and can conduct interviews during an assessment. But they cannot turn to more intrusive techniques, such as requesting a wiretap or internet communications, without higher levels of approval and a more solid basis to suspect a crime.

More than 10,000 assessments are opened each year. Many are closed within days or weeks when the FBI concludes there’s no criminal or national security threat, or basis for continued scrutiny. The system is meant to ensure that a person who has not broken the law does not remain under perpetual scrutiny on a mere hunch — and that the FBI can reserve its resources for true threats.

___

Mustian reported from Colorado Springs. Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report from Washington.

As Finland and Sweden wait to join NATO, Turkey extracts concessions

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 16:04

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, third left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, right, next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, second right, after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File) (Bernat Armangue/)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined NATO ministers gathered in Romania last week, hailing the unity of the alliance in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen member states scramble to provide weapons and funding to aid Kyiv’s fight.

But when Blinken welcomes his counterparts from Finland and Sweden in Washington this week, it will be the differing, and sometimes dissonant, agendas of the bloc’s 30 members that will take center stage.

Long after the June 2022 summit when Western leaders had hoped to cement the Nordic nations’ entry into NATO, the accession of Finland and Sweden remains blocked by two holdouts, Turkey and Hungary, which have not yet ratified the required protocols.

While Hungary has committed to doing so when its legislators reconvene in February, uncertainty about when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will assent - and the possibility he could delay until after Turkish elections next year - presents the Biden administration with a dilemma as it seeks to maintain a pro-Ukraine coalition already tested by steep energy prices and domestic politics.

The delay also highlights the ability of a sole NATO member to bog down alliance priorities and underscores the complexity of U.S.-Turkish ties at a moment when Erdogan is providing critical military support to Ukraine while deepening economic ties with Russia and threatening an offensive into northern Syria that U.S. military officials fear could put American troops at risk.

“The pressure is building up from the West,” said Gonul Tol, a Turkey scholar at the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Institute. As Turkey makes the alliance wait, she said, U.S. officials are reluctant to let Erdoğan “use the NATO accession card to extract concessions on other files.”

Ahead of talks with Blinken at the State Department on Thursday, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said that Sweden has already taken numerous steps to accommodate the accession memorandum signed by Turkey, Finland and Sweden in June - including changes to Sweden’s constitution that take effect in January to tighten anti-terror rules, a key Turkish demand.

Stockholm has also announced an end to an informal embargo on arms sales to Turkey and in recent weeks extradited a Kurdish man with alleged links to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a long insurgent war against Erdogan’s government. The extradited man had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Sweden.

Billstrom expressed hope that Turkey would move shortly to ratify the two countries’ entry into NATO, but declined to cite any specific timeline.

“Any delay outside of the most necessary is of course very, very bad,” he said in an interview. “I think that everybody has to take their responsibility on board and do the job they have to do.”

After months of waiting, NATO officials have begun to apply some public pressure on Turkey. During a visit to Istanbul early last month, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that Finland and Sweden have made good on their side of the deal.

“It is time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO,” he said in remarks alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “In these dangerous times, it is even more important to finalize their accession to prevent any misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow.”

The accession of two countries that punch above their weight militarily would give NATO a boost and represent an additional setback to Moscow, adding 800 miles to Russia’s border with the alliance.

It isn’t the first time that political concerns have delayed NATO expansion plans. In 2019, Greece agreed to support Macedonia’s accession following a years-long delay - but only after the latter formally moved to change its name to North Macedonia.


Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during his meeting with President Joe Biden during the NATO summit in Madrid, Wednesday, June 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh/)

It remains unclear what will satisfy Erdogan, who is scrambling to shore up his internal support ahead of presidential polls expected in May or June 2023. This week, Turkey’s justice minister demanded the extradition of “all terrorists that Turkey wants” before his country will sign off on Sweden’s NATO bid, suggesting that only a handful of extraditions will not suffice.

Turkey’s concerns appear to be primarily directed at Sweden rather than Finland. Swedish media reported Wednesday that the country’s attorney general issued an opinion that several additional individuals Turkey has identified in their NATO demands should not be extradited.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, speaking in a separate interview, said the delay had generated concern in NATO at a time of intense security upheaval in Europe. He referenced apparent attacks on Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September - which Nordic nations deemed sabotage - and an incident last month in which an explosion killed two people in Poland which sparked fears of a Russian attack into NATO, but which U.S. and NATO officials later said appeared to be an errant Ukrainian air defense missile.

“Luckily, it was not an attack from Russia. But of course you can imagine that if it had been an attack from Russia . . . it would have been a very complex integration for countries like Finland or Sweden: Do we associate with NATO decisions and action when we are not covered by Article V?” Article V refers to NATO’s mutual defense pledge.

U.S. officials acknowledge they have taken an arms-length approach to the accession debate, as they seek to avoid being pulled into a thorny discussion over the relationship with Ankara, parts of which have invoked congressional scrutiny.

While the Pentagon has said it supports a proposed deal to sell Ankara dozens of new F-16 fighter jets and upgrades for its current F-16 fleet, the sale already faces opposition from some key lawmakers in part due to Turkey’s hostile relationship with Greece.

Criticism of that potential sale threatens to compound congressional antagonism over Turkey’s 2020 purchase of Russia’s sophisticated S-400 air defense system, a deal that resulted in U.S. sanctions and Turkey’s exclusion from the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter program.

The NATO debate comes as U.S. officials voice concern that a threatened Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria could put the hundreds of American troops there at risk, as occurred in 2019 when Ankara launched a similar operation. A recent cross-border Turkish strike came within 150 yards of American personnel in Syria, U.S. officials have said.

U.S. support for Kurdish fighters there, whom Ankara views as part of the PKK, has been a thorn in U.S.-Turkish ties since that partnership began at the height of the war against the Islamic State.

The Turkish Embassy in Washington could not be immediately reached for comment. Ankara’s long-standing security concerns were underscored last month when an explosion on a busy Istanbul street killed at least six people in an attack Turkish authorities blamed on the PKK.

American officials acknowledge that Erdogan has staked out a unique, and often beneficial, position among NATO nations in regards to Russia’s war in Ukraine, supplying drones and other military gear to Ukraine while serving as an intermediary between NATO and Russian President Vladimir Putin, helping to broker a crucial grain export deal.

At the same time, Turkey has deepened economic ties with Russia despite successive rounds of Western sanctions. And while Erdogan’s reticence to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO bid may be tied mainly to domestic concerns, Western officials note that the delay only serves Putin, who has long complained about NATO encroachment.

Billstrom noted that there is only so much his government can do in attempting to clear the way for NATO entry.

“It is necessary to take into account the fact that Sweden has an independent judiciary and the government won’t be able to do things which are outside of these limitations,” he said.

He said Turkey needs to follow through with commitments of its own, for example improving coordination in tracking individuals who commit crimes in Sweden and then flee to Turkey.

Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey scholar at Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he expected Erdogan to give his consent shortly before the election, maximizing the political gain of conciliatory steps by Finland and Sweden as “a complete vindication of Turkey’s position.”

Cagaptay said that while American officials may want to stay out of the Sweden-Finland-Turkey debate, they may need to step in to help seal the deal.

“It’s a question of who’s going to blink first,” he said. “While [President] Biden says he’s not going to do anything, I think this will take a last-minute intervention from the White House.”

Russia killed 441 civilians extrajudicially in Kyiv area early in war, U.N. finds

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 15:43

Family members place a cross on the grave of 2-day-old Serhii Podlianov at a cemetery in Novosolone in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine on Nov. 24, 2022. (Photo for The Washington Post by Heidi Levine)

Russian forces killed extrajudicially at least 441 civilians outside of Kyiv, in what likely amounted to war crimes, in the first weeks of the invasion of Ukraine, according to a U.N. report released Thursday. The actual number of civilians summarily killed is likely to be “considerably higher,” the report found.

Based on investigations launched after hundreds of bodies of civilians were found following the Russian retreat from the Kyiv area in early April, the report by the office of the U.N. high commission for human rights documents in brutal detail the violence inflicted on Ukrainians in occupied areas around the capital.

The findings add to mounting evidence that Russian forces have targeted and summarily executed Ukrainian civilians in grave violations of international law.

Witnesses told U.N. investigators that under Russian occupation, anything perceived to constitute support for Ukrainian forces, including camouflage-patterned clothing and text message histories, became grounds for death.

Some civilians killed in makeshift detention facilities were found with their hands bound, with gunshot wounds and injuries suggesting torture, the U.N. found. Others were shot dead in their backyards, in convoys of cars while fleeing, while on bikes or walking to find food or see relatives.

The U.N. investigated extrajudicial killings in 102 villages and towns between Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded, and April 6, when its forces retreated from around Kyiv. Nearly 90 percent of the civilians killed in these cases were men.

Summary executions occurred across the three regions - Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy - though U.N. investigators found higher death counts in some cities, such as Bucha, where they documented 73 summary killings of civilians and were working to corroborate 105 more.

In one incident, on March 7, Russian soldiers invaded a home in Bucha and detained a 27-year-old man, according to the report. The mother found her son in the yard of a house the next day: he looked terrified, appeared to have an injured hand and was surrounded by soldiers, who ordered her to stay away, she told U.N. investigators. The day after Russian troops retreated on March 30, she found him in the basement of the house shot dead.

The report highlighted Russia’s “absence of meaningful investigation” into the alleged extrajudicial killings by its soldiers.


The mother of Ukrainian children's writer Volodymyr Vakulenko holds his photo as she mourns near his grave during funeral ceremony in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Vakulenko was killed by the Russian troops during the Russian occupation of Izium in the Kharkiv region. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko) (Andrii Marienko/)

As of late September, Ukraine’s prosecutor general registered more than 35,000 allegations of Russian violations of the “the rules of war,” according to the United Nations.

A Ukrainian court in May convicted the first, and so far only, Russian soldier of summarily killing a civilian. International efforts to build war crimes cases are underway, though trials are likely years away.

The report was released as U.N. human rights commissioner Volker Türk traveled in Ukraine. “I have been here now for four days, in sub-zero temperatures,” Türk said in a statement Wednesday. “I have seen for myself the horrors, suffering and the daily toll” on ordinary people.

While the U.N. can investigate atrocities and issue condemnatory General Assembly resolutions, it has not been able to take much substantive action in Ukraine, since Russia holds a veto on the Security Council. At a Security Council meeting this week, Russian and U.S. diplomats accused each other of disinterest in peace talks.

During a televised meeting in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin showed no indication of wanting to end the conflict. The war in Ukraine, which he calls a “special military operation,” would “be a long process,” he said.

After months of veiled nuclear threats, Putin defended Russia’s nuclear policies. While the possibility of nuclear war has risen, “we have not gone crazy, we are aware of what nuclear weapons are,” Putin said, adding that Russia’s nuclear strategy is centered on “retaliatory strikes.”

The meeting, with a “civil society and human rights” council populated with Kremlin loyalists and the leaders of pro-war groups, included some discussion of tough conditions on the front lines as the weather worsens. But Putin said that Russia should dig in for the long haul.

While Russian forces are not thoroughly equipped for the coming cold, much of Ukraine will be forced to face winter with tenuous access to energy. Weeks of targeted attacks have devastated the country’s grid. The Biden administration is set to convene a meeting with oil and gas executives on Thursday to discuss U.S. support for Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Natalia Abbakumova and Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia, and Kelly Kasulis Cho in Seoul contributed to this report.

Letter: Different perspectives

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 15:35

In response to Liz Iandoli Miner’s recent letter (12-4):

What is unsafe? Unsafe is reflected in finding needles with drugs in your camper that was burglarized. Unsafe is having a knife pulled on you when you open your car door and surprise the homeless person who broke the rear window to enter and sleep in it. Unsafe is when a homeless person walks up behind you on the street as you are unlocking your car and attacking you for an imagined reason. Unsafe is when your child tells you about the two drunk men sitting under your front yard shrubs drinking whiskey and swearing at her to leave their land.

These are all documented events.

Perspectives are in the eye of the beholder. Living four blocks from the greenbelt and the Sullivan Arena for the past 35 years provides a lot of perspective.

— Jerome McArthur

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: Protect the Constitution

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 15:32

On Dec. 3, former president Donald Trump advocated on Truth Social for the abolishment of the Constitution of the United States so he could be immediately returned to the presidency. Evidently Kelly Tshibaka, who lost the election to the U.S. Senate, was right when she said “the war (was) just beginning!”

Perhaps she, like Sarah Palin and David Eastman, know the plan. Let’s see if they all verbally stand up for our 200-year-old Constitution or if they stand in silence with Mr. Trump. It’s time to secure the Constitution and our Bill of Rights at the National Archives in Washington so that radicals cannot break into the National Archives and destroy our country’s foundational documents using a bomb or by other means.

The sad truth is that many good, law-abiding people have been led down a dangerous path by Mr. Trump.

— Jim Kammermeyer

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: Rail improvements

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 15:24

Alaska is the “bottom-performing state” economy from 2015-2021, according to the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development. What worries me most is that a current resurgence in oil prices, resulting from special military operation in Ukraine, will end when peace is restored. International movement away from demanding oil and gas, then, will continue to depress oil prices, until prices go below cost of production. That spells disaster for Alaska.

What can we do? Alaska’s Legislature, with the will of the people, should consider this to be an economic emergency, and spend our Permanent Fund to build rail and road from Canada to Fairbanks and on to Nome, and to build an international commercial and U.S. Navy port in Port Clarence with federal funding. This would stimulate tourism, spark economic revival throughout Alaska, and secure our Arctic resources. Please tell your state legislators and Congress-folk your thoughts.

— Daniel N. Russell

Anchorage

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Letter: Schools are not a business

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 15:05

A letter in the ADN on Nov. 30 advocated gleefully for firing teachers and closing schools willy-nilly because its author believes that is proper “management.”

Mr. Richard Rhyner seems to think that schools should be run like a business, and the school board should seek to minimize expenses in order to — what? Increase profit? Punish students? Save the taxpayer money?

This is a recurring argument from folks who see little value in an educated public. It goes like this: “Schools are failing; the school board is doing a lousy job; let’s cut their funding!” Assuming the majority of Anchorage wants an educated public, this argument is a dangerous fallacy. Besides, the current problems in Anchorage public schools are far more clearly caused by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s draconian cuts to education funding. The loss of essentially a full year of normal schooling due to the COVID-19 epidemic has also done its damage.

Furthermore, Mr. Rhyner seems to think public schools exist to produce a product for Alaska; that schools should teach only subjects which would benefit Alaska. So I guess that not only eliminates teaching many foreign languages, but also geography from other parts of the world, the history of any other country, art classes, reading poetry and most sports. Think of the savings! Schools exist to broadly educate children and young adults. This is primarily for their own benefit so they can live full, productive and contented lives. The state of Alaska will benefit more from that result than from training students only for Alaska jobs. The concern of public education in a democracy is the welfare of the children, not like some fascist governments, the welfare of the state.

— Tom Nelson

Anchorage

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Letter: Imagine that

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 15:01

Hard to believe, but it would appear two Alaskans managed to turn the entire state blue. If these two Alaskans had only met and decided to submit to a game of chance to determine who would run for the U.S. House, the outcome might well have been different regardless of the faults and foibles of the ranked choice balloting process; thanks, Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III.

On the other hand, if these two individuals are so incapable of intelligent compromise, then Alaska may very well be better off with Mary Peltola. Time will be the referee on this matter.

— Richard Garner

Anchorage

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Elizabeth Holmes’s ex-partner gets nearly 13 years on fraud charges in Theranos case

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 14:58

Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, the former lover and business partner of Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, arrives at federal court in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) (Jeff Chiu/)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Former Theranos executive Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani was sentenced Wednesday to nearly 13 years in prison for his role in the company’s blood-testing hoax — a sentence slightly longer than that given to the CEO, who was his lover and accomplice in one of Silicon Valley’s biggest scandals.

Balwani was convicted in July of fraud and conspiracy connected to the company’s bogus medical technology that duped investors and endangered patients. His sentencing came less than three weeks after Elizabeth Holmes, the company’s founder and CEO, received more than 11 years in prison for her part in the scheme, which has been dissected in a book, HBO documentary and award-winning TV series.

Balwani’s sentence was less than the 15 years sought by federal prosecutors, who depicted him as a ruthless, power-hungry figure. But it is substantially longer than the four to 10 months sought by his lawyers.

The scandal revolved around the company’s false claims to have developed a device that could scan for hundreds of diseases and other potential problems with just a few drops of blood taken with a finger prick.

After years of promoting the technology, Holmes and Balwani were warned that the blood tests were inaccurate, but they continued to raise money from investors, including from billionaires such as software magnate Larry Ellison and media magnate Rupert Murdoch, and deployed the technology in some Walgreens stores.

[Blood testing startup founder gets more than 11 years in prison for duping investors]

U.S. District Judge Edward Davila said the financial statements drawn up by Balwani “weren’t just projections, they were lies” and “a true flight from honest business practices.”

The case threw a bright light on Silicon Valley’s dark side, exposing how its culture of hype and boundless ambition could veer into lies.

Both Holmes, 38, and Balwani, 57, could have gotten up to 20 years in prison. Balwani spent six years as Theranos’ chief operating officer while remaining romantically involved with Holmes until a bitter split in 2016.

Former federal prosecutor Amanda Kramer said the harsher sentence seemed appropriate, given that the jury in Balwani’s trial convicted him on every count while jurors in Holmes’ separate case acquitted her on some charges and deadlocked on others.

“It’s not surprising that he got a more severe sentence because his misconduct was was more severe,” Kramer said.

While on the witness stand in her trial, Holmes accused Balwani of manipulating her through years of emotional and sexual abuse. Balwani’s attorney has denied the allegations.

Federal prosecutors also want the judge to order Balwani to pay $804 million in restitution to defrauded investors — the same amount sought from Holmes. Davila deferred a decision on restitution to a later hearing, just as he did during Holmes’ Nov. 18 sentencing, when she received 11 1/4 years in prison.

In court documents, Balwani’s lawyers painted him as a hardworking immigrant who moved from India to the U.S. during the 1980s to become the first member of his family to attend college. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1990 with a degree in information systems.

He later moved to Silicon Valley, where he first worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before founding an online startup that he sold for millions of dollars during the dot-com boom of the 1990s.

Balwani and Holmes met around the same time she dropped out of Stanford University to start Theranos in 2003. He became enthralled with her and her quest to revolutionize health care.

Balwani’s lawyers said he eventually invested about $5 million in a stake in Theranos that eventually became worth about $500 million on paper — a fraction of Holmes’ one-time fortune of of $4.5 billion.

That wealth evaporated after Theranos began to unravel in 2015 amid revelations that its blood-testing technology never worked as Holmes had boasted in glowing magazine articles that likened her to Silicon Valley visionaries such as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Before Theranos’ downfall, Holmes teamed up with Balwani to raise nearly $1 billion from deep-pocketed investors.

“Mr. Balwani is not the same as Elizabeth Holmes,” his lawyers wrote in a memo to the judge. “”He actually invested millions of dollars of his own money; he never sought fame or recognition; and he has a long history of quietly giving to those less fortunate.” Balwani’s lawyers also asserted that Holmes “was dramatically more culpable” for the Theranos fraud.

Echoing similar claims made by Holmes’s lawyers before her sentencing, Balwani’s attorneys also argued that he has been adequately punished by the intense media coverage of Theranos.

Balwani “has lost his career, his reputation and his ability to meaningfully work again,” his lawyers wrote.

Federal prosecutors cast Balwani as a ruthless, power-hungry accomplice in crimes that ripped off investors and imperiled people who received flawed results. The blood tests were to be available in a partnership with Walgreen’s that Balwani helped engineer.

“Balwani presented a fake story about Theranos’ technology and financial stability day after day in meeting after meeting,” the prosecutors wrote in their memo to the judge. “Balwani maintained this façade of accomplishments, after making the calculated decision that honesty would destroy Theranos.”

Letter: Alaska gas facts

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 14:50

The Anchorage Daily News published a letter to the editor Dec. 2 making false claims about how Alaska LNG will be funded and who will pay for it. Public scrutiny is critical for a project this size, but accuracy is essential for informed decision-making and I write to correct the record. The vast majority of costs for Alaska LNG will be financed by the private sector via contracts for the sale of the LNG portion of Alaska LNG’s natural gas to energy-hungry Asian markets. The funding, construction and operation of Alaska LNG, which will be managed by a privately-led team with appropriate resources and expertise, will be carefully monitored by state and federal officials.

Alaska’s great irony is we’re an energy-rich state, but Interior Alaska is essentially an energy desert. Vulnerable Alaskans suffer the most from staggering energy bills and the worst air quality in the nation. Natural gas via Alaska LNG will save Alaskans money on their energy bills and clean our air. As a state corporation, AGDC is charged with harnessing the potential of Alaska’s North Slope natural gas for the benefit of all Alaskans. Alaska LNG has been — and continues to be — scrutinized by state and federal regulatory officials because project transparency and protecting the interests of Alaskans is vitally important.

Global LNG needs, according to energy experts, were already forecast to grow for decades to come, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced energy buyers in both Europe and Asia to seek new sources for natural gas. The LNG market will continue to grow until least 2050, if not beyond, because it has far fewer emissions than coal. Alaska LNG alone is forecast to eliminate 77 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually, the equivalent of taking 16.8 million passenger cars off the road each year.

— Frank Richards

President, Alaska Gasline Development Corp.

Anchorage

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Lawmakers drop journalism act from ‘must-pass’ defense spending bill under pressure from Facebook

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 14:25

Michael Fanelli, left, buys a large stack of Chicago Tribune newspapers as fans celebrate the Chicago Cubs' historic World Series win over the Cleveland Indians on Nov. 3, 2016, in Wrigleyville. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS) (Erin Hooley/)

An effort to add proposed journalism legislation to an annual “must-pass” defense spending bill was shot down by lawmakers after a public face off with Meta/Facebook over required payments to publishers for online news content.

The 4,408-page text of the National Defense Authorization Act, released Tuesday evening, did not include any reference to the journalism bill.

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would temporarily exempt newspapers, broadcasters and other publishers from antitrust laws to collectively negotiate an annual fee from Google and Meta/Facebook, which dominate the nearly $250 billion U.S. digital advertising market.

Introduced in the House and the Senate last year, the proposed legislation made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee in September but is running out of time to pass before the House flips to Republican control in January. Including it in the defense bill was seen as a pathway to approval during the lame-duck Congress session.

But reports of the legislative maneuvering Monday generated significant pushback from Meta, which threatened to “consider removing news from our platform altogether” if the act passed as part of the defense bill. That may have turned the tide against pairing the journalism and defense legislation, sources said Wednesday.

A Meta spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday, as did a spokesperson for Google.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., lead co-sponsor of the journalism bill, did not directly address the failed effort to add it to the defense bill, but issued a statement Wednesday reiterating the urgency of getting the legislation approved.

“Continually allowing the big tech companies to dominate policy decisions in Washington is no longer a viable option when it comes to news compensation, consumer and privacy rights, or the online marketplace,” Klobuchar said. “We must get this done.”

Proponents of the journalism bill say it will level the playing field with Big Tech and boost struggling news organizations, which have seen revenue and staffing plummet during the new millennium. Meanwhile, critics of the legislation challenge everything from the temporary antitrust exemption to the potential unintended benefit to large media companies.

A coalition of 27 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, Public Knowledge and United Church of Christ Ministry, sent a letter to congressional leaders Monday opposing the act and its possible inclusion in the defense legislation.

Re: Create, an organization that advocates fair use on the internet, was a signatory on the letter. It issued a statement Wednesday supporting the decision to exclude the journalism bill from the defense legislation.

“We thank the congressional leaders and senators who successfully kept the Journalism Competition & Preservation Act (JCPA) out of defense legislation,” said Re: Create Executive Director Joshua Lamel. “The JCPA had no place in this bill, and it still has no place in any must-pass legislation.”

Despite the setback, sources said there are still pathways to getting the journalism bill approved before the 117th Congress wraps up business, including potentially adding it to the omnibus spending bill, which Democrats hope to pass by Dec. 16, when current federal funding authorization expires.

Danielle Coffey, executive vice president and general counsel of the News Media Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based newspaper trade organization that has lobbied in favor of the legislation, said getting the journalism bill passed this year remains a priority.

“We remain grateful to our champions, and will support them to get the JCPA over the finish line this Congress,” Coffey said. “The future of quality journalism and a functional democracy depends on it.”

Face masks may return amid holiday ‘tripledemic’ of COVID, flu and RSV

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 14:14

People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 sit on a bus, in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) (Luca Bruno/)

With three highly contagious respiratory viruses sickening adults and children around the country and holiday gatherings just weeks away, public health officials are beginning to talk about face masks again.

While mask mandates are unlikely in most parts of the country, health experts are renewing recommendations to wear a high-quality medical mask on public transportation, in airports and on planes, while shopping and in other crowded public spaces.

What’s notable is that the mask recommendations this time aren’t just about avoiding the coronavirus. Masks are advised to protect against what is being called the “tripledemic” - a confluence of influenza, coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that already is straining hospitals and forcing parents to miss work in record numbers.

As the country heads into its third pandemic winter, COVID-19 cases are on the rise, and the 2022-23 flu season is shaping up to be the worst in a decade - there have already been 4,500 deaths from flu, including 14 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With such a heavy burden of illness straining the health-care system, it may be hard to believe that something as simple as a face mask could make a meaningful difference. But health experts say a quality medical mask - such as an, KN95, or KF94 - remains a highly effective line of defense, especially when combined with vaccination, hand washing, better ventilation and avoiding crowds.

“Masks will help reduce your risk of all respiratory viruses not just COVID,” said Jay K. Varma, an internal medicine physician, epidemiologist and professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College. “They have to be the right quality masks worn consistently and correctly. Even a very small percentage increase in mask-wearing when multiplied by a large population can have a big impact.”

We talked to several public health experts about why a face mask may be your best holiday accessory this winter. Here’s what they had to say.

Why are we talking about masks again?

Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, noted earlier this week that the agency encourages everyone “to wear a high quality, well-fitting mask to help prevent the spread of respiratory illness,” particularly on public transportation and during airport travel. Masking is especially important in counties with high COVID-19 community levels, she said.

Walensky said in an interview Wednesday that while the CDC’s mask guidance is “largely based” on the coronavirus, and not flu and RSV, “it is the case that the mask works against those as well.”

“If you have these other things circulating as well, and you want to protect yourself against other respiratory diseases, then the mask will help you,” she said.

While the CDC is not a regulatory agency and does not impose mask mandates, its recommendations have been influential in shaping whether local governments, schools and institutions require masks.

Public health advocates said they were pleased to hear Walensky talk about masks, an issue that was politicized throughout the pandemic and a subject about which the CDC has been notably silent of late.

“It’s good she brought it up,” said Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research. “We had a really good reason to wear a mask with COVID, and now we have even more of a reason. It’s a three-fer - you get protection from flu, RSV and certainly from COVID.”

California state epidemiologist Erica Pan in an interview last week urged people to consider masking, especially to limit the spread of RSV since infants cannot mask.

“I also recommend people who are elderly or have medical problems to really be masking indoors,” Pan said. “Flu, of course, also hits the elderly the hardest as well.”

Are masks mandates coming back?

Only a few communities are reconsidering mask mandates, especially if the CDC identifies them as having high levels of COVID. The most notable is Los Angeles County, which the CDC considers to have medium COVID levels, where cases are spiking and hospital admissions are rising. If the share of hospital beds used by coronavirus positive patients rises from 6.4 percent (as of Saturday) to 10 percent, that could trigger a new indoor mask mandate that could go into effect by early January, the Los Angeles Times has reported.

The Sacramento City Unified School District has warned it would require masks indoors if the CDC designates Sacramento County as having a high COVID community level.

The CDC in February announced a new system of COVID community levels that would tie masking recommendations to metrics illustrating the strain of COVID on hospitals rather than the prevalence of infections. The system isn’t designed to track levels of other respiratory viruses.

Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said most public health authorities are not considering bringing back mask mandates because they are following the CDC approach, which recommends mask-wearing once community levels of COVID are high. He noted that tracking community levels of COVID doesn’t capture the broader toll of respiratory viruses.

“If you lumped RSV, influenza and COVID together and started doing community indicators that the CDC is doing for COVID right now, there would be a lot more places going into orange and red zones,” Plescia said. “Maybe the American public is done with mask-wearing, but you do wonder can you get a place where you can say things are getting bad right now, we need people to wear masks in public settings.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) held a news conference Wednesday about respiratory viruses in which she urged constituents to get vaccinated and to get tested, but did not emphasize masking.

“We’ve gone through a period where people are tired of being told what to do, but we in public health are now emphasizing that people can take decisions on their own and take decisions that are protected: Get vaccinated. Consider wearing a mask in public indoor spaces,” New York Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in response to a reporter’s question about the tepid tone on masking. “There’s a limit to how much we can legislate people’s behavior.”

When should I wear a mask?

Mask-wearing is a personal decision affected by your health risks and whether you spend time with a vulnerable person. It makes sense to wear a mask in crowded spaces where you don’t know the vaccination status of others, such as subways, buses, trains and planes.

Masking is a good idea in public places where you’re spending more than a few minutes - such as a grocery store, shopping mall or physician’s office. Some people may opt to wear a mask at work all the time - or only when gathering in small enclosed meeting rooms.

You should also wear a mask if you’re caring for a sick person or have respiratory symptoms, even if you test negative for the coronavirus. Anyone who has cold or respiratory symptoms should not go to work or social events until the symptoms end.

“If you are choosing to go into large crowds, places where transmission of infectious diseases might occur readily, it may be time to break out your mask and wear it,” said Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association. “You may not wish to wear them all of the time, but certainly when you are at a higher risk of exposure or are about to have a visit with an elderly parent or grandparent.”

What’s the evidence that masks really work?

A study that looked at mask use in California found that people who reported always wearing a cloth mask in indoor public spaces last year were 56 percent less likely to test positive for the coronavirus compared with people who did not wear masks. The protection grew to 66 percent for those who consistently wore surgical masks and to 83 percent for those wearing N95 or KN95 masks.

“We know that masking works,” said Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer of Banner Health, the largest hospital network in Arizona. “And we know that you can mask when you see these surges for a couple of weeks and that can have significant impact on the individual risk of becoming ill.”

Most of the mask research is on reducing risk for the coronavirus, but the evidence suggests masks will also be effective at blocking other respiratory viruses, said Linsey Marr, a virus transmission expert and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Marr noted that masks work by trapping viral particles, and influenza and coronavirus are similar in size.

Marr said she doesn’t wear masks all the time, but she’s keeping an eye on local cases of COVID and respiratory illness. She noted that the few weeks after students and co-workers return from holiday travel will be a good time to mask up.

“I wore one on a bus today, it was pretty crowded,” Marr said. “I still wear them on airplanes and will wear them on holiday trips. I don’t want to ruin my vacation, and if I’m meeting my parents, I don’t want to bring whatever virus to them and be sick for the week when we’re trying to enjoy each other’s company.”

What kind of mask should I wear?

Look for a high-quality medical mask made with layers of high-tech filtering material that trap at least 94 to 95 percent of the most risky particles. Masks that qualify include N95s, KN95s and KF94s.

Masks come in different shapes and sizes, including flat-fold, duck bill and cup-style masks. Look for one that is comfortable, that molds around your nose and fits snugly against your face.

How do I avoid counterfeit masks?

The CDC has a guide for spotting fake N95s. Check for head straps. If your N95 has ear loops, it probably is a fake. A real N95 will be stamped with “NIOSH,” the company name and other text. The CDC has an infographic to show you what to look for.

The KN95 is made to meet Chinese standards for medical masks. It has ear loops and should also be stamped with the manufacturer’s name, model and the quality control number “GB2626-2019.” The CDC has additional guidance for spotting counterfeit KN95s.

The KF94 is made in Korea, where counterfeits are less of a problem. Check the packaging. A real KF94 will be stamped made in Korea, and come in flat individual packages that are glossy and have a textured border.

OPINION: Respect for Marriage Act represents a balanced approach

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 13:51

Sunlight shines on the U.S. Capitol dome, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that each of us is a literal spirit son or daughter of God, created in His image. We call God our “Heavenly Father” because he is the father of our spirits. Before this life we lived with Him; He knew us and loved us … and we knew and loved Him. Because God is the Father of all humankind, we recognize each other as spiritual brothers and sisters. In our faith, the family is central to God’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children, and marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.

Understanding those fundamental theological tenets, many have expressed surprise that the church has supported the approach of the Respect for Marriage Act, as amended by the Senate, which ensures federal government recognition for lawful same-sex marriages.

As a member and communication director of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in Alaska, I write to thank Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan for their votes on final passage to ensure the balanced approach represented in the Respect for Marriage Act.

For some time now, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported a “fairness for all” approach that seeks to both preserve the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters while including religious freedom protections. For us, the foundation of fairness for all comes from the two great commandments taught by Jesus Christ: to love God and to love our neighbor.

We recognize that people in the LGBTQ community and people and institutions in the faith community — including many who are in both — have significant interests at stake in the treatment of same-sex marriage. The Respect for Marriage Act represents a balanced approach to addressing these interests. I am grateful for Sen. Sullivan’s efforts to meet with faith leaders and work relentlessly to advocate for our concerns. Similarly, I thank Sen. Murkowski, who has been a stalwart supporter of a balanced approach for some time.

At its core, the Respect for Marriage Act both recognizes same-sex marriage and protects religious rights. Of specific interest to us, the Respect for Marriage Act:

• Affirms explicit Congressional support for traditional marriage supporters;

• Directs courts that recognition of same-sex marriage does not diminish current statutory religious liberties;

• Protects the rights of religious and social services organizations from being required to host, participate in, or accommodate same-sex wedding ceremonies;

• Protects such organizations from being sued for not accommodating or participating in same-sex wedding ceremonies; and

• Prevents the federal government from discriminating or retaliating against religious organizations that hold a traditional view of marriage.

While I suppose that neither side got everything it may have wanted, the Respect for Marriage Act balances religious liberties and LGBTQ rights without either side having to compromise core values. We believe in freedom for all, and we believe in fairness for all. In the effort to balance competing demands, we will work to resolve issues in a way that doesn’t extinguish another’s rights and invite others to do the same.

As we hold to our teachings in these important and often very personal issues, we support others in doing the same. We seek to heal rather than injure and to unify rather than divide. We hope to work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of others, and to foster greater understanding along the way. I thank Sens. Sullivan and Murkowski for their thoughtful and courageous leadership in addressing what could otherwise remain a divisive issue.

Sheldon Fisher serves as a communication director of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Alaska. Mr. Fisher previously served as the Commissioner of Administration and Commissioner of Revenue for Gov. Bill Walker.

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.

OPINION: Mary Peltola has been lucky so far. Will that streak hold?

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 13:42

Rep. Mary Peltola greeted supporters gathered at 49th State Brewing after initial 1st-choice results for the Ranked Choice General Election were posted on Tuesday evening, Nov. 8, 2022. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Mary Peltola is a luckier politician even than Tony Knowles. Until this summer, she was an obscure former Democratic state legislator from Bethel. She now is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives because:

In 2020, Scott Kendall, who in 2010 and 2016 was a legal representative for Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s reelection campaigns, masterminded an initiative campaign that persuaded Alaska voters to narrowly approve the ranked choice voting system in order to save Lisa from certain defeat in the 2022 Republican senate primary election.

Then last March, Alaska Rep. Don Young died.

Then in June, during the 48-candidate cattle-call primary election to select four candidates to compete in the August special election to serve out the few weeks that remained of Don’s term during the 117th Congress, Mary Peltola, with only 10% of the vote, finished fourth behind Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III and independent Al Gross, who during the 2020 U.S. Senate election had won 41% of the vote.

Then two weeks later, Al Gross unexpectedly dropped out. The next day, Gail Fenumiai, the director of the Division of Elections, decided that Tara Sweeney, a former Arctic Slope Regional Corporation executive who had finished fifth in the cattle-car primary election, would not be allowed to take Al Gross’s place on the special election ballot.

That left a three-candidate special election that, in August, Peltola won only because Palin and Begich had spent the spring and summer broadcasting radio and television commercials in which they had kicked the living bejesus out of each other.

In August, Peltola won the first round of the special election, Sarah Palin finished second, and Nick Begich finished third. But because Peltola did not win 50% or more of the vote, the second-place votes were ranked. When they were, the blood between Palin and Begich by then was so bad that almost half of the voters who had voted for Begich as their first choice could not stomach voting for Palin as their second choice. So they either did not rank or, even more embarrassing for the Alaska Republican Party, more than 16,000 Begich voters voted for Mary Peltola as their second choice. That allowed Peltola to narrowly win the special election by 5,219 votes.

In November, the same thing happened again. Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, the two Republican candidates, and Chris Bye, the Libertarian candidate, collectively won 51.36% of the vote in the first round of the general election. But when the second-choice votes were tabulated, Mary Peltola finished first and Sarah Palin finished second. Palin lost because in the first ranking round, 38.7% of Bye voters either didn’t rank anyone or they voted for Peltola as their second choice. And in the second ranking round, 33% of Begich voters again couldn’t stomach voting for Palin. So they either did not rank anyone or they voted for Peltola as their second choice.

As a consequence of that series of extraordinary fortuities, Mrs. Peltola, as the new Gentlewoman from Alaska now is known on Capitol Hill, will be the 49th state’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives during the 118th Congress.

The radio and television commercials she broadcast prior to the general election advertised that Mary Peltola was the mukluk-wearing reincarnation of Don Young who was committed to carrying on his legislative work. As part of the charade, after she was elected to serve out Don’s term in the 117th Congress, she reintroduced a handful of bills that Don had introduced and she touted that she had hired Alex Ortiz, Don’s chief of staff, to serve as her chief of staff.

Smart politics. But since Don Young had been a stalwart conservative Republican and Mary Peltola is an equally stalwart Democrat, that spin was intellectually dishonest nonsense. But because of the bad blood between Nick Begich and Sarah Palin, and between Nick Begich and the many Don Young Republicans, including Don’s daughters, who had been outraged when Begich a year earlier had had the temerity to run against Don, that brazen disingenuity worked.

In January, the political reality will be far different.

When she was asked after the ranked choice votes were tabulated why she thought she had won the general election, Mrs. Peltola theorized that “Alaskan voters understand that in a small delegation seniority matters, even if that seniority is just a few weeks. The 118th Congress that will be sworn in in January is a pretty big class. The 117th Congress, which I am officially a member of, is a much smaller class. So Alaska will have that much more seniority in the House even in the 118th Congress.”

Will that scintilla of seniority be as consequential as she suggested? No, it will not.

That is because, unlike the 117th Congress, the 118th Congress will be controlled by Republicans. Since 2019, Don Young had been the dean of the House, the longest serving Republican member in history. So if he had not died and been reelected, his seniority inside the House Republican Caucus would have made Don an influential member who Kevin McCarthy, likely the new speaker, would have had to accommodate or, at a minimum, could not have ignored.

Mrs. Peltola, by contrast, is a Democrat who will be a back-bench freshman member of the minority party. On the floor, she will have one vote out of 435. And on the Republican-controlled committees to which she will be appointed, her influence will range from inconsequential to none at all.

In symbolic recognition of that political reality, after she was elected to serve out Don Young’s term in the 117th Congress Mrs. Peltola initially was allowed to work out of Don’s spacious office in the Rayburn House Office Building. However, reflecting her lack of seniority in the 118th Congress, she now has been relegated to a cramped office on the ground floor of the Cannon House Office Building.

While in the 118th Congress she will be a member of no consequence, where the new Gentlewoman from Alaska may have a modicum of influence is inside the executive branch. That is because, with control of the House during the 119th Congress being as close as it likely will be, President Joe Biden and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, will want to do what they can to advance Mrs. Peltola’s chances when she stands for reelection in 2024.

For example, on the campaign trail, candidate Peltola told Alaska voters that she wants Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to approve the development of the Willow project, the new oilfield ConocoPhillips discovered several years ago in NPR-A. However, in June, the Sierra Club and 17 other environmental organizations “implored” Secretary Haaland “to slow down the permitting of the Willow Master Development Project and take a careful and comprehensive review of the climate and conservation consequences,” because issuing the permits would “set back your administration’s climate and public lands protection goals.”

President Biden and the political operatives inside the White House who advise him could care less what Alaska Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan think about the Willow Project. But they may care what Mrs. Peltola thinks, if she and Rep. Maloney can persuade them that trying to assist the new Gentlewoman from Alaska to hold in 2024 the seat to which she was unexpectedly elected in 2022 is worth provoking the ire of national environmental organizations that are a core Democratic constituency.

So what happens with the Willow project will be interesting to watch play out.

But one thing is certain. With Don Young having joined Ted Stevens in the grave, the outsized influence that for half a century Alaska’s congressional delegation has had on Capitol Hill, which all Alaskans, including me, have long taken for granted, is gone. Over. Finished. Kaput.

Because it is, regardless of their political party or philosophy, every Alaskan has an interest in the new Gentlewoman from Alaska making as much of a success of her tenure as a member of the 118th Congress as the political circumstances with which she will be dealing will allow. So let’s all wish her more of the extraordinary luck she’s had, which over the next two years she’s going to continue to need.

Donald Craig Mitchell is an Anchorage attorney, author of the two books on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and “Tribal Sovereignty in Alaska: How It Happened, What It Means.” He was also a former vice president and general counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives.

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.

For Secret Garden Cannabis, Fairview comes first

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 13:40

Presented by Secret Garden Cannabis

When the search for a commercial lot led James Thornton to a familiar storefront in Fairview, he had a realization about the future of his cannabis business.

Formerly Dooley’s Tuxedo and Costumes, the massive structure at 726 East 15th Avenue was in complete disrepair when Thornton toured it with his family.

But the vacant space took hold of him. And the community of Fairview rallied behind him.

“We stood in front of that storefront — one that has a history in Anchorage — and I said, ‘if we come to this location, I want to make this Fairview’s store,” Thornton said.


Photo provided by Secret Garden Cannabis (Secret Garden Cannabis/)

Today, the once-dilapidated building in Anchorage’s Fairview neighborhood is home to Secret Garden Cannabis, a state-of-the-art facility encompassing all three Alaska marijuana licenses: cultivation, manufacturing, and retail.

Positive impacts from the business are rippling through the community, residents say — but founding Secret Garden has also brought a new sense of purpose for Thornton, who has become a fierce advocate for Fairview in the process.

“He has, and continues to make, a significant difference in Fairview,” said Allen Kemplen, president of the Fairview Community Council.

‘it’s drawing people to the area’

Today, customers enter Secret Garden through a pyramid façade mounted over the doorway, into an inviting retail shop with a wide array of products, offers, and merchandise behind large shop counters.

On a far wall, a small cultivation area known as “the infinite room” is displayed behind glass, with cannabis plants growing under bright lights and buzzing fans.

“The shop kind of revitalized that area,” said Joshua Harrison, a Fairview resident and owner of cannabis apparel company Weemotions, which is sold at the shop.

“Now that Secret Garden is there, it’s drawing people to the area and bringing people to the businesses around it,” Harrison said.

Secret Garden’s storefront is spacious but is just a small portion of the operation.

Thornton and his family overhauled more than 19,000 square feet of commercial space to create the business. The process took three years. Secret Garden opened its doors in August 2019.

The facility is an impressive feat of electrical engineering and plumbing, with cultivation rooms requiring specific light, air circulation, temperature and humidity settings, and other factors to ensure the plants stay healthy.


Photo provided by Secret Garden Cannabis (Secret Garden Cannabis/)

Thornton and his brother designed the space for safety, sanitation, and enjoyment by the team. Roughly 40 full-time team members and several contractors keep Secret Garden running smoothly, Thornton said.

The common area has vintage video games, a record player, couches, and a large whiteboard where team members are recognized, and community and company events are announced.

Along winding hallways, windows into grow rooms allow a peek into the world of commercial cannabis cultivation.

“It’s all part of the dream,” Thornton said of the design, “being able to make a place that is a little bit different, a little more conducive to tours and education. Bringing everyone together.”

Joining a vibrant history of civic action

Fairview is a large and diverse neighborhood, and was once an independent community, until 1954, when the City of Anchorage annexed the area. At the time, Fairview was one the few areas of the city where Black residents could buy property.

Its history includes decades of activism, zoning decisions that altered the fabric of the neighborhood, and long-standing battles against stigmas of increased crime and homelessness.

Since founding Secret Garden, Thornton has become a fierce advocate for Fairview. He sits on Fairview Community Council’s Executive Board and is Chair of the Council’s Homelessness Committee. He volunteers for spring clean-up, helped with the 2022 Fairview Block Party, and recently helped clean a vacant lot which will soon be a community garden, Kemplen said.

“As a small business owner, James has exhibited a talent for multi-tasking in a sometimes-hectic environment, and for treating everyone with respect,” said Fairview Community Council President Kemplen.

“He and his family have made a major investment in the facility,” Kemplen said, and have “truly become vested in the future economic health of our community.”

‘Shaking and moving for the whole community’

Sonya Irwin, manager of infused products at Secret Garden, handcrafts thousands of cannabis treats each week in the company’s commercial kitchen. The most popular product are gummies; more than 400 packs are sold weekly.

Irwin has an associate degree in culinary arts from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and has worked at several well-known local restaurants and bakeries. At Secret Garden, she’s found a creative and encouraging space where she can scheme up new creations.

Irwin lived in Fairview when she first moved to Anchorage. For the team at Secret Garden, seeing Thornton’s commitment to Fairview inspires everyone to make a positive impact, she said.

“It’s so cool to know he’s out there shaking and moving for the whole community,” Irwin said.

For Joshua Harrison, Fairview resident and owner of cannabis apparel company Weemotions, Secret Garden has played a vital role in growing his small business.

Harrison’s unique designs — cannabis characters depicting different emotions — have found a home and a fan base at the store. Secret Garden has also helped him gain a new appreciation for his own work.

“I was actually shocked by how many people loved the brand,” Harrison said. “People legitimately love it.”

Thornton has been a huge advocate for Harrison personally, as well. “There have been times I’ve been tempted to give up, and he’s been there to push me and keep me going,” Harrison said.

Kemplen said Fairview is undergoing a transformation. Positive changes are being led by people who care deeply about the neighborhood — residents like Thornton and the team at Secret Garden.

“Being civically involved — I never thought I would do that,” Thornton said.

But now, Secret Garden’s mission is simple.

“We want to take care of Fairview first,” he said.

This story was sponsored by Secret Garden Cannabis, offering Anchorage the finest-grown, highest-quality cannabis products from the heart of Fairview.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Secret Garden Cannabis. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.

Some rural votes were again left uncounted in Alaska’s statewide election

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 12:25

General election ballots at the Division of Elections Region II office in Anchorage on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Ballots from six rural Alaska villages were not fully counted in Alaska’s November elections, the Division of Elections said Friday. A division official said the U.S. Postal Service failed to deliver them to the state election headquarters before the election was certified on Nov. 30.

“You’ll need to contact the USPS to find out why there were some that never arrived — as we were told from poll workers, everything had been mailed,” said Tiffany Montemayor, the division’s public relations manager, by email.

As a result, 259 voters in St. George, Levelock, Ambler, Kiana, Kobuk and Noorvik had their ballots only partially counted, the division said.

“The Postal Service is aware of six canvas bags that arrived after the November 30th final deadline. We regret the issues caused by this incident and are reviewing the process with the Alaska Division of Elections to avoid any recurrence in future elections,” said James Boxrud, communications manager for the Postal Service’s WestPac Area.

Though the failed delivery did not change any election results, it adds to a record of rural-voting problems this year.

[Alaska election officials to conduct recounts in 2 Anchorage legislative races]

After the August special election for U.S. House, seven villages’ ballots failed to reach elections officials in time to be counted.

Also in August, two polling places failed to open as planned. In November, two other rural polling places opened late on Election Day.

In addition, a disproportionately large number of ballots from rural Alaska were rejected in the June by-mail special primary to fill the U.S. House seat left vacant by the death of Congressman Don Young.

“It’s not an awesome trend,” said Michelle Sparck of Get Out The Native Vote, a group that encourages voter participation in Alaska’s rural, predominantly Native, communities.

The problems caused by November’s missing ballots were exacerbated by the state’s implementation of the new ranked choice voting system.

At 131 of Alaska’s 401 voting precincts, ballots are counted by hand, with results telephoned to elections officials, who add them to the results and publish a preliminary report.

Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system uses a computerized sorting process to determine final winners in close races, which means each ballot must be scanned to get a final result.

In Maine, ranked choice ballots are trucked to the state capital for processing. Here, that isn’t possible, so elections officials arranged for them to be mailed to Juneau.

Alaskans for Better Elections is the nonpartisan nonprofit backing ranked choice voting in Alaska. Amanda Moser, chief strategy officer for the group, said the failure of all ballots to arrive on time is “unfortunate” because “these voters didn’t have the opportunity to have their maximum voice included.”

“Moving forward, really working with the Division of Elections and other statewide partners that are in this space, we need to find the best path in order to make sure that all Alaskans have the opportunity to have their full voice expressed in the election,” she said.

After the partial failure in August, elections officials paid to have the completed ballot packages sent by USPS Express Mail.

As of Monday morning, the packages from the six villages still had not arrived in Juneau.

Asked whether elections officials have a new plan, Montemayor said that as of Friday, they did not but will look at other options in the upcoming year.

Last year, the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed a bill that would allow the Division of Elections to mandate by-mail voting in small communities where hiring poll workers is difficult. That bill did not pass the Legislature.

Sparck said any solution that involves the U.S. Mail in rural Alaska needs to be reconsidered.

“We don’t do well by mail,” she said of rural Alaska voting, “whether it’s weather or postal service staffing issues or English as a second language disadvantages.”

“I can’t say that’s a better alternative,” she said.

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.

Anchorage Assembly takes no action on Mayor Bronson’s call for 160 more beds at Sullivan Arena winter shelter

Wed, 12/07/2022 - 12:03

The Sullivan Arena mass shelter in October. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday declined to consider Mayor Dave Bronson’s proposal to increase the city’s emergency winter homeless shelter capacity in Sullivan Arena from 200 to 360 people.

The previous day, the Bronson administration had sent Assembly members a last-minute resolution ahead of Tuesday’s Assembly meeting calling for the shelter’s immediate expansion through March of next year.

But no Assembly members Tuesday moved to introduce Bronson’s resolution for a discussion and vote. That means the administration must put the proposal on the regular agenda for a meeting later this month if officials want the Assembly to consider it. (In order for Assembly members to consider last-minute proposals for immediate action, two Assembly members must move to formally introduce it. Then, members must vote on whether to consider the proposal during the meeting. Items such as this one need eight votes just to on the night’s agenda.)

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said that a warming area at Sullivan, which is separate from the shelter, has been regularly full.

The warming area is inside the arena, on the building’s north side on the mezzanine level, upstairs from the rows of cots lining the floor, where the majority of the shelter’s clients sleep. It’s a space open to anyone needing to get out of the cold. Officials and the nonprofit contracted by the city to run the shelter say 160 people used the warming area on Monday.

Yet the organization overseeing and tracking data for Anchorage’s homelessness response system — including private shelters and services along with the city’s — says its data doesn’t match what the Bronson administration says is needed at Sullivan, and that the shelter has been operating under its capacity most nights in the last month.

In an emailed statement, Bronson criticized the Assembly for not taking action.

“Tonight, the Assembly chose to keep nearly 160 people sleeping on the cold, concrete floor of the Sullivan Arena. This decision is immoral and wrong,” Bronson said. “They had the opportunity to provide these individuals a semblance of human dignity by giving them a cot and warm place to sleep during the cold winter months, and they chose otherwise.”

An Anchorage law requires the city to open emergency cold weather shelter when temperatures drop to 45 degrees. That law also limits emergency shelters to no more than 150 clients in one location without Assembly approval.

According to Bronson’s resolution, the city would make its “best efforts” to reduce the number of clients at Sullivan to 150 people or below, as space becomes available in other emergency shelters or housing facilities, according to the resolution.

[Safety issues mount around the Sullivan Arena shelter. Neighbors plead with the city to help.]

Several Assembly members said Bronson’s request came as a surprise because they’d received no communication from the administration about strained capacity at Sullivan and a need for more single-adult shelter.

Likewise, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness said it was taken aback by the request. The coalition oversees Anchorage’s homelessness response system. It tracks data collected by service providers, coordinates resources and work between organizations, and provides guidance.

Recent data on the number of beds used each night at the arena shows that the arena has largely been operating below capacity, at around 170 people during November, the coalition said in a letter to the Assembly Tuesday.

“ACEH and providers have been meeting regularly with Anchorage Health Department and a capacity issue has not been raised,” the coalition’s executive director, Meg Zaletel, said in the letter.

The coalition’s data also does not indicate that more shelter for single adults is needed, she said in the letter.

The organization asked the Assembly to postpone considering the resolution until its next meeting on Dec. 20, so it can review data from the homeless service providers at Sullivan and collaborate.


The Sullivan Arena in November. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Zaletel is also an Assembly member, representing Midtown. Because the coalition had taken an official stance on the matter, she recused herself and left the room before the other members declined to consider Bronson’s request Tuesday night.

“The data is showing that the 150+50 surge needs to continue. An initial review of bed nights at low-barrier shelter sites indicates usage below capacity. Further analysis in partnership with providers and (the Anchorage Health Department) is needed to determine the next steps,” she said.

[Anchorage Assembly postpones vote on controversial Girdwood housing development]

But Shawn Hays, the executive director of the nonprofit running the Sullivan shelter and warming area, disagreed. On Monday night, 160 people stayed in the warming shelter, Hays said.

They don’t have a cot to sleep on in the warming area, and only snacks and hot coffee are available from donations that the nonprofit Henning Inc. has solicited, she said. Hays attended the meeting to explain the situation at Sullivan to the Assembly but did not get the chance.

Standing inside the Loussac Library’s main entrance on Tuesday night, Hays was visibly upset.

“Why are we putting data over people? Why are we allowing people to lay on concrete and having to, you know, to wake them up because they can’t sleep there?” Hays said.

“We need them inside. We need them to be able to sleep. We need them to get a hot meal. We need them engaged in case management,” she said.

[Anchorage Assembly overrides Mayor Bronson’s veto of $1.2 million for Brother Francis shelter]

The Assembly and the Bronson administration have had numerous heated clashes over homelessness policy since the mayor took office.

Many Assembly members, homelessness experts and local providers say the city needs smaller shelters scattered throughout the city to better target services and to lessen impacts to neighborhoods. Bronson has advocated for the city to build one large, low-barrier shelter in East Anchorage -- a project the Assembly has since killed.

Against city code, Bronson officials authorized millions in construction work over the summer without first getting the required Assembly approval. In October, members rejected continued funding for the shelter’s construction, after the administration sank more than $6.5 million into it.

The city has been strapped for low-barrier shelter options for months.

The city used the arena as a COVID-19 mass homeless shelter for more than two years, until the Bronson administration shuttered it in June and directed homeless residents to live unsheltered in Centennial Park Campground.

With an estimated 350-plus people living unsheltered in the city over the summer, officials scrambled to come up with emergency winter shelter options. The Bronson administration did not produce plans in a timely way, and when it did, it scrapped Bronson’s plans because they weren’t viable. His proposed options could not be implemented quickly or were widely opposed by residents.

The Assembly then called upon the coalition to convene a task force of providers, city officials and others with a stake in the matter. The group was tasked with finding viable options to shelter people swiftly.

With few immediate solutions, the city again turned to the arena, which was empty and undergoing repairs. In September, the Assembly approved a $2.4 million winter shelter plan that included opening Sullivan Arena for 150 people.

The Assembly later approved a surge capacity of 50 more people, for a total of 200 at Sullivan.

Since it reopened, nearby residents and business owners have clamored for the city’s help to address serious public health and safety issues in the surrounding streets and parks. They’ve reported impacts to both the neighborhood and vulnerable homeless residents. Some neighbors of Sullivan have discovered bodies or tried to resuscitate people.

In response, the Assembly directed $400,000 for the administration to stand up security and trash cleaning services at three municipal properties and green spaces near Sullivan, starting in January.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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