OPINION: Misplaced priorities clarified amid coronavirus

From the endless memes to the Tiger King, dark humor will go down as one of the most effective coping mechanisms for isolated and anxious Americans amid a deadly outbreak that has killed and sickened tens of thousands across the country

Unlike some locales that have deployed police drones or actually arrested people for not maintaining a proper distance, our government officials here in Alaska have benevolently allowed us to still go outside.

Thanks to that indulgence I enjoyed one of the biggest laughs I’ve had over the past month.

While walking Dakota along the Chester Creek trail — and after passing numerous fresh camps and endless trash piles — I reached a small collection of playground equipment pathetically draped in yellow tape.

Most concerning as I gazed in sorrow over this plague-ravaged wasteland was realizing the small rocking duck had not been festooned with the impenetrable yellow ribbon of a mayor’s mandate.

With no one but Dakota within earshot, I couldn’t help myself.

I burst out laughing.

It is difficult to imagine more gut-busting evidence that we can trust without fail in government despite its ceaseless complaints of being resourced-starved.

While fanned out across the Anchorage parks and trail systems to weave tape through monkey bars and assiduously avoid picking up garbage or posting abatement notices, the Parks and Recreation Department under Mayor Ethan Berkowitz may have stumbled upon a solution to the problem of illegal camping:

Yellow tape.

If wrapping yellow tape around a swing set can close a playground, then surely a few more rolls strategically strung around some trees will convince the burgeoning greenbelt population to move along, seek help and stop stealing from the neighbors.

Or there is the possibility that Operation Monkey Barred is a colossal waste of time and money.

When evaluated based on risk of spreading the coronavirus, focusing on teeter totters buried in snow versus increasing neglect of the homeless population is akin to solving the draft from a broken window by closing the curtains.

The cruelty of Anchorage’s compassion after years upon years of tolerating open lawlessness is colliding with an easily transmitted virus that’s putting vulnerable people and those who generously care for them at risk.

Anchorage’s elected leaders have allowed this problem to get so out of hand that the working group tasked with helping the homeless is seriously requesting the deployment of the National Guard troops to clean up human waste.

Downtown Assemblyman Chris Constant supports the request. Thank goodness Anchorage voters just gave this district another seat on the Assembly. We’ll be on the right track in no time.

The single most dangerous situation that could contribute to community spread in Anchorage — particularly among the first responders and health care workers we need most right now — has not been reduced over the past month of the mayor strangling the economy and practicing pandemic theater at the playgrounds.

It has gotten demonstrably worse.

Closing Sportsmen’s Warehouse with the stroke of the pen is easy. Closing down sprawling camps taking over streets is more of a challenge. Only one is an act of leadership.

Far secondarily, but shared in common is the mayor’s refusal to follow the lead of governors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire or the original plastic purgers in San Francisco to prohibit reusable bags in stores.

The jurisdictions our mayor and Assembly chose to emulate recognize that reusable bags can spread disease, but apparently our problem is bad enough to keep us out of the park but not bad enough to keep germ caddies out of our stores.

Banning reusable bags would be an admission the plastic bag ban was and is ill-conceived, which is likely why the mayor hasn’t done it. Saving theoretical sea turtles is more important than stopping the spread.

Now, #stayhome, you.

Some misplaced priorities have certainly been clarified amid the coronavirus response, and the state Legislature has been no different.

A couple days after it was reported here that House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston declared she didn’t believe Alaska Natives could be trusted with an extra $1,000 and was therefore against paying out the Permanent Fund dividend early, Senate President Cathy Giessel and Senate Finance Co-Chair Natasha von Imhof sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The letter to Mnuchin, who doesn’t have anything better to do, what with trying to persuade Senate Democrats to expand the Paycheck Protection Program by another $250 billion and literally overseeing trillions of dollars in coronavirus aid, was copied to the congressional delegation but not Gov. Mike Dunleavy and asked what he was “not” allowed to use the state’s share of relief funds for (emphasis in original).

In the tone of a student who reminds the teacher she has yet to assign homework, the letter implies Dunleavy has cited plans for improper use of the funds according to their interpretation of the CARES Act.

At the end of a week with most Alaskans stuck at home and nearly 40,000 on the unemployment rolls, two of the top three leaders in the Senate decided their most pressing priority was to undermine the governor and bother the U.S. Treasury Secretary while not bothering to help any Alaskans.

They were unbothered by the revelation of what has long been alleged but unproven until confirmed by Johnston: members of the shot-caller cohort in the Legislature don’t trust Alaskans with the PFD.

Rather than rectify that wrong by reconsidering their decision to withhold the dividend payment until the fall, Giessel and von Imhof chose to suggest Dunleavy is doing the same thing with his vetoes that they actually did with the PFD.

Not only did they not pay the PFD according to the formula in state law, the amount and the timing were explicitly based on federal dollars from stimulus checks and unemployment benefits as a substitute.

Projection ain’t just a job for laid off movie theater employees.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put some yellow tape around the fridge.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
04/15/2020 - 9:37am