Alaska Dispatch News

Subscribe to Alaska Dispatch News feed
Alaska Dispatch News News Feed
Updated: 1 hour 15 min ago

Lawmaker says anomalies plague more than 1 million Census records

1 hour 19 min ago

FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2020, file photo, people volunteer to get people registered to vote and a booth offering employment for the upcoming 2020 census stands in the background, during the celebration of the town's 45th year since it was incorporated, in Guadalupe, Ariz. Today, nearly a third of Guadalupe's 6,500 residents say they are Native American and about 75% of all races identify as Hispanic. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-MIlls, File) (Dario Lopez-MIlls/)

WASHINGTON — A senior House Democrat is threatening to subpoena Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over the Commerce Department’s failure to release documents related to the 2020 Census, saying anomalies in the survey are “more serious than first reported” and blasting the department for ignoring requests for information.

In a scathing letter to Ross on Wednesday, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said three internal documents showed that “career officials have now identified at least 15 anomalies that impact more than one million Census records.”

The letter, which comes a day before a committee hearing is scheduled on the matter, excoriated Ross for repeatedly dodging requests for information about the census in recent weeks and over the course of his tenure.

“Your failure to cooperate with the Committee’s investigation appears to be part of a dangerous pattern of obstruction with the Census,” Maloney wrote, adding, “You personally have played a key role in blocking the production of information to the Committee regarding the Trump Administration’s efforts to politicize the 2020 Census-even after it was subpoenaed.”

Maloney said Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, who reports to Ross, dodged a request she made last month for documents related to data processing anomalies and scheduling. She set a new deadline of Dec. 9 for the documents. If that request is ignored, she will subpoena Ross and may consider holding a second hearing to hear directly from him, according to a senior Democratic committee aide.

Trump had hoped to receive the data in time to try to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted for a decade’s worth of apportionment of House seats before he leaves office Jan. 20.

But internal documents obtained by the committee indicate that the bureau needs until at least Jan. 23, 2021, to transmit apportionment figures to the president, Maloney wrote. That is more than three weeks after the statutory deadline for delivering the data.

To try to carry out his plan, the president would need to receive two sets of numbers — the total population counts and the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. But the internal documents cited in Maloney’s letter said the bureau would need until at least early February to transmit a tally of undocumented immigrants by state.

Lawyers for the administration have not been able to answer questions from judges about how the government plans to count undocumented immigrants in each state, or whether it is even possible to do so. A comprehensive list of undocumented immigrants does not exist, and by law apportionment numbers must be based on an actual enumeration, not estimates.

The Census Bureau, in a statement issued Wednesday evening, said, “Internal tracking documents would not convey the uncertainty around projected dates and may fail to reflect the additional resources employed to correct data anomalies.”

“The anomalies affect less than seven-tenths of one percent of records and are being resolved as expeditiously as possible,” the bureau said. In addition to apportionment, decennial census data is used to determine a decade’s worth of federal funding and state redistricting.

The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday about Trump’s apportionment plan after three federal courts blocked it, saying it was unlawful, and in one instance unconstitutional. A fourth federal court said it was too early to judge the merits of the case.

Maloney last month asked Dillingham to produce documents by Nov. 24 related to when the bureau could deliver state population totals. Her request followed leaked reports that the data would not be ready until late January or possibly into February.

Maloney wrote Wednesday that a Nov. 19 internal Census Bureau document described 13 anomalies that affect more than 900,000 census records, including some that could result in undercounts and other inaccuracies.

The document said that addressing the anomalies “impacts overall end date by 20 days” and anticipates that the population count will not be complete until between Jan. 26 and Feb. 6, adding that if new anomalies were identified, more time may be required. It outlined an 11-step process for correcting the anomalies and “cautions that taking shortcuts could compound these problems and lead to even more errors.”

A second internal document a week later said additional errors had been discovered, including one affecting over 240,000 records, the letter said.

The once-a-decade survey was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, and the government had initially requested an additional four months to produce it. But after Trump issued a memorandum in July saying he would try to exclude undocumented immigrants, the bureau had scrambled to finish the count and process the data by Dec. 31, sparking lawsuits and resulting in what many enumerators said was a rushed and often sloppy effort to reach the hardest-to-count households.

After initially proposing to expand the five-month post-count processing period, the government condensed it to around half that amount of time, causing alarm among statistics experts who warned it could result in an inaccurate count.

Trump’s grievances feed menacing undertow after the election

1 hour 42 min ago

In this Nov. 26, 2020, photo, President Donald Trump speaks with reporters after participating in a video teleconference call with members of the military on Thanksgiving, at the White House in Washington. Trump has delivered a 46-minute diatribe against the election results that produced a win for Democrat Joe Biden, unspooling one misstatement after another to back his baseless claim that he really won. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

WASHINGTON — The last throes of Donald Trump’s presidency have turned ugly — even dangerous.

Death threats are on the rise. Local and state election officials are being hounded into hiding. A Trump campaign lawyer is declaring publicly that a federal official who defended the integrity of the election should be “drawn and quartered” or simply shot.

Neutral public servants, Democrats and a growing number of Republicans who won’t do what Trump wants are being caught in a menacing postelection undertow stirred by Trump’s grievances about the election he lost.

“Death threats, physical threats, intimidation — it’s too much, it’s not right,” said Gabriel Sterling, a Republican elections official in Georgia who implored Trump to “stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.” Trump in response only pressed his groundless case that he lost unfairly, neither discouraging trouble nor explicitly calling for it.

The triggering of emotions has always been a Trump staple. His political movement was born in arenas that echoed with chants of “lock her up.” His support has been animated over the past four years by his relentlessly mocking ways, his slams against the “enemy of the people,” and his raw talent for belittling political foes with insulting nicknames like “Sleepy Joe” Biden. That’s one of the nicer ones.

But in the final weeks of Trump’s presidency, the tenor has taken on an even more toxic edge as state after state has affirmed Biden’s victory, judge after judge has dismissed Trump’s legal challenges and his cadre of loyalists has played to his frustrations. As Biden builds the foundation of his new administration, Trump is commanding attention for the agitations he is likely to carry forward when he is gone from office.

“I do not think this goes away on January 20,” Eric Coomer, security director for Dominion Voting Systems, said from the secret location where he is hiding out from death threats. “I think it will continue for a long time.”

Tough beans, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said of the state officials who are fearing for their safety.

“They’re the ones who should have the courage to step up,” Giuliani said Wednesday in Michigan. “You have got to get them to remember that their oath to the Constitution sometimes requires being criticized. Sometimes it even requires being threatened.”

For Coomer, the trouble began around the time Trump campaign lawyers falsely claimed his company rigged the election.

Far-right chat rooms posted his photo, details about his family and address. “The first death threats followed almost immediately,” he told The Associated Press. “For the first couple days it was your standard online Twitter threats, ‘hang him, he’s a traitor.’”

But then came targeted phone calls, text messages and a handwritten letter to his father, an Army veteran, from a presumed militia group saying, “How does it feel to have a traitor for a son?” Even now, weeks later and relocated to a secret locale, Coomer is getting messages from people saying they know what town he has fled to and vowing to find him.

“It’s terrifying,” he said. “I’ve worked in international elections in all sorts of post-conflict countries where election violence is real and people end up getting killed over it. And I feel that we’re on the verge of that.”

This week Joe diGenova, a Trump campaign lawyer, told a radio show that a federal election official who was fired for disputing Trump’s claims of fraud “should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.” This, as election officials and voting-system contractors in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and elsewhere have been subjected to sinister threats for doing their jobs.

“Threats like these trigger an avalanche of them,” said Louis Clark, executive director and CEO of the Government Accountability Project, an organization to protect whistleblowers. Of diGenova, Clark said, “It’s behavior befitting a mob attorney.”

DiGenova later said he was joking. The fired official, Christopher Krebs, told The Washington Post, “My lawyers will do the talking, they’ll do it in court.”

As “Anonymous,” former Homeland Security official Miles Taylor wrote a searing insider account of the Trump administration, prompting Trump to tell rallies that “very bad things” would happen to this “traitor.” Now Taylor’s identity is known and he’s been assigned a security detail as the Secret Service recommended because of the nature of the threats against him.

“This is unprecedented in America,” Taylor said. “This is not who we are. This is not what an open society is supposed to look like.”

Taylor said intimidation has proved an effective tool to quash dissent. “I spoke to very senior former officials who wanted to come out to tell the truth during the presidential campaign, and many were afraid that it would put their families in harm’s way.”

But such pressure has not silenced some Republicans in Georgia, with telling results.

Intruders have been found on the property of GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has defended the integrity of his state’s election, which resulted in a narrow Biden victory. And a young Dominion systems contractor has been harassed with death threats. Dominion is the sole voting system provider in Georgia, so the company has been a lightning rod.

“There’s a noose out there with his name on it,” Sterling said of the contractor, in a broadside against the rhetoric and threats in the election’s aftermath.

Election security expert Matt Blaze tweeted angrily about the threats.

“This is just sickening,” he said. “Every conversation I have with election folks, we start with death threats we’ve gotten. There’s no excuse for this no matter who the target is, but going after the on-the-ground technicians and other staff is a new low. Have you no shame?”

Said Sterling, the Republican Georgia election official: “Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed. And it’s not right.”

Trump last week called Raffensperger an “enemy of the people,” Sterling noted, adding, “That helped open the floodgates to this kind of crap.” In addition to seeing people drive by and come onto his property, Raffensperger’s wife has been getting obscene threats on her cellphone, Sterling said.

In Arizona, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said she’s faced threats of violence directed at her family and her office.

Trump spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said the White House condemns any violence. “What I will say though, too, is that the president’s lawyers (had) their private information put out,” she said, blaming “leftist organizations.”

“So we’re seeing that happen to people on both sides of the argument and there’s no place for that ever anywhere,” she said. Indeed, GOP poll watchers said in affidavits in election litigation that they felt threatened and were jeered by Democrats.

A key difference, though, is that intimidation against Republican poll workers or officials by Trump’s opponents did not come from the top. Biden has largely stayed out of the fray even as Trump systematically maligns the process, the election workers, the state officials who resist his pressure and some of the judges.

He’s gone repeatedly after Dominion Voting Systems, falsely branding it a “radical left company” responsible for a “stolen” election — in contrast to the assurances of state and federal officials that the election was run fairly and remarkably smoothly in the midst of a pandemic, with none of the massive fraud alleged by the president.

Members of Trump’s administration have affirmed the legitimacy of the election, though at least one, Krebs, got fired for it. Even Trump’s trusted ally, Attorney General William Barr, told The AP he’d seen no widespread fraud.

For Coomer, Dominion’s director of product strategy and security, “this election was incredibly smooth across the board.”

But sometime around Eric Trump’s post-election tweets about Coomer and a bizarre news conference where Trump lawyers Giuliani and Sidney Powell spun fabrications about Dominion and called him out by name, the real trouble started for him.

Dominion hired third-party security for him, and he was told not to go back to his house.

A few nights ago, he said, he was told in texts that people were watching him, and that he’d better run. Others had already said they’d rented a house in the town where he was hiding and would find him.

“It’s a daily thing,” he said, “and no, I have not had a decent night’s sleep since all of this.”

Nurses wanted: Swamped hospitals scramble for pandemic help

1 hour 56 min ago

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2020, file photo, Physician assistant Steven Oginsky, top, and registered nurse Kim Alder work inside the Hackley Community Care COVID-19 triage room at 2700 Baker Street in Muskegon Heights, Mich. U.S. hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients are trying to lure nurses and doctors out of retirement and recruiting nursing students and new graduates who have yet to earn their licenses. (Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, File) (Cory Morse | MLive.com/)

OMAHA, Neb. — U.S. hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients are trying to lure nurses and doctors out of retirement, recruiting students and new graduates who have yet to earn their licenses and offering eye-popping salaries in a desperate bid to ease staffing shortages.

With the virus surging from coast to coast, the number of patients in the hospital with the virus has more than doubled over the past month to a record high of nearly 100,000, pushing medical centers and health care workers to the breaking point. Nurses are increasingly burned out and getting sick on the job, and the stress on the nation’s medical system prompted a dire warning from the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Dr. Robert Redfield said.

Governors in hard-hit states like Wisconsin and Nebraska are making it easier for retired nurses to come back, including by waiving licensing requirements and fees, though it can be a tough sell for older nurses, who would be in more danger than many of their colleagues if they contracted the virus.

Some are taking jobs that don’t involve working directly with patients to free up front-line nurses, McMillan said.

Iowa is allowing temporary, emergency licenses for new nurses who have met the state’s educational requirements but haven’t yet taken the state licensing exam. Some Minnesota hospitals are offering winter internships to nursing students to boost their staffs. The internships are typically offered in the summer but were canceled this year because of COVID-19.

Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis will place 25 interns for one to two months to work with COVID-19 patients, though certain tasks will remain off-limits, such as inserting IVs or urinary catheters, said Tina Kvalheim, a nurse who runs the program.

“They’ll be fully supported in their roles so that our patients receive the best possible, safe care,” Kvalheim said..

Landon Brown, 21, of Des Moines, Iowa, a senior nursing student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, recently accepted an internship at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. He was assigned to the pediatric unit’s medical-surgical area but said he might come across patients with the coronavirus.

Brown’s resolve to help patients as a nurse was reaffirmed after his 90-year-old grandfather contracted the virus and died over the weekend.

“The staff that he had were great, and they really took a lot of pressure off of my folks and my family,” he said. “I think that if I can be that for another family, that would be great.”

The University of Iowa’s College of Nursing is also trying to get graduates into the workforce quickly. It worked to fast-track students’ transcripts to the Iowa Board of Nursing so they could get licensed sooner upon graduating, said Anita Nicholson, associate dean for undergraduate programs.

Nicholson said the college also scheduled senior internships earlier than normal and created a program that allows students to gain hospital experience under a nurse’s supervision. Those students aren’t caring for coronavirus patients, but their work frees up nurses to do so, Nicholson said.

“The sooner we can get our graduates out and into the workforce, the better,” she said.

Wausau, Wisconsin-based Aspirus Health Care is offering signing bonuses of up to $15,000 for nurses with a year of experience.

Hospitals also are turning to nurses who travel from state to state. But that’s expensive, because hospitals around the country are competing for them, driving salaries as high as $6,200 per week, according to postings for travel nursing jobs.

April Hansen, executive vice president at San Diego-based Aya Healthcare, said there are now 31,000 openings for travel nurses, more than twice the number being sought when the pandemic surged in the spring.

“It is crazy,” Hansen said. “It doesn’t matter if you are rural or urban, if you are an Indian health facility or an academic medical center or anything in between. ... All facilities are experiencing increased demand right now.”

Nurses who work in intensive care and on medical-surgical floors are the most in demand. Employers also are willing to pay extra for nurses who can show up on short notice and work 48 or 60 hours per week instead of the standard 36.

Laura Cutolo, a 32-year-old emergency room and ICU nurse from Gilbert, Arizona, began travel nursing when the pandemic began, landing in New York during the deadliest stretch of the U.S. outbreak last spring. She is now working in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and soon will return to New York.

She said she hopes her work will be an example to her children, now 2 and 5, when the crisis passes into history and they read about it someday.

“If they ask me, ‘Where were you?’ I can be proud of where I was and what I did,” Cutolo said.

Doctors are in demand, too.

“I don’t even practice anymore, and I’ve gotten lots of emails asking me to travel across the country to work in ERs,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

The outbreak in the U.S. is blamed for more than 270,000 deaths and 13.8 million confirmed infections. New cases are running at over 160,000 a day on average, and deaths are up to more than 1,500 a day, a level seen back in May, during the crisis in the New York City area. Several states reported huge numbers of new cases Wednesday, including a combined 40,000 in California, Illinois and Florida alone.

States are seeing record-breaking surges in deaths, including Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky in the middle of the country. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the virus is “spreading like wildfire.”

A COVID-19 vaccine is expected to become available in a few weeks, and health care workers are likely to be given priority for the first shots. That could make it easier for hospitals to recruit help.

To make room for the sickest, hard-hit institutions are sending home some COVID-19 patients who otherwise would have been kept in the hospital. They are also canceling elective surgeries or sending adult non-COVID-19 patients to pediatric hospitals.

A hospital system in Idaho is sending some COVID-19 patients home with iPads, supplemental oxygen, blood pressure cuffs and oxygen monitors so they can finish recovering in their own beds. The computer tablets enable nurses to check in with them, and the oxygen monitors automatically send back vital information.

Across the U.S., hospitals are converting cafeterias, waiting rooms, even a parking garage to patient treatment areas. Some states are opening field hospitals.

But that does nothing to ease the staffing shortage, especially in rural areas where officials say many people aren’t taking basic precautions against the virus.

Dr. Eli Perencevich, an epidemiology and internal medicine professor at the University of Iowa, said health care workers are paying the price for other people’s refusal to wear masks.

“It’s sending everyone to war, really,” he said. “We’ve decided as a society that we’re going to take all the people in our health care system and pummel them because we have some insane idea about what freedom really is.”

A veteran World Cup skier, Anchorage’s Sadie Bjornsen tries a new approach to the season

3 hours 37 min ago

Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, shown here on the Hillside ski trails last month, is skipping the first part of the World Cup season. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Sadie Maubet Bjornsen is usually in the headlines this time of year for her accomplishments as a World Cup skier. The Anchorage woman is one of the best cross-country skiers in the world — she ranked 8th in the world last season — and she always shines brightest early in the season.

This year she’s making news by not making news.

The 2020-21 World Cup season started last week without Bjornsen, a two-time Olympian whose 10-year career includes a bronze medal from the 2017 World Championships and several visits to the World Cup podium.

She could be racing and training in Europe right now, but she’s sitting out the first part of the season in favor of a more rounded life — one that blends continued high-level training with holidays at home and milestones that don’t have anything to do with ski racing.

Bjornsen, 31, has known her husband for 10 years, and last month she spent her birthday with him for the first time. Later this month, she’ll celebrate Christmas with her family in Washington’s Methow Valley for the first time in nine years.

“As elite athletes we have our heads down all the time, and we’re so focused that it’s so easy to forget your mental happiness is part of your performance,” Bjornsen said. “If you can find that balance, that’s what’s going to make the fastest skier.”


Sadie Maubet Bjornsen tucks on a downhill during an APU training session. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Next week in her pursuit of that balance, Bjornsen will take her CPA exam. Then she plans to race in the Dec. 19-20 Besh Cup races at Kincaid Park before heading to Washington for Christmas, and then she’ll travel to Europe for the second period of World Cup racing.

[With some nations opting out, Alaska skiers plan to stay in Europe for World Cup races]

Once there, Bjornsen intends to continue her break from the norm. Instead of traveling from race venue to race venue with her Alaska Pacific University and U.S. Ski Team teammates, she’ll spend time between races in Meribel, France, where husband Jo Maubet works as an alpine ski instructor in the winter.

“I’m totally trying a new thing,” Bjornsen said. “I’m entering the season later and I’m having a home base with my loved one. I’ll be traveling back and forth from there, so I’m not making the hotel room my life anymore. I’m pretty lucky I can try this out.”

Bjornsen’s unorthodox approach to the season is OK with APU coach Erik Flora.

“There are many ways to be a professional skier,” he said. ”Sadie’s had a successful career and she’s also had a long career and has spent a lot of time in Europe. For most of the last decade she leaves in October and comes back in April. She’s at a point in her career where she wants to spend more time at home and has specific goals about the World Championships.”

Bjornsen said she realized last season that a shake-up might be in order.

As has been the case for several years, she got off to a strong start in the season-opening races in Kuusamo, Finland — after two races there, she led the World Cup overall standings, something no American woman had ever done before.

She went on to place seventh in the demanding Tour de Ski, but from late January on, top-10 finishes became rare.

“There was a little slump in my racing and I recognized that it wasn’t because I was out of shape but more because I was mentally fatigued from being on the road all the time,” she said. “In my younger years everything was so exciting, and it was so easy to be thrilled with every minute of the four-and-a-half months.”


Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, center, follows Rosie Brennan and leads Rosie Frankowski last month during an APU training session. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The COVID-19 pandemic forced an early end to the season, and by springtime Bjornsen was considering her options.

She was certain of one thing: Her health and happiness doesn’t come solely from ski racing, it comes from about other parts of her life too — her husband, her family and a career beyond skiing.

After years of being a college student and a world-class skier, she had stepped back from school heading into the 2017-18 Olympic season. She missed the balance schoolwork gave her and set about reclaiming it by getting a summer job at a CPA firm.

“I was an accounting undergrad so I was excited to start a job with that degree,” she said. “What I learned is, holy cow, there is a whole new learning curve. It was very grounding. I had to go back to asking questions and being at the bottom of the chain.”

The job ended when summer did, and since then she’s been studying for her CPA exam while training for her return to the World Cup. She had some injuries to deal with as well, plus the daunting uncertainties of COVID-19.

“All the arrows pointed to giving the season a late start,” she said.

She figured that since her best results seem to come at the start of the season — “I think it’s because I’m happy and I’m fresh and I’m loving what I’m doing,” she said — a delayed start might put her in a good place for the World Championships, which begin in late February. That’s deep in the season for skiers already racing, but somewhat early in the season Bjornsen planned for herself.

Bjornsen’s goal is to help the U.S. women’s relay team win a medal at the World Championships. She owns four World Cup medals from relay races — two silver, two bronze — but the Americans have never made the podium at the Olympics or World Championships. Bjornsen thinks that could change this winter, and she’s striving to make it happen.

“I know I don’t have a free pass onto the team; I still have to prove my way onto the team,” she said. “But I know the level I can ski race at if I’m fit and I’m happy, and both of those things I have control of.”


A year ago in Finland, Sadie Maubet Bjornsen became the first American woman to don the yellow bib worn only by World Cup overall leaders. (U.S. Ski & Snowboard)

Barr’s special counsel move could tie up his successor

3 hours 51 min ago

FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2020, file photo Attorney General William Barr speaks during a roundtable discussion on Operation Legend, a federal program to help cities combat violent crime in St. Louis. Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday, Dec. 1, that the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud and has seen nothing that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File) (Jeff Roberson/)

WASHINGTON — Outgoing Attorney General William Barr’s decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the handling of the Russia probe ensures his successor won’t have an easy transition.

The move, which Barr detailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday, could lead to heated confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee, who hasn’t been announced. Senate Republicans will likely use that forum to extract a pledge from the pick to commit to an independent investigation.

The pressure on the new attorney general is unlikely to ease once they take office. With the special counsel continuing to work during the early days of the Biden administration, it may be tough for the Justice Department’s new leadership to launch investigations of President Donald Trump and his associates without seeming to be swayed by political considerations.

Barr elevated U.S. Attorney John Durham to special counsel as Trump continues to propel his claims that the Russia investigation that shadowed his presidency was a “witch hunt.” It’s the latest example of efforts by Trump officials to use the final days of his administration to essentially box Biden in by enacting new rules, regulations and orders designed to cement the president’s legacy.

But the maneuvering over the special counsel is especially significant because it saddles Democrats with an investigation that they’ve derided as tainted. Now there’s little the new administration can do about it.

“From a political perspective, the move is so elegantly lethal that it would make Machiavelli green with envy,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.

A special counsel can only be dismissed for cause. And as was the case during Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, such probes can sometimes stray from their origins.

The Biden transition did not respond to a request for comment on the special counsel appointment.

But Barr’s decision could influence whom the president-elect puts forth as a nominee for attorney general. One leading candidate, Sally Yates, was already viewed skeptically by some Trump-aligned Republicans for her role in the early days of the Russia investigation. Her nomination could face even greater challenges because she’s connected to some of the work that Durham is examining.

As deputy attorney general, Yates signed off on the first two applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a process that has been among the focuses of the Durham investigation.

A Justice Department inspector general report found significant flaws and omissions in the four applications to the court, though it also found no evidence that Yates or any other senior Justice Department officials were aware of the problems.

Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns – likely to deepen with Durham’s appointment as a special counsel – that nominating Yates would lead to a messy confirmation process that focuses on the Russia investigation, instead of focusing on reforms and shifting priorities at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter have said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Others potentially in the mix for the role include Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser and senior Justice Department official in the Obama administration, and outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who famously prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a Birmingham church in the 1960s.

The question for Biden, however, is how to balance top Cabinet picks as he attempts to fulfill his pledge for racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Many of Biden’s leading nominees so far have been white, which could work against Yates, Monaco and Jones.

Some Black Democrats are attempting to elevate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is Black and led the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, in discussions about potential attorneys general.

Whoever emerges as the nominee will be pressed to demonstrate independence from the new White House after Biden campaigned on a pledge to depoliticize the Justice Department.

That could be tough, however, if the future attorney general faces calls for new probes into the Trump administration. Some investigations into Trump have been frozen because of the immunity he enjoys as president. Others swirling around members of his family and associates have been simmering for years.

On Tuesday, an unsealed court filing revealed an investigation into a potential plot to solicit political donations in exchange for the president using his pardon power.

Barr, for his part, insisted that he was trying to keep politics out of the Durham probe, explaining that is why he delayed announcing the special counsel appointment until a month after the election.

“With the election approaching, I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election,” Barr said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday.

“I wanted to have the team, both Durham and his team understand that they be able to finish their work,” Barr said.

Durham has already been a huge disappointment for Trump and his allies, and prompted a dispute with Barr over why things weren’t moving faster and why the investigation did not yield major prosecutions in the weeks before the election. The investigation wasn’t expected to result in many more criminal charges, and there has only been one so far — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to a single charge.

But the investigation is worth more politically than practically.

A nearly 500-page inspector general report chronicled in great detail the errors and omissions FBI agents made in a series of applications to surveil Page. Declassified documents released by congressional Republicans have raised additional questions while not undercutting the overarching legitimacy of the Russia probe. And the facts of the one criminal case Durham has brought so far, against an FBI lawyer who admitted altering an email, were already mostly laid out in the watchdog report.

There’s also been a degree of turmoil within Durham’s ranks as one of the team’s leaders, Nora Dannehy, resigned months ago, a significant departure given the active role she had played.

Teen charged in 4 Mat-Su homicides was accused of assaulting other family members starting in July

3 hours 53 min ago

Alaska State Troopers investigated a fatal shooting scene at a home on North Valley Way in Palmer on November 30, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

PALMER — By the time 18-year-old Malachi Maxon was accused of killing his aunt and three cousins at two Mat-Su homes earlier this week, he was already facing several assault charges involving other close relatives.

The assault charges began in July. Two involved Maxon’s mother and stepfather, according to court documents. One involved his grandmother.

The documents include investigators’ references to the possibility that Maxon suffered from mental illness or substance abuse. Following the second assault charge involving his mother, he was staying with other relatives in the last few weeks — most recently his aunt, 43-year-old Kimora Buster, one of the four murder victims Monday morning.

The other victims were Maxon’s 7- and 10-year-old boy and girl cousins sleeping at their home in Palmer — Buster’s children — as well as his 18-year-old cousin Cody Roehl in another home near Wasilla.

Roehl was shot and died at the hospital, Alaska State Troopers say. Others in the home at the time said they didn’t hear any arguments before hearing a loud sound and finding Roehl with a gunshot wound. A white Jeep Liberty was missing from the garage along with a semi-automatic Glock pistol. Video from the home showed the Jeep leaving around 3:05 a.m.

About a half-hour later in a Palmer home, troopers found Buster and one of her sons dead from gunshot wounds. Her daughter died of her injuries at the hospital. Another child, 6, was unhurt. Bullet casings indicated Maxon may have been trying to shoot him as he slept against a wall.

[Previous coverage: Palmer teen fatally shot 4 family members, including 2 young cousins still in bed, charges say]

Maxon was wearing a court-ordered ankle monitor generating a GPS signal at the time of his arrest, according to the Alaska Department of Corrections.

Taylor Winston, a former prosecutor who directs the Alaska Office of Victims’ Rights, said that “from a victim’s rights perspective, it really angered me because those people should not have been killed.”

“If the system was working properly, they would be alive,” Winston said.

But the device was programmed to alert Pretrial Enforcement Division officers if Maxon entered areas declared off-limits by a judge on the most recent assault case, department spokeswoman Sarah Gallagher said Wednesday. He didn’t, and was otherwise in compliance, Gallagher said.

Maxon was arrested on the Glenn Highway near Mirror Lake about 30 minutes after the Palmer shootings. His pretrial officer relayed the ankle monitor’s coordinates to troopers, Gallagher said. She couldn’t immediately say at what point in the incident the pretrial officer was aware of where Maxon was located.

Maxon has not entered a plea to the four first-degree murder charges against him. His first court appearance, originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, was delayed again Wednesday after he refused to participate. He was rescheduled for arraignment Thursday afternoon.

Previous charges involving violence against family

None of the previous three domestic violence assault charges against him have gone to trial.

On July 22, Maxon’s stepfather called 911 to report Maxon acting erratically and attacking his mother, according to a sworn affidavit filed by Trooper Wesley Sherbahn. He asked troopers to hurry.

Sherbahn described Maxon as angry when he arrived. The teen pulled his arm away from the trooper and challenged his parents for calling “the cops,” according to the affidavit. He seemed to be impaired and was hard to understand, at one point saying people were coming to the house to rob and kill him, the affidavit states.

His mother told the trooper her son used “dabs,” a waxy, concentrated dose of cannabis, the affidavit said. She said Maxon had grabbed her mouth from behind but she wasn’t afraid he’d hurt her. Her cellphone was found in Maxon’s pocket. His stepfather expressed concerns about mental illness or drug use.

Maxon was charged with fourth-degree domestic violence assault and interfering with a report of a domestic-violence crime, both misdemeanors. He was released on his own recognizance and pretrial supervision, meaning he had to report to an officer once a week.

His public defender at a mid-September court hearing described Maxon as a young guy, “and the problem is he wants to return home,” according to a transcript of the hearing.

On Oct. 8, troopers were again called to Maxon’s mother’s house off Knik-Goose Bay Road outside Wasilla. His stepfather told troopers he and Maxon’s mother were about to eat dinner when they heard a crash as the basement television set shattered on the floor.

As the stepfather was calling 911, Maxon came up the stairs and threw the older man’s cellphone, breaking it, according to a sworn affidavit filed by Trooper Sarah Schmidt. The stepfather said Maxon kicked him twice in the chest. Maxon was later found at an uncle’s house.

This time, he was charged with third-degree criminal mischief, a felony, and fourth-degree domestic violence assault as well as violating conditions of release. He was released about three weeks later on $200 bail and an ankle monitor.

His mother paid his bail, court documents show. But Maxon listed his address on release documents as a separate one from hers and he was ordered not to contact his mother and stepfather once out of jail.

On Nov. 1, Maxon was staying with his grandmother near Wasilla when he became aggressive and confronted her adult son after he came to pick up the teen, according to a sworn affidavit filed by Trooper Lander Simmers. The grandmother told a trooper that Maxon “has had a recent history of being assaultive” and she was scared he was going to hit her.

The son had his earring ripped out in the confrontation with Maxon, the affidavit said. Maxon told troopers he’d been kicked out of the house.

He was charged with two counts of misdemeanor domestic-violence assault and criminal mischief.

Maxon was released on Nov. 23, a week before the homicides, on $500 cash bail and a $2,500 unsecured bond — money Maxon would owe the court if he failed to show up for hearings. Palmer District Court Judge Shawn Traini also ordered specific exclusion zones added to his conditions of release to protect the victims.

His mother paid his bail in that case as well.

Reporter Tess Williams contributed to this story.

Alaska Rep. Don Young returns to congressional office after recovering from COVID-19

5 hours 53 min ago

Congressman Don Young at a Get Out the Vote rally at the Eagle River Lions Club on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has returned to work at his office in Washington, D.C. after recovering from COVID-19, his office said.

Young, 87, is “preparing to fight harder than ever” for Alaskans, said Zack Brown, a spokesman for Young.

The 47-year veteran of Congress and the longest-serving Republican in congressional history announced on Nov. 12 that he’d tested positive for the virus.

The coronavirus has killed more than 270,000 people in the U.S.

Young early in the pandemic had dismissed the coronavirus as the “beer virus,” but later said he did not grasp its severity. After his release from an Anchorage hospital on Nov. 16, he said he hadn’t felt so sick in a very long time.

Voters last month reelected Young, Alaska’s lone U.S. representative, to serve his 25th term in office.

Hope and some uncertainty as Alaska prepares for first doses of COVID-19 vaccine to arrive

6 hours 5 min ago

We're making this important information about the pandemic available without a subscription as a public service. But we depend on reader support to do this work. Please consider joining others in supporting independent journalism in Alaska for just $3.23 a week. SUBSCRIBE NOW

As health officials in Alaska prepare for the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that they say will likely ship out this month, some expressed hope and optimism — along with a few reservations about a vaccine developed in record time.

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, called the impending vaccine “incredibly hopeful and incredibly exciting” during a call with reporters this week.

But she also said she’s hearing some reluctance from health care providers around the state who still want to see more data on the newly developed vaccines before they get fully on board.

“Many health care providers are scientists by training,” she said Monday. “They want to know more, they want to see the studies, they want to see the data, and they want to understand it.”

For many, it has felt like a dizzying few weeks in the world of COVID-19 vaccine development as the country races toward approving and distributing a vaccine developed less than a year after a virus was first identified.

[The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine could be distributed nationwide in just a few weeks. Here’s what we know so far about Alaska’s plans.]

On Monday, the drug company Moderna submitted an application for an emergency use authorization of their vaccine, just a week after Pfizer submitted theirs. Data presented by both companies show each vaccine to be more than 90% effective.

On Tuesday, a federal advisory committee with the CDC approved a series of recommendations that include prioritizing residents of long-term care facilities and at-risk health care workers for the very first doses of the vaccine, which officials say could be shipped out at the earliest by mid-December pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration. That approval could be given as soon as Dec. 10.

Vaccines will be in limited quantity initially, and probably won’t be available to the general public until May or June at the earliest, health officials say.

Alaska health officials on Thursday will discuss whether to adopt all of the federal recommendations, which they’re likely to do with a few potential adjustments, said Tessa Walker Linderman, co-lead with Alaska COVID Vaccine Task Force, on a call with reporters this week.

“We imagine this will mirror what (the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) puts out, but just understanding that Alaska has some unique challenges as well,” she said.


Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the state of Alaska, speaks to the media during a coronavirus press conference in Anchorage on March 2, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Some of the concern Zink often hears stems from how quickly the pace of the vaccine approval process seems to be accelerating. But the speed in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem, Zink said.

“No steps were skipped in the process of this,” she said. Tens of thousands of people have participated in the leading drug companies’ vaccine trials. Scientists have also been able to build on an existing body of research and technology, which has sped up the timeline, she said.

“Just like your phone gets faster as we have more technology to build on, the process of understanding and making vaccines gets faster the more we understand the vaccine process,” she said.

Barbara Bigelow, an administrator with South Peninsula Hospital Long Term Care in Homer, said her team is currently surveying nursing staff to get a sense of who will feel comfortable getting a vaccine.

“Health care workers as a rule are not 100% in their acceptance of vaccinations, so I kind of think the COVID vaccination is going to look like the flu vaccination in most settings,” she said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that last year, about 80% of health care workers received the flu vaccine.

When the COVID-19 vaccine is ready, Bigelow said she’ll likely get it.

“I’ve always been pro-vaccination for myself and my family,” she said. “I think the risk of everything else we do in life are thousands of times greater than the one-in-a-million chance you’re going to have a reaction to a vaccine.”

Dr. Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, called the news of potentially more than one highly effective vaccine “pretty darn amazing” during a call with health providers in Alaska on Wednesday.

But he said too that while most of the news that has come out about the vaccines is very hopeful so far, it’s important to wait for the upcoming results of an independent review of the vaccine’s clinical trials before making determinations about safety and efficacy — which the FDA will review too.


Jay Butler, the CDC's deputy director for infectious diseases, addresses the media about response to COVID-19 inside the Emergency Operations Center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Feb. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis) (John Amis/)

Butler previously served as a health commissioner in Alaska, and before that he was the state’s chief medical officer.

He said that there are also some unanswered vaccine questions and gaps in knowledge that are important to find answers to soon.

One is whether the COVID-19 vaccines work to prevent asymptomatic spread, he said.

“This is really crucial,” he said. “Whether the vaccine will prevent infection (as well as illness caused by the virus) so that transmission can truly be interrupted.”

Knowing the answer will help determine travel risk, how personal protective equipment should continue to be used in health care settings and whether a post-exposure quarantine is still necessary, he said.

Another pressing concern is what the recommendations should be for vaccinating pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, a group that has not been included in the vaccines’ clinical trials.

About three-quarters of health care workers are women, and it’s estimated that up to a third of a million could be pregnant or postpartum while providing care, Butler said. This group is also at a higher risk for developing a more severe illness from the virus.

A final question is whether those who have been previously infected with COVID-19 should get vaccinated. The answer is likely yes, but not right away.

The CDC has said that is likely that immunity to the virus lasts for about three months after infection. But it’s not definitely known.

“We’re talking about an infection that has only been around for about nine months,” Butler said. “So we really don’t know the answer to that question.”

Reinfection does occur, but it is not known how rare or common it is, Butler said.

With some nations opting out, Alaska skiers plan to stay in Europe for World Cup races

7 hours 42 min ago

World Cup women's leader Therese Johaug, winner of two races last week in Finland, is part of the Norway team that will skip December races due to COVID-19 concerns. (Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva via AP) (Emmi Korhonen/)

Alaska’s World Cup cross-country skiers intend to keep racing in Europe even though some of the sport’s powerhouse teams have pulled out of races until at least the end of the year.

Norway, Sweden and Finland are skipping World Cup races this month in Switzerland and Germany due to concerns about COVID-19 in the wake of season-opening races in Finland last week.

Skiers from Alaska and the rest of the United States on Monday traveled from Finland to Davos, Switzerland, where they are preparing for races there on Dec. 12-13, said Erik Flora, the coach of the Alaska Pacific University nordic team.

“The athletes I spoke with said that the US Team’s management was reasonable,” Flora said Wednesday by text. “I think it is crucial that they are safe and responsible.”

Five athletes from APU, one from UAA, one from the Alaska Winter Stars and one who trains with a team based in Vermont were among hundreds of skiers who were in Kuusamo, Finland, last week for the Ruka Triple, a three-race series in Kuusamo, Finland, that marked the start of the 2020-21.

[5 Alaska skiers collect World Cup points, with Brennan and Schumacher racking up career-bests]

Absent from the field was Canada, which decided to keep its athletes home amid the pandemic. Earlier this week, Canada canceled all FIS-sanctioned domestic races for the season.

The season’s second weekend of racing was supposed to happen this week in Lillehammer, Norway, but Norwegian ski officials canceled those races last month because of COVID-19 concerns, leaving a one-week gap in the schedule.

Norway said Tuesday it will skip the rest of the month’s World Cup races and might also sit out the Tour de Ski, scheduled to begin Jan. 1. Sweden and Finland followed with similar announcements Wednesday.

“We have experienced that keeping distance and avoiding close contact in the World Cup arena is more demanding than we first assumed,” Norway team manager Espen Bjervig said in a statement reported by Reuters.

Norway and Sweden dominated the podium last week in Finland, with Norway winning five of the six races and eight of the 18 medals and Sweden winning one race and six medals. The other four medals went to Russia.

Flora said the American athletes are in a different situation than the Scandinavians, who have the added potential risk of bringing the virus home with them between races.

“After the race in Finland, the Scandinavians go home, whereas the US athletes travel to the next country,” Flora said.

[Solid results for Brennan, Swirbul and Schoonmaker as Alaska skiers return to the World Cup]

Alaskans training in Switzerland include Rosie Brennan, Hailey Swirbul, Scott Patterson, Logan Hanneman and Tyler Kornfield of APU, Gus Schumacher of the Alaska Winter Stars, JC Schoonmaker of UAA and Caitlin Patterson of Vermont’s Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club.

Hannah Halvorsen of APU is set to join the Americans later this week in Davos.

David Norris, another APU skier and one of the top American men last season, is missing the first period of World Cup racing after testing positive for COVID-19 last month, Flora said.

“David is taking a period to build back after COVID,” he said.

Slick roads and blowing snow snarl inbound Glenn Highway traffic in Anchorage

8 hours 36 min ago

Anchorage police closed the inbound lanes of the Glenn Highway west of Bragaw Street due to multiple vehicle collisions during a snowstorm on Wednesday. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Blowing snow and slick, icy roads created treacherous driving conditions leading to multiple crashes along the Glenn Highway on Wednesday afternoon, and police are now diverting inbound traffic onto Bragaw Street.

Several cars “are disabled due to either being involved in collisions or sliding into the ditch,” police said in an alert Wednesday. Multiple lanes were closed on the inbound Glenn Highway between Bragaw Street and Airport Heights Drive.

Police encouraged inbound Glenn Highway drivers to exit at Muldoon Road or Boniface Parkway and said that traffic is being diverted at Bragaw “until police are able to clear disabled vehicles from the roadway.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Crews restore power in Hope after severe weather caused outage over multiple days

8 hours 51 min ago

Severe weather around the holiday weekend caused numerous power outages throughout Hope, including one that left residents without power from Monday to Wednesday.

The spate of outages started Friday. The power went out and was restored the same day, and the same happened again Saturday, Chugach Electric spokeswoman Julie Hasquet said.

The power went out again for Hope residents on Monday afternoon, she said, and on Wednesday morning there were 229 customers without power, according to the company’s outage map. By about 2 p.m., the repairs were finished and power was restored, Hasquet said.

Outages were reported and repaired over the weekend in nearby Cooper Landing and Moose Pass.

Crews worked to repair downed wires, broken crossarms and damaged poles in Hope, but the weather made it challenging to access the repair areas, which are in a heavily forested area, Hasquet said.

Crews on Monday were stopped on the Seward Highway on the way to Hope because of a fatal crash. When the traffic flow resumed about three hours later, Hasquet said, it was too dangerous to continue driving with whiteout conditions along the highway.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, crews were working by snowmachine to locate areas that needed repairs, Hasquet said.

“We have four of our linemen fixing stuff that needs repairs and two are ahead of them trying to scout for more damage,” she said Wednesday morning. “So that’s why it’s difficult in this case ... this is damage that we keep finding.”

Hasquet said the storm system that moved through the area recently was extremely powerful, complicating their response.

“This is often a challenging area because of the weather and because of the vast forest around it,” she said. “Getting into sites and having to use snowmachines, it’s not like you’re just walking, patrolling a line on foot.”

Chugach Electric is considering bringing a generator to the area for the winter that could power Hope in the event of an outage, but Hasquet said officials are still figuring out the details of how that would work.

“We do take all of this very seriously. Our job is to provide power to people, so we’re always going to do everything we can to get areas restored,” she said.

Record rainfall causes flooding, avalanches and landslides in Southeast Alaska

10 hours 18 min ago

Residents of Juneau's Mountainside Drive neighborhood inspect the damage on Wednesday morning after an overnight mudslide. A record amount of rain fell in parts of Southeast Alaska on Tuesday, triggering avalanches, mudslides and small floods. (James Brooks / ADN)

A record-breaking rainstorm has triggered avalanches, landslides and flooding across Southeast Alaska.

In Haines, the municipal government declared a flooding emergency at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and warned residents to stay off the roads because so many were washed out or blocked by landslides.

“Haines is going to be needing lots of prayers,” Mayor Douglas Olerud said in a written statement. “We have several roads that have washed out, mudslides, and houses flooding. Crews have been working all night but the amount of rain we are getting is making it difficult for them to address all the problems.”

Haines, Alaska, got hit hard with heavy rain (ongoing), floods, mudslides, roads washed out..everything closed including airport and medical clinic..CG Medivac had to land in town this morning..Images: Young Rd, Spruce Grove, Airport pic.twitter.com/khvKeBidQ4

— akmk (@akmk) December 2, 2020

Even for the world’s largest temperate rainforest, this week’s storm has been exceptional: Almost a foot of rain fell on the small town of Pelican in a 48-hour period.

“It’s pretty amazing, actually, these numbers that we are seeing,” said weather service meteorologist Caleb Cravens in Juneau.

In Juneau, Tuesday was the wettest day since reliable record-keeping began in 1936. A measurement station at the city airport recorded 4.93 inches of rain on Tuesday, breaking a single-day record that had stood since 1946. The National Weather Service measured 6.54 inches at the airport within 48 hours.

Daily records also were set in Petersburg, Ketchikan and Haines.

This storm is one for the record books. Take a look at these impressive numbers. #akwx @KTOOpubmedia @KRBDRadio @ravenradio @KHNS_FM @KFSK1 pic.twitter.com/sKvrlGwjfr

— NWS Juneau (@NWSJuneau) December 2, 2020

High winds and record-high temperatures accompanied the rain. The snowpack is melting at higher elevations, contributing to localized flooding. The winds, which gusted above 60 mph at times, encouraged avalanches and mudslides and struck down trees, knocking out power.

In Juneau’s Mountainside Drive neighborhood, Jason and Kristy Backes started hearing alarming noises from the hillside behind their home on Tuesday afternoon. They packed suitcases, prepared to evacuate, and by 5 p.m., the slow-moving slide became visible, even in the dark.

“I looked out the back window and saw the logs and mud coming,” Jason Backes said.

The slide tore the deck from a neighboring home and dropped a sauna into their backyard.

Most alarmingly, it rechanneled a creek directly into their home.

“It sounded like somebody had a hose just dumping into our crawlspace,” he said.

The rain and wind arrived as part of an “atmospheric river,” a weather pattern that carries moisture, wind and warm air from the central Pacific Ocean in a narrow channel. The storm was predicted well in advance, allowing local and state workers to mobilize ahead of time.

Nice firehose of moisture arriving along the Alaska Panhandle, as revealed by the MIMIC Total Precipitable Water product: https://t.co/gcVpyzhiIs #AKwx pic.twitter.com/Qk23AvBY66

— Scott Bachmeier (@CIMSS_Satellite) December 1, 2020

At the Backes’ home, city workers — including Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon — arrived late Tuesday and rechanneled the creek away from the house.

Similar scenes took place elsewhere in the city. A mudslide that blocked a highway and threatened a playground was diverted and removed before noon Wednesday. Heavy equipment operated by state and local workers was active throughout town.

Elsewhere in Southeast Alaska, in Gustavus, more than 2 feet of water covered some roads, and “Hyder actually has been without power for two days because of heavy snow,” Cravens said.

While Southeast Alaska experiences atmospheric rivers on a regular — if infrequent — basis, this one had all the right ingredients for an especially wet storm, he said.

Top Democrats, including Biden, get behind bipartisan pandemic aid bill, but McConnell holds out so far

10 hours 21 min ago

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meet with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden swung behind a bipartisan COVID-19 relief effort Wednesday and his top Capitol Hill allies cut their demands for a $2 trillion-plus measure by more than half in hopes of breaking a monthslong logjam and delivering much-sought aid as the tempestuous congressional session speeds to a close.

Biden said the developing aid package “wouldn’t be the answer, but it would be the immediate help for a lot of things.” He wants a relief bill to pass Congress now, with more aid to come next year.

Biden’s remarks followed an announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer of New York in support of an almost $1 trillion approach as the “basis” for discussions. The announcement appeared aimed at budging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who so far has been unwilling to abandon a $550 million Senate GOP plan that has failed twice this fall.

The Democrats embraced a $908 billion approach from moderate Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, among others. It would establish a $300 per week jobless benefit, send $160 billion to help state and local governments, boost schools and universities, revive popular “paycheck protection” subsidies for businesses, and bail out transit systems and airlines.

“In the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” Pelosi and Schumer said. They said they would try to build upon the approach, which has support in the House from a bipartisan “problem solvers” coalition.

The new plan includes a liability shield for businesses and other organizations that have reopened their doors during the pandemic. It’s the first time Pelosi and Schumer have shown a willingness to consider the idea.

McConnell had dismissed the bipartisan offer on Tuesday, instead aiming to rally Republicans around the $550 billion GOP proposal. But McConnell himself endorsed a $1 trillion-or so plan this summer, only to encounter resistance from conservatives that prompted him to retrench. He has acknowledged that another infusion of aid to states and local governments, a key Pelosi demand, probably will pass eventually.

McConnell wouldn’t respond when asked about the Democratic statement. His top deputy, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said GOP leaders might agree to merging the bipartisan proposal with McConnell’s bill.

“I think there’s still time, although it’s short, to put a bill together,” Thune said.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a split-the-difference solution to the protracted impasse, hoping to speed overdue help to a hurting nation before Congress adjourns for the holidays. It was a sign that some lawmakers reluctant to adjourn for the year without approving some pandemic aid.

Centrists such as Manchin and Collins hope to exert greater influence in a closely divided Congress during the incoming Biden administration.

Their proposal includes $228 billion to extend and upgrade “paycheck protection” subsidies for businesses for a second round of relief to hard-hit businesses such as restaurants. It would revive a special jobless benefit, but at a reduced level of $300 per week rather than the $600 benefit enacted in March. State and local governments would receive $160 billion.

There’s also $45 billion for transportation, including aid to transit systems and Amtrak; $82 billion to reopen schools and universities; and money for vaccines and health care providers, as well as for food stamps, rental assistance and the Postal Service.

The new effort follows a split-decision election that delivered the White House to Democrats and gave Republicans down-ballot success.

At less than $1 trillion, it is less costly than a proposal from McConnell this summer. He later abandoned that effort for a considerably less costly measure that failed to advance this fall.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin struggled over a relief bill for weeks before the November election, discussing legislation of up to $2 trillion. Senate GOP conservatives opposed their efforts and Pelosi refused to yield on key points.

The bipartisan compromise is virtually free of detail so far, but includes a McConnell priority: a temporary shield against COVID-19-related lawsuits against businesses and other organizations that have reopened despite the pandemic.

His warnings of a wave of destructive suits hasn’t been borne out, and the provision is sure to drew opposition from the trial lawyers’ lobby, which retains considerable influence with Democratic leaders.

Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: 689 new cases and no deaths reported Wednesday

10 hours 40 min ago

We're making this important information about the pandemic available without a subscription as a public service. But we depend on reader support to do this work. Please consider joining others in supporting independent journalism in Alaska for just $3.23 a week. SUBSCRIBE NOW

Alaska reported 689 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.

In total, 121 Alaskans with COVID-19 have died since the virus was first detected here in March. The state’s death rate per capita remains one of the lowest in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Wednesday, there were 149 people hospitalized with COVID-19, along with another 14 people with suspected infections. Statewide on Wednesday, 24 intensive care unit beds were available out of 120, and 17.1% of total hospitalizations statewide were COVID-related. The ICU capacity was in the red zone, or over 75% full.

Health officials say new cases linked to Thanksgiving gatherings may start appearing in the data this week. They have repeatedly stressed that hospitals in Alaska will become overwhelmed if cases continue to rise. In response to the continually high case counts and rising hospitalizations, Anchorage on Tuesday returned to a modified “hunker-down” state that will last until the end of the year.

All but one region of the state remains at high alert.

Of the 679 new cases reported by the state Wednesday among Alaska residents, there were 216 in Anchorage, plus 12 in Eagle River and 11 in Chugiak; 192 in Wasilla, 39 in Palmer, three in Big Lake, three in Houston and two in Willow; 33 in Soldotna, 24 in Kenai, nine in Homer, three in Seward, three in Sterling, two in Nikiski and two in Anchor Point; 29 in Utqiagvik; 24 in Kodiak; 12 in Fairbanks and two in North Pole; eight in Bethel; seven in Sitka; five in Delta Junction; five in Nome; four in Juneau and one in Douglas; three in Unalaska; one in Healy; one in Ketchikan; one in Craig; one in Wrangell; and one in Dillingham.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 people not named to protect privacy, there were four resident cases in the Bethel Census Area; three in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; two in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; two in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area; two in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; two in the Aleutians East Borough; one in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough; one in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; one in the North Slope Borough; and one in the Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs.

Ten cases were reported among nonresidents: two in Anchorage, two in Wasilla, one in Kenai, one in Delta Junction, one in a smaller community in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and three in unidentified regions of the state.

State health officials have said cases reported daily underestimate true totals because the surging number of people diagnosed in recent weeks has caused a data backlog. A commercial testing lab also failed to report hundreds of cases, the majority of them from Mat-Su.

More than 1 million tests have been performed in Alaska since March. While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.

Among the new cases, the state does not report how many people show symptoms when they test positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about a third of people who have the virus are asymptomatic.

On Wednesday, the state had an average positivity rate of 7.27% over the last seven days. Health officials warn that a positivity rate over 5% can mean there is not enough broad testing occurring in a community.

-- Zaz Hollander

!function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",(function(a){if(void 0!==a.data["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in a.data["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(t.style.height=a.data["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}}))}();

(May 3, 2007) Mother crusades for more DNA tests

10 hours 54 min ago

NOTE: This story was originally published on May 3, 2007.

Some might expect Karen Foster to rest now.

But after almost 13 years of campaigning to find the man who raped and killed her teenage daughter and last week’s long-awaited charges against a New Hampshire convict, Bonnie Craig’s mother is not laying down.

She has a new fight: Expand the DNA database that is credited with finding Kenneth Dion, the man charged with killing her 18-year-old daughter in 1994.”

Let’s do it for Bonnie’s sake,” she said.

Foster is pushing a proposed bill in the Legislature that would change DNA collection requirements in the state’s criminal justice system. She’s making calls around the state to legislators and law enforcement leaders trying to gather support for the legislation.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, who received one of the many Foster calls in the past few days, said, “She’s a warrior and she’s using this as an opportunity to make something good happen.”

She is bringing to light what was a low profile bill. Senate Bill 33, introduced by Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, expands mandatory DNA collection to anyone arrested on a felony charge or a crime against another person. The proposal bolsters a state law enacted in 2003 that requires DNA samples from convicted felons and those convicted of crimes against other people.

French said the bill, which had been with the Judiciary Committee for months, is now being fast-tracked for a committee hearing. And there is a possibility it could get tacked onto other anti-crime legislation which is further along in the approval process.

Foster thinks the law will make a difference. In Bonnie’s case, Dion was in and out of jail multiple times in Alaska after she was slain. Had authorities been required back then to collect DNA from accused felons, they might have caught up with the accused man, she said.

The bill, in its current form, requires authorities to destroy the DNA sample if an accused person is exonerated.

Law enforcement officials throughout the state could save time, money and lives with a swab of the cheek, proponents of proposed DNA collection requirements say.”

Just think about how much money was spent on Bonnie’s case alone,” Foster said.

Bunde called the DNA collection process “the 21st century’s version of fingerprints.”

The idea would cost the state $370,000 in the first year and $220,000 in subsequent years, according to Department of Public Safety figures. It would increase the number of DNA samples processed by the state crime lab by 40 percent, or about 1,680 samples per year.

Similar laws have passed in seven states -- including California, Texas and Virginia -- over opposition that has claimed the process is an invasion of privacy.

Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, says he supports the bill. But he said the crime lab is understaffed and backlogged. Recent reports say more than 1,000 DNA profiles are waiting to be entered into the database.

Foster says she’s not going to stop with the bill. Her next battle? To make it mandatory that the DNA tests be done within 60 days. “If a criminal is given the right to a speedy trial I don’t think entering this data in a timely fashion in order to help victims is too much to ask,” she wrote in a letter to legislators.

As pandemic worsens, 40,000 Alaskans endure an ‘inexcusable’ wait for relief

11 hours 12 min ago

This story originally appeared on Alaska Public Media and is republished here with permission.

A few months after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Kate Stavick was furloughed from her job as a college recruiter in the Mat-Su, which paid her $3,000 a month.

When a federal boost to the unemployment insurance program expired, Stavick’s benefits dropped to roughly $300 a week — far less than what she earned in her job.

Since then, she and her husband have skipped fishing and hunting trips, to allow her husband to keep working. They canceled an anniversary trip. And they’re spending more time at home — not as much because of the pandemic, but to avoid spending money, Stavick said. And now, her unemployment benefits are set to run out at the end of the month.

“I’m terrified,” said Stavick, 49. “I’ve dipped into my savings to get us through Christmas. But after that, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Stavick, who lives in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough town of Houston, is one of the roughly 40,000 unemployed Alaskans who Congress has left in limbo while the intensifying COVID-19 pandemic continues to pummel the economy.

When the virus took hold early in the year, lawmakers passed a bipartisan relief package, the CARES Act, that granted cash directly to people and businesses, boosted weekly unemployment insurance payments by $600 and sent money to states to help fill budget gaps.

Since then, though, Congress has failed to negotiate another aid bill, even after some of the key elements in the original package have expired. And frustration and impatience with Congress is building among out-of-work Alaskans and local leaders, who say the lack of a social safety net has made it far more painful to maintain the health mandates aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re left holding the empty bag and the full morgue, while they sit up in their ivory towers and send us mixed messages,” said Anchorage Assembly member Christopher Constant. “People are going to lose their lives if the feds don’t do their job. Do your job.”

Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, whose order closing city restaurants and bars to in-person service took effect Tuesday, has also called on Alaska’s congressional delegation to help pass a new relief bill. And more than a dozen state representatives, including members from both parties, signed a letter Tuesday calling for more federal aid “as soon as possible.”

“The stories we hear of businesses on the edge of closing, families with depleted savings, and organizations and governments preparing to make devastating cuts to staff and services requires the utmost urgency,” they wrote.

[Unemployment levels in Alaska remain stubbornly high as new COVID-19 restrictions take effect in Anchorage]

In addition to relief programs that have already ended, more are set to expire at the end of the year without congressional action.

That includes unemployment payments that the CARES Act extends to freelance and gig workers, who normally don’t qualify for benefits. Some 10,000 Alaskans were receiving money through that program as of mid-November, according to state data.

After months of gridlock over pandemic relief in Washington, D.C., a glimmer of hope emerged Tuesday in a new $900 billion compromise aid package proposed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers, including U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The proposed framework, which is still light on details, includes $300 a week in unemployment benefits for roughly four months, plus some $300 billion for small businesses.

I’m proud to work with an exceptional group of Senators, as well as colleagues in the House, on a bipartisan, bicameral emergency relief framework, announced today, to help respond to the #COVID19 pandemic. More info here: https://t.co/HNKuQu8TZv pic.twitter.com/hHDwiLFR6o

— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) December 1, 2020

Both House Democrats and Senate Republican leaders have offered their own new plans, too.

But there are still no guarantees that an aid bill will be approved before President-elect Joe Biden and a new Congress start work next month. Democratic lawmakers favor a larger package than their Republican counterparts, with more money for state and local governments, while GOP lawmakers are pushing for a smaller package that includes provisions shielding businesses and other entities from certain COVID-19-related lawsuits.

“The response that we got today to our proposal has been positive,” Murkowski said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I won’t say it’s overwhelming — there’s still a lot of questions.”

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young were unavailable for interviews, their offices said.

Sullivan is “carefully considering” the proposal from Murkowski’s group, and his top priorities are that “hardworking Alaskans and our small businesses get the relief they need, and that individual groups of Alaskans aren’t discriminated against,” spokeswoman Amanda Coyne wrote in an email.

Young understands Alaskans’ “frustration and anger” about the expiration of federal aid programs, and “remains committed to getting things safely back on track,” spokesman Zack Brown wrote in an email. Young will carefully review the idea from Murkowski’s group if those lawmakers release detailed language, and he’ll also give “fair consideration” to any new legislation from House and Senate leaders, Brown said.

For now, Congress’ stalemate is causing consternation not just among unemployed Alaskans and elected officials, but among economists, too.

The “obvious response” to a recession is to use social programs to stimulate demand, support people and reduce pain, said Kevin Berry, an economics professor at University of Alaska Anchorage who has studied pandemics.

And the federal government can afford to be more generous right now because of the low interest rates it’s paying on its debt, Berry added.

“I hate the phrase, ‘It’s Econ 101.’ But this is Econ 101,” Berry said. “It’s inexplicable and inexcusable at this point that we don’t have a second CARES Act.”

In Anchorage, where a vocal group of conservative activists has protested restrictions on businesses and restaurants, a top city official said a new aid package would help ease some of the tensions around the local government’s handling of the pandemic.

“It would lower the temperature in every room,” said Jason Bockenstedt, the acting mayor’s chief of staff. “We’re making decisions that are impacting people’s lives, and in a lot of cases, impacting them in a negative way from an economic standpoint. But we are trying to balance the public health needs of the entire community.”

[As Alaska Gov. Dunleavy continues to support local mask mandates, some boroughs first want proof they’re legal]

Stavick, who lost her college recruiting job earlier this year, said it’s been dispiriting to follow news coverage of Congress’ inaction — something she’s had more time for since she hasn’t been working. She described frustration both with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s unwillingness to compromise, and with Young’s dismissive comments about COVID-19 early in the pandemic.

It doesn’t feel like elected officials “have a clue about what it’s like to be a working, middle-class person, at all,” Stavick said.

“It just feels glaringly obvious that they have lost touch,” she added. “Don’t give us your words. Give us action. Words aren’t going to pay the bills. Words aren’t going to put food in our freezers.”

Murkowski said she senses a perception among Alaskans that members of Congress have not been responsive, and that they’re “off in their own bubble.”

But one thing that’s made negotiations challenging, she added, is how the virus is affecting areas of the country differently. Some states are facing major revenue shortfalls, while others — such as warmer places where restaurants can continue outdoor dining — aren’t as affected, Murkowski said.

Some of Murkowski’s colleagues may not understand why others want to put more money toward relief for state governments, she said, while they also might have trouble grasping her desire for more aid to the fishing industry, which is a major employer in Alaska.

“Understanding where we’re all coming from and why America is just so different and so challenging is part of our job here,” she said.

Nonetheless, Murkowski added, “Alaskans have made it very clear to me that they need additional COVID relief.”

“What I’m trying to do is provide assistance for those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “The need is urgent. The need is now. It can’t wait until a new Congress. It can’t wait until we are in a better mood with one another. We have an obligation to be responsive.”

Fox News is holding more cards than Trump realizes

11 hours 28 min ago

Fox News was on the TV screens at the White House party on Nov. 4, 2020, leading to a shock when the network made an early call of Joe Biden winning Arizona. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)

President Donald Trump and a pair of fledging conservative news networks seem intent on taking down Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Do they have a shot?

In the weeks since he lost his re-election bid, Trump has stepped up broadsides against his one-time channel of choice, goading followers to switch from Fox to the more MAGA-friendly alcoves of Newsmax TV and One America News Network. Both have been more willing to hawk the president’s spurious claims of voter fraud, which at Fox are relegated to its nighttime opinion shows - and even there are beginning to fade. For Newsmax and OAN, hitching their wagon to the reality-TV star, even as he’s set to leave the White House, has given them the best chance at pillaging Fox’s ratings and springing from obscurity.

Christopher Ruddy, Newsmax’s CEO and majority owner, is clearly enjoying the sudden attention on his business, giving interviews in the last few weeks to CNN, CNBC, the Daily Beast, the New Yorker and Variety and making swipes at Fox along the way. He’s right about one thing: Fox can’t keep up its clashing interests. It can’t be taken seriously as a journalistic operation while at the same time cozying up to the conservative fringes and peddling conspiracy theories. And now places like Newsmax are doing the latter part better. Trump’s loss has effectively put Fox at a crossroads.

But whether Newsmax or OAN will seriously dent the No. 1 primetime cable-TV network or remain kooky wannabes depends on several unpredictable factors, including how politically relevant the Trump family is after 2020 and whether it forms its own media brand, further fragmenting that corner of the industry.

There’s also one wall Trump helped build that offers Fox immense protection: its profit parapet. Fox Corp., the $18 billion parent company, depends on the Fox News and Business channels for the overwhelming majority of its income. Michael Nathanson, an analyst for MoffettNathanson, pegs it at more than 80%. And most of that comes from affiliate fees, which are the contractually obligated payments cable providers make to be able to offer channels such as Fox on their TV packages. The key word is contract; these agreements last years, often five to seven. In August, Fox said it had renewed 70% of the previous year’s affiliate revenue, and only about 5% is up for renegotiation in each of the next two years. That means Fox has its biggest source of profits locked in for quite a while at favorable rates even as U.S. households continue cutting the cord. So even if a chunk of viewers tune out of Fox, the business may be relatively safe.

Meanwhile, OAN isn’t even carried on packages offered by Charter Communications, Comcast or Dish Network. And AT&T’s DirecTV, which does carry it, is rapidly losing customers as the company shifts its focus to streaming and 5G.

Newsmax - where Sean Spicer and Diamond and Silk have their own shows - is more widely distributed and perhaps more of a threat. Fox News’s primetime viewership dropped 29% in the three weeks after the election, while Newsmax posted an average of 370,000 nightly viewers - a 277% boost, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. CNN and MSNBC had increases as well. And yet, Fox’s audience still dwarfs them all. As long as that’s true, cable packages will need to pay what they must to keep it.

Fox will be “the last company standing in linear because of their news and broadcast sports businesses,” Nathanson said in a phone interview. Cable is “going to melt down to a smaller universe where Fox and other news networks get paid more as a percentage of the bundle than they do now.” Even if a network like Newsmax were to steal 20% of Fox’s audience by 2024, Nathanson said that would reduce his Ebitda estimate by only $200 million, which isn’t enough to alter his bullish view on the stock. It’s cheap relative to shares of other media companies:

Rather than a traditional cable network, Trump is said to be considering the cheaper route of creating a streaming-video subscription similar to Fox Nation, according to Axios. But there are serious doubts about his ability to run a successful media company. It’s one reason Newsmax may be better off hiring Trump than selling to him. (Ruddy has said Newsmax won’t be rebranded as “Trump TV” but called the idea of a Trump talk show “terrific.”)

As for Fox, trying to compete directly with Trump over his own base could prove futile. Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan suggests that instead Fox up its journalistic standards as a right-leaning, but reputable, news channel. That could help it draw more moderate young people into its orbit. Then again, that demographic is quickly moving to the streaming world.

In fact, Fox needs to do something about the fact that almost 60% of its audience is over the age of 65. Becoming the unofficial Trump network didn’t help it there. Even if it’s set to lose that title, it may be hard to disentangle the brand from the man.

Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the business of entertainment and telecommunications, as well as broader deals. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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.

Now that industrial hemp is legal, Alaska’s industry must follow the law

11 hours 39 min ago

Hemp plants at the Alaska Plant Materials Center on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 in Palmer. The state has a pilot program to research the growth, cultivation, and marketing of industrial hemp. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

The battle to legalize industrial hemp in Alaska was won in the halls of Congress and the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau during the past several years. Now it’s time for all those growing, processing and selling hemp products to protect themselves and their customers by following the laws they fought so hard to pass.

While industrial hemp is an old-time agricultural crop, many still think of cannabis only as marijuana. While both variants are cannabis sativa, recreational cannabis is cultivated to maximize concentration of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that gets users high, and industrial hemp, as defined under federal law, has less than 0.3% THC.

While hemp is used to make rope, paper, cloth, fuel or animal fodder, it is now mainly used to produce cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), thought to offer medicinal or therapeutic values to humans who consume them. Popular products containing CBD include oils, lotions, soaps, edibles and beverages.

Since 2014 and 2018, federal farm bills authorized states to manage legal hemp industries, hemp has become an important new national crop. Industrial hemp-derived products represent a $5 billion industry today, which industry watch groups project will grow to $25 billion by 2025.

In Alaska, the Legislature in 2018 passed Senate Bill 6, authorizing the Division of Agriculture to establish a pilot program allowing Alaska farmers to grow industrial hemp, and directing the division to draft regulations to guide the new industry. Since the regulations took effect April 4, 2020, six growing operations, four processors and about 100 retail outlets have registered as legal hemp businesses.

Our division is responsible for ensuring Alaska Grown crops are safe for farmers to grow, and for buyers to consume. Our new regulations therefore require testing of both crops and processed products for harmful levels of pesticides, heavy metals, pathogens or other dangerous substances, and to confirm THC concentrations are below 0.3% and products are accurately labeled.

Those who may still believe hemp lies outside the law must understand very clearly that any Alaska commercial hemp growers must register with the Division of Agriculture, and any growers of recreational marijuana must register with the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board.

We have worked proactively to educate the public and those in the industrial hemp industry about their obligations under the new law and regulations. Staff have conducted press conferences, held public information meetings, made Facebook posts and videos, and visited with growers and retailers. Despite these efforts, only about 100 of the estimated 1,500 retailers selling hemp-related products to Alaska consumers are properly registered with the state.

While we are eager to support the new hemp industry, we must also enforce laws aimed at protecting Alaskans’ safety. Therefore, we are announcing that retailers who meet their current obligation to file state registration paperwork and pay applicable fees by Dec. 15 will be covered not just for the remainder of 2020, but all of 2021 as well, and will not face registration enforcement actions.

Those who do not meet that deadline, however, are warned that they will become subject to enforcement of state law and regulations. While division inspectors now have the discretion to issue warning notices on unregistered hemp retailers, or to impose civil penalties of $500 per day, that discretion expires -- and full enforcement will begin -- Jan. 1, 2021. Violations can bring an immediate halt to sales. Repeat violations can bring escalating responses, ranging from removing products from shelves, to permanent confiscation and forfeiture of product without compensation.

Industrial hemp is an exciting new crop for our state and is an industry full of opportunities for those in our growing agriculture sector. Like any businesspeople, however, those in the industrial hemp industry must meet their obligations to be responsible actors. We will be glad to help any hemp grower, processor or retailer comply with state law to protect the health and well-being of their customers and their business.

David W. Schade is director of the state Division of Agriculture. A lifelong Alaska farmer raised on a homestead, he holds degrees in agricultural economics and public administration.

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.

Letter: Elections have consequences

11 hours 49 min ago

As I watch business owners whine about COVID restrictions, I wonder how many of them supported Republicans like Sen. Dan Sullivan with their votes, words and money. Every country on Earth has handled the disease better than we have. Most have done so by shutting down places where the virus spreads: bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, etc. Then the government pays the businesses and employees who are shut down. Congress did this earlier this year, ($1,200 checks for every adult and larger unemployment checks, as well as grants to help businesses pay their bills). Without this relief, our country would likely be in a depression.

As these programs expired, Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in the House of Representatives passed another relief bill that Mitch McConnell refused to bring to the Senate floor for a vote. He claimed that Senate Republicans had no appetite for another relief bill. So Pelosi and the Democrats passed a much smaller relief bill. McConnell again refused to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote. If an adequate relief bill came to the Senate floor, all Democrats and many Republicans would vote for it’s passage. Even President Donald Trump told Congress to “go big” on a relief package. Only Mitch McConnell stands between the American people and relief.

It is said that the most important vote that a senator will make is their first vote. Dan Sullivan’s first vote will be to reelect Mitch McConnell as Republican leader. So everyone who voted for Sen. Sullivan also voted for Sen. McConnell to lead the Senate. While I do have compassion for anyone hurt by this COVID-19 shutdown, I don’t feel sorry for people who support Republican intransigence on financial relief for the country. To quote my mom: You made your bed, now you must lie in it.

— John Farleigh

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: Trump working for free?

12 hours 21 min ago

To those who commend Donald Trump for not accepting pay while president, I have two comments.

First, he more than made up for it by funneling millions in government money into his hotels, resorts and even into his home in Florida. Second, he worked in the White House for nothing, and the American public got what it paid for.

— Don Neal

Anchorage

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

Pages