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OPINION: Backcountry huts and public use cabins are an economic opportunity for Alaska

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 15:54

Manitoba hut, in the Kenai Mountains. (Alaska Huts Association photo)

Growing up hiking and skiing in Alaska’s backcountry gave Mackenzie Barnwell a love of Alaska’s wilderness and a solid foundation for a career in outdoor recreation. Barnwell is the executive director of the Alaska Huts Association, aka Alaska Huts, and part of a collaborative group of outdoor advocates working to increase recreation opportunities in Alaska. This includes creating new trails and lodging while improving existing assets to benefit Alaskans and visitors alike.

“I recognize the opportunities that enjoying public lands gave me, and want to help others to similarly experience the transformational power of nature,” Barnwell said. “There are so many benefits to exploring outside, and huts are a wonderful way to do it. Alaska Huts is really focused on creating more opportunities for people to enjoy the wilderness.”

Alaska Huts is experiencing significant growth each year; at the Manitoba property, bookings are up 20% from pre-2020 numbers, and an estimated 4,000 people stayed in the association’s managed properties in 2021. In March, the busiest month of the year, the property is booked at nearly 100% capacity.

Barnwell says their usership runs the gamut, from avid outdoors people there for backcountry skiing to multigenerational families of children, parents and grandparents enjoying light exploration around the Manitoba property, which includes a cabin and three yurts.

As Alaska Huts continues to expand its properties, the association is focusing on building and maintaining backcountry lodging that promotes camaraderie, stewardship, outdoor education and Alaska’s cultural heritage. They are currently raising money for the Glacier Discovery Project, a hut-to-hut system along the backcountry Whistle Stop corridor in the Chugach National Forest, as part of their focus on making the state’s wild outdoor spaces more accessible.

Hut-to-hut systems

Alaska Huts isn’t alone in their work — considerations about how to serve people new to wilderness experiences, or those who simply want more amenities, are top of mind for state and federal officials funding new outdoor recreation projects. Many recently completed or proposed outdoor recreation projects focus on meeting the “missing middle” for both visitors and locals.

Chris Beck, a longtime outdoor recreation advocate and the Alaska Trails Initiative Coordinator, defines the missing middle as an experience filling the gap between extreme backcountry experiences and packaged tours, and says that this kind of experience is what the market wants.

“Alaska has many lifetimes’ worth of hardcore adventure, and we’ve done a good job for large-volume visitor experiences like the cruise industry,” said Beck. “But we’re weak on offering a way to get outside for an Alaska adventure, and ending the day at a nice place to stay with an IPA, a bed, and internet access that’s not on a ship with 3,000 other people.”

One increasingly popular way to provide this kind of experience is through hut-to-hut systems or public use cabins, opening up the wilderness to adventurers of varied skill and abilities while making an economic impact.

Hut-to-hut systems are broadly defined as a chain of three or more overnight accommodations along a trail, with the average distance between them being 6-8 miles. They can range from wall tents or yurts to cabins or modern lodges, and provide space for as few as four or as many as 300 guests to eat, sleep and socialize. Sometimes, a hut system extends to accommodations in communities near trail access points and may include bed and breakfasts, inns, and hotels.

Altogether, Alaska is home to approximately 381 public use cabins and huts, managed by the state or federal government, or nonprofits. Nightly rates range from free — donations encouraged — to $195 for the “whole shebang” at the Manitoba property.

Alaska offers public use cabins connected by trails that could be considered hut-to-hut systems — the Bomber Traverse in the Talkeetna Mountains and Resurrection Pass Trail in the Chugach National Forest both offer rustic shelters — but in general, they lack some of the amenities offered by popular systems outside of the state and are more suited for somewhat experienced outdoorspeople rather than the “missing middle.”

Economic impacts

Groups like Alaska Trails and Alaska Outdoor Alliance have been working to increase awareness of outdoor recreation as an economic driver for the state’s economy. With an estimated 81% of the population engaging in outdoor activities, Alaska is ranked the highest in the nation for outdoor recreation participation — tied with Montana. Nationally, the rate is under 50%. Outdoor recreation is on the rise for visitors as well; hiking was the fastest-growing activity for both air and cruise out-of-state visitors from 2011 to 2016.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that economic activity related to outdoor recreation — gear purchases, lodging, guided trips, etc. — generated $1.57 billion in value for Alaska’s economy in 2020, supporting 17,800 jobs.

Public investment in huts and trails creates demand that supports an ecosystem of private businesses that spring up around the hut-to-hut system. New or expanded hut-to-hut systems in Alaska would be especially impactful for gateway communities — the communities where systems begin and end — resulting in more jobs, business opportunities, and tax revenues near access points.

Public use cabins constructed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Recreation (Alaska State Parks) vary in cost depending on location, design and price of materials, but in general are $100,000-$150,000 to build. Accounting for differing occupancy rates, ranging from $45-$100 a night, a cabin can pay for itself in four to seven years.

An economic analysis by the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development estimates that a network of 10 huts would generate more than $1.3 million in direct spending, or $1.5 million in total economic activity when accounting for multiplier effects, and would create 11 total jobs with a payroll of about $428,000. About two-thirds of total economic activity would benefit businesses other than the hut operator, such as retail stores, restaurants and others. Scaling up to 100 huts results in economic activity approaching $15 million, with 109 jobs created.

Investment for the future

Alaska is already a world-class destination for travelers, and many residents choose to live here because of the outdoor adventure opportunities and wild spaces. Huts and public use cabins across Alaska have proven their worth, with people of all experience levels waiting at their computers the moment of opening to book some of the most-sought-after sites. It’s not uncommon for popular, easy to reach cabins to be booked at 80%-90% occupancy.

Public investment in hut-to-hut systems, public use cabins, and trails makes economic sense; there’s a proven market, demonstrated return on investment, and case studies from around the world showing that public dollars spent on outdoor experiences for entry- and mid-level wilderness adventurers spur increased entrepreneurial activity and new business.

By investing in hut-to-hut systems, public use cabins and trails, Alaska can access a new segment of travelers to benefit the economy, while continuing to provide quality experiences for residents.

Gretchen Fauske is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified Clifton Strengths coach.

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

China cuts off US contacts on vital issues over Pelosi’s Taiwan visit

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 15:28

Taiwan Air Force Mirage fighter jets taxi on a runway at an airbase in Hsinchu, Taiwan, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Johnson Lai) (Johnson Lai/)

WASHINGTON — China cut off contacts with the United States on vital issues Friday — including military matters and crucial climate cooperation — as concerns rose that the Communist government’s hostile reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit could signal a lasting, more aggressive approach toward its U.S. rival and the self-ruled island.

China’s move to freeze key lines of communication compounded the worsening of relations from Pelosi’s visit and from the Chinese response with military exercises off Taiwan, including firing missiles that splashed down in surrounding waters.

After the White House summoned China’s ambassador, Qin Gang, late Thursday to protest the military exercises, White House spokesman John Kirby on Friday condemned the decision to end important dialogue with the United States as “irresponsible.”

The White House spokesman blasted China’s “provocative” actions since Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory. But Kirby noted that some channels of communication remain open between military officials in the two countries. He repeated daily assurances that the U.S. had not changed its policy toward the Communist mainland and the self-ruled island.

“Bottom line is we’re going to continue our efforts to keep opening lines of communication that are protecting our interests and our values,” Kirby said. He declined to speak about any damage to long-term relations between China and the United States, calling that a discussion for later.

Taiwan has put its military on alert and staged civil defense drills, but the overall mood remained calm on Friday. Flights have been canceled or diverted and fishermen have remained in port to avoid the Chinese drills.

On the Chinese coast across from Taiwan, tourists gathered to try to catch a glimpse of military aircraft.


Tourists pose for photos on the waterfront at the 68-nautical-mile scenic spot, the closest point in mainland China to the island of Taiwan, in Pingtan in southeastern China's Fujian Province, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. China conducted "precision missile strikes" Thursday in waters off Taiwan's coasts as part of military exercises that have raised tensions in the region to their highest level in decades following a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) (Ng Han Guan/)

A minister at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Jing Quan, told reporters that Pelosi’s mission of support for the democratic government of Taiwan has had “a severe impact on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, seriously infringed upon China’s sovereignty and (territorial) integrity and ... undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.”

Long term, a significantly more confrontational relationship between China and the U.S. threatens an equilibrium under which Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping’s governments have sparred on human rights, trade, competition and countless other issues but avoided direct conflict and maintained occasional top-level contacts toward other matters, including cutting climate-damaging emissions.

A joint U.S.-China deal to fight climate change struck by Xi and then-President Barack Obama in November of 2014 is credited as a turning point that led to the landmark 2015 Paris agreement in which nearly every nation in the world pledged to try to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases. Seven years later during climate talks in Glasgow, another U.S.-China deal helped smooth over bumps to another international climate deal.

China and the United States are the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 climate polluters, together producing nearly 40% of all fossil-fuel emissions.

Ominously, experts in China-U.S. relations warned that China’s diplomatic and military moves appeared to go beyond retaliatory measures for the visit and could open a new, more openly hostile era, and a more uncertain time for Taiwan’s democratic government.

China-U.S. relations are “in a downward spiral,” said Bonnie Glaser, head of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund.

“And I think that China is likely to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait in ways that are going to be harmful to Taiwan and are going to be disadvantageous to the United States,” Glaser said.

In recent years, other rounds of tensions between China and its neighbors over the India border, regional islands and the South China Sea have ended with China asserting new territorial claims and enforcing them, noted John Culver, a former East Asia national intelligence officer, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. The same could happen now over Taiwan, Culver said. “So I don’t know how this ends. We’ve seen how it begins.”

China’s measures this week are the latest steps intended to punish the U.S. for allowing the visit to the island it claims as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary. China on Thursday launched threatening military exercises just off Taiwan’s coasts, running through Sunday.

Some missiles were sent flying over Taiwan itself, Chinese officials told state media — a significant increase in China’s menacing of the island.

China routinely complains when Taiwan has direct contacts with foreign governments, but its response to the Pelosi visit — she was the highest-ranking American official in 25 years —has been unusually strong.


U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center left, and U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, leave the lower house in Tokyo, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Pelosi is in Tokyo on the final leg of an Asia tour highlighted by a visit to Taiwan that infuriated China.(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama) (Shuji Kajiyama/)

It appears to derail a rare encouraging note — high-level in-person meetings between top officials in recent months including the defense chiefs at an Asia security conference in Singapore and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a Group of 20 meeting in Indonesia.

Those talks were viewed as steps in a positive direction in an otherwise poisoned relationship. Now, talks have been suspended even on climate, where the two countries’ envoys had met multiple times.

China stopped short of interrupting economic and trade talks, where it is looking to Biden to lift tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on imports from China.

On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry said dialogue between U.S. and Chinese regional commanders and defense department heads would be canceled, along with talks on military maritime safety. Cooperation on returning illegal immigrants, criminal investigations, transnational crime, illegal drugs and climate change will be suspended, the ministry said.

China’s actions come ahead of a key congress of the ruling Communist Party later this year at which President Xi is expected to obtain a third five-year term as party leader. With the economy stumbling, the party has stoked nationalism and issued near-daily attacks on the government of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which refuses to recognize Taiwan as part of China.

China said Friday that more than 100 warplanes and 10 warships have taken part in live-fire military drills surrounding Taiwan over the past two days. Also, mainly symbolic sanctions against Pelosi and her family were announced.


In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a projectile is launched from an unspecified location in China during long-range live-fire drills by the army of the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. China conducted "precision missile strikes" Thursday in waters off Taiwan's coasts as part of military exercises that have raised tensions in the region to their highest level in decades following a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Lai Qiaoquan/Xinhua via AP) (Lai Qiaoquan/)

On the China coast, fighter jets could be heard flying overhead, and tourists taking photos chanted, “Let’s take Taiwan back,” looking out into the blue waters of the Taiwan Strait from Pingtan island, a popular scenic spot in China’s Fujian province.

Pelosi’s visit has stirred emotions among the Chinese public, and the government’s response “makes us feel our motherland is very powerful and gives us confidence that the return of Taiwan is the irresistible trend,” said Wang Lu, a tourist from neighboring Zhejiang province.

China is a “powerful country and it will not allow anyone to offend its own territory,” said Liu Bolin, a high school student visiting the island.

China’s insistence that Taiwan is its territory and its threat to use force to reclaim control have featured in Communist Party statements, the education system and the state-controlled media for more than seven decades since the sides were divided amid civil war in 1949.

Taiwan residents overwhelmingly favor maintaining the status quo of de facto independence and reject China’s demands that the island unify with the mainland under Communist control.

Beyond Taiwan, five of the missiles fired by China landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone off Hateruma, an island far south of Japan’s main islands, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said. He said Japan protested the missiles to China as “serious threats to Japan’s national security and the safety of the Japanese people.”

In Tokyo, where Pelosi is winding up her Asia trip, she said China cannot stop U.S. officials from visiting Taiwan.

___

AP writer David Rising reported from Phnom Penh. AP writers Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Seth Borenstein and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed.

Alex Jones ordered to pay $49.3 million total over lies about Sandy Hook shooting

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 14:27

Alex Jones talks to media during a midday break during the trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. An attorney for the parents of one of the children who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting told jurors that Jones repeatedly “lied and attacked the parents of murdered children” when he told his Infowars audience that the 2012 attack was a hoax. Attorney Mark Bankston said during his opening statement to determine damages against Jones that Jones created a “massive campaign of lies” and recruited “wild extremists from the fringes of the internet ... who were as cruel as Mr. Jones wanted them to be" to the victims' families. Jones later blasted the case, calling it a “show trial” and an assault on the First Amendment. (Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman via AP, Pool) (BRIANA SANCHEZ/AMERICAN-STATESMAN/)

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Friday ordered Infowars’ Alex Jones to pay $49.3 million in total damages to the parents of a first-grader killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which the conspiracy theorist falsely called a hoax orchestrated by the government in order to tighten U.S. gun laws.

The amount is less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in U.S. history. The trial is the first time Jones has been held financially liable for peddling lies about the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.

Jurors at first awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million in compensatory damages, which Jones called a major victory. But in the final phase of the two-week trial, the same Austin jury came back and tacked on an additional $45.2 million in punitive damages.

Earlier this week, Jones testified that any award over $2 million would “sink us.” His company Free Speech Systems, which is Infowars’ parent company, filed for bankruptcy protection during the first week of the trial.

Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct, beyond monetary compensation awarded to the individuals they hurt. A high punitive award is also seen as a chance for jurors to send a wider societal message and a way to deter others from the same abhorrent conduct in the future.

Attorneys for the family had urged jurors to hand down a financial punishment that would put Infowars out of business.

“You have the ability to stop this man from ever doing it again,” Wesley Ball, an attorney for the parents, told the jury. “Send the message to those who desire to do the same: Speech is free. Lies, you pay for.”

An economist hired by the plaintiffs testified that Jones and the company are worth up to $270 million, suggesting that Jones was still making money.

Bernard Pettingill, who was hired by the plaintiffs to study Jones’ net worth, said records show that Jones withdrew $62 million for himself in 2021, when default judgments were issued in lawsuits against him.

“That number represents, in my opinion, a value of a net worth,” Pettingill said. “He’s got money put in a bank account somewhere.”

The money that flows into Jones’ companies eventually funnels its way to him, said Pettingill, who added that he has testified in approximately 1,500 cases during his career.

But Jones’ lawyers said their client has already learned his lesson, and asked for lenience. The jury’s punishment should be less than $300,000, attorney Andino Reynal said.

“You’ve already sent a message. A message for the first time to a talk show host, to all talk show hosts, that their standard of care has to change,” Reynal said.

Jones — who was in the courtroom briefly Friday but not there for the verdict — still faces two other defamation lawsuits from Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut that put his personal wealth and media empire in jeopardy.

Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families suing Jones contend that he has tried to hide evidence of his true wealth and have sued him claiming he’s tried to hide money in various shell companies.

During his testimony, Jones was confronted with a memo from one of his business managers outlining a single day’s gross revenue of $800,000 from selling vitamin supplements and other products through his website, which would approach nearly $300 million in a year. Jones called it a record sales day.

Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, conceded during the trial that the attack was “100% real” and that he was wrong to have lied about it. But Heslin and Lewis told jurors that an apology wouldn’t suffice and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of suffering he has put them and other Sandy Hook families through.

The parents told jurors about how they’ve endured a decade of trauma, inflicted first by the murder of their son and what followed: gun shots fired at a home, online and phone threats, and harassment on the street by strangers. They said the threats and harassment were all fueled by Jones and his conspiracy theory spread to his followers via his website Infowars.

A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffer from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” inflicted by ongoing trauma, similar to what might be experienced by a soldier at war or a child abuse victim.

Throughout the trial, Jones has been his typically bombastic self, talking about conspiracies on the witness stand, during impromptu press conferences and on his show. His erratic behavior is unusual by courtroom standards, and the judge has scolded him, telling him at one point: “This is not your show.”

The trial has drawn attention from outside Austin as well.

Bankston told the court Thursday that the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has requested records from Jones’ phone that Jones’ attorneys had mistakenly turned over to the plaintiffs. Bankston later said he planned to comply with the committee’s request.

Last month, the Jan. 6 committee showed graphic and violent text messages and played videos of right-wing figures, including Jones, and others vowing that Jan. 6 would be the day they would fight for Trump.

The committee first subpoenaed Jones in November, demanding a deposition and documents related to his efforts to spread misinformation about the 2020 election and a rally on the day of the attack.

Whittier receives land transfer enabling cruise ship dock proposal to move ahead

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 14:16

Whittier, photographed in 2018. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

WASHINGTON — The City of Whittier received a land transfer from the Army Corps of Engineers this week, a step forward for a project that would significantly grow cruise-based tourism in the small community.

The conveyance of 58 acres on a cleaned-up tank farm at the head of Passage Canal needed to happen for a tourism project in Whittier to move ahead. Huna Totem Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have partnered to propose building a new cruise ship dock in Whittier.

The project, called Head of Bay, could bring 110,000 new visitors and an estimated $1.2 million in cruise ship head tax revenue annually to the 272-person community.

“This was a big deal for us to have a new tax base with the port,” Whittier City Manager Jim Hunt said. “It’s so critical.”

The first phase of the Head of Bay project is estimated to cost about $80 million and will bring a new cruise ship terminal and dock to Whittier. Now that the land has been transferred, an official lease between Huna Totem Corp. and the City of Whittier is being finalized and the necessary permits have been filed, according to Hunt.

[Earlier coverage: Tiny Whittier debates an Alaska Native corporation’s proposal for a second cruise ship dock]

Assistant City Manager Jackie Wilde said the first Norwegian cruise ships could dock in Whittier in 2025, but she thinks the project may be ahead of schedule.

Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, pushed for legislation to initiate the land transfer from the Army Corps of Engineers to Whittier in 2009.

“The development that will go into this region is a win-win — for the visitors who come here and the economic viability of our Southcentral communities,” Murkowski said in a statement.

City officials say the terminal would result in about 65 new seasonal jobs in the cruise industry. Also, they say increased cruise ship head tax and sales tax revenue from the terminal could be used for water system upgrades, infrastructure maintenance and public safety initiatives — the town does not currently have full-time firefighters or paramedics.

East Coast storms ground thousands of US air travelers as airlines cancel flights

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 11:59

FILE - People wait in a TSA line at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on June 28, 2022, in New York. Tens of thousands of flyers had their travel plans upended Friday, Aug. 5, after airlines canceled more than 1,100 flights for a second straight day because of thunderstorms hitting the East Coast. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File) (Julia Nikhinson/)

Tens of thousands of flyers had their travel plans upended Friday after airlines canceled more than 1,100 flights for a second straight day because of thunderstorms hitting the East Coast.

The New York City area’s three major airports and Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., recorded the most cancellations by Friday afternoon, according to tracking service FlightAware.

American Airlines scrubbed more than 200 flights, or 6% of its schedule. Republic Airways, which operates smaller planes for American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, also canceled more than 200 flights, about 20% of its schedule.

Another 3,700 flights were delayed by midafternoon.

Thunderstorms were causing delays averaging more than 90 minutes at LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA said storms also could cause delays at major airports from Florida to Boston.

About 1,200 U.S. flights were canceled Thursday – 4.6% of all scheduled flights, and the highest number since July 25, according to FlightAware.

Travelers have been hit with widespread cancellations and delays this summer. Travel bounced back faster than expected — to about 88% of pre-pandemic levels in July — and airlines weren’t able to increase staffing fast enough. They have been cutting back on schedules in an attempt to make remaining flights more reliable.

Airlines flying in the U.S. had a bad June, canceling more than 21,000 flights or 2.7%, up from 1.8% in June 2019, before airlines pushed workers to quit during the pandemic. The airlines did better in July, however, canceling about 14,000 flights, or 1.8%.

Delays have been more persistent — above 23% in both June and July.

Republicans pick Milwaukee to host 2024 national convention

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 11:17

FILE - The skyline of Milwaukee, along Lake Michigan, is pictured on Feb. 8, 2019. Republicans are to announce Friday, Aug. 5, 2022 whether the 2024 national convention, where the party's presidential nominee will be officially named, will be held in Milwaukee or Nashville. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger, File) (Carrie Antlfinger/)

MADISON, Wis. — Republicans on Friday unanimously chose Milwaukee in swing state Wisconsin for the 2024 national convention, a win for the city on the shores of Lake Michigan after its hosting of the Democratic convention in 2020 was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision in favor of Milwaukee over Nashville, announced at the Republican National Committee’s summer meeting in Chicago, was anti-climactic after Nashville essentially took itself out of the running when the city council on Tuesday rejected a draft agreement for hosting the event. That came after Democratic opposition sunk that city’s chances and the RNC’s site selection committee picked Milwaukee last month.

Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor, Cavalier Johnson, joined with Reince Priebus, a former chief of staff to then-President Donald Trump, to praise the decision after it was announced in Chicago. Johnson thanked Priebus for his work in helping land the convention and said it was an example of bipartisanship that is much needed in the country.

Johnson pitched Milwaukee, known for the Brewers baseball team, Bucks basketball team, brats and beer, as a city “full of unexpected gems.” He also made clear why he and so many other Democrats were eager to land the convention hosted by their political rivals.

“I want you to take all your money to Milwaukee, spend it that week, and leave it in Milwaukee,” Johnson said.

Priebus, who served as Wisconsin Republican Party chair before moving on to head the RNC then serving under Trump, said choosing Milwaukee was politically significant and will give Republicans a chance to spend more time in the state.

“It’s a battleground state, it matters,” Priebus said. “I know sometimes we debate it, but it matters.”

Wisconsin could determine who wins in 2024, while Tennessee has not backed a Democrat for president since 1996. But choosing Milwaukee is in line with recent Republican choices for the convention. For two decades, Republicans have placed their nominating convention in swing states — North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, but lost to President Joe Biden by a nearly identical margin in 2020.

Wisconsin Republican Party Chair Paul Farrow, who was in Chicago for the RNC meeting, said having the convention in Milwaukee will “energize our base even more to realize we’re a very important hinge in the entire country.” The winner in Wisconsin has been elected president the past four elections.

Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold, was selected to host the 2020 Democratic National Committee convention, but that moved almost entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden accepted the nomination in Delaware, not Milwaukee. The city used its preparations for that convention to argue to Republicans that it had a “turnkey” operation ready to host for real in 2024.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper and others expressed concerns about security, the economic trade-off of having to mostly shut down the bustling downtown except for convention activity as well as the implications of tying up city resources for the event.

Israeli strikes on Gaza kill 10, including senior militant

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 11:13

Rockets fired by Palestinian militants toward Israel, in Gaza City, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Palestinian officials say Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have killed at least 10 people, including a senior militant, and wounded 55 others. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair) (Fatima Shbair/)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, killing at least 10 people, including a senior militant, and wounding dozens, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it was targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to an “imminent threat” following the arrest of another senior militant in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.

Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets hours later as air raid sirens wailed in central and southern Israel, pushing the sides closer to all-out war. Islamic Jihad claimed to have fired 100 rockets.

Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

A blast was heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured out of the seventh floor of a tall building on Friday afternoon. Video released by the military showed strikes blowing up three guard towers with suspected militants in them.

In a nationally televised speech Friday night, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country had launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.”

“This government has a zero tolerance policy for any attempted attacks — of any kind — from Gaza towards Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who are trying to harm its civilians.”

He also added that “Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from one either.”

The violence poses an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections in November in which he hopes to keep the position. He has experience in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but his security credentials are thin.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle — barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among those killed and that another 55 people were wounded. It did not differentiate between civilians and militants. The Israeli military said early estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.

Islamic Jihad said Taiseer al-Jabari, its commander for northern Gaza, was among those killed. He had succeeded another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019. Hundreds marched in a funeral procession for him and others who were killed, with many of the mourners waving Palestinian flags and Islamic Jihad banners as they called for revenge.

Israeli media showed the skies above southern and central Israel lighting up with rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. An explosion was heard in Tel Aviv. It wasn’t immediately clear how many rockets were launched and there was no immediate word on any casualties on the Israeli side.

Israel continued to strike other targets Friday, including weapons production facilities and Islamic Jihad positions.

Following the initial Israeli strikes, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue at Gaza City’s main Shifa hospital. Some entered to identify loved ones, only to emerge in tears. One shouted: “May God take revenge against spies,” referring to Palestinian informants who cooperate with Israel.

An Israeli military spokesman said it launched the strikes in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles. The spokesman, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said al-Jabari was deliberately targeted and had been responsible for “multiple attacks” on Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meanwhile approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve soldiers if needed. And the military announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and limits placed on other activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.

Israel had closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced for a revenge attack after Monday’s arrest of Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, in a military raid in the occupied West Bank. A teenage member of the group was killed in a gunbattle between the Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Israel and the Hamas fought four wars since the militant group seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The most recent was in May 2021, and tensions again soared earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to the al-Mayadeen TV network from Iran, said “the fighters of the Palestinian resistance have to stand together to confront this aggression.” He said there would be “no red lines” and blamed the violence on Israel.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “the Israeli enemy, who started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”

Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups are opposed to Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into Israel. It’s unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory since the Hamas takeover. Israel says the closure is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.

Mohammed Abu Selmia, director of the Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza, said hospitals faced shortages after Israel imposed a full closure on Gaza earlier this week. He said there were enough supplies and essential drugs to sustain hospitals for five days in normal times, but that with a new round of fighting underway, “they may run out at any moment.”

Israel called off an expected fuel delivery for Gaza’s sole power plant, which was expected to shut down early Saturday if the fuel did not enter the territory. Even when the plant is running at full capacity, Gazans still endure daily power outages that last several hours.

Earlier Friday, a couple of hundred Israelis protested near the Gaza Strip on Friday to demand the return of the remains of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas.

The protesters were led by the family of Hadar Goldin, who along with Oron Shaul was killed in the 2014 Gaza war. Hamas is still holding their remains, as well as two Israeli civilians who strayed into Gaza and are believed to be mentally ill, hoping to exchange them for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Israel says there can be no major moves toward lifting the blockade until the soldiers’ remains and captive civilians are released. Israel and Hamas have held numerous rounds of Egyptian-mediated talks on a possible swap.

___

Krauss reported from Ottawa, Ontario. Associated Press reporter Ariel Schalit in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, Israel, contributed to this report.

Lightning strike near White House leaves 2 dead, 2 injured

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 07:25

In this photo provided by @dcfireems, emergency medical crews are staged on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Lafayette Park, Thursday evening, Aug. 4, 2022 in Washington. Two people who were critically injured in a lightning strike in Lafayette Park outside the White House have died, police said Friday. Two others remained hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. Authorities haven't revealed how the people were injured, other than to say they were critically hurt in the lightning strike. (@dcfireems via AP)

WASHINGTON — Two people who were critically injured in a lightning strike outside the White House have died, police said Friday. Two others remained hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.

James Mueller, 76, and Donna Mueller, 75, of Janesville, Wisconsin, died of their injuries after the lightning strike in Lafayette Park, located directly outside the White House complex, the Metropolitan Police Department said.

The two other people, a man and a woman, were in critical condition, the police department said. Their identities were not immediately released.

Authorities did not reveal how the people were injured, other than to say they were critically hurt in the lightning strike.

“We are saddened by the tragic loss of life after the lightning strike in Lafayette Park,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones, and we are praying for those still fighting for their lives.”

Officers with the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police witnessed the lightning strike Thursday night and ran over to render first aid, officials said.

Emergency medical crews were called to the scene just before 7 p.m. and had transported all of the victims to the hospital with “critical, life-threatening injures,” fire department spokesman Vito Maggiolo said.

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. posts negative returns for first time since 2012

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 07:12

The offices of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN) ( /)

For the first time in a decade, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., source of more than half of Alaska’s general-purpose state revenue, posted negative investment returns for an entire fiscal year.

As of June 30, the last day of the just-ended FY22, the fund reported having earned minus-1.32% over the preceding 12 months.

The decline will not have an immediate negative effect on state finances, but continued losses over multiple years would reduce the amount of money available each year for state services and the Permanent Fund dividend.

Between June 30, 2021, and June 30, 2022, the fund’s market value declined from $81.8 billion to $77.3 billion. That decline includes withdrawals and deposits, as well as the investment loss.

Those figures are from the fund’s monthly performance report for June, released this week, and contained unaudited, preliminary figures that also include withdrawals and deposits, not just investment gains and losses. Final figures are expected later this month.

Each year, the fund attempts to earn at least 5% plus the cost of inflation, the minimum necessary to keep the fund’s inflation-adjusted value constant. Over the past year, the fund would have had to earn 14.06% to keep pace with inflation and withdrawals. Instead, it lost money on its investments for the first time since fiscal year 2012.

Reasons for loss

Chief Investment Officer Marcus Frampton said the biggest reason for the loss is “the stock market.”

Between June 30, 2021, and June 30, 2022, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a key indicator of public markets in the United States, fell by almost 11%. More than a third of the Permanent Fund is invested in public equities, mostly stocks in the United States.

That has caused many public investment funds to post significant losses. CalPERS, the California public pension fund, posted a loss of 6.1% during the just-ended fiscal year.

Frampton noted that despite losing money overall, the Permanent Fund Corp. did better than its contemporaries, beating benchmarks in a down market and generally losing less money than they did.

“I’m encouraged by that,” Frampton said, “because anyone can make money in an up market by taking more risk. But then to have beaten the benchmark in an up year like last year and then beat it in a down year, this year, I’m really encouraged by how our portfolio managers navigated the two very different markets.”

One notable failure was in the Permanent Fund’s special-opportunity investments, which include investments where the Permanent Fund offers a company money for an ownership share that can later be converted into cash when the company starts selling public stocks.

If the Permanent Fund had hit its benchmarks on those investments, it would have earned a 22% return on $4.6 billion. Instead, it earned only 1.85%.

Frampton said that’s attributable to the fact that the Permanent Fund has invested heavily in biotechnology and medical companies particularly hard-hit during the recent stock market declines.

The Permanent Fund invested about $130 million into a company called Denali Therapeutics in 2013, then saw the value of its investment grow by 700% or 800%, Frampton said.

At the start of the fiscal year, the fund still held about $400 million in Denali Therapeutics’ stock, only to see its value fall by about half.

“That one position was a couple hundred million of loss,” Frampton said.

“With hindsight, we wish we had sold more aggressively, like a year ago,” he said.

Frampton said that with hindsight, he would have invested more into real estate, which the Permanent Fund keeps as a hedge against inflation.

Short-term effects limited, but long-term effects possible

In the short term, the one-year downturn will have limited effect on the Permanent Fund and on state finances.

In 2018, state lawmakers created an annual transfer from the Permanent Fund to the state treasury in order to pay for both the Permanent Fund dividend and state services amid falling oil prices.

Last year, that withdrawal to the treasury was about $3.1 billion.

Another $222 million was withdrawn for operating costs, said Alexei Painter, director of the Legislative Finance Division, and about $718 million in oil royalties was deposited into the fund.

Investment returns, rather than oil deposits, are the biggest factor in whether the fund gains money or loses money.

Creating an automatic transfer was intended to discourage lawmakers from taking larger amounts of money from the fund, something allowed with a simple majority vote of the House and Senate, plus the assent of the governor.

The transfer is limited to 5% of the fund’s average value over five years. The average is calculated by skipping the most recent year, then taking the five years immediately before it.

If the current downturn lasts only one year, that smoothing effect means the average transfer won’t change significantly.

“We are invested in the long term,” said Paulyn Swanson, a spokesperson for the corporation.

Over the past three years, the fund has averaged 9.33% returns, below the target of 9.98%. Over the past five years, the fund has averaged 9.03%, slightly above the target.

Asked whether he believes the downturn will continue, Frampton said that with the Federal Reserve raising interest rates and an unstable geopolitical situation, “it’s a pretty ominous setup for the markets to have.”

Over the next 10 to 15 years, he said the Permanent Fund is set up to succeed, “but I think the setup for investors right now, on like a one-to-two-year outlook, is pretty tough. So it would not surprise me if there are more difficult periods in the next year or two.”

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

US employers add 528,000 jobs; unemployment falls to 3.5%

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 07:03

Construction workers help direct traffic outside a residential and commercial building under construction at the Essex Crossing development on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. America’s hiring boom continued last month as employers added a surprising 528,000 jobs despite raging inflation and rising anxiety about a recession. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (Mary Altaffer/)

WASHINGTON — Defying anxiety about a possible recession and raging inflation, America’s employers added a stunning 528,000 jobs last month, restoring all the jobs lost in the coronavirus recession. Unemployment fell to 3.5%, lowest since the pandemic struck in early 2020.

July’s job creation was 130,000 more than those produced in June, and the most since February.

The red-hot jobs numbers from the Labor Department on Friday arrive amid a growing consensus that the U.S. economy is losing momentum. The U.S. economy shrank in the first two quarters of 2022 — an informal definition of recession. But most economists believe the strong jobs market has kept the economy from slipping into a downturn.

Friday’s surprisingly strong report will undoubtedly intensify the debate over whether America is in a recession or not.

“Recession – what recession?’’ wrote Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings, after the numbers came out. “The U.S. economy is creating new jobs at an annual rate of 6 million – that’s three times faster than what we normally see historically in a good year. ‘’

Economists had expected only 250,000 new jobs this month.

There are, of course, political implications in the jobs numbers Friday: Americans have grown increasingly anxious about rising prices and the risk of recession. It most certainly be at the forefront of the minds of voters during November’s midterm elections as President Joe Biden’s Democrats seek to maintain control of Congress.

Biden took credit for the resilient labor market Friday, saying “it’s the result of my economic plan.”

The president has boosted job growth through his $1.9 coronavirus relief package and $1 billion bipartisan infrastructure law last year. Republican lawmakers and some leading economists, however, point to that government spending as the reason for current inflation levels which haven’t been seen in 40 years.

And for millions of Americans, it is the fading power of paychecks amid soaring inflation that remains front and center.

Hourly earnings posted a healthy 0.5% gain last month and are up 5.2% over the past year. That is not enough to keep up with inflation which means many Americans, especially the poorest, are having to scrimp in the face of high prices for groceries, gasoline and even school supplies.

“There’s more work to do, but today’s jobs report shows we are making significant progress for working families,” Biden said Friday.

The Labor Department also revised May and June hiring, saying an extra 28,000 jobs were created in those months. Job growth was especially strong last month in the healthcare industry and at hotels and restaurants.

The jobless rate fell as the number of Americans saying they had jobs rose by 179,000 and the number saying they were unemployed dropped by 242,000. But 61,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force in July, trimming the share of those working or looking for work to 62.1% last month from 62.2% in June.

While a strong job market is a good thing, it also makes it more likely that the Federal Reserve will continue raising interest rates to cool the economy.

“The strength of the labor market in the face of ... rate tightening from the Fed already this year clearly shows that the Fed has more work to do,′ said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz Investment Management. “Overall, today’s report should put the notion of a near-term recession on the back-burner for now.″

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 was 0.1% lower after erasing almost all of an earlier loss of more than 1%. Investors appear to be weighing the positives of a strong job market against the possibility that the Fed will continue to raise rates aggressively to cool the economy and inflation.

The attempt to interpret vastly divergent economic data is being made both on Wall Street and on Main Street.

New Yorker Karen Smalls, 46, started looking for work three weeks ago as support staff to social workers.

“I didn’t realize how good the job market is right now,’’ she said shortly after finishing her fifth interview this week. “You look at the news and see all these bad reports ... but the job market is amazing right now.’’ A single mother, she is weighing several offers, looking for one that is close to her home in Manhattan and pays enough to let her take care of her two children.

That is a far cry from the situation two years ago when the pandemic brought economic life to a near standstill as companies shut down and millions of people stayed home. In March and April 2020, American employers slashed a staggering 22 million jobs and the economy plunged into a deep, two-month recession.

But massive government aid — and the Fed’s decision to slash interest rates and pour money into financial markets — fueled a surprisingly quick recovery. Caught off guard by the strength of the rebound, factories, shops, ports and freight yards were overwhelmed with orders and scrambled to bring back the workers they furloughed when COVID-19 hit.

The result has been shortages of workers and supplies, delayed shipments -- and rising prices. In the United States, inflation has been rising steadily for more than a year. In June, consumer prices jumped 9.1% from a year earlier — the biggest increase since 1981.

The Fed underestimated inflation’s resurgence, thinking prices were rising because of temporary supply chain bottlenecks. It has since acknowledged that the current spate of inflation is not, as it was once referred to, " transitory.”

Now the central bank is responding aggressively. It has raised its benchmark short-term interest rate four times this year, and more rate hikes are ahead.

In a report filled with mostly good news, the Labor Department did note that 3.9 million people were working part-time for economic reasons in July, up by 303,000 from June. According to the Labor economists, that “reflected an increase in the number of persons whose hours were cut due to slack work on business conditions.’’

Some employers are also reporting signs of slack in the job market.

Aaron Sanandres, CEO and co-founder Untuckit, an online clothing company with nearly 90 stores, has noticed that in the last few weeks it’s been a bit easier filling jobs at the corporate headquarters in New York and part-time roles at the stores. For example, Sanandres noted that his company was able to hire two people in e-commerce in less than a month. In the past, it took more than twice that long.

“We have had a plethora of candidates, " Sanandres added. He also said the labor market has been loosening up for engineers, likely as a result of some layoffs at technology companies. Untuckit, like many retailers, has lost a good chunk of hourly workers to gig jobs that offer more flexibility. Sanandres said the company is still fighting that competition, but it’s getting easier.

The Labor Department reported Tuesday that employers posted 10.7 million job openings in June — a healthy number but the lowest since September.

Even with some tightening in the labor market in some sectors, the employment data released Friday resoundingly shows an astonishingly strong jobs market in the U.S.

“Underestimate the U.S. labor market at your own peril,’’ said Nick Bunker, head of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “Yes, output growth might be slowing and the economic outlook has some clouds on the horizon. But employers are still champing at the bit to hire more workers. That demand may fade, but it’s still red hot right now.’’

Josh Boak in Washington and Courtney Bonnell in London contributed to this story.

Amid ‘mixed race’ speech blowback, Orban echoes Trump in Dallas

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 05:55

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban waves after speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero) (LM Otero/)

DALLAS - It was a Trump rally with a Hungarian accent.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister who has consolidated autocratic power with hard-right opposition to immigration and liberal democracy, addressed a crowd of thousands of American admirers in Dallas on Thursday with a red-meat speech that could have easily been delivered by any Republican candidate on the campaign trail this year.

Orban presented the two countries as twin fronts in a struggle against common enemies he described as globalists, progressives, communists and “fake news.”

“The West is at war with itself,” Orban said. “The globalist can all go to hell. I have come to Texas,” he added, stumbling over a famous slogan attributed to Texas legend Davy Crockett.

The speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) went ahead despite Orban’s latest controversy: a speech in which he railed against Europe becoming “mixed race,” saying that Europeans did not want to live with people from outside the continent. One of his own close advisers resigned in protest, calling the speech “pure Nazi.”

But Orban has found defenders among prominent American conservatives, including former president Donald Trump, Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance. On his way to Dallas, Orban stopped to visit Trump at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. In a statement, Trump called Orban his “friend” and said he valued his perspective. “Few people know as much about what is going on in the world today,” Trump said.

On Wednesday, Carlson defended Orban from the negative media coverage of the speech.

“So Viktor Orban is now a Nazi because he wants national borders?” Carlson said. Carlson helped raise Orban’s U.S. profile with a special broadcast from Budapest last year, during which he praised Orban’s Hungary, a country of less than 10 million people with the 17th-largest economy in the EU, as a role model for Americans.

Orban did not address his “mixed-race” remarks on Thursday. But he did indirectly defend himself by saying, “Don’t worry, a Christian politician cannot be racist,” and falsely portraying the Nazis as having been anti-Christian.

He also blamed enemies in the press and on the left for wanting to silence him.

“I can already see tomorrow’s headlines: Far-right European racist, anti-Semite strongman - the Trojan horse of Putin - holds speech at the conservative conference,” Orban said. “They did not want me to be here, and they made every effort to drive a wedge between us. They hate me and slander me and my country as they hate you and slander you.”

Matt Schlapp, who leads the American Conservative Union that organizes CPAC, has defended Orban’s invitation in the name of free speech.

“Let’s listen to the man speak,” Schlapp told Bloomberg News. “We’ll see what he says. And if people have a disagreement with something he says, they should raise it.”

Some at the convention Thursday said they had hoped to hear Orban clarify his remarks on race.

“As a person who, I am mixed race, I’m in a mixed-race relationship, I would like to see what he is going to say to that, put something positive to that,” said Raven Harrison, an unsuccessful primary candidate for Congress from outside Dallas. “I’m not willing to villainize him for that at this point.”

Orban spoke to a half-full but enthusiastic ballroom, receiving a standing ovation and frequent bursts of applause and cheers. “Welcome to Texas!” one attendee shouted when he took the stage. When he described himself as the “leader of a country that is under the siege of progressive liberals day by day,” someone in the audience called back, “Yes!”

His speech was peppered with pop culture references, quoting Clint Eastwood’s dialogue from “Unforgiven” and describing Hungary’s stance against LGBTQ content for minors as “less drag queens and more Chuck Norris.” There was loud applause when Orban described the surge of Syrian refugees toward Europe in 2015 as an “invasion of illegal migrants” and likened them to the armies of Genghis Khan. (Orban did not mention which nation the migrants were fleeing or the conflicts driving them abroad.)

“To stop illegal immigration, we have actually built that wall,” said Orban, who referred only briefly to the negative coverage of his CPAC appearance.

The crowd booed when Orban brought up George Soros, a Hungarian American investor who is one of the Democratic Party’s largest donors and who is Jewish. The applause was even louder when Orban talked about traditional families, and the fact that Hungarian women, upon the birth of a fourth child, paid nearly no taxes for the rest of their lives.

“If you are not married yet, you should immediately find a Hungarian wife,” Orban said. Later, he read from the country’s updated constitution, as amended in 2011.

“The mother is a woman, the father is a man, and leave our kids alone,” Orban said, cracking a smile as many in the crowd got up and cheered. “Full stop. End of discussion.”

He concluded by looking to elections that will be held in both the United States and European Union in 2024.

“These two locations will define the two fronts in the battle being fought for Western civilization,” Orban said. “Today we hold neither of them yet. We need both. You have two years to get ready.”

Orban’s appearance in Dallas comes after a CPAC spinoff hosted in Hungary in May, featuring a videotaped address from Trump in which he said he was “honored” to endorse Orban’s recent reelection.

In power since 2010, Orban has come to dominate and reshape Hungary’s political system not through a Soviet-style police state but rather through constitutional changes and the weakening of civil society. He has alienated NATO allies with opposition to punishing Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine. Orban’s increasing isolation in Europe has added urgency to his long-running overtures to bolster relations with the United States through the Republican Party.

CPAC Hungary was a celebration of Orban’s policies, including its sidelining of mainstream media. Several of the outlets that applied to cover the conference were denied credentials. Schlapp said that didn’t do much to change the coverage.

“I went out and gave a press conference and they still called me a white nationalist,” Schlapp recalled. “I was like, I don’t know if it does any good, if that’s what their editors are intent on them writing.”

In his own speech at CPAC Hungary, Orban called his country “the laboratory in which we tested the antidote to dominance by progressives,” listing 12 points for conservative success - from prioritizing economic growth to “expos[ing] your enemies’ intentions.”

That approach has clicked with American conservatives. Under Schlapp’s leadership, the American Conservative Union has organized more CPACs around the world and also invited right-wing populists to address the crowds in the United States.

A year before voters in Britain voted to leave the European Union, Brexit Party founder Nigel Farage got a high-profile CPAC speaking slot. Three years later, the crowd got to hear from Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a politician and niece of Marine Le Pen, standard-bearer of France’s far-right party. After the 2018 election of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Schlapp’s group began holding conferences in Brazil, where politicians from the leading right-wing party discussed how to defeat a left that “denies family values.”

Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author and Republican nominee for Senate in Ohio, said at a conservative academic conference last year that the “childless left” was undermining America, and he pointed to Orban’s policy of generous tax breaks for parents who have three or more children.

“Why can’t we do that here?” Vance asked. “Why can’t we actually promote family formation?”

After Orban’s party won this year’s election, One America News anchor Jack Posobiec celebrated on a podcast hosted by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. “He stands for nationalism. He stands for borders,” Posobiec told Kirk. “He stands for sovereign national identity for his people, and standing up for a new type of conservatism where it’s not about tax cuts to corporations; [it’s] about taking the family unit and centering it.”

Both Vance and Posobiec will speak to the conference Friday.

Anchorage residents mourn as demolition begins on historic 4th Avenue Theatre

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 20:24

Workers began dismantling the iconic sign on the front of the 4th Avenue Theatre on Thursday. The owners of the property, Peach Holdings, plans to redevelop much of the downtown block on which the theater sits. Developers say they hope to incorporate the characters of the original sign in the future structure. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

A private developer this week began taking steps to demolish the 4th Avenue Theatre, a beloved historical landmark in downtown Anchorage, as part of a larger $200 million redevelopment project.

A few disappointed onlookers watched Thursday as a worker in a cherry-picker began dismantling the letters from the iconic “4th Avenue” sign outside the World War II-era theater, carefully cutting away the “u” at the bottom of the sign.

“It’s sad,” said Arlene Raney, who lives nearby and had come to watch.

Raney said she was a teenager in the 1950s when she dressed up for her first visit to the Art Deco-style theater. It was luxurious inside, with large murals gracing the walls.

“It was a big deal to go the movies back then,” she said. “I’m getting bumps on my arms. Memories.”


Work began on taking down the 4th Avenue Theatre sign on Thursday. (Anne Raup / ADN)

The owners of the property, Derrick and Terence Chang of Peach Holdings, have deemed the 4th Avenue Theatre too costly to restore, citing code compliance and safety issues.

A design rendering of the redevelopment plan released in May shows a facade and “4th Avenue” sign resembling today’s theater, surrounded by a new, large geometrically complex building filling the block, with an exterior featuring a variety of angles and designs.

The new development “will serve as a catalyst to creating a better, safer place for our families and visitors,” the Changs said in a statement to reporters and an opinion piece in the Daily News this week.

Peach Holdings owns nearly all of the buildings along Fourth and Fifth avenues between G Street and F Street, including the theater and the former Key Bank Plaza, currently undergoing a $41 million renovation. The building’s removal is part of a project on the block that envisions mixed-use development, with hotel, office, retail, housing, parking and entertainment space.

[Earlier coverage: A developer is again planning a major new construction project for a downtown Anchorage block. It includes demolition of the 4th Avenue Theatre.]

The brothers said they had sought ways to preserve the theater after Peach Holdings acquired it in 2009 at a foreclosure sale. But it had been neglected for decades, and faced insurmountable code compliance issues and structural and seismic concerns, they said. The Changs said despite years of effort, they found no economic option to restore it to modern standards, including keeping it as a single-screen theater or performance venue.


Pedestrians watch as workers begin dismantling the 4th Avenue Theatre sign. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

According to Peach Holdings, it has spent more than $2 million keeping up the property, in addition to taxes and utilities. Part of that investment could be recovered by a tax exemption covering deteriorated properties granted for the Fourth Avenue parcels by the city Assembly in 2015.

Some of the first steps at the theater involve environmental remediation efforts, they said.

“Recently, environmental contractors were hired to mitigate various levels of hazardous material such as asbestos, mastics and lead,” they said.

They have been working with professionals to protect the building’s historical legacy, they said. Elements of the building’s facade will be re-created and incorporated into the new development, including the sign. They plan to reuse the characters on the sign, and are assessing the sign itself, which is not easy to remove, for possible reuse.

An artist and their team have already removed the Alaska history murals that flanked the stage, the curved Denali relief in the lobby and panels depicting wildlife by the staircase, they said. The items have been stored and can be reinstalled in a later development, they said.


One of the gold- and silver-leaf murals of Alaska wildlife, industries and Denali hangs in the main room of the 4th Avenue Theatre in Anchorage on March 29, 2006. Demolition will begin in August 2022 on a once-opulent downtown Anchorage movie theater designed by the architect of Hollywood's famed Pantages Theater. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File) (AL GRILLO/)

High-definition laser scans inside and outside the building, and photo documentation, have also been completed, with the goal of listing the building in the Historic American Buildings Survey maintained by the Library of Congress, the Changs said.

For many Alaskans, the activity this week marks a lamentable end to decades of unsuccessful efforts to save and renovate the building, listed in the National Register of Historic Places and once a symbol of a young city’s promise.


Workers begin to dismantle the sign on the front of the 4th Avenue Theatre on Thursday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Its construction began in 1941, but the war delayed construction and it was completed in 1947.

Judith Bittner, the state historic preservation officer, said Wednesday that she’s resigned to the fact that the theater will soon be gone. Efforts to save it began in the 1990s, but they failed. Local provisions and incentives favor demolition rather than preservation, she said.

Bittner signed a letter Tuesday to Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson on behalf of the Alaska Historical Commission, of which Bittner is a member. It outlined steps needed to preserve the building, and said demolition would hurt the character of downtown’s historic area.

“The planned demolition will do what the great Alaska earthquake could not — destroy the 4th Avenue Theater and the 75 years of Anchorage history it represents,” Bittner wrote.

The letter was a final chance to restate the views and recommendations the commission has made for several years, Bittner said. A similar letter was sent to Gov. Mike Dunleavy in July, she said. (Jeff Turner, a spokesman in the governor’s office, said on Thursday the letter had not been received.)

“It’s a sad history of community efforts that didn’t quite come to fruition, and in the end we lose it,” she said.


James Christie stopped during a downtown walk with his golden retriever Indy, to take photos of the 4th Avenue Theatre sign coming down on Thursday. He said it was a sad day, and remembered that his mother saw her first movie in that theater. (Anne Raup / ADN)

Bronson’s office, in a statement emailed for this article, said the building is in “severe disrepair,” and that the Changs’ project will result in hundreds of new jobs and downtown housing and bring a new attraction to Anchorage.

“Past community efforts to raise funds to save the building, though valiant, were unsuccessful,” the statement said. “As such, the mayor supports plans to bring new development and life to 4th Avenue with respect to the historical nature of the theater.”

Scott Selman, co-owner of downtown’s Club Paris restaurant, posted an elegy to Facebook on Wednesday over the pending destruction of the “crown jewel of Anchorage’s historical architecture.” It generated more than 500 comments, many of them regretful, though some said the building was in bad shape.

Selman was a young boy in the early 1960s when his father, a World War II veteran, took him to see “The Guns of Navarone” there, he said in an interview.

“When you walked inside there, you were in a different world than the entire rest of Anchorage,” he said. “It was a place unto itself, it was elegant and it gave validity to the city coming of age.”

It should have been renovated into an arthouse, movie theater or restaurant, serving as an anchor building to draw visitors to downtown, he said.

“We had one thing, just one freaking thing, that we could be proud of, one monument to preserve,” he wrote on Facebook.

And it couldn’t be done.

“This literally breaks my heart,” he said in the post.


Workers began dismantling the iconic sign on the front of the 4th Avenue Theatre. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Fourth Avenue is still defined by the sign on the 4th Avenue Theatre, even as workers begin to dismantle the iconic sign. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Anchorage police chief says department will reevaluate its policy on officers carrying Narcan

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 19:52

Winnie Nabors, left, and Liz Ashlock carry signs on Fourth Avenue. Several people gathered in front of Anchorage police headquarters downtown Tuesday to urge police officers to carry naloxone. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Anchorage Police Chief Michael Kerle said this week that the police department will reconsider its longstanding policy of officers not carrying naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose that might otherwise be fatal.

His statement comes as the Anchorage Police Department has faced growing pressure from advocates to change its policy on naloxone — often referred to by its most common brand name, Narcan — amid a rise in overdose deaths in the city, state and country. Driving the increase: fentanyl, which is a highly potent synthetic opioid that can be deadly even in extremely small amounts.

Sandy Snodgrass, whose 22-year-old son, Bruce, died of fentanyl poisoning last year, said she was “very grateful for (Kerle) for considering changing the policy.”

She was among a group of demonstrators who gathered near APD headquarters earlier this week to call on police to change their guidance.

“The goal is to save lives. That’s the bottom line. And I think he wants that too,” Snodgrass said Thursday.

[Other Alaska law enforcement agencies carry Narcan. Why don’t Anchorage police?]

While most other major law enforcement agencies in the state have their officers carry naloxone, Anchorage police officers do not carry the overdose reversal drug.

Instead, Anchorage’s policy calls for officers to perform CPR when someone has overdosed and isn’t breathing normally. Responding Anchorage Fire Department paramedics who typically arrive within minutes of police assess the person’s condition and are the ones who administer naloxone if needed. APD cited quick response times by police officers and paramedics as part of the reasoning behind its policy.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kerle said the police department will consider a change.

“Going forward, we will probably have a change in our status on whether we’re carrying Narcan or not,” Kerle said during a Public Safety Committee meeting.

During the meeting, Kerle referred to a Daily News article published Wednesday that included an interview with Dr. Mike Levy, Anchorage EMS areawide medical director with the Anchorage Fire Department.

“I just read the article, and (Dr. Levy) now says he doesn’t have a problem with us carrying it anymore. So we’re going to evaluate whether we should carry it,” Kerle said.

Levy advises the fire department on its policies, and he also spoke with a previous police chief on the pros and cons of officers administering Narcan when the police department’s current policies were being developed. He told the Daily News on Saturday that he hadn’t discussed the issue with Kerle.

While he doesn’t work for the police department in an official capacity, Levy is considered to be APD’s medical adviser, Kerle said.

“He has always advised us he did not think it was a good idea for the Anchorage police to carry Narcan because we have a great co-response from the fire department,” Kerle said.

Levy told the Daily News that he has no issue with Anchorage police officers carrying naloxone, either to administer or distribute — as long as officers were properly trained, and as long as administering CPR remained their priority, too. He said he’d support such a move “if it was the wish of the police department leadership to do that.”

CPR cannot reverse an overdose, but vitally, it can make sure a person continues to get oxygen to their heart and brain, which Levy said is extremely important once someone has gone into cardiac arrest.

Kerle said the department plans to “start working on a policy where we will get further recommendations from Dr. Levy. I’ll make sure it’s coordinated through city legal.” He added that he’d “already coordinated with the union; they don’t have a problem as long as we properly train our officers and instruct them on how to use it.”

“It all depends on what our medical advice is from Dr. Levy,” he said.


Naloxone overdose rescue kits carried by some demonstrators, who planned to hand them out downtown and gathered outside APD headquarters Tuesday to call on police to carry the opioid overdose reversal drug. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The police department’s policy on Narcan hasn’t changed even as overdose deaths in Anchorage have nearly tripled since 2018, largely due to the prevalence of fentanyl, which counterfeit drugs are often laced with. Many who have died after ingesting the drug did not know fentanyl was involved.

Statewide, 245 overdose deaths were reported last year, and six out of 10 were linked to fentanyl, according to Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer.

In light of the rise in overdoses, health officials have encouraged Alaskans to keep naloxone on hand in case of an overdose.

Kerle said Wednesday that there are multiple barriers to putting a new policy in place for the department — including training, cost and safety concerns.

“Everyone’s coming out of the woodwork to give free Narcan right now. Once that’s over, Narcan is like, $37.50 a dose, and we need to come up with a funding source,” he said. “It’s going to be expensive, and the majority of that’s going to get thrown away because we’re not going to use it.”

Snodgrass, who’s advocated for an APD policy change, suggested in an interview that police officers could distribute naloxone kits nearing expiration to the public a few months before they expire.

During the meeting, Kerle also spoke about the return of approximately 600 naloxone kits that were sent to the police department from Project HOPE, a program of the state’s Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention that assembles and distributes the kits.

APD returned the kits so they could be used elsewhere because they don’t have a policy in place for officers to carry Narcan, Kerle said.

“It’s ludicrous to think that the police department would keep 600 doses when we couldn’t use it, and not give it back to get it into the hands of people who actually are trained to use it,” Kerle said.

Snodgrass said that “Project Hope was ready to train his officers immediately upon delivery of those 600 kits.”

“It’s a 15-minute online video training available to anyone,” she said. “I’ve taken it myself to become a Narcan distributor. So he could have trained his officers within days of receiving those kits, and he could have given them to them.”

While the timeline for when a policy change could happen wasn’t clear, Snodgrass said she was hopeful it would happen soon — and that officers could “begin carrying Narcan just as quickly as possible.”

Alaskans seeking naloxone can order a free kit to be delivered to their in-state address at iknowmine.org. That website also includes an opioid overdose response training that takes about 15 minutes to complete.

New head librarian declines to take job at embattled Anchorage library

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 19:45

The Municipality of Anchorage was supposed to have a new head librarian taking over the public library system. But the candidate for the role nominated in April by Mayor Dave Bronson, Robert Hudson, has chosen not to take the job.

“Mr. Hudson failed to accept the MOA’s final offer of employment,” Bronson spokesman Corey Allen Young said Thursday. “Mr. Hudson verbally accepted the offer, we planned for his arrival, and unfortunately, he ultimately chose not to take the position within the last few days.”

Anchorage’s public libraries have been a political flashpoint under the Bronson administration, which twice nominated library directors who did not meet the position’s minimum job qualifications to helm the system. The Anchorage Assembly voted against confirming the first library director nominee, Sami Graham, who later served as Bronson’s chief of staff. The second nominee, Judy Norton Eledge, withdrew her name from consideration.

Eledge, a conservative activist, is now running the library as deputy director in the absence of a permanent executive, and current and former library workers have criticized her conduct during her tenure managing the library system.

[Bronson-appointed Anchorage library manager accused of racist remarks and fostering a hostile work environment]

Hudson’s selection was announced through a press release in April, though it was unclear at the time when he was slated to begin work or undergo Assembly confirmation.

In his announcement heralding Hudson’s selection in the spring, Bronson held up his job experience in law libraries and overseas.

“Mr. Hudson indicated he would need the extra time as he was moving to the U.S. from Canada when he initially accepted the job. Unfortunately, he changed his mind and did not ultimately take the position,” Young said Thursday. “We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Multiple attempts to reach Hudson were unsuccessful.

“I am surprised and, I’ll admit, a bit puzzled,” said Assembly member Daniel Volland.

“I was looking forward to meeting Mr. Hudson and going through the confirmation process,” Volland said. “We need a qualified leader with real experience at the helm. Until that happens, I worry that both employee and community frustration will grow. I would hate to see the library lose more staff and have to curtail services further.”

Assembly member Christopher Constant said, “Morale is at an all time low. People have left. People are afraid to talk. There’s a lawsuit,” referring to legal action taken against the city’s head of human resources stemming from an incident at a Library Advisory Board meeting.

Constant said that the administration had not provided him or other members of the Assembly with any official offer letter sent to Hudson, even though the position was held for him for more than three months while the library was under interim leadership.

“They have never communicated anything about this guy to us,” Constant said. “At a certain point in time enough incompetence piles up that it becomes the intent.”

Young said the administration had “interviewed numerous candidates from across the country and internationally,” and will repost the position.

[Still lacking a director, Anchorage Public Library draws scrutiny over board discussion of ‘inappropriate literature’]

This weekend: Coho Rodeo salmon derby, plus First Friday events and hip-hop and funk shows in Anchorage

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 19:07

Anglers fish during the Coho Rodeo Derby on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021 at Ship Creek in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

One of the summer’s biggest musical events — Salmonfest — takes place in Ninilchik this weekend. But for those that can’t make it, fear not. There are still entertainment options in Anchorage as well as a number of First Friday stops for the art lovers. And for those who like to fish, the second annual Coho Rodeo at Ship Creek.

Coho Rodeo Ship Creek Silver Salmon Derby: 7 a.m. Saturday, The Bait Shack, 212 W. Whitney Rd.

In its second year, the Coho Rodeo held along the banks of Ship Creek allow anglers to cast a line to help others, while also fishing for a chance to win cash prizes. Proceeds from this year’s derby go to Alaska EXCEL, Alaska RiteCare Foundation, Armed Services YMCA Alaska and Bean’s Cafe. Top prize is $1,000 with $2,000 in total cash prizes.

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche: 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Cyrano’s Theatre, 3800 Debarr Rd.

This production at Cyrano’s follows five women assembled in a church basement for the 1956 annual meeting of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein’s annual quiche breakfast. The play is being directed by Warren Weinstein, who has been performing around Anchorage for the past 25 years. Tickets range from $27-$30.

Alaska Thunder Funk: 7 p.m. Friday, Bernies Bungalow Lounge, 626 D St.

Alaska Thunder Funk provides a blend of funk, rock and hip-hop so dancers should be prepared to get on the floor. The band will be followed by DJ Gre.

Anchorage Chamber Music Festival: 7:30 p.m. Friday UAA Recital Hall, 3700 Alumni Dr.

The music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Béla Bartók will be featured at the concert highlighting large chamber ensembles. Tickets range from $24 to $29.50. There is also a house concert fundraiser Saturday with the theme Fairy Tales and Animals.

Do or Die Hip Hop Showcase: 9 p.m. Saturday, Van’s Dive Bar, 1027 E. 5th Ave.

Presented by the Live From The North collective, this night of raps features Kevin The Brain, Ir1, Dan Harder, Prince Melodic, Non Profit Times, Avid Waves, and Cody Bank$. Doors at 9 and the show starts at 9:30 p.m.

Bad Charlotte: 10 p.m. Saturday, Koot’s, 2435 Spenard Rd.

This band is made up of former members of Splendid Chaos, along with Alaska’s own Charlotte Fischbach. Bad Charlotte is in Anchorage playing for three weeks.

First Friday events

The Kobuk, 504 W. 5th Ave., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Tundra Herb Company, 520 W. 6th St., 9-11:55 a.m.

Blush Boutique, 720 D. St., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Anchorage Museum, 625 C St., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

International Gallery of Contemporary Art, 427 D St., 5-8 p.m.

Sara’s Gift Cache, 408 W. 4th Ave., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Wild Scoops, 429 E St., noon-10 p.m.

Kaffee Klatsch, 508 W. 2nd Ave., 3-8 p.m.

49th State Brewing rooftop, 717 W. 3rd Ave., 7-10:30 p.m.

Sevigny Studio, 312 G St., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

Tiny Gallery, 706 W. 4th Ave., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Stephan Fine Arts, 939 W. 5th Ave, 6-8:30 p.m.

The Cubby at Hotel Captain Cook, 939 W. 5th Ave., 6:30- 8:30 p.m.

Moose A’la Mode, 360 K St., 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

Anchorage Distillery, 6310 A St., 5-8 p.m.

As monkeypox strikes gay men, officials debate warnings to limit partners

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 18:38

Attendees of the Dore Alley festival in San Francisco on July 31. Attendance was down by thousands compared with previous years. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Marissa Leshnov.

SAN FRANCISCO — Thousands of gay men clad in leather, latex — and often much less — partied along Folsom Street here last weekend during the annual kink and fetish festival. Even after the city had just declared the monkeypox outbreak striking its gay community a health emergency — one day after the World Health Organization urged men to sleep with fewer men to reduce transmission — San Francisco public health officials made no attempt to rein in festivities or warn attendees to have less sex.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighs whether to recommend limiting sex partners, health officials in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and other U.S. cities battling surges disproportionately sickening gay men are avoiding calls for sexual restraint, wary of further stigmatizing same-sex intimacy.

Public health authorities typically emphasize safer sex over abstinence to prevent the spread of diseases through intimate contact. But monkeypox is presenting new challenges in calibrating the right message to stop the rare virus from becoming endemic while limiting government intrusion into the bedroom.

“If people want to have sex, they are going to have sex,” said California state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who is involved in the city’s monkeypox response. “I know people who normally go to sex parties who will not. People will make their own decisions about their own risk levels.”

More than 6,600 cases of monkeypox have been detected in the United States, prompting the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency Thursday to galvanize awareness. The virus primarily spreads through exposure to an infected person’s rashes or lesions, and this is the first outbreak in which contact during sex appears to be the significant driver. While infections are heavily concentrated among men who have sex with men, others can contract the virus through nonsexual contact and sharing contaminated items.

Many public health officials and activists who spent decades on the front lines of the battle against HIV/AIDS say they have learned it is futile to tell people to have less sex. That stance puts them at odds with the WHO, a top New York epidemiologist who condemned the city’s messaging and others within the gay community who say gay men deserve direct warnings before it is too late to end the outbreak.

[Alaska reports its first case of monkeypox, involving Anchorage resident]

“It was devaluing gay men’s lives and health not to warn gay men,” said Dan Savage, a sex columnist who has criticized the public health response to monkeypox. “Now, here we are, really on the verge of monkeypox being endemic in gay communities all over the world, and how is that for stigma?”

Savage, who is no prude as a proponent of non-monogamous relationships and exploring fetishes, said public health officials should have advised gay men to curb their sex lives at the start of the outbreak in May that experts suspect was supercharged by large festivals in Europe with rampant sexual activity.

Savage is taking his own advice, limiting sex to his husband and his boyfriend and skipping San Francisco’s Dore Alley festival this year.

A dozen Dore Alley attendees interviewed by The Washington Post said they took monkeypox seriously — without the government scolding them to do so. Many revelers kept their clothes on or donned full latex outfits inside crowded bars. One man sheathed himself in a monkeypox-inspired costume — a clear plastic rain suit over a rainbow outfit decorated with white polka dots that he said he wore to “make a statement” about the importance of avoiding skin-to-skin contact.

Several said they planned to avoid casual sex at afterparties. Attendance was down by thousands compared with previous years, and participants remained spaced apart as they browsed booths hawking leather harnesses and gawked at men dressed as dogs.

A 30-year-old festival regular who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his nickname, Oni, citing privacy concerns, said he was being more cautious this year, especially given his day job as a massage therapist. Sporting a black leather and chain corset, lace-up mid-calf boots, chartreuse face paint and a small set of horns, Oni said he didn’t plan to have sex and had received the monkeypox vaccine weeks earlier. He left as the festival became more crowded and skipped the bars entirely.

For the time being, he said, “no dark room sex parties, no orgies.”

San Francisco Public Health Officer Susan Philip said the city has learned over decades fighting HIV in coordination with LGBTQ organizations that messages of complete abstinence are ineffective and erode trust within the community.


Dore Alley attendees walk past a stand displaying information on monkeypox. (Photo for The Washington Post by Marissa Leshnov)

Instead of shutting down Dore Alley, San Francisco officials focused on disseminating information about how the virus spreads to help people make their own choices. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation released a guide to a “filthy weekend — free of anxiety,” encouraging people to attend while taking steps to reduce risk, including dressing head-to-toe in leather or latex to minimize skin-to-skin contact.

But at the street festival itself, warnings about monkeypox were hard to find. Only one of the attendees interviewed said he received an informational pamphlet about the virus, even as organizers checked for proof of coronavirus vaccination.

Public health authorities worry about placing too much emphasis on sex as a mode of transmission because monkeypox also spreads in other ways.

Zandt Bryan, the sexual health and prevention program manager for the Washington State Department of Health, said urging people to have less sex unfairly places the onus on individuals to end the outbreak and distracts from other potential sources of transmission, such as dancing in packed clubs.

“Approaching it from a purely [sexually transmitted infection] standpoint doesn’t really meet the challenge,” Bryan said.

Some critics of early coronavirus restrictions accuse U.S. public health officials of hypocrisy for telling Americans to forgo in-person schooling, religious services, and weddings and funerals to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while refraining from telling people to limit sex to contain the monkeypox outbreak.

Public health officials reject comparisons to the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when they mandated masks and shut down public spaces. They noted that the novel coronavirus was unfamiliar, far deadlier and airborne, with hospitals overrun with patients at various points over the past two years. Monkeypox has known treatments and vaccines, although they have been challenging to access; it also has not killed anyone in the United States, and hospitalizations are uncommon.

The World Health Organization has zeroed in on sex as a major driver of the outbreak it declared a global emergency in July, noting infections were especially pronounced in men who have multiple male sex partners or attended events with frequent sexual activity.

[US may need $7 billion for monkeypox response, Biden administration estimates]

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a news conference last week said the outbreak could be stopped by a collective effort of government and individuals. He said men who have sex with men should consider reducing their number of sex partners, avoiding new ones and exchanging contact information to allow for contact tracing and post-exposure vaccination.

WHO officials said asking for temporary changes in sexual behavior is a modest step many gay men are already taking.

“It makes common sense: A reduced number of contacts equals a reduced risk of exposure,” said Andy Seale, a WHO adviser on HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections. “It’s really about sharing whatever data we get in a stigma-free, moral-free, not-making-any-judgments manner so individuals have access to the data and understand what we are seeing.”

Demetre Daskalakis, a top CDC official leading the U.S. monkeypox response, said at a meeting of HIV organizations this week that “it’s a good plan” to consider limiting partners, stressing that “this is not a forever thing, it’s a for now thing” until vaccinations are more widely available. He said the agency is revising its monkeypox guidance for safer sex, which currently tells only people with symptoms to avoid sex.

In New York City, a top epidemiologist at the health department has publicly criticized agency leadership for not urging men who have sex with men to abstain from anonymous sex for several weeks. Don Weiss, director of surveillance for the agency’s Bureau of Communicable Disease, also blasted the health department for issuing a news release in July advising people who choose to have sex while sick with monkeypox to avoid kissing and to cover their sores; Weiss said taking those steps does not prevent infected people from transmitting the virus.

“We cannot vaccinate our way out of this, nor can we isolate our way out of this,” Weiss wrote to other health officials in a June 16 email, which he posted on his personal website. “The only way out is to abstain. I know I sound like a bible thumping preacher, but this is the exposure we need to PREVENT.”


Daniel Rofin, 41, receives a vaccine against Monkeypox from a health professional in medical center in Barcelona, Spain, July 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File) (Francisco Seco/)

He continued to press his case with colleagues over the coming weeks.

“This disease is entirely preventable had we the courage to send out prevention messages,” Weiss wrote in a June 22 email. “We seem paralyzed by the fear of stigmatizing this disease while we totally ignore the epidemiology. If we had an outbreak associated with bowling, would we not warn people to stop bowling?”

Weiss, who declined to be interviewed, posted a letter from the agency on his website showing he was reassigned after his criticisms.

Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for the health department, declined to comment on Weiss’s reassignment but pushed back against his call for temporary abstinence.

“For decades, the LGBTQ+ community has had their sex lives dissected, prescribed, and proscribed in myriad ways, mostly by heterosexual and cis people,” Gallahue said in a written statement. “Our guidance and advice are grounded in science and history — including the scientific reviews of how poorly abstinence-only guidance has historically performed in preventing transmission of STIs — with this disgraceful legacy in mind.”

Critics of recommendations to limit sex partners say they do not heed the lessons learned from decades trying to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with public health officials emphasizing safer ways to have sex with condoms and, more recently, daily pills that drastically reduce the risk of getting HIV and adherence to antiretroviral therapy that renders the virus untransmittable for those who are infected.

“We saw a lot of folks at the beginning of the HIV epidemic calling for the closure of public sex venues like bathhouses. That did not stop the spread of HIV. People still found ways to have sex,” said Tyler TerMeer, chief executive of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

Gay rights activists are concerned messaging that comes across as disapproval of same-sex intimacy emboldens escalating attempts by the religious right to drive gay people out of public life, including movements around the nation to remove books about LGBTQ issues from school libraries and a new Florida law that bans instruction or classroom discussion about sexual orientation for young elementary school students.

Still, Jim Downs, a historian who has studied the history of HIV/AIDS, said the monkeypox outbreak has arrived in a much better environment for gay people.

“The difference now is public health authorities are not demonizing, pathologizing or criminalizing gay sex; they are just putting out a different message, which is: pause,” Downs said. “Gay people are still scrutinized; they are still subjects of prejudice and discrimination. But we also have more social and cultural acceptance, so we can actually put out a message about sex that doesn’t indict who we are as people.”

- - -

Nirappil reported from Washington.

US declares public health emergency over monkeypox outbreak

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 18:29

A man holds a sign urging increased access to the monkeypox vaccine during a protest in San Francisco, July 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File) (Haven Daley/)

WASHINGTON — The federal government declared a public health emergency Thursday to bolster the response to the monkeypox outbreak that has infected more than 6,600 Americans.

The announcement will free up money and other resources to fight the virus, which may cause fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus, and we urge every American to take monkeypox seriously,” said Xavier Becerra, head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The declaration by HHS comes as the Biden administration has faced criticism over monkeypox vaccine availability. Clinics in major cities such as New York and San Francisco say they haven’t received enough of the two-shot vaccine to meet demand, and some have had to stop offering the second dose to ensure supply of first doses.

The White House said it has made more than 1.1 million doses available and has helped to boost domestic diagnostic capacity to 80,000 tests per week.

The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing. The people who have gotten sick so far have been primarily men who have sex with men. But health officials emphasize that the virus can infect anyone.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration named top officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to serve as the White House coordinators to combat monkeypox.

Thursday’s declaration is an important — and overdue — step, said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University.

[Health officials seek monkeypox vaccines, urge health emergency declaration]

“It signals the U.S. government’s seriousness and purpose, and sounds a global alarm,” he said.

Under the declaration, HHS can draw from emergency funds, hire or reassign staff to deal with the outbreak and take other steps to control the virus.

For example, the announcement should help the federal government to seek more information from state and local health officials about who is becoming infected and who is being vaccinated. That information can be used to better understand how the outbreak is unfolding and how well the vaccine works.

Gostin said the U.S. government has been too cautious and should have declared a nationwide emergency earlier. Public health measures to control outbreaks have increasingly faced legal challenges in recent years, but Gostin didn’t expect that to happen with monkeypox.

“It is a textbook case of a public health emergency,” Gostin said. “It’s not a red or a blue state issue. There is no political opposition to fighting monkeypox.”

A public health emergency can be extended, similar to what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted.

The urgency in the current response stems from the rapid spread of the virus coupled with the limited availability of the two-dose vaccine called Jynneos, which is considered the main medical weapon against the disease.

The doses, given 28 days apart, are currently being given to people soon after they think they were exposed, as a measure to prevent symptoms.

Becerra announced the emergency declaration during a call with reporters. During the call, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf said regulators are reviewing an approach that would stretch supplies by allowing health professionals to vaccinate up to five people — instead of one — with each vial of Jynneos.

[Alaska reports its first case of monkeypox, involving Anchorage resident]

Under this so-called “dose-sparing” approach, physicians and others would use a shallower injection under the skin, instead of the subcutaneous injection currently recommended in the vaccine’s labeling.

Califf said a decision authorizing that approach could come “within days.”

That would require another declaration, to allow the government to alter its guidelines on how to administer the vaccine, officials said.

Health officials pointed to a study published in 2015 that found that Jynneos vaccine administered that way was as effective at stimulating the immune system as when the needle plunger deeper into other tissue.

But experts also have acknowledged they are still gathering information on how well the conventional administration of one or two full doses works against the outbreak.

Others health organizations have made similar declarations.

Last week, the World Health Organization called monkeypox a public health emergency, with cases in more than 70 countries. A global emergency is WHO’s highest level of alert, but the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly transmissible or lethal.

California, Illinois and New York have all made declarations in the last week, as have New York City, San Francisco and San Diego County.

The declaration of a national public health emergency and the naming of a monkeypox czar are “symbolic actions,” said Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale University infectious diseases expert.

What’s important is that the government is taking the necessary steps to control the outbreak and — if it comes to that — to have a plan for how to deal with monkeypox if it becomes endemic, he said.

___

Stobbe reported from New York City. Associated Press Health Writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report.

Senate Democrats say they’ve reached agreement on tax, climate package

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 18:22

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., left, speaks with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., during a meeting of the Senate Homeland Security Committee at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats have reached an accord on changes to their marquee economic legislation, they announced late Thursday, clearing the major hurdle to pushing one of President Joe Biden’s leading election-year priorities through the chamber in coming days.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., a centrist who was seen as the pivotal vote, said in a statement that she had agreed to changes in the measure’s tax and energy provisions and was ready to “move forward” on the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said lawmakers had achieved a compromise “that I believe will receive the support” of all Democrats in the chamber. His party needs unanimity to move the measure through the 50-50 Senate, along with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

Schumer has said he hopes the Senate can begin voting on the energy, environment, health and tax measure on Saturday. Passage by the House, which Democrats control narrowly, could come next week.

Final congressional approval of the election-year measure would complete an astounding, eleventh-hour salvation of Biden’s wide-ranging domestic goals, though in more modest form. Democratic infighting had embarrassed Biden and forced him to pare down a far larger and more ambitious $3.5 trillion, 10-year version, and then a $2 trillion alternative, leaving the effort all but dead.

This bill, negotiated by Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative maverick Democrat from West Virginia, would raise $739 billion in revenue. That would come from tax boosts on high earners and some huge corporations, beefed up IRS tax collections and curbs on drug prices, which would save money for the government and patients.

It would spend much of that on energy, climate and health care initiatives, still leaving over $300 billion for deficit reduction.

Sinema said Democrats had agreed to remove a provision raising taxes on “carried interest,” or profits that go to executives of private equity firms. That’s been a proposal she has long opposed, though it is a favorite of Manchin and many progressives.

The carried interest provision was estimated to produce $13 billion for the government over the coming decade, a small portion of the measure’s $739 billion in total revenue.

It will be replaced by a new excise tax on stock buybacks which will bring in more revenue than that, said one Democrat familiar with the agreement who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deal publicly. The official provided no other detail.

Though providing no detail, Sinema said she had also agreed to provisions to “protect advanced manufacturing and boost our clean energy economy.”

She noted that Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is still reviewing the measure to make sure no provisions must be removed for violating the chamber’s procedures. “Subject to the parliamentarian’s review, I’ll move forward,” Sinema said.

Schumer said the measure retained the bill’s language on prescription drug pricing, climate change, “closing tax loopholes exploited by big corporations and the wealthy” and reducing federal deficits.

He said that in talks with fellow Democrats, the party “addressed a number of important issues they have raised.” He added that the final measure “will reflect this work and put us one step closer to enacting this historic legislation into law.”

Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: State reports more cases but fewer hospitalizations than previous week

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 17:30

There were 74 people with COVID-19, including one person on a ventilator, hospitalized in Alaska as of Wednesday, according to the state health department.

Here are other highlights from this week’s updated COVID-19 data from the Alaska Department of Health:

• The hospitalizations reported Wednesday were down from the previous week, when 83 people were hospitalized with the virus. But that’s still higher than three weeks ago, when 67 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized.

• The state health department did not report any new COVID-19 deaths.

• In Alaska, 3,284 new cases were reported over a seven-day period, an increase from 2,946 cases reported last week. That data doesn’t include at-home tests, which have become increasingly popular but don’t get reported.

[You got COVID. Here’s how you know you are no longer contagious.]

• Alaska’s seven-day case rate per 100,000 now ranks 13th among U.S. states, according to a CDC tracker.

• Statewide, 67.5% of Alaskans six months and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Driver shortage could lead to bus route suspensions for Anchorage students, superintendent says

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 17:28

The Anchorage School District is short 75 bus drivers with only two weeks left before classes begin this fall.

The shortage could lead to some bus routes being suspended, the superintendent said.

It was not immediately clear which routes could be impacted or how the district would decide where to pause services, if needed. Special education transportation services are not expected to be interrupted, Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt said in a message to families on Wednesday evening

The district generally operates with about 240 to 250 drivers but struggled during the last few years to hire bus drivers amid a broader shortage of workers, an official said last year when the district enacted route suspensions because employees became ill with COVID-19 or were showing symptoms. A school district representative was not immediately available Thursday to talk about the shortage.

The district hopes to incentivize people to apply for the job by offering additional bonuses for new and existing employees — bus drivers will receive an extra $2,500 and bus attendants could receive up to $500 more for the first semester of the year, the message said.

Updates and route information will be available on the district’s website.

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