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Letter: Shameful

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 08:49

Why do you suppose the Republican National Committee is willing to accept corruption at the highest levels in their party? I believe that if Americans knew to what length Donald Trump and his allies in the party went to to subvert a fair election, and how many in the party were in on it, they could not get a Republican elected to dog catcher.

No, I’m not saying they were all in on it, but it’s awfully curious why the White House call logs are missing more than seven hours of data on Jan. 6, 2021 — they don’t want you to know how many of their party were involved or planned the insurrection.

And why did Trump take classified documents to Florida? Because he didn’t want people to find out what was really going on in the White House. He doesn’t want you to see his tax records because he cheated on them, just like he didn’t want America to know what was being spent on his golf trips until after the 2020 election. My parents had a phrase for men like this: flim-flam man.

I could be wrong, but it all seems to add up, considering the phone call to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and a lot of things we will never be made aware of. Democracy is at stake in 2024 if Trump gets back in. Please don’t let that happen; too much is at stake.

— Terry Judge

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.

Early voting results favor recall of three Palmer city council members

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 08:37

Palmer is holding a special election asking voters if they want to recall three city council members. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

An effort to unseat three Palmer city council members through a special recall election remained undecided after polls closed Tuesday, with early results favoring recall.

Recall backers accuse Sabrena Combs, Jill Valerius and Brian Daniels of violating the Open Meetings Act by participating in a closed social justice Facebook group. The law generally protects the public’s ability to observe public officials conducting public business.

The Recall Palmer Three group accused the trio of “secretly” planning action on mask mandates and police oversight during “backdoor meetings” on the social media platform. A city-funded investigative report released before the recall effort got underway, however, found the council members participated in discussion with comments and “likes” rather than overtly debating public policy.

Pro-recall votes made up the majority of the roughly 400 ballots cast in-person on Tuesday. The votes favor a recall against all three by a roughly 63% to 37% split, according to unofficial results.

Another 471 early, absentee by-mail, and questioned ballots, however, remain to be counted.

The city canvass board began meeting Wednesday morning to check and tally the remaining ballots. It’s possible that effort could finish by the end of Wednesday but could continue into Thursday, according to city manager John Moosey.

An unusually large number of early votes were cast in this election, Moosey said. The cost of holding the special election was between $8,000 and $10,000.

Combs works in community relations for Palmer-based Matanuska Electric Association, Valerius is a doctor who started a medical practice in Palmer, and Daniels is co-owner of 203 Kombucha, a Palmer business.

A city-funded investigative report last September showed the three council members likely violated the law by discussing a proposed mask mandate in the Facebook group, though the lengthy public testimony and debate that followed “remedied the violation.”

If the recall succeeds, the remaining four council members would appoint replacements for the three unseated members. The council already includes one appointed member, so that would leave the body with a majority of appointed rather than elected members.

The city will hold a regular election in October.

If the three council members are recalled, six of seven seats will be open in October, including that of Mayor Steve Carrington, who is filling out the term vacated when former mayor Edna DeVries won election as Matanuska-Susitna Borough mayor.

Nothing in city code prevents recalled city council members from running again in October, Moosey said.

Jury finds Ohio doctor not guilty of murder in fentanyl overdose deaths of 14 hospital patients

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 08:07

Former Mount Carmel Health doctor William Husel walks with his wife, Mariah Baird, outside court on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. A jury on Wednesday acquitted Husel, accused of ordering excessive amounts of painkillers that led to multiple patient deaths at a Columbus-area hospital following a weekslong trial. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, Pool) (Doral Chenoweth/)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A jury on Wednesday acquitted an Ohio doctor accused of ordering excessive amounts of painkillers that led to multiple patient deaths at a Columbus-area hospital following a weekslong trial.

Dr. William Husel, 46, was accused of ordering the drugs for 14 patients in the Mount Carmel Health System. He was indicted in cases that involved at least 500 micrograms of the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

Prosecutors said ordering such dosages for a nonsurgical situation indicated an intent to end lives. Husel’s attorneys argued he was providing comfort care for dying patients, not trying to kill them.

Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook told jurors before the start of deliberations on murder charges that they could also consider lesser charges of attempted murder. They deliberated for six days.

Husel would have faced a sentence of life in prison with parole eligibility in 15 years had he been found guilty of just one count of murder.

Prosecutors presented their case beginning Feb. 22 and put on 53 prosecution witnesses before resting on March 29. Those witnesses included medical experts who testified that Husel ordered up to 20 times as much fentanyl as was necessary to control pain.

Husel gave enough fentanyl to some patients to “kill an elephant,” testified Dr. Wes Ely, a physician and professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University.

Other prosecution witnesses included medical experts, Mount Carmel employees, investigators, and family members of all 14 patients.

By contrast, defense lawyers called a single witness — a Georgia anesthesiologist — to testify that Husel’s patients died from their medical conditions and not Husel’s actions. The defense rested on March 31 after one day.

The age of the patients who died ranged from 37 to 82. The first patient death was in May 2015. The last three died in November 2018.

During closing arguments April 11, David Zeyen, an assistant Franklin County prosecutor, told jurors that regardless of how close a patient is to death, it’s illegal to speed up the process.

Husel attorney Jose Baez said prosecutors hadn’t produced “a shred of evidence” to back up their claims.

Husel was fired by the Mount Carmel Health System. It concluded he had ordered excessive painkillers for about three dozen patients who died over several years. He was initially charged with 25 murder counts, but the judge agreed to dismiss 11 of those counts in January.

Husel’s colleagues who administered the medications weren’t criminally charged, but the hospital system said it fired 23 nurses, pharmacists and managers after its internal investigation and referred various employees to their respective state boards for possible disciplinary action.

Mount Carmel has reached settlements totaling more than $16.7 million over the deaths of at least 17 patients, with more lawsuits pending.

One patient, 82-year-old Melissa Penix, was given 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl and died a few minutes later. Dr. John Schweig of Tampa Bay General Hospital testified for the prosecution that Penix “definitely was not terminal, nor was continuing medical care futile.”

“She was a fighter,” said Penix’s daughter, Bev Leonhard, of Grove City, according to The Columbus Dispatch. “She didn’t deserve to die the way she did.”


Letter: Gara listens

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 07:49

My mother Arne Beltz served Alaska as a public health nurse for more than 40 years, and all of us are better off for it. Arne picked her acquaintances carefully. One of them was Les Gara. This is no coincidence.

Arne was surrounded by friends that really cared about you and me. Les was one of a few politicians Mom was comfortable with. He listened to her, and he will listen to you.

I might be biased, yet if you take a look at my mother or Les Gara, you will see the same thing I have — people of integrity and public service. We yearn for citizens like Arne and Les now more than ever. Our state needs a champion with wisdom and leadership while having the ability to reach common ground. Les Gara is that man.

— William Beltz

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.

Ukraine war refugees top 5 million as the Russian attack intensifies

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 07:34

Refugees from Ukraine stay inside a vast accommodation center set up at the Global EXPO exhibition hall in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (Czarek Sokolowski/)

WARSAW, Poland — After spending weeks with no electricity or water in the basement of her family’s home in Ukraine, Viktoriya Savyichkina made a daring escape from the besieged city of Mariupol with her 9- and 14-year-old daughters.

Their dwelling for now is a huge convention center in Poland’s capital. Savyichkina said she saw a photo of the home in Mariupol destroyed. From a camp bed in a foreign country, the 40-year-old bookkeeper thinks about restarting her and her children’s lives from square one.

“I don’t even know where we are going, how it will turn out,” Savyichkina said. “I would like to go home, of course. Maybe here, I will enjoy it in Poland.”

With the war in Ukraine approaching eight weeks, more than 5 million people have fled the country since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24, the U.N. refugee agency reported Wednesday. When the number reached 4 million on March 30, the exodus exceeded the worst-case predictions of the Geneva-based office of the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

The even bigger milestone in Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II was reached as Russia unleashed a full-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine that will disrupt and end more lives.

The millions of people who left Ukraine because of the war “have left behind their homes and families,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted Wednesday. “Many would do anything, and some even risk going back, to see their loved ones. But every new attack shatters their hopes. Only an end to the war can pave the way for rebuilding their lives.”

Ukraine had a pre-war population of 44 million, and UNHCR says the conflict has displaced more than 7 million people within Ukraine along with the 5.03 million who had left as of Wednesday. According to the agency, another 13 million people are believed to be trapped in the war-affected areas of Ukraine.

“We’ve seen about a quarter of Ukraine’s population, more than 12 million people in total, have been forced to flee their homes, so this is a staggering amount of people,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told The Associated Press.


Anastasia interlocks fingers with her daughter Vika as Alyona, right, hugs her son Alyosha during an interview with The Associated Press at a refugee center in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru) (Andreea Alexandru/)
Children listen to their mother Oxana, left, during an interview with The Associated Press at a refugee center in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru) (Andreea Alexandru/)
Refugees from Ukraine get a haircut at a vast accommodation center set up at the Global EXPO exhibition hall in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (Czarek Sokolowski/)
Refugees from Ukraine choose clothes made available to them at a vast accommodation center set up at the Global EXPO exhibition hall in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The United Nations’ refugee agency says that more than 5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. The Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 put the total number of refugees at 5.01 million. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (Czarek Sokolowski/)

More than half of the refugees, over 2.8 million, fled at least at first to Poland. They are eligible for national ID numbers that entitle them to work, to free health care, schooling and bonuses for families with children.

Although many of have stayed there, an unknown number have traveled on to other countries. Savyichkina said she is thinking about taking her daughters to Germany.

“We hope we can live there, send children to school, find work and start life from zero,” she said inside the vast premises of the Global EXPO Center in Warsaw, which is providing basic accommodations for about 800 refugees.

If “everything goes well, if the children like it first of all, then we will stay. If not...,” Savyichkina said.

Further south, Hungary has emerged as a major transit point for Ukrainian refugees. Out of more than 465,000 who arrived, some 16,400 have applied for protected status, meaning they want to stay. Many are members of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Ukraine.

Hungary’s government says it has provided around $8.7 million to several charitable organizations and is giving subsidies to companies that employ Ukrainians granted asylum.

In March, a non-governmental organization, Migration Aid, rented an entire five-story building in Budapest, a former workers’ hostel, to provide temporary accommodation for people escaping the war in Ukraine. It has helped some 4,000 refugees so far.

Tatiana Shulieva, 67, a retired epidemiologist who fled from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and wants to travel on to Egypt, said the night she spent in the hostel was “like a fairytale” after having sheltered in a basement for weeks to escape constant shelling.

Neighboring Romania has received over 750,000 refugees from Ukraine. Oxana Cotus, who fled the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv with her four small children, initially decided to go to Denmark but ended up in Bucharest because she speaks Romanian and didn’t want to be far from Ukraine.

She praised the help she received from the International Red Cross in helping her relocate and get settled.

The European nations hosting refugees say they need international help to manage the challenge, especially now as Russia has intensified attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

“If we have a second wave of refugees, then a real problem will come because we are at capacity. We cannot accept more,” Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told The Associated Press.

About 300,000 war refugees are in the city of some 1.8 million, most of them staying in private homes, Trzaskowski said. Warsaw residents expected to host refugees for a few months, but not indefinitely, he said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was in Lviv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, visiting a refugee center made of mobile modules that the governments of Ukraine and Poland jointly built to house displaced individuals who do not want to leave Ukraine.

Organizations for refugees say the best help would be for the war to stop.

“Unfortunately, without an immediate end to the fighting, the unspeakable suffering and mass displacement that we are seeing will only get worse,” UNHCR’s Mantoo said.

Data from Poland show that some 738,000 people have crossed back into Ukraine during the war. Some of them shuttle back and forth to do shopping in Poland, while others return to Ukraine to check on relatives and property, electing to either stay or depart again depending on what they find.

More than half of the refugees from Ukraine are children, according to UNHCR. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been killed or wounded in shelling and air strikes.

Mantoo called the “outpouring of support and the generosity” shown to arriving Ukrainian refugees has been “remarkable.”

“But what is important is that it is sustained and that it is channelled across to ensure that refugees are enabled to receive that support while the fighting continues, while they are unable to return home,” she said.

____

Amer Cohadzic in Sarajevo, Justin Spike in Budapest and Nicolae Dumitrache in Bucharest contributed to this report.

Here’s why the Seattle Mariners aren’t playing ‘Louie Louie’ during the seventh-inning stretch after a 32-year run

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 06:59

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Matt Brash throws against the Houston Astros, Sunday, April 17, 2022, at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Ted S. Warren/)

SEATTLE - Who would have ever guessed that the biggest talking point of the Mariners’ season so far would be a novelty song with largely unintelligible lyrics that was written in 1955?

Granted, this is not one of the burning issues of our time. Yet it seems to have touched a strong chord — A, D and E minor, I’m told — with fans who poured into T-Mobile Park for the first weekend of home games, and beyond.

When it came to the seventh-inning stretch on opening night, many fans were stunned when “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” ended and “Louie Louie” did not come next, as it had for the previous 32 seasons. That was the case Saturday and Sunday, as well. As I tweeted last month during a spring-training game, unaware of the hornet’s nest that would be stirred up a few weeks later, “After two decades at Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park, my brain subliminally anticipates ‘Louie Louie’ the moment ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ ends.”

That is absolutely the case, I’m certain, for many others. It might take a while before the “Louie Louie” replacement chosen by the Mariners, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” becomes as strong an earworm.

Reaction was immediate, and vehement, on social media. Many people expressed outrage that such a long-established tradition had been breached. Others said it was high time for the Mariners to break away from old traditions, considering their track record on the field. Still others seemed OK with ditching “Louie Louie” but ragged specifically on Macklemore as the artist choice to take its spot.

Lookout Landing called the change “devastating” in an eloquent essay titled, “Oh, baby, ‘Louie Louie’ did not have to go,” calling for the restoration of “Louie Louie.” It was debated on both local sports-radio stations and became a trending topic on Twitter. I saw at least one Change.org petition demanding the return of “Louie Louie.” Yet I’m also told that at the ballpark, most fans over the weekend seemed to be rockin’ to “Can’t Hold Us” with vigor and joy.

That’s the thing with songs — they can elicit impassioned reactions that are completely disparate. What you love, I might hate, and vice versa. I mean, how else do you explain The Insane Clown Posse?

I conducted my own Twitter poll that has elicited more than 4,200 responses as I write this. It’s a landslide win for “Louie Louie.” Sixty-two percent of respondents say to bring it back. Twenty-three percent voted to keep Macklemore. Ten percent want to change to a different song, and 5 percent would prefer no song after “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

I’m a “Louie Louie” guy, but I don’t feel strongly enough to get too worked up over it. I can also acknowledge that “Can’t Hold Us” is a rouser that gets people pumped up, too. And frankly, I’m not enough of a music aficionado to understand the virulent Macklemore backlash. He seems like a pretty good dude to me, dedicated to the city of Seattle and its sports teams, and while I fully acknowledge I’m not in his prime demographic, I really like a few of his songs.

I was getting so many questions about this that I went straight to the man himself, Kevin Martinez, the head of Mariners’ marketing. He acknowledged that with regard to the decision to drop “Louie Louie,” the buck stops with him as the senior vice president of marketing and communications. He says that he is well aware of the backlash in some quarters, and that the Mariners will continue to evaluate. And he says that for the foreseeable future, Macklemore will continue to be the seventh-inning-stretch companion, like it or not.

Martinez said the genesis of the change was a “listening tour” the team’s executives conducted near the end of last season and into the offseason to solicit feedback from fans on all aspects of the ballpark experience.

“What we heard was bringing a new, fresh energy to the ballpark,” he said. “Music was something we heard about from fans, including the seventh-inning stretch. So we looked at everything from the game-presentation experience.

“We had been playing the ‘Can’t Hold Us’ Macklemore song since 2012 in the ballpark, in various places, and thought, every time we played it, there was a good energy and reaction from the fans in the ballpark. And we looked at this as an opportunity to freshen up the seventh-inning stretch with something that was from Seattle, and that had been a part of Mariners baseball for the last 10 years, and just repositioning it in the seventh-inning stretch. That was the thinking as we as we went into the season.”

As for the negative reaction, Martinez said they’ve certainly seen it “and we’re paying attention to it. And we’ll continue to monitor it and listen to it. We have seen those tweets, but there’s also been positive feedback on it, too. I think anytime when music is involved, you’re going to hear a lot of different opinions on it. So while there have certainly been people who have expressed their desire to have it come back, there have been other people who have expressed their happiness to have a new song. We’re going to monitor it and continue to listen to our fans and see where we go with it.”

For Martinez, it’s a full-circle moment. He was in his first year in the Mariners’ marketing department in 1990 when the decision was made to segue from “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” to the iconic version of “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. It was the first year of the Jeff Smulyan ownership, and the new group was trying to put its stamp on the team and make the Kingdome a fun venue for Mariners games.

“We were looking at everything from a fresh lens,” Martinez said.

After mulling over using “Tequila” — and rejecting it because it was too closely associated with the Huskies — they settled on “Louie Louie,” which had been part of a highly publicized (but ultimately unsuccessful) campaign in 1985 to make it the official state song.

The Mariners started pairing “Louie Louie” with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in the seventh inning at the start of the 1990 season, but it really cemented itself as the official seventh-inning stretch song June 2, 1990, when the Kingsmen were invited to perform live at the Kingdome as a promotion. The Portland-based band played “Louie Louie” while perched on the dugout in the middle of the seventh inning. To allow them enough time do the song justice, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” wasn’t played at all.

“Talk about breaking traditions,” Martinez said with a laugh.

Wouldn’t you know it? Randy Johnson pitched a no-hitter against the Tigers that night, the first in Mariners history. And “Louie Louie” continued to be played after “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” for the next three-plus decades — through the Griffey years, the Ichiro years, the Felix years and into the Kelenic years. They even played it in 2020 when no fans were in the stands.

Until Friday, that is. Martinez says he’s pleased to see the passion that’s being displayed, even if some people disagree (vehemently) with the decision. One example of that passion that went semi-viral was a video posted by Seattle’s Devon Beck on Saturday. He has a lighthearted running bet with his friend, Peter Barbarone, a more recent Mariners fan, that “Louie Louie” will always be played after “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” For years, Beck has filmed himself belting out the two songs as proof of his victory — but at Friday’s opener, the video captures Beck’s stunned look when he realizes it’s not “Louie Louie” after all.

Here’s the thing, though. Everyone assumed that Beck’s shock indicated outrage. He said that wasn’t the case at all.

“The video probably doesn’t portray it well, but I’m actually kind of happy,” said Beck, a rabid Mariners fan who manages Joe Bar, a cafe on Capitol Hill. “I was mostly just shocked that something different had happened. ... I kind of felt like, new traditions, new outcomes for the season, maybe? I mean, we obviously have had a lot of futility. Things change, and I’m OK with that. Particularly if maybe it changes some of the outcomes for the Mariners. I just was shocked that change happened, but change isn’t always bad.”

In “Can’t Hold Us,” Macklemore and partner Ryan Lewis ask, “Can we go back?”

The answer for now — to the dismay of “Louie Louie” zealots, and to the pleasure of those ready to shed a stale Mariners past — is no.

The summer of ‘revenge travel’ is coming. But who can afford it?

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 06:43

A traveler makes their way through a security ID and ticket check at Love Field in Dallas, April 19, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero) (LM Otero/)

Sara Jensen was hoping to get to Germany to visit family this August, her first trip there since 2019, but she nixed the international excursion as flight prices climbed.

Also off the list this summer is a trip from Sacramento to the Midwest to visit friends. As average gas prices hover under $6 per gallon in California, a few other road trips might be on the chopping block, too.

“Two of the trips we planned we won’t be doing,” Jensen said. “We were talking about doing a road trip with our kids, and I don’t even know that it’s going to be cost-effective.”

After the delta variant cooled off “hot vax summer” last year and the omicron surge put holiday travel on ice, many Americans were clinging to the idea of returning to a normal vacation season - or what’s known as “revenge travel.” Instead, pent-up demand for travel, high gas prices and inflation has created the perfect storm.

That has led many travelers to reassess their itineraries, whether it means canceling that overseas trip (again) or trading it for more modest domestic tours.

Michelle Shainess, who runs the outdoor travel blog Almost There Adventures, anticipated going abroad again this summer. When she looked at flights to Europe from her home in Minneapolis, they ranged from $1,000 to $1,500 each, an untenable price for her family of five. Now the Shainesses are trading their European vacation for domestic flights and road trips to national parks. To save on gas, they will rent hybrid cars using the peer-to-peer rental car app Turo.

This summer, the family is mapping out visits to several parks in Washington state, including Olympic, Mount Rainier, North Cascades and San Juan Island. The parks lend themselves to trips that can be done in a more economical way, Shainess said.

“It’s more coming back to values and really trying to value time away with family,” she said. “We’re just trying to look at the situation and travel in any way possible. So with covid, it was road trips only, no flying. Now it’s more fly and drive, but how can we do that in a cost-effective way?”

Much of that calculus relies on cutting back on accommodations. For Shainess, that means mixing Airbnb stays with a few nights of glamping. Depending on the location and amenities, she has found glamping stays ranging between $150 to $200 per night. That can be a significant savings compared with Airbnb, where she must factor in fees as well.

Travel prices have increased across the board. Flights were up nearly 13% in February compared with the same time the previous year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and costs are expected to keep rising. Accommodation prices have risen too, with hotel rates up almost 40% from last March and home rentals up by 13% from February 2021.

Labor shortages are also part of the problem. Hotels have less staff and less inventory, which translates to higher prices for consumers, according to Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group. Beachfront hotels in destinations such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale have doubled in price, he said.

“I don’t want to use the word profiteering, but [for] two years, certain suppliers didn’t have any income,” he said. “Now that there’s pent-up demand, they’re taking advantage of the situation and trying to get top dollar.”

Among the travelers hit the hardest by inflation are the procrastinators, Vlitas said.

That includes Justin Sims, an insurance adjuster in Birmingham, Ala., who is used to booking international flights 48 hours before his trip because of his unpredictable schedule. A few months ago, he saw a flight to Jordan at $600; now they are $1,100, he said. He’s assessing a trip there this summer, or maybe to Rome, but if prices don’t come down, he will stick to the Caribbean. Meanwhile, his other dream destinations may linger in the distant future.

“The Maldives and Dubai have the highest prices. It’s kind of like, ‘Ooh, I’ll wait,’ " Sims said with a sigh and a laugh. “Definitely a waiting-type situation.”

For Jensen, a single mother whose daughter is on a competitive cheer team, the travel for those extracurriculars this spring ate into the summer budget. Soaring gas prices meant that the cost of driving from Sacramento to Los Angeles, which Jensen said normally costs around $200 round trip, doubled. That makes their summer road trip all the less likely, especially as Jensen said the hotels she looked at in Utah and Arizona shot up by $100 or $150 per night.

“As a single parent, you’re going from saving for something to saving for the next thing,” she said, noting that she often doesn’t have the luxury of finding travel deals months ahead. “We’re paying for things more last minute than families who have a lot of cushion, so we’re paying higher prices anyway.”

Rising prices haven’t deterred stand-up comedian and avid adventurer Amber Klear, who is hitting the road now more than ever.

“If anything, I’m traveling more because I think our current circumstances in life are just making people realize that life is short,” said Klear, who says she has a different perspective on life since surviving a blood clot in her brain a decade ago. “People that I’ve talked to and even me, we’ve been holding back the last few years. And even comedy shows are growing exponentially and [I’m] finding that people are just going out more. They’re going farther. They’re not skipping their vacations.”

Klear, who is based in O’Fallon, Ill., said she is traveling to more remote places because she enjoys the juxtaposition of performing at crowded shows and being alone outdoors. She used to set up hikes around her comedy gigs, but now she creates a spreadsheet with her wish list of hikes first before setting up her tour. An August trip to Mammoth Cave National Park will include shows in Bowling Green, Ky., while an exploration of Stephen’s Gap will stop by Huntsville, Ala.

In the past, Klear often found hotel deals the day before she arrived. With the price of accommodations increasing, she said she is more likely to stay at a campsite or sleep in her Jeep.

“I almost pulled the trigger on buying a pull-behind camper,” she said, “but with gas prices, I’m like, I don’t really need a sink.”

In addition to traveling for shows, Klear also books comedians from across the country for a resort in southern Illinois. Tickets normally cost between $10 and $20, but she has raised them to $15 to $45 to account for comedians’ travel costs. One up-and-coming comedian from Los Angeles canceled since he can no longer afford the flight, she said. And in a Seinfeld-ian twist, some comedians are getting in cars together to split the cost.

“They’re carpooling a lot more, and it’s really funny,” Klear said. “I think that their material is growing because of it.”

Although gas prices have shocked many Americans, the price at the pump gives no anxiety to dual Tesla owners Bridgette and David Kelch. The St. Louis couple have saved nearly $200 on fuel costs in the past month alone. This summer, they will embark on more trips to national parks, as well as a flight to Canada for a trip across the Canadian Rockies.

“That’s the trip where we’ve been most concerned about travel prices looking at airfare,” David Kelch said.

While the Kelches are monitoring prices, they are not letting higher rates stop them from traveling. Along with stamping every national park site in their park passports, they’re looking forward to a Minneapolis Twins baseball game with David’s father and a trip to Glacier National Park to see the glaciers “before they melt,” Bridgette said.

“I think the pandemic and Ukraine have brought this to the forefront: Don’t take it for granted,” Bridgette Kelch said. “Go out and explore, see these cool things and eat this amazing food and appreciate what we have here.”

Boost now? Boost later? Tricky calculation for a fourth coronavirus shot.

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 06:29

Pharmacist Karen Flynn gives a second Moderna booster shot to her mother, Joann Pangonis, of New Boston, Pa., at Morris Drug in Mahanoy City, Pa., on April 1, 2022. An extra-contagious version of the omicron coronavirus variant has taken over the world. (Jacqueline Dormer/Republican-Herald via AP) (JACQUELINE DORMER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER/)

Bill and Rudi Weissinger remain COVID-cautious. They’ve had three shots of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. They wear masks at the grocery store and avoid large gatherings. When Bill recently offered a friend a fist-bump rather than a handshake, the friend said, “Oh, still?” Yes is the answer, and most of their friends in Friday Harbor, Wash. - an island community - are similarly vigilant.

The Weissingers want to get another booster shot. They’re in their mid-70s and eligible. But they also plan to travel to France later this year. Boost now? Boost later?

“Our fear is if we get the booster now, it will have faded by then,” Bill says.

“We definitely believe in the boosters. We are not anti-vaxxers. Give me any shot you can,” Rudi says.

Most Americans aren’t trying to time their next booster for an overseas vacation, and many people in low-wage jobs and crowded multigenerational households are far more exposed than the Weissingers are. But their uncertainty about a fourth shot reflects the widespread confusion about boosters - who exactly should get them, and when, and why - that has dogged the government’s vaccination campaign.

Even highly informed consumers of pandemic news may struggle to sift through the latest government guidance and newest scientific studies. And even at this stage in the crisis, they may be unclear on what additional boosters can and can’t do.

Public health officials who authorized a second booster shot last month for people 50 and older and for immunocompromised people 12 and older have insisted it’s a stopgap, aimed primarily at keeping the most vulnerable people out of the hospital or the cemetery. A second booster appears to add to protection against severe illness in people 60 and older but offers only a modest, temporary shield against infection.

[Should I still wear a mask in public? A guide to help you decide.]

The booster issue reveals some tension between public health priorities and individual interests. The disease experts worry about epidemic waves that can overwhelm the health-care system. To a doctor, a vaccine has worked fine if it keeps a person out of the hospital, with just a mild to moderate case - which can mean anything from a few sniffles to a miserable week in bed utterly flattened by the virus. Many people, though, don’t want that bad week - with the attendant risk of long COVID - and will do anything to keep it off their calendar.

“I think the expectations [from] the first performance of the vaccines is that it is possible to be completely protected against infection, or any small cough even,” Hanneke Schuitemaker, head of viral vaccine development and translational medicine at Janssen, a division of Johnson & Johnson, said at a recent forum held by the New York Academy of Sciences.

The reality is that a person who is up to date on vaccination is very unlikely to wind up in the hospital, although the virus may still be able to break through the initial line of immune defense and generate sickness.

“You may have sort of a common cold, but your immune system will deal with it and prevent severe disease,” Schuitemaker said.

Even as many people rush to get a fourth shot, many others still haven’t received their third, second or first. Despite clear evidence that a third shot can save lives and better protect people, more than 90 million eligible people in the United States haven’t rolled up their sleeves for their first booster. Booster uptake has been higher among White people than in communities of color.

Medical advisers to the federal government have debated the necessity and ethics of a fourth shot given that there are higher public health priorities, including reaching unvaccinated communities and ensuring wider global access to vaccines. But in their late March authorization, federal agencies said people 50 and older could get an additional booster it they are at least four months past their previous shot.

Strikingly, the agencies did not clearly recommend that booster for everyone who is eligible, and federal officials’ advice varies.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said people 65 and older and those 50 and older with underlying medical conditions are most likely to benefit. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told “Fox News Sunday” the data were “pretty compelling” for people older than 60 to get a second booster. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on MSNBC that people older than 50 should get a fourth shot.

Data from Israel, which offered fourth shots to people 60 and older during the omicron surge, show that the additional shot increases protection against severe illness and death compared with a third shot. But against infections - most of which are officially deemed “mild” - a fourth shot provided only a modest and brief increase in protection, peaking at four weeks after the booster dose and dropping back to the baseline after eight weeks.

“[T]hese findings suggest that protection against confirmed infection wanes quickly,” the researchers concluded.

“I was shocked,” said Robert M. Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. He said he thought the additional protection against infection from the fourth shot would mirror that of the third rather than be so brief.

If the fourth shot offers a relatively brief window of higher protection, he said, timing that booster according to plans - a wedding, a family reunion, visiting an elderly relative, a vacation - seems reasonable. But it’s not an easy calculation, he said, because there are so many factors in the equation.

“There’s no perfect plan. You’re weighing risks, benefits, uncertainties, your own personal circumstance,” Wachter said. “I do this for a living, and I get a headache when I try to think this through.”

Risk analysis is not the strong suit of most people. Guidance from the CDC about the risk of infection has not always been clarifying. The risk on any given day depends a great deal on the current level of community transmission, but that data may not be easily found or interpreted and could be out of date.

And the virus itself is not a fixed entity. The omicron variant is more transmissible than earlier forms of the virus, and there is now a growing roster of omicron subvariants, including BA.2, which are more transmissible yet. As it mutates, the virus has become more evasive of the human immune system.

The result is that an individual’s risk analysis - is it safe, on this day, with this level of community transmission of this latest omicron subvariant on the prowl, to dine indoors at a restaurant? - is thoroughly contaminated with guesswork, wishful thinking and/or fear.

There is no simple test of an individual’s protection. There isn’t a line in the sand - what experts call a “correlate of immunity” - that means someone is immune or not immune, or is or isn’t likely to end up in a hospital bed.

Antibodies may have become the public face of the immune system, to the detriment of public understanding. Antibodies naturally drop after most vaccinations, but protection against the worst outcomes clearly persists longer, because of the multifaceted way immunity works.

T cells provide a layer of immune defense and stick around in the body for at least six months, with only modest erosion. Memory B cells persist and kick into action to churn out virus-fighting antibodies through what is called a “recall response.”

Neutralizing antibodies wane naturally - the body doesn’t want to arm itself endlessly with battalions of defenders against a hypothetical invader - and in the case of COVID, they wane more quickly than some disease experts had hoped two years ago.

The boosters authorized to date are identical to the first vaccines. Those shots were designed to deal with the original Wuhan strain of the coronavirus, which has since evolved into an array of slippery variants.

This confusion about the goal of vaccination - and thus when shots should be considered to be failing - even extends to the experts as they debate the long-term booster strategy for the public.

“At what point will we say the vaccine isn’t working well enough?” asked H. Cody Meissner, a pediatric infectious-diseases specialist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston at a recent federal advisory committee meeting.

“What is enough? What is our expectation?” CDC official Amanda Cohn asked. “Given that our effectiveness against hospitalization in immunocompetent individuals is over 80% - and that’s in older adults and persons with chronic medical conditions - I think we may have to accept that level of protection and then use other alternative ways to protect individuals with therapeutics and other measures.”

Vaccine expert Paul A. Offit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia argues that it was a mistake to call mild and asymptomatic infections “breakthroughs.” The immunity mustered by current vaccines is not expected to protect against all infections.

“The term ‘breakthrough,’ which implies failure, created unrealistic expectations and led to the adoption of a zero-tolerance strategy for this virus,” Offit wrote in a recent perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The decision about when, whether and who to boost has also been complicated by imperfect data. A widely quoted CDC study showed that protection against severe illness from three shots waned over four months, from 91% to 78%.

What was lost in the messaging was that those who had been vaccinated for more than four months in that study were primarily people with poorly functioning immune systems, who typically respond less well to vaccination. When the data was instead limited to people with functioning immune systems, there was little evidence that protection against hospitalization was waning, even among people 65 and older, according to data presented by Ruth Link-Gelles, part of the CDC’s Epidemiology Task Force at a federal advisory committee meeting this month.

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision on boosters came amid skepticism from some vocal members of the scientific community, who would like to see more data showing it is necessary.

“We’re very much on board with the idea that we simply can’t be boosting people as frequently as we are, and I’m the first to acknowledge that this additional fourth booster dose that was authorized was a stopgap measure,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a meeting where experts debated future boosters.

The debate appears likely to continue this week when a CDC advisory committee meets to discuss who should get an additional booster. Breaking with typical CDC practice, Walensky did not wait for that advisory committee to weigh in before issuing guidance supporting the extra booster for people 50 and older.

The FDA is also developing strategies for the rest of the year and trying to decide under what circumstances the vaccines should be modified to deal with variants. Vaccine companies are testing alternative formulas and delivery systems.

The booster debate comes as many scientists say that what the world needs are vaccines that would provide a broader blanket of immunity to respond to whatever the virus evolves into.

“Instead of more boosts of the same original thing, I think we need to use a better vaccine,” said Erica Saphire, president and CEO of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology.

Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research, has contended that people need to be boosted every six months or so.

“We just need to realize that immunity, unfortunately, wanes pretty quickly,” Andersen said. “We don’t want that to be true. We want lifelong immunity. We want measles-type immunity.”

He said that is wishful thinking at the moment.

“Our default assumption should be that we need to broaden immunity. If we don’t, the virus will bypass immunity even more than it has already with omicron. . . . But we’re not planning for that,” Andersen said. “Our entire response to this has been based on equal measure hope and wishful thinking, and that continues to this day.”

- - -

The Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

Should I still wear a mask in public? A guide to help you decide.

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 06:15

The abrupt end of the federal mask mandate for public transportation and an uptick in coronavirus cases across the country have left some Americans wondering: Should I still wear a mask in certain situations or places?

The confusion comes after a federal judge struck down the transportation mandate, prompting airlines and transportation agencies to lift their mask rules just as cases are starting to tick up again. Most states and cities that still had indoor mask mandates lifted them weeks ago. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that people should decide for themselves if they want to wear masks or not.

Here’s what we know about the science of masking to help you make decisions about if, when and where to cover your face.

[Reported Alaska coronavirus infections increased 6% in one week]

What does research tell us about the effectiveness of masking?

Many studies support the use of masks to reduce transmission of the coronavirus, which is spread when an infected person expels tiny particles of virus into the air and someone else breathes those particles in. Masks work by erecting a barrier that can stop those airborne virus particles from being inhaled by an uninfected person, and KN95 and N95 masks provide the best protection.

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

Masks can offer another layer of protection as new variants evade vaccine-boosted immunity. A CDC study that looked at an anime convention in New York City — where 53,000 people gathered just as the omicron variant began to spread in the United States last November — found only a fraction of attendees contracted the virus at the mask-mandatory event. Those who did get sick were far more likely to report socializing in bars or nightclubs, participating in karaoke, and eating or drinking indoors near others for longer than 15 minutes, the study said.

A large-scale, randomized trial in Bangladesh led by researchers from Stanford Medicine and Yale University found that even modest mask use within a community can reduce transmission, particularly among older people.

“An approximately thirty percentage point increase in mask-wearing among all community members in public resulted in a 35 percent reduction in COVID-19 among individuals over 50 years old,” Kwong, a co-author of the study, said in an email. .

What if I am immunocompromised or have a child under age 5?

Doctors recommend that people with immune deficiencies keep wearing a mask in enclosed public spaces. Those who are immunocompromised tend to develop a lower level of antibodies to the coronavirus than others - even if vaccinated. A mask adds an extra layer of protection.

Children under age 5 are ineligible for a coronavirus vaccine. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that face masks are safe to wear for children age 2 or older and that “continued use of high-quality, well-fitting face masks in public settings may be warranted for these children and the individuals around them,” especially children between 2 and 5 years old and those who are immunocompromised or at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“I definitely would wear a mask if you have any underlying immunocompromising condition or are under 5 years of age and are not eligible for a vaccine” while traveling, said Tina Q. Tan, a pediatrician and infectious-disease specialist at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “I would also encourage anyone who wants more protection to wear a mask, especially in crowded areas. The mask will provide protection to the person wearing it even if others are not.”

What do we know about coronavirus risk while flying?

Experts say transmission risk is lower when a plane is flying because of the way the air is filtered. But they still recommend masking during air travel because of heightened risk inside airports and when filtration systems are turned off on the plane.

“So the air on the plane is extraordinarily safe. Of course, the people are the ones who bring covid onto a plane,” said Leonard Marcus of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who participated in an airline-funded study finding flying can be safe with proper precautionary measures. “It requires multiple layers. The air system itself won’t do the job fully.”

Masks are among those layers to reduce risk, experts say.

“The combination of good ventilation and filtration in any form of transportation or indoor setting, and an N95 - with those things, I think you are very well protected,” said Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech engineering professor who has conducted research on covid and masking. “There are times, though, on the airplane, like during boarding and deplaning when they’re not necessarily running the ventilation and filtration systems, and people are up in the aisle and everyone’s moving around talking, that is a riskier time.”

In a review of studies that looked at five eight-hour flights where some passengers tested positive for the coronavirus, the virus was not passed on to any other passengers when mask requirements were enforced. Meanwhile, on three flights where masks were not widely worn, between two and 15 additional passengers contracted the virus within two weeks of disembarking.

How protective are masks when I’m wearing one and others are not?

Masks are most effective when they are blocking particles from entering your mouth and leaving others’ mouths. But N95s and KN95s - considered the gold standard of masks - are still an effective shield against the coronavirus even when you are wearing them and others are not, experts say. The 95 in their name means the mask filters out 95 percent of particles that you would otherwise breathe in.

Linsey Marr, the Virginia Tech professor, emphasized that masks need to fit properly to effectively reduce exposure to coronavirus particles.

“The relationship between infection and exposure is not necessarily linear, so this does not necessarily translate to a 90-95% reduced risk of infection, but there will be a big drop in risk of infection,” she said in an email.

Natascha Tuznik, an infectious-disease specialist at UC Davis Health, notes health-care workers wear N95s for hours on end and are well protected even when patients do not have their faces covered.

“Oftentimes the patients in the hospital aren’t wearing masks . . . and it confers very good protection,” she said.

If I do wear a mask, what kind should I wear?

Lab researchers have found that various types of face masks, including cloth masks, surgical masks and N95 respirators, help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

N95 masks provide the best protection because they generally fit tighter than cloth masks and are made with special material designed to block harmful particles. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says any mask is better than no mask.

“I recommend a high-quality mask such as an N95, KN95, KF94, or high-filtration surgical mask,” Laura Kwong, a researcher who has studied mask efficacy at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said in an email.

One of the most important considerations is that the mask be snug across the nose and mouth and “conforms to your face without gaps,” according to guidance from Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“It is important that most of the air you breathe in and out flows through the mask rather than around the mask through gaps at the sides, top or bottom,” Johns Hopkins recommends. An ideal cloth mask consists of “several layers of tightly woven fabric and fits well over your nose and mouth to be an effective filter.”

The CDC says a mask “should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures.” Using a mask fitter or tightening the mask’s straps behind the ears to flatten any openings are both effective ways to increase the shielding effect, researchers have found. Face shields are not a substitute for a mask across the nose and mouth, the CDC says.

How do I find reliable high-quality masks?

It can be hard to determine where to buy the best high-quality masks, particularly as the online market is ripe with counterfeits, particularly for KN95s, which are regulated differently.

The CDC has a list of respirator models and their manufacturers approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The Washington Post also assembled a guide for spotting fakes, advising people to beware of sellers hawking their items as legitimate and genuine and using strange-looking URLs.

Many pharmacies provide free N95 respirators. To find one near you, use this CDC location finder and call ahead to make sure they are still in stock.

Palin on replacing Don Young in Congress: ‘It would be all about Alaska. ... I love to work’

Wed, 04/20/2022 - 02:25

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks briefly to reporters as she leaves a courthouse in New York, Feb. 14, 2022. Palin is one of 48 candidates for Alaska's lone U.S. House seat, which was held for decades by Republican Rep. Don Young, who died last month. Palin says she's serious about the run though some critics have questioned her motivations. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) (Seth Wenig/)

WASILLA — Sarah Palin isn’t used to sharing the spotlight.

In the nearly 14 years since she burst onto the national political scene, the former Alaska governor has appeared on reality television programs, written books, spent time as a Fox News contributor, formed a political action committee in her name and been a rumored White House contender. She more recently revived her status as a conservative sensation with an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against The New York Times.

Now, the first Republican female vice presidential nominee is vying for what could be considered a less glamorous role: a member of the U.S. House.

Palin is among 48 candidates running for Alaska’s lone House seat following the death last month of Republican Rep. Don Young, who held the job for 49 years. If successful, Palin would be one of 435 members in a chamber where ambition runs deep but legislating is tough, in no small part because of the populist politics that took hold in the aftermath of the 2008 election.

Given those dynamics, it would be easy to dismiss Palin’s candidacy as the latest headline-grabbing twist in an unconventional career. Some of her critics have sought to cast her as an opportunist seeking to bolster her brand. The opinion section of the website of Alaska’s largest newspaper is dotted with letters to the editor urging Alaskans to reject her run. Some remind readers she left the last major job she had in politics, as Alaska’s governor, with about 16 months left in her term.

But in a recent interview with The Associated Press, Palin, 58, dismissed such critiques. She insisted her commitment to Alaska has not wavered and those who suggest otherwise “don’t know me.” She said she is serious about seeking the House seat and doesn’t need a “launching pad for anything else.”

In fact, she said, her unique place in American politics would put her in a stronger position in Washington. Unlike other freshmen lawmakers, she said, she could “pick up the phone and call any reporter and be on any show if I wanted to, and it would be all about Alaska.”

“I love to work, and anyone who is around me, they know,” she said. “What I’m doing is applying for a job, for Alaskans, saying: ‘Hey, you guys would be my boss. Do you want to hire me? Because if you do, I’ll do a good job for you, and I won’t back down.’”

There’s only one former governor who is currently a member of the House — Democrat Charlie Crist of Florida. Palin faces several hurdles to get there.

One is navigating elections that will unfold in rapid order. A June 11 special primary will be the first statewide by-mail election. The four candidates who get the most votes will advance to an Aug. 16 special election, in which ranked-choice voting will be used. The winner will serve the remainder of Young’s term, which expires in January.

There also will be an August primary and November general election to determine who will serve a two-year term starting in January. Palin is one of 16 candidates so far to have filed for the regular primary.

Some voters question Palin’s decision to leave the governor’s office, a move she has attributed to an onslaught of records requests and ethics complaints she said were frivolous and had become distractions.

She has spent time out of the state but maintains a home in Wasilla, her hometown and where she got her start in politics.

“Well, I’m sorry if that narrative is out there because it’s inaccurate,” she said of the perception she had left Alaska behind. She said Alaska is her home and that she was “shoveling moose poop” in her father’s yard on a recent sunny day before calling a reporter.

She has regularly voted in state elections since leaving office, according to the Division of Elections.

“I’m still all about Carhartts and steel-toed boots and just hard work,” Palin said, referring to a popular brand of outerwear. “I just have been blessed with opportunities and a platform to get out there and tell and show other people the beauty of being an Alaskan.”

She mentions Alaskans’ hunting lifestyles and the importance of responsibly developing the state’s oil and gas resources. She said she plans to attend events, including this week’s state Republican Party convention.

The contest in Republican-leaning Alaska will do little to change the balance of power in Washington. But the election is being closely watched as a barometer of former President Donald Trump’s connection to the GOP’s most loyal voters.

In Wasilla, Trump 2020 or Trump 2024 banners fly from several homes, the few political signs seen so far this election year. Palin said if Trump runs for president in 2024 and asks her to be his running mate, she’d consider it, though she said he could choose anyone and they haven’t had such a candid conversation.

Palin said Trump was among those who contacted her after Young’s death asking if she would be willing to run. She said this is a good time in her life to seek a return to office, politically and personally. Her family life has changed, she noted, with her four older children grown. Her youngest, Trig, is in middle school. Palin was divorced from Todd Palin, her husband of more than 30 years, in 2020.

Palin said she feels like she has “nothing to lose” in running. After having her political and personal life in the media glare for so long, “what more can they say?” she said, adding later: “To me, it’s freedom.”

Trump has endorsed Palin and has made the state’s senior U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski, one of his top targets this year after she criticized him and voted to convict him during his second impeachment trial.

Even if Palin doesn’t win the election, she could emerge as a high-wattage critic of Murkowski, who faces voters later this year. Palin said she disagrees with Murkowski on some of her positions, including her vote to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial. But on issues like resource development in Alaska, Palin said she believed they would be “on the same sheet of music.”

Palin has perhaps the highest profile among a list of candidates that includes current and former state legislators, a North Pole city council member whose legal name is Santa Claus, and Republican Nick Begich, who got into the race last fall and has been working for months to rack up conservative support.

Begich said he considers the Matanuska-Susitna region, a conservative hotbed that includes Wasilla, as one of his strongest areas. He said he is unaware of any of his supporters defecting since Palin joined the race.

“Everyone that has come to support me remains fully supportive, and that’s a strong statement because a lot has changed,” he said.

Tim Burney, who lives in Wasilla, said he supports Palin. He said she resigned “for the good of the state” after her detractors “came at her with guns ablazing.”

“She just lives right down the road here, and, you know, she grew up here,” he said while smoking a cigarette outside the Mug-Shot Saloon after finishing lunch on a recent day.

“Her heart’s here in Alaska, and I think that she’s good for Alaska,” he said.

Joe Miller, a former Republican and now Libertarian whom Palin endorsed in two of his unsuccessful Senate races, said Palin would be no ordinary House freshman and would have an “extraordinary” platform she could use to help Alaska. He said she’s the “only anti-establishment, truly conservative” candidate in the race and that she could be the “natural repository” for voter angst over economic and other issues.

Holly Houghton, who works as a pharmacy tech, is willing to hear Palin out. Houghton, who was eating a take-out lunch with her son outside a restaurant in Wasilla recently, said she has mixed feelings about Palin and is also considering Begich.

Houghton said she doesn’t like how Palin has carried herself in her personal life but also thought she was an “excellent” governor.

Houghton said she thinks of the Begich family as Democrats and wants to look more closely at Begich. Begich’s grandfather, Democrat Nick Begich, held the House seat before Young. His uncle Mark was a Democratic U.S. senator and his uncle Tom is the state Senate’s Democratic leader.

Jesse Sumner, a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly, said he thinks Begich is a good candidate. Sumner filed to run for the House seat as a joke at the filing deadline, on April Fool’s Day. He later withdrew.

He said he doesn’t see Palin around town much and that Palin’s run seems to be “more like it’s about the Sarah Palin show than about Alaska.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan plans listening sessions on military suicides in Alaska

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 19:00

Fort Richardson, part of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, is seen from Arctic Valley Road on July 16, 2020 in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is planning to hold a pair of listening sessions intended to address suicides at Alaska military bases.

During his annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, Sullivan said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a San Francisco Democrat and chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, would join him during the sessions. One will take place at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson later this week, and the other will take place at Fort Wainwright.

“It’s a horrible crisis. In the last four years, more soldiers have died in Alaska from suicide than were killed in action in Afghanistan. Forty. It shouldn’t be that way,” said Sullivan, who is also a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.

Along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sullivan and Speier this month sent a letter to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth asking for more support in addressing the high number of suicides at military bases in Alaska.

A Marine Corps reservist, Sullivan told lawmakers that when he was serving as an officer, one of the Marines under his command died by suicide.

“We were scheduled to have a drill weekend in a few days for the Anchorage-based Marine recon unit that we both served in. I told him, ‘Don’t worry, Marine, I’ll see you in a few days. You and I can tackle this issue together,’ " Sullivan said. “My Marine didn’t have a few days. I think about this tragic suicide a lot. What more could I have done? What more could the Marine Corps have done? We can do more, we know we can do more. We need to do more.”

[An alarming number of active-duty soldiers in Alaska died by suicide last year]

The listening sessions will not be open to the public, Sullivan’s staff said, and are intended to allow the two members of Congress to hear from individual soldiers as they attempt to deal with the issue.

“I don’t know what the answer is. ... Let us know. We need everybody working on this,” Sullivan told lawmakers.

In other parts of his address, Sullivan urged lawmakers and other Alaskans to work together on federally funded infrastructure projects, advocacy for North Slope oil drilling, construction of the road between King Cove and Cold Bay, and federal land grants for Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam War.

[Sen. Sullivan backs Murkowski but says he hasn’t endorsed a candidate in Alaska’s U.S. House race yet]


U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan smiles as Alaska legislators applaud him after his annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, April 19, 2022 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

Dunleavy names state attorney as Alaska’s top alcohol and marijuana regulator

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 18:02

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has named Joan Wilson to be the head of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

For the past four years, Wilson has been AMCO’s attorney, advising both the agency and the state’s alcohol and marijuana boards on a variety of legal issues.

Wilson will replace the current director, Glen Klinkhart, who is leaving the agency for a position with the Alaska Department of Revenue. She will be AMCO’s third director since 2019 and its fifth since Alaska legalized recreational marijuana consumption in 2014. (The latter figure includes an interim director who served for six months.)

When she starts her new job in May, Wilson will arrive at a significant time for the agency. The Alaska Legislature is debating a major overhaul of the state’s alcohol laws, and if that bill becomes law — it has already passed the state Senate — it would be up to Wilson to implement and enforce the new rules.

Because she remains a staff attorney, she declined to be interviewed about how she would address the new rules and issues that have afflicted AMCO, including staff turnover and an at-times tumultuous relationship with licensees.

She said she would be able to speak more freely once she takes her new position.

Leaders of the alcohol and marijuana industries praised the appointment.

“I’m excited,” said Lacy Wilcox, president of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, the state’s leading trade group for the cannabis industry.

“There’s not a training moment that has to happen to get someone up to speed; she’s as up to speed as anybody,” Wilcox said.

Wilson, born in Chicago, moved to Alaska in 1986 and spent much of her legal career in health care law. After joining the Alaska Department of Law, she worked as a prosecutor before becoming AMCO’s lead attorney. She also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and released her first book in 2021.

Sarah Oates, president and CEO of Alaska CHARR, the state’s leading alcohol industry organization, also praised Wilson and said that if the Legislature passes the alcohol-reform law, she is an ideal leader.

“I think that it would be hard to find another candidate who would be better suited to lead the agency throughout the development and implementation of corresponding regulation projects and of the changes in statute,” Oates said.

Wilcox said she has received some messages expressing concerns about Wilson’s testimony against mandatory COVID-19 masking in the Municipality of Anchorage. That testimony took place away from her job at the state.

Wilcox said she doesn’t believe it is significant.

“She’s not out there Reinbolding,” Wilcox said, referring to the strong opposition of state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, to mandatory vaccination and masking.

Wilson is scheduled to begin her new job May 8.

At age 75, Irene Taylor is repping Alaska on the national running scene

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 17:34

Irene Taylor poses at Fenway Park during the champions banquet for the Boston Marathon on Monday. (Photo by Randy Taylor)

Irene Taylor has a special wardrobe for days when she competes in marathons. At age 75, the Anchorage resident estimates she’s run around 25 in total.

“I always wear an Alaska T-shirt and a hat with Alaska (on it),” she said.

And when Taylor raced to a top finish in her age division Monday in the Boston Marathon, the throngs of race fans noticed her race attire.

“I bet there were thousands of people cheering, yelling ‘Alaska’ and cheering me on,” she said.


Irene Taylor poses in front of a Boston Marathon logo before her race Monday in Boston. (Photo by Randy Taylor)

Taylor’s 4 hour, 41 minute, 27 second finish put her at the top of the heap in the 75-79 age group. The last time she ran in Boston, she finished 10th in her age division. Although she’d set a top five goal for her finish, strong winds slowed her time and she was shocked to find out she’d won the division.

“My goal in 2018 was to finish in the top 10 U.S. and I think I was in fourth and this time I just wanted to finish again in the top 10 (of U.S. runners),” she said. “I was very surprised. I had slowed down so much. The wind just really got me.”

It wasn’t until Taylor was in her 40s that she started to run marathons. Her husband, Randy, himself a triathlete, was the one who got her marathon career started.

In the mid-’90s she ran her first qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, but her first trip was in 2003, when she and Randy both ran.

The race didn’t turn out great for Irene Taylor, who ended up spending some time in the medical tent after an allergic reaction before finishing the race.

When Taylor turned 65, she went skydiving. The race in Boston was a late celebration of her 75th birthday.

“(Randy) made plane reservations and hotel reservations before the race was even open,” she laughed “I said, ‘What if I change my mind?’ ”


Irene Taylor stands with her trophy for taking first place in the 75-79 age division Monday at the Boston Marathon (Photo by Randy Taylor)

Once she found out she’d won the division, Taylor was notified she had been invited to the VIP champions banquet at Boston’s famed Fenway Park.

“It was nice,” she said. “I got to see all the top winners sitting at different tables. Being there at Fenway Park, Randy thought that was pretty neat too. We all got glass trophies. Everybody was filling it up with beer but I didn’t go there. I wouldn’t have made the plane the next day.”

The Taylors sat at a table with some visually impaired runners who ran the race. One asked Irene Taylor if she’d be a guide for a future Mayor’s Marathon race in Anchorage.

Taylor, who has Tlingit ancestry, said she is proud to continue a tradition of Alaska Native runners.

“I would like to be able to encourage Alaska Natives to run,” she said. “I’d love for somebody to see that it doesn’t matter whether you win. You don’t have to win races, it’s not the important thing.”

Although she isn’t likely to return to run in Boston, Taylor said this will not be her last marathon. Although the Mayor’s Marathon may be a bit too soon.

“I don’t have any knee problems and I recover really fast,” she said. “I’m going to go as long as I can.”

Reigning boys soccer state champion Service High acknowledges the target on its back as it embarks on title defense

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 17:22

Service high school boys soccer coach Dan Rufner, left, talks with his team during halftime in a game against East on Monday, April 18, 2022 at Service. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

The No. 2-ranked Service Cougars boys soccer team was widely viewed as a long shot to unseat the top-ranked Dimond Lynx heading into last year’s Division I state title game. The underdogs were able to pull off the shocking upset over the presumptive favorites. Now as the 2022 season kicks off, the Cougars have the bull’s-eye on their backs as defending champions.

“Last year Dimond was better than us and we had an upset win, we were No. 2 and we played a great state championship game,” Service coach Dan Rufner said. “It’s hard being the top team because certainly we’re marked and everyone wants to get at us.”

Service is confident in its ability to make a strong title defense in 2022.

“A lot of teams are gunning for us,” senior Simon Carricaburu said. “We’re the team to beat this year and I think we can maintain our state title, but we got to get our stuff together.”

The Cougars were able to avenge a regular season sweep by Dimond with a 1-0 triumph in the 2021 title game, which happened to be the same slim margin of victory that the Lynx beat them by in their previous two meetings that year.


East high soccer player Zachary Elmore heads the ball during a game against Service on Monday, April 18, 2022 at Service. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Service has opened the season with a 2-1-2 record. Carricaburu, who scored the game-winning goal in the state championship game, doesn’t believe the team has been playing up to par to start the season.

He cites a lack of playing together as a cohesive unit as the reason for their inconsistency in games they normally come out on top of. He is determined to try his best to ensure that those struggles won’t persist.

“Other teams will see this and think they can take the title from us, but I’m not going to let that happen this year,” Carricaburu said.

Service was able to dodge a loss last week against Bartlett. Trailing 1-0 in the final minutes, Carricaburu came up clutch for his team once again with a game-tying goal for a 1-1 tie.

“It is always great to be there to score the game-tying or game-winning goal, but I was just there and had the opportunity to take it,” Carricaburu said. “I feel like anyone can hit goals like that, and I just want to keep them coming.”


Service high soccer player Brady Rufner heads the ball during a game against East on Monday, April 18, 2022 at Service. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Bartlett was very physical with the Cougars throughout the game. With over two decades on the job and a pair of state titles under his belt, Rufner knows the path back to top is arduous and that they will get every team’s best shot moving forward.

“Teams are always coming out hard, so we know that’s going to be a challenge playing against physicality,” Rufner said. “I think it is going to be a tough road between us, South, West and Dimond all have a good chance so there is no easy road.”

Last year’s title-winning team was very young, mostly compiled of sophomores who are now juniors. There are only three seniors starting on this year’s team, but the trio helps lead the squad on and off the field.

“I’ve got 13 juniors in the program, which I’ve never had in 21 years,” Rufner said. “Simon (Carricaburu) and Everett (Manning) are good senior leaders, Aaron (Baffour) has done well up top for us so we have some good senior leadership out there,” Rufner said.


East's Liam Albertson, left, and Service's Luke Stacy chase the ball during a soccer match on Monday, April 18, 2022 at Service. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Getting in sync shouldn’t be hard or too take long for the young group of players as many of them have been competing on the same or opposing teams since their youth club soccer days.

“I’ve been playing with most of these kids my entire life,” Carricaburu said. “Pretty much our whole team is a bunch of Rush players and I’ve played against them and with them my entire life. I know the chemistry is here, we just have to link together.”

Last year’s team was led by 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year and All-Tournament team honoree Hatcher Manning, who is now a redshirt freshman at Division II Western Washington University. Even though they’re without one of the best soccer players to come out of the state in recent years, Carricaburu and the Cougars believe they can still compete at a high level and stand a good chance of repeating as champions.

“He was definitely our strongest player and he was a great player to pass the ball to,” Carricaburu said. “He would hold it up for us and make great plays off of it, but honestly, we play great soccer without him.”

Meet the woman behind Libs of TikTok, secretly fueling the right’s outrage machine

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 17:11

On March 8, a Twitter account called Libs of TikTok posted a video of a woman teaching sex education to children in Kentucky, calling the woman in the video a “predator.” The next evening, the same clip was featured on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program, prompting the host to ask, “When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender identity radicals?”

Libs of TikTok reposts a steady stream of TikTok videos and social media posts, primarily from LGBTQ+ people, often including incendiary framing designed to generate outrage. Videos shared from the account quickly find their way to the most influential names in right-wing media. The account has emerged as a powerful force on the internet, shaping right-wing media, impacting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and influencing millions by posting viral videos aimed at inciting outrage among the right.

The anonymous account’s impact is deep and far-reaching. Its content is amplified by high-profile media figures, politicians and right-wing influencers. Its tweets reach millions, with influence spreading far beyond its more than 648,000 Twitter followers. Libs of TikTok has become an agenda-setter in right-wing online discourse, and the content it surfaces shows a direct correlation with the recent push in legislation and rhetoric directly targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

“Libs of TikTok is basically acting as a wire service for the broader right-wing media ecosystem,” said Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group. “It’s been shaping public policy in a real way, and affecting teachers’ ability to feel safe in their classrooms.”

The account has been promoted by podcast host Joe Rogan, it’s been featured in the New York Post, the Federalist, the Post Millennial and a slew of other right-wing news sites. Meghan McCain has retweeted it. The online influencer Glenn Greenwald has amplified it to his 1.8 million Twitter followers while calling himself the account’s “Godfather.” Last Thursday, the woman behind the account appeared anonymously on Tucker Carlson’s show to complain about being temporarily suspended for violating Twitter’s community guidelines. Fox News often creates news packages around the content that Libs of TikTok has surfaced.

“The role I’ve seen this account playing is finding new characters for right-wing propaganda,” said Gillian Branstetter, a media strategist for the ACLU. “It’s relying on the endless stream of content from TikTok and the internet to cast any individual trans person as a new villain in their story.”

Throughout its increasingly popular posts and despite numerous media appearances, the account has remained anonymous. But the identity of the operator of Libs of TikTok is traceable through a complex online history and reveals someone who has been plugged into right-wing discourse for two years and is now helping to drive it.

- - -

Chaya Raichik had been working as a real estate salesperson in Brooklyn when, in early November 2020, she created the account that would eventually become Libs of TikTok.

Under her first handle @shaya69830552, she minimized covid, cast doubt on the election results and promoted a dubious story about a child sex trafficking ring. On Nov. 23, 2020, Raichik changed handles, this time going by @shaya_ray and identifying herself publicly as a real estate investor in Brooklyn. She began doubling down on election fraud conspiracies using QAnon-related language. Early that December, she joked about launching a clothing line titled “voter fraud is real.”

In January 2021, Raichik started talking about traveling to D.C. to support Trump on Jan. 6 at the Stop the Steal rally. When violence broke out at the Capitol that day, she tweeted a play-by-play account claiming to be on the ground. “They were rubber bullets from law enforcement. 1 hit right next to me,” she said. She posted videos from the crowd and spoke of tear gas being deployed nearby. After saying she left the riot, she used Twitter to downplay the event, claiming that it was peaceful compared to a “BLM protest.”

Later that month, Raichik cycled through two more Twitter names, this time focusing on state politicians. First under the handle @ChayaRaichik and the display name “Chaya Raichik,” and then under the new handle, @cuomomustgo, she railed against New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, calling for him to resign. She promoted the efforts to recall California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. She also began posting about Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, calling him “actually brilliant.”

By early last March, she pivoted to a parody account titled @houseplantpotus, pretending to tweet as if she was a houseplant living with President Joe Biden. She revamped her avatar to look like a small shrub with Biden’s face on the leaves. At that point in time she also claimed to be proudly Orthodox Jewish, live in Brooklyn and work in real estate in her Twitter bio.

But the house plant parody never took off. On April 19, 2021, she pivoted her account once again, this time to Libs of TikTok.

Just four months after getting started, Libs of TikTok got its big break: Joe Rogan started promoting the account to the millions of listeners of his hit podcast. He mentioned it several times on the show in August, then again in late September. “Libs of TikTok is one of the greatest f---ing accounts of all time,” he said. With his seal of approval, Raichik’s following skyrocketed.

Libs of TikTok gained more prominence throughout the end of last year, cementing its spot in the right-wing media outrage cycle. Its attacks on the LGBTQ+ community also escalated. By January, Raichik’s page was leaning hard into “groomer” discourse, calling for any teacher who comes out as gay to their students to be “fired on the spot.”

Her anti-trans tweets went especially viral. She called on her followers to contact schools that were allowing “boys in the girls bathrooms” and pushed the false conspiracy theory that schools were installing litter boxes in bathrooms for children who identify as cats. She also purported that adults who teach children about LGBTQ+ identities are “abusive,” that being gender-nonconforming or an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is a “mental illness,” and referred to schools as “government run indoctrination camps” for the LGBTQ+ community.

“Libs of TikTok is shaping our entire political conversation about the rights of LGBTQ people to participate in society,” Drennen said. “It feels like they’re single-handedly taking us back a decade in terms of the public discourse around LGBTQ rights. It’s been like nothing we’ve ever really seen.”

By March, Libs of TikTok was directly impacting legislation. DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw credited the account with “opening her eyes” and informing her views on the state’s restrictive legislation that bans discussion of sexuality or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, referred to by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill. She and Libs of TikTok have interacted with each other at least 138 times publicly, according to a report by Media Matters. When asked by The Post about her relationship with the account, Pushaw wrote, “I follow, like and retweet libsoftiktok. My interactions with that account are public,” and added that she’s a strong supporter of its mission.

As the legislation progressed before eventually being signed into law on March 28, Libs of TikTok ramped up attacks, flooding its feed with accusations of “grooming.” The right-wing media and influential conservative figureheads used anti-LGBTQ content from Libs of TikTok as fuel for their arguments.

Fox News hosts Jesse Watters and Tucker Carlson began featuring content straight from Libs of TikTok on air, with Carlson urging his viewers to follow it “before it’s banned if you want to know what may be happening in your child’s school.” (Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.)

- - -

As the account has grown in prominence, Raichik has taken steps to obscure her identity. Though she has done numerous high-profile media appearances, she’s appeared anonymously. However, when registering the domain LibsofTikTok.us last October, she used her full name and cellphone number linked to her real estate salesperson contact information.

On Saturday, software developer Travis Brown (who is working on a project with support from Prototype Fund, an organization that backs open-source projects) unearthed the account’s Twitter history and posted a thread detailing information about its profile changes.

When a reporter called the phone number registered to Raichik’s real estate profile and LibofTikTok.us, the woman who answered hung up after the reporter identified herself as calling from The Washington Post. A woman at the address listed to Raichik’s name in Los Angeles declined to identify herself. On Monday night, a tweet from Glenn Greenwald confirmed the house that was visited belonged to Raichik’s family.

Though Raichik has claimed to run the account alone, last August Grant Lally, a lawyer and Republican operative, filed a trademark for Libs of TikTok as a “news reporter service.” Lally said he is “not at liberty” to comment when reached by The Post.

“I don’t do this for money or fame,” Raichik told the New York Post (which, like all other outlets interviewing her, allowed her to speak on the condition of anonymity) in February while comparing herself to Project Veritas. “I’m not some politician or blue-check journalist. I feel like there are so many small stories that are so important that aren’t getting out - and that’s what I’m here for.” In other anonymous interviews she claims to have left New York for somewhere in California, recently turning the account into a full-time job. For a while she was soliciting donations through Venmo.

While Libs of TikTok briefly had a TikTok account of its own, it was suspended for violating community guidelines. Last week, the account was briefly suspended from Twitter for a second time for violating the platform’s rules on targeted harassment.

But Libs of TikTok continues to amass followers across the internet. It has more than 65,000 followers on Instagram, nearly 10,000 on YouTube and a robust presence on right-wing YouTube competitor Rumble, along with other right-wing apps like Gab and GETTR. It’s also building out an email database through newsletter platform Revue.

Raichik has said in interviews that she crowdsources the content for the feed from a flood of messages she receives every day. In that sense, Libs of TikTok is a collective, molded to the hive mind of the right-wing internet. She views her account as giving a voice and platform to concerned parents and ordinary citizens.

“I see a shared spirit in Libs of TikTok, and the appetite for it in right-wing media more broadly, which is turning neighbor against neighbor and turning any individual into an enforcer of this very strict gender regime,” Branstetter said. “There’s a deep sense of paranoia this rhetoric inspires and is extremely volatile, it’s more than playing with fire. It inspires a vigilante spirit.”

Raichik boasts that several teachers have been fired as a result of being featured on the account.

Tyler Wrynn, a former English teacher in Oklahoma, posted a video telling LGBTQ kids shunned by their parents that he was “proud of them” and loved them; it was featured on Libs of TikTok last week. Since being featured on the page Wrynn has been barraged with harassment and death threats.

“I’ve always seen myself as the type of teacher to stand up for marginalized voices,” Wrynn said. “I see fellow teachers on TikTok speak out for our disenfranchised students and they’re getting the same sort of harassment too.”

The popularity of Libs of TikTok comes at a time when far-right communities across the internet have begun doxing school officials and calling for their execution. Parents of LGBTQ+ youth have been driven out of their towns. Local school board members have reported death threats.

On a recent podcast, Raichik said that as her following continues to grow, the fullest extent of her impact may not be realized until the elections this fall. She has encouraged her audience to overtake school boards and run in local elections. “These people,” she said, referring to members of LGBTQ+ community, “some of them are literally evil and grooming kids, they should not be in schools, they should not be teachers.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ community who still attempt to use platforms like TikTok to educate people on gay or trans issues are subject to intense online abuse, causing a chilling effect. “[Libs of TikTok] is playing on fears and misunderstandings of who trans people are, while amping up extreme rhetoric and normalizing portraying queer people as inherently dangerous to children,” Branstetter said. “It’s hard to stoke moral panic without main characters, and the role Libs of TikTok is playing is finding those characters.”

- - -

The Washington Post’s Alice Crites and Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.

Anti-Pebble super PAC will support candidates against the proposed mine

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 16:07

Pebble mine opponents rally outside the Hotel Captain Cook on Aug. 21, 2017. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (Bill Roth/)

A new super PAC that has amassed $600,000 from a single group says it will back federal candidates who support protections for Bristol Bay and who oppose the proposed Pebble mine project in Southwest Alaska.

Alaskans for Bristol Bay Action said Monday that it will focus on additional fundraising to support candidates in the upcoming election cycle.

Former Alaska Senate President Rick Halford, a Republican and longtime opponent of the proposed mine, is senior adviser for the new political action committee.

The committee was created in February, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

The Pebble mine has suffered regulatory setbacks under the Trump and Biden administrations, and the Environmental Protection Agency has launched a process that opponents hope could stop it forever.

Still, the copper and gold project remains alive. If it’s built, critics fear it will destroy the valuable Bristol Bay salmon fishery, while developer Pebble Limited Partnership says the project will protect the environment and promote economic development.

The new PAC intends to make independent expenditures to candidates and raise funds in unlimited amounts, the group has reported to the FEC. Independent expenditure groups are not allowed to coordinate with individual campaigns.

“Alaskans have been fighting the Pebble Mine for nearly two decades, and they want it stopped now,” Halford said in a prepared statement. “We are excited that we already have the resources to provide political support for those candidates who are standing up to provide durable protections for Bristol Bay this year.”

The committee will focus opposition on “those who are ignoring the will of Alaskans and the region,” Halford said, such as those who side with Pebble mine.

The group said that polls continue to show that most Alaskans oppose the mine.

Reached Tuesday by phone, Halford declined to name candidates that the committee might support or oppose.

The new committee received $600,000 late last month from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Sixteen Thirty Fund, commission records show. The New York Times in May described the fund as “among the leading dark money spenders on the left.” The fund does not disclose the identity of its contributors.

The reports show that the group hasn’t yet begun spending money.

Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for Pebble, said in an email last month that the mineral project should be judged on its merits, not politics.

“It is quite ironic that groups who insisted that Pebble should not be a political decision during the Trump administration are clamoring for a political decision via this new PAC,” Heatwole said.

Daily News reporter Nathaniel Herz contributed.

Sen. Sullivan backs Murkowski but says he hasn’t endorsed a candidate in Alaska’s U.S. House race yet

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 15:05

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks during a ceremony for the late Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in Statuary Hall as he lies in state on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. Young, the longest-serving member of Alaska's congressional delegation, died Friday, March 18. He was 88. (Bill Clark/Pool Photo via AP) (Bill Clark/)

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska said he is supporting fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her reelection bid this year and said Tuesday that he has not yet endorsed a candidate in the race for Alaska’s only U.S. House seat.

Sullivan said he is “still hurting” over the loss of Republican Rep. Don Young, who at the time of his death last month was seeking reelection to the seat he had held since 1973. Sullivan said that when it comes to a successor to Young, he is interested in “having a fighter like Don Young was” and a Republican.

“I think we have a number of good candidates who fit that bill. But for now, I have not endorsed or backed anybody in that regard,” he said.

There will be a special primary and special election to determine who will serve the remainder of Young’s term, which ends in January, and the regular primary and general election will decide who is elected to a two-year term, starting in January.

[Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat will be vacant until September. What happens in the meantime?]

Sullivan made his comments to reporters after giving a speech to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. Alaska’s U.S. senators traditionally address state lawmakers. Murkowski did so in February.

Sullivan said he had come out previously in support of Murkowski and said he is supporting all Republican Senate incumbents.

There is a 50-50 split between members in the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the Senate currently, though Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tie-breaking votes.

Sullivan said he would like Republicans to retake control of both the House and Senate after this fall’s elections.

Anchorage School District ends mask requirement on school buses

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 14:58

Emmy Vess plays with bubbles as Denise Pranger, left, and other Klatt Elementary School employees welcome her off the bus for the first day of school in Anchorage on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Masks on Anchorage School District buses are now optional, the superintendent announced in a note to families and staff Tuesday.

While the school district moved to make masking optional in school buildings back in February, masks were still required on buses because of federal transportation guidelines.

But on Monday, a federal judge in Florida ended public transportation masking requirements, which has prompted the dissolution of mask requirements on airplanes and bus systems alike this week.

[Alaska Airlines and others end mask requirement following federal court ruling]

School district superintendent Deena Bishop said masks will be optional on buses and that masks will be provided if requested.

Justice Department says it will appeal mask ruling only if mandate still needed

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 14:55

Mass transit riders wear masks as they commute in the financial district of lower Manhattan, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in New York. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Fla., on April 18, 2022, voided the national travel mask mandate as exceeding the authority of U.S. health officials. The mask mandate that covers travel on airplanes and other public transportation was recently extended by President Joe Biden's administration until May 3. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (John Minchillo/)

Update, 2:45 p.m. Tuesday: The Justice Department said Tuesday it will not appeal a federal district judge’s ruling that ended the nation’s federal mask mandate on public transit unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the requirement is still necessary.

In a statement released a day after a Florida judge ended the sweeping mandate, which required face coverings on planes and trains and in transit hubs, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said officials believe that the federal mask order was “a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health.” He said it was “an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.”

Coley said the CDC had said it would continue to assess public health conditions, and if the agency determined a mandate was necessary for public health, the Justice Department would file an appeal.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Original story:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A pilot declared over the loudspeaker on a cross-country Delta Air Lines flight that passengers were no longer required to wear masks, eliciting cheers from the cabin and prompting some on board to immediately toss their face coverings onto their seats.

“Feel free to burn them at will,” a train conductor told New Jersey commuters Tuesday. Other passengers were confused, startled and angered by the abrupt change, however, especially those who booked trips in the belief that their unvaccinated children would be traveling in a masked environment.

A federal judge’s decision Monday to throw out a mask requirement on public transportation did away with the last major vestige of federal pandemic rules and led to a mishmash of new locally created rules that reflected the nation’s ongoing division over how to battle the virus.

Major airlines and airports in places like Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City quickly switched to a mask-optional policy. New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Connecticut continued to require them on mass transit. But a host of other cities ditched their mandates, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continued to recommend masking on transportation.

Brooke Tansley, a television producer and former Broadway performer, boarded a flight with her 4-year-old and 8-month-old baby— neither old enough to be vaccinated — only to learn that the mask mandate had ended midflight.

“Here we are, trapped in the sky with our 8-month-old unmasked baby (you can’t actually mask a baby that young) under the supposition that everyone who can be masked would be masked, and the flight 325 crew has taken our choices away from us,” she said in a tweet. “Very very angry about this.”


Crowds of the masked and the unmasked went through the security line at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Tuesday, April 19, 2022 where the airport issued a statement Tuesday morning saying masks are now "optional for employees, passengers, and visitors" at the airport. "Although a mask mandate will no longer be enforced, employees, passengers, and visitors are reminded that masks continue to offer a level of protection against the COVID virus," the airport said. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com/)

For many, though, the news was welcome. A video showed some passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight cheering and applauding as they took off their masks upon hearing the announcement they were now optional. One man could be seen happily twirling his mask on his finger.

On a Southwest Airlines flight Monday from Detroit to Nashville, the change to optional status was incorporated into the safety announcements, prompting murmurs and fist pumps from some passengers and no audible complaints.

In Portland, Oregon, transit employees were immediately working on taking down “mask required” announcements and signs, but said it would likely take several days to remove everything.

The city joined Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Missouri, and the Alaska cities of Anchorage and Juneau, in making masking optional on mass transit.

“We know our riders have mixed feelings about the mandate ending,” Portland’s public transit agency, TriMet, posted on social media. “We ask everyone to be respectful of others as we all adjust to this change.”

Some passengers at Chicago’s Union Station said the rules were confusing. Both Amtrak and Metra, the regional commuter rail service, said masks still are required, but some passengers walking through the station didn’t wear them.

“It’s like this patchwork of different rules and enforcement of it,” said Erik Abderhalden, who wore a mask as he waited for a Metra train to his home in suburban Naperville. “I mean, it’s like Swiss cheese ... there’s no uniformity and it seems pretty laissez faire.”

The Chicago Transit Authority also said it still will require masks on city trains and buses, for now.

Subway rider Cooper Klinges was pleased that New York City’s public transit system wasn’t following the trend and planned to keep its mask requirement in place. As he waited at a train station in Brooklyn, New York, he said he canceled a flight earlier this year over concerns about the virus.

“I don’t think we are out of the woods yet,” said Klinges, a teacher, citing concerns about the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus. “It is still around. We have to still stick it out.”

The ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber announced on their websites Tuesday that masks will now be optional while riding or driving.

The national mask rule for travelers was one of the last of the pandemic restrictions still in place. It sparked online flame throwing between those who felt they were crucial to protecting people and those who saw it as an unnecessary inconvenience or even government overkill.

Some flight attendants found themselves cursed and even attacked by passengers who refused to comply.

In a 59-page lawsuit ruling, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped its authority in issuing the original health order on which the TSA directive was based. She also said the order was fatally flawed because the CDC didn’t follow proper rulemaking procedures.

The Justice Department declined to comment when asked if it would seek an emergency stay to block the judge’s order.

While airline and mass transit passengers around the country were ditching masks, the White House made clear that those traveling with President Joe Biden to New Hampshire on Tuesday would be required to keep face coverings on “in line with CDC guidance.” A Biden administration official also said there were no changes expected to the pre-departure testing requirement for international passengers bound to the U.S.

Asked Tuesday if people should still wear masks on planes, Biden replied: “That’s up to them.”

The CDC had recently extended the mask mandate, which was set to expire Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S. But the court ruling puts that decision on hold.

After a winter surge fueled by the omicron variant that led to record hospitalizations, the U.S. has seen a significant drop in virus spread in recent months that led most states and cities to drop mask mandates.

But several Northeast cities have seen a rise in hospitalizations in recent weeks, leading Philadelphia to bring back its mask mandate.

The federal mask requirement for travelers was the target of months of lobbying from the airlines, which sought to kill it. The carriers argued that effective air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandate.

“We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus — with better treatments, vaccines and other scientific measures to prevent serious illness,” Delta announced in a news release.

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Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Associated Press writers David Koenig in Dallas, Michael Balsamo and Will Weissert in Washington, Karen Matthews in New York and Teresa Crawford in Chicago contributed to this report.

Netflix shares drop 26% after it loses 200K subscribers

Tue, 04/19/2022 - 14:50

Netflix’s video streaming service suffered the first loss in worldwide subscribers in its history, leading to a massive sell-off of its shares. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, file) (Jenny Kane/)

SAN FRANCISCO — Netflix suffered its first subscriber loss in more than a decade, causing its shares to plunge 25% in extended trading amid concerns that the pioneering streaming service may have already seen its best days.

The company’s customer base fell by 200,000 subscribers during the January-March period, according to its quarterly earnings report released Tuesday It’s the first time that Netflix’s subscribers have fallen since the streaming service became available throughout most of the world outside of China six years ago. The drop this year stemmed in part from Netflix’s decision to withdraw from Russia to protest the war against Ukraine, resulting in a loss of 700,00 subscribers.

Even so, Netflix acknowledged its problems are deep rooted by projecting a loss of another 2 million subscribers during the April-June period.

If the stock drop extends into Wednesday’s regular trading session, Netflix shares will have lost more than half of their value so far this year — wiping out about $150 billion in shareholder wealth in less than four months.

Netflix also lost 800,000 subscribers in 2011 after it unveiled plans to begin charging separately for its then-nascent streaming service, which had been bundled for free with its traditional DVD-by-mail service. The customer backlash to that move elicited an apology from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings for botching the execution of the spin-off.

The service also saw a decline in U.S. subscribers in 2019.

But the latest subscriber loss was far worse than a forecast by Netflix management for a conservative gain of 2.5 million subscribers. The news deepens troubles that have been mounting for the streaming since a surge of signups from a captive audience during the pandemic began to slow.

It marks the fourth time in the last five quarters that Netflix’s subscriber growth has fallen below the gains of the previous year. Now investors fear that its streaming service may be mired in a malaise that has been magnified by stiffening competition from well-funded rivals such as Apple and Walt Disney.

The setback follows the company’s addition of 18.2 million subscribers in 2021, its weakest annual growth since 2016. That contrasted with an increase of 36 million subscribers during 2020 when people were corralled at home and starved for entertainment, which Netflix was able to quickly and easily provide with its stockpile of original programming.

Netflix has previously predicted that it will regain its momentum, but is now starting to acknowledge that needs to take action. Among other things, Netflix signaled that it will likely crack down on the sharing of subscriber passwords that has enabled multiple households to access its service from a single account.

The Los Gatos, California, company estimated that about 100 million households worldwide are watching its service for free by using the account of a friend or another family member, including 30 million in the U.S. and Canada. To stop the practice and prod more people to pay for their own accounts, Netflix indicated it may expand a test introduced last month in Chile, Peru and Costa Rica that allows subscribers to add up to two people living outside their households to their accounts for an additional fee.

“Account sharing as a percentage of our paying membership hasn’t changed much over the years, but, coupled with the first factor, means it’s harder to grow membership in many markets — an issue that was obscured by our COVID growth,” Netflix said Tuesday in a letter to its shareholders.

Netflix ended March with 221.6 million worldwide subscribers.

With the pandemic easing, people have been finding other things to do, and other video streaming services are working hard to lure new viewers with their own award-winning programming. Apple, for instance, held the exclusive streaming rights to “CODA,” which eclipsed Netflix’s “Power of The Dog,” among other movies, to win Best Picture at last month’s Academy Awards.

Escalating inflation over the past year has also squeezed household budgets, leading more consumers to rein in their spending on discretionary items. Despite that pressure, Netflix recently raised its prices in the U.S., where it has its greatest household penetration — and where it’s had the most trouble finding more subscribers. In the most recent quarter, Netflix lost 640,000 subscribers in the U.S. and Canada, prompting management to point out that most of its future growth will come in international markets.

Netflix also is trying to give people another reason to subscribe by adding video games at no extra charge — a feature that began to roll out last year.

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