Andrew Jensen

OPINION: Thanks for your sacrifice, Anchorage.

The new order to halt alcohol service by 11 p.m. would be irrelevant to anyone who was taking a drink every time Mayor Select Austin Quinn-Davidson used the word “sacrifice” during her Dec. 29 press conference. Miriam Webster offers this definition of “sacrifice”: “The act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone; an act of killing a person or animal in a religious ceremony as an offering to please a god; a person or animal that is killed in a sacrifice.” As the great swordsman Inigo Montoya observed in a different context to a similarly buffoonish authority: “You keep saying that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” The hundreds of business owners and thousands of employees forced out of work under AQD’s and the Assembly’s arbitrary and unscientific orders are not making a sacrifice. They are being sacrificed in a misguided and cruel attempt to appease the COVID gods. The Mayor Select’s predecessor and her enabling former cohort on the Assembly love to frame the debate over their economically destructive and wasteful spending policies as merely base partisanship. In their minds this absolves them of the merits of criticism even when it comes from upstanding and contributing members of the community who have spent years and sometimes generations making Anchorage a better place only to see this unchecked and unapologetic authority destroy their work in a matter of months. That callous attitude allows Assembly members like Chair Felix Rivera, who literally creates nothing, to casually cut off and brush off the testimony of people who create jobs like La Mex owner Trina Johnson, Bradley House owner Bernadette Bradley and Haute Quarter Grill owner Alex Perez, who was just forced to close Table 6 after nearly 10 years of business. A tragic irony of the last 10 months is that the very people who constantly lecture the public over income and racial inequality are the same ones who are turning that gap into a canyon through their lockdown policies. But this isn’t about Red versus Blue. It is White versus Blue. By every measure, the white collar upper income class — especially politicians — is faring orders of magnitude better than the blue collar class they depend upon to facilitate their work-at-home lifestyle. This comfortable lifestyle of income security and the ability to dedicate attention to the education of their children allows a large percentage of them to smugly “follow the science” and look down at the troglodytes who can read well enough to understand the simple words of the Constitution. The blue collar workers who deliver their food by truck, sea and air, make their takeout, pick their groceries and fulfill their Amazon orders are essential. Blue collar workers who don’t service them personally are the expendable ones. They can get their wine delivered, they are too good to ever step in a dive bar or a neighborhood diner, and they have state of the art entertainment systems and every streaming service they desire. Who needs to worry about keeping theaters open and their staff employed when you can stream “Wonder Woman 1984” on demand? Who cares if the business they ordered from lost money on their takeout because the owner is trying to keep as many people employed as possible by burning through savings? What difference does it make if a business can’t make money or even open at 25 percent capacity? Those people and their employees probably should have made better life choices, like getting a law degree, making fat money off taxpayer dollars and perpetually running for office without a clue about how to run a business. As they turn a cold shoulder to the heartfelt — and heartbreaking — words of the people whose businesses they are destroying they are also playing a shell game with federal CARES Act money while crying poor. Rather than simply creating a few funds for business, nonprofit and individual relief and seeding them accordingly as most local Alaska governments did with their shares of the money, the Anchorage Assembly instead embarked on a quest to divert huge chunks of the $156 million into pre-COVID problems from homelessness to structural issues at the Girdwood Health Clinic and oh-so-desperately needed fat tire bike trail upgrades to be exclusively completed by the Parks and Rec union. Despite receiving its first $116 million on June 22, the Assembly did not act swiftly to ensure business and individual relief was in place before former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz shut down the hospitality industry in August, nor did they replenish funds before Quinn-Davidson did it again in November. The nine-member progressive majority saw the $156 million as a windfall to use as they saw fit to be doled out on their schedule regardless of who was suffering, and when the Treasury Department put the brakes on their plan to use $21 million of it to purchase dilapidated buildings around town for homeless services, they simply lumped CARES money into “first responder payroll” to free up unrestricted general funds. According to the latest state summary, the municipality has allocated $55 million of CARES money to “public payroll.” This complicates an accurate accounting of just where the money is going, but even the muni’s claim of about $103 million in economic relief still leaves more than $50 million not going to that purpose. Meanwhile they call Anchorage’s $156 million allocation “a drop in the bucket.” That is one hell of a drop, but hey, they work in government. In her mercy, the Mayor Select handed out extra paid time off using those general funds as a Christmas bonus to every member of municipal payroll even as her policies wrecked the holiday season for thousands by forcing them into a month of unpaid time off. Thanks for your sacrifice, Anchorage. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Predictions for the New Year

Imagining 2021 could take even more twists and turns is difficult after a year like no other in recent memory, but few could be surprised at this point if it does. So without further preamble, a stab at predicting events we could see in the New Year. Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson will take one COVID-19 test per week until she tests positive again. After proving people can get it twice, she will restrict households to no more than two people and move any extra members into the Golden Lion Inn. The Assembly will approve of this by an 8-0 vote after Eagle River members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy are locked out of the meeting by a giggling Felix Rivera. An attempt to resolve the deadlocked membership of the Alaska House of Representatives through a game of rock-paper-scissors will fail to succeed after more than one hundred rounds when everybody keeps throwing rock. In an effort to finally win a court case, Gov. Mike Dunleavy will sue himself. Alaska gets a break when President Joe Biden approves drilling in ANWR because he thinks it’s in Iran. Republicans will lose both Senate runoff seats in Georgia after the Secretary of State decides to accept Atlanta Falcons jerseys as proof of residency. Television networks trying to lift ratings after setting records during the Trump years will turn to new spinoffs including the Masked Chef, the Masked Pawn Star and the Masked Bachelor. The trend will jump the shark after the debut of The Masked Curse of Oak Island. However, masks in general will surge in popularity after people who’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine won’t shut up about it. Intrigue will unfold in the White House when it is Vice President Kamala Harris, rather than President Biden, who isn’t allowed access to sharp objects. Oil will jump by $10 per barrel after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is named Biden’s Climate Czar and she gets her own private plane to fly around the country promoting the Paris Accords. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will agree to President Trump’s demand for bigger economic stimulus checks after she realizes $600 isn’t enough to fill her $24,000 freezer with her favorite ice cream. In turn she will offer each American a coupon for a personal spa day. After Jan. 20, the media sector will suffer major losses mostly in fact-checking jobs as news organizations return to believing everything that comes from the White House, interviewing Biden’s dog and covering every fashion magazine cover with spreads of Harris and You-better-call-her-Doctor Jill Biden. Some of these predictions are more likely than others, but one is certain: No matter what happens, it least it won’t be 2020. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: An unforgettable, very forgettable year from A to Z

Listen my fellow Alaskans, and you shall hear The story of 2020 A very strange year A is for Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin QD Once a humble member of the town Assembly She was sworn into office on October twenty-three How she got the job is really bizarre With the stroke of the pen she closed all the bars The diners, the theaters, and the bingo halls But she still got the virus So do masks work at all? B is for Biden, the President-Elect Best known for sniffing the occasional neck Whether he knows he won or not, we only can suspect This dusty codger is as old as can be I think that he was born in 1893 He hid in the basement to avoid all the drama Yet somehow got 10 million more votes than even Obama C is for Clarkson, the former AG Who lost his job over the kissy emoji Government officials, you will find when we get to letter E If you don’t want to go out like a clown Before you hit send, put the damn phone down D is for Dunleavy, now halfway through his term To go a month without a biblical disaster Is for what he must yearn Earthquakes and floods, fires and a pandemic Do you think he wishes He would have stayed in the Senate? E is for Ethan, continued from C We saw more of him Than we ever wanted to see The internet is forever but Berky is gone Unfortunately for Anchorage his mandates live on F is for Fund, the Permanent one It’s worth more than $70 billion Will Alaskans get some? G is for Gabby LeDoux who finally lost She must have run out of those voters That are gathering moss H is for Healthcare workers Our frontline heroes Try as they might Cases will never hit zero I is for Independent That’s what Gross and Galvin claimed to be But you can’t spell defeated Without starting and ending with a D J is for Journalism The industry had a bad year Burying the stories they didn’t want you to hear From Hunter’s laptop to Mideast peace in our time Most of them are just Democrats with a byline K is for Kriner Who owns a popular diner To his friends he’s a patriot To his opponents he’s a whiner Whether you think he’s wrong or he’s right He fed hundreds of people on Thanksgiving night L is for Legislature For which there is no good rhyme It took COVID-19 To make them finish on time M is for Masks The most 2020 of all tasks To forget yours, stomp, and say “Blast!” Then to the car you must now walk back N is for Netflix Who gave us a needed fix Of Tiger King and Cobra Kai Big cats and karate kicks It also gave the answer to what we’ve all been askin’ What went wrong in 2020? It was that bitch Carole Baskin O is for Outdoors The only place safe place to eat As long as there is a tent That’s covering your seat P is for the Plain On the coast of ANWR It took 40 years to hold a sale The lawyers hope won’t go far Just don’t wait for them To stop driving fancy cars Q is for Quarantine For 10 days or 14 Make a mess Work in sweats Looking good on Zoom is half the stress R is for Riots Where the virus cannot spread So say our experts Who lost all their cred Burning down a building for justice is fine But don’t open your gym You’re stepping out of line S is for Small business Getting kicked in the knees Meanwhile Amazon and Walmart Are having a party T is for Trump That magnificent bastard Never was a president A bigger champion for Alaska Biden will try to undo everything he did At least on the days his people don’t have to call a lid U is for Unemployment The benefits don’t cut it If politicians had to live on them They’d be fixed in a minute V is for Vaccine We have not one, but two Trump said we would by now And the media poo-poo’d Still they wonder why People call them the Fake News W is for Washington The biggest swamp on Earth Nearly every problem comes from there And their solutions are often worse Don’t wear masks! Now you must! Just two weeks, listen to us! Everything is Red versus Blue Pelosi sucks, and McConnell does, too They keep winning every time Feeding us the same old line Raking in the lobbyist dough No wonder every store is out of ammo X marks the spot Where A to Z columns die No matter how I try and try I gave up and skipped to Y Y is for Don Young Who beat back the corona And made it back to work just in time To vote for marijuana Z is for Zink To whom I owe a drink For all of her hard work And for not having to think About a letter Z To finish up this poem Good riddance to 2020 And good luck in ’21! Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: State forces council to close Cook Inlet for business

The federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council dropped the latest bomb on Cook Inlet commercial fishermen, but it was the Alaska Department of Fish and Game flying the plane. On Dec. 7 of all days, the council adopted the state-backed alternative to completely close commercial salmon fishing in the federal waters of Cook Inlet more than three miles offshore where some half of the salmon harvest is historically taken by the drift fleet. Through his designee to the council, Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker, ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang informed the council that the state would refuse to accept a delegation of federal authority to manage the Cook Inlet salmon fishery. Under the alternative backed by Cook Inlet commercial stakeholders and unanimously supported by the council’s Advisory Panel, the state would continue to manage the fishery in both state and federal waters, but with federal oversight to ensure state management complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. State management that complies with the MSA has long been the demand of Cook Inlet drift fishermen and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with them when it ordered the council to adopt a fishery management plan, or FMP, that applied the federal law to the federal waters of Cook Inlet. By refusing to accept the delegation of authority that would come with federal oversight, the state left the council with no choice but to adopt the alternative that instead completely closes fishing and deals a potential deathblow to hundreds of multi-generation Alaskan permit holders and the coastal community businesses that depend on them. This hardly aligns with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “Open for Business” motto for his administration, yet it is his appointees to ADFG and the Board of Fisheries that are actively attempting to put fellow Alaskans out of business based on the whims of the anti-commercial fishing lobby on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Mat-Su Valley. Cook Inlet is among the most heavily resident fisheries in the state; 75 percent of drift permit holders and 80 percent of setnet permit holders are Alaskans. Many can trace their family fishing history back for decades predating statehood. Bob Penney, who donated more than $300,000 to help elect Dunleavy, has been waging war on Cook Inlet setnetters for decades, up to and including a state ballot initiative that would have banned them entirely until it was struck down as unconstitutional at the Alaska Supreme Court. Restrictions on setnetters adopted by the Board of Fisheries have succeeded in destroying the value of permits and limiting harvests, and the drift fleet that is the boogeyman for the Valley has now been successfully targeted for execution through the federal council. The state crafted a red herring argument that it would be unworkable to manage federal and state waters, but this is belied by existing arrangements in other fisheries. The state has a joint agreement with the federal government to manage Bering Sea crab stocks in which Alaska adopts the harvest strategy based on the federal science and in accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act; the state manages all the crab stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, also in harmony with the MSA. The state likewise manages Yukon River and Southeast king salmon stocks under delegated authority from the federal government that must comply with the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. Therefore the argument that it is impossible or even difficult for the state to manage the federal waters of Cook Inlet in a similar fashion is prima facie nonsense. Simply put, the state doesn’t want to follow federal law in Cook Inlet not because it is difficult, but because it wants to make allocations and manage the fishery without regard to science. This action by the council forced upon it by the state is also a direct slap in the face to the 9th Circuit, which hopefully will not look kindly on its order to comply with the MSA being circumvented through this action to shut down a viable commercial fishery. Ten national standards were added to the MSA when it was reauthorized in 2006 and this action potentially runs afoul of at least half of them. No. 1 requires management to achieve, “on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery.” Shuttering a fishery that will undoubtedly result in foregone harvest does not achieve optimum yield. Resulting overescapement that reduces future harvests for all stakeholder groups violates this standard. No. 2 requires that management measures “shall be based upon the best scientific information available.” There is no science backing up this action. No. 3 requires that a stock be managed “as a unit throughout its range.” Whether no management counts as management will be something for the 9th Circuit to consider. No. 8 requires that management “take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities by utilizing economic and social data … in order to (a) provide for the sustained participation of such communities and (b) to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities.” Killing fishing communities for no reason other than a refusal to accept federal oversight is about as blatant a violation of this standard as can be imagined. No. 10 requires that management shall “promote the safety of human life at sea.” Forcing boats into a smaller area has the potential to create unsafe fishing conditions and unavoidable gear conflicts with shore-based setnetters. In an Oct. 6 letter to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes regarding the Pebble mine, Dunleavy wrote in his opening sentence that, “As governor of Alaska, one of my duties is to create economic opportunity for the benefit of all Alaskans utilizing every available resource within our borders.” Squaring that duty with what his appointees just pulled on Alaskan fishing families in Cook Inlet is going to be a tall order. Explaining how this follows his “Open for Business” policy after we’ve already lost 40,000 jobs will be impossible. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Missing the real story

Too bad for Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is already receiving an Emmy for Best Impersonation of Effective Leadership in a Pandemic. The selected-not-elected mayor of Alaska’s largest city gave a masterful performance on Nov. 25 as she choked back crocodile tears while announcing she was ordering bars and restaurants to close for the third time this year and the second time the municipality has done so without a plan for how to provide economic relief to hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees despite its allocation of more than $156 million in federal CARES Act funds. A former member of the Assembly since elevated to her position after former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was forced to quit in October, Quinn-Davidson is directly responsible for the egregious misuse of economic relief funds that have been diverted into city payroll to the tune of $49 million, Parks and Rec union beak wetting with $4.5 million for bike trails, and $2 million for Visit Anchorage while people who actually live in Anchorage, let alone those who don’t, are being prohibited from visiting Anchorage. Throw in the $5 million for the Girdwood health clinic that is a perfect candidate for a bond issue instead of an opportunistic cash grab from the federal honey hole and the Assembly has squandered more than $60 million, or nearly 40 percent, of its CARES Act money while Quinn-Davidson auditions for a Spanish-language soap opera and demands Congress drop more cash on politicians who have proven to be completely incompetent stewards of putting it to the intended use. As she lived up to the “acting” half of her title, Quinn-Davidson didn’t get any questions about why Anchorage has wasted so much economic relief money even as she claimed the municipality has “only” $15 million left. Nor was she asked why she hadn’t already urged her former colleagues to appropriate the money into exhausted business and individual programs before she unilaterally decided to put thousands of people out of work. A question about the $49 million in payroll spending to the mayor’s spokesperson wasn’t answered and the same inquiry to Assembly Chair Felix Rivera and Vice Chair John Weddleton was similarly ignored. Rather than chasing down the real story of the gross mismanagement bordering on embezzlement of federal money by Anchorage leadership, social and legacy media were tossed into a tizzy by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s community outreach liaison Dave Stieren encouraging people to support their favorite local bars on the last day they could operate until 2021. In full disclosure, Stieren is a good friend of mine. We’ve attended concerts and smoked the occasional cigar together, I’ve had dinner at his home co-hosted by his lovely wife and I had a Friday segment for a few years on his radio show during which we would have a whisky and shoot the bull over current events. That said, however, this is not about defending Stieren, who aborted his plans to support his neighborhood bar on Hunker Down Eve and at least temporarily deactivated his Facebook page as the social media mob descended and some members of the traditional press attempted to drive a wedge between him and his boss. The issue isn’t what Stieren wrote or even if it is newsworthy. The issues at hand are the misplaced priorities of both the Anchorage leadership that has put its budget ahead of household budgets and the media that has almost uniformly made accountability a standard that only applies to the wrong-thinkers like Stieren or others who have protested the onerous, arbitrary and destructive mandates of the current and former mayor and their enablers on the Assembly. Every day that goes by without elected officials in Anchorage being forced to answer for their malfeasance is an outrage as businesses close, temporarily or permanently, and their employees have to worry not just about whether they can even buy Christmas presents for their families but whether they’ll be able to pay the bills and rent come January. Meanwhile our comfortable leaders in Anchorage worry not over their paychecks, their homes or their next meal. They are not even made to answer uncomfortable questions. Uncomfortable questions are only for the governor’s office over a social media post touting the legal and morally defensible activity that is supporting local businesses. Accountability applies to everyone, especially when tens of millions of dollars are being blatantly frittered away and people’s very livelihoods are in jeopardy as a result. Anything less and the Alaska Press Club might as well start handing out its own acting awards. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Some news to be thankful for

After what has felt more like a terrifying plunge with no ups and all downs, this year has been more like a bungee jump than a roller coaster. But two recent developments have snapped us back from impact in the nick of time and given reason for thanks as we approach the holiday season. For one, as President Donald Trump repeatedly promised in the face of nearly unanimous ridicule and skepticism before the election, a COVID-19 vaccine was indeed just weeks away and is set to be deployed before the end of the year including here in Alaska. Encouraging clinical test results and a ready deployment plan are tremendous accomplishments by the public-private partnership under Operation Warp Speed that have buoyed investors and, critically for Alaska, oil prices. The price per barrel has increased by about $4 since Pfizer announced a preliminary 90 percent effective rate for its phase three clinical trial, and year-to-date North Slope crude is about $5 better than the budget forecast. This is not nearly enough to erase the projected budget deficit but is better than a kick in the shins and a long way from the prices that bizarrely and briefly went negative back in April. The Dow Jones average also crossed the 30,000-point mark on Nov. 24, which is good news for the Permanent Fund that is now the largest source of income for Alaska and as of Nov. 20 stood at nearly $70 billion in value. The record total for the Dow and the Permanent Fund came after ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack announced at the Nov. 18 Resource Development Council for Alaska conference that the company is resuming drilling on the North Slope after suspending most non-production activity and briefly curtailing output by some 100,000 barrels per day this past spring. This is outstanding news for jobs — the sector has lost some 3,000 since the COVID-19 induced price crash — and future throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. With approval for its massive Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in hand (followed like clockwork by eco-extremists filing a lawsuit against it), ConocoPhillips is getting back to work and will finally get to deploy the biggest horizontal drilling rig in North America dubbed “The Beast.” Prices weren’t the only factor in the decision to restart its North Slope programs, of course. Crucial was the overwhelming defeat of the deceptively-titled “Fair Share Act” on Nov. 3 by Alaska voters who refused to follow millionaire lawyer and initiative funder Robin Brena off the economic cliff. The dark winter still lies ahead, but progress toward a vaccine and more production on the North Slope has relegated that fact to a mere function of the calendar and no longer a metaphor for where Alaska is going. For that we have reason for thanks. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Anchorage pads payroll at the expense of the public

Forty. Nine. Million. Dollars. According to a state summary of CARES Act relief fund spending, that is how much the Municipality of Anchorage has dedicated to payroll, or nearly one-third of the $156 million it was allocated to mitigate the devastating economic impacts of pandemic-related business closures and job losses. Meanwhile, on Nov. 13 the muni announced that the $20 million it set aside for rent and mortgage assistance has been exhausted. On Oct. 1, the muni likewise announced that it received more applications than it had available for a $6 million small business relief fund and had to make awards based on a random draw. To be clear, these payroll costs are not increases over what has already been budgeted for 2020 from existing funds. The Anchorage Assembly is taking advantage of a perceived loophole in the Treasury Department guidance for spending CARES funds that allows the municipality to presume every dollar of payroll for first responders through the end of the year is related to COVID-19 despite the obvious fact they are not. In an Aug. 10 email to the Assembly, a week into former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s month-long “reset” that closed bars and restaurants to indoor service without any relief available, Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt wrote regarding what was then a $21 million allocation to first responder payroll that “This is NOT an increase to either of these departments. These costs may be presumed to be related to COVID-19 for the entire period that the Title V CARES Act provisions are in effect, or from March 1, 2020 through December 30, 2020.” Since then, the Treasury Department also told the municipality that spending CARES funds as previously proposed to purchase various properties to provide homeless services was questionable at best. By dedicating additional money to payroll, the municipality may use its own unrestricted funds to purchase the properties. Time, like the days, is shrinking to provide the necessary economic relief that threatens thousands of lives and livelihoods across Anchorage as cases increase, more people stay home and the threat of additional restrictions looms. The Assembly is now nearly out of financial tools to address those needs thanks to its ill-thought out plan to pounce on the opportunity to use CARES Act money to deal with the long-standing problem of homelessness. Dedicating more to the payroll budget than to economic and rent relief combined is an unconscionable dereliction of duty. And to be sure, helping the homeless is necessary, but the muni also has a funding source through the alcohol retail tax set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The premise of the alcohol tax is to use the hospitality industry as the muni’s piggy bank to pay for those services, but whether that anticipated revenue matches expectations sort of depends on the hospitality industry surviving this economic crisis. The muni, through the Assembly, is stuffing its own coffers instead. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: A loss for Trump is a loss for Alaska

Statehood, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the authorizing of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System rank as the most significant federal actions in state history, but no president has done more in sum for the Last Frontier than President Donald Trump. For whatever reason, and despite his frequent clashes with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Trump has a particular shine for Alaska and made unprecedented progress for the state in less than four years. The chapters of Trump’s presidency are still being written and this is not intended to be his political obituary with so many legal challenges and recounts unresolved. The Pennsylvania count remains unknown as the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on whether it was constitutional for a state court to extend the deadline to receive ballots by three days and independent of the state Legislature. It was no coincidence that the media in near-unison declared former Vice President Joe Biden the winner less than a day after Justice Samuel Alito ordered Pennsylvania to sequester the late ballots pending an ultimate ruling. The narrative must be given momentum and the public must be dissuaded from believing anything to the contrary or entertaining any suspicion about the witching hour changes to vote tallies across the country. As of press, Trump was trailing Biden by less than 13,000 votes in Arizona from a Nov. 4 deficit of 93,000 and about 33,500 votes remaining to be counted. Georgia is still being contested and where the result on its face makes little sense. Biden somehow leads Trump by 12,651 votes as of press, but fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff trails incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue by 82,000 votes and received nearly 100,000 fewer votes than the former vice president. The down ballot numbers are equally suspicious in the other Georgia Senate race, where the combined vote total for Democrat candidates is almost equal to the number of votes that Ossoff received and, again, nearly 100,000 fewer votes than Biden received. A similar down ballot issue is in Michigan, where Trump and Republican John James received a nearly identical number of votes but Biden received almost 70,000 more votes than incumbent Democrat Sen. Gary Peters. The above are just a few of the outstanding issues that must be addressed for more than 70 million Trump voters to have any confidence in the ultimate outcome. However, the prospect of a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration is not something we have to speculate on as it relates to Alaska. The state spent eight years under former President Barack Obama and Biden being stymied and slow-walked at every turn of the permitting process that impacts pretty much every economic effort in Alaska. Point blank, environmental radicals will wreak havoc on Alaska as the state economy is reeling from a three-year recession and the triple whammy of 2020 on oil prices, tourism and fisheries from the COVID-19 fallout. Battles Alaskans have been fighting for literally decades turned in the state’s favor under Trump: nearly 40 years to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain; almost 20 years to repeal the Roadless Rule, which contrary to media reports is not a green light to clearcut the Tongass National Forest; and more than 25 years trying to build a road from King Cove to Cold Bay that remains tied up in court but was a surprising issue for Trump to take such a personal interest in. A new management plan was approved for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and approvals were granted for the massive North Slope prospects at Pikka and Willow, which have potential to add as much as 300,000 barrels per day in new production. A road to the rich Ambler Mining District was also approved along with the key permit for the Alaska LNG Project. None of this, other than possibly the AK LNG permit, would have happened under Hillary Clinton and the ultimate outcome for these current efforts is far from certain under a Biden-Harris, or Harris-Biden, administration. There were other decisions benefitting Alaska such as reversing the steep increases of premiums in the individual insurance market under Obamacare by funding the “reinsurance” program created by the state Legislature in 2016, and fisheries relief from the White House for trade- or pandemic-related issues were often just a phone call away. Thankfully Alaska voters have returned Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young to Washington against Democrats-in-disguise Al Gross and Alyse Galvin. They also overwhelmingly rejected yet another attempt to raise oil taxes at the ballot box while the outcome remains in question for an ill-conceived experiment to upend our election process funded almost entirely by Outside interests. By sending Sullivan and Young back to Congress, reelecting Trump and turning down the economic suicide of the so-called “Fair Share Act,” Alaskan voters did their part. Counting Alaska’s ballots won’t take nearly as long as it will to know whether the progress for the state under Trump will continue or be put in reverse. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: National media, Big Tech make a bet they cannot win

Anyone who has played poker is familiar with the term “drawing dead.” For the non-gamblers out there, it refers to a situation where the hand is not yet over, but is impossible to win for at least one player still betting. As an example, a player may be staying in because they have or are attempting to make a standard flush but their opponent is already holding a full house, also known as “the nuts,” that can’t be beat by any hand still in the game. The worst-case scenario is the player making what they think is the winning hand “on the turn” before the final card. They overconfidently shove all their chips into the middle of the table only to be called without hesitation and get busted out to the rail wondering what just happened. The national media and the Big Tech monopolies have gone all-in on Joe Biden, but they have already lost no matter what happens after Nov. 3. They just don’t know it yet. They are drawing dead. After spending eight years folding to the Obama administration despite no shortage of scandals or economic stagnation, the national press has abandoned almost entirely even the pretense of objectivity both in the slant of its coverage and its bias by omission when it comes to President Donald Trump. Russian collusion. Wikileaks. Trump Tower. The Clinton-DNC funded and foreign-sourced Steele “dossier.” Michael Flynn. Brett Kavanaugh. Ukraine. Trump’s tax returns. “Suckers and losers.” “Very fine people.” The list goes on and on of false or anonymous stories that have been spread far and wide with the help of Big Tech and the craven complicity of the blue checks in the journalist class that are addicted to Twitter affirmations. After starting this column, a headline popped up on The Hill detailing how multiple CIA officials — anonymously of course — passed along a story of Trump ordering chocolate malts during an intelligence briefing. According to the story, the incident “has become legend” in CIA ranks. This, folks, is why facepalm memes have been created. Meanwhile, these same leftist partisans with bylines have ignored, downplayed or dismissed as “conspiracy theories” the documented abuse of and lies to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on Trump’s campaign and administration; the team of Democrat donors who wiped their cell phones repeatedly during Robert Mueller’s fruitless investigation of Trump; the riots, looting and murder by antifa and Black Lives Matter they have insisted were both “mostly peaceful” while also the fault of “white supremacists”; Hunter Biden’s laptop and his business partner’s emails; a Senate report detailing millions of dollars in payments from the wife of a Moscow oligarch and members of the Chinese Communist Party to the Biden family; and again the list goes on and on. Any member of the media is not playing straight with you if they try to argue the Hunter Biden story would be treated the same were it Donald Jr. smoking crack and making deals for “the big guy.” Apparently it is also impossible to have debate moderators who aren’t firmly aligned with the left against Trump. Registered Democrat and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace regurgitated the “fine people” falsehood at the first debate and then vouched for the scheduled host for the second debate, former Joe Biden intern Steve Scully of C-SPAN, despite his obviously fabricated claim to be “hacked” when he accidentally tweeted at Anthony Scaramucci instead of using a private message. Vice presidential moderator Susan Page of USA Today is writing a biography of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The latest move against Trump by the supposedly nonpartisan debate commission is to allow NBC’s Kristen Welker to change the traditional focus from foreign policy to a rehash of the ground covered by Wallace, including yet another opportunity to disguise an accusation as a question by including “race in America” as a springboard to associate Trump with white supremacists. Staffed from top to bottom by the left, Twitter and Facebook are working to suppress and censor the New York Post’s expose of Hunter Biden’s shady dealings around the world with almost zero complaints from anyone in the media and despite the fact Joe Biden’s own campaign hasn’t even claimed the emails are faked. The FBI, CIA and IRS — the most powerful agencies in the U.S. — have all been weaponized to varying degrees against conservatives and Trump going back to the abuse of the Tea Party groups under Obama in the run-up to the 2012 elections and then against Trump from 2016 to the present. The Associated Press has changed its definition of a “riot.” Webster’s Dictionary changed its definition of “preference.” Democrats in Congress are similarly trying to change the long-understood meaning of “court packing” from adding justices to the Supreme Court into the perfectly legal process being followed now to confirm Amy Coney Barrett in accordance with the Constitution. As the guardians and gatekeepers of free speech and free flow of information, the national media and Big Tech are blindly headed for the rail as they bet the last of their trust and respect on ending Trump’s political career. Even if they make their hand, they have already lost everything. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: I award you no points

Anyone who has ever wanted to see a Facebook argument come to life got their wish on Sept. 29 in Cleveland. For the less masochistic among us, you were probably covering your eyes, ears or both barely 15 minutes into the first presidential debate as former Vice President Joe Biden dropped quite likely the first “Shut up, man” in American political history. We’re far from Lincoln-Douglas or Kennedy-Nixon. The Sept. 29 spectacle didn’t even rise to the level of decorum seen in the heated Tastes Great-Less Filling debates of the 1980s. Interruptions of interruptions, insults and an overall pathetic performance by moderator Chris Wallace made for a painful 90 minutes that felt twice as long. The first topic on the Supreme Court quickly devolved as Wallace repeatedly pressed President Donald Trump on his lack of a comprehensive plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, leading Trump to drop a line about “I guess I’m debating you, not him” that he obviously had prepared but may not have expected to use so early. The debate really went off the rails a few minutes later after Biden outright refused to answer Wallace’s question about whether he supports packing the Supreme Court with additional justices or ending the legislative filibuster. Without waiting to see if Wallace would accept Biden’s refusal, Trump jumped in by pestering Biden to answer the question and asking where is his list of possible nominees to the Supreme Court. That led the beleaguered Biden to plead for Trump to shut up and then Wallace to shut the topic down without ever getting Biden to answer the question. It didn’t get any better from there. Trump continued to throw barbs at Biden, who countered by claiming Trump told people to inject bleach and is lying about progress toward a COVID-19 vaccine. Wallace repeatedly cut off Trump and many of his questions consisted of Democrat talking points, but his most outrageous moment of the night was repeating the false “very fine people” canard about Charlottesville that allowed Biden to then cite the same lie and dredge up the constant calls for Trump to denounce white supremacists. Wallace demanded Trump recite his fealty to “racial sensitivity training” and “climate change” while making the ridiculous assertion that Republican-led cities have just as much trouble as riot-filled Democrat ones by bringing up Fort Worth, Texas, and Tulsa. While tarring Trump with white supremacist associations, Wallace allowed Biden to get away with the claim that “antifa is an idea, not an organization.” Nor did Wallace fact check Biden when he brought up the anonymous claims that Trump called fallen soldiers “suckers and losers” but instead chuckled along with Biden rather than have him address the video of the former VP telling troops to “clap, you stupid bastards” after Trump brought it up. If anything, far fewer viewers can be expected to sit through another two of these and “Idiocracy” appears to be 450 years ahead of schedule. In the meantime we’re left with the academic decathlon scene from “Billy Madison.” May God have mercy on our souls. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: A dish served cold

“When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello.” That was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh back in 2018 as he wrapped up an epic rant as chair of the Judiciary Committee excoriating Democrats for their disgusting smear campaign intended to derail Kavanaugh’s ascent from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The unforgivable attacks on Kavanaugh were the culmination of more than 30 years of Democrats shredding the judicial appointment process beginning with the assault on Robert Bork in 1987 so notorious that “Borking” became a verb when it was turned against Clarence Thomas just four years later. Thomas, vilified by the left to this day in the worst racial terms, called it a “high tech lynching” to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee back then who just happened to be current Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden. Once they found themselves in the Senate minority under President George W. Bush in 2001, Democrats broke new ground on upending Senate traditions by filibustering D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Miguel Estrada. No appellate court nominee had ever been successfully filibustered before and Estrada eventually withdrew his name after years of failed cloture votes that drew as many as 55 votes, five shy of the 60 needed. Leaked memos revealed that one of the reasons certain Democrat groups opposed Estrada was to prevent a conservative from being the first Hispanic to make the Supreme Court. Minority Democrats would go on to filibuster nine more Bush nominees, leading to the first talk of employing the “nuclear option” to eliminate the tactic in favor of a simple majority vote. That was averted with the “Gang of 14” deal, but because the Democrats had successfully blocked so many Bush nominees to the D.C. court, President Barack Obama took the step in 2013 of nominating three judges at once to what by all measures was the least-worked panel in the country and while other courts had what were classified as “emergency” vacancies to which he hadn’t nominated anyone. The Republicans’ attempts to block Obama’s power move using the same tactics pioneered by the Democrats led then-Senate President Harry Reid to nuke the filibuster for all judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level in a vote that then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted the Democrats would regret “a lot sooner than you think.” There can be no question that Democrats regret it now, whether they will admit it or not. Republicans took over the Senate in 2014 and were therefore able to thwart Obama’s pick to flip the court with Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia in 2016. McConnell kept his promise to make the Democrats rue their 2013 actions after Donald Trump won the presidential election by eliminating the filibuster to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Democrats protested, but replacing Scalia with Gorsuch did not change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. That was not the case with Kavanaugh when he was tapped to replace the long-tenured “swing vote” Anthony Kennedy and what followed was the most shameless attempt at character assassination in the history of judicial nominees even when compared against what was done to Thomas. It worked on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who cited Kavanaugh’s temperament in voting “present” after his righteous display of anger at being labeled a gang rapist by Murkowski’s Democrat colleagues. Murkowski has unsurprisingly come out against the idea of replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the November election, but that doesn’t mean she has committed to actually voting against the eventual nominee. Although she may appear bulletproof after winning as a write-in candidate in 2010 and cruising in 2016, even the proudly independent Murkowski may have to consider the fallout from siding against two consecutive conservative nominees to the Supreme Court. The Democrats retook the House in 2018, but saw their numbers in the Senate shrink after the self-destructive Kavanaugh display as they marched red state Democrats off the cliff in North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and Florida. They made the Supreme Court a focus of the midterm campaign, and American voters responded by preventing them from taking over the Senate and denying them the power to stop Trump from replacing RBG in 2020. The Democrats’ willingness to spare no tactic in their quest for power has stiffened the spines of even once squishy Republicans like Graham and now Sen. Mitt Romney to respond in kind and yet within the confines of the powers defined in the Constitution. Contrast that with the summer we’ve just seen of Democrat voters — egged on, excused and enabled by their elected leaders — destroying American cities and causing losses totaling billions of dollars in human and economic costs. “Boy, y’all want power,” Graham told Democrats in 2018. “God, I hope you never get it.” From Bork to Kavanaugh and from Portland to New York, and from threats to add Supreme Court justices, add states and kill the legislative filibuster, the Democrats have shown and told us everything we need to know about how they wield power, and why we should hope they have no more. So to Trump’s eventual nominee: Say hello to Kavanaugh for me. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Don’t call them Democrats

The Alaska Democratic Party is calling “bullshit” on winners of the Democratic primary being affiliated with the Democratic Party on the November ballot. Apparently the party’s brand in Alaska is so bad that its leadership doesn’t want its candidates to actually be associated with it. The latest outrageous outrage involves a simple change on the general election ballot that has removed the official party affiliation, or lack thereof, of all candidates and instead shows their name and whether they made the ballot through the Republican or Democratic primary or through the petition process. Republicans aren’t complaining about the change because candidates over the years have often adopted the “R” designation in order to have a better chance to win. That’s why the party’s elected representatives range across the ideological spectrum from Sen. Gary Stevens to Rep. David Eastman while Democrats range from Sen. Bill Wielechowsi to, well, Bill Wielechowski. Democratic Party Executive Director Lindsay Kavanaugh pitched a fit over the change revealed Sept. 14 on the Division of Elections website, calling it “unconscionable.” “I am increasingly concerned about the ability of the Lt. Governor to make informed, unbiased, decisions about the election, and of the integrity of those running the DOE,” Kavanaugh told the Anchorage Daily News. “Alaska voters, especially the majority of those voters who are undeclared and non-partisan, need to call bullshit.” Kavanaugh shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for an uprising from those undeclared voters. Yes, Alaska’s voters are famously averse to aligning with either political party. They are also among the most consistent Republican voters in the country. The state hasn’t chosen a Democrat for president since LBJ in 1964 and has only sent two Democrats to Congress in the last 50 years with both of them named Begich. While many state Democrats are pro-resource development and favor gun rights, the national party is rabidly anti-Alaska and anti-Second Amendment. Alaska voters have long since figured this out and vote for national offices accordingly regardless of how they choose to register their party status. Defeat after defeat for national office has led the state Democrats to adopt a recent strategy of claiming “independent” status and our two congressional races this year reflect that with Al Gross and Alyse Galvin taking on incumbents Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dean of the House Rep. Don Young. Despite clearly favoring the politics of the Democrats and soliciting their financial support, the Democratic Party wants Gross and Galvin to have a “U” or an “N” next to their names in a transparent attempt to convince voters they aren’t filling the oval with a choice that will keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and/or hand over the Senate to Chuck Schumer. The House under Pelosi has already voted to overturn development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and Democrats are talking about ending the filibuster should they retake the Senate. That means Galvin and Gross would help enact disastrous policies for Alaska no matter how they classify their political status. Republicans, especially in the Senate, routinely break ranks to vote independently (look no further than Sens. Mitt Romney, our own Lisa Murkowski or Rand Paul for examples), but there is no such freedom on the Democrat side where even their most endangered member Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama never dares to cross Schumer. To think that Galvin will vote against Pelosi as the 435th-ranked member of the House or that Gross will take the Democrats’ money and then vote to uphold the filibuster are huge gambles Alaskans will be rightly hesitant to take no matter what letter follows their names. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Tax credit chickens come home to roost

KFC could probably hire Tom Cruise as its next celebrity Colonel Sanders with the number of chickens coming home to roost in Alaska. A long-awaited and inexplicably delayed decision from the Alaska Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a bill passed in 2018 to pay off the state’s oil tax credit debt. House Bill 331 would have created a shell company within the Department of Revenue to sell up to $1 billion worth of “subject to appropriation” bonds to settle with the independent oil and gas explorers who took the shaft from $630 million in budget vetoes by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2015 and 2016 amid multi-billion dollar deficits. The fallout of the vetoes was massive. Banks now burned twice by Walker stopped lending into the state’s independent oil and gas sector. Caelus Energy was forced to sell North Slope assets to the major ConocoPhillips. Furie Operating Alaska, which had other cash flow problems, declared bankruptcy last year. The state was compelled to modify its loan agreements with Blue Crest in Cook Inlet and Brooks Range Petroleum on the Slope. The Legislature shuttered the tax credit program in 2017 without a plan to clear the books, leaving it up to Walker’s administration to concoct a dubious idea to pay debt with more debt by taking advantage of the interest spread between the cost of the bonds and inducing companies to take haircuts of up to 10 percent on what they were owed in order to get paid faster than waiting on minimum statutory appropriations. A public interest lawsuit by Eric Forrer of Juneau immediately halted the effort, which was initially upheld in Superior Court before being unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court and leaving the state once again on the hook for more than $700 million with no means in sight to pay now that savings accounts have been drained and the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve balance reduced by some $5 billion after transfers to the principal account in the past two years. Walker’s chickens came home to roost in 2018 as he was already headed toward defeat in a three-way race with former Sen. Mark Begich and eventual winner Gov. Mike Dunleavy before the abrupt resignation of running mate Byron Mallott amid a sexual misconduct scandal sealed his fate. For prominent members of the Legislature, the reckoning was delayed but no less decisive after the Aug. 18 primary as Senate President Cathy Giessel and Sen. John Coghill were ousted along with fellow Republican legislators Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp and Gabrielle LeDoux who chose to form a majority with Democrats after the 2018 election. Candidates who favor paying out a Permanent Fund dividend according to the formula that is still on the books could upend the current majority caucuses after the November general election is settled, but they may well find that math is a stubborn thing and chasing the car is far more fun than sinking their teeth into the tires. Now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that has cratered oil prices, North Slope jobs and delayed promising exploration and development projects, the state’s budget situation will resist the ability to pay a full PFD and the economic situation is beyond being rescued by such simplistic promises even if they could be kept. The oil tax credit issue would largely be moot had Walker not vetoed $630 million in credit payments after they were approved by the Legislature, but his 2016 plan — that was endorsed in this space — to use a portion of Permanent Fund earnings and set a fixed dividend amount for the ensuing three years would have put us on a much better footing than we find ourselves today. For that the blame lies with the Republican-led House Majority that chose instead to drain more than $4 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve after the Senate had approved the bill by a decisive vote. Four years later, some of the prospective new Republican legislators heading to Juneau have the same attitude of those who rejected a sensible path toward fiscal stability but this time they don’t have billions in savings to spend as an alternative and they are still stuck with the tax credit bill that Walker left the state through his vetoes. They’ll be lucky if the toughest choice they have is grilled or fried, but a debate resembling whether the egg came first is more likely. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Fahrenheit 99501

The crux of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451 is his simple yet brilliant inversion of the traditional fireman from a protector to a destroyer. Firemen in Bradbury’s dystopian American future don’t put out fires or save property and lives. They burn down houses and the books within. Those who resist setting the fires or the government prohibitions against preserving written knowledge are now criminals targeted by a police state aided by supine citizens content to engross themselves in television and report on their neighbors. As it goes in Anchorage, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and his pals on the Assembly are treating diners and dive bars as if they are secret stashes of ink and paper that must be scorched to save society. Those who protested by opening for indoor service were summarily felled by a flamethrower of fines, injunctions and threats of contempt of court should they risk their livelihoods to keep up the fight. Much like Bradbury’s firemen, Berkowitz and his uncaring cohort have turned the job description of a public servant on its head with their dismissal of public opinion, open derision for their critics, and disregard for the consequences of their actions or lack thereof. Should that sound hyperbolic, it is difficult to fathom what the mayor and Assembly would do differently if their goal was to destroy small businesses while concurrently creating despair and dependence on government. Look no further than the way the mayor and Assembly plan to distribute more than $156 million in CARES Act funds intended to be prioritized for economic relief and not progressive pet projects. Just a bit more than $14 million, less than 10 percent, has been scraped together for the hospitality industry that was already reeling before Berkowitz’s Aug. 3 “reset” order that reset to zero many of its members’ revenue and their employees’ paychecks for another four weeks. Meanwhile, $8 million, or more than half of what is set aside for the hospitality industry, is going to temporary government make-work jobs to line union pockets for recreation trails, “green” jobs and an “Indigenous Wayfinding” project. Rather than preserving permanent jobs by ensuring shuttered businesses can break even on expenses and provide for their employees, the Assembly is sidetracked with building singletrack bike trails. Winter is coming, which will mark the end of these seasonal jobs as well as the ability for restaurants to comply with the mayor’s mandates for outdoor service. Even the ones with enclosed heated tents. But for every day between now and Dec. 30, and every day since March 1, the municipality will use $21 million in CARES funds to cover the previously budgeted payroll for police and firefighters by exploiting a perceived loophole in the Treasury Department guidance to claim all of those expenses are related to the coronavirus response despite the fact they plainly are not. The beak-wetting union jobs and payroll backfilling alone total $29 million that could go to economic relief, and we’re not done yet. We haven’t gotten to their plan to divert $12.5 million in CARES funds to address long-standing homeless service issues that should be paid for with municipal revenue such as the recently-approved retail alcohol tax that is specifically dedicated to funding first responders and “substance misuse treatment, prevention programs, detoxification or long-term addiction recovery facilities, mental and behavioral health programs and resources to prevent and address Anchorage’s homelessness crisis.” They are going to use $3 million in CARES funds to start up their mental health first responder program that is also supposed to be paid for with the alcohol tax. For those keeping track at home, that’s another $15.5 million on top of the above $29 million to total $44.5 million not going to economic relief. A new health clinic in Girdwood is included for some reason at $5 million to bring a partial price tag for funding this Nero fiddling to nearly $50 million in non-economic relief. All of this is bad enough, but worse is that there is still no way to access the meager economic relief funds that have been appropriated. The Assembly website simply says “This page will be updated with more information on programs as they roll out, with links to resources specific to each program. For example, if an application becomes available for Small Business and Nonprofit Relief grants, it will appear within the Small Business and Nonprofit Relief program section.” When you check that line item on the page, it helpfully notes this money was appropriated in May and June. As of Aug. 24, there was no link to a grant application on the page. Same goes for the rental and mortgage assistance page that is supposed to have $20 million available. The Mat-Su Borough had a grant application online Aug. 10 after approving a $13 million business relief program using its CARES funds in July. No matter how much the mayor’s eyes well up with his crocodile tears or his voice quavers with contrived emotion, it matters little to the people he is hurting for their own good. His concern is belied as counterfeit when compared against his lack of urgency to help businesses as he helps himself to federal economic relief money to pay for his political agenda while proclaiming he is above petty partisanship. Berkowitz and his Assembly allies are no more public servants than Guy Montag was a real fireman, but at least Montag stopped lighting matches. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Rule of law takes partisan turn under Berkowitz

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says the U.S. is a “failed state” and “pathetic” when it comes to its response to the coronavirus. He should know what a failed state looks like. Berkowitz drives through one every time he travels between his office at City Hall and the Assembly headquarters in Midtown at the Loussac Library. But don’t blame what you see on Berkowitz. Nevermind the hopeless population fighting, drinking and drugging, having sex, panhandling and passing out on the main thoroughfares of Anchorage, in the parking lots of vacant buildings and taking over new territory in the shadows of businesses ordered to vacate for at least four weeks. It is all partisan politics. Oh, and racism. When it comes to enforcing the law, Marshal Berkowitz means business. Just ask Andy Kriner. After more than five years of allowing duly passed and ratified laws to be flouted across wide swaths of Anchorage, what finally spurred the mayor to take a hardline stance was a handful of people defying his personal order to stop serving pancakes and burgers inside their small diners. Far more important to Berkowitz was showing these uppity families who is boss than pausing to consider whether his latest emergency order went too far by shutting down diners like Kriner’s and Little Dipper while allowing large-scale socializing inside tents or on patios. In the space of less than a week the mayor showed more interest in the rule of law than he has since taking office by issuing stop-work orders, fines and finally a trip to state Superior Court to pursue injunctions against the most peaceful protests this country has seen all year. By every metric in the municipality’s own police budget document, besides the rising tide of homelessness this mayor has presided over increases in crime, sexual assault and homicide. After ranking better than its population-sized peer group in the federal Uniform Crime Report statistics for the entire decade before he took office, Anchorage now trails the pack. In the 10 years before Berkowitz was elected, Anchorage witnessed more than 20 homicides just twice, in 2006 and 2007, and in the six years of his predecessor Dan Sullivan murders averaged 17.5 per year with just one to three unsolved cases annually from 2009 to 2014. The mayor’s lowest number of homicides was 27 in his first year and then averaged 33 over the next four including the all-time record of 38 in 2016. Not only did homicides nearly double on an annual basis from 2016 to 2019, the average rate of unsolved homicides grew from 2 to 9 per year. After five years of increasing sexual assault rates under Sullivan, from 108 per 100,000 in 2009 to 126 in 2013, that rate declined to 116 in 2014 and 2015. The rate has shot up under Berkowitz, from 116 per 100,000 in his first year to 150, 133 and 158 from 2016 to 2018, with the last year of data representing a 36 percent increase from 2015. As the sexual assault rate increased, the already anemic arrest rate has been less than the last year of Sullivan in all but one year since. More crime. More homelessness. More homicides and more unsolved cases. More sexual assaults and fewer arrests. This cannot be hung on the necks of the Anchorage Police Department. This is the product of the left’s laissez-faire attitude toward petty crime that is proven time and again to result in increases in major crimes like murder and sexual assault. And it comes from the top down. Because the mayor and his equally arrogant allies on the Assembly wave away every protest as political and/or racist, they cannot fathom another reason why residents would line up at diners to show their support or refuse to put their trust in their elected employees who have repeatedly failed and have now commandeered CARES Act funds with no assurance the purchase of properties for homeless services is even legal, let alone a good idea. Just last July after Gov. Mike Dunleavy sent shockwaves around the state with hundreds of millions in budget vetoes, including to homeless services he asserted should be paid for by local governments, a massive tent city protest sprung up on the Park Strip. After being shooed gently away from Berkowitz’s Downtown backyard following a friendly visit to the site by the mayor himself, the protest designed from the outset to be flagrantly illegal was allowed to settle in for more than a month at Valley of the Moon Park. Berkowitz indulged the protesters for weeks at Chester Creek until finally issuing a 10-day abatement notice. On consecutive nights before the campers finally moved on to Cuddy Park, a suspect believed to be the same man attempted sexual assault against two different women at the park. Nobody was taken to court. No fines were issued. The 10-day notices kept up and the camp kept moving around at will despite the mayor’s own declaration of emergency that he has shown no hesitation to wield against people like Andy Kriner. The difference, of course, was that the illegal campout was a protest against Dunleavy. Or would that be too partisan to notice? Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Anchorage CARES plan doesn’t care about small business

If there was any doubt that Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Anchorage Assembly don’t actually care about saving small businesses being destroyed by a combination of the pandemic and their onerous and arbitrary mandates, their plan to use $156 million in CARES Act funds confirms it. The muni released the plan on a new website Aug. 10, just a day ahead of the Assembly’s scheduled vote and it is a veritable laundry list of special interest carve-outs, liberal priorities and items that appear to run afoul of federal rules on how this money can be spent. On the same day that the “Anchorage Economic Resiliency Task Force” published an op-ed calling on the governor to save the city’s hospitality industry that is being crippled by the mayor, we learned that the Assembly plan allocates a mere $7 million out of $156 million in CARES Act funds despite their claim that “no group or industry has been impacted by COVID-19-related closures like local bars, restaurants and the like.” Among the authors is the mayor’s wife, Mara Kimmel, which solves the mystery of why Gov. Mike Dunleavy is scolded about his “moral obligation” to help this industry while Berkowitz is not. Let’s review some of the more egregious examples of spending while small family-owned diners are forced into the untenable position of trying to defy the mandates or accepting defeats that may result in the end of their business forever. • Public lands jobs program: $2 million • Renewable energy job training program: $1 million • RuralCAP weatherization program: $2.5 million • Visit Anchorage remarketing program: $2.6 million • Nonprofit stimulus: $3 million • Cultural pillars stabilization program: $3.5 million • Arts and culture stabilization program: $2 million • First responder payroll reserve: $21 million • Proposed property acquisitions for homeless services: $12.5 million Do any of these proposed spending items reflect the Task Force assertion that “the city’s needs already outpace the relief it has received from the State of Alaska”?  Just last week, the Mat-Su Borough appropriated $13 million into a business relief fund and another $9.9 million for individual relief. Out of its $37 million in CARES funds, the borough dedicated nearly 62 percent to businesses and individuals. A large chunk went into purchasing laptops and other equipment to allow borough employees to work from home, which is also an appropriate use of the money. If Anchorage followed the same formula as the Mat-Su Borough, rather than Christmas-treeing its plan with a wish list of the well-connected members of the municipal elite, there would be more than $96 million set aside for businesses and individuals. That would certainly alleviate the need to shame the governor for not doing enough to help. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Berkowitz inspires a revolution he can’t embrace

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz isn’t a big fan of Van Hale right now. Safe to say Hale is no fan of Berkowitz, either. On Aug. 3, the day that the mayor once again shut down bars and restaurants, Hale’s trademark sign outside Van’s Dive Bar on Fifth Avenue had a message: “Berkowitz is a Dick Tator “Hell yeah, brother!” Berkowitz’s heavy-handed decision to deal a potential death blow to scores of small businesses across Anchorage sparked a resistance and the first real civil disobedience from otherwise law-abiding folks who have largely gone along with the mayor’s mandates. A crowd of people well in excess of his arbitrary limit on gatherings of no more than 50 people popped up to protest on Aug. 3 at the Loussac Library where the Assembly meets to regularly rubber stamp the mayor’s actions. Kriner’s Diner did not close and defied a stop work order delivered by municipal employees on Aug. 4. A bartender at Jens’ Restaurant started a petition opposing the shutdown that was rapidly nearing 4,000 signatures out of a goal of 5,000 as of midday on Aug. 4. Not only did Berkowitz decide to shut down bars and restaurants on July 31, he did so without even a proposal for a relief plan despite the municipality having received more than $150 million in CARES Act funds four months ago. While the state has had its own issues with its business relief grant program thanks to the rushed nature of its approval at a time when the Paycheck Protection Program had run out of money, the municipality is not encumbered in any way to provide help to the businesses ordered closed by the mayor. Here is the guidance for eligible uses to distribute the millions of dollars now in possession of the mayor and his merry bunch of marionettes on the Assembly: “Expenditures incurred to respond to second-order effects of the emergency, such as by providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to COVID-19-related business closures.” And: “Expenditures related to the provision of grants to small businesses to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures.” That is about as clearcut as it gets. In his typical buck-passing fashion that he regularly exhibits when it comes to the humanitarian crisis of homelessness that has exploded on his watch, Berkowitz is pointing his finger at the state and federal government rather than admit he has come up with no plan to aid the businesses he is closing down. While the governor may well need to call the Legislature to a special session to amend the state relief program, he is not the one who is shuttering businesses across the state. Berkowitz has stamped his feet repeatedly asserting his local superiority to go further than state mandates, yet when it comes to mitigating the consequences of his power grabs he tries to blame others. Nor has anyone on the Assembly proposed a plan to use the $150 million to aid small businesses as the lame duck mayor cripples them. While the mayor and his allies dither over virtual town halls to talk about plans, and after they wasted weeks with the only plan they have come up with to spend $22.5 million of the CARES Act funds on shelter and treatment facilities, paychecks are running out and rents are coming due. Berkowitz didn’t wake up on July 31 and decide to shut down a huge swath of the Anchorage economy. He had months to craft a relief plan and has done nothing except come up with a legally questionable use of CARES money to address a problem that entirely predates the pandemic. Here’s the federal guidance for using CARES funds on homeless services: “Expenses for care for homeless populations provided to mitigate COVID-19 effects and enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.” That would mean the temporary shelters at the Sullivan and Ben Boeke areas are well within a proper use of the funds. Buying four properties to deal with issues the mayor and Assembly have neglected for years hardly seems to qualify, yet this administration is plowing ahead with it while leaving small business owners to suck it up. The mayor certainly had no such concerns about large gatherings or risks of transmission when he attended a June 6 protest of more than 1,000 people at the Park Strip and praised everyone in attendance. “I look out and I see a crowd full of revolutionaries, and it makes my heart glad because more than 200 years ago this country was founded on a revolutionary idea that all would be created equal and treated equally. “If you want change, you have to change the future.” Judging by the early response to the mayor’s decision to not treat everyone equally, a growing number in Anchorage are willing to take him up on his challenge. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Anchorage officials want carrots, public gives them the stick

Don’t get a tattoo. Wear your mask. Don’t go out (especially after midnight). Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has eagerly accepted the mantle of parent-in-chief and admitted as much to KTUU in a July 1 interview after he announced his municipal mask mandate on June 26. “Nobody likes eating vegetables either,” he said, “but sometimes you have to be told to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.” Notwithstanding how the vendors of the weekly Anchorage farmers’ markets may feel about the mayor knocking their products with his glib take, what we have learned since lockdown and hunker down orders started being issued in March is that law-abiding people are quite easy to boss around. Business owners will shut down at the risk of losing their livelihoods rather than risk losing their licenses. Shoppers will don a mask in order to make their Costco run. Students will forgo once-in-a-lifetime graduation experiences. Families will give up funerals, weddings and church services. In short, we’ll eat our damn vegetables. But when it comes to the people in Anchorage who most need help, who desperately need to be told to do the right thing, the mayor has been quite unwilling to even suggest a switch from a sugar-based diet to sprouts and salads. While the coronavirus is concerning, homelessness has become a full-blown humanitarian crisis under this mayor’s watch. Berkowitz can attempt to deflect blame as much as he likes to the federal government, the pesky ACLU or the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the heartbreaking scenes of daily life in Anchorage are on him and his supermajority of allies on the Assembly. The mayor is closing out his six years in office with an attempt to convert $22.5 million worth of CARES cash into campuses he claims will curb the rampant problems of vagrancy, larceny, loitering, littering and public intoxication that are plaguing the municipality. Before moving on, lest this skepticism be interpreted as callous, or worse, racist, Anchorage does need infrastructure to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Although the locations can be debated, and the NIMBY impulse will always run strong, we need additional space for addiction and mental health treatment, as well as temporary and transitional housing for those who need a hand up and not a handout. However, this mayor and the majority of this Assembly have earned absolutely zero confidence they can be trusted to execute a successful strategy even were they able to bypass the Planning and Zoning Commission or avoid a federal audit for using economic aid funds to fix their failures that were the norm long before the new normal. Meet the new normal, same as the old normal. Nobody should believe anything will get better if the mayor gets his way. Not after more than five years of essentially unchecked authority in Anchorage until five days of overwhelming opposition that proved the public has well and truly had enough. If the rest of us can be forced to stay home, stay closed or stay covered for our own good, then surely the same logic applies to those who have long lost track of what is good for them whether from mental trauma or hopeless addiction. Until a plan includes enforcing the law, we will never identify and separate those who need help, those who want help and those who just want to help themselves to whatever isn’t nailed down. Mental health care is a huge challenge and we can look no further than the disaster at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute for evidence. Mandatory in-patient addiction treatment for chronic violators will likely require statutory changes at either the state or local level. Securing neighborhoods where treatment facilities are sited will require resources, but if bars ever get to resume normal business we have an alcohol tax for that. Those are major obstacles to overcome, and the mayor has squandered five-plus years to clear them, but doing so is critical to receive public support. Eating your vegetables can’t all be carrots. The mayor and the Assembly are going to keep getting the stick until they figure that out. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: The Mayor’s required reading

On the eve of the Fourth of July, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz urged people to read the Declaration of Independence. Unlike a lot of what he tells me to do, like not be out after midnight, I looked forward to it. I always enjoy reading the Declaration of Independence. Unlike the Constitution, which is more of an eat-your-peas documentary, the Declaration is the classic summer popcorn feature arc of three acts that grabs you from the beginning and closes with a flourish. It is the freaking “Die Hard” of calligraphy and cursive on parchment. Many people quote their go-to passages as “all men are created equal” or “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” My favorite is this: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” In his encouragement to read the nation’s founding declaration, Berkowitz remarked that it is a “pretty radical” document. Indeed it is, which makes one wonder if he has ever actually read it. And you know what you tell anybody who hasn’t seen “Die Hard.” They have to do it. Hours later, after using the president of the state’s hospitality industry as a hapless prop in his press conference where he paid lip service to the principles of our founding, the Berkowitz administration dropped a list of establishments from Palmer to Seward where people who have tested positive for the ‘rona have visited in a naked attempt to kill their business before a traditional weekend of celebration. His administration declared the municipality’s health capacity was at a “red light” — not for lack of nearly 1,000 hospital beds nor just one person in the state on a ventilator — but for lack of contact tracing. Berkowitz claimed that his contact tracers were so taxed and so vexed that the only way to alert the public after being unable to ID every individual who may have talked to a positive case was to burn 17 businesses and cast a cloud on every other similar operation. The move worked and owners reported their weekend traffic was off dramatically. Which brings us back to the the mayor’s reading assignment: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” Good luck getting people to cooperate with contact tracers now. Anyway, Berkowitz has this authority to do whatever he wants because the absentee Assembly that Anchorage voted for with stamps won’t even rubber stamp his decisions and is too gutless to go on the record either supporting or opposing whatever the heck this lame duck does. That’s what Anchorage voted for, so we get what we deserve. Gov. Standing Tall isn’t coming to pick a fight over Mayor Dad’s overreach or the Assembly’s lack of oversight. That recalls another part of the Declaration about the executive conspiring with a complacent and complicit legislative body: “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.” Emergency powers and pulling agenda items without voting gives the mayor more leeway than a rubber duck in the Chena River. Berkowitz has backed off a little bit, with his administration pulling all but three businesses off the list as of July 7 — for now — and stating he doesn’t want to close down the bars and restaurants he just kicked in their sensitive areas. Whether somebody reminded him he wants to collect taxes from Long Island ice teas come Jan. 1 or that he may need some votes from his traditional supporters in Anchorage when he wants to run for governor, the fact he’s giving these businesses a reprieve isn’t exactly worthy of applause. Now to the Act 3 flourish: “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Overcapitalization aside, Jefferson had a point, but I don’t expect Mayor Dad to give me any for the irony when I turn in this homework. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Karen vs. Karen

Whether you are pro-mask or anti-mask, I really can’t stand you right now. The online crusade of keyboard Karens on both sides of the dumbest debate since tastes great versus less filling is doing real damage to business owners caught in the crossfire of a battle they didn’t choose and are desperately trying to avoid as they struggle to survive a threat to their livelihoods that is far greater than the one between the armchair epidemiologists duking it out on dueling social media groups. Let’s just settle this right now. If you get online to brag about not wearing a mask, you’re a Karen. If you get online to brag about wearing a mask, you’re a Karen. If you get online to snitch on a business for asking you to wear a mask, you’re a Karen. If you get online to snitch on a business if someone isn’t wearing a mask, you’re a Karen. If you harass people for wearing or not wearing a mask … well, you should get it by now. Stop being Karens. Mind your own business, and for goodness’ sake stop trying to hurt businesses. Because whether you are pro-mask or anti-mask, the thing many if not most of these Karens have in common is nothing at risk. It costs them nothing to fire off a Facebook post telling people to boycott a business. It costs them nothing to claim how awesome they are for resisting or for complying. At a time when literally every customer counts for the small business owners who make up the vast majority of the job creators in this state, your Karening can cost plenty. We can agree that wearing masks is inconvenient for most of us, but some are making up for it generating a dopamine response by telling everyone what they think about it. We have enough to worry about without a bunch of self-deputized TSA agents running around getting into people’s health conditions or whipping out their pocket constitution looking for the amendment that says “thou shall not order me to wear a mask.” If something at a business upsets you and you just have to say something, go half-Karen and talk to a manager. There’s no need to grab your phone and tell the world about it. Never go full Karen. Think about whether your fears or your feelings are driving your actions, and if they are, either adjust your behavior accordingly or adjust your attitude. Because you’re not helping. You’re making this worse, and you’re tearing our community apart. In a polarized world it may be hard to accept that two things can be true at the same time: the virus can reach a vulnerable member of the population if people aren’t careful and ceding any amount of personal freedom to the government is an inch it will routinely turn into a mile. If it helps to relieve the justifiable personal stress of months of pandemic panic that’s been foisted upon us, there is no riper target than the federal government health experts like Surgeon General Jerome Adams or the lovable Dr. Fauci who have admitted they lied to us at the onset about wearing masks. The answer, however, is not to compound the government’s squandering of the public trust through its dishonesty over masks by turning on each other or turning each other in through Facebook groups or [email protected] Don’t be a Karen. In the interest of gender equity, don’t be a Dick, either. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]


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