After weeks of negotiations, a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill is advancing in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski was part of a bipartisan group that reached the deal with the White House. She told reporters at the Capitol that the bill will go a long way toward rebuilding America’s lagging infrastructure “and helping in many parts of the country where infrastructure doesn’t exist at all.”
The Senate voted 67-32 Wednesday to begin debate on the bill. Several more votes lie ahead.
The bill has $550 billion in new spending on infrastructure, with the rest coming from regular federal spending on highways and other transportation. Some of the new spending would be on systems that are especially limited in rural Alaska: Broadband, drinking water and sewers
Murkowski says the bill sets good policy for the country.
“This is also important to demonstrate that Republicans and Democrats can come together over really hard stuff, to negotiate in good faith and to negotiate an agreement,” she said.
Sen. Dan Sullivan was one of the 32 Republicans who voted no on advancing the bill. A spokesman said he is waiting to see the bill language.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is strongly considering requiring federal employees to show proof they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or otherwise submit to regular testing and wear a mask — a potentially major shift in policy that reflects growing concerns about the spread of the more infectious delta variant.
The possible vaccine mandate for federal employees — regardless of the rate of transmission in their area — is one option under consideration by the Biden administration, according to a person familiar with the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss deliberations that have yet to be made public. The White House is expected to announce its final decision after completing a policy review this week.
According to an analysis from the federal Office of Management and Budget, in 2020 there were more than 4.2 million federal workers nationwide, including those in the military.
President Joe Biden suggested Tuesday that expanding that mandate to the entire federal workforce was “under consideration,” but offered no further details. The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first federal agency to require vaccinations, for its health workers.
The broader requirement under consideration would be the most significant shift by the Biden administration this week as the White House grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations nationwide driven by the spread of the delta variant and breakthrough infections among vaccinated Americans.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its masking guidelines and said that all Americans living in areas with substantial or high coronavirus transmission rates should wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
And just like that, masks were back at the White House.
By Tuesday afternoon, when the latest CDC data found that Washington, D.C. is facing substantial rates of transmission, White House staff were asked to begin wearing masks indoors starting Wednesday. Press were asked to follow suit, and those staff and reporters remaining in the White House were already masking up.
An aide for Vice President Kamala Harris passed out masks to the reporters covering her events earlier that day, asking them to put them on before walking in to her meeting with Native American leaders on voting rights.
Biden dismissed concerns that the new masking guidance from the CDC could create confusion among Americans, saying those who remain unvaccinated are the ones who are “sowing enormous confusion.”
“The more we learn, the more we learn about this virus and the delta variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned. And there’s only one thing we know for sure — if those other 100 million people got vaccinated, we’d be in a very different world,” he told reporters after speaking to intelligence community employees at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday.
But the whiplash on masking and vaccinations — just the day before, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had avoided questions over why the administration had yet to require vaccines for federal workers — reflects the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.
Various state and local governments, private companies, hospital administrators and universities across the nation have reverted to indoor mask mandates and instituted vaccine mandates in recent months, but just 60% of American adults have been completely vaccinated, and the latest wave of the coronavirus is hitting those communities with low vaccination rates particularly hard. The nation is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.
But the Biden administration had thus far avoided embracing a vaccine mandate for its own employees — in part because officials are wary of further politicizing an already fraught issue by coming down too hard on the side of vaccine mandates.
Psaki acknowledged Tuesday that administration officials are aware of the risk that Biden’s support for vaccine mandates could harden opposition to vaccines among his detractors.
“The president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local, trusted voices,” she said.
Jacoby made it to the finals by winning her semi-final heat Sunday with a time of 1 minute, 5.72 seconds, putting her in 1st place by less than a 10th of a second. She posted the third fastest time in the semi-finals overall.
It’s a quick race and it’s been a quick rise from local Seward Tsunami Swim Club standout to Olympian.
Seward swimmer mom Sarah Spanos has seen Jacoby’s progression, as her sons trained and swam with Jacoby, and the two families traveled together for meets.
While Jacoby’s parents are at an Olympics watch party in Orlando, Fla., Spanos is in Seward helping with a watch party there.
She spoke with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove about how the community is preparing to cheer Jacoby on from afar during the women’s final at 6:17 p.m. Alaska time.
The following transcript was lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Spanos: It’s pure joy. The whole town. One of the local restaurants, Zudy’s, they’re selling the ‘Go Lydia, go!’ stickers. And it’s a fundraiser for the club. And every time they sell a sticker then Judy yells out, ‘Go Lydia!’ And the whole kitchen crew just yells out, ‘Go Lydia!’ in the restaurant. I mean everybody is just cheering, because they just sold a sticker in support of Lydia. And the banners, the signs, you know, people came out at 2:30 a.m. a couple nights ago for the prelim. It was awesome. And the energy just carried over to last night when I think we had a little under 200 with the guests. So tonight, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more and Lydia is aware of it. She’s super excited, kind of probably overwhelmed. Yeah, it’s just the energy is really neat.
Casey Grove: It really feels like this very emotional thing, in a good way. And I have to admit, I personally get kind of emotional when I see Alaskans going on to do great things like this, what is that? What do you think that is that makes us feel like that about you know, somebody from Seward, somebody from Alaska going on to do this?
Spanos: I think she’s representing all those kids that put in the time and the work, to practice to travel to compete, to fly out of state for competition. I mean, the time and commitment is pretty profound. And yeah, she’s definitely representing every kid that had dreams of going to the Olympics. Yesterday, after the semi-finals, my son was being interviewed and they asked, ‘What would you like the rest of the world to know about Lydia?’ And he said, ‘She’s just one of the most humble and sweetest kids, but get her in the pool, and she’s going to be a fierce competitor.’
Grove: So what do you think it’s going to be like tonight? I mean, it’s a pretty quick race, right? What do you what do you think’s gonna sort of be the mood in the room?
Spanos: I had to catch my breath for a second because I’m just like, you say that, and I’m just instantly there, just thinking about it. Lydia is going to look like she’s lagging behind. And she’s going to hit that wall. And then she comes back. Her strong point is the last 50. And, oh, it’s going to be close. It’s going to be a real tight match. And, you know, right now, I think like her coach said, she’s playing on house money because she has nothing to lose. She’s 17. She’s just made her appearance. She’s most likely going to appear at the next Olympics. But she’s just come out of nowhere and she’s got the potential to medal tonight and it’s just overwhelming, but very exciting.
The first large cruise ship to dock in Juneau since 2019 arrived Friday morning.
Juneau residents say they mixed feelings about the ship’s arrival amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases. But, for the most part, the feeling at the dock and inside downtown businesses on Friday was one of hope.
Listen to this story:
Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas arrived in Juneau around 7 a.m., carrying less than 650 guests and a little more than 800 crew members.
In non-pandemic times, the vessel has room for more than 2,400 passengers, but it’s traveling at a reduced capacity.
Russ and Kacy Radigan walked off the ship around 10 a.m. Traveling from Columbus, Ohio, this was their first time in Alaska and a long-awaited trip.
“We planned this Alaska cruise like two years ago before the pandemic happened and it kept on getting canceled and canceled,” said Russ Radigan. “This was the first Alaska cruise opportunity that we had (since then), so we decided to take it.”
The Radigans were on their way to see the Mendenhall Glacier and they’ve already been on several whale watches and other wildlife excursions.
“We saw a number of whales, a number of seals and a number of otters and you know, we thought maybe we’d see one or two,” he said. “I think they were waiting for us.”
Jeremy Schroeder was also aboard the Serenade of the Seas. He said despite the circumstances, he felt very safe aboard the ship and comfortable with the COVID-19 protocols that were in place.
“Most people (aboard the ship) are vaccinated,” he said. “Obviously the young ones aren’t, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by everybody still wearing their masks, even though we are all vaccinated.”
Schroeder said he and his family were planning to take a helicopter tour out to the glacier if the weather held.
Of course, with safety protocols, came a much quieter scene at the dock on Friday. People were just slowly trickling off the ship and the booths offering whale watching and other tours were less than half full.
Greg Pilcher was manning one of the booths for M&M Tours.
“It’s pretty slow,” Pilcher said. “There’s not a whole lot of people on the ship, but I think we did better than expected. We wrote a couple tickets, which was great. I think we just wanted to get out here and like practice and remember how to do everything and it just feels really good that there are people here again because it’s been a long two years for sure.”
Down the street, the Red Dog Saloon had just opened for the day and the employees weren’t wearing their usual street clothes. Waitress Emily Lange said the Red Dog is a different restaurant when the cruise ships come to town.
“This is my first day wearing the corset and the fun dress,” she said. “It’s more about the showmanship when the tourists come in. So we put on this getup and we’ll have live music and we’ll all sing along. I’m just excited for being busy all the time.”
Some cruise passengers made their way to the gift shops downtown, like The Bear’s Lair, where employee Kaysa Korpela said she’d already made some sales.
“There’s been a few customers coming through and I really appreciate that they’re mostly masked up,” Korpela said. “I think they got the word on the boat that it was respectful to do that and most of them have been very respectful and if they’re not masked they ask if they should be.”
She said the passengers seemed excited to be there and most were just wandering around before going on tours later in the day. Korpela said she’s glad to see travelers in the store again.
“But I’m glad that it’s starting slowly because I wouldn’t want to see like five boats in the harbor all at once,” she said. “This is a good introduction. I’ve worked in this business for about four or five years now. Sometimes it can be pretty hectic but today has been pretty easy to handle.”
After leaving Juneau, the Serenade of the Seas is scheduled to dock in Ketchikan before stopping in Sitka for a second time on Wednesday. Another ship will also be in port in Sitka that day.
A state judge sentenced former Bethel elementary school principal Christopher Carmichael on July 21 to a 25-year sentence with 10 years suspended for sexual abuse of a minor. The judge imposed what he called a severe sentence because the former principal had abused the trust he cultivated in his victims and the community.
On July 21, 57-year-old Christopher Carmichael walked into the Bethel courtroom in an orange jumpsuit, face mask and handcuffs. The courtroom was relatively empty. No members of the public outside of KYUK were present.
Previously, the former teacher and principal had been a trusted, charismatic figure in Bethel. That was before he was arrested in 2019 and pleaded guilty to a state charge of sexual assault of a minor in the second degree.
Carmichael told the court that he accepted the plea agreement of 25 years so that the girls he abused, former students of his, wouldn’t have to testify in court and relive their traumas.
“I’m trying to own what happened, and accept responsibility for it, and serve the time that’s necessary to begin a healing process because many people have been affected by what’s happened here,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael’s attorney asked the judge to temper the severity of the sentence based on his client’s history. Carmichael told the judge about being diagnosed with PTSD from abuses he suffered as a child and from his time serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. He said that he never sought psychiatric help for either experience.
“And it’s not an excuse. I want to make that clear to the court,” Carmichael said. “If there’s any good that can come out of this situation, if you have been traumatized, seek help so that you don’t wind up in the situation I’m in now.”
Judge Terrence Haas said that the 25-year sentence the state and defendant had agreed upon was harsher than what most defendants would receive for similar crimes. However, he said that the sentence was warranted because of Carmichael’s abuse of power and trust that he had cultivated in his victims and the community.
“Your behavior here suggested an extraordinary desire to use your authority to insinuate yourself into the lives of these children, to use that authority to hide your behavior, to use that authority, which was given to you in order to protect children explicitly and specifically, to harm them,” Haas said.
Haas also said that he took into account the fact that Carmichael committed his crimes in a region with a tortured history of sexual abuse crimes by people in positions of power.
“The hope is other individuals who might come here, or who might be here, who might imagine that they could act in this way or take advantage of our community or our most vulnerable citizens in this way, that they would know and understand that the consequences would be as severe as the law permits,” Haas said.
Haas handed down a 25-year sentence with 10 years suspended. He said that would likely translate to 10 years in prison with good behavior. Carmichael’s state sentence will run concurrently with the 15-year federal sentence he received a week ago.
Carmichael will have to register as a sex offender after his release, which will likely be when he is at least 70 years old. As part of his condition of release, he will not be allowed to use any internet-capable electronic device or be in contact with anybody under the age of 18.
Attention now turns to the school district that continued to employ Carmichael after multiple reports of the former principal’s inappropriate behavior with students. Attorneys for four girls have filed lawsuits against the Lower Kuskokwim School District, claiming that LKSD failed to protect the girls from sexual abuse at Carmichael’s hands. Jury trials for those lawsuits are scheduled to begin this fall.
Rain should clear out the remaining smoke from massive wildfires in Siberia that blanketed much of Southcentral Alaska in haze for the last several days.
Wildfires have burned over 30,000 square miles in Siberia this year, about the size of the state of Maine. The burning taiga is sending a massive plume up into the atmosphere and then over to Alaska, where it first covered Northwest Alaska before moving down to Southcentral.
The remaining smoke in Southcentral expected to clear with precipitation, according to Carson Jones, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Anchorage.
“When it rains, the moisture actually needs particles to accumulate on so the rain will actually use the smoke particles as cloud condensation nuclei,” said Jones, “So nice little particles for the rain to form on which will effectively get rid of the smoke.”
Jones said just like in 2020, smoke gets conveyed across the Pacific along the jet stream. While some of the smoke has mixed into the lower atmosphere, the majority of it stays much higher and doesn’t affect air quality too severely. Instead, it adds an orange tinge to the sunlight as smoke particles reflect sunlight.
Southcentral Alaska recorded several daily record high temperatures over the weekend, including in Palmer, where temperatures hit 83 degrees.
Anchorage’s new head librarian, appointed by newly-elected Mayor Dave Bronson, has two masters degrees, in counseling and educational leadership.
But Sami Graham has never worked as a librarian, and that’s prompting library advocates to lobby the Assembly against her confirmation, saying the city’s top librarian needs specific experience. Graham’s predecessor in the $120,000-a-year job, Mary Jo Torgeson, had masters degrees in library science and public administration.
Installing a library system leader who lacks library experience also puts state grant funding at risk, Graham’s opponents say.
Graham, in an interview, said she’s been a teacher, a principal and a counselor — and as someone who was born and raised in Anchorage, she added that she’s familiar with the city’s neighborhoods. She said she brings experience in education and leadership to her new job, and has written grant proposals for school libraries and championed them.
“I’m a lifelong learner, so I’m more than willing to learn,” she said. “But there’s nothing that I’ve seen that would be insurmountable, that we couldn’t work through as a team.”
Graham, 62, has worked both in the public and private school system, including at Grace Christian School.
She narrowly lost a race for the Anchorage School Board earlier this year. After the election, Graham said she sent a letter of interest to Bronson’s transition team — not specific to the librarian position — and that the job was subsequently suggested to her.
While Bronson campaigned on a platform of spending cuts, Graham said she has no specific ideas to reduce the library system’s $9 million budget, nor is she planning other substantial changes to its operations. And while she’s a Republican who drew support from several prominent conservatives in her school board race, Graham said she’s not bringing a political agenda to the job.
“There is a great vision set for the library,” she said. “My focus is just to continue that mission, of connecting people to education, information, the community.”
First, though, she’ll have to be confirmed by the Anchorage Assembly, whose members have been receiving a steady stream of correspondence about Graham’s appointment — including from current and former library employees and other residents who say she lacks needed experience.
John Weddleton, who represents South Anchorage, said he’s received more feedback about Graham than any other municipal appointee during his five years on the Assembly.
“I’ll tell you, fans of the library are very passionate about the library,” Weddleton said.
Library boosters have several concerns about Graham’s appointment.
One is her lack of library-specific training and experience.
After Torgeson, the previous top librarian, retired but before Bronson was elected, the city posted a job advertisement for the position. The posting’s minimum requirements included a masters degree in library science and seven years of professional library experience, three of those as an administrator at a “moderate to large library system.”
Applicants included the library’s interim leader, Jacob Cole, along with others who met the qualifications, said Kim Hays, who chairs the Anchorage Library Foundation, a nonprofit booster group. The foundation has not taken a formal position on Graham’s appointment, but it’s been discussing “shared concerns,” Hays said in a phone interview.
“I don’t think that seven years of professional library experience is necessarily something you can get on the job,” said Hays. “Some of this stuff is very technical, and it’s not something you learn without having that background and education — or at least working in a library setting for years.”
The Alaska Library Association is also holding meetings this week to hear members’ concerns about Graham, said Jonas Lamb, the association’s board president.
A spokesman for Bronson did not respond to a question about why Graham was appointed if she didn’t meet the posted qualifications.
Graham said that she’s worked in school libraries and even shelved books. She said she’d also written a grant proposal to the state Legislature to keep a school library open during the summer, and would look to city library staff in areas where she’s less experienced.
“Anything that I don’t know, I know there’s a great team here that will help me learn it,” she said.
But Patience Frederiksen, the state librarian, said she can waive those regulations, if asked.
“That is a possibility,” she said. “I don’t yet have a request from Anchorage to do so, because we don’t know the outcome of the confirmation hearings for Sami Graham.”
Assembly members have not yet scheduled a work session or vote on Graham’s appointment.
Weddleton, the Assembly member, said that generally speaking, he gives a new mayor substantial deference in forming their own team. But he’ll be taking residents’ feedback into consideration, he added.
“I think people raised good points,” Weddleton said.
A former Bethel elementary school principal will spend 15 years in prison for trying to entice a child to engage in sexual activity in 2019.
A U.S. District Court judge sentenced 57-year-old Christopher Carmichael in Anchorage on Tuesday, after he pleaded guilty in February. Carmichael had faced additional charges of possession of child pornography and attempted transfer of obscene material to a minor, but those were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Carmichael has also pleaded guilty in state Superior Court to a charge of sexual abuse of a minor, with sentencing that’s set for later this month in Bethel. But under an agreement with prosecutors, that sentence is expected to be served alongside his sentence in federal court.
At Tuesday’s sentencing in Anchorage, a federal prosecutor had argued that Carmichael should have a longer prison sentence, saying the former principal had crafted a relationship between himself and the victim, with whom he’d discussed sex and making pornography.
“He took her childhood away and what he left was a burden nobody should have to feel,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Doty.
Carmichael’s attorney had argued for the 15-year sentence. That argument was based, in part, on a letter of support from Carmichael’s sister, who said she and Carmichael had a traumatic upbringing that included emotional and sexual abuse, starvation and forced isolation.
Carmichael’s attorney, Allen Dayan, also argued that his client had no criminal record prior to the 2019 charges and was a decorated veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. Dayan described Carmichael’s conduct as “reprehensible” but said he did not deserve the prosecution’s recommended 40 years behind bars.
“There’s lots of horrible things that happen and they don’t get 40 years,” Dayan said.
Doty, the prosecutor, told the judge there had been allegations against Carmichael prior to 2019 that had not resulted in criminal charges or action by the Lower Kuskokwim School District.
Law enforcement officers investigated Carmichael in 2016 after a report he had sent a child inappropriate messages on Facebook, and again in 2018, when another child accused him of touching her breast. Prosecutors say neither case yielded enough evidence to prosecute Carmichael.
The victim in the federal case and her mother were in the Anchorage courtroom on Tuesday, and the mother delivered a statement to U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess referencing the earlier accusations.
“While this may be the first time Mr. Carmichael was charged with a crime, my daughter was not his first victim,” she said.
Carmichael, in an orange jumpsuit, removed a mask covering his mouth when it was his turn to speak. He sobbed at times while apologizing to the victim, the entire Bethel community and the school district, which his alleged victims are suing.
“My school district that I worked for for 20 years is in trouble because of me,” he said, crying. “It’s very hard.”
Then, Carmichael mentioned his victim, whom he said “was involved in this situation.”
“My grief for what she’s going through is so severe,” Carmichael said. “I really care about her, and I’m so sorry.”
Judge Burgess agreed with prosecutors that Carmichael had abused the victim’s trust, which he had cultivated, as well as the trust of Bethel residents. Burgess said Carmichael had stolen the victim’s innocence.
Nevertheless, Burgess said, he was required to hand down a sentence that was sufficient but not greater than necessary. He sent Carmichael to prison for 15 years, with no chance for parole in the federal system, and a lifetime of supervised release.
Go to most libraries in Alaska, and you can ask for just about any book, movie or magazine. And 99% of the time, it’ll get to you, said Rachel Nash, librarian at the Soldotna Public Library.
“This system allows us to say yes every time,” she said.
That system is the Alaska Library Catalog. Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $635,900 in funding for the program and others as part of a slew of budget vetos earlier this month.
The Soldotna and Kenai libraries are among the 85 Alaska libraries in the Alaska Library Catalog. Members can borrow and lend materials to one another, like videos and magazines.
“And of course, what everyone thinks of are books,” Nash said. “There are 3.2 million titles.”
The Dunleavy administration said libraries can operate sufficiently without the funding.
But the Alaska Library Catalog may have to cut back services if it can’t get a stable source of funding into the Legislature’s budget, said Steve Rollins. He’s a dean at the University of Alaska Anchorage Library, which oversees the consortium and contributes half its funding. The other half comes from subscriber libraries.
“But the reason that money is needed is that over the last seven years, libraries in Alaska have had very significant budget reductions,” he said.
Like the UAA library. Several years ago, it contributed $600,000 to the program, Rollins said. This year, he thinks they can eke out $100,000 to put into the statewide resources.
“So our ability to collectively put money into these programs are being put in jeopardy,” he said.
Nash, the Soldotna librarian, also said the need for statewide material sharing has gone up as the program grows, which has made it more expensive to meet costs like shipping fees.
It’s caused some libraries to drop out. The Haines Borough Library left the consortium last year after it became too costly for it to mail materials to other libraries. Rollins said he’d like the library catalog to put more toward subsidizing those shipping costs.
Nash said the program is important for smaller libraries like hers. The Soldotna library is a net borrower, so it borrows more books from other libraries than it loans out.
She said without the funding, the Alaska Library Catalog will have to cut two of its administrative positions.
“And those are the two positions that keep it going,” Nash said. “They’re the ones that make sure that we can share a catalog and keep it up and running and are able to make deals with vendors to save us time and money over the course of the life of the catalog.”
Dunleavy also vetoed funding for the Statewide Library Electronic Doorway program, or SLED. That system connects Alaska library users with digital archives and databases, and saw 22 million searches in the 2020 fiscal year, Rollins said.
Some resources within SLED are safe from the veto, like Live Homework Help and Online with Libraries, a system primarily used for remote training and videoconferencing. Both were added as line items in previous budget cycles.
This year, Nash said, the Alaska Library Catalog and SLED will be OK, thanks in part to federal COVID-19 relief funds. But she says the current system of funding is not sustainable long term.
“And if that funding continues to not be available, I would predict that we would see more smaller libraries dropping out of the system,” she said.
This is the second time this has been in the Legislature’s budget and vetoed by the Governor. Rollins said they’ll put forward a similar request for funding next year.
Brett Huber, a former top aide to Alaska GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy, has returned to the governor’s office after running last year’s campaign against the ballot measure that instituted ranked choice voting and other overhauls to the state’s election system.
Dunleavy’s administration has clashed with Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration over land management, oil development and other issues, and Huber’s new title is “senior policy advisor for statehood defense.”
He’ll be responsible for “overseeing and coordinating the state of Alaska’s ongoing efforts to reassert control of lands and waters and pushing back on attempts from President Joe Biden’s federal agencies to overregulate (and) overreach on Alaskans,” Dunleavy’s office said in a prepared statement.
A spokeswoman for Dunleavy did not respond to a request to release Huber’s salary.
Huber managed Dunleavy’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 2018, then served in the governor’s office as communications director and policy advisor.
He left the governor’s office last year to manage the campaign against the initiative to overhaul Alaska’s elections. Huber’s side lost by 1%.