Opinion

EDITORIAL: Alaska’s prison system is killing Alaskans

Joseph Murphy was having a bad morning. On Aug. 14, he woke up in jail. The night before, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.165 percent, he had been taken to Lemon Creek Correctional Center for his own protection and left alone in a cell under the supervision of a camera. When he woke up, he was sober and angry. He wanted out. He wanted to go home. He had been accused of no crime, and under state law, he should have been allowed to leave. He was not. He grew angrier. He banged his cell door and shouted to be let out. His chest started to hurt — he had heart problems and was taking medication. A corrections officer stopped by his cell and told him to knock off the banging and suck it up. He would be getting out soon. Murphy asked for his heart pills. Tempers flared. Murphy and the corrections officer started shouting at each other, swearing at each other. Murphy’s chest hurt worse. “I don’t care,” the corrections officer told Murphy. “You could die right now, and I don’t care.” They swore some more at each other, and the corrections officer left. Murphy, locked in his cell, paced back and forth. He was sweating. Six minutes after the corrections officer left, Murphy collapsed to his hands and knees. He got up again, and fell again. He did not get up. Twenty-nine minutes after the corrections officer left Murphy, another arrived to deliver breakfast. On the floor of the cell was Murphy, dead. He is not alone. Since Gov. Bill Walker took office in December, 15 people have died in Alaska’s prisons. Joseph Murphy’s last minutes are recounted in the report released Monday by a pair of special investigators appointed by Gov. Bill Walker. The investigators’ report is damning. It finds comprehensive problems and mistakes by the Alaska Department of Corrections. It finds that corrections officers, at times understaffed, undertrained and mismanaged, have violated the rights of guilty and innocent Alaskans alike. Simply listing the problems shows their extent: • Correctional officers repeatedly violated inmates’ legal due process rights; • Drunken and intoxicated people were held in protective custody for illegal lengths of time; • Investigations of inmate deaths were not conducted properly; • Several juveniles have been kept in solitary confinement for more than a year; • Newly hired corrections officers sometimes go months without attending the training academy; • Medical and mental health employees do not report to prison superintendents; • Many prison policies have not been updated since the 1980s; • Correctional officers were not adequately searched for contraband; • Misconduct by corrections officers and management was not always punished. We cannot help but think that all of these problems — every single one, including the death of Joseph Murphy — were avoidable. In the past few years, the Juneau Empire and the Alaska Dispatch News have repeatedly investigated the surge in prison deaths that has afflicted Alaska. Again and again, we have requested information about these deaths and about the practices of Department of Corrections. We have investigated the problems reported by inmates and we have covered the actions of the state ombudsman in responding to complaints about the prison system. Almost inevitably, our reporting has been met by a stone wall of silence from the Department of Corrections. The department has repeatedly denied our requests for information, for comments, for simple reports about what exactly happened. The Department of Corrections is a public agency. It is supposed to be answerable to all Alaskans. Instead, it concealed its actions with silence and denials, and now 15 people are dead because no one knew what was killing them. It was neglect — sheer neglect on the part of administrators past and present, those who cared more about protecting their jobs and concealing shame than fixing problems. Inadequate training and staffing, coupled with outdated policies and a culture of secrecy have allowed an infection of mistakes to turn septic. We fully expect criminal charges to be brought against some members of the Department of Corrections as a result of their negligence, and based on the reports we have read, those charges will be amply deserved. That’s not to say all corrections employees are to blame. Just as there were a few who didn’t follow the rules, there are many more who have served dutifully in their roles. It would be easy — and wrong — to simply say that these are inmates and that they should not have committed the crimes that landed them in jail. Joseph Murphy was no criminal. He had not committed a crime, and yet our prison system and its policies killed him just as surely as if he had been hanged on the steps of our capitol building. On Monday, Walker accepted the resignation of corrections commissioner Ron Taylor, a good-natured man whom Walker himself appointed to the job in January. Now comes Walt Monegan, a man whose integrity was shown during the Troopergate scandal of Gov. Sarah Palin. Monegan faces a mammoth task, but it is a necessary and urgent one. Alaskans are quite literally dying as a result of problems in the Department of Corrections.

EDITORIAL: Sturgeon case vital for Alaska’s sovereignty

The case of John Sturgeon versus the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior is strikingly important with regard to the sovereignty of the State of Alaska. The lawsuit brought by Mr. Sturgeon, an Anchorage resident, in September 2011 is a fairly straightforward one and at 21 pages can be considered brief. It is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuit’s central contention is this: Mr. Sturgeon and his many supporters argue that the National Park Service does not have the authority to enforce its regulations on state waterways that pass through lands under control of the federal agency. The point of debate is a phrase in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, approved by Congress in 1980. Section 103, subsection (c) of the act reads as follows: “Only those lands within the boundaries of any conservation system unit which are public lands (as such term is defined in this Act) shall be deemed to be included as a portion of such unit. No lands which, before, on, or after the date of enactment of this Act, are conveyed to the State, to any Native Corporation, or to any private party shall be subject to the regulations applicable solely to public lands within such units.” Mr. Sturgeon, in his lawsuit, alleges the National Park Service abided by that language for 15 years, limiting its authority on state lands — the term includes the submerged land of the waterways —within federal conservation units. But it was in July 1996, the lawsuit says, Park Service leaders chose to extend their authority to encompass navigable waters within conservation unit boundaries “without regard to whether these navigable waters were owned by the state of Alaska.” In doing so, the Park Service decision suddenly made numerous regulations applicable in Alaska. One of those regulations prohibits the use of hovercraft on public lands within boundaries of Park Service conservation units. Mr. Sturgeon at the time owned a hovercraft and had since 1990 regularly used it to access moose hunting grounds within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve and upriver of the preserve, traveling on the Yukon and Nation rivers. The genesis of his lawsuit came in September 2007, when on a moose hunting trip, Mr. Sturgeon needed to bring his hovercraft to a gravel bar to repair a steering cable. Three armed Park Service law enforcement employees approached him, according to the lawsuit, and told him it was illegal to operate a hovercraft within the Yukon-Charley’s boundaries. “When plaintiff advised the NPS employees that the hovercraft was being operated on a state-owned navigable river and thus the NPS water regulations did not apply, the NPS employees advised plaintiff that he was incorrect,” the lawsuit reads. Following that 2007 incident, Mr. Sturgeon met with Park Service personnel and, because of the Park Service personnel warnings, did not hunt in the area from 2008 to 2010. He sued in 2011, and Alaskans should be glad that he did. A federal judge in Anchorage ruled against him, though, as did the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In both instances, the language in Section 103 of ANILCA may have fallen subject to a version of understanding not in line with the intent of Congress. The state of Alaska submitted a brief in support of Mr. Sturgeon’s view during his appeal to the full 9th Circuit Court. In it, the state argues a ruling against Mr. Sturgeon “upsets ANILCA’s delicate balance between state and federal authority, but it also could be interpreted to impair the ability of Alaska Native corporations to utilize their vast inholdings to secure their economic and cultural well-being as Congress intended.” Further, the state’s filing details the intent of Congress, noting a Senate report accompanying the final version of ANILCA “plainly explains Congress’ intent to prohibit the Park Service from regulating non-federal land as if it were part of a national park and to not allow the Park Service to decide which of its regulations would apply where.” The position of Mr. Sturgeon, the state and others appears strong. Now the matter will be for the Supreme Court to decide. The outcome of the appeal will, regardless of which way the decision comes down, have a direct affect on Alaskans traveling on state waterways that transit units of the National Park System. Alaskans must hope the justices read the language as Congress intended. If not, the Last Frontier, with its promise of freedom and expanse, will lose a little more of itself to the multitudinous pages of a rulebook.

Walker thanks Legislature for pulling together to advance a gasline

This was an historic week for Alaska. Thanks to our state legislators, we took a significant step toward controlling our own destiny. The Legislature held about two weeks of hearings to examine my proposal to buy out TransCanada’s interest, then almost unanimously approved my request to exercise our option to take over Alaska’s share of the gas pipeline project. This is not just a financial or contractual arrangement. It’s so much more. For the first time in a long time, Alaska is stepping up and taking out the middleman between us and our future. Under a prior agreement, TransCanada held the State’s ownership interest in two components of the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas (AK LNG) Project — the gas treatment plant on the North Slope and the gas pipeline itself. While TransCanada has been a valuable partner in the AK LNG project, taking over the company’s interest gives Alaskans greater control over our share of the gasline project. It ensures that we maximize the economic return on the production of our natural gas resources. To successfully build a gas pipeline transport system and market our gas, we must pull together as a team. The next step is to ensure North Slope gas is available for a gasline project. While some of our AK LNG partners are developing multiple LNG projects around the world, we have just this one. The united front shown by the Legislature’s approval of the TransCanada buyout goes a long way toward getting us a pipeline project that secures our economic future and benefits all Alaskans. The benefits of an LNG pipeline system include short-term construction jobs; long-term careers running the pipeline and developing oil and gas reserves; opportunities to help meet the state’s energy needs; and a long-term revenue source for public infrastructure and services. Long before construction begins, this project will jumpstart Alaska’s economy. It will create thousands of jobs. Billions of dollars will be spent and circulated throughout the state. Every project dollar has a multiplier effect—supporting local businesses, retailers and contractors who in turn support other businesses. To ensure those jobs go to Alaskans, we have already begun training local workers in preparation for the type of work that will come with the pipeline. As of 2014, more than 1,600 Alaskans have received training in pipeline construction and maintenance. Once the pipeline is built, we will see hundreds of long-term career opportunities in which Alaskans can run and maintain the pipeline system. And we can expect even more jobs and state revenue from reinvigorated oil and gas exploration on the North Slope. This economic activity boosts local economies and helps provide a base for economic diversification. There will be at least five pipeline off-take points, which means the potential of lower energy costs for Alaskans as natural gas is made available to communities throughout the state. This will enable communities to replace wood and oil with natural gas, which will reduce air pollution and carbon emissions. Approval of the TransCanada buyout is another stepping stone toward making the gas pipeline a reality. Standing united together, we can do this. I thank you, Alaska legislators, for pulling together to provide overwhelming support of this important project advancement.   

The Bookworm Sez: How to spell M-O-N-E-Y

There’s a little jingle in your pocket, and you can’t wait to spend it. So what will you buy? Will you purchase candy or a toy? Is there enough for a present for Mom or Grandma? Or, after you read “M is for Money” An Economics Alphabet” by Debbie & Michael Shoulders, illustrated by Marty Kelley and learn a little more, will you put the jingle in your bank? Why do we even have money? The answer starts with farmers… About 10,000 years ago, when humans decided to stay in one place and grow crops, someone eventually had an (A for) Abundance. In their little (C for) Civilization, then, they were able to trade crops for food and other items. Because it’s kind of hard to carry a bushel of grain in your pocket, money was created as a stand-in. This all has to do with (E for) Economics, which is “the study of how we get things we want and need,” how barter works, and how businesses operate. It’s “the way people obtain items that may be scarce or in-demand.” Let’s say you have (G for) Goods and Services, like lemonade and brownies to sell. The kid next door is selling milk and cookies. You can lower your price to attract customers but you’ll want (I for) Income from your lemonade and brownies, so you won’t want to sell too cheaply. On the other hand, you can raise prices if it’s a hot day and people are hungry. The kid next door can do the same, if she wants — which is a basic definition of a (F for) Free Market. So what do you do if you want more (M for) Money? You can ask your family, friends and neighbors to pay you for special chores, which makes you a (P for) Producer. You can cut your (S for) Spending, and put your money away for interest, which you get when your bank makes a (L for) Loan to someone. You could try making something at home out of the (R for) Resources you already have, and you’ll have (Z for) Zero Profit Condition. Or you could just ask for a bigger allowance. How easy is that? As a parent, that’s a question you have: how easy should it be to explain economics to a child who knows what money is? The answer is inside “M is for Money.” Starting at the earliest possible point, authors Debbie and Michael Shoulders give kids thorough lessons on supply and demand, housing markets, quotas, taxes, and other facets of economics in a way they’ll understand — particularly if you’re around to help fill in the blanks they may still have. It might fill in the blanks that you have, too. Though this book may seem like it’s meant for small children (and the illustrations by Marty Kelley support that), the concepts here could be quite advanced for them. No, “M is for Money” is best for 8-to-11-year-olds. Those are the kids who’ll want to spend time with it. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

Producers let Walker save face in pulling gas tax

Starting with Shell’s announcement Sept. 28 it would be suspending its Arctic exploration program indefinitely, it’s been a rough couple months for resource development in Alaska by any standard. Having regulated Shell’s effort into uneconomic status, the Interior Department then canceled Arctic Outer Continental Shelf lease sales for 2016 and 2017 and refused to stop the clock on Shell’s leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas despite the fact that Shell lost a full year in 2010 because of a federal drilling moratorium following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In between, Repsol and Armstrong announced they were deferring planned work for this winter at their Colville Delta prospect where they’ve spent the past four years proving out a substantial discovery. The result is that some 500 contract employees won’t be working there this year. Unlike the situation with Shell — which has no silver lining and ripple effects now include the suspension of work studying a deepwater port at Nome — there was at least some positive in the statement from Repsol and Armstrong. The companies announced that when developed, the Colville Delta prospect could produce 120,000 barrels per day. That would be a much-needed, huge boost to throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System although current prices and the prospect of years of permitting makes the timing of production impossible to guess. Just look at ConocoPhillips’ CD-5 project — a notable bright spot as oil is now flowing for the first time from the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. It took 12 years between the environmental impact statement and the first oil at CD-5, a testament to federal obstacles and the anti-development cabal of NGOs that are often indistinguishable. ConocoPhillips did receive a key permit for its Greater Moose’s Tooth-1 project, although whether its board of directors will sanction development in the current climate of oil layoffs and capital expenditure pullback is also an open question. Amid federal roadblocks in the OCS and the natural price cycle that the state cannot control, Gov. Bill Walker decided to monkey around further with the Alaska LNG Project by calling the Legislature into a special session with instructions to consider his threat of a gas reserves tax against producers who decide against participating. Setting himself up for another fight with the Legislature he surely knew he was destined to lose, the producers threw Walker a lifeline for  a way out of his ill-conceived, undefined and probably legally indefensible idea. ConocoPhillips and BP sent Walker one-page letters stating they would provide the gas they own at the Prudhoe Bay and Point Thomson fields even if they choose not to participate in AK LNG. Walker touted the letters as “written assurances” that gas would go to the project as he abruptly removed the gas reserves tax from the special session (although it has to be questioned whether his office even managed to draft a bill to introduce given the seat-of-his-pants way the governor first pitched the idea on Sept. 24). The letters from ConocoPhillips and BP, of course, are hardly binding as they include the caveat that gas would be provided on a “mutually agreeable” and “commercially reasonable” terms. The ConocoPhillips letter also stipulates that any such arrangement would be “subject to management approval.” So once again, Walker caused a huge fuss over nothing, much the way he announced he would pursue a competing project to AK LNG this past March until the Legislature stopped him by taking his money away from the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. While constantly raising fears of a producer pullout from AK LNG, it’s hard to see how Walker can look at the North Slope today and believe that ConocoPhillips, BP and ExxonMobil are not committed to Alaska. In the past month, CD-5 and Drillsite 2S in the Kuparuk field have begun producing for ConocoPhillips and will add some 24,000 barrels of new oil to TAPS in this fiscal year, representing billions of investment. To the east at Point Thomson, ExxonMobil and BP have spent some $4 billion with a “B” actually constructing the first phase of AK LNG. Point Thomson will supply 25 percent of the gas to the project, but for now will supply 10,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids to TAPS starting the first quarter of next year. It is also the big three producers who have been buying up land in Nikiski for the future site of the LNG processing plant and applying for and receiving the necessary export permits, triggering the scoping process for the environmental impact statement. The producers’ AK LNG spending and permitting in addition to the billions of dollars invested resulting in 34,000 new barrels of liquids for TAPS in this fiscal year calls to mind the truism that money talks and you-know-what walks. The producers’ money is talking, and it’s time for the governor to start listening.

Alaska, U.S. small businesses deserve better on Ex-Im Bank

We all know Washington, D.C., is far away from Alaska, but just because it is far away doesn’t mean that the dysfunction there doesn’t hurt our economy. It does! Since June, Congressional gridlock has sidelined the federal Export-Import Bank. This small agency helps Alaskan companies sell their goods overseas by offering loans and insurance products when no private sector alternative is available. Over the past few years, Ex-Im has helped Alaskan companies export over $171 million in goods. It has helped small businesses break into the export market, allowing them to reach new customers and hire new employees. It has helped larger businesses sell more products, which in turn means more businesses for their subcontractors and suppliers. It has allowed companies such as Salamatof Seafoods of Kenai sell their salmon and other seafood overseas. It has allowed Lynden Air Cargo of Anchorage to thrive. And it has allowed Gunderboom sell its Alaskan-made Subsurface Oil Control System around the globe. In short, Ex-Im has helped create jobs and boosted our economy. Over 65 percent of the Alaska Chamber’s members are small businesses and deserve a chance to compete globally. A small group in Congress has been blocking an up or down vote on this issue. They are trying to kill the bank just to score political points. They call the bank “crony capitalism” despite the fact that Ex-Im is open to all American companies that export goods. They say Ex-Im picks “winners and losers in the economy” but the truth is the only winners Ex-Im picks are American companies — the losers are foreign competitors. The critics claim the Bank only helps large companies, but ignore how 90 percent of the Bank’s transactions are with small businesses. And they say that the Bank hurts taxpayers despite the fact that it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime and helps pay down the deficit. In fact, since the Bank charges the companies using its services interest and fees, the Bank often collects more than it costs to run. Over the past two years, Ex-Im has actually returned $1.7 billion to the U.S. Treasury. Thankfully on Monday (Oct. 26), Congressman Don Young will have the opportunity to stand up for our state. He has the opportunity to support Alaska’s economy and boost jobs here and across the nation. Recently, a bi-partisan majority in the House stood up to those who favor gridlock and dysfunction. They signed a “discharge petition,” which allows any member of Congress to force an up or down vote on the issue. For decades, Congressman Young has been a fighter for Alaska. For 42 years, he has represented us in Washington building a record as a fierce advocate for our state. He knows that it takes a special kind of person to thrive in Alaska. He understands that isn’t always easy to build a successful business in our state. Congressmen Young knows Alaskans want polices that ensure Alaska companies can compete across the globe. Thanks to the modest support Ex-Im provides, which helps level the playing field, businesses from Ketchikan to Barrow can do just that. So, on Oct. 26 we look forward to Congressman Young voting to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank. Rachael Petro serves as the president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber. The Alaska Chamber’s mission is to improve Alaska’s business climate.

Local 71, DOT: Keeping roads clear and safe during winter

It’s 3 a.m. on a Tuesday in the middle of January, and you’re asleep in a warm bed. Outside, blinding snowfall is blanketing the landscape, there’s freezing rain, sleet, and blustering winds. Public Employee Local 71 crews, working for the Alaska Department of Transportation, have already been out in the 30 below weather for several hours, working to beat your 6 a.m. alarm. While you are at work or school, or driving to and from activities and home, the men and women of Local 71 continue to battle the elements to clear, de-ice, and plow our roads and airport runways. We do all in our power to assure that once your car pulls out of the driveway, you stay safe. Alaskans understand the importance of safe highways during winter and the mothers and fathers at Local 71 get it too. We are a part of our community and our state. However, in a time when oil prices have slid from about $110 a barrel to the $50 range, the Alaska State Legislature is doing its job: looking out for Alaska’s best interests in a time of fiscal concern. The bottom line is that there are over 5,000 miles of road to plow, and significantly less money to get the work done. Needless to say, there will be far less time spent clearing and maintaining Alaska’s transportation network this winter. This is not a complaint, we recognize the budget climate and understand some services will shrink. Yet, while there may be fewer dollars to spend, it will not change the Local 71 or DOT passion to keep our transportation network as clear as possible, and our friends and neighbors — all Alaskans — safe. During and after snow events, roads will still be plowed and bridges de-iced, but not as quickly or as frequently as drivers might expect from years past. Crew schedules will change to meet the increasing demand. Responsible budget cuts have eliminated 85 positions across DOT, including 34 in maintenance. Yet, it will not change the Local 71 or DOT passion to keep our transportation network as clear as possible, and our friends and neighbors — all Alaskans — safe. Meanwhile, the state has created a five-tier priority system for clearing roadways, based on their traffic volume, speeds, and uses. Level 1 roadways — those that experience high hourly traffic — include highways, expressways, and safety corridors of major urban and community routes. Level 1’s will get cleared within 24 hours of a storm event. These Level 1 roads are mostly located in cities with larger populations, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. The next type of road that the DOT recognizes is Level 2: major highways with a lesser priority based on traffic volume, which often connect to Level 1 roads. Level 2 roads will get cleared within 36 hours after a storm. The third level includes major local roads, or collector roads, in larger urban areas, and will wait as long as 48 hours before clearing occurs. Minor local roads are classified in Level 4, and can expect winter maintenance within 96 hours. Once you hit DOT’s Level 5 category, these are primarily summer use-only roads, which are not plowed. If you’re wondering about roads near you, check out The Department’s Winter Road Maintenance Priority Map online. Alaskans are tough, and we’re not afraid to tighten our belts or help each other out when there’s a need. When frigid rain coats roads with ice, and deep snow builds up, Local 71 will partner with municipalities around the state to share the load. We drive the same highways and streets as your family. Each one of our 2,500 members is proud to respond to the call to clear and maintain some of the state’s 5,619 miles of highway, 249 rural airports, or 720 public facilities throughout the state.  And at each job, safety is our number one priority. At Local 71 we are committed to keeping roads, parking lots, and runways clear, planes in the sky, and providing meals and maintenance to Pioneer Homes all over the state. We work hard and find great satisfaction in serving Alaska. Dennis Moen represents Public Employees Local 71.

The Bookworm Sez: Getting rich through grift

Your numbers weren’t picked last night. Ah, another worthless lottery ticket. No shopping spree or mortgage payoff for you. You’ll have to go to work and get your incredible wealth just like everybody else. Or, as you’ll read in “Prince of Darkness” by Shane White, you could become rich the old-fashioned way: through grift. Though he showed up in New York City in the wake of scandal, nobody knew for sure where Jeremiah G. Hamilton had come from. Some sources said he was born in the Caribbean — which he admitted to, but he also claimed Richmond, Va., as his first home. Nobody knew, though, because Hamilton, an African American man, spent most of his adult life hiding facts and creating fiction. Wherever he got his start, Hamilton launched himself early: in 1828, and “barely into his twenties,” he was involved in a counterfeit scam in Haiti that would’ve meant death, had he been caught. With the help of locals, however, he escaped and arrived in “Gotham,” but not without notice: newspapers of the day splashed the story, but Hamilton managed to keep mum on who’d helped him.  Almost immediately, he started borrowing money in a “frenetic, almost desperate” way, money he had no intention of paying back, which ultimately landed Hamilton in court: there were at least 10 lawsuits against him between 1830 and 1835, and there may’ve been more. Then came The Great Fire of 1835 in which “dozens of acres” of Manhattan were burned to the ground, along with the records of several businessmen who’d been convinced to invest with him. Hamilton denied the transactions, kept their $25,000, and gained the moniker of “Prince of Darkness.”   For the rest of his life — even after being forced to declare bankruptcy — Hamilton always landed on his feet, “shunned” other African Americans, and even invested in companies that overtly practiced racism. He died in 1875 in a “comfortable and elegant” residence he shared with his white wife and family. So why are history books silent on Hamilton’s story?  That’s a question author Shane White had, after he discovered Hamilton’s name and began digging. Could it have been due to the color of Hamilton’s skin? It’s possible, White says, but in “Prince of Darkness,” he also indicates that the lack of documentation may’ve been because Hamilton rankled white financiers and investors, and didn’t appear to care that he’d done so. That insouciance, in light of the racism that Hamilton surely endured, would be an interesting story itself but White embellishes the tale with an abundance of history and extensive biographies of other influential people of Hamilton’s time. That’s good — to a point — but it occasionally can also makes this book deadly dull. I found my mind wandering much more than I might’ve liked. So is this book worth reading?  I think so, but you may want to give it a rest now and then to regenerate yourself. Start it, take a break, repeat as necessary and you might find “Prince of Darkness” to be just the ticket. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: A new — and improved — Northern Forum is necessary

The Northern Forum — a nonprofit, international association — was formally established in 1991 with eleven regional members from nine northern countries. Its intent upon forming was to improve the quality of life of northern peoples by providing northern regional governments a means to share their knowledge and experience in addressing common challenges.  As Gov. Bill Walker resumes talks with the Northern Forum, we wanted to remind Alaskans of what the Forum is, and more importantly, what it could be. All inaugural members agreed that the future held boundless potential for the Arctic and that together, the northern regions could overcome the challenges that each were facing. They hoped that the Forum would generate international awareness, respect and legitimacy for the issues northern communities face. While in its early years the Northern Forum certainly accomplished this, the reality is that the Forum’s efficacy has waned in the recent past. The creation of the Arctic Council in 1996 certainly had a lot to do with this, as eight nations came together to address sustainable development and environmental protection. The inclusion of Permanent Participants, who represent indigenous groups, in that body, as well as the increase in observer states and organizations over the years, resulted in the Arctic Council becoming the face of the Arctic in the public’s mind. Even as the Arctic Council has moved forward as the intergovernmental forum in the Arctic, so have increasing calls for more local input, regional participation, and inclusiveness. That said, the Arctic Council will remain the focal point for international cooperation into the future, even as the future of Arctic governance truly rests in the concerns and capabilities of local or regional collaboration, which is where the Northern Forum has a greater role to play. Without formal and active engagement between the Arctic Council and the Northern Forum, efforts by either to address the economic, living, cultural and environmental conditions of northern peoples will fall flat. In place of repeated calls for the Arctic Council to open its doors and for inclusion and transparency, we argue that that the current capabilities within the Northern Forum be harnessed to address this gap. The Northern Forum is already an “observer organization” to the Arctic Council and provides the means for regional inclusion and local investment in the Arctic Council. The challenge is to fully realize that potential. We hope that the states, territories and other regional governments of the North can come together in a “New Northern Forum.” A Northern Forum with full participation across the Arctic, with active leadership from northern governors and premiers, and with robust participation in the Arctic Council would bring the reality, richness and responsibility of the Arctic back to the peoples of the Arctic. It will take careful leadership from current and potential Northern Forum members to right the ship and steer it through this uncharted territory. It will take intentional collaboration between regional governments — each of which have pressing domestic concerns — but the long-term benefits will outweigh the costs as together northern peoples articulate very clearly shared and individual perspectives and priorities, and work to bring these and local assets into the outcomes of the Arctic Council. At the same time, there are best practices that the Northern Forum can apply in the short term that will resonate with a broader membership and make its actions more effective. These include: • Establishing a regional Secretariat in North America, the Nordic Arctic and Russia that can support a diverse membership • Lowering membership fees to better attract regional governments, even as increased outreach is conducted to bring in local governments and the business community • Developing and implementing a strategic plan that corresponds to the vision of northern governors, premiers and regional policymakers A New (and Improved) Northern Forum has the potential to fully represent northerners in the policy-relevant discussions taking place at the Arctic Council. This step will also help realize the Arctic Council as a “model of cooperation” even as it advances local governance, which will be a critical element of the future of the Arctic. Alaska’s Governor — and others — will need to act to fully leverage this opportunity. They can do this by working together within the Northern Forum structure, reinvigorating and investing in this body in a way not seen since Gov. Hickel. The founding members of Northern Forum included: Yukon; Heilongjiang Province; Lapland; Hokkaido; Dornod, Mongolia; Trondelag and Tromso, Norway; Chukotka Autonomous Okrug and Magadan Oblast, Russian Federation; the Republic of Korea; and Alaska. Alaska State Sen. Lesil McGuire is the current co-chair of the Senate Special Committee on the Arctic and the former co-chair of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission.  During her tenure as president of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region she established the Arctic Caucus where she serves as co-chair. Nils Andreassen is the executive director of the Institute of the North, an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to inform public policy and cultivate an engaged citizenry. The Institute has a legacy working on Arctic infrastructure priorities and policies that serve to strengthen and connect northern communities. 

The Bookworm Sez: Leading from the heart

If anybody asks, you’ll tell ‘em straight: you love your job. It’s perfect for you, and it takes advantages of your strengths. That’s plenty to love, although there are times when you wonder if it could be even better. According to author Tommy Spaulding, you might be surprised — and in his new book “The Heart Led Leader,” he explains. Changing your life and your organization, says Spaulding, is an 18-inch journey. That’s approximately how far it is from your brain to your heart. But by heart, he doesn’t mean the thing that pumps your blood, and he says he’s not being “touchy-feely.” Spaulding believes that love is at the very basis of every successful organization, and cultivating an unselfish desire to do good for others is integral to leadership. How many businesspeople do you know, for instance, who make it a point to know a little bit about each of their employees? Spaulding introduces readers to CEOs who do, and he explains how that genuine interest and compassion drives results in attainment, shareholder success, sustainability, and bottom lines. He tells stories about how love changed the cultures — and profitability — of formerly-failing companies. And he writes about one entrepreneur who forgave big, and the lives it changed. It’s all about relationships, he says, and one statement sums up everything: “do right.” It also helps to know who you are, who you serve, and who you love. That knowledge, says Spaulding, will make you a “Who Leader” and will further your path to become a Heart Led Leader. Other things to take with you: openness, which Spaulding claims works in places other than business; humility, which helps you think of others more; and emotional vulnerability, which allows others to be vulnerable, too. Have a keen passion for what you do and display it to your employees and customers. Practice selflessness by never losing sight of the overall team. Be someone who’s genuine. Have (and demonstrate) faith in yourself and those who work for you. Show empathy to employees by remembering that they have hard times, too.  Learn to forgive.  Offer encouragement. Be honest. Oh, I tried so hard to like this book. I really did. Instead, “The Heart Led Leader” kind of made me squirm: despite author Tommy Spaulding’s assurances that his method isn’t new-agey-touchy, I sure did feel like it was. Yes, I’ll admit that some of what Spaulding espouses is sound. Employees do appreciate caring bosses, and they’ll tend to emulate CEOs with passion. I can’t imagine having a workplace without dignity or authenticity, and every business owner in the world understands the importance of good relationships. But there are limits, I think, and this book tiptoed pretty close to there. The advice is good, in other words, but I question the open emotions-forward methods. I think what’s inside this book may certainly work in some places. In others, definitely not, and readers should be watchful of that. “The Heart Led Leader” may turn your business around — or you may not love it one bit. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Feds should turn over forest lands to Alaska

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, made an interesting point about the U.S. Forest Service on Sept. 29 during a congressional hearing on federal timber policy. It came while Young was highlighting the differences between the timber programs managed on State of Alaska lands versus those on federal land controlled by the Forest Service, saying that the Forest Service takes five years on average to put up a timber sale while the state only takes two years — and the state puts up a much higher percentage of its available timber than does the Forest Service. “I look at this and the Forest Service is no longer the Forest Service, it’s the Park Service,” Young said. “They’re not trying to manage the timber.” The concept of national forests as being mostly off-limits to timber harvesting was noted also by Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chelsea Goucher, who told the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Lands in Washington, D.C., that the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest encompassed 90 percent of the land in Southeast Alaska, “91 percent of which is categorized as roadless and therefore functionally unavailable for any type of development.” This includes further development of hydropower generation, according to Goucher, who, in response to a question from Young, added that the Forest Service’s program for issuing special use permits for local businesses to provide services for cruise ship passengers in the Tongass is inadequate to meet the demand. The picture emerges of an agency that cannot or will not provide for timber harvesting as part of the multiple-use mandate for national forest lands, nor does it accommodate demand for recreational use of the national forest. Has it, as Young suggests, simply become a manager of off-limits parks? Not yet. But it might have few choices for anything but hands-off management soon. Later in the hearing, Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts, remarked about how $700 million had been transferred out of this year’s Forest Service budget for non-fire items and into efforts to fight wildfires. That’s $700 million moved out of things like timber sales programs and recreation nationwide, just this year. Now, it doesn’t sound like the wildfire situations in the Lower 48 are likely to improve anytime soon, although Young did assert that the current wildfires are the result of decades of inadequate forest management. Nor are there indications that future federal budgets will boost Forest Service funding in the near or long terms. What becomes of the Forest Service then? Some trends have begun to surface. Nationally, the agency’s ranks have thinned during the past decade. Young railed about the number of boats and kayaks visible in Forest Service lots, but even the agency’s frontline facilities appear to be operating with fewer staff. Local trail maintenance appears to be falling off. Some recreational cabins have been closed, and some Forest Service roads in southern Southeast Alaska have being taken out of service. On the timber side, constantly having to sort through legal actions over every sale involving old-growth forest must be a serious drain on Forest Service coffers. The agency also is torn between competing viewpoints on harvesting timber. At what point does the Forest Service become unable to actively manage national forests for multiple-uses — or any use? When will it be reduced to just patrolling the fence around a de-facto Tongass National Monument? This dim view of the agency’s present and future capabilities to provide for multiple-use development is a likely factor in Young’s legislation that would allow states to select and acquire federal national forest land for timber harvesting and other uses. Introduced Sept. 29, Young’s “State National Forest Management Act of 2015” would allow states to acquire up to 2 million acres of national forest service land. Goucher spoke in support of the concept Sept. 29, saying that it could result in 2,500 jobs in Alaska. “State managed lands are accountable to clear mandates and generate significant revenues for stakeholders, while federally managed lands often lose taxpayer money and frustrate local development and community growth,” she said. There’s logic to the proposal. If the feds can’t or won’t actively manage the land, why not give some of that land to the states? We look forward to seeing what Congress does with this concept. Meanwhile, Alaska should ensure that it’s capable of administering any lands received from the federal government. Gutting the state timber offices — something that the Alaska Legislature was poised to do earlier this year — isn’t the way to go.

Producers want gas by 2025. Does Walker?

When it comes to the Alaska LNG Project, it appears Gov. Bill Walker is more interested in negotiating the pre-nup than he is in planning the wedding. With his latest shot from the hip directed at the project so critical to the future of Alaska, Walker is pitching the idea of some kind of natural gas reserves tax levied against producers who decide against participating in AK LNG. Walker called the Legislature into a special session beginning Oct. 24 to review gas reserves tax legislation in addition to appropriating funds from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to buy out TransCanada’s interest in the project. However, Walker has no bill for the Legislature to consider yet on the gas reserves tax and he was unable to explain how it would work at his press conference Sept. 25. There is no bill to review because Walker decided to push for the gas reserves tax sometime between his meeting with House and Senate leadership on Sept. 21 and his call to a special session Sept. 24. Responding to legislators who said they were blindsided by his tax proposal after he did not mention it in their Sept. 21 meeting, Walker claimed that he told them he was “working on” something for project certainty, as if they should have interpreted that as him planning to ask for a gas reserves tax. Walker said he was “hoping” to hear something from his negotiating team on terms of a withdrawal agreement he has been seeking since taking over the effort last December. When no accord was reached, Walker decided to seek a gas reserves tax instead. “This is in place of the withdrawal agreement,” Walker said Sept. 25. Much like his announcement through a newspaper column in March that he wanted to pursue a state-owned, competing gas project to AK LNG, Walker doesn’t have a plan beyond getting in front of a microphone and repeating a bunch of populist pablum about “Alaska first” and justifying his actions by raising the unfounded specter of a producer pulling out of the project. One of Rep. Don Young’s favorite expressions about government regulation is “a solution in search of a problem,” and that certainly applies to Walker’s threat to use a gas reserves tax against producers who have shown no indication they are walking away from AK LNG. This is all likely a moot point, though, as Walker has a better chance of convincing President Obama to open ANWR than he does of selling the Legislature on a bill he can’t even describe yet. Walker also said Sept. 25 that he spoke with each of the three North Slope partners the day before and, “I have not received a strong outcry from the producers on this. It’s only a problem if they’re not going to allow the gas they control to be used in a project. That would be an admission to me that they have no intention of doing a project. So let’s find that out now rather than 10 years from now.” It didn’t take 10 years, but about 10 minutes, before both ExxonMobil and BP issued statements against the idea of a gas reserves tax. Exxon said it would “undermine” the project and BP said it would make it “more difficult.” By Walker’s reasoning, their objections must mean BP and Exxon “have no intention” of doing the project. Of course, no such thing is true, and it illustrates how Walker’s words routinely outrun decorum when he talks about the state’s project partners or the legislators he described as “un-Alaskan” back in March when they introduced a bill to stop his competing gas project. Walker complains that the state has no leverage with the producers to keep the project on track for a mid-2020s startup for gas sales. He should read the filing BP and Exxon made with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Sept. 8 in support of their request for additional gas offtake at Prudhoe Bay to supply the AK LNG Project. In the document, the companies state unequivocally that a 2025 startup for a major gas sale project results in a four-fold increase in total hydrocarbon recovery from the Prudhoe Bay pool compared to oil alone, and every year of delay reduces potential gas sales as it would continue to be used to fuel operations supporting oil recovery. Without a gas project, it becomes less and less economic to maintain the North Slope oil infrastructure that will have been in place for nearly 50 years by 2025. From the filing: “A later MGS (major gas sale) start-up also increases the uncertainty that the project can deliver a full 30-year project life due to declining oil production and revenues which underpin the project, and due to increasing project risk from aging facilities which could reduce project life and thus ultimate recovery, reducing the potential incremental recovery relative to a 2025 start-up.” According to the BP-Exxon filing, a 2040 startup compared to 2025 would result in a reduction of about 1.5 trillion cubic feet in gas sales versus an increase in oil production of only about 100 million barrels. Considering the billions of dollars the three producers have invested on the Slope, that sounds like a whole lot of motivation to make AK LNG happen on schedule. Although it was bad enough, the gas reserves tax floated by Walker on Sept. 25 wasn’t the only discomforting thing he said at his press conference. He dismissed as “absurd” a question about how the state would finance a quarter of a $60 billion project if it buys out TransCanada, or how it could finance even more if a producer pulled out. Before the state could try to finance $15 billion, it will cost the state at least $108 million to buy out TransCanada, plus cash calls for the remaining pre-front end engineering and design, or pre-FEED, and another $500 million for its share of the $2 billion FEED process that is supposed to begin next year if all parties agree. And if there’s no real budget reform passed in the 2016 session, credit rating agencies intend to rapidly downgrade the state’s credit status, which will only drive up any financing costs. Walker went on to suggest that the state could sell part of its 25 percent share in the project to some of the Asian customers he recently met with in Japan as a means to finance the project. He cannot be serious. It is an irreconcilable position to demand Alaska be in the driver’s seat of this project and also contemplate selling off pieces of the state ownership to Japanese customers who do not have the state’s best interests at heart. Surely there are some over there who would be glad to spend a few billion up front that they can write off against cheap gas over 20 years, but does that sort of deal maximize the value of the resource for Alaska? Walker said he wants “project certainty” from the producers, but at the same press conference he said, “the market is going to determine if it’s going to happen. The financial markets are going to determine if it’s viable.” In other words, there is no way for the producers to give him a guarantee of project certainty at present when by his own admission the consumer and financial markets will determine whether AK LNG advances. Finally, Walker once again cited the multiple LNG projects under consideration by ExxonMobil as reasons for the state to be ready to go it alone or without one of the current partners. “I can’t control when we’re competing with eight other projects for one company, how we’re going to stack up in that queue,” he said. For the leader of an “owner state,” Walker has plenty of control for how AK LNG stacks up, and his latest idea doesn’t do anything to move it ahead in line. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]skajournal.com.

It’s time for Alaska to drive its destiny as an owner state

Earlier this week (Sept. 21), Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott and I enlisted the help of seventh-grader Shania Sommer from Palmer to announce the amount of this year’s permanent fund check. We wanted one of our promising youth to be the face of the dividend to highlight the importance of ensuring a bright future for the next generations of Alaskans. It is with those young Alaskans in mind that I write this. When Alaska became a state, Congress mandated that the new state could not sell its resources in the ground. Whereas other states have the right to transfer land so private citizens can own and develop mineral wealth, Alaska cannot. The intent was for Alaska to retain ownership of resources, like oil and gas, to fund our government. Thus, Alaska became an “owner state.” With the discovery of hydrocarbons first in Cook Inlet, and later at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska developed a state government that is largely funded by oil revenues from state and federal lands. Traditionally, states have taxed oil and gas either under a property tax or a tax on production volume. Since Alaska chose to tax based on production, we exempted the value of the assets in the ground from taxation. Instead, we only levy a property tax on improvements, like wells and pipelines. Our current tax structure assumes leaseholders would diligently develop our resources. That has proven unwise. The problem is compounded by the fact that royalty payments by those companies are also based on production.  The consequence is Alaska does not receive income from undeveloped natural gas on the North Slope, and because the leaseholders do not pay taxes or royalty on gas in the ground, there are no penalties for not developing. When I became governor, I inherited a gasline negotiation process which began in June of 2014 under Senate Bill 138. While the technical work is progressing fine, very little has been accomplished on the necessary commercial agreements. That is because the process assumes all parties are equally motivated to build this gasline. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Each producer has its own internal corporate priorities designed to maximize stockholders’ rate of return against all other global possibilities. Therefore, the negotiations only progress at the pace of the most reluctant partner. I am doubtful this process, as structured, will ever result in a project moving forward on a timeline, and with conditions, acceptable to Alaskans. That is why I am taking a significant step to ensure Alaska finally is able to monetize our vast North Slope natural gas. One piece of the legislation I will submit to the Legislature for the special session this month will reinstitute a reserve tax on gas that is not developed. Gov. Jay Hammond signed a similar piece of legislation in 1975 in order for Alaska to receive much needed oil revenue prior to construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Those taxes were treated as a prepayment of taxes once oil began to flow. Similarly, with my legislation, the taxes would only be paid if the gas is not shipped. Gov. Wally Hickel famously told those who then held leases on the North Slope, “You drill or I will!” They drilled, and because of that, we have Prudhoe Bay today. We have waited for nearly 40 years to see our gas moved to Alaskans and the world market. There have been many gasline efforts to date, but none have been successful — largely due to reluctance from some producers to allow the gas they control to go to market and because there is no financial repercussion for keeping our gas in the ground. A gasline is estimated to return several billion dollars of revenue to the state every year. As Alaska grapples with a multi-billion dollar deficit, the project has gone from a wish-list item to a must-have. As we watch dozens of competing LNG projects being advanced in other parts of the world — many by the same companies we are working with today on AK LNG — Alaska must take steps now to ensure we finally receive revenue and affordable energy for Alaskans from our natural gas. Some will criticize this bold step. But I say it is long past time for Alaska to stand up, work closely with our partners in AK LNG, but never again have Alaska’s future determined by others. If a producer chooses to advance one of its competing LNG projects rather than Alaska’s, then so be it. However, that producer must not be allowed to prevent the gas the company controls in Alaska from being sold or shipped in our gasline. If the company does, then it will have to pay to keep the gas in the ground. Think of it as Alaska’s insurance policy for the future. If nobody withholds gas from a gasline, then the tax is never used. However, without it, Alaska runs the risk of never monetizing our natural gas resources and worse, never controlling our own destiny.  With the passage of a reserves tax, the probability of an Alaska gasline being constructed will be vastly improved. It is time Alaskans step forth, in the great Alaskan spirit of Govs. Hickel and Hammond, to act like the owner state we are. If we insist our resources be developed, and create fair economic consequences if they are not, we will be successful — but only if we have the political will and courage to do so. Gov. Walker issued a proclamation for special session to begin Oct. 24.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Got an extra $2 grand? Tips on the best way to use your PFD

Come Oct. 1, most Alaskans will have an extra $2,072 in their pockets when they receive their Permanent Fund dividend checks from the state. When faced with that sum of money, it’s decision-making time. While a trip to Hawaii is tempting as winter approaches, there are other places to use this money that will have longer term benefits for your family’s budget — and happiness. De-stressing somewhere tropical sounds appealing, and, if you have the money budgeted for it, don’t have any debt, and have a good amount of savings for emergencies and retirement, go for it. But most people aren’t in that enviable position. So consider de-stressing at home instead. Studies show that one of the biggest causes of stress is money. The less control of your financial situation, the more stress you have. So, taking control of your finances is the best way to de-stress. Deal with your debt First, look at what kind of debt you have. Some debt is good debt — a mortgage, for instance — because the interest is tax deductible and the house is an investment. However, if you have any credit card debt, you need to tackle that first. It may not be as satisfying to put all (or most) of your dividend toward credit card debt, but there is no investment that will make more money than paying down your credit card debt to save that interest. If you don’t have credit card debt, but you do have college loans or car loans, look at paying those down. Can’t handle the thought of using your entire dividend towards debt? Make a plan to use 80 percent towards debt, put 10 percent into emergency savings and then use 10 percent on something fun. While you may not be able to go to the Hawaii with $200, you could enjoy a mini-vacation overnight in a luxury hotel. A penny saved is a penny earned Is your debt under control? Good for you! In that case, the dividend is an excellent opportunity to bump up your retirement savings. You could put your dividend into a Roth IRA, which would allow your money to grow tax-free — and you would be able to withdraw it when you’re ready and not pay any taxes on it when you withdraw. It’s an excellent complement to a regular IRA or 401(k) where you invest money pre-tax but then pay taxes when you take them out. If your retirement is well-funded and you have children, think about putting your tax dividend into a college savings plan. Financial planning can put a vacation within reach If you want help with your savings plan, it’s a great idea to meet with a financial planner. Most banks have them, including KeyBank. Financial planners help customers look at the entire financial picture — loans and mortgages, savings and investments — and create plans to make the most of family income. Maybe even save for that Hawaiian vacation — without incurring debt and the stress of paying it off. Brian Nerland is Market President of KeyBank in Alaska. He can be reached at [email protected] Need some inspiration? Here is how some Key bankers are using their checks: “I will make a gift to a charitable organization and put the remainder into savings.” — Brian Nerland, market president “I am splitting it between an emergency savings account and a surprise four wheeling trip for my son’s birthday.” — Tracey Thomas, business banker “I am setting some aside for my emergency savings account and then splurging on a weekend vacation.” — Ryan Wagner, area retail leader “My sons’ PFDs will go into their 529s for college, and then my husband and I will use ours for something fun for our family!” — Tracy Morris, commercial banker “I am saving for college and then enjoying a winter vacation.” — Joe Murry, commercial banker “It’s all going into the college fund!” — Lori McCaffrey, commercial banking team leader

The Bookworm Sez: Best advice is try, try again

If at first you don’t succeed … Was there ever a more irritating thing to say to a kid who cried, “I can’t”? Try, try again. Give it another whirl. Quitters never win and anything worth doing is worth doing well: all advice you hated hearing as a child but that you took with you to adulthood. And, as you’ll see in the new book “Gold Standard,” so did Kym Gold. As the third in a set of triplets born to parents who were expecting just one baby, Kym Gold fought for everything she got from the moment she entered the world. When her parents split, moved on and started new families, she felt lost. She hated creating a scene, but she longed to be seen as an individual, rather than a triplet or one of what seemed like too many kids. Though she was close to her sisters as teenagers, Gold said the girls were often at odds as they tried to find their own niches. Each of them had strengths that the others didn’t have; Gold, the organizer of the trio, realized that she had a flair for design and fashion, and she hated hearing “no.”  Those personality assets served her well when, as a teen, she discovered that certain clothing designers near her Malibu home would sell to her their damaged-and-defective t-shirts for a pittance. Gold mended and personalized the shirts, then sold them for a tidy profit at a small booth on the beach. She named her new business and set about learning how to run it, then entered design school, and tasted other careers.  During this time, Gold also got married, but she’d lost sight of a rule she’d learned from male family members in her childhood: never rely on a man. Gold’s husband cheated on her so she divorced him and she married someone else not long afterward. From there, Gold’s road to fame and True Religion jeans was a rocky one: she started and lost several clothing labels over the years, but she learned from each experience. She raised a family, and capital for more endeavors. And in the aftermath of losing her second husband and her business in the same day, Gold found her resolve… So what? Those were two words that came to my mind over and over. So author Kym Gold started a series of businesses. So she flitted from idea to idea. So she made and lost scads of money. Stand in line. So what? And then it hit me: try, try again. “Gold Standard” is the epitomical story of that old saying and Gold has the tenacity of a terrier. Her life, as depicted in this book, is like one of those bop-bags from childhood: she just kept bouncing back up. So what? So motivational. Keep in mind that this book is rough. It’s choppy, rambling, filled with childhood pity-partying and name-dropping, and it begs for a bit more formality — but overlook it, and you’ll find inspiration. For that alone, “Gold Standard” is worth a try. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

AJOC EDITORIAL: GOP should, but won't, nuke filibuster on Iran deal

The symbol of the Republican Party is an elephant, but at this point it might as well be a flatworm. Both are weak and spineless, most of them are parasites, and they eat and excrete through the same opening. The latter may sound harsh, but nothing better describes the qualities of what comes out of their mouths lately. The blogger Ace of Spades who coined the term “Failure Theater” should earn an entry into the Oxford English Dictionary for perfectly describing the series of orchestrated Republican defeats spun into campaign pitches for just a few more dollars and congressional seats. As it turns out, the only thing that can motivate the Republican leadership in Washington, D.C., to act like a real opposition party is to go after the voters who handed them back-to-back midterm landslides in 2010 and 2014. But when it comes to actually opposing the party of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama that gleefully ran roughshod over Republican minorities for six years, the GOP “leaders” Mitch McConnell and John Boehner shrug and tell the people who gave them power that there’s nothing they can do and just give us a break, will ya. “We don’t have the votes,” they whine. “Obama will veto it anyway,” they sniffle. “Now c’mon and help us pass TTIP and reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank so we can make the Chamber of Commerce happy,” they plead credulously. With that absence of awareness it is no wonder they are still dumbfounded by the rise of Donald Trump and the corresponding raising of the middle finger of the people toward the Potomac. Reid and the Democrats’ threats to prevent an up-or-down vote on the Iran deal through a filibuster is a perfect opportunity for McConnell to show he possesses the intestinal fortitude that would differentiate himself from the flatworm that lacks any guts whatsoever. McConnell does have the votes to change the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster on this vote — or, frankly, any other vote — but baby steps toward walking like an upright humanoid instead of something for Obama to scrape off his shoe would count as progress. When Reid began to realize that 2014 would flip control of the Senate, he nuked the filibuster for the nakedly partisan purpose of stacking the D.C. Circuit Court with liberal Obama appointees. Based on that action alone — and the grave geopolitical consequences of the Iran deal that will be dealt with for generations rising to a far greater significance than the justification for Reid’s power grab — McConnell could easily stand on principle and see to it that a vote is held and Obama is required to issue a veto. It would be a fight that would be lost, but at least it would be a fight instead of a preemptive surrender. That scenario is about as likely as the GOP ever presenting that alternative to Obamacare they’ve been promising since March 2010. Seriously, is five years not enough time to actually put a bill up for consideration? Why, it all seems as if the GOP campaigns of the past three election cycles have been nothing but a fundraising scam. Instead, Republican voters had the leaders they elected to repeal Obamacare planning a legislative fix to preserve the subsidies those same voters were arguing to be illegal based in no small part on the numerous unvarnished accounts of the bill’s architect Jonathan Gruber. Yet these same people have the nerve to question Trump’s credibility or conservative credentials, as if they have any themselves. Another quality of flatworms is that they are bilaterally symmetrical: each side is identical to the other, much the way Republicans and Democrats are today. Trump’s supporters have figured that out. The flatworms never will. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Alaskans embrace executive 'overreach' on Denali

On the eve of President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska, state residents and members of its congressional delegation finally found a bit of executive action they could support. Obama’s announcement Aug. 30 that Mt. McKinley would be officially renamed Denali drew cheers from Alaskans who have long used the Native Athabascan word meaning “the high one” or “the great one” rather than the name assigned by Congress to North America’s tallest peak in 1917. The reaction in President William McKinley’s home state of Ohio was predictable outrage with Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich and House Speaker John Boehner assailing the act as yet another example of executive “overreach” by Obama. Taking out the subject matter, the assaults on overreach could have been issued by any member of Alaska’s all-Republican delegation whether it is new Environmental Protection Agency regulations or Obama’s unilateral decision earlier this year to begin managing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain under a wilderness designation. Changing the coastal plain to a wilderness designation requires an act of Congress, but then again, so does changing the immigration status of millions of illegal aliens, administratively amending the Affordable Care Act to ameliorate some of its most onerous features, or renaming a peak that was designated Mt. McKinley by law. Alaskan congressional efforts to change the name to Denali have been routinely stymied by the Ohio delegation ever since former Gov. Jay Hammond first petitioned to rename the mountain in 1975. Citing a 1947 law giving the Interior Secretary the power to resolve geographic naming disputes, Sally Jewell signed the paperwork making it official on Aug. 28. Lost in all the celebration, however, is the fact that the reason Mt. McKinley survived as the name for so long was because it was dubbed as such by Congress. Obama’s executive decision has no such durability, and the likes of Kasich and Donald Trump vowed to change it back should they win the Oval Office. It doesn’t seem likely that Kasich or Trump or whoever would find a one-day dustup over a mountain’s name more than a year before the 2016 election worth revisiting, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The only good thing about most of Obama’s executive orders is that they can be rescinded by the next president, so it is more than a little strange to see some of his most vociferous critics enjoying this one simply because they agree with the outcome. And speaking of executive overreach justified by popular support, it would have been fun to be a fly on the cabin walls of Air Force One listening to the conversation between Obama and Gov. Bill Walker. “So, Gov. Walker, how were you able to expand Medicaid?” “I couldn’t get Republicans to do what I wanted, so I just did it anyway!” “That’s awesome! It’s what I do all the time. Stupid checks and balances.” On a more serious note, Obama’s trip was all about climate change as expected, and he found some useful backdrops of glaciers and coastal erosion to make his point. He certainly wasn’t going to be photographed anywhere near an oil rig or a producing mine even though he would have had a chance to visit Red Dog on his trip to Kotzebue and it would have been very educational for him to see how Prudhoe Bay operates in its delicate environment. That being said, amid a global economic slowdown and a collapse in oil prices, Obama’s record in Alaska isn’t all bad. Shell is drilling in the Chukchi Sea, ConocoPhillips is drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and will start new production there later this year, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved export permits for the Alaska LNG Project to both free trade and non-free trade countries. Alaska is one of the few places on Earth where this level of investment and actual drilling is currently happening. Obama’s administration hasn’t necessarily made it easy, but it hasn’t stopped it, either. That’s an executive inaction worth appreciating. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Why local fishermen protested the Kenai River Classic

Many people are asking why the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition, or KAFC, supported demonstrations against the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, and the Kenai River Classic fund raising event. Here is a press release KAFC issued to media outlets regarding our participation in the demonstrations against KRSA and the Kenai River Classic that took place last week: “The Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition was formed over ten years ago by a group of local concerned citizens including business owners, ex-guides and retired fishery professionals who believed there was a need in our community for all user groups to work together for sustainable fishery resource management. “We recognize the value of diversity in our community and support a fair allocation of resources for all user groups (commercial fishermen, guided anglers, non-guided anglers, personal use fishermen and subsistence users). This resource sustains us physically, spiritually and economically: “Abundant fishery resources are a driving force in why we live here. We also like to consider ourselves a “Joe Fisherman” organization (no gender bias intended) since we have no commercial interests. “We recognize that outside corporate interests, through the Kenai Classic, have funded one politically dominant organization affecting Kenai River resource issues. KAFC believes this has left the general public, municipalities and other organizations marginalized. “We believe the Kenai River as well as community resources have been negatively impacted. We believe that sound biological principles, not politics, should be the driving force behind resource management. It is time to return to biological management in the best interests of all Alaskans as directed by the Alaska Constitution. “KAFC is demonstrating against the Kenai Classic and KRSA in order to make the participants and donors more aware of how this money is often times spent to spread divisiveness and conflict throughout our community and the fisheries management process. KRSA’s business model seems to be that of power politics rather than cooperative actions to achieve their goals. This endeavor is not well received in our community. “They have demonstrated this time and again with their lobbying efforts to keep the Board of Fisheries meetings away from the Kenai/Soldotna area so that they have a better chance at controlling the outcomes in their favor. Additionally, their unethical treatment of respected local resident, Robert Ruffner, at the BOF confirmation hearings in Juneau last year were reprehensible. They relied on a tactic of untrue character assassination and false allegations to unseat Robert from a position on the BOF. “There are many other examples of unethical behavior from KRSA that lead us to believe that they are not good neighbors or the type of organization we desire in our community. They have been rejected by all municipalities, the Borough, and the Chamber’s of Commerce in both Kenai and Soldotna as not good business partners. Our goal is that the Kenai Classic participants and donors will get the message. Dwight Kramer is a KAFC board member and describes himself as a “Joe Fisherman” private angler dedicated to the well being of the Kenai River fisheries resources.

The time has come for Medicaid expansion

Earlier this week (July 14), I sent a letter to the Legislative Budget & Audit (LB&A) Committee, giving members the required 45-day notice of my intention to accept additional federal and Mental Health Trust Fund Authority funds to expand Medicaid. Before signing the letter, I met with the LB&A chair to explain my intentions. Alaska statute provides that the governor give 45 days’ notice to this committee before accepting money that has not been budgeted if the fund source is not state general funds. Procedurally, the governor notifies the LB&A committee of the funding opportunity. After 45 days, the governor may accept the money, regardless of LB&A action. Governors and legislatures in 29 states plus the District of Columbia have already made the common-sense decision to accept Medicaid expansion. Ten Republican governors have approved Medicaid expansion. Republican legislatures in five states have approved Medicaid expansion. Why? Because it helps their residents, their economies, and their budgets.  A recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on eight Medicaid expansion states — Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia — concluded those states will save a total of $1.8 billion by the end of 2015 as a result of accepting Medicaid expansion. I want to bring those same benefits to Alaska. If Alaska had accepted Medicaid expansion on Jan. 1, 2014, we would already have received an estimated $220 million in additional federal revenue. If we act now, we can expect to bring in $1 billion in new federal health care dollars over the next six years, and save more than $100 million in state general funds. Medicaid expansion also means up to 4,000 new jobs. In the first year that we expand Medicaid, the state will save $6.6 million. This will provide a much-needed boost to our economy and relief to our budget. We can’t afford not to expand Medicaid. This is an opportunity to help our friends and neighbors who may be forced to choose between life-saving medical treatment and bankruptcy. This is a chance to do something for those who cannot work because they’re sick — and can’t afford to see a doctor because they can’t work. By helping people escape these terrible binds, this is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of our communities. Some argue that taking federal money is somehow wrong. Alaska businesses and families pay federal taxes to support many federal programs. These are Alaskans’ tax dollars, and I’m determined to bring it back to Alaska for the good of our people and our economy. Alaska hospitals absorb more than $100 million in uncompensated care each year. Those costs get spread to the rest of us — and threaten the viability of our community hospitals. Based on the experience in states that have expanded Medicaid, Alaska hospitals anticipate a reduction of $20 to $30 million in unpaid bills. Unfortunately, inaccurate information has been circulating about Medicaid expansion. Let’s correct the record. Medicaid is working. In the first three months of this year, Medicaid helped 4,065 Alaskans manage their diabetes; 284 Alaskans received life-saving dialysis services; 628 women had mammograms for early detection of breast cancer, and nearly 4,000 Alaskans received health services at home, keeping them out of more expensive institutions. These services improve lives and save money. The payment system is working. When the new service went live under the previous administration, in October 2013, there were widespread problems. Very few claims were paid correctly. However, the system has improved tremendously since December 2014. Today, over 90 percent of the new claims processed are being paid accurately and on time. Reform is under way. Changes to the personal care attendant program, for example, are saving about $20 million annually. Through a care management program, we are reducing the number of Medicaid recipients over-using costly emergency room services. We anticipate $240 million in savings over the next six years as a result of initiatives to improve and streamline the program, and my administration is working with a consultant to identify further opportunities. It’s necessary for Alaskans. Some people have said low-income Alaskans can get health care at community health centers and similar facilities. That’s just not practical. These facilities offer only limited services — because without Medicaid, they lack reliable funding. Moreover, these facilities can’t provide specialized care such as cancer treatment or cardiology services. During the legislative session, we provided testimony in more than 30 hearings. We addressed every concern and answered every question. Alaskans across the state have cheered when I said I would accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid. Many approached me personally to share their struggle to access medical care. Over the past several months, I have received hundreds of emails of support; many with poignant personal stories of a loved one unable to receive care. We have received more than 150 resolutions of support for Medicaid expansion — from Petersburg to Barrow, chambers of commerce, church organizations, local governments, health care providers and the list goes on. A majority of Alaskans understand that Medicaid expansion makes sense for Alaska. I agree. It’s time.

Reform unsustainable Medicaid program before expanding

Total Medicaid spending exceeded $1.6 billion in fiscal year 2015 and will grow to $2.8 billion by 2025 — even without expansion. Medicaid in its current form is unsustainable and is the biggest cost driver in state government. The governor should work for real reform instead of instituting Alaska’s version of “Walkercare” which has the potential to sink the system we already have. Good intentions aside, those who insist on expanding Medicaid willfully ignore the fatal flaws that make expansion an irrational decision at this time. 1) The Medicaid system at current levels is so very broken it simply cannot deliver anything that resembles quality healthcare to an expanded population. 2) There is no workforce development plan that describes where all the doctors, nurses, phlebotomists and techs to handle all these new people will come from. Dumping more people into the system does not create the healthcare workers to handle them and wait times to see doctors will necessarily increase. 3) We cannot afford this. We are facing billions in shortfalls for the next several years. The legislature is deeply cutting the budget in an attempt to keep up with these multi-year, multi-billion dollar deficits and it is ludicrous to expand when we are sinking in red ink. 4) Contrary to expansionist rhetoric, the feds are not going to pay for this. They say they will, but they can’t — they’re broke. There is no principle of economics at play here, nor is there any federal mandate that will create savings. Expansion will, by design, increase prices because it will increase demand without any corresponding increase of supply i.e. doctors, nurses, clinics etc. That means higher prices for everyone except the able-bodied, childless recipients who are the beneficiaries of expansion. Oh you weren’t aware that’s who the expansion population is? Alaska already provides the most extravagant healthcare plan in the United States for the most needy, the elderly, families with dependent children, pregnant women, and the disabled. The expansion population is mainly, but not entirely, made up of able-bodied, childless adults. What? You thought it was for the most vulnerable among us? Think again. There are many other reasons not to expand Medicaid, but let’s just talk about the most obvious. This is a public policy debate that needs to be debated, not decreed, and the debate needs to include reform.  The legislature is committed to sound Medicaid reforms. That is why our Legislative Budget & Audit committee went out to procure experts to provide the critical information we’ll need to have a reasoned discussion on the topic. These experts will pull from the best reform policies around the country to help us fix our Medicaid program so it is affordable, efficient, and most importantly, sustainable for our most vulnerable citizens. Then, when Medicaid is no longer a mess, we can think about expanding it. To be honest, we may not expand it even then, but it is clearly irresponsible to do it now. We in the Senate Majority began the process to reform Medicaid in the last legislative session. I, with the consent of my colleagues, sponsored a sweeping Medicaid reform bill (Senate Bill 74) and it has worked its way through most of the Senate process. It includes provisions to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, absurd travel expenses and costly self-referrals to specialists. It puts recipients on a health management plan, incorporates telemedicine and initiates privatization to create a much higher level of accountability. Expanding the mess of Medicaid without fixing it first is irresponsible. The governor’s bill has been given a fair shot in the legislature. In fact, his bill has been given deference over our own bill and sits in Senate Finance awaiting continued action when the session reconvenes. Unfortunately, Walker prefers to end run the legislative process and like Obama, act by fiat. That should not surprise us. Obamacare was inflicted on this country by sidestepping the democratic process. Remember the passage by proclamation nonsense in the U.S. Senate? Or, the now famous remark by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, referring to the Obamacare bill: “You have to pass it to find out what’s in it.” Medicaid expansion is simply another piece of Obamacare and as such it should be no surprise that it is inflicted on the people of Alaska in the same way. If Walker truly cares about the people of Alaska, and I have no reason to doubt he does, he should work to reform the system we have. Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

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