Opinion

COMMENTARY: Individualism makes us altruistic and happy

Individualism is good, collectivism is bad. That’s what I first concluded as a teenager after reading Friedrich Hayek’s seminal treatise, “The Road to Serfdom.” Every life experience since then has confirmed my hunch. That makes it all the more irritating when opponents of individualism, out of ignorance or bad faith, keep distorting what it is. A particularly misleading charge is that individualism should somehow be tantamount to selfishness and egoism. Individualists think only of themselves, this narrative goes, whereas people in collectivist societies take care of their group. The opposite is closer to the truth. That’s the conclusion of forthcoming research by four psychologists: Shawn Rhoads, Rebecca Ryan, and Abigail Marsh at Georgetown University and Devon Gunter at Harvard. They did an impressive data dive, in which they painted what amounts to a psycho-cultural atlas of the world. One thing they measured was not only objective well-being in different countries, such as wealth and health, but also people’s subjective perception that they’re flourishing or thriving. They also mapped the world according to six cultural markers defined by the late Dutch social scientist Geert Hofstede. Some countries value power hierarchies more than others. Some, in the lingo, are more “masculine” — prizing achievement and heroism, say — while others treasure consensus and cooperation. Some cultures are more comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, others less so. Some emphasize the long term, others the short term. Some cherish restraint, others embrace indulgence. And then there’s individualism. It marks cultures that value people’s autonomy in making personal choices and seeking fulfillment and self-expression. In contrast, collectivist societies extol subordinating personal autonomy to the needs of the group and one’s own place in it. The authors also investigated altruism. They mined data on everything from volunteer work and random acts of kindness to charitable giving, donations of blood, kidneys or bone marrow, and even the humane treatment of animals. One relationship jumped out from all this number crunching: Individualism, subjective well-being and altruism are intimately linked, as these maps show. By contrast, countries with collectivist cultures, such as China or Ukraine, tend to rank low on altruism. It’s an open question whether these are just correlations, or whether causation is at work, and in which direction. But according to Marsh, one of the authors, it appears that individualism makes people thrive, which in turn makes them more altruistic, which makes them feel even better about themselves, and so on in a virtuous cycle. As a Hayekian, I find this reassuring more than surprising. The collectivist priority given to the group is really a form of discrimination in favor of insiders, whether defined by genetic or ideological kinship, and against outsiders, including strangers. Collectivist “solidarity” is thus neither totally voluntary nor inclusive, and “harmony” tends to be coerced and parochial. It stops at class in communism, at tribe or nation in fascism, at sect in religious fundamentalism. By contrast, the individualist emphasis on personal autonomy and freedom may loosen the social bonds of kinship but also opens the mind toward people outside our in-group, including total strangers. In that sense, individualism rhymes with cosmopolitanism. I imagine that the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable was an individualist — and felt happy after helping. But why are some cultures more individualistic than others? Economic development certainly seems to help. The more prosperous and safe you are, the less you need to rely on your immediate in-group just to survive, and the more you can pursue independent goals and experiment with new acquaintances. And yet economics can provide only part of the answer, since countries like Japan have grown rich without becoming individualistic. A more ambitious explanation goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. Very early on and for entirely unrelated motivations, the Catholic Church discouraged old traditions like cousin marriage and polygamy. Cumulatively, and long before the Protestant Reformation, these policies weakened kinship institutions and encouraged the spread of nuclear families. This forced Western Europeans to look beyond their in-groups and find other affiliations, including individual definitions of identity. Modernity — and institutions from English common law to market economics — only turbo-boosted the trend. That would explain why individualism, and thus altruism, is not unique to, but much more prevalent in “the West,” which in this context means cultures that historically originated in lands with a Catholic heritage, even if they are predominantly Protestant or secular today. All this should be uplifting. The origins of individualism may have been Western, but its future appears to be global, because it is spreading almost everywhere. With luck, this will lead ever more people on our planet out of serfdom, making them more open-minded and generous toward others, not to mention happier and free.

BROWN'S CLOSE: A study in horse racing

In honor of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, and as part of America’s newfound freedom from COVID-19, I went to Louisville, Kentucky, and met up with a longtime friend who lives on the East Coast. We spent a day at the racetrack at Churchill Downs on one of the last days of the season. If there is a sport with more specific forms of jargon than horse racing, I do not know what that sport is. Horses are measured in hands, tracks are measured in furloughs, and jockeys are measured in times in or out of the money. Guests are in turn judged by whether they know what it means to dress in “track casual,” and by whether they can distinguish between a Woodford Spire and an Oaks Lily. Upon arrival, spectators are welcomed to the stadium by a statue of Barbaro, a beloved Kentucky Derby winner. Unlike elite Triple Crown champions, however, Barbaro holds the distinction of being shot after he failed to win the Preakness Stakes. His demise solidified his legendary status to the point of inspiring an entire society, “The Friends of Barbaro.” Next, guests are presented with programs containing the daily facts and figures about the lengths of the various races, the jockeys, the horses, and the horses’ colors. Charts are detailed and include how much money the horse has won cumulatively over its career, when it last raced, how it races in dry conditions versus wet conditions, and its projected odds of winning. Given we were at the racetrack, we reasoned it was only logical that we start betting. Unfortunately, it is a moral failing of mine that I never carry cash. My friend, however, thoughtfully brought $23 to the track, and we amiably agreed to spend $10 of her money. We walked up confidently to the ticket machine and inserted the bill. After that, there was nothing for us to do but stare at the complex mix of buttons and blinking lights displayed on the screen. There were options for a horse to “Win,” “Place,” or “Show.” We could bet the “Daily Double,” “Exacta,” “Trifecta,” or “Superfecta.” And that does not even include the “Pick 3,” or “Pick 4.” We argued a bit, debating what each bet would mean. “Daily Double means we can bet on two things at once,” I pronounced, based on no evidence. “Pick 3 is that you can pick three horses in the same race,” she countered, sounding equally confident. In between assertions, we stared open mouthed at the screen. We spent so much time gawking that our session expired, and we received a ticket printout, but no $10. “Wait,” she asked. “But what did we bet on?” Nothing. We bet on nothing. We pulled the ticket out and gaped at that for a while. It most closely resembled the test print sheet when setting up a new printer. We looked around, wondering what to do with a $10 slip of paper tied to no discernable value. Behind us, there was a long line of desks where people could place bets, but there were signs reading, “$50 minimum.” We walked up to the nearest desk, where an old, stooped man looked at us curiously. “Hi,” my friend spoke loudly, and to the point. “We have this ticket here –” “Oh, did you win?” he twanged. “Well, no,” she laughed. “Our session expired.” “That’s alright.” He took the ticket and examined it. “It’s for $10,” she explained. “Can we exchange it for a bet on something else?” “Sure, sure,” he agreed. “But it says it’s $50 minimum. Can you help us?” He chuckled. “Ma’am, I can do anything I want.” “How would you bet?” she asked. Then, doubting her straightforwardness, “Or, are you not allowed to tell us?” He looked at her wryly. Yeah, yeah, we know, you can do anything you want. We opened the program, and together, the three of us poured over the nine or so races to take place. As we only had $10, we decided to bet on the next race only. Among others, we could choose from contestants known as Good Penny, Cuzzywuzzy, and Parking Ticket. “So, it’s $5 per bet, and you can bet on horses to win, come in second, or third, or you can bet on a horse to come in either first, or second, or third.” I wasn’t sure what the difference was, and apparently, neither was my friend. We looked back at the booklet. “Who do you want to bet on?” I asked. It was her $10, so it seemed only fair she should choose the horse. “Oh, I don’t care, whoever looks good to you.” I peered over the complicated rankings in tiny print with my nose pressed close to the page. Good Penny won the most money, was not the crowd favorite, and had the luckiest name. All of these seemed like good omens. “Can we put $5 on Good Penny to finish first?” The ticket agent’s expression told me what I needed to know. I could do anything I wanted. “You mean Number 11? You want to put $5 on Number 11?” “Uh, yeah that’s right.” He entered the information into his computer. “Alright, how about second?” She and I frowned. Appearing to be talking to the deeply dense, he spoke slower. “You can also bet on him to come in second. Do you want to do that?” Yeah, that sounded good. “Alright,” he nodded, “what’s the next bet?” Cuzzywuzzy had the same ranking as Good Penny. “$5 on Cuzzywuzzy to win?” He looked at me pityingly. “You mean $5 on Number 5?” “Uh, yeah, that’s what I mean.” He pulled our new tickets out of his machine. They were indistinguishable from the first ticket test printer page. “That will be $5.” My friend, who had been somewhat disinterested in the horse picking process, snapped back to attention. “We had $10 in credit.”  He was really looking at us like we were hopeless now.   “I know, that will be $5.” She and I squinched our faces. “I don’t understand,” she challenged. “If we paid you $10 for two $5 bets, then how do we owe you $5?” “When you bet on the same horse twice, that’s $10,” he rattled back impatiently. Feeling like those instructions had been less than clear at the beginning, we forked over another of her $5. Racing math ultimately proved to be its own entire field. In addition to the vagaries of paying $15 for a $10 bet, we eventually discovered that one can win $7 for a $30 bet. By the end of the afternoon, I was holding my head and muttering that I was never going to retire at this rate; gambling, by gosh, is just not a good investment. Still holding my head, I bought us each a round of mint juleps, and we went back to our seats to watch the respective fortunes of Bodacious Baby, Buy Me Candy, and Slim Slow Slider. Passing through the rows of fastidiously arranged green folding chairs – “What is that?” a scandalized voiced bellowed from our left. Another man, similar in advanced age to the ticket teller, pointed accusatorially at our drinks. While I am prone to ignore comments made about my food and beverage selections, my friend has never met a stranger. “Mint juleps!” she replied enthusiastically. He shook his head. “You two aren’t from around here, are you?” Well, this was obvious because my friend and I also didn’t know what it meant to be dressed in “track casual.” “I could tell because you’re drinking those,” he continued, nodding to our drinks. The mint was so voluminous, it looked like we were carrying around tiny gardens in commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses. “You don’t like them?” My friend sounded genuinely surprised. “Yeah, no locals like them,” he scoffed. Ah. “Well, what do the locals drink?” I asked. He held up a can of Budweiser. Honestly, though, the joke was on them. My friend won $74 on Good Penny, and I got three servings of my daily vegetable intake. Sarah Brown is straight edge. Feel free to invite her to things that are risky, hedonistic, or otherwise a good time, but honestly, she’ll just kill your buzz. Instead, find her on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Budget gave minority no choice but to vote ‘no’

It’s time Alaska’s government was honest with its people. It’s time we started following our laws. Symbolic of our problem is the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality ingrained in Juneau and found in the recent essay from an Anchorage senator from the one of Alaska’s wealthiest districts. The operating budget, which keeps Alaska’s government open for business, failed to pass the Legislature with enough support to make it effective in time for the new fiscal year. It is, in fact, a defective budget. The state constitution (Article 2, sec. 18) is very clear on this point: Unless a supermajority in both the House and Senate agree on a different date, all bills go into effect 90 days after enactment. This operating budget failed to garner the two-thirds votes necessary to shorten that effective date. There is no legal or constitutional workaround, as has been done with prorated per diem, lowering the annual Permanent Fund dividend amount, or blowing through a 90-day voter-imposed session time limit. The Constitution has these rules for a reason. The government will not have funds on July 1 unless legislators negotiate in good faith to reach a real compromise. A beginning of the solution would be asking critics like the good senator, and others who share her perspective, to spend a little less time accusing Alaskans of “greed and entitlement,” and asking those of us who voted “nay” what our motivations were. I’m willing to sit down and talk to any one of my colleagues, despite what our critics are attempting to portray. My vote belongs to the constituents of my district. I represent one of the most conservative House districts in the state. My neighbors overwhelmingly support following the PFD law. In fact, they strongly believe they are rightfully owed the PFD money first taken during Gov. Bill Walker’s tenure and then by the Legislature during ensuring years. Further, they believe the PFD should be paid first, not last. This budget did not reflect any of my district’s values. In fact, this bully budget was fundamentally coercive and directly used Mat-Su Borough children and elderly as political pawns. Members of the respective majorities employed budgetary parlor games such as pitting the amount of the PFD against capital projects such as the Houston Middle School (condemned from the 2018 earthquake), the Palmer Veteran’s Home, highways, infrastructure, and resource development against the fastest growing and second most populous area of the state. These tactics are non-starters and embarrassingly transparent. Not held hostage in the budget were a swimming pool and a road to nowhere in Sitka benefitting the co-chair of Senate Finance (who is a member of the budget Conference Committee), and road construction in Fairbanks. These and other items were not used to leverage votes of other legislators; yet those legislators have no problem lecturing the House Minority members about the need to vote for this budget and “do the right thing.” Real compromise is a two-way street. Worse yet, making these changes to the budget, in the 11th hour, behind closed doors, and with no consideration to me or my House Republican colleagues, fails to build the trust we need in order to work for every Alaskan. Our hand was forced. We were obligated to demand a budget that more accurately reflects the values and needs of all Alaskans. I have never minced words. I would not support this budget, including the effective date, without compromises that reflect the needs and priorities of all regions. To suggest anything else is an attempt to gaslight the public; to keep them from recognizing the fundamental failure of House and Senate leadership to pass a legal and timely budget. The effective date clause, the CBR vote and reverse sweep are the only levers available to the minority caucus members of the House to use that ensure the voices of the nearly 325,000 Alaskans they represent are heard. The June 16 vote in the State House is a glaring failure to recognize that necessity. There is still time to come together for and fix this, but the minority must have the concerns of its constituents heard. Less vitriol, fewer accusations of citizens being greedy by asking that existing statute be followed, and less budgetary skullduggery, will solve this impasse before July 1. The House Republican Caucus is still at the table, and we are ready to work. The question is, are those in critical positions ready to come to the table and find real compromises instead of expecting capitulation? Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Wasilla, represents District 8 in the Alaska State House.

GUEST COMMENTARY: The budget is not defective, and governor should sign it

It’s time to stop this political nonsense. The governor said he won’t sign the budget because it’s defective. That is not true. The main part of the budget passed by the Legislature is fully balanced and funded. This means teachers, public health nurses, the courts and road crews can keep working after July 1. There is absolutely no need to send out layoff notices or shut down government. That is, unless the governor continues to prioritize politics and the dividend above everything else. The irony is, this is pretty much the same budget the governor proposed four months ago except for an affordable dividend. Yet the governor’s own advocacy group sent out a social media blast last week asking Alaskans to call their legislators to vote no on his own budget. The governor is hanging his hat on the “effective date clause,” simply because he did not get the large dividend he promised in his campaign. News flash: We can’t afford it without raiding the Permanent Fund or instituting taxes on all Alaskans. Here are the facts. The budget the Legislature recently voted on comes in four parts. Part one is the “base budget” and is the meat and potatoes for funding state government. It has reductions, is balanced, has all the funding available as of July 1, and covers education, Medicaid, the ferry, the courts, the Department of Transportation, the departments of Revenue, Fish and Game and pretty much all of regular operations for state government. It also funds a $525 dividend for eligible Alaskans. It requires just a majority vote to pass, meaning 11 in the Senate and 21 in the House. This was successfully passed by both bodies. Part two is the “reverse sweep,” an annual accounting function. This funds about $196 million of a whole bunch of operating programs scattered throughout the budget for things like the WWAMI program for medical school students, the Alaska Performance Scholarship Fund for college students, community assistance, victim’s restitution fund, energy subsidies for rural Alaska and an additional $500 added to Alaskans’ dividends. The reverse sweep also covers $140 million of the governor’s priority capital projects. A no vote is essentially voting against the governor’s own capital budget. It requires a three-quarters vote to pass — 15 in the Senate and 30 in the House. This failed both bodies last week. Part three is the “Constitutional Budget Reserve” — CBR, the state savings account — access vote. A yes vote would have funded half of the state reimbursement of local school bond debt, a payment toward oil taxes credits owed by the state, and another $48 million toward the dividend. The CBR vote also requires a three-fourths vote of both bodies and failed last week. Part four is the “effective date clause.” This requires a two-thirds vote to pass — 14 in the Senate and 27 in the House. This passed in the Senate but failed in the House. The effective date in the budget says July 1, 2021, and if the governor simply signs the base budget, we can avoid a government shutdown. Or he can continue to play politics because a slim majority of the Legislature refuses to overdraw the Permanent Fund in order to pay out billions of dollars for a dividend. Does the governor think that we must have a two-thirds procedural vote every year to avoid a government shutdown? This is not what the framers of the constitution intended. It’s a poor, politically driven interpretation and counter to more than 40 years of legal opinions and Alaska Supreme Court cases. Much of this is déjà vu from two years ago, when the reverse sweep and CBR votes also failed. The governor attempted to call a special session in Wasilla and that whole debacle imploded. Luckily, there are still a few folks remaining in the Legislature who advocate for a long-term, balanced view for our government. This budget could move forward as is and at least avoid a complete government shutdown. Please call the governor’s office and tell him to sign it. Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, represents Alaska Senate District L, chairs the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee and serves on the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Resources Committee.

GUEST COMMENTARY: A way forward exists for infrastructure investments

Holding the distinction of the longest-serving member of Congress is an honor, but I’m more thankful for the experience and knowledge I’ve gained in those years. Through 10 U.S. presidents, 10 speakerships, and the cyclical flip-flop between majority and minority, I’ve had a front-row seat to the negotiations behind some of the nation’s most transformative legislation. It’s come with no shortage of lessons, but perhaps the most important is an old adage: Where there is a will, there is a way. There is undoubtedly a will for major national infrastructure investments. Regardless of congressional district or state, Americans across the country have long called for action to address aging, outdated, and unsafe infrastructure. Instead, “Infrastructure Week” has devolved into a punchline, and the country’s hopes for smart, targeted investments in their communities have waned year after year. It’s long past time for Washington, D.C., to come together and agree on an infrastructure plan that meets the needs of our modern economy, reforms the permitting process, and puts our core transportation programs on sustainable footing. Further delay poses an existential threat to our economy’s long-term strength, and without infrastructure, our global competitiveness is on the line. We must not risk falling behind the rest of the world. While the momentum behind White House and Republican negotiations seems to change on a daily basis, I firmly believe the path forward is the bipartisan way. That’s why I submitted my own infrastructure framework, which takes a sober look at the situation while steering clear of partisan orthodoxy. Infrastructure is ubiquitous and serves as the foundation for our economy and quality of life. We cannot and should not take a near-term, cycle-to-cycle approach. It’s too important not to receive input from Congress as a whole, making it vital to move a bill through regular order. As discussions so far have proven, it will not be an easy road, but as former Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have no doubt that it is possible. We must remember that Congress is not a stranger to the definition of infrastructure. As a body, we regularly agree on and pass infrastructure measures, such as Surface Transportation Reauthorization legislation, the Water Resources Development Act, and even in the Farm Bill, proving consensus is within reach. Knowing this also alleviates the pressure for one legislative package to be a silver bullet for all infrastructure needs, and directs focus to critical physical infrastructure. My colleagues in Congress should reject the notion that there must be one all-encompassing bill or no bill at all. This is a false choice. Instead, they should replace it with a steadfast resolve to put in place tools that keep Americans safe, improve lives, and keep the country competitive for future generations. If we want to build and sustain a robust national transportation system and upgrade our nation’s infrastructure, we need to commit to a few specific pillars, beginning with an honest funding mechanism. We must also understand that infrastructure investments are not a one-shot deal. Infrastructure investments at every level of government require maintenance and repair. That is why Congress created the Highway Trust Fund, or HTF, and enacted a federal excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuels, which are the principal contributors to the HTF. The “gas tax,” as it is commonly referred to, has not been raised since 1993, and as a result, has lost 40 to 45 percent of its purchasing power. At the same time, federal fuel efficiency standards have resulted in lower gas tax receipts as overall gas consumption has declined. The HTF was created to fund so-called “core infrastructure.” Core infrastructure, like roads, bridges, safety, transit, and rail, are undoubtedly responsibilities of the federal government. Congress currently funds and routinely updates them through so-called “highway bills.” Over the last 20 years, I believe that much of the controversy over how much to invest and where to invest in our nation’s transportation system will be alleviated by putting the HTF on a stable trajectory to secure long-term solvency. That is why my framework calls for modernizing the gas tax to account for post-1993 inflation. To stabilize the HTF, my reforms go even further. My plan calls for a phase-out of the gas tax into a user fee, or Vehicle Mileage Tax, for gasoline and diesel vehicles over at least ten years, and addresses the electric vehicle free-rider problem by phasing in a VMT over five years. Funding for the HTF will be transitioned away from a gas tax and into a user fee-based system. This transition will be justly targeted and fine-tuned, not only to recoup the costs that vehicles impose on the roads, but to ensure that electric vehicle owners, like myself, pay our fair share. Secondly, if Congress agrees — as I believe it should — to spend additional monies on other forms of infrastructure, such as airports, ports and waterways, clean water infrastructure, electrical generation, grid modernization, and broadband, then I fervently believe that Congress should not engage in budget gimmicks, but must raise the revenues to pay for this spending. My plan would include a slight increase in the corporate tax rate, excluding small and family-owned businesses, to offset some of the cost of this additional spending. The increase would be limited to no more than a 4 percent increase to a rate of 25 percent. Congress should recognize that there is wisdom in the “user pays user benefits” principle. Corporations benefit from and are users of America’s infrastructure. The benefits of a modernized national transportation system will outweigh the costs of a rate increase over the long term. Doing the hard work of providing long term certainty for transportation funding mechanisms will go a long way toward giving the market clear signals on where we are going as a nation. And thanks to rapid technological advancements, the world looks and operates a whole lot differently than it did when I was first elected. It will continue to evolve, and we need to plan for that reality by harnessing innovative technology to maximize benefits for Americans in every corner of our country. A look at nationwide broadband gaps and recent electric grid failures illustrate the distance the country must go to meet that goal. For Alaska, the climb is even steeper. Our state’s relative infancy and challenging geography have kept access to even basic infrastructure out of reach for many. More than 80 percent of Alaska communities are off the road system and only accessible by water or air, presenting unique challenges ranging from energy affordability to the need for strong maritime infrastructure. Addressing Alaska’s needs and the distinct infrastructure needs of states across the country will provide the nation with a fortified, resilient foundation, both physically and economically. In the short term, we can expect federal spending to spur job creation in all parts of Alaska and the country, particularly as we continue to rebound from the pandemic. In the long term, we’d rebuild the advantages that allowed our country to prosper up to this point, such as connected transportation routes and cost-effective, reliable power. Additionally, we would maintain our competitive edge by boosting America’s self-sufficiency and versatility. To move Alaska and the country ahead, Republicans and Democrats must find a way forward together on infrastructure. As the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I understood the importance of reaching across the aisle to forge common ground. I know how to get this done. In 2005, President George W. Bush signed my bill, SAFETEA-LU, into law. At that time, it was the largest surface transportation investment in our nation’s history, and enjoyed the support of then-Sen. Joe Biden. Sixteen years later, I ask now-President Biden to give my proposals a fair hearing so that we may set course for the next century of sound American infrastructure. Through my proposal and continued conversations, I’m committed to the process and seeing a bipartisan infrastructure bill pass through Congress. I call on my friends in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to make that commitment with me. Don Young is Alaska’s representative in the U.S. House.

GUEST COMMENTARY: ‘Twilight’ leaders still have workplace skills to offer

Looking for talent seems to be top of everyone’s mind, leaving it to creative problem solving to address gaps in talent at all levels of the organization. Recently there seems to be a trend of Baby Boomers coming in and out of retirement. At first glance many assumed that this was for economic reasons, however during recent interviews we are discovering anything but. During a recent interview with “Bob,” we discussed the outlook for employment for a 60-something. He said that he just isn’t ready to be put out to pasture. His career, spanning over 40 years varied with time spent in a variety of industries, all unique to Alaska. Along the way, like many Alaskans, his career path ebbed and flowed with the economy and with industry trends. What he thought was the end of his career, included a retirement party and a warm send off from friends and colleagues. Just a few months later Bob found himself bored, and he is not alone. In their twilight many executives leave their career subject matter experts within a particular discipline. Tired of the “same old grind” and ready for new adventures, they depart their career finding pleasure in the freedoms of retirement, yet not quite ready to retire their talents completely. Surprisingly, many retirees would rather be given an opportunity to leverage their talents and actually learn a new industry or acquire new skills and companies are better for it. In Bob’s case, he is curious and interested in taking on interim leadership roles. His desire, like many of his peers, is not to consult or move out of retirement completely, but to provide a meaningful and necessary role that supports teams while they transition. In one effort, a retiree might be an “Interim COO” helping to keep operations on track while recruitment efforts are under way. This allows for continuity while leveraging internal staff and ensuring they don’t take on more than they should. Ultimately not overtaxing a CEO or subordinate that would typically take on the role during a transition. The interim approach also offers a fresh and experienced perspective. There is a large pool of able, workforce ready and proven leaders to help where needed. They are far beyond a box store greeter and willing to leverage their experience. Engaging these leaders is good for morale and good for business. Paula Bradison is the CEO and President of Alaska Executive Search and Bradison Management Group LLC.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans should be good stewards of our home

It’s a great time of year, when Alaskans emerge from the long, dark winter and launch eagerly into the great outdoors, ready to experience again the freedom and natural beauty for which our state is so justifiably celebrated. As we prepare to head out fishing, hiking, boating, camping, four-wheeling or sightseeing, Alaskans should be mindful of our responsibility to respect our common natural resources, and recommit ourselves to being great stewards of the lands we love by keeping our state clean and litter-free this summer. We Alaskans pride ourselves on doing things our own way. We “don’t care how they do it Outside,” and we’re proud of our reputation for taking good care of the special place we call home. Our reputation for pristine natural beauty supports a healthy lifestyle for ourselves, and a thriving visitor industry whose benefits extend statewide from city to village. But while most of us do our part to maintain high standards of outdoor care and cleanliness, the bad behavior of even a few can literally trash Alaska’s reputation. Too many of us have seen the evidence in too many places: piles of empty bottles or food wrappers, carelessly discarded fish carcasses, overflowing dumpsters, and the telltale wisps of toilet paper blowing in the roadside wind. Last summer During last summer’s Alaska’s COVID “hunker down” — which most of us conducted outdoors — heavy weekend use at the Kasilof River Special Use Area on the Kenai Peninsula saw dumpsters overflowing with trash and an unsightly campground that produced ugly images in the news and on social media. Sadly, with travel from Outside visitors restricted by the pandemic, Alaskans had only ourselves to blame for this embarrassing scene. Simple practices like “pack it in, pack it out” make a world of difference when we are all sharing the facilities and public use areas. As commissioners, we lead departments dedicated to fulfilling our constitutional responsibility to conserve and develop our state’s land, water, fish and wildlife for the common benefit of the people. As part of this mission, we are proud to support Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “Unlocking Alaska” initiative, asserting state management authority over navigable waters and submerged lands, just as promised to Alaska at statehood. Alaskans can help strengthen this effort by making sure we know who owns the lands and waters where we are recreating and by being respectful users, whether the ownership is state, federal or private. A case in point is the popular Copper River dipnet fishery near Chitina. Those who drive the Copper River Highway to access the public salmon resource at the end find themselves on private land, most of it owned by Ahtna Inc., the Alaska Native regional corporation, and the Chitina Native Corp., the area village corporation. Having endured the damage caused by a few bad actors in the past, these private landowners are justified in charging fees to defray the costs of maintaining their land, cleaning up the trash and repairing damage, and in some cases restoring desecration of Alaska Native burial sites. Such behavior has consequences, not just on a local or state level, but on the national stage, as well. Our state is under national scrutiny, with important resource development vital to our state’s continued prosperity being blocked because of perceptions that Alaskans are not willing or able to protect our own environment. Alaskans trashing public and private land lend credibility to the claims of anti-development forces that we can’t be trusted to protect our own environment. They strengthen the case of those who want to impose federal authority to look over our shoulder to keep Alaska “clean.” We are Alaskans. We respect our communities and love our land. It just takes a little consideration, a bit of thoughtfulness, and some preparation to be good stewards of public land and respectful visitors on private land. If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave the trail or campsite cleaner than you found it. Pick up after your pets. Be a good example of the kind of Alaska outdoorsman that you wish all visitors would be. When we do, we demonstrate to ourselves and the world that we Alaskans care for our land, and are more than capable of managing our common resources responsibly without the federal government or outside special interests telling us how we should care for our own home. Corri A. Feige is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Doug Vincent-Lang is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

GUEST COMMENTARY: Will Manchin, Murkowski, Biden cave to extremists?

Last weekend, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., became a lightning rod for the extreme progressive wing of his party when he stood firm in support of the filibuster. While the term “filibuster” gets thrown around — usually in conjunction with colorful language — a lot by folks in Washington, D.C., it is a sensible procedural step for the majority of America. It keeps a party with a slight majority from ram-rodding bad policies through Congress. It represents a check-and-balance to executive overreach, and in this case, a roadblock to many of the Biden Administration’s most radical campaign priorities; ones that would harm Alaska and our jobs, revenues and in areas related to states’ rights. As it stands today, relative moderate Joe Manchin might be the most powerful member of the U.S. Senate, with Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski right behind him. They, and their centrist colleagues in both parties, can move legislation forward, or kill it in their body. Right now, infrastructure spending, federal voting legislation, Supreme Court packing and the so-called “existential threat of climate change” are being championed by zealots who don’t want compromise, but rather, radical transformations with the way America views and acts on their issues. Without the filibuster, 51 Senators (or 50 and uber-progressive Vice President Kamala Harris casting a the tie-breaking vote) could pass legislation, things could look very different for Americans moving forward. Filibusters aren’t the only topic with fires burning around it in our nation’s capital. Also on the hot seat is an area crucial to Alaska: energy policy. Every Alaskan is touched in numerous ways by federal energy priorities. From fuel prices to upholding legal lease sales, and nearly a third of our private-sector jobs being driven by resource development (not to mention our annual Permanent Fund Dividends), what happens in Washington, D.C. has a direct impact on our day-to-day lives. With the Administration kowtowing to extreme viewpoints on a “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, which includes losing American energy independence and ceding energy market dominance to other foreign governments, Alaskans should be furious with most of the decisions coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even the one “win” for our resource-centric economy — Biden announcing his administration would not fight the massive Willow project in the NPR-A — was followed by his Interior Department shuttering development of completed, binding leases in ANWR’s 10-02 area. For you and me, and everyone who works in or relies on our energy sector for a paycheck or to heat their homes or power their vehicles here in Alaska, blocking the insanity of the Biden agenda is a good thing. After all, we don’t want these bills ever seeing the light of day, let alone passing. But for the wildlife-over-human-life activists on the Left, it’s a different story. As The Hill reported last week, “On Friday, a few dozen activists from the Sunrise Movement flocked to the White House — and plan to do so again — to urge Biden to abandon infrastructure talks with Republicans and pass lofty climate change legislation with just Democratic votes. They asked for Biden to directly meet with progressive leaders, including their executive director Varshini Prakash, and ensure the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps that they say would put 1.5 million people back to work. ‘To watch him prioritize Republicans in creating his plan [rather] than the young people who elected him, we cannot let Biden off the hook,’ Audrey Lin, an organizer with Sunrise, said at the Friday protest.” Which leads us back to Manchin, Biden and Murkowski. For the two Democrats, each will be under immense pressure from their far-Left base. During the first few months of the administration, Manchin did his pal Biden a favor by shouldering much of the political pressure. Then the President threw his long-time ally under the bus last week by saying he votes with Republicans more than Democrats (which is not true, by the way). With Manchin taking the high road, but still unwilling to acquiesce to the fringe and move far to the left, the barbarians are at the gate for both men. No wonder the President decided to leave the US for his first foreign trip. Unfortunately for him, many of his problems will be there when he returns. If they can’t pull Manchin or Biden left, the next attacks will be against Murkowski (and, to a lesser extent, Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney). Astute Alaskans have seen the ads on social media and elsewhere imploring the Senator to support the jobs-killing PRO Act, to back drastic climate change legislation and to even support court-packing. Let’s hope the Senator remembers that Alaskans elected her to stand up to radical, job- and economy-killing legislation. Alaska’s bright energy future quite literally hangs in the balance. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director of Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @PTFAlaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Big Tech censoring ‘misinformation’ does more harm than good

Labeling misinformation online is doing more harm than good. The possibility that COVID-19 came from a lab accident is just the latest example. Social media companies tried to suppress any discussion of it for months. But why? There’s no strong evidence against it, and evidence for other theories is still inconclusive. Pathogens have escaped from labs many times, and people have died as a result. Social media fact-checkers don’t have any special knowledge or ability to sort fact from misinformation. What they have is extraordinary power to shape what people believe. And stifling ideas can backfire if it leads people to believe there’s a “real story” that is being suppressed. Misinformation is dangerous. It can keep people from getting lifesaving medical treatments, including vaccines. But flagging it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. It’s much better to provide additional information than to censor information. Part of the problem is that people think they know misinformation when they see it. And those most confident of their ability to spot it may be least aware of their own biases. That includes the fact-checking industry within the mainstream media, who were caught removing earlier posts on the lab leak theory, as well as social media “fact checkers” who aren’t accountable to the public. Earlier this year, I interviewed physician and medical podcaster Roger Seheult who said that he was censored by YouTube for discussing the clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin as potential COVID-19 treatments. No wonder so many people still believe these are the cures “they” don’t want you to know about. Much better would be an open discussion of the clinical trial process, which could help people understand why scientists think those drugs are unlikely to help. Even without the power of censorship, social media culture encourages the facile labeling of ideas and people as a way of dismissing them — it’s easy to call people deniers or as anti-science because they question prevailing wisdom. Of course, there are ideas that are very unlikely to be true. These generally involve elaborate conspiracies or a complete overhaul in our understanding of the universe. Or, like cold fusion and the vaccine-autism theory, they’ve been tested and debunked multiple times by independent investigators. I discussed the new interest in the lab leak with another science journalist who was interested in why so many reporters are still treating the natural spillover hypothesis as the only possibility. We agreed this isn’t like the connection between carbon emissions and climate change, where there’s a scientific consensus based on years of research and multiple, independently-derived lines of evidence. Here, even if a few scientists favored the natural spillover early on, the question is still open. Last year, some scientists rightly objected that accusing any lab of causing a worldwide pandemic is a serious charge and one shouldn’t be made on the basis of proximity alone. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the possibility, or assume that some other equally unproven idea is right. In the face of an unknown, why would the fact-checking people deem one guess to be a form of misinformation, and another guess to be true? And the lab leak idea got conflated in some people’s minds with conspiracy theories that the virus was deliberately created and released for population control or some other nefarious agenda. But a lab leak could have involved a perfectly natural virus that a scientist collected, or virus that was altered in some well-intentioned attempt to understand it. Writing in his blog, journalist and Bloomberg contributor Matthew Yglesias calls it a media fiasco. “(T)he mainstream press … got way over their skis in terms of discourse-policing.” He admits he Tweeted his disapproval of a thoughtful, well-written New York Magazine piece that helped revive the lab leak debate last January. The author — novelist Nicholson Baker — didn’t claim any smoking gun, but made a convincing case that the issue was still open. A Medium piece by former Times writer Nicholas Wade added little to what Baker said, but came at a time when the pubic was ready to reconsider. A recent Vanity Fair account details how the issue was suppressed inside the U.S. government. Looking back, there really wasn’t that much new news to report. Very little new evidence has been uncovered over the last year. The pandemic’s origin is still unknown. The fiasco was the media’s propagation of the lie that the issue was settled and that anyone questioning it might be deemed an idiot or conspiracy theorist. And maybe the intentions of the Facebook fact checkers were good. If there was magical way to identify misinformation, then social media platforms could do more to refrain from spreading it. Suppressing ideas they don’t like isn’t the way. Yesterday I had a long talk with someone who volunteers at a girls’ school in India, and she said she’d been in contact with some students who expressed fear of COVID-19 vaccines, even though their neighborhood has been ravaged by the pandemic. When she gave them additional information, about relatively greater danger of the disease, they chose to get vaccinated. What helped was not taking away information but giving people additional information. Censoring information — or what one deems “misinformation” — isn’t as helpful as it seems. The best we can do is keep questioning, and give people the most complete story we can. Faye Flam is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and host of the podcast “Follow the Science.” She has written for the Economist, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Psychology Today, Science and other publications.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans want to keep right to work for themselves

Alaskans have always had an independent, pioneering spirit. It is no surprise then, that a recent poll commissioned by the Alaska Chamber, Alaska Trucking Association, Alaska Support Industry Alliance and the Associated General Contractors of Alaska found, by a 3-to-1 margin, Alaskans prefer the right to work for themselves when, where and for whom they want. A new law under consideration by the U.S. Senate, the “Protecting the Right to Organize” Act or PRO Act, would limit not only Alaskans’ work choices but also our businesses’ ability to adapt. While supporters of the PRO Act claim it is a tool to support workers, its provisions deprive workers of fundamental rights, significantly reduces workers’ options to choose independent contract work, and increases costs on small businesses by requiring them to hire full-time staff at a time when many are trying to get back on their feet. One of the most concerning elements of the PRO Act is the inclusion of a more restrictive form of the “ABC” test, which is used to determine if someone should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor. California included this “ABC” test in their disastrous 2019 “Assembly Bill 5” only to find it prevented everyone from teachers to writers to retirees from working as independent contractors. To date, California has passed dozens of “exemptions’” to the bill and they are still going. Our poll found Alaskans don’t want to repeat California’s mistakes around independent contractors. When Alaskans learned more about how the PRO Act would drastically alter current federal labor laws and significantly affect who was able to be an independent contractor in Alaska, more than 60 percent of Alaskans opposed the bill. This was true even among current union members who opposed the PRO Act by 57 percent after learning about its provisions. What’s more, 85 percent of Alaskans agreed that it was important they be able to choose to work as independent contractors. More than 80 percent believe federal laws should continue to protect the rights of Alaskans to work as independent contractors. Alaska’s federal representatives should take heed: Alaska’s workers don’t want new mandates or classifications. Instead, they overwhelmingly want to preserve their choice to be independent contractors and work when and for whom they choose. Further, Alaska’s businesses — like many around the country — are struggling to fill vacancies as pandemic restrictions are eased and consumer confidence grows. Additional regulatory costs and restrictions on businesses already unable to find workers will only further hamper their ability to reset and restart after struggling through the last 15 months. Now is not the time to implement failed California policies that dictate relationships between workers and businesses. It didn’t work for California, and it certainly won’t work for Alaska. Alicia Siira is executive director of Associated General Contractors of Alaska. Joe Michel is executive director of the Alaska Trucking Association. Rebecca Logan is president and CEO of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance. Kati Capozzi is president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Road Rage, Or Why All Other Drivers Should Be Annihilated

My name is Sarah, and I suffer from road rage. You’d think living in a state with relatively little traffic, like Alaska, would have cured me of this illness. Alaska has nothing but wide-open spaces, but even this, unfortunately, has not calmed me. If anything, it may be making my road rage worse. My fellow Alaskans are, by and large, a laidback bunch. In conjunction with this laissez-faire attitude towards life, drivers do not give much thought to when they will arrive at their destination, and instead toddle along, nary a care in the world. On the other hand, I care very much about my destination and would like to arrive there sometime this calendar year, people, please! I wasn’t always this frustrated. As a newly minted driver with a learner’s permit in Fairbanks, I was very intimidated by the rules of the road. All the other cars dwarfed my first car, a 1997 Nissan Maxima. It had once belonged to my grandmother, and much like my grandmother, the car offered shelter and comfort. Also much like my grandmother, the car was smaller than others of its kind in the wild. My grandmother topped off at a whopping five feet tall and would often complain that the world was not made for people her size. An early adopter of microaggressions, she maintained her whole life that the world discriminated against short people. I would hear her small voice muttering to herself when reaching for things in the cabinets, when climbing into cars, and when sitting in chairs. “Everyone is against us! The world hates short people!” As I scooted around Fairbanks in my grandmother’s car as a teenager, I too adopted my grandmother’s ethos. Trucks would loom over me, vans would steam by me, and I would clutch the steering wheel in a death grip. My dad, in his designated role as driving instructor, would sit stone-faced in the passenger seat beside me. Even though I could not bring myself to drive faster than 45 miles per hour, his foot would stamp the floor where the brake pedal would be so hard the car would rock side to side. As a baby driver, I would get lost in my miniature hometown, drive many miles under the speed limit, and freak out if I encountered a one-way street. I once took the wrong exit off the Johansen Expressway, could not figure out how to get back on the expressway, turned around, and drove the wrong way up the exit ramp. There was absolutely no traffic on the road (it was Fairbanks after all), but I was sure I would be arrested at any moment for the high crime of being a dingbat. As we all know, however, with practice comes confidence. As I matured in my driving, I had the temerity to approach the speed limit, make left turns, and choose a lane other than the right. Having mastered the art of the turn, my confidence blossomed into aggression. My fear of my fellow drivers had been replaced with a blind resentment. Who were these other vehicles taking over the road? This place was not big enough for me, my Nissan Maxima, and them too! This only got worse after I started driving in major metropolitan areas outside of Fairbanks. Drivers on the East Coast are not afraid to drive 80 miles per hour, merge aggressively, or block traffic so they can cut into a long line. Boston was the first place I saw taxi drivers run red lights more often than stop. Man, did those guys have game. I learned much from these driving giants, and my fellow Alaskans could stand some similar tutelage. For example, upon moving back to Anchorage, I was devastated by my fellow residents’ complete and utter inability to use the passing lane. Rather than passing the car on the right, and then dutifully moving back into the right-hand lane, drivers simply treated the passing lane as another lane. Two lines of cars, equal in length, meander along together, and I am back at the end of the line calling everyone around me a deadhead. But the crème-de-la-crème of triggering behavior: nothing sends me into a fury faster than a car which pulls into the left lane, speeds up to pass the car on the right, reaches the car, and then slows down to drive the exact same speed as the car next to it. People! I beg of you! There is no point in getting into the left lane, speeding up to the car in front of you, and then driving the exact same speed. For crying out loud, just drive the same speed behind them in the right lane. Don’t be a monster! I’ve spent many hours profiling my fellow drivers, trying to ascertain who amongst me is an obstacle, and who is a fellow traveler; an ally, if you will, merely trying to get to his appointed destination. For example, I always try to follow a truck; they go faster and drive with purpose. I avoid Subarus, as those drivers are nearly always overly cautious. Stay away from boats, buses, and gaggles of RVs. The worst of the worst drivers, however, is a very specific breed of truck driver who views being passed as an afront to his manhood. This driver will go out of his way to drive slowly on one-lane streets, block the sections of road where there is a passing lane, and then saunter back to the one lane once the passing lane is dispensed with, satisfied he has ruined everyone’s day. I will be driving south this weekend for Memorial Day. May those who cross my path be speedy. Sarah Brown takes many deep breaths. Write to her on pain of death at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Thanks for nothing, Chris Cuomo

Thanks for nothing, Chris Cuomo. The public’s trust in traditional media is at an all-time low, with 56 percent of Americans agreeing with the statement that, “Journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations,” according to data reported by Axios. It doesn’t help that former President Donald Trump spent his campaign and time in office popularizing the term “fake news” and branding journalists “the enemy of the people.” It doesn’t help that social media has blurred the lines, almost to the point of erasure, between vetted, fact-checked information and the rantings of ill-informed ideologues. And it doesn’t help that 68 percent of Americans usually get their news from television, where many cable news hosts have abandoned all pretense of objectivity in favor of the sweet lure of ratings — ratings that are easier to achieve when you sow outrage and fear, rather than deliver insights and context. It’s within that landscape that Cuomo, the host of CNN’s nightly show “Cuomo Prime Time,” joined strategy session phone calls with the staff of his older brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to discuss the handling of sexual harassment allegations against the governor. “The cable news anchor encouraged his brother to take a defiant position and not to resign from the governor’s office,” the Washington Post reported Thursday. “At one point, he used the phrase ‘cancel culture’ as a reason to hold firm in the face of the allegations, two people present on one call said.” Chris Cuomo set an uncomfortable precedent last year when he invited his brother onto his show for frequent coronavirus updates and conversations early in the pandemic — a boundary that many journalists (including me) believed he shouldn’t have crossed. And revelations that Chris Cuomo got special access to state-administered COVID-19 tests when his brother’s administration dispatched state health officials to his relatives’ homes and expedited their test results, reported first in the Washington Post, are exactly why. Newsrooms often go to great lengths to prevent their employees from partaking in any activity that could even imply a conflict of interest. At the Chicago Tribune, we sign a pages-long ethics policy every year that mandates we don’t accept gifts from sources, don’t offer or accept favors to or from people, don’t participate in political rallies or protests, don’t donate money to politicians or candidates for elected office. The rules apply to everyone — reporters, editors, photographers, page designers. And — this is important — opinion writers. Because whether you’re encouraged to keep your opinions out of your work — as reporters are — or encouraged to let your opinions inform and populate your work — as columnists and critics are — you still need to avoid, at all costs, appearing beholden to anyone. Especially a politician — even if he or she is family. Your words — written or spoken, opinion-free or opinionated — are supposed to come from a pure, uncompromised place. It’s why I could write a column saying I liked Elizabeth Warren’s ideas, but I couldn’t contribute to her presidential campaign. I can’t have a vested, financial interest in her success. My words can’t be an attempt at securing myself a good return on investment. CNN is walking an uncomfortable line here. By choosing not to discipline Chris Cuomo, they’re making it hard for viewers to trust that the network’s reports and analysis are uncompromised by employees’ personal connections. The network is also asking viewers to trust its past and future stories about sexual harassment, even as it employs a guy who participated in the active brushing off of numerous women’s allegations, simply because they were made against his brother. That’s a tough sell, and it should be. It’s not so different from Fox News continuing to employ Sean Hannity, even as he acted as an adviser to Trump. It’s frustrating, both as a journalist and as an consumer of news and analysis, to see such blatant conflicts of interest shrugged off by both the folks participating in the conflicts and their employers, particularly when their employers play such an outsize role in shaping public opinion of the media. It erodes public trust at a time when it’s imperative for people to receive and believe the news — for public safety, for the wellbeing of our communities, for the health of our democracy. And trust, once it’s gone, is incredibly difficult to win back.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Federal permitting stands in way of infrastructure bill

The Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan talks about a climate crisis and an affordable housing crisis in its attempt to address the country’s infrastructure crisis. But before it can make serious progress on any of those issues it will need to address another crisis: federal permitting. President Joe Biden recently met with Republican senators to discuss building bipartisan support around infrastructure. His American Jobs Plan proposes spending an estimated $2.3 trillion, plus $400 billion in tax credits, to be offset by $2.1 trillion in additional tax revenue. Objectives include modernizing 20,000 miles of roads, 10,000 bridges, replacing lead drinking water lines, 100 percent national broadband coverage and, most ambitious of them all, overhauling the entire U.S. economy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But the federal government stands in its own way in accomplishing any of those goals. Many large infrastructure projects, especially linear projects such as utility lines that can cover hundreds of miles of right-of-way, are subject to a slew of federal, state and local permits and other authorizations. Most prominent among those is the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA. The average time to complete an environmental impact statement — the type of analysis required for most major infrastructure projects — is 4.5 years, with some reviews taking over 10 years, according to a 2020 report from the White House Council on Environmental Quality that examined submissions from 2010 to 2018. Once approved, the most controversial projects, which are often also the largest, are subject to litigation from opponents searching for any vagaries in the law or process that they can exploit, delaying projects by an average of another two years. In 2020, the White House Council on Environmental Quality revised the NEPA regulations for the first time in more than 40 years. Many of those reforms relied on objectives outlined in the original statute and regulations, which called for striking a balance between economic, technical and public good considerations. The 2020 reforms established a “One Federal Decision” framework to streamline the approval process, providing senior level oversight of the timeline and limiting the length of submissions. For substantially similar activity, the reforms allowed for the re-use or substitution of environmental documents and public input processes conducted under other environmental laws. To help reduce litigation over interpretations of the rules, vaguely written regulatory language was clarified with more specific guidance.Upon rollout of the revised NEPA regulations in 2020, businesses both large and small from nearly every part of the U.S. economy issued statements supporting the changes. Unfortunately, the reforms have been challenged in multiple U.S. courts by both environmental groups and several states, prompting the Department of Justice to ask for time to review the reforms so the Biden administration can submit its own version. In the meantime, there are ominous indications that the rapid expansion of clean energy infrastructure in the U.S. is already running into permitting problems. Leaders from the Atlantic fisheries recently boycotted a public meeting to discuss future wind energy leases offshore New York and New Jersey, stating that there have been “no accommodations to mitigate impacts from individual developers” and calling the permitting process “broken.” There are currently 16 construction and operations plans for offshore wind farms winding their way through the lengthy NEPA process in the federal government. Elsewhere, environmental litigants are challenging the New England Clean Energy Connect, a $1 billion project that will provide 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy to the New England grid, with the Sierra Club calling the project an “environmental crime.” Perhaps one can take comfort in the single line in the American Jobs Plan that refers to “smart, coordinated infrastructure permitting,” but color me a skeptic. Brenda Mallory, the current chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, refused to endorse the need for more efficient timelines during her confirmation hearing. In fact, the sole change in the 2020 revisions that she endorsed was expanded engagement by Tribal Nations, suggesting this administration might follow the example of the Obama years, when officials lay down on the tracks to prevent meaningful reforms to NEPA. One thing you can count on: the tracks won’t be high speed rail, because those won’t be built for many years if all the recent improvements to NEPA are discarded. A bipartisan approach to NEPA permitting reform is still possible by focusing on these three key elements: • Implement the “One Federal Decision” framework to structure interagency coordination. • Establish presumptive time limits for approvals, reinforced by senior level oversight by the department leading the review. • Authorize greater use of the existing trove of federal, state and tribal environmental documents and administrative processes. These reforms won’t address all the reasons for delays, but they will help. The country has a solid foundation to create sensible permitting reform — let’s not waste valuable taxpayer funds in a slow and inefficient pursuit of the next generation of American infrastructure. Stuart Levenbach has held positions in three presidential administrations, including in the Office of Management of Budget, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and most recently as senior adviser to the former director of the National Economic Council.

OPINION: Assembly’s retreat gives Bronson room to govern

Two things have become clear over the past four weeks in Anchorage, one that was always more certain than the other. First, we found out that the Anchorage Assembly has, and indeed always had, the power to revise or revoke the emergency orders handed down from the mayor’s office. Second, as Dave Bronson’s lead grew to 1,212 votes in the runoff election for mayor as of May 18, we have learned that contra the supposed conventional wisdom, an unapologetic and unashamed conservative can still win a citywide race in Anchorage. The fact Joe Biden won Anchorage last fall and the Assembly’s ideological tilt is more lopsided than the last moments of the Titanic led a few prognosticators along with former candidate Bill Evans to assert that Bronson stood no chance in a one-on-one race against Forrest Dunbar. Appeals to Bronson supporters to make the “safe” vote for Evans fell on deaf ears — he didn’t crack 10 percent in the general election — and their significant advantage of enthusiasm and motivation appear to have carried him to victory. Evans’ refusal to endorse Bronson proved equally unimportant. During the April 6 general election, the three candidates to the right of Dunbar and his fellow progressives earned 50.3 percent of the vote. As of the most recent results, Bronson stands at 50.7 percent. A general rule about politics is that it is better to be voting for something, and Bronson supporters had that in spades even as much of what they were for was being against what Dunbar and his progressive cohort on the Assembly have put the city through over the past year. In contrast, Dunbar didn’t run on any accomplishments other than having been twice elected to the Assembly following an unsuccessful challenge to Dean of the U.S. House Don Young in 2014. The greatest accomplishment Dunbar could actually point to — other than funding more cops in a position also supported by Bronson — was his vote on April 27 to lift every pandemic prohibition other than the mask mandate. In a vote that telegraphed his desperation, Dunbar joined with Chris Constant to override the mayor, the city Health Department and the CDC guidelines in place at the time. Now it is quite obvious that adopting Bronson’s campaign platform did not help Dunbar as much as he may have hoped it would. Then as he departed for National Guard duty, he all but conceded the race and was not present when eight Assembly members voted to make effective immediately Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s release from the mask mandate she had scheduled for May 21 just hours earlier. With only one dissent from Meg Zalatel, the Assembly belatedly exerted the power they always had to moderate or eliminate emergency orders yet had refused to do for more than a year despite the pleadings from the people who flocked to Bronson for change. Whether they intended to or not, the Assembly opponents of Bronson have done him a favor. He should now be able to take office July 1 and inherit a city coming back to life from the damaging and often heartless orders issued by successive mayors and unfailingly — until now — upheld by the Assembly. The progressive elected officials paid a price for their refusal to moderate, their misplaced priorities, and the highly questionable line items where they sent CARES Act money. Bronson has breathing room to govern at a time when what the municipality needs more than anything is a steady hand on the till as businesses begin to recover. He has a chance to help shape the next tranche of $51 million in federal relief money, which may be a good place to fund his promise to rebate property tax payments for businesses that were shuttered by government order. Although he was smeared as simply wanting to jail the homeless, he expressed his support for the success of the mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena that not only provided a roof but the connections to services sought by many who are willing to seek the help. Based on the 9th Circuit court case so often cited over the past several years as an excuse for doing nothing, Bronson can recognize that a core piece of that ruling is that people cannot be cited for public trespassing when there is no shelter space available. The tragedy of people drinking themselves to death at our busiest intersections and the illegal and environmentally degrading camping through the greenbelts cannot be resolved without sufficient shelter space and resources. That is not to say that criminalizing crime can’t be a part of the policy. The right to sit on a corner doesn’t include the right to drink, use drugs, or do the things Bronson said belong “behind bathroom or bedroom doors.” Even though he will take office at the warmest time of the year, Bronson will be sworn in at a time when the political temperature should also be as low as its been in nearly a year. Expecting a honeymoon may be unrealistic, though, with critics stacked against him across the press and the Assembly chambers. Some enterprising person has probably already purchased “recallbronson.com”. Bronson fought hard for this, and his supporters deserve to enjoy their touchdown dance rather than immediately being lectured about compromising. What’s also certain is this: winning was hard, but governing is going to be even harder. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Show us the money, redux: Alaskans respond to budget challenge

Last fall, we asked Alaskans to “show us the money” using a new website that models the State of Alaska’s fiscal year 2022 budget challenge. Using the current year budget as a baseline and incorporating the then-most current revenue projections, the website started with a projected $1.3 billion dollar deficit. Alaskans were invited to try their hand at filling the gap. A lot has happened since then, but one thing remains the same – the State of Alaska has a structural budget problem that can’t be solved with short-term federal dollars or further delays. Since last fall, we’ve heard from more than 2,100 Alaskans. Using the Alaska Budget Choices web site, they showed us how they would increase or decrease spending; increase or decrease current taxes; add new taxes; modify the draw from Permanent Fund income; designate a level for the dividend; and create their own unique solution. We’ll share more about the results below but first a few reminders. It was never our intention to put forward a single budget solution. Our purpose was to engage Alaskans in a process to better understand the challenges and difficult choices ahead. We reached out to all Alaskans through the news media, social media, email marketing, speaking engagements, and referrals. It was a challenging time with the pandemic, economic worries, and a contentious presidential election all vying for Alaskans’ attention and airtime. We are pleased so many Alaskans took the time to grapple with the challenge of balancing the state budget. We promised to share the results with elected officials. Last week, we sent extracts from the results to all members of the Alaska State Legislature. Those extracts use zip codes to approximate each legislator’s district. The results surprised us. We learned a lot about our fellow Alaskans, mostly that the public conversation about the budget hasn’t really reflected the measured steps that most Alaskans would take if they were the decision makers. Respondents clearly affirmed the need to protect the Alaska Permanent Fund by following a sustainable percent of market value formula draw. When it comes to dividends, the vast majority of responses landed on holding the line or suspending the dividend until we can afford it. In terms of spending, for the most part, respondents favored holding the line on more cuts and maintaining current levels of service. On the revenue side, most respondents favor holding the line on corporate and resource taxes. However, opinions were more diverse and varied when it came to use taxes, an income tax, and a statewide sales tax. We want all Alaskans to see the results as well. The full report can be accessed at: https://bit.ly/2RuhQ2R We hope the Alaska Budget Choices project has provided participants with a greater understanding and appreciation for the challenges facing our legislators. We also hope it has prepared participants to more fully engage with their legislators on this most important topic. As the regular session marches toward a conclusion and the legislature moves into the first of two special sessions, it is imperative for citizens to remain engaged. Stay informed about the budget options under consideration. Reach out to your legislators. It is not hyperbole to say that the future of our state hinges on the decisions that will be made in Juneau in the coming days. Cheryl Frasca is a former director of the Alaska Office of Management and Budget, and former director of the Municipality of Anchorage Office of Management and Budget. Eric Wohlforth is an attorney, and former Trustee with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. He served as the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue in the early 1970s.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Don’t repeat Europe’s vaccine catastrophe

For many Americans, the calamitously slow vaccine roll-out in countries like Germany, France, and Italy comes as a surprise. After all, in the early days of the pandemic, Europe’s response to the crisis seemed highly competent, especially compared to the United States. But the sluggish vaccination campaign in these nations is actually quite predictable. For years, European policymakers have imposed strict price controls on new pharmaceuticals; and those price caps have delayed patients’ access to cutting-edge medicines. The same story is now playing out with COVID-19 vaccines. Amazingly, Congress is now seeking to emulate Europe’s failed price control policies. Europe’s botched vaccine rollout ought to make lawmakers reconsider. Four months after the first COVID-19 vaccine earned authorization, large portions of Europe are still struggling to inoculate their populations. In Germany, Italy, and France, only about 25 percent of patients have received at least one vaccine dose. Consider that the United States — which is far more populated than any of those three nations — has administered at least one dose of the vaccine to more than half the adult population, and has fully vaccinated three in 10 people. How to explain Europe’s sluggish vaccine rollout? While there is no single cause, one major factor is the European Union’s obsession with paying less for COVID-19 immunizations than many other countries. Whereas Israel — by far the world leader in COVID-19 vaccinations — agreed to pay $25 for each dose, and the United States paid $20, the EU held out for a discount, ultimately paying $15 to $19. And while EU countries got a lower price, they paid more in other ways. A recent analysis found that the delayed rollout could cost the European economy close to $107 billion this year. That’s more than four times what the EU paid for its vaccines. Sadly, this isn’t the first time Europe’s price-obsessed bureaucracy has delayed access to lifesaving new medicines. It’s routine for agencies like Germany’s Federal Joint Committee and France’s Economic Committee for Health Products to set prices for breakthrough drugs at below-market rates. And it’s because of these tactics that new medicines generally take far longer to reach European patients. There were 290 new active pharmaceutical substances released worldwide between 2011 and 2018. Of those, German patients had access to just less than two -thirds, and just less than half were offered to French patients. Meanwhile, in America — where policymakers have so far eschewed European-style price-controls — patients had access to nearly 90 percent of these new treatments. Despite the damage wrought by Europe’s drug price controls, many American lawmakers remain eager to copy these policies. House Democrats just revived H.R. 3, a bill that would tie prices for up to 250 common medicines covered by Medicare to the average price paid in other rich nations, Germany and France among them. Europe’s catastrophic vaccine rollout has shown the high cost, in money and lives, of price controls. Importing those policies here would have disastrous consequences for American patients and end up costing us all more in the long run. Joel White is president of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, a coalition of organizations seeking to lower the cost of health care for all Americans. Previously, Joel spent 12 years on Capitol Hill as a House staffer, most recently as the Staff Director for the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee.

GUEST COMMENTARY: S. 1 would muzzle free speech

If you want to turn private life into political warfare, there’s a bill in the U.S. Senate just for you. It’s the Democrats’ 800-page election takeover, S. 1. Promoted as a voting and campaign reform measure, 300 pages of the bill actually contain new restrictions on your First Amendment rights to association and free speech. These provisions have been criticized by everyone from the ACLU to Mitch McConnell, but Democratic leaders refuse to budge. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives. S. 1 also seeks to nationalize election law in ways that won’t fit our unique state. I oversaw elections as Gov. Sean Parnell’s lieutenant governor. Alaska’s election rules reflect our vast land areas, diverse languages and cultures, and even the challenges of getting an ID card if you live in rural Alaska. Sadly, S. 1 will not allow for our uniqueness and diversity. It turns more power over elections to the federal government, and overrides our state’s constitution in several ways. A second challenge in the law is its effort to stifle political debate and undermine individual privacy, both things Alaskans hold dear. Under S. 1, any group that mentions a candidate in communications about legislation or public affairs could be forced to publicly expose its supporters. This will discourage Americans from joining groups that speak about the issues. It would also violate the privacy of longstanding nonprofit organizations that care about public policy and good government. Americans have a First Amendment right to privately support charities and civic groups, including through membership. Doing so should not “brand” someone as fully supporting everything that group does or advocates. A garden or gun club, an aviators’ group, or a snowmachine group might have views on parklands or air traffic control or access to public lands. Why should they have to release their membership to make their feelings known on a legislative issues? First Amendment freedom has been vital to social movements, including many that are now celebrated among our democracy’s greatest achievements. Americans who challenge the establishment have good reason to value their privacy. One of the great victories of the civil rights movement was a unanimous 1958 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting citizen privacy. It said Alabama could not force the NAACP to turn over a list of its members. The Court saw that “compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as (other) forms of governmental action.” In other words, censorship isn’t the only way the government can make a troublesome group or viewpoint disappear. If it can weaponize the law to force organizations to expose their members, it can dry up support for any group that dares to criticize the government. Soon enough, the criticism goes away, or at least gets a heck of a lot quieter. Importantly, the court’s ruling did not just apply to the NAACP or in the South. It protected the right to private giving for all Americans and from all governments. The threats to citizens today, and the chill to speech, are significantly greater. Thanks to the internet, private giving that is publicly exposed will be available for all time, to anyone, in just a few clicks. Who knows what opinions will get you “canceled” a generation from now? Even today, three out of four voters say they cannot speak openly because of how others would react to their views. S. 1 would silence us more. Sen. Lisa Murkowski courageously stood for privacy and the First Amendment freedoms of Alaskans during the 2005 Patriot Act debates. I agree with the sentiments she expressed then about the importance of “providing safeguards to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.” She fought giving the government power to do a “fishing expedition” into our library, health and gun records. Now I’m hopeful our delegation stands together to protect our privacy, by defeating S. 1. Congressman Don Young has already voted no. Private giving is the protection that new ideas need in a democracy. History teaches us that some of them, maybe even those we regard as silly or strange today, will become the founding principles of our future. No wonder those in power want to shut them down. Mead Treadwell was lieutenant governor of Alaska from 2010-2014. He is a board member of Alaska Policy Forum and many other nonprofit groups.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Biden’s clean energy plan requires a U.S. mining renaissance

President Biden is making a big push for his American Jobs Plan. As he explained in his recent address to Congress, a large-scale U.S. transition to renewable energy could create millions of good-paying jobs, particularly if “Made in America.” That would be a great help for America’s domestic manufacturers. But there’s a catch: a potential shortage of the raw materials needed to actually manufacture these advanced technologies. A new report by the International Energy Agency makes clear that the United States will need to drastically increase its supply of critical minerals in order to manufacture everything from wind turbines and solar panels to lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles. As the IEA explains, an insufficient supply of raw minerals could jeopardize the chances of actually manufacturing these technologies in the U.S., or deploying them globally to effectively address climate concerns. According to the IEA, the production of lithium-ion batteries alone could drive up the global demand for lithium by more than 40 times through 2040. Supplies of other key minerals — including graphite, cobalt, and nickel — would need to increase by at least 20 times as well. President Biden plans to build out America’s energy infrastructure, including an estimated 20 gigawatts of new, high-voltage power lines and a proliferation of EV charging stations. The IEA estimates that, globally, these kinds of investments will require a doubling of copper supplies in the next 20 years. Similarly, increased production of wind turbines and solar panels could boost demand for rare earth metals by as much as seven times. These new technologies are far more minerals-intensive than the systems they’re replacing. An EV uses six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car. And an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired power station. Unfortunately, the United States is now heavily reliant on China and other nations for these raw materials. In fact, America’s mineral-import reliance has doubled in just the past two decades. And thanks to aggressive, mercantilist policies, China now controls 70 percent of the world’s lithium supplies, 80 percent of rare earth metals, and roughly 70 percent of the world’s graphite. A key concern is that China utilizes extremely toxic practices to extract these resources. In Inner Mongolia, Chinese mining operators have poured refining waste into a poisonous artificial lake large enough to be visible on Google Earth. And China’s Bayan-Obo dumping site consists of dangerous sludge roughly three times the size of Central Park. In contrast, America’s mining operators adhere to the world’s most stringent environmental standards. However, the permitting process for new U.S. mines can often take up to a decade. Countries such as Australia and Canada typically approve new mines in only two to three years, though, even while imposing equally strict environmental controls. To meet soaring demand and reduce imports from China, the United States must start mining more of these resources at home. The good news is that the U.S. possesses more than $6 trillion in mineral reserves. It’s time for federal policies to change in favor of U.S. mining and materials processing. Otherwise, President Biden’s clean energy agenda could fall short of its goals—and leave the U.S. dependent on China’s reckless mining industry. Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him at @michael_stumo

GUEST COMMENTARY: HB 176 offers solution to health care shortage

Alaskans suffer from a health care shortage in most of our boroughs. It is not that we have a shortage of providers, though. We rank among the top 10 states in the country for most doctors per capita. A large part of the problem is that onerous regulations on providers make it more difficult for them to treat patients in need. But now, lawmakers are proposing a potential solution to this problem, one that would allow doctors to spend more of their time with patients and less time filling out paperwork. The Alaska Legislature is considering a bill, HB 176, that would legally define “direct health care agreements,” also known as direct primary care, as distinct from an insurance product and therefore exempt from Alaska’s insurance laws and regulations. Make no mistake: This bit of legalese would be game-changing for health care and those who depend on it in our far-flung state. HB 176 would give health care providers, including primary and specialty care providers, the legal certainty they need to see Alaskans through direct primary care, an arrangement in which patients would pay a fixed, monthly fee — on average, $25 to $85 — in exchange for round-the-clock access to their doctors. Think of it as a gym membership for health care. Under the current system, many physicians hesitate to offer DPC because they worry it will be regulated under the state’s insurance laws creating extra layers of bureaucracy to deal with, along with the inevitable higher costs. HB 176 would fix that. In turn, the benefits DPC could offer to doctors and patients would be enormous. America’s doctors spend inordinate time — half their working hours — navigating the cumbersome third-party insurance reimbursement system, time that results in 40 percent higher overhead expenses, and which could have been spent treating patients. This process also contributes significantly to physician burnout, causing skilled medical professionals to leave the practice. DPC could relieve some of this hemorrhaging. Their practices spend significantly less time on often mind-numbing paperwork, allowing them to focus more of their attention on the patients in their care. Patients, too, could benefit from increased access to DPC. One study found that DPC patients visited the emergency room 41 percent less often, admitted to hospitals 20 percent less, and needed 13 percent fewer health care services overall, compared with patients who use traditional fee-for-service primary care. DPC also increases health care affordability by improving patient outcomes. After a North Carolina county offered their public employees an option to receive care through DPC, total medical costs fell 23 percent, out-of-pocket spending decreased a whopping 46 percent, and prescription drug spending fell 36 percent. The average patient was able to save $3,120. What’s more, under DPC arrangements, providers typically spend 30 to 60 minutes with each patient, compared to just 12 to 15 minutes for fee-for-service relationships. For these and other reasons, more than 30 states have passed bills ensuring that consumers have access to DPC. Removing barriers to DPC in Alaska could be exactly what we need to expand access to quality, affordable health care. Lawmakers should pass HB 176. Not only would it give patients better access to better care, but it would also free up more of our doctors to provide it. This is our chance to help them do it. Ryan McKee is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Alaska.

BROWN'S CLOSE: A Love Letter to Airplanes

Long standing readers of this column will recall there was a time when I was a frequent flyer and bona fide road warrior. Since February 2020, however, I largely stopped travelling due to the obvious complexities presented by a global pandemic. I spent a year without voluntarily giving up my civil liberties at Ted Stevens International Airport. I went 365 days sans random cavity searches by TSA. Twelve months lapsed since I last elbowed my fellow passengers while staking claim to overhead bin space. When it became obvious to everyone that we’d all been grounded for the foreseeable future, I thought, well, there is much to be gained here. My skin will clear up because it will not be exposed to that weird airplane air that always makes me breakout. I will not have to eye my seat prior to lighting for large, half chewed bits of cookie left lovingly behind by the previous passenger. No concern about the stale nose tissue that may, or may not, be lodged way, way, far down at the bottom of the seatback pouch in front of me. I will not have to look at the bathroom floor with trepidation, wondering if the puddles on the ground were caused by people who cannot neatly dry their hands, or by some other, more sinister, fluid. I was as shocked as anyone to discover after a while … that I missed it. Ironically, despite the ever-present and all-powerful weight of the Federal government, air travel struck me as, well, freedom. I looked back fondly on the stale smelling circulated air, the fiesta mix pretzels in tiny packets, and the unique taste of a Bloody Mary at 30,000 feet cruising altitude. I am pleased to report, however, that air travel is returning. Pandemic weary Americans are back to jamming themselves into these tiny cylindrical tubes and jettisoning themselves as far away from home as possible. Iceland is now open to vaccinated Americans, and the European Union is expected to follow suit shortly. Spring break travelers to Hawaii were treated to $1,000 per day car rentals, as demand surged despite companies having previously sold off inventory to stay afloat in 2020. Personally, I have completed my first pleasure trip post COVID and will begin travelling again for work in May. Expectedly, things have changed since I last flew. TSA now checks your driver’s license, and not your ticket. Masked passengers remove face coverings long enough for the security agents to verify passenger faces match passenger IDs. After a year in quarantine, I can’t imagine all faces look the same, and the agents studied a few of my fellow travelers for a while, trying to determine whether they were imposters, or had just been living life rough for the last 13 months. I am somewhat dourly resigned to looking like a demented bank robber forever, my baby blue disposable mask covering up the bottom half of my face, and my glasses the top half. One of the more disappointing changes to airline travel is the meal service. Previously a joyful activity on flights, meal service could be counted on to dependably absorb 20 minutes of flight time, followed by another seven minutes in the bathroom line, three minutes maneuvering in the bathroom itself, and a minute forty-seven seconds spent eyeing all the bathroom puddles. Then there was always the possibility of a bathroom surprise, like the time someone dangled a used Lipton tea bag from the inside bathroom door handle. These little diversions would necessitate me staring for another 52 seconds, at least! Altogether, such points of recreation would eat up over half an hour, which would be correspondingly deducted from the amount of time spent in bored silence. While I am nothing but sympathetic to an industry brought to the brink of extinction one year ago, it was a nevertheless disappointing meal service that brought me a cup of water, half a cracker, and a virtual pat on the head. Snack time lasted 38 seconds, and I swiveled around wildly wanting to know how I was going to burn up all this new quiet time. With a few accommodations, I was nevertheless thrilled to skip down the jetway for the first time in 2021. TSA, baggage crew, officious ticket checkers abundant… I love you! Sarah Brown is a Captain of Industry. You may pitch her at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

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