GUEST COMMENTARY: Cuomo allegations got a whole lot ickier claiming mentor status

A life hack: If you’re 63 and she’s 25 and you’re her boss, the flirtation is always, every time, definitely unwanted. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing sexual harassment accusations from two former aides, released a statement Feb. 28 acknowledging that his interactions at the office “may have been insensitive or too personal.” “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation,” his statement reads. “To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.” In a New York Times story published online Feb. 27 and on the newspaper’s front page Sunday, Charlotte Bennett, 25, said the three-term, 63-year-old governor asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men. Bennett was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in Cuomo’s administration until November. “He asked me if I believed if age made a difference in relationships, and he also asked me in the same conversation if I had ever been with an older man,” Bennett told the Times. “At one juncture, Ms. Bennett said, the governor also noted that he felt ‘he’s fine with anyone above the age of 22,’” the Times reports. Cuomo’s statement called for an “outside, independent review” to look at Bennett’s allegations, as well as allegations by former aide Lindsey Boylan, who accused the governor of proposing a game of strip poker on a government airplane and stopping her as she was leaving his office one day to kiss her on the lips. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s two U.S. senators, and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have also called for an independent investigation. It’s hard to imagine a bright political future for Cuomo at this point, especially with the FBI and U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York investigating his administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes. He may be toast. I don’t know. I’ve never been good at, or all that interested in, predicting the future. But I do find one detail in this whole sordid saga particularly troubling, and that’s the fact that Cuomo told The New York Times he believed he was acting as “a mentor” to Bennett. I’m reminded of a 2019 LeanIn.org survey that looked at the impact the #MeToo movement had on workplace interactions. The survey found 60 percent of male managers were uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring — a 32 percent jump from a year prior. Thirty-six percent of surveyed men said they had avoided mentoring or socializing with a woman because they were nervous about how it would look. Senior-level men said they were more hesitant to spend time with junior women than with junior men in a range of capacities: They were 12 times more likely to hesitate to have one-on-one meetings with junior women than junior men, nine times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with junior women than junior men, and six times more likely to hesitate to schedule work dinners with junior women than junior men. Those statistics are obviously lousy news for anyone interested in women advancing in the workplace, which should be everyone, since workplaces, families and communities all benefit tremendously from women’s voices, talents and financial security. Which is why Cuomo imagining himself as Bennett’s mentor, even as he acknowledges interactions that had little to do with Bennett’s professional growth and everything to do with the maintenance of his ego, is just galling. “At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good-natured way. I do it in public and in private,” his statement reads. “I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.” Mentors help you understand and navigate the unique culture of a place. They advocate for you in meetings, whether or not you’re there to see it. They coach you on asking for a raise and point you toward opportunities you may not have the confidence to pursue without some nudging. They are invested in your professional success. Your sex life is none of their business. Their sex life is none of yours. This is true whether there’s a one-year age gap or you’re the same age as your mentor’s twin daughters. (Eww.) It seems like this would go without saying, but maybe we’re not there yet. Maybe there’s still a persistent, moldy style of power broker who needs to be reminded that female colleagues and subordinates are humans, just like you, showing up to do their jobs and use their brains and contribute to the cause — which is never, not ever, not even once, your sex life.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Spending cap would help restore trust in government

Trust in government is at an all-time low. Every year, the well-respected research firm Edelman Data &Intelligence surveys thousands of people across the world to measure attitudes about trust and credibility. Throughout its 21-year history, the report has revealed fascinating insights into which institutions are deemed credible and trustworthy. This year, business has emerged as the most trusted institution, replacing government. Business is the only institution deemed ethical and competent, and outscores government by 48 points on competency alone. These attitudes reflect the stellar response to COVID-19, with business finding innovative and safe ways to continue delivering their goods and services, and the rapid development of a vaccine. While those of us in the business community appreciate finding ourselves in the top spot, we realize Alaskans must trust their government for important policy decisions. This year, those decisions are especially urgent. In the spirit of being helpful, the Alaska Chamber offers a solution to restore some of the trust Alaskans have lost in state-level leadership. A real, meaningful cap on state government spending would go a long way in showing Alaskans government can be trusted with public funds. The concept of a spending cap is not new or complicated. Individuals and families usually match their spending to their income, and they understand that blowing budgets is bound to catch up with them eventually. Alaskans want government to acknowledge this basic tenet of budgeting. While the concept of spending from emergency savings under extraordinary circumstances may make some sense, watching years of deficit spending created by past years of overspending has contributed to the dramatic erosion of trust in government. The State of Alaska technically has a spending cap in place now, but it lacks teeth. This is why the State was able to ramp us spending so dramatically a decade ago when oil prices were high, and money was rolling in. Because no effective spending limits were in place, the size and scale of the state’s operating budget grew many times faster than the ability to sustain such growth. Now we find ourselves with the unpleasant reality of annual budget cuts just to get the state back to a place where it can pay for basic services. No one enjoys that painful process, and we sympathize with state leaders trying to solve problems with no easy solutions. That is why the Alaska Chamber has such a strong record of supporting governors who take our fiscal crisis seriously. Even when the business community does not like every aspect of the solution, we have always encouraged our politicians to develop a long-term fiscal plan to give all Alaskans confidence in our future. This brings us back to supporting a real spending cap. If state leaders plan to ask Alaskans to contribute more to state revenues, they must guarantee that dramatic overspending will not recur once more money is available. We know aspects of a comprehensive fiscal plan will be difficult. But, if they occur in concert with a robust spending cap, Alaskans will trust that their sacrifices of today will not be wasted tomorrow. Any realistic fiscal plan requires this to be in place at the same time as the sacrifices the citizens will make, so the time to establish a cap is now. In plain terms, we encourage our state leaders to put a cap in place that shows Alaskans government is legally prohibited from long-term unsustainable spending again. Crafting law that guarantees downward pressure on spending also forces legislators and the governor to make tough choices; if only a set amount of dollars can be spent, real choices about what to fund will be mandatory. Several municipalities across the state have lived and thrived under the constraints of tax caps for decades, the Municipality of Anchorage being the most well-known example. While taxpayers in Anchorage grumble at waste in local government, imagine how much worse the situation would be if no cap had been in place! Given the widespread lack of trust in government, state leaders codifying tough spending limits are likely the only way Alaskans buy into the idea of creating new revenue streams. Once trust in government is restored, or at least improved, the state can move forward with making the tough decisions in front of us. That sets up the entire state, including the business community and the Alaskans who work within it, for success. Allen Hippler is the chairman of the Alaska Chamber.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Skiing and the Socratic Method

This COVID winter, all of my usual activities were indefinitely postponed. Typically, I spend the cold months indoors with friends. We go to events around town, the movies, and last winter got into a memorable altercation in a local wine bar with a woman who threw our coats on the floor. Faced with the prospect of nothing so exciting to do as that sort of direct communication, I taught myself to ski. I bought a pair of used classic cross country skis from Play It Again Sports in September, and in November I went to Hilltop and puttered around the flat landscape. It struck me as odd that the skiing destination known as “Hilltop” has the flattest land for skiing in the whole city. I was quickly distracted from this thought, however, by the sheer difficulty of cross country skiing. It takes some time to grow accustomed to the movement. One does not walk on cross country skis, or shuffle. One glides. Going straight from zero to glide proved challenging, but I picked up some tips from YouTube. Try to shuffle-shuffle-glide-shuffle. Move up to the shuffle-shuffle-glide-glide. By the time I graduated to the shuffle-glide-glide-glide-shuffle, I’d begun to notice some things about my fellow skiers. For example, the fastest way to annoy a gaggle of cross country skiers is to go the wrong way on the trail. Indeed, most loops are one way, and yet the direction is rarely marked. It’s up to the skier to know the direction. Sadly, as a novice, it is pretty much inevitable I am going the wrong way. Serious skiers, mind you, are not shy about informing you of your mistake, though their corrections could do with a bit more directness. Rather than throwing my coat on the floor, my fellow skiers want to teach me the error of my ways through the Socratic method, trying to get me to reach my own conclusions. One evening while happily skiing the wrong way, I was stopped by a female on skate skis. She was tall and thin, with her skis and poles making her legs and arms look even longer than they actually were. She flapped over. “Is there a moose back there?” Her voice went up at the end of the sentence, and she cocked her head. I frowned, puzzled. “No.” Did she expect there to be? “Oh. Well, like, you’re going the wrong way?” Her voice went up again, and she cocked her head in the other direction. I wondered why she didn’t make it a declarative statement. After all, I was either going the wrong way, or I wasn’t. In my defense, there really is no way to know whether one is going in the correct direction. Much like the skiers themselves, the ski signs communicate opaquely. Periodically, there will be one way signs with alarming stop signs beneath, clearly demonstrating the way. The trouble is, the stop signs are only at intersecting trails, which necessitate more signs with more arrows pointing to the new trails. Many of these arrows point in the direction of the stop sign, thereby instructing novices like me to disregard the one way. Like, do you see my problem? Clear, comprehensible directional signage is not important to the ski community, but signs telling non-skiers they are not welcome on the ski trails are very important. Around Anchorage, it is not uncommon to see trails labeled, “Ski Only in Winter.” While I do give kudos to the skiers for at least labeling these trails, the syntax is wrong; when else during the year would one be skiing? The first time I saw such a sign, I was on a walk in the fresh snow at Service High School. I had not yet attempted skiing myself, so I was not fully indoctrinated in the skiing ethos of restricting trails for skiers only. I read the sign, frowned in confusion, shrugged, and proceeded. I wasn’t sure why Service High School felt compelled to tell me not to bother skiing outside of winter. Perhaps some rogue student went haywire one year, tried to ski in the summer, and caused such mayhem the school administrators took extra steps to prevent similar chaos in the future. I was promptly accosted by a woman on skate skis. She, too, questioned me to show me the error of my ways. How else was I to learn? “Are you taking a walk?” She pulled the skier head cock. “Well…yeah.” “Like, you’re not supposed to walk here?” I frowned. “What do you mean I can’t walk here?” She pulled her head to the other side, and continued to look at me. The Socratic method was not working. Really, what could she do to me. This is America. I could walk on any trail I wished. “Are you telling me you don’t want me to walk here?” She shook her head piously. I waited for her to offer a bit of helpful information, such as, where she wanted me to walk instead. After we engaged in a standoff for several seconds, she motioned me to a different trail system. Many of Anchorage’s skiers are elite athletes, to be sure. Once the city reopens fully, however, they could stand a lesson in direct communication from any number of Anchorage’s bar patrons. Sarah Brown is direct. Write her at [email protected] Tweet her @BrownsClose1. Visit Browns-Close.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

OPINION: Go big or go home

“$1,000 is nothing to sneeze at” That was the title of an opinion piece published in this space on June 8, 2016, as the debate raged over the first legislation that would have authorized use of Permanent Fund earnings and set the dividend at $1,000 or some other amount for a period of three years as the state was facing multi-billion deficits. A subsequent column suggested former Gov. Bill Walker veto half the dividend appropriation — which he eventually did — as a piece of leverage with the House to encourage its members to approve the Senate bill that had passed 14-5. A year later I declared that “the PFD is not a suicide pact” as a divided Legislature remained at an impasse over using Fund earnings before settling once again for filling the deficit with savings from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. At the same time it has been argued here that the PFD should not stand as the first priority of all state spending — I’m of the “Alaska Inc.” perspective in that the dividend should reflect the state’s fiscal health like any other business — I’ve also consistently urged the Legislature to stop the ad hoc dividend setting and reconcile the conflicting statutes between using Fund earnings and the PFD formula. The point of this rambling preamble down memory lane is to provide context for anyone who may assume that because I approach issues from the conservative side of the spectrum I must have always favored paying out a full dividend or that I believe we can cut our way out of budget deficits. The time is now to go big. As a natural resource state, Alaska has endured boom-and-bust cycles from industry to industry over its history, but we are a long way from the oil price crash in 2016 and nearly a year into a once-in-a-century economic disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite recovering oil prices and several promising advanced projects, the North Slope is under attack from a malevolent federal government, the courts and anti-development NGOs. The tourism industry is staring at a wipeout after several record-setting years thanks to Canadian COVID-19 precautions and a 19th Century protectionist U.S. law that puts our visitor economy under effective control by our neighbors to the east and south. Fisheries face uncertain markets both domestically and overseas and must also cover millions in extra costs for COVID-19 mitigation that as we’ve seen can still not be enough to prevent outbreaks and production interruptions. Construction spending is forecast to be off by one-third this year over 2020 as the private sector hunkers down. Public sector construction spending is typically about a third of spending in a year; this year it is projected to account for half. About the only industry that has been held harmless over the past year are the metal miners who are all expanding in response to demand brought on by inflation expectations tied to trillions in federal deficit spending that shows no signs of slowing down. In short, Alaska is enduring a hurricane followed by a monsoon followed by a tsunami and the conventional wisdom as it relates to our supposed “rainy day” fund is that it can only open its umbrella to cover the state budget and government payroll that has shed almost nothing in the past year. Tens of thousands of others have lost their jobs. The state population has declined for four years in a row. The birth rate is down. K-12 enrollment is ebbing. Graduating high school students who shun the state universities for opportunities elsewhere are unlikely to ever return. We are not simply moving through a predictable economic cycle. We are suffering generational brain drain on a scale unlike any other time in state history. The most common refrain for not exceeding the statutory percent of market value, or POMV, draw is that we must protect the Fund and the dividend for future generations, but what kind of state will actually be left to enjoy if we do nothing to arrest the current trajectory? What good is a $100 billion Permanent Fund if we have a hollowed out education system as families flee, devastated coastal communities of shuttered small businesses and a managed decline on the North Slope while work dries up for Alaska-based support companies? Let us not forget that the reason the Permanent Fund has reached the unprecedented value of nearly $75 billion is because of the largest wealth transfer in the history of mankind from the working class and small business owners to the top percent of billionaire oligarchs and white collar work-from-homers who have seen their 401(k) accounts soar. For that the Fund managers deserve credit, and previous years’ well-founded austerity in dividend setting gave them more resources to work with that have generated these massive returns. Alaska cannot control the federal government, Canada or the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But it can control something that is the envy of 49 other states: the ability to provide direct relief to its residents. Combined with a revised PFD formula and his plan to boost the construction sector by getting to work on our billion-dollar backlog of deferred maintenance using a manageable amount of debt, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s pitch for a significant increase in dividends is an idea whose time has come. The message is simple for a Legislature that still, inexplicably, is showing no sense of urgency: Go big or go home. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Forrest phones it in

No shortage of ink, electrons or carbon dioxide have been expended over the past several months at Anchorage Assembly meetings as a dedicated group of citizens have organized — often to no avail — against destructive policies and fiscal irresponsibility enacted in the name of public welfare. Yet all it took was 34 words from a constituent on Feb. 9 to tear down the façade of the chronically absent member and mayoral candidate Forrest Dunbar as the body took public comment on a proposed ordinance to require masks in statute rather than rolling emergency orders issued through the mayor’s office. “If masks are safe and effective, and we’re required to wear them, and those requirements are being enforced in this building, then why have you not been present for an Assembly meeting for months?” Although Dunbar was free to answer the question, his line remained dead as this gentleman gave him more than two minutes to respond (I assume someone added the Final Jeopardy soundtrack during post production). Perhaps Dunbar was pounding out a snarky message to fellow member Chris Constant, but probably not over email after public records requests shed light on the contempt they have for some constituents that they rarely bother concealing anyway. Without him being physically present at the meeting, there is no reason to believe he was even listening. He could have been watching Netflix or clipping his toenails for all we know. For a perennial office climber who thinks he is the best person to lead Anchorage it is quite an interesting strategy. But then again, hiding from the public behind the COVID-19 pandemic worked out quite well for Joe Biden, who lost the state by a mile but won Anchorage despite his openly anti-Alaska policies and mental acuity that rivals a bowl of mashed potatoes. The fact Biden won Anchorage should be a giant red flag for any candidate from the center to the right who believes they can tap into the disaffected population for enough votes to defeat Dunbar in an expected runoff for mayor once a crowded field is whittled to two after the April regular election. Based on the presidential election outcome in Anchorage, there are obviously tens of thousands of residents, if not an outright majority, who are content with the status quo of the pandemic response at both the local and federal level that has widened the municipality’s class divide between remote workers who have prospered without missing a paycheck and the devastation wrecked on working class and single-parent families. Not that there isn’t reason for hope Anchorage could head in a different direction from its current arrogant and insensitive leadership. The Assembly unanimously tabled both the mask ordinance as well as the attempt to punish member Jamie Allard for an abstract if poorly constructed free speech argument over license plates. Censuring Allard while letting Constant skate for a line of questioning last August that implied a rabbi was advocating placing the homeless in concentration camps, not to mention his routinely obnoxious behavior on social media, was apparently a bridge too far for even this group of leftists. Combined with the looming recall of Chair Felix Rivera appearing on the April ballot, the opposition forces can rightly claim a few victories after months of losses. If it is true that 80 percent of success is just showing up, the people Dunbar derides have obviously figured out something he hasn’t. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Texas grid failure shows need for reliable electricity

Right now, the United States is suffering some brutally cold weather. Northern states like North Dakota and Minnesota have seen night-time temperatures dropping below zero degrees Fahrenheit. And Duluth is currently chasing a record for the coldest sustained weather, set way back in 1912. These Arctic conditions are extremely challenging, and Americans are turning up their thermostats to stay warm. As a result, the current “Polar Vortex” is pushing America’s power grid to the limit. The Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, which oversees power transmission in 15 central states, reports that coal is currently generating more than half of its overall electricity. In fact, a Feb. 15 snapshot of MISO’s grid showed coal producing roughly 45,000 megawatts of electricity, with natural gas coming in second at 25,000 megawatts. Essentially, during the current Arctic blast, coal is proving to be the sturdiest fuel for carrying the load. MISO data shows just how lopsided this electricity portfolio is. On Feb. 15, MISO’s customers were drawing roughly 88,000 megawatts of electricity. Coal’s 45,000 megawatts covered more than half of this demand. In comparison, wind and solar power hardly contributed. Solar panels delivered roughly 287 megawatts, and wind turbines topped out at around 4,900 megawatts. That means these much-vaunted renewable energy systems produced only around 5 percent of the electricity needed across 15 states. MISO has now posted alerts warning of extreme weather conditions and potential “fuel restrictions.” But all of this pales in comparison to Texas’s current troubles. Stunningly cold weather — including sub-zero temperatures — have led to a massive spike in electricity demand across the state. However, much of the Texas power grid now relies on wind turbines. And in the current Arctic blast, half of the state’s wind turbines have frozen, taking at least 12,000 megawatts of power offline. Even worse, home heating needs have drained the state’s natural gas capacity, leaving some gas-fired plants without fuel. As a result, Texas is now seeing blackouts. On Feb. 15, up to 2.5 million Texans were without electricity. This is the inevitable result of policies that favor intermittent wind generation while pushing aside the fuel-security and reliability provided by coal plants. Worryingly, Texas’s shift to wind-generated power is being replicated across the nation. President Biden hopes to eliminate all coal and natural gas plants from the U.S. power grid by 2035. This is deeply concerning if one tries to imagine a Polar Vortex in 15 years when none of the current coal plants are still available to do the heavy emergency lifting. As Texas scrambles to pull together needed power, it’s clear that baseload power must remain a key component of reliable electricity generation. The United States should continue to pursue an “all-of-the-above” fuel mix. Wind and solar can certainly contribute to the nation’s power grid. But smart future planning dictates that coal, natural gas and nuclear power will still be needed to help with the heavy lifting during uncooperative weather. Terry Jarrett is an energy attorney and consultant who has served on both the board of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the Missouri Public Service Commission.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Tourism needs your help. Let us help you go big in 2021.

Travel and tourism took a hard hit everywhere, and Alaska was no exception. In-state travel was the difference maker for many businesses in 2020. Alaskans traveling in their own backyards kept many places going through the leanest of months. The effects would have been much worse without you. In some of our communities, locals made up more than two-thirds of 2020 business, far higher than typical. If you hiked another trail, camped someplace different, hit the road headed in a new direction, or booked a getaway — even in your own town — thank you. It all made a difference. There’s reason to believe that, nationally, travel will begin recovering soon. As more people are vaccinated, we could see more Americans ready to travel — and travel safely — this summer. But as you’ve no doubt seen, Alaska’s tourism businesses face a lot of challenges between now and recovery. As Alaskans working in tourism, we have our work cut out for us. Our aim has always been to maximize the benefits — economic and beyond — of travel and tourism for our communities. We will continue to share Alaska with adventurers, and in doing so, support our communities, local businesses, and Alaskans who rely on travel to make a living. We will do everything we can to get travelers here when the time is right, and there’s reason to think that gains over last year are possible. There’s pent-up desire to travel and high interest in Alaska specifically. Travelers want scenic beauty, open spaces, and parklands. We might even be able to snag some Americans who would typically head overseas, but are searching for incredible domestic options given the current uncertainties of international travel. Attracting them and convincing them to stay and explore longer is going to be more important than ever. It’s going to take all of us. We need your help again. Last year we asked you to show up for Alaska, to stay and play, and you did! Right now, you have a bigger and better opportunity to plan for the coming months. If you are able to, plan and book the next adventure now. Go farther, take a longer trip, and try a new activity. In Alaska, there are many ways to go big. Twenty four national park units, 22 million acres of national forests, 3 million acres of state parks, and 33,904 miles of coastline; no way you’ve seen it all. This is the year to commit to the epic adventure you’ve had in mind and yet haven’t found time for. We can help you find the best ways to enjoy your perfect spot and make your travel dreams a reality; it’s what we do, and it’s what Alaskans do for one another. If you aren’t sure how to make it happen, let us help you plan the trip of a lifetime. Invite your friends and family up to share it all and take advantage of favorable airfares. We can help roll out the red carpet (and make certain they don’t spend too much time on your couch while they are here). If you’re stumped on where to send them, each of our organizations make it easier and can make it a reality this year. If staying closer to home is your speed, we encourage you to buy local, visit your hometown tourism businesses and cultural attractions, support your favorite shops and restaurants (and test out some new ones, too). You deserve some rest and relaxation. Let us help you make the most of 2021, while you help out businesses across Alaska at the same time. You’ll be glad you did. Sarah Leonard is President &CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. Julie Saupe is President &CEO of Visit Anchorage. Patti Mackey is President &CEO of Ketchikan Visitors Bureau. Liz Perry is President &CEO of Travel Juneau. Bonnie Quill is President &CEO of the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau. Deb Hickok is President &CEO of Explore Fairbanks. Sharon M. Anderson is Executive Director of Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau. Debbie Speakman is Executive Director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. Laurie Booyse is Director of Visit Sitka.

COMMENTARY: Is Biden committed to unity or unilateral action?

President Joe Biden delivered a memorable inaugural address. In lofty rhetoric intended to echo through the ages, he spoke of unity and healing to a badly fractured nation. But though the words were noble and welcome, the speech rang hollow. That’s because, even before he delivered his address, Biden had declared his intent to implement a series of highly divisive executive actions on his very first day in the Oval Office. And on that, he delivered and hasn’t stopped. A week into his presidency, Biden has taken an astonishing 40 executive actions — more than any president in history. The orders address many of the issues about which Americans are most passionate, issues like the sanctity of life, immigration, climate and religious liberty. Historically, Washington has been able to bridge divides and weather disagreements over highly charged policy proposals through deliberation and debate, with fidelity to the rule of law. It’s a slow, often painfully incremental process, but it’s one that gives voice to all Americans and ultimately gets the job done. While some executive orders are perfectly fine, what we are seeing now are examples of short-circuiting the democratic process by cutting out Congress and leaving no room for debate or dissent. A president truly interested in healing divisions would seek first to find common ground, focusing on issues where there is much agreement and mutual interest between left and right. President Biden could have demonstrated his commitment to unity by using his first day in office to take steps that address problems of deep concern to all Americans. For example, he could have announced a three-step plan to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and ease the pain it has inflicted on American lives and livelihoods. A plan to make rapid self-tests widely available, reopen our schools and assure efficient vaccine distribution would find approval on both sides of the aisle. Instead, he demonstrated a desire to satiate his left-wing base by unilaterally implementing their pet policies. Unfortunately, that approach will only further divide America — and leave us less secure, with fewer economic opportunities. Consider just two of his executive orders on climate: one canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, the other putting the U.S. back into the Paris climate agreement. The $8 billion pipeline project has enjoyed bipartisan support for years. It offered thousands of good-paying and meaningful jobs. When completed, it would have carried up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil daily to refiners in the Gulf Coast, with practically no discernable environmental impact. Blocking the project not only undermines the energy security of the United States, it will likely backfire environmentally by forcing producers to transport their crude via riskier, more inefficient methods. And the economic costs are huge. In the wake of Biden’s action, TC Energy, the company behind the project, announced an immediate 1,000 layoffs, with many more to come as the work winds down. As for rejoining the Paris climate agreement, that too offers essentially zero environmental benefits at a huge cost. To have any impact whatsoever on climate, the entire world would either have to quickly change the way it consumes energy or simply remain undeveloped. Both options are devoid of reality. When the Obama administration proposed regulations and emissions reduction targets in response to the Paris Agreement, Heritage Foundation economists estimated it would cost the average family of four more than $20,000 in lost income by 2035, an annual average loss of nearly 400,000 jobs and an aggregate GDP loss of over $2.5 trillion. Although the energy landscape has changed since then, Biden’s stringent emissions targets would likely impose similar drastic consequences. While the extreme left has viewed the Keystone pipeline as a symbol of evil incarnate and the Paris Agreement as all things bright and beautiful, not all Americans are eager to suffer the economic consequences of these actions — especially at a time when economic growth and job creation are so desperately needed. Biden’s unity message made for a great speech, but his executive orders tell a different story. If our new president is going to be more interested pandering to his base than in delivering for all Americans, he’ll go down in history not as the great healer, but as just another lip-service politician who squandered an opportunity to bring our country together. Kay C. James is the president of The Heritage Foundation.

COMMENTARY: In praise of the non-virtual

Like most folks these COVID days, I am grateful for technology, and for the virtual. Through the miracles that the virtual world provides, I am able to connect with friends, my kids, my siblings. Our children have taught us how to play games online — second nature to them; never before on our radar. I can watch a concert — classical, jazz, rock or pop — virtually. Some are presented in a highly artistic way. A few have moved me. I can go to church online. We like that we can go to the kitchen and get a cup of coffee or tea any time during the service. At our house, as in many homes, we have been sampling, and oversampling, the endless choices offered by Amazon and Netflix. Our oldest son caught the dreaded virus, and overcame it, but was able to check in with his doc by Teladoc. The presidential inauguration, typically watched at home by the vast majority of Americans, seemed more special this year, somehow. The fact that almost no one could attend in person, even if they could get to Washington, made it more intimate. It was an inauguration, via film, rather than an inauguration that was filmed. The folks who were physically present were extras. The Tom Hanks celebration show, from the Lincoln Memorial — a celebration of and for the country — was as important as the swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol steps. And the president was a part of the country’s celebration and sacred ritual, not the point of it. Just as a civil wedding with only four or six people as witnesses can be more deeply affecting than a big shindig, this inauguration, in its simplicity and directness, soothed many a shaken American heart. We are coming through this COVID thing, as a polity and as a society. And all the large and small virtual miracles are helping us to do it. But one thing I hope will not happen: I hope we will not get too accustomed to the virtual. I hope we will not come to prefer it. Church is very convenient at home on a screen. No need to shower or get dressed up. But the solemnity is broken by the availability of that coffee pot and tea kettle. Most people don’t stand or kneel at home. And no power or support is derived from the souls beside and behind you, because there is no corporate body of prayer. Or take politics. Something central to politics is lost if there is no door-to-door campaigning, handshaking or oration. A speech is a different kind of thing than a TV debate. Old time pols used to say they had to “make” a speech, not “give” one. I was at Barack Obama’s first inauguration — 1.8 million freezing people, very few able to get to their seats, no room to move, and nothing but goodwill. Most of us, even with tickets, watched on the jumbo screen at a very great distance. A man in front of me, in one of the endless lines, said: “Well, the point here is to tell your grandchildren I was there. You don’t go into the details.” Politics is a human art, a personal art, conducted by, with and toward other human beings. After Robert Kennedy was killed in 1968, I remember that some said: Let us conduct our politics on TV now. It’s the only safe way. Thank God, we didn’t do that. It would no longer be politics. Politics is a human art. The same is true of music and of medicine. There is a corner of ancient rock ‘n’ roll where one of the mantras is: “Live music is better. Bumper stickers will be issued.” I would buy that bumper sticker, because most bumper sticker slogans are only partially true. This one is entirely true. Whether you are listening to the music of Bach, or the voice of Van Morrison, or Willie Nelson, there is no stereo system that can deliver the thrill of music being heard as it is made. And what is medicine beyond the mending? It is listening. Medicine is the human art. Sure, your doc can listen to you on Zoom. But, let’s be honest, do you listen in the same way to a person on a screen that you do to a person across a table, or next to you by the fire, or even beside you in a car? Technology almost demands that you attempt to multitask. Distraction is the default position. A child, a patient, a customer or a constituent, in person, demands your attention. I asked my doctor, who is a great doctor, “How do you like telemedicine?” “I don’t,” he said, “I don’t like it at all.” Another doc, a specialist, told me, “I finally decided, if I die I die. I wouldn’t like that. But this (hands on and in person) is the only way I know to practice medicine.” One of my sisters, a teacher for 30 years, said the same thing about teaching. She’s quitting. She can’t teach to a box. The great Norman Mailer missed out on Ma Google and Wikipedia but lived long enough to experience the internet. He said it was nice, convenient. But he missed working in a library, actually doing research. You dig an entire afternoon for one nugget, he said. Even writing is a human art. And, yes, Netflix is a godsend. But it is not like going to the movies. When the lights come down and the first flickers rise with the sound on the big screen, it beats the hell out of your TV, no matter how large and plasmatic. That experience is topped only by the first few notes of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony in a hushed concert hall. You will never, ever get that on your iPhone. The virtual is what is possible these days, and, often, what is miraculous. And we should be grateful. But something is also lost. When COVID is over, we shouldn’t settle. The non-virtual, the actual, is the greatest miracle of all. Keith C. Burris is editor, vice president and editorial director of Block Newspapers.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Biden energy agenda hurts economy and national security

Despite campaign promises to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, create good-paying union jobs and “build our economy back better,” President Joe Biden’s track record from his first week in office is coming up short. On Day One, Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline. Then he signed an executive order halting oil and gas leasing on public lands. Now, “Keep it in the Ground” activists are calling on him to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been safely operating for more than 3½ years delivering up to 570,000 barrels of North Dakota crude oil per day to U.S. markets. Unfortunately, it seems the president is paying homage to the vocal far left rather than the millions of blue-collar union workers and working class families who put him in the White House. Many Americans agree that climate change should be among the top priorities for the Biden administration. According to an October 2020 Pew Research Center survey, 44 percent of voters ranked climate change as a “very” important issue. While this percentage has grown in recent decades, it still lags significantly behind the leading issue: the economy, which 79 percent of voters recognized as “very” important in the 2020 election. This was followed by health care (68 percent) and the coronavirus outbreak (62 percent). Biden’s decision to block the $9 billion Keystone XL pipeline — which was estimated to support 11,000 American jobs in 2021, generate $1.6 billion in gross wages, serve as a lifeline to labor unions in the wake of the pandemic and ultimately usher in $140 million in annual property tax revenues for state and local governments — certainly does not seem to align with his promises of creating jobs and investing in infrastructure. Or consider the president’s decision to ban oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. Reports from the American Petroleum Institute forecast detrimental effects on the economy, with potential losses of nearly 1 million jobs by 2022, more than $9 billion in government revenue at risk and U.S. households spending a cumulative $19 billion more on energy by 2030. High energy-producing states with large areas of federal land, such as New Mexico and Wyoming, stand to lose not only thousands of industry jobs and access to affordable energy, but also billions in state revenue that could hurt public services, schools, infrastructure and health care. In Wyoming, where more than half of the state’s oil and more than 90 percent of its natural gas is retrieved from federal land, the oil and gas industry paid $1.67 billion to state and local governments. In New Mexico, that number is even larger, with the industry contributing $3.1 billion, about 40 percent of the state’s revenue of which $1.4 billion is earmarked for education funding. Nationally, more than 12 percent of U.S. natural gas production and nearly a quarter of U.S. oil production is sourced from public lands and waters, and without it, our nation will need additional foreign oil and gas. And since the president said no to Keystone XL, it won’t be coming from Canada. In fact, it will strain the global market, raising costs on consumers and adding to the coffers of petro-authoritarian nations that would seek to do democracy harm. Preventing the construction of Keystone XL or banning drilling on public lands won’t reduce the importance of fossil fuels in the American economy. Beyond the economic ramifications, these misguided, anti-energy policies revive American dependence on foreign energy, and cut off access to reliable, affordable, American-produced energy to our allies and trade partners around the globe — jeopardizing our strategic advantage as a global hegemon and instead allowing foreign states to grow their influence. Good environmental policy and policies that promote American economic growth are not mutually exclusive. For example, TC Energy, Keystone XL’s developer, committed to use only renewable energy to operate the pipeline system, and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from operations by 2030. This is a positive example of addressing environmental concerns while recognizing the still-critical role of crude oil and ensuring reliable access to the United States. More broadly, an “all of the above” strategy that welcomes investment in renewable energy sources but recognizes the importance of the cornerstones of American energy — oil and natural gas — is key to fueling the our nation’s economy, bolstering our energy security and national security, and achieving our shared future economic and environmental goals. As the United States continues its COVID-19 recovery, it is more important now than ever to set aside politics and come together to focus on sound policies that put our nation on the path to success. Craig Stevens is a former senior adviser in the Energy Department and is the spokesman for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now.

OPINION: Breaking news: Democrats want to close Alaska

“Astounded.” That is how Alaska’s senior U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski described her reaction to President Joe Biden (or whoever picked out his socks that morning) acting on his first day in office to shut down the state’s resource development economy. In other news Murkowski may have missed, there is gambling in Casablanca, puppies are cute, and Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself. Compare Murkowski’s reaction to fellow Alaska politicians. There was caustic from Sen. Dan Sullivan: “Well that was fast.” There was realistic from Rep. Don Young: “It is not surprising, though no less disappointing.” Then there was fantastic from State Sen. Josh Revak, who bluntly noted what Biden just did to Alaska “without even the basic courtesy of first asking us to dinner.” What is astounding is that Murkowski could pronounce herself surprised at all after 18 years in Washington, D.C., watching Democrats take every measure possible to hinder Alaska’s development including eight years under President Barack Obama and the entire Biden campaign during which he lied about his intention to ban fracking but made no secret he would halt activity on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. Surely she could not be so naïve as to believe she has earned any goodwill for Alaska just because she let Democrats Christmas tree her energy bill, denounced former President Donald Trump at every opportunity, repeatedly voted against his judicial and cabinet nominees, demanded he resign while supporting his impeachment, and most recently introduced a bill to repeal the so-called “Mexico City policy” banning taxpayer funding of international abortion. Regularly praised by the entirely objective national press for her “bipartisanship” — which in Washington-speak means going along with Democrat policies — Murkowski has found her “my friends across the aisle” comity routinely met with a slap in the face on every single Alaska resource issue from ANWR to NPR-A to the King Cove road to the Roadless Rule yet still she never fails to ask for another. But hey, no more mean tweets, right? Maybe it would be too mean of Murkowski to ask Biden to his face what he has against Alaska Natives, whether they be Vietnam veterans or residents of the North Slope who have demonstrated for more than 40 years they can have an economy that respects the environment and provides the means to preserve their millennia-old traditions alongside the modern benefits of health care, education and basics such as running water the rest of us take for granted. The North Slope Borough poverty rate is lower than the national average for a reason, and it isn’t from building solar panels as Yacht Captain/Climate Czar John Kerry would advise them to do instead. Still, though, Murkowski persists in declaring herself shocked — shocked! — that the same party who granted sovereignty over entire neighborhoods in Seattle and Portland to avowed revolutionaries against the government would in turn deny sovereignty to Alaska Natives. For all of her willingness to play footsie with them, Murkowski’s Democrat colleagues have not moved an inch, ever, in the direction of putting an extra barrel of oil in the pipeline, providing reliable transportation for rural communities or creating a single job outside the National Park Service in Alaska. They surely do not care about any Alaska Native opinions when those conflict with the Sierra Club. Murkowski is up for reelection in 2022, and she may very well be immune to any challenges from her wide open right flank thanks to the forthcoming ranked choice ballot system approved this past November. Someone with that kind of political capital and job security could put it to use by doing more than putting out statements of disbelief that Democrats would do what they’ve been saying they would do, going along with the game, accepting the narrative and collecting praise from the press for siding with the likes of Mitt Romney while thousands of her constituents’ livelihoods are at the mercy of a man who is starting his term where Woodrow Wilson ended his. At this point, the truly astounding event would be Murkowski fighting for the needs of Alaskans at the expense of her carefully cultivated reputation as one of the “good” Republicans in D.C. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: 2020 Redux

It’s the end of January. I gave it some time. I, like my 7.8 billion fellow Earthlings, looked forward to 2021 with good spirits. With the turn of the calendar, we all could usher out the most outlandish year in modern history. There’s an old Yiddish saying. It goes, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” Once again, the joke is on us. 2021 is merely an extension of 2020. The year started off lamely enough with the announcement of the death of Bond Girl, Tanya Roberts. Normally, there would not be anything unusual about that, except that Tanya Roberts was very much alive. Once this was established, she died for real. Then there was the dissolution of the marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. As a lifelong follower of Kanye’s work, I was saddened, but not entirely surprised. The divorce was reported a scant two months after Kanye gave Kim a hologram of her deceased father, Robert Kardashian, as a birthday present. Kim and Kanye, however, were promptly upstaged. The next day, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, where they broke into Statuary Hall, and proceeded to march around in neat lines within the confines of the velvet dividers. Things descended into bedlam, however, when the invaders began pooping in the hallways. Out of this stinky rubble, we met a few characters who have since become national folk legends. Most notably, there’s “The QAnon Shaman,” (so dubbed by The Daily Mail) who after donning fur, horns, and face paint for the Capitol siege, has since refused prison food because it is not vegan. Learning this surprised me; if ever there were a group of people I assumed were big time meat eaters, it was the MAGA crowd. And speaking of QAnon, I’ve learned a lot about this society in recent weeks. Before, I was never entirely sure what the group believed, other than that it was a “loosely organized …community… who embrace a range of unsubstantiated beliefs” (per The Wall Street Journal). I’ve come a long way since this vague interpretation. I now know that QAnon thinks the Chinese military is massing at the Canadian border, and that furniture company Wayfair uses product listings to send secret messages concerning human trafficking. Supporters also maintain the closely held belief that Tom Hanks is a cannibal. At a more innocent time in my life, I would have thought all of this totally bonkers. But I now have to give it pause. As of mid-January, there is a celebrity who is a confirmed cannibal, it’s just not Tom Hanks. Multiple women have come forward accusing Hollywood A-List actor, Armie Hammer, of anthropophagy. One former flame claimed he used to suck her blood, another that he branded her, and still another that he designs his own bondage attire. Other screenshots of texts to paramours, allegedly from Armie Hammer, go into detail about wanting to eat them, and not in the traditional way. I’ve never had the pleasure of receiving a text message from Armie Hammer, or one of his famous requests to remove and barbeque my ribs. Instead, I must settle for my own peculiar correspondence. Not to be gainsaid, a stranger emailed me on Jan. 25 in response to this column, published over 14 months ago. The unsolicited message detailed the many years of life he’s spent in therapy because he likes to wear women’s underwear. Those of us who expected life to go back to normal at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1 were sorely mistaken. It’s going to be a long hard road back to sanity. Sarah Brown resides in a bunker in Oklahoma. Only there can she find some godd*mn peace. Clearly, she is forced to check email occasionally, so, if you really must, you can reach 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.  

OPINION: Rivera faces poetic justice in recall

Karma, huh? Just more than a year ago on Jan. 10, 2020, Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled that the recall effort against Gov. Mike Dunleavy could proceed in a decision that was ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court. Now it turns out that Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera will face the voters first, and long before Dunleavy, if he does at all before 2022, with the effort against the governor attempting to regain its momentum still more than 20,000 signatures short of the minimum needed. On Jan. 25, another Superior Court judge affirmed the recall petition against Rivera is valid under state law and case precedent, although Dani Crosby curiously didn’t cite the far more recent and controlling standard established by the Supreme Court in siding with the group trying to recall Dunleavy. To recap, the recall petition against Rivera was certified by the Anchorage Municipal Clerk based on his decision to continue to preside over an Aug. 11, 2020, Assembly meeting despite there being 17 people in the room in violation of an emergency order limiting such gatherings to 15 or fewer. Two arguments against the petition were made by the group defending Rivera, namely that the violation was so minor as to not be a valid ground for recall and that it is within his discretion as chair to operate the meeting as he saw fit regardless of the emergency order, or EO, regarding capacity limits. Crosby dismissed both of those arguments, noting that there is no “de minimis” standard limiting recalls, nor was there an exemption for Assembly meetings or Rivera in the capacity restriction of the EO. Of course, the reason there is no di minimis limitation is the precedent that was established in the recall petition against Dunleavy and there is something quite resembling schadenfreude to see a progressive stalwart like Rivera hoisted on the petard of frivolous recall standards sought by his political allies and approved by the judicial system. Attorneys for the state and the group defending Dunleavy from recall made the same arguments as those defending Rivera: that the allegations were either minimal in nature or within their legal authority. Two of the grounds for recall against Dunleavy are patently ridiculous: one, that he failed to appoint a judge within 45 days required under statute and another being that he made a mistake on one of his vetoes of Medicaid funding. Neither action resulted in any harm. A judge was appointed before a vacancy occurred in accordance with the state constitution and the Medicaid veto was a scrivener’s error that was subsequently corrected. Had Dunleavy not been so silly as to attach a signing statement to his court system veto over an abortion decision, that, too, would have been ruled legal just as his massive vetoes to other state services were upheld and then struck from the recall petition by both Aarseth and the Supreme Court. In sum, the driving motivation behind the recall of Dunleavy — his vetoes of more than $400 million from the state budget in 2019 — is not even a part of the official petition to remove him from office. What is left are two shallow charges — the tardy judge appointment and the Medicaid error — and another that would have been legal under his constitutional veto authority if Dunleavy didn’t bother to explain why he did it. Which brings us back to the grounds for recall against Rivera. The backers of the recall against Rivera who have been protesting the arbitrary capacity restrictions, closures and curfews leveled against businesses surely do not believe he risked public health by allowing 17 people instead of 15 inside the spacious Assembly chambers. Instead, they have followed Alinsky’s Rule No. 4 and cleverly applied the standard of superficial technicalities determined by the state’s highest court as sufficient for recall in the petition against Dunleavy. The violation of EO-15 officially deemed grounds for recall of Rivera is simply the vehicle for ousting a politician who has been at the forefront of shuttering businesses, mismanaging CARES Act funds and in general turning a deaf ear to the people he and his leftist cohort on the Assembly are hurting. That’s why it would take a heart of stone to not laugh at Rivera dubbing the people trying to recall him as a “radical group” trying to “bully” him. Bullies require power and as of now, Rivera holds a tremendous amount of it and the people trying to recall him have none beyond their ability to stand in the cold for hours to collect signatures and exercise their political rights on a ballot. Rivera has been bullying the people of Anchorage for nearly a year and there is a certain poetic justice in the way he has finally discovered a job worth defending. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Virtual learning is unnecessary, and no substitute for classroom instruction

COVID-19 has been an unrelenting feature of our daily lives and will continue to be so for at least several more months as vaccinations roll out. But there is no reason for our children to be kept out of the classroom. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that K-12 schooling, including fully in-person classrooms and hybrid in-person/virtual classrooms, has rarely been a source of outbreak. This reaffirms the fact that in-person classroom learning is one of the safest activities, and that schools need to be reopened as soon as possible. While some schools in different states have reopened to varying degrees, a great many more have not. A new nationally representative survey released by the journal Education Next finds that more than half — 53 percent — of students are receiving totally remote instruction. Worse, many school administration or public health officials actively oppose reopening schools to students. For instance, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Austin Beutner, cites COVID-19 case rates in Los Angeles for having a direct impact on the district’s ability to reopen classrooms. The problem here is that children, especially those of elementary school age, are at decreased risk of infection and of minimal risk of severe disease outcome due to COVID-19. Indeed, schools have been found consistently to account for a minority of COVID-19 transmissions based on the experiences and data from schools throughout the world. Thus, maintaining school closures can only have, at most, an indirect link to the safety of schoolchildren. The Fairfax, Va., teachers union refuses to commit to having schools reopen by next fall — despite teachers in the state beginning to receive vaccinations last week. The Fairfax Education Association said schools should remain in hybrid mode until all children receive a vaccine. Keeping schools closed to in-person instruction is an untargeted measure that punishes children for a trend on which they have little effect, thereby placing a great burden on children without much, if any, benefit. We know this because of the trends preceding the fall spike in COVID-19 cases. During that time, the age group with the highest incidences of COVID-19 were those 18 to 24 years of age. It is possible to say that college-aged adults may have driven the fall spike because they made up the majority of cases that lead into the spike. This makes sense because these young adults are at low risk for severe disease and have the most mobility. By contrast, the recent CDC report noted that increases in childhood cases did not precede spikes in community cases in early September. The agency found that incidences of COVID-19 in counties with in-person learning were 401.2 per 100,000, compared to counties offering solely remote learning with 418.2 per 100,000. In other words, COVID-19 rates were essentially identical between counties with and without in-person classroom learning. The empirical evidence has shown that school lockdowns yield no benefit to society but great harm to children. The CDC report comes on the heels of updated guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, on the safety of schooling during the pandemic. As their guidelines note, “all policy considerations for school COVID-19 plans should start with the goal of having students physically present in school.” There were many unknowns at the start of the pandemic. But with each day, we have a better understanding of COVID, particularly how it affects children. Schools should reopen tomorrow to in-person instruction. If they don’t, families should be able to take the money that would have been spent on their child to a school of choice that is. Indeed, private schools are open and operating safely, meeting the needs of children and families. While just 24 percent of students who attend public school are receiving fully in-person instruction, 60 percent of private schools are open to in-class learning, as the Education Next survey found. A family’s ZIP code should not determine whether or not their child has access to in-person learning. States across the country should provide families with education savings accounts to enable them to select into learning environments that are open and the right fit for their children. That’s good policy anytime, but is crucial as the pandemic, and learning loss, continues. Kevin Pham, M.D., is a visiting policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. Lindsey M. Burke, Ph.D., is director of Heritage’s Center for Education Policy and its Will Skillman Fellow in Education.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Biden must focus on affordable, reliable electricity

Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, along with a new Biden administration, promise sweeping policy changes in the United States. This includes campaign pledges to remake America’s electricity mix. But with campaign season over, Democrats should put rhetoric aside and pursue a bipartisan energy plan that supports economic recovery. During the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden pledged to “achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.” Doing so would mean essentially — in a mere 14 years — eliminating all of the fossil-fuel power plants currently supplying 63 percent of America’s electricity needs. It’s just this type of plan that could prove crippling to the U.S. economy: eliminating millions of jobs and driving up energy prices while offering only vague promises on replacing longstanding power generation or managing additional costs. Both the U.S. and Europe already have some experience with this kind of aggressive transition away from traditional fuels toward more renewable power. And the results are troubling. For example, California’s shift to a renewable-heavy grid has already yielded some of the nation’s highest electricity prices as well as serious grid reliability issues. During a heatwave this summer, California suffered rolling blackouts when demand outstripped the state’s available power supply. Texas has experienced a similar shock, now that its power mix increasingly relies on wind generation. The state’s pivot away from traditional baseload power toward weather-dependent electricity has led to worrying shortfalls—including a 2019 summer heatwave when insufficient wind conditions caused electricity prices to spike as much as 36,000 percent. New England has seen price increases, too. Rapidly transitioning away from a balanced electricity mix that once included coal has meant dire fuel security warnings from the region’s grid operator along with electricity prices now running almost twice the national average. The same problems are cropping up overseas. Germany’s “energiewende” movement toward full-scale wind and solar power has driven German electricity prices to three times the U.S. average. Japan is also seeing record electricity prices as grid operators warn that available power isn’t keeping up with demand. And even the UK power grid is showing signs of strain. Britain’s grid manager has already issued four warnings this winter, with power demand on the verge of exceeding supply. It’s an alarmingly common occurrence now that the nation has shifted to greater reliance on intermittent wind generation. The Biden administration is taking office at a time of serious economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic. The new president may be eager to roll out a comprehensive energy agenda. But the American people can ill-afford the hefty additional costs right now. Families depend on reliable, affordable electricity. Yes, there’s great appeal to incorporating more solar and wind power in the nation’s electric grid. But the priority must be to ensure secure, affordable power for 330 million people. It would be a grave mistake to hurriedly abandon the nation’s current, diverse electricity mix in favor of costly power generation that could prove insufficient when it’s needed most. ^ Matthew Kandrach is president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market advocacy organization.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans must stand against reversing four years of progress

On Jan. 20, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America. For Alaska’s energy community, the next four years are certain to look quite different from the previous four. Before we look forward, let’s remind ourselves of how important the last four years have been. Under conservative leadership, ANWR was opened. That, in and of itself, was a monumental achievement made in concert between the administration and our congressional delegation. But that was just the beginning of successes in the energy arena. NPR-A lease sales were held, Tongass timber harvesting was initiated, wind and solar projects began, and mining opportunities were advanced. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s “Save Our Seas” initiatives will help keep Alaska’s pristine waters clean. A polar class icebreaker will patrol the Bering and Chukchi seas, providing for security and opportunity alike. Alaska’s been blessed to have pro-responsible development energy policy under Republican leadership these past four years. American energy dominance, increased energy jobs, and lower energy costs for consumers were all major achievements. Which brings us to the next four years. If President-elect Biden is to be believed, things sure will change that on Jan. 20. According to his campaign website, Biden plans to “permanently protect” ANWR from development, via a day-one Executive Order. He also promises the same action to ban permits for drilling on federal lands and in federal waters, as well as to require permitting decisions to account for climate impacts. From there, his hand-picked team of eco-warriors, ahem, Secretary-designees for the Departments of Energy, Interior, and Transportation, along with the Director-designee of the EPA, will work to roll back the regulatory progress made over the last four years. Add the administration’s dual “climate czars,” former Secretary of State John Kerry and former EPA Director Gina McCarthy, who will work outside of congressional authority to implement some of the most radical aspects of Biden’s agenda, and you have an eco-left “dream team.” To that end, Power The Future sent a letter to the Biden/Harris transition team and inquired about any recent Alaska visits by Secretary-designees Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., (Interior), former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich., (Energy), or EPA Director-designee Michael Regan. The vast majority, 62 percent, of Alaskan lands are federally managed. If none of the nominees have ever set foot in our state or seen first-hand the projects and opportunities they will be impacting on a daily basis, they won’t be able to represent the best interests of Alaskans. Their actions will have an impact on real people, existing and future jobs, and rural and urban communities across our state. Some Alaskans are excited about this transition. The environmental warriors who espouse a “wildlife-above-human-life” philosophy are most likely thrilled with Biden’s choices to lead Interior, Energy, Transportation, and the EPA. After all, each has backed radical elements — if not the entire plan — of the Green New Deal. That overreaching set of initiatives would cost Alaskan households over $84,000 in the first year of its implementation! That would be a direct threat to Alaska’s energy economy. So as Jan. 20 approaches, let’s celebrate our state’s advancements under the outgoing administration, and stand together as Alaskans to stand up to new policies that will hurt our state. The thousands of Alaskans who balance environmental stewardship with responsible development each and every day deserve that support. They haven’t stopped working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to bring reliable, affordable energy to market. Let’s ensure they aren’t forced to do so under the crushing reforms of the Biden/Harris administration. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future, a nationwide non-profit focused on supporting energy workers, while pushing back on radical green groups and the ideologues who fund them. Contact him at [email protected]

OPINION: Thanks for your sacrifice, Anchorage.

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

GUEST COMMENTARY: Legislators shouldn’t skip the line for COVID-19 vaccine

As members of the Alaska State Legislature, we are chosen by the people of Alaska, our friends, and neighbors, to go to Juneau and make the difficult decisions necessary for our state government to function properly. It can be easy to get caught up in the glamour of the process and fancy titles and power, but we are still ordinary Alaskans. We are members of our communities, who serve in a temporary role in making sure state government works for the people of Alaska. I was recently made aware of a letter submitted to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice, or ACIP, by Alaska’s Legislative Leadership requesting that the Legislature and staff be considered “Essential Workers” and be prioritized into group 1b to receive the vaccine before many of our fellow Alaskans. I was disappointed to see this request. I do not support it, and I was never even asked to consider it before it was sent. The request by legislative leadership to move to the front of the line shows how out of touch they are with the people that they serve. Lawmakers are not elite, we are Alaskans just like our constituents, who have been elected to serve in an important role in state government. Some of our members and staff likely fall into higher risk categories, should they contract COVID-19. But these people should and will be prioritized by their risk factors, just like every other Alaskan. We should let the ACIP make their decisions based on science and reason, and each of us individually will be included in line for the vaccine as an Alaskan, not because we are legislators. For nearly a year, we have watched Alaskans adapt to working and going to school online, meeting each other outdoors or on videoconference. We have seen businesses be incredibly innovative and continue to serve their customers outdoors and online. The Legislature can also easily work online, and I cannot fathom a good reason why we would not do that to prioritize the health and safety of those at risk that legislative leadership are concerned about. We have asked Alaskans across the state to do it, there is no reason we cannot temporarily do it ourselves. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our way of life. Alaskans have lost their lives to this disease; families are grieving lost loved ones. Our economy has been decimated, people are out of work, Alaskans are losing their businesses. These heartbreaking stories are real. But there is hope on the horizon. With the arrival of the first doses of the vaccine and winter solstice now behind us, we can look forward to a slow return to normalcy as we head towards summer. But we still have a lot of work to do. We must ensure the health of the public, while working to rebuild our economy; they are both tremendously important and must be done simultaneously to the greatest extent possible. Alaskans are fiercely independent, but we also come together and look out for each other in times of need. That is what it means to be an Alaskan. Nearly 100 years ago, Alaskans came together in a time of great need. We all know the story of Balto, Leonard Seppala, and The Serum Run to Nome when a group of Alaskan mushers came together to get the diphtheria antitoxin to Nome in the middle of winter to save lives. That became known as The Great Race, the Iditarod, which we celebrate annually to this day. We have done it before, and we can do it again. Sara Rasmussen represents District 22 in Anchorage.

OPINION: Predictions for the New Year

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

GUEST COMMENTARY: Pandemic education isn’t making the grade

When it comes to her daughter Emerson’s education, Sarrin Warfield says, she’s “in it to win it.” When Emerson’s assigned school in South Carolina announced plans for virtual learning this fall, Sarrin says she asked herself, “What if we just made this in my backyard and made a school?” After talking with friends who have children the same age as Emerson, Sarrin said, “Let’s do it. Instead of it being a crazy idea, let’s own this process and be really intentional about doing this and make it happen.” Sarrin is one of the thousands of parents around the country who formed learning pods when assigned schools closed. By meeting in small groups with friends’ and neighbors’ children, these pod families could try to keep at least one of part of their child’s life from being upended because of COVID-19. The time-honored practice of school assignment did little to help the Warfields — or thousands of other students around the U.S. during the COVID spring … and then COVID summer and fall. In the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, officials in some of the largest districts in the country reported significant enrollment changes from the previous school year, especially among younger students. Officials in Mesa, Ariz., reported a 17 percent decrease in kindergarten enrollment after the first two weeks. In Los Angeles, Superintendent Austin Beutner reported a 3.4 percent decrease in enrollment, but said another 4 percent of students couldn’t be found, making the change closer to 7 percent. Figures are similar in Broward County, Fla., and Houston. In large school districts, these percentages amount to over 10,000 children per district. Some of these changes can be attributed to learning pods. But officials in large cities and even those representing entire states simply reported having no contact with many students. Under normal circumstances, if thousands of children who were once in school suddenly were nowhere to be found, this would be an issue of national concern. Hearings would be held, and officials would demand to know what is happening with schools around the country. Loud calls for change would be heard. But life during the pandemic is anything but normal. Likewise, if more students around the country were failing — say, twice the figure from last year — this would also be worrisome, right? From Los Angeles to Houston to Chicago to Fairfax, Va., school officials and researchers are now reporting that the proportion of students earning Ds and Fs in the first semester has increased, doubling in some cases, in comparison to the last school year. Yet across the U.S., many school districts, especially those in large metro areas, still remain closed to in-person learning for some if not all grades and may not reopen at the start of 2021. According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of parents in lower-income brackets report being “very” or “somewhat” concerned this fall that their children are “falling behind in school as a result of the disruptions caused by the pandemic.” With thousands of students not in class, even virtually, and falling grades among those who are attending, who can blame them? For taxpayers and policymakers looking for lessons in the pandemic, the utter failure of school assignment systems to provide quality-learning options to all students, especially the most vulnerable, is clear. The quality and consistency of the education a child received during the pandemic has been dependent on the attendance boundary in which that child’s family lives. At the same time, so many of the issues plaguing education during the pandemic — and for that matter, the entire century leading up to the pandemic — are rooted in policies that fund school systems, rather than individual students. Allowing dollars to follow children directly to any public or private school of choice is a critical emergency policy reform that states should pursue. Such a policy change is overdue. Since it’s anyone’s guess how soon life will get back to normal, we can’t wait any longer for the system to fix itself. Jonathan Butcher is a senior policy analyst in Heritage’s Center for Education Policy. Center Director Lindsey M. Burke, Ph.D., is Heritage’s Will Skillman Fellow in Education.


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