NEWS

17 May 2022

  • New York Times, report, reveal wildfire risk in St. George, Washington County

    Flames burn very close to homes in the New Harmony Heights area of southern Utah near St. George June 27, 2005.

    Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    Southern Utah’s Washington County is growing at breakneck speed. St. George is the fastest growing metro area in the country, according to Census data.

    That label comes with typical growing pains — outdated infrastructure, more traffic, questions about resource allocation. But another consequence of growth is increased wildfire risk.

    As the Mountain West grapples with unprecedented growth, developers are creeping further into the foothills and mountains, building in some of the region’s most fire-prone terrain. Some of the most desirable places to live — private mountain property with trees and vegetation — are also the most risky.

    “Because of the drought conditions, and the growth in that region, that’s one of our highest risk areas,” said Julie Murphy, the statewide wildfire risk reduction coordinator under the Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands. Almost 25% of Washington County remains in extreme drought, with the entire county currently in severe drought.

    According to a new report from the nonprofit research group First Street Foundation, roughly half of all addresses in the continental U.S. face some kind of risk from wildfires.

    Some of the most at risk communities, the report notes, are in Utah. Consider this:

    • Over 5% of all the properties in Utah have at least a 1% chance of experiencing a wildfire, the highest risk of any U.S. state.
    • Around 787,100 Utah properties, or 57% of the state, have at least .03% likelihood of being in a wildfire this year. That translates to a 1% chance over 30 years.
    • Of those, 327,600 properties, or 24% of the state, have a .2% chance of experiencing a wildfire. That translates to a 6% chance over 30 years.
    • In Washington County, at least 93% of the properties have at least a 6% chance of experiencing a wildfire in the next 30 years.
    • An estimated 94,900 properties in Washington county have a 6% chance of experiencing a wildfire in 30 years, compared to 77,000 in Utah County, 35,100 in Salt Lake County, 25,300 in Iron County and 21,500 in Tooele County.
    • Utah has had 657 wildfires larger than 1,000 acres between 1984 and 2020, totaling 5,773,400 cumulative acres burned. Currently, 17,100 properties are in the boundaries of these past fires, with an additional 1,358,800 properties within 20 miles.

    The metrics used in First Street’s report include nearby combustible fuels, previous weather and fire patterns, and climate change.

    For rapidly expanding Washington County, or any of the countless pasture-turned-subdivision communities in the Mountain West, it’s a simple equation: “The more homes you have in a rural area, or in an area that has fuel that can burn, the higher probability that those homes will burn,” said Murphy.

    Labeled high-risk in the First Street report, then profiled in a story by the New York Times, is Dammeron Valley, a quaint yet growing community in Washington County where single-acre lots sell for as much as $300,000 and homes soar above $1 million.

    Yet the data shows that Dammeron Valley is an increasingly risky place to live — all of the community’s properties have at least a 1% chance of being exposed to a wildfire, increasing to 5% by 2052.

    But what isn’t detailed in the Times story, experts say, is what amounts to hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, the state has spent on fuel mitigation and public outreach in Washington County.

    “It’s been ridiculous, in a good way, the amount of money and effort that we’ve put into not only Dammeron but the highway corridor, to make sure that fuels around those communities are treated,” said John Schmidt with the Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands.

    Schmidt, who spent 25 years as a forester in the timber industry, then 19 years as a fire and fuels specialist based in southwest Utah, specializes in fire prevention on private land. He’s treated thousands of acres for landowners in communities like Dammeron Valley, providing fire assessments, trimming trees, chipping fuels and creating breaks.

    In addition to physically working to prevent fire, both federal and state agencies have unleashed a public awareness campaign, coordinating with local governments and leaning into what Schmidt says is key to preventing wildfires — “community activism.”

    “There’s signs saying ‘Be prepared’ ‘Defensible space,’ and ‘Are you fire ready?’ When we do projects in the community, we’ll put a sign up that says ‘Is your house fire safe?’” he said. “I’m hard pressed to think that somebody that came from, say, Boise or California, had no idea that wildfire is in effect here. Just drive up and down Interstate 15 and look at the fire scars.”  

    Schmidt pointed to Dammeron Valley as a textbook example of community activism. During a meeting hosted by the division, officials were approached by a man, originally from England, who had a film studio in his home. He filmed Schmidt’s team trimming high-risk trees, conducting prescribed burns and creating fuel breaks, then produced a DVD that he distributed to every new resident in Dammeron Valley.

    He’s what Schmidt called a “spark plug” — community members who lead out on wildfire activism.

    “There’s people like that in all these communities and we just try and find them,” Schmidt said.

    But as Washington County and its neighbor to the north, Iron County, continue to grow, the communities that inch their way into picturesque, juniper and pinyon pine-laden hills are literally playing with fire. For some of these new developments, experts like Schmidt say it’s not if, but when.

    “Those threats are increasing and as we’re spreading out further it’s inevitable that it’s probably going to result in wildfires,” he said. “In some communities, I don’t know how we will ever get around that.”

  • Baby formula shortage: Don’t know what to do? Here’s help

    A nearly empty baby formula display shelf is seen at a Target store in Orlando. White House chief of staff Ron Klain says the White House is “absolutely” and “strongly” considering having President Joe Biden invoke the Defense Production Act to address the urgent baby formula shortage problem plaguing the country.

    Paul Hennessy, Associated Press

    Utah health experts addressed growing concerns and questions during a discussion Tuesday as the nationwide shortage of baby formula has continued, leaving parents frantically trying to provide for their children's nutritional needs.

    The advice comes on the heels of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reaching a deal with Abbott Laboratories on Monday to reopen the plant after production was halted. The plant was closed in February after several infants fell ill after consuming formula produced at the plant. An investigation by the FDA revealed that deadly bacteria was present at the plant, prompting its shutdown.

    The shutdown has only exacerbated a nationwide baby formula shortage that began with COVID-19 and related supply chain issues across the country.

    Monday's decision would allow the formula company to begin production in the next two weeks — but it could be another six to eight weeks before formula reaches shelves. With the growing panic and continued empty shelves, University of Utah Health experts advised parents on the do's and don'ts of the shortage.

    "It's really become a really difficult issue for families who have a lot of anxiety around what to do if they can't find the formula that they need for their baby," said Dr. Wendy Hopson-Rohrer, U. Health pediatrician and associate vice president for health sciences education.

    Do: Ask your doctor if you can switch brands

    Health experts advised families who cannot find their formula on the shelf to consider switching to another brand. Those whose infants are not on a specialized formula can look to other brands to supplement amid the shortage, said Hopson-Rohrer. To switch formulas, parents should first consult with a physician and then begin slowly introducing the new formula.

    "It is OK to switch. Sometimes babies have a little bit of trouble between switching because the taste is a little bit different. It's the same as if we've changed between brands of soda, for instance. So the taste is a little different," Hopson-Rohrer said.

    To best implement the change, Hopson-Rohrer advises slowly reducing the amount of the previous brand while adding the new brand of formula. The content and nutritional value between the two brands will be relatively the same, she added.

    "Formulas are relatively equivalent in terms of what this contains. So if you're on cow's milk-based formula, it's just about the same. The ones that we're most concerned about are the elemental formulas and some of the speciality formulas for babies that have allergies or other reasons where they can't tolerate either a soy-based or a milk-based formula," said Hopson-Rohrer.

    If you're among parents whose infant can't switch for those reasons, Hopson-Rohrer advised reaching out to your pediatrician or local Women, Infants and Children office. The pediatrician or WIC office may be able to provide you with samples of the specialized formula until production and supply returns, or help with an alternative.

    Don’t: Turn to formula alternatives or homemade recipes

    Desperation amid the shortage has led some parents to turn to alternative methods of meeting their infant's nutritional needs, diluting formula or creating homemade formula. Recipes and alternatives have been posted across social media pages used to swap or notify parents about various formula supply in stores.

    University of Utah Health experts warned against resorting to any of the previously mentioned methods, emphasizing the danger it can hold for an infant.

    "The real reason that you don't want to use your own formulations is because we want to use the technology and everything that's been studied in terms of the formulas that are on the market and FDA-approved. They're in that category for a reason because they have been studied and we know that they are safe and the healthiest thing for babies other than human breast milk," said Michelle Hoffman, deputy director at the Utah Department of Health.

    Diluting the formula also dilutes the nutritional value and prevents an infant from receiving all the necessary calories, she added.

    While some exceptions can be made for infants who are older in terms of cow's milk, Hoffman emphasized that breast milk or formula is the best option for infants.

    What about sharing breast milk?

    Many social media posts have advised mothers to turn to their local milk banks of donated breast milk amid the shortage. While Utah opened the Mountain West Mother's Milk Bank in 2020, the donations are dedicated to sick and fragile babies. The milk is often sold to hospitals for its newborn intensive care units and the well-baby population that has some transitional issues.

    "A lot of information is going out about contacting the milk bank for pasteurized milk, and we don't have that availability to be providing that milk to the outpatient population," said Elizabeth Kirts, lactation manager at University of Utah Hospital and Mountain West Mother's Milk Bank's board chairwoman.

    While not all populations can access the milk donations, Kirts still encouraged anyone who could donate to do so as donations experience shortages of their own.

    But what about donations outside of the Mountain West Mother's Milk Bank? What about mother-to-mother?

    "In an ideal world, mother-to-mother milk sharing is a wonderful thing and it's a wonderful gift from one mom to another — but we have to be very aware that it is not regulated. There aren't the protections that are put in place with a milk bank," said Kirts.

    "So if someone makes the decision to go that route, then it is a very good idea to work with their own health care provider to look at all the benefits and risks, and then to do very good screening."

    What is Utah’s WIC program doing in the meantime?

    Utah's Women, Infant and Children program has had waivers enacted since the recall began to expand formula options for Utahns. The expanded formula packages have allowed families flexibility at the grocery store instead of having to buy one prescribed formula, according to JoDell Geilmann-Parke, Utah's WIC vendor coordinator.

    Additionally, the local WIC office has worked with grocery stores across the state to identify holes and shift product between stores or areas to best fit the needs of families. The program has also worked with Utah WIC families on identifying possible tips and tricks for finding formula, while advising of the dangers of turning to alternatives.

    On Tuesday, Geilmann-Parke issued a vendor memo, reminding them that the program does not have a policy that would limit their ability to control the number of formula cans purchased in a daily transaction or in a single transaction by family across the state. The panel advised parents not to purchase more than necessary while at the grocery stores, leaving product for other families.

    "Perhaps most importantly, we have lent our voice to a variety of groups and organizations across the state who are very concerned about the health and well-being of Utah babies,” Geilmann-Parke said. “We are doing everything that we can to support finding resolutions wherever we can contribute to those resolutions.”

  • Water in the West: Is growth at risk due to drought, climate change?

    The Colorado River just outside of Moab is pictured on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021.

    Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

    As drought continues to hold states in the West by the throat, threatening power generation, livelihoods, growth and more, a pessimist would say the glass is half empty and the region’s destiny is doomed.

    But against the backdrop of triple-digit temperatures in Tempe, Arizona, a Tuesday gathering of politicians, water experts and policymakers made clear that the glass is half full — with plenty of reason for optimism if wise-water management is embraced head on.

    “There is no reason for people not to come here,” said John Giles, mayor of Mesa, Arizona, throwing down the welcome mat for would-be newcomers.

    “Going back generations, we are standing on the shoulders of giants who laid the framework for people to live in this environment. Certainly there is more acute awareness of that now because of the shortages on the Colorado River.... And yes, the urgency is crescendoing, but this has always been the issue in our environment.”

    Doug Wilks, executive editor of the Deseret News, left, hosts a panel discussion on water in the West with John Giles, center, mayor of Mesa, Arizona, and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, right, in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. The two mayors opened the event hosted by the Deseret News to “Elevate” the conversation and convene thought leaders and decision makers in Tempe, Arizona. Tuesday focused on water use and the drought with an eye on successful stewardship of natural resources.

    Gage Skidmore, for the Deseret News

    A civil dialogue on a complicated issue

    Giles was joined by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego; Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition; Cheryl Lombard, president and chief executive officer of Valley Partnership; and Rhett Larson, a professor of water law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in an event convened by the Deseret News.

    The panel discussion, moderated by Executive Editor Doug Wilks, was designed around the Deseret News’ goal to “elevate” the national discourse, in this case on the topic of water and drought in the West, looking at where there might be opportunity to learn as well as opportunity for change.

    Investments in new technology, aging infrastructure, and yes, getting disparate interests to a common table to talk solutions are all key because, while politics are partisan, water is not, Backer stressed.

    He pointed in particular to the urban/rural divide and how bridging that space is crucial in all levels of management decisions, particularly stewardship of resources such as water.

    “One of the things I see as a young person looking at the political world is that we don’t have enough of these conversations,” Backer said, emphasizing that divisive rhetoric and rallies simply kick the problem — like a can — down the road.

    “At the end of the day, we need sound decisions that work for rural and urban Arizonians and to bridge the gap between where we are now and where we need to be doing things in the future. And if we bridge that gap with open arms, rural communities are going to be far more likely to engage instead of feeling like they are going to be let down.”

    Virgin Canyon in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona-Nevada border is pictured on May 11, 2021. A high-water mark or bathtub ring is visible on the shoreline. Lake Mead is down 152 vertical feet.

    Mark Henle, The Arizona Republic

    Water use is on all of us

    Larson, who pointed out he proudly hails from a rural area of Arizona, said because agriculture commands such a large percentage of available water, it is easy to blame ranchers and farmers in an overly simplistic fashion.

    “It’s impossible for us to manage this problem without farmers, but we are all farmers. We are all beneficiaries of the work that farmers do. And so it doesn’t do anyone any good to wag our fingers at farmers and tell them to fix it,” he said.

    He noted that a 9% reduction in agriculture’s use of Colorado River water would double the amount of water available in the basin states.

    “That would be a huge jump, but that 9% is not just on farmers, it is on all of us,” he said.

    Shortages on the Colorado River have led to federal reductions of water allocations to states like Arizona, which is maneuvering to deal with a new reality and, within that reality, embrace flexibility.

    Gallego, the mayor of Phoenix, pointed to the city’s drought pipeline project, which will help ensure residents of the nation’s fifth-largest city have access to water in times of Colorado River shortages.

    The city recently launched the Blue Bank partnership that involves cooling tower projects for industry and institutions — inspired by the water conservation success of cooling towers at the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, as reported by KTAR news.

    Doug Wilks, executive editor of the Deseret News, left, Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition, and Cheryl Lombard, president and CEO of Valley Partnership, listen as Rhett Larson, professor of water law at Arizona State’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, addresses water as a public health concern during a panel discussion hosted by the Deseret News in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Larson noted that clean drinking water is one of the greatest drivers of good health, equality and economic success.

    Gage Skidmore, for the Deseret News

    Having the right mindset

    Gallego said just as there is a lot of investment and excitement around energy policy, there needs to be a kindred spirit like that in Washington, D.C., when it comes to water management, with bright minds making wise policy and financial decisions that are in tune with the West’s unique needs.

    Lombard, of Valley Partnership — a real estate industry leader advocating for responsible growth — said it is a false choice to say either/or when it comes to new development in the West, new residents and stewardship of water resources.

    She pointed to water management decisions made in cities like Phoenix and Mesa as an example.

    “Those are huge investments in how we can actually be more efficient,” she said. “We are all part of that sustainability.”

    Larson said water — critical for life — is also an indelible part of our culture and is very much a precious commodity.

    People don’t use squirt guns full of gasoline during the summer or get baptized in uranium — it’s that simple, he said. Then later, he mentioned the pandemic.

    “I know all of us have been deeply affected by COVID. I certainly have been. It’s been a difficult time for everyone. But COVID is not now nor has it ever been the biggest public health crisis facing the world. Six thousand children under the age of 5 die every single day because of lack of access to clean water,” he said. “If we want to make the world a healthier place, the most important thing that we can invest in, internationally and globally, is water.”

    Larson stressed that states like Arizona and others in the West have the ability to innovate, and they will when it comes to the drought.

    “This is a great place to raise a family and a wonderful place to start a business. The future of Arizona is bright. Our water scarcity is not a problem we are going to solve; it is a challenge we are going to manage,” he said.

    “It has always been a challenge, it will always be a challenge. In a desert, it doesn’t matter what policy you get right if you get water policy wrong.”

  • Why the economic impact of another Utah Olympics would be less

    The Olympic Cauldron burns again, marking the 20-year anniversary of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics opening ceremony at Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Feb. 8, 2022. A new analysis released Tuesday shows hosting the 2030 Winter Games would bring $2.2 billion to Utah, $500 million less than construction, visitor spending and federal security funding added to the economy from the state’s first Olympics two decades ago.

    Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    A new analysis released Tuesday shows hosting the 2030 Winter Games would bring $2.2 billion to Utah, $500 million less than construction, visitor spending and federal security funding added to the economy from the state’s first Olympics two decades ago.

    “It’s still a significant amount, a boost to our economy,” Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s bidding for another Olympics, said during the University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Institute’s May newsmaker breakfast.

    Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, said what would be a total economic impact of $3.9 billion anticipated in the Gardner institute’s analysis could make a big difference in how well the state would withstand an end to the current booming economy.

    That’s what happened when a recession hit in the early 2000s, he said.

    “While everything looks great today, cycles inevitably happen, and what’s nice about the Olympic Games being brought to a community is we can count on a certain amount of boost to our economic situation,” Bullock told a virtual audience.

    “Who knows what will be happening in the lead-up to 2030, but we’ll have this extra layer of economic activity that we’ll be able to rely on even if there’s a downturn in the economy like we experienced in 2000. It was really something that was beneficial to us back then.”

    Natalie Gochnour, director of the Gardner institute, had already warned that the overall economic impact of another Olympics would be less than the more than $6 billion calculated in a 2018 study because the venues and other needed infrastructure has been built.

    Gochnour pointed out Tuesday that the capital investment in the 2002 Games, largely constructing competition venues, added up to more than $450 million in 2021 dollars compared to less than $25 million expected to be needed for the next Olympics.

    Bullock said while that’s “negative to the economic impact side, it’s a very big boost to our bid because all of the infrastructure is in place. The only capital (projects) that we need to do are just some ongoing maintenance and upgrades at our existing venues,” such as shading for the bobsled, luge and skeleton track near Park City.

    What he called “a very modest amount of capital” in the $2.2 billion budget for 2030 includes nearly $15.6 million to ready the track and other facilities at the Utah Olympic Park for competition, as well as $6.35 million at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Midway and $1.2 million for the Utah Olympic Oval speedskating track in Kearns.

    Still, Bullock stressed hosting again would be a temporary boost to the state’s economy, adding between 7,000 and 8,000 full-time jobs for more than a year to “do something really special for the world.” He downplayed any long-term growth issues, saying that unlike 20 years ago, Utah is on the world map.

    The total $3.9 billion economic impact would stretch from 2024 to 2031 and generate $1.5 billion in personal income, according to the analysis, which also showed the state would bring in $99 million in related revenues, offset by $78 million in expenses for a net of $22 million, and local government would net just over $42 million.

    The proposed 2030 Winter Games budget does not include any state or local tax dollars, Bullock has said, although the federal government is expected to pick up much of the cost of providing security, just as it does for other major events like the Super Bowl.

    2030 or 2034?

    Salt Lake City is competing for 2030 against three other cities that also have previously hosted an Olympics — Sapporo, Japan, the 1972 Winter Games; Vancouver, Canada, the 2010 Winter Games; and Barcelona, Spain, the 1992 Summer Games. Barcelona is bidding with the Pyrenees mountain region.

    With Salt Lake City and Sapporo seen as the front-runners even though the Japanese city is dealing with concerns about costs, both could end up being chosen as future hosts by the International Olympic Committee because a new, less formal bid process would allow the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games to be awarded at the same time.

    Bullock said he hopes the IOC will narrow the field before the end of the year, with a final decision coming in 2023. Under the new bid process, the IOC enters into discussions with any interested city before selecting the best candidates for what’s called “targeted dialog” aimed at finalizing an agreement to host.

    The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee selected Salt Lake City over Denver more than three years ago as the country’s choice for an unspecified Winter Games since Los Angeles already has the 2028 Summer Games. So Utah’s bidders have focused on either 2030 or 2034, although Bullock said the sooner the better.

    But he said the USOPC is still working out how the country could host back-to-back Olympics without sacrificing domestic sponsorship revenues. That could include sharing personnel or offering other assistance to Los Angeles to cut costs, Bullock said.

    For now, all of the contracts being negotiated by the bid committee — including for 17,000 hotel rooms so far as well with ski resorts and other venues, like the U., where athletes will be housed and the opening and closing ceremonies held at Rice-Eccles Stadium — could be used for either 2030 or 2034, he said.

    “Yes, we aspire to 2030 but we recognize that everything has to line up for that to happen,” Bullock acknowledged. “And if that doesn’t happen, we certainly would aggressively pursue 2034.”

    What could come from another Olympics?

    Another Olympics in Utah would not be the same as 2002, both he and Gochnour said. The Winter Games are some 40% larger than they were two decades ago, and Utah has changed, too. Bullock said the venues have not only continued to be used by both community and elite athletes, many, like Rice-Eccles Stadium, have expanded.

    Gochnour, who was working for then-Gov. Mike Leavitt in 2002, said she realized “when you have something this big, when the spotlight is this bright, that everything has to get better.” The result is “we take care of things better. We invest better. We think harder about what we’re doing because of the intensity and the seriousness of the endeavor.”

    The most important legacy from hosting the Olympics, she said, “is what it did for ourselves, for our confidence, for our ability to do things better in Utah.” Now, the state “knows it can do these things in a very competent way and as we do that, we’re able to expand that to other parts of what we do,” Gochnour said,

    For Bullock, the 2002 Games was a time when tens of thousands of people gathered downtown every evening to soak up the atmosphere, when “it felt like unity in our community like never before.” That’s what he wants to see repeated at the next Olympics and, hopefully, beyond.

    “I look forward to that time again, where it doesn’t matter what political party, it doesn’t matter what economic strata, everybody can come to a live site and just be together. And feel that unity and celebrate the world coming together,” Bullock said, adding he’d like to see the Games serve as a catalyst to hold on to that “unique feeling.”

  • Are UFOs real? Here’s why Congress wants you to report sightings

    Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, points to a video display of an unidentified aerial phenomena during a hearing of the House Intelligence, Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

    Alex Brandon, Associated Press

    Congress is asking all your burning questions about UFOs.

    A U.S. House Intelligence subcommittee held Congress’ first hearing on unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP, in more than half a century on Tuesday, and intelligence officials said they’ve collected about 400 reports of UAP.

    Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, said military reports of unidentified phenomena in the military are up, which he attributed in part to reduced stigma in reporting sightings.

    “Since the early ‘00s we have seen an increasing number of unauthorized and or unidentified aircraft or objects in military-controlled training areas and training ranges and other designated airspace,” Bray said. “Reports of sitings are frequent and continuing.”

    The military now has step-by-step protocol for how to report a sighting, he said.

    “If you see something, you need to report it,” he said.

    Some phenomena end up having an explanation, including “aerial clutter” like balloons, drones, some sort of natural phenomenon, or something from a U.S. developmental program or foreign adversary.

    During the hearing, footage was shown of one areal phenomenon that remains unexplained and another they later likely concluded was drones.

    The first video, shot from a U.S. Navy aircraft, showed something briefly zooming across the screen. The second video, shot through night-vision goggles, showed triangles in the air they later concluded were likely drones, or “unmanned aerial systems in the area,” Bray said.

    The U.S. Navy UAP task force also has non-military reports, and it’s not just the U.S. that has observed things in the sky it can’t explain, Bray said. Allies also have their own sightings, and China is also investigating the phenomena, he said. The task force also has relationships with other U.S. entities to rule out any explanations that UAP are actually American.

    Bray said the U.S. was “not aware of any adversary that can move an object without discernible means of propulsion,” and that the UAP task for doesn’t have any wreckage “that isn’t consistent with being of terrestrial origin.”

    “I would simply say there are a number of events in which we do not have an explanation,” he said. “We make no assumptions about the origin of this or that there may or may not be technology we don’t understand.”

    He said U.S. intelligence hasn’t always been open about what it knows, because of U.S. adversaries.

    “Given the nature of our business, national defense, we’ve had sometimes to be less forthcoming with information in open forums than many would hope,” he said. “If UAP do indeed represent a potential threat to our security, then the capabilities, systems, processes, and sources we use to observe, record, study or analyze these phenomena need to be classified at appropriate levels.”

    “We do not want potential adversaries to know exactly what we’re able to see or understand, or how we come to the conclusions we make,” Bray added.

    Ronald Moultrie, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, said during the hearing that the task force is committed to finding answers for the safety of U.S. pilots, not to mention to satisfy inquisitive relatives.

    “We want to know what’s out there as much as you want to know what’s out there,” Moultrie said. “We get the questions not just from we, we get them from family members.”

  • JetBlue launches hostile takeover bid for Spirit Airlines. Here’s what they said

    A JetBlue airplane. On Monday, JetBlue launched a hostile takeover big for Spirit Airlines after the former airline’s board rejected the proposal and decided to stick with Frontier Airlines.

    Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

    JetBlue on Monday launched a hostile takeover bid for Spirit Airlines after the former airline’s board rejected the proposal and decided to stick with Frontier Airlines, per The New York Times.

    Driving the news:Jet Blue released a $30 per share “all cash” offer that is “fully financed,” while urging Spirit shareholders to “vote no” on the merger with Frontier.

    What they’re saying:“JetBlue offers more value — a significant premium in cash — more certainty, and more benefits for all stakeholders. Frontier offers less value, more risk, no divestiture commitments, and no reverse break-up fee, despite more overlap on non-stop routes and their own regulatory challenges,” said Robin Hayes, JetBlue CEO.

    • In the release, the company stated that the JetBlue-Spirit merger would become a “viable competitor to the Big Four airlines that control more than 80% of the U.S. market.”
    • Additionally, it pointed out that Frontier’s routes overlap with Spirit, while JetBlue has lesser overlap.
    • JetBlue called Spirit’s antitrust concerns “a smokescreen to distract from the fact that its merger with Frontier faces similar regulatory risk, yet offers no shareholder protections.”

    Worth noting: Spirit rejected the $3.6 billion cash offer on April 2, citing that the merger would not be cleared by regulations, and instead, it stuck to the $25.83 share cash offer from Frontier, per CNN.

    Flashback:Last year, the Justice Department sued to block a merger between American Airlines and JetBlue on the basis that it is anti-competition.

  • Elon Musk on housing market bubble: ‘They dug their own graves’

    A “for sale” sign is displayed outside of a house in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Dec. 7, 2021. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently added the housing market into the mix of his Twitter commentary.

    Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently added the housing market into the mix of his Twitter commentary.

    Musk weighs in on housing: Musk’s commentary stemmed from a tweet by Dogecoin co-founder Billy Markus (who uses the Twitter name Shibetoshi Nakamoto) saying cryptocurrency was “created as a statement against central bank control” after the Great Recession that followed fallout from the 2008 housing bubble burst, which was fueled by a subprime mortgage crisis.

    The global financial crisis was “caused by predatory lending practices and other irresponsible nonsense, leading to the housing bubble bursting, rampant printing of money, bailouts, etc.,” Markus tweeted.

    Replying to Markus, Musk said the “axiomatic error” was a widespread assumption that “housing prices only go up.”

    “I don’t support predatory lending, but many of those lenders were severely wounded or didn’t survive,” Musk tweeted. “They dug their own graves — a lesson we should all take to heart, including me.”

    The big picture:The housing bubble that preceded the 2007 and 2008 market crash was fueled by a subprime mortgage crisis depicted in films such as “The Big Short” and “Margin Call.”

    At the time, the U.S. overbuilt housing while risky lending practices fueled an unsustainable rise in housing prices. Eventually, mortgage delinquencies, foreclosures and devaluation of housing-related securities caught up to big banks, and the market collapsed.

    The housing bubble popped after prices peaked in early 2006, then began declining in 2006 and 2007 before hitting lows in 2012.

    What’s happening now?Today, the U.S. housing market continues to see home prices skyrocket, surpassing 2006 levels. Those home prices accelerated dramatically over two years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic sent the market into upheaval as many Americans reevaluated their lives.

    Researchers and Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas have warned they are seeing early signs of a housing bubble brewing — but they also say it’s not the same as the 2006 housing bubble that preceded the Great Recession.

    “However, there is growing concern that U.S. house prices are again becoming unhinged from fundamentals,” Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas researchers wrote in a blog post in March.

    A big culprit is what they called “exuberance.” That drives “expectations-driven, explosive” price increases, and that can have consequences, including “misallocation of economic resources, distorted investment patterns, individual bankruptcies and broad macroeconomic effects on growth and employment.”

    House prices can “diverge from market fundamentals,” researchers wrote, “when there is widespread belief that today’s robust price increases will continue.” If most buyers believe prices will continue to go up, “purchases arising from ‘a fear of missing out’ can drive up prices and heighten expectations” of continued price hikes.

    Does the West have a housing bubble? Local housing experts say it’s hard to fathom a housing bubble popping in high-growth states like Utah, which was already grappling with a housing shortage before the onset of COVID-19.

    The pandemic spurred even more in-migration and housing demand as increasingly more young Utahns hope to buy homes. Demand continues to far outpace supply, and the result is what housing experts have called a “severe” housing imbalance that’s fueling home price growth and unaffordability.

    Dejan Eskic, senior research fellow at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute who specializes in housing research, told the Deseret News in March that the typical understanding of a housing “bubble” — or what Americans saw in 2007 and 2008 — is not the same as what’s happening in today’s market, where there continues to be a real demand in housing, especially in Western states like Utah.

    Lack of inventory is driving demand, he said, while back in 2006 irresponsible lending practices were enabling “everybody and their dog” to buy homes. Today, it’s not easy to get a mortgage as lending requirements tightened up.

    “So our market is driven by real people wanting housing,” Eskic said.

  • Will Elon Musk back out of deal to buy Twitter? Elon Musk worried about fake accounts

    The Twitter splash page is seen on a digital device on Monday, April 25, 2022, in San Diego. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and the world’s richest person, dropped an early morning tweet Tuesday declaring that his $44 billion offer to buy Twitter was on hold until the company verified how many of its accounts track back to automated spam generators or bots.

    Gregory Bull, Associated Press

    Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and the world’s richest person, dropped an early morning tweet Tuesday declaring that his $44 billion offer to buy Twitter was on hold until the company verified how many of its accounts track back to automated spam generators or bots.

    While Twitter has estimated the number of fake accounts in the range of 5% in multiple filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company has also stipulated that the number could be larger. Musk has seized on the fake accounts issue, citing other assessments that have pegged the number of nonhuman users as high as 20% and demanding that Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal verify the data.

    Some experts believe Musk could have easily handled the question in the regular course of deal communications but, as Twitter’s stock value has dropped by some 20% since he debuted the offer on April 14, is grandstanding on the fake account issue as a way to potentially get out of the deal or reduce his offer.

    What’s the latest?Analysts believe Musk is using allegations that Twitter’s user base has more bots than the company claims to either back out of the deal or negotiate down a price, especially now that Twitter’s stock price has plummeted amid a broader market downturn, per Axios.

    In a statement released Tuesday morning after the Musk tweet, Twitter announced it had filed a proxy document with the SEC outlining details of the deal and noted the company remains “committed to completing the transaction on the agreed price and terms as promptly as practicable.”

    What else Twitter has to say:On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported on Agrawal’s defense of his company’s efforts to fight spam.

    “First, let me state the obvious: spam harms the experience for real people on Twitter, and therefore can harm our business,” Agrawal said as part of a series of posts on Monday. “As such, we are strongly incentivized to detect and remove as much spam as we possibly can, every single day. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just wrong.”

    He said Twitter suspends more than half a million spam accounts a day and locks millions of accounts suspected of being fake weekly if they can’t be verified by humans, according to the post.

    Not all bots are bad:Fake or spam accounts, often called bot accounts, are automated and not run by humans. CNBC reports it’s worth noting that automated Twitter bots, which are programmed to tweet set things at set times, can be good or bad and Twitter doesn’t ban them all from the platform.

    Per CNBC, Agrawal, a software engineer, said that Twitter’s spam estimates are based on multiple human reviews of thousands of accounts that are repeatedly sampled at random over time.

    He said it’s not possible for external groups to calculate the exact number of spam accounts on the platform because it requires both public and private information that Twitter can’t share.