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When is it legitimate to take advantage of another's hardship (opinion) - Inside Higher Ed

Legislative News - Sun, 2019-08-25 23:07
When is it legitimate to take advantage of another's hardship (opinion)  Inside Higher Ed

In Tennessee Williams's play A Streetcar Named Desire, the character Blanche DuBois says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” It's a nice ...

Hawaii or Spain? Telescope experts say it may not matter

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 20:12

FILE - This file image made by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows M106 with additional information captured by amateur astronomers. Despite years of legal battles and months of protests by Native Hawaiian opponents, the international coalition that wants to build the world's largest telescope in Hawaii insists that the islands' highest peak, Mauna Kea, is the best place for their $1.4 billion instrument. Thirty Meter Telescope officials say their new instrument will produce images that are 12 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope. (STScI/AURA), R. Gendler via AP, File)

HONOLULU — When starlight from billions of years ago zips across the universe and finally comes into focus on Earth, astronomers want their telescopes to be in the best locations possible to see what’s out there.

Despite years of legal battles and months of protests by Native Hawaiian opponents, the international coalition that wants to build the world's largest telescope in Hawaii insists that the islands' highest peak — Mauna Kea — is the best place for their $1.4 billion instrument.

But just barely.

Thirty Meter Telescope officials acknowledge that their backup site atop a peak on the Spanish Canary island of La Palma is a comparable observatory location, and that it wouldn't cost more money or take extra time to build it there.

There's also no significant opposition to putting the telescope on La Palma like there is in Hawaii, where some Native Hawaiians consider the mountain sacred and have blocked trucks from hauling construction equipment to Mauna Kea's summit for more than a month.

But Hawaii has advantages that scientists say make it slightly better: higher altitude, cooler temperatures, and rare star-gazing moments that will allow the cutting-edge telescope to reach its full potential.

"Every once in a while at Mauna Kea, you get one of those magic nights," said University of California, Santa Cruz astronomy and astrophysics professor Michael Bolte, a Thirty Meter Telescope board member. "When the air is super stable above the site, you get images that you simply couldn't get anyplace else."

Bolte, who has used existing Mauna Kea telescopes, said those "magic" Hawaii nights could hold discoveries that might be missed in La Palma.

"Let's suppose one of your big science cases is to look for life on planets that are orbiting other stars," he said. "The star is so much brighter than the planet you're trying to observe, it's really hard to do."

The advanced optics and huge size of the Thirty Meter Telescope, especially if built at Mauna Kea's higher altitude, could allow scientists to more easily detect potentially life-filled planets, Bolte said.

To see distant planets near bright stars, astronomers use telescopes to capture infrared light that emanates from the space objects.

But John Mather, an astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for his work on the Big Bang theory, says there are other ways to get that data.

Mather, the senior project scientist for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, planned for launch into space in 2021, said the new instrument will be extremely effective at gathering infrared light. The atmosphere won't get in the way of the telescope's imaging capabilities because it won't be on Earth.

Data from the Webb telescope can be combined with information from other Earth-based telescopes to compensate for the infrared advantage that Mauna Kea has over La Palma, Mather said.

He said Webb will open up "new territory that you'll never be able to tackle from the ground."

Mather is also working on a longer-term solution to the problem of seeing Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars, which he likened to seeing a "firefly next to a spotlight."

It's a large "star shade" that would be launched far into space and positioned to block bright stars while allowing telescopes on Earth to see the planets orbiting them.

Those advancements could level the playing field between places such as Mauna Kea and La Palma, said astrophysicist Avi Loeb, who chairs Harvard University's astronomy department.

"One thing that you need to keep in mind is that humans can change the system as to compensate for the slightly worse conditions" in Spain, Loeb said. "In the end, it might perform as well or maybe even better."

Loeb agreed that Mauna Kea is a slightly better location for infrared observations. But La Palma is "an excellent site, so there would be exceptional science done there," he added.

The Native Hawaiian opponents call themselves "protectors" of Mauna Kea and aren't concerned about their mountain's advantages for astronomers. They just want the telescope group to abandon Hawaii.

That would "be a win for everyone," said protest leader Kealoha Pisciotta shortly after Thirty Meter Telescope officials announced they would move forward with a building permit application for the La Palma site a few weeks ago.

"There's lots of good science to be done from the Canary Islands," Pisciotta said.

Not all Native Hawaiians are opposed to the telescope. Some tout the educational and economic opportunities it would bring to the Big Island. Others have compared modern astronomers to their Polynesian ancestors who used stars to navigate their wooden outriggers across the Pacific and discover new lands — including Hawaii.

Mauna Kea stands nearly 14,000 feet (4,300 meters) above sea level, more than twice as high as the Spanish site that is already home to the world's largest optical telescope. Like Hawaii's Big Island, the Spain site has good weather, a stable atmosphere and very little light pollution.

Thirty Meter Telescope would be a next generation model that's expected to transform ground-based astronomy — allowing scientists to see deeper into space than previously possible. Its large mirror will produce sharper, more detailed images of space.

"You can get images that are 12 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope," Bolte said.

And most of the same science planned for Hawaii would still get done in Spain — it would just take longer.

"Depending on the kind of science you want to do, it's going to be a 10% hit to a 50% hit in speed," Bolte said. "You are going to have to observe that much longer at La Palma to get the same quality data."

José Manuel Vilchez, an astronomer with Spain's Higher Council of Scientific Research and a former member of the scientific committee of the Astrophysics Institute of the Canary Islands, said that building the telescope on La Palma would not be a downgrade.

"We are talking about the best of the best. One is a 10, the other is a 9.9," Vilchez said. "We are talking about decimals."

But for astronomers, decimals can make the difference between seeing something extraordinary and missing it.

"Mauna Kea, since it is higher, would have a thinner atmospheric layer and would observe more in certain infrared ranges," Vilchez said. "The possibility of capturing the image is lower" on La Palma.

Vilchez also said there is greater public support for the telescope in Spain and that the cost of operating it at a lower elevation would be cheaper.

On Mauna Kea "you are further away from the base and the cost goes up," Vilchez said. "In the Canary Islands the institutional support is 100% and 99% of citizens support the astronomy work."

That lack of opposition is something officials cannot claim for Mauna Kea.

The telescope group's Bolte said what began as opposition to the project has "become the focus of the whole Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination" movement and is a reflection of how Native Hawaiians have felt "displaced from their own lands" for over a century.

"Now that they have the attention of everyone by stopping this telescope, how can that be used to somehow take some steps forward in the well-being of Native Hawaiians?" he asked.


Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.

US exports to lobster-loving China go off cliff amid tariffs

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 20:09

PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. lobster exports to China have fallen off a cliff this year as new retaliatory tariffs shift the seafood business farther north.

China, a huge and growing customer for lobster, placed heavy tariffs on U.S. lobsters — and many other food products — in July 2018 amid rising trade hostilities between the Chinese and the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, business is booming in Canada, where cargo planes are coming to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick, to handle a growing bump in exports. Canadian fishermen catch the same species of lobster as American lobstermen, who are based mostly in Maine.

The loss of business has brought layoffs to some Maine businesses, such as The Lobster Co., of Arundel, where owner Stephanie Nadeau has laid off half the 14 people she once had working in wholesale.

"They picked winners, and they picked losers, and they picked me a loser," Nadeau said. "There is no market that's going to replace China."

America has exported less than 2.2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of lobster to China this year through June, according to data from the U.S. federal government. The country exported nearly 12 million pounds during that same period last year. That's a more than 80% drop.

In Canada, exports to China through June were already approaching 33 million pounds, which is nearly as much as all of 2018.

The value of Canada's exports was nearing $200 million in U.S. dollars through June and was almost sure to outstrip last year's total of more than $223 million. America's exports through June were valued at less than $19 million, more than $70 million behind where they were through June 2018.

Lobster prices paid by American consumers have remained fairly steady during the trade dispute, and there remain many buyers for U.S. lobster. But the loss of China as an overseas market is happening at the end of a decade in which the U.S. seafood industry has experienced exponential growth in lobster exports to the country. The U.S. exported about 800,000 pounds of lobster in China in 2010 and more than 20 times that last year.

The American lobster industry is looking to open up new domestic and international markets to make up for the loss of China, said Marianne LaCroix, who directs the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Maine lobsterman Brian Rapp will attend a trade show in Hong Kong and a trade mission to Dubai in September to promote U.S. lobster, she said.

"China is so large that you have to look at a number of new markets to replace that business," LaCroix said.

In Canada, the boost to business has helped the industry but also led to uncertainty about its future, said Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada.

The American and Canadian lobster industries overlap, with some businesses operating on both sides of the border, and it's more beneficial to the lobster industry at large for trade to go on unimpeded, he said.

“Whenever there’s any kind of uncertainty, it makes people worry,” Irvine said. “Everybody would like to see the entire lobster industry open and free.”

State reevaluates evacuation orders for McKinley fire-impacted homes; Swan Lake fire spurs highway closures and more smoke

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 19:22

Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire rises over the Kenai Peninsula near Cooper Landing, Alaska on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. (Matt Tunseth / ADN)

Several major wildfires continued to impact people in Southcentral Alaska Sunday with highway closures and delays, smoke and questions about when residents evacuated due to the devastating McKinley fire would be able to return to their homes.

At a community meeting held Sunday for people affected by the McKinley fire north of Willow, incident commander Norm McDonald said the eight-day-old fire is still being fought.

“We have about 450 firefighters here on location, and another 100 coming in tomorrow,” said McDonald, wildland fire chief with the Division of Forestry.

Some aspects of life are returning to a kind of normalcy, he said: Electricity is coming back on in many fire-affected subdivisions, McDonald said at the community meeting.

On Monday, the Parks Highway should be open to two lanes of traffic, he said.

“We feel we’re at a point where smoke has diminished. That’s step one of getting things back to somewhat normal,” he said.

[Related: Governor’s disaster declaration over Mat-Su, Kenai Peninsula wildfires opens up aid for residents]

The Division of Forestry is reevaluating its evacuation orders for the McKinley fire, and with borough approval, people could get permission to return to their homes as soon as early this week, McDonald said.

“People need to get back in there and evaluate their homes, assess the damage,” McDonald said.

Winter is only six to eight weeks away, he said.

The Department of Forestry released a statement warning of unseen hazards people returning to their homes might face, such as patches of burning material under a thin dirt crust.

“There are ongoing hazardous situations and dangers that can be difficult to identify after the initial fire front,” The Division of Forestry said in a Facebook post. “It is best to stay away from your home or business until fire officials tell you it is safe to return. Use caution and good judgment, ultimately you are responsible for your own safety and well-being.”

Firefighters are making progress on the nearby Deshka Landing fire, but are contending with heavy brush and fallen trees along the southern border of the fire.

“Dry and heavy duff layers make mop-up operations more difficult as the fire burns deeply,” the Division of Forestry said in a Sunday update.

No new evacuation orders have been announced for the Deshka Landing fire.

South of Anchorage, the Swan Lake fire billowed smoke north to Anchorage.

Firefighters spent Sunday constructing control lines in the Lake Skilak area, south of the Sterling highway, in an effort to stop the fire from spreading toward the populated areas of Cooper Landing and Sterling, said Jay Aron, a spokesman for the current fire management team.

Thick smoke necessitated delays and at one point the closure of the Sterling Highway between miles 53-71 Sunday.

The Swan Lake fire has grown to 148,000 acres, with 20 percent contained.

Smoke from the fire is expected to drift to Anchorage this week, with forecasters saying there’s little chance for the kind of rain that could seriously tamp down the wildfire’s spread.

Wildfire smoke drifts back into Anchorage area

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 18:38

Deena Mitchell walks her dog Kobe by Westchester Lagoon on Friday. Anchorage has an unhealthy amount of smoke in the air from the Swan Lake fire, Aug. 23, 2019. (Anne Raup / ADN)

Wildfire smoke is again drifting into the Anchorage area and is expected to stick around, in patches, through much of the workweek.

“Smoke is going to be in the area pretty much through Wednesday,” said Lucas Boyer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Anchorage office.

Will it be as smoky as last week, when outdoor recess and after-school sports events were canceled for Anchorage School District students?

That’s really hard to say, said Boyer.

Most of the smoke is coming from the Swan Lake fire, a behemoth 148,000-acre blaze burning on the Kenai Peninsula.

The big variable is that changes in fire behavior can dramatically change how much smoke is being sent into the air. Winds that deliver it to Anchorage can change quickly too, Boyer said.

The intensity of the smoke this week will be “hit or miss” depending on winds and fire behavior, he said.

On Thursday or Friday, there’s a small chance of rain that could -- emphasis on could -- help to dissipate smoke.

“With this persistent dry pattern we’re in expecting large volumes of rain to wash it out is probably wishful thinking,” Boyer said.

No measurable rainfall has fallen at the official record station at the Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport since July 28. Anchorage is officially in an “extreme drought,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s classification.

Typically by this point in August alone the city would have received an average of 2.54 inches of rain.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality advisory Friday for Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, the Susitna Valley and the Copper River Valley, warning that southwesterly winds could push smoke from wildfires into the area, degrading air quality.

The advisory is in effect until Monday night.

The Sunday Minefield - August 25, 2019 - Alaska Landmine

Legislative News - Sun, 2019-08-25 18:38
The Sunday Minefield - August 25, 2019  Alaska Landmine

The record heat and fires continue around much of Alaska. Hopefully this heat will soon come to an end. Luckily, next weekend is Labor Day weekend – the ...

US Department of Interior meets with tribes in Bethel to hear public safety concerns

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 15:40

Representatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior visited Bethel on Wednesday to hear from tribal representatives about the public safety issues unique to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The visit comes in the wake of Attorney General William Barr’s tour of the region for similar reasons.

For DOI Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, the visit to Bethel was a bit of a homecoming.

“At Kilbuck, Mrs. Han was my fifth grade teacher,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney is the first Alaska Native to be confirmed to her position. Growing up in Bethel and Utqiagvik, she says that she saw the problems with public safety in rural Alaskan communities firsthand.

“The issues that we are discussing today are prevalent in every Alaska Native village. Every family has been impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault, violent crimes,” Sweeney said. “So yes, this is personal.”

Sweeney says that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has heard about these issues for years. Now, DOI Chief of Staff Kate MacGregor says that the bureau has the support it needs to take action.

“The president earlier this year declared May 5 as national missing and murdered Native American Awareness Day,” MacGregor said. “So this is something that has been raised in profile.”

MacGregor said that it was important to note that several members of the White House were in attendance at the listening session. Charles Addington, Director of the BIA’s Office of Justice Services, thinks that funding will be available. The next step is figuring out where the BIA can get the biggest bang for its buck.

“Trying to figure out where do we already have things in place that we can just start enhancing,” Addington said. “Low-hanging fruit that we can start making a difference right away.”

The Association of Village Council Presidents had called for the listening session. Forty-seven of the 56 federally recognized tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta sent representatives. AVCP Director of Communications Azara Mohammadi described some of their suggestions.

“There was a lot about restorative justice, there was a lot about resources for victims, and infrastructure came up again and again. Public safety infrastructure," she said.

She said that people in the Lower 48 take holding cells and office space for granted, but in many villages that infrastructure is either falling apart or doesn’t exist.

“I mean, if you just don’t have the physical space for it, it’s very difficult,” Mohammadi said.

Tribal representatives asked for more funding for VPSOs and tribal courts. Another request was for changing the funding process itself. AVCP Director of Tribal Justice Rick Garcia says that there are problems when villages have to apply for competitive grants every year.

“What competitive funding does, it puts neighbors against neighbors, it puts families against families,” Garcia said.

Garcia is hopeful. The listening session came just a few months after U.S. Attorney General William Barr visited Bethel to talk about public safety. Garcia said that this meeting struck a different tone.

“I think this session was much different than Attorney General Barr’s,” Garcia said. “In that they really did come with the intention of listening and getting recommendations directly from our tribal leadership and delegates.”

DOI Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney said that improving public safety in this region will require creativity and should be developed in partnership with the people who know the issues best.

This story was originally published in KYUK.org and is reprinted here with permission.

Alaska’s economic, employment future is bright

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 14:09

The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau is seen as renovations begin on the building's four portico pillars, Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The pillars will be sealed and strengthened in a process expected to last until October. (James Brooks / ADN)

The Bureau of Economic Analysis in part defines gross domestic product (GDP) as “a comprehensive measure of the economies of each state. GDP estimates the value of the goods and services produced in a state including breakdowns of industry contributions to each state economy.” The U.S. Department of Commerce reports Alaska’s first-quarter GDP at 3.9%, which is the sixth-fastest among states across the nation. The determining factors for a strong state economy requires consideration of several indicators. A factor that is often overlooked is how the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development contributes to our strong economy. I believe that the value of Alaska’s goods and services rests upon a quality workforce.

When analyzing the state’s economic growth, it is important to understand how the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD) plays a critical role in Alaska’s economy. The department’s mission, recent reform efforts, deregulation and alignment with Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s “open for business” formula indeed contribute to economic growth and an increasingly positive economic outlook.

The department’s primary mission is to provide safe and legal working conditions, as well as to advance opportunities for employment. To achieve our mission, state training and employment program grants are awarded for the purpose of strengthening the local workforce in preparation for good paying jobs in high-growth, high-demand industries. As the state’s lead workforce development agency, programs and services are coordinated and rendered in a manner that demonstrates a commitment to meeting the needs of businesses and employers looking for qualified workers.

The department’s comprehensive approach to training and development includes the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA). Job training funds and support services are directed to targeted populations to ensure skills-building opportunities for job seekers who are low income, youth ages 14-24, veterans, dislocated workers, re-entrants, people living with disabilities, adult basic education deficient, and Native Alaskan/Native Americans.

The strength of the DOLWD is its comprehensive and unified approach when providing seamless services to both employers and job seekers. Every Alaska resident who desires employment can confidently reach out to the department for assistance focused on career pathways and industry related partnerships, plus job search assistance that leads to viable employment opportunities.

Our future is bright. Through the alignment of services, policy reform and core REACH values (respect, excellence, accountability, competent, honesty) the department has created efficiencies, increased outcomes and redefined how we do business, enhancing our ability to support Alaska’s economy and proudly declare “We are Alaska strong!”

Tamika L. Ledbetter, Ph.D., is the commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Alaska budget cuts to rely on expected Medicaid savings - Raleigh News & Observer

Legislative News - Sun, 2019-08-25 13:46
Alaska budget cuts to rely on expected Medicaid savings  Raleigh News & Observer

A majority of the overall budget cut by Alaska's governor is expected to come from Medicaid.

Dueling petitions at the Alaska State Fair to recall, support the governor - KTUU.com

Legislative News - Sun, 2019-08-25 12:46
Dueling petitions at the Alaska State Fair to recall, support the governor  KTUU.com

The Alaska State Fair is not free from politics. On opposite sides of the fairground, booths have been set up to recall Gov. Michael Dunleavy and to also show ...

Toksook Bay teen charged for threatening to “shoot up” school

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 12:42

A 17-year-old boy from Toksook Bay was arrested Friday for allegedly threatening to “shoot up” the school in the Western Alaska village.

Troopers first received a report that the student “threatened to shoot up the school after being kicked out of the building.”

The school went into lock-down for an hour, troopers said.

Troopers arrested the 17-year-old, whose name has not been released, at his home.

He is charged with one count of terroristic threatening in the second degree and is in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice because of his age.

Toksook Bay, on the Bering Sea in Western Alaska, has a population of about 560 people. The Nelson Island School serves students from preschool to high school.

The blessings of Alaska

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 12:40

A couple walks along the beach near Point Woronzof on Friday, April 26, 2019. (Matt Tunseth / ADN)

Alaska is overflowing with abundant blessings: rich natural resources, breathtaking scenic grandeur and, mostly, the people. And there are no greater examples of the stellar conscientious and congenial citizenry of Alaska than the three people who have committed themselves to getting the state back on track: Arliss Sturgulewski, Vic Fischer and Joe Usibelli, who should be commended for spearheading the critically important effort of recalling the governor. Each of these individuals played an important role in Alaska becoming a state, then becoming a viable economy and a marvelous place for personal lifestyle. They have demonstrated years of generous contributions to making Alaska the grand place that it is.

Somehow, under the present state administration, Alaska has gotten off track. Such an aberration is not unique to Alaska, occurring in other states and on the national level. But in Alaska, with its quickness and assertiveness, there is a better opportunity for correcting a mistake before too much damage is done. The fiscal problem is real, but there have been advance warnings for half a century. When oil was discovered on the North Slope 50 years ago, we knew it would eventually be depleted. And Alaska has received billions more dollars than we ever counted on. When discovered, the Prudhoe Bay field was estimated to contain one-fourth of the United States proved crude oil reserves. Then, over the years, thanks to private companies willing to incur the enormous risk of making massive investments in oil development, revenues to the state continued stronger than originally forecast.

When oil first commenced flowing through the pipeline, I had the great privilege of serving as an advisor to Gov. Jay Hammond, who came up with an ingenious device to keep at least part of the oil money largesse out of the hands of politicians: the Permanent Fund, with dividends going directly to the people. Gov. Hammond was a moderate progressive Republican with a wariness toward government.

Under conditions at that time of huge revenue excesses, this program made a great deal of sense. But conditions have changed. And now the Permanent Fund dividend has become a demonstration of the law of unintended consequences, when a good idea under certain conditions can be come a bad idea under different conditions.

Several books have been written on the curse of oil, and Alaska is experiencing that to some degree, with some people becoming dependent on the Permanent Fund dividend financed by oil revenues. The oil money was always known to be temporary, and now it is simply time to recognize that.

Acknowledging that doing away with the dividend could be catastrophic for certain families or, as some have argued, in effect a form of regressive taxation, perhaps it is time to enact an income tax. That said, it strikes me as silly to have one state agency down in Juneau sending out checks and another agency across the street collecting checks. But two things are certain: the dividend should not be increased and the budget problem should not be solved by ripping apart a major segment of the economy — state spending. What a tragedy the latter would be, voluntarily incurring a self-imposed catastrophe of slashing jobs and incomes and critically important services to many communities. Even a fiscally conservative Republican such as myself understands that, when it is such a significant part of the economy, state spending should be reined in only gradually. Every responsible Alaskan should join Ms. Sturgulewski, Mr. Fischer and Mr. Usibelli in re-establishing fiscal sanity in the Great Land.

Robert R. Richards and his family lived in Alaska for twenty years when he was economist for the National Bank of Alaska (Wells Fargo) and then Vice Chairman of Alaska Pacific Bancorporation. He currently is a consulting economist in Seattle and former chair of the Visiting Committee of the Economics Department of the University of Washington.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Feds take step to advance big ConocoPhillips prospect

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 11:22

A northern section of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the state's North Slope. (Anne Raup / ADN archive 1997)

The Trump administration has chosen a preferred development plan for a big ConocoPhillips project that could significantly boost Alaska oil production, according to an environmental report unveiled Friday for public comment.

The Willow project in the northeastern National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could produce up to 130,000 barrels of oil daily, if developed, according to a draft environmental report released by the Bureau of Land Management. Alaska oil production is averaging about 500,000 barrels of oil daily this year.

About 375 workers would be employed annually for a nine-year construction period starting in 2020, on average. The project could last 30 years, producing about 590 million barrels of oil, the report says.

The company’s plan, an option preferred by the agency, calls for five drill sites linked by seven bridges, an airstrip, 38 miles of gravel roads, and a central processing facility where crude oil would be prepared for shipment. It would include 267 miles of individual pipeline, and an application with the state for construction of a temporary gravel sea island for barges delivering building materials.

Oil production would begin in late 2024. The state would collect $1.7 billion in taxes, plus $2.5 billion in royalties related to the NPR-A impact mitigation fund, where the primary objective is providing grants to villages in the region and the North Slope Borough. The federal government would collect $4.4 billion in taxes and royalties, and the borough $1.9 billion in property taxes.

Conservation groups swiftly condemned the Willow project on Friday. Audubon Alaska said development would affect migrating caribou, fish, nesting yellow-billed loons and Alaska Native subsistence hunters.

“It is especially concerning given the ongoing impacts of climate change on the Arctic," said Natalie Dawson, executive director for Audubon Alaska. "Wildfires this summer in the Arctic and around the world underline the urgent need to ramp down fossil fuel development, not permit more.”

The BLM will take public comment on the report, releasing a final report before a development plan is selected that will inform permitting decisions. Six public meetings are planned, beginning Sept. 9 in the Fairbanks Westmark Hotel, with a Sept. 12 meeting in Anchorage at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Despite Dunleavy veto, Medicaid dental program continues through September

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 11:14

Please see my other dentistry related pictures: (Photographer: Csaba Vanyi/)

Alaska’s Medicaid program will continue to provide comprehensive dental care for adults through the end of September, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said Friday. The announcement means Alaskans will get five more weeks of care, but the extension puts further doubt on savings claimed by the administration.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy had vetoed funding for the dental program, and dentists had been told that Medicaid funding ended July 1. An extension had not been previously announced.

"That is correct. There will be another quarter of coverage,” said Donna Steward, deputy commissioner for Medicaid and health care policy at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Steward said the extension is intended to help Alaskans who had begun dental treatments before July 1 and not yet finished them at the time of the veto but added that all Medicaid beneficiaries can take advantage of the extension.

Dr. David Logan, executive director of the Alaska Dental Society, said Friday he was not aware the preventive dental Medicaid program remained alive. He said he has been in communication with state officials in recent weeks and had been told the state canceled it as of July 1.

“I have not heard that at all, the information I got from the state Medicaid department indicates exactly the opposite, that it’s been terminated and that’s been it,” he said.

“It’d be great news if it’s true,” he said. “It’d be even better news if they’d share it with the providers. I’m thinking out loud, but if people knew it was available, they might come in and get some (dental) work done.”

As of Aug. 1, more than one in four Alaskans were on some form of Medicaid, according to figures from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Though the federal government picks up most of the tab for care, it remains one of the state’s most costly programs. Last year, of the $2.3 billion Alaska spent on Medicaid, $676 million came from the state coffers.

This year, the governor and Legislature cut almost $160 million from that state share, or 23.6 percent, according to figures from the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division.

But as Steward pointed out, Medicaid is an "entitlement program,” meaning that eligible Alaskans have a legal right to medical care under the program, and doctors who provide that care must be paid by the state.

The state cannot refuse to pay the bill. If it wants to reduce Medicaid costs, it has to lower the cost of care or limit eligibility, hence the elimination of the adult preventive dental program.

In March, the Department of Health and Social Services outlined a list of steps it will take to save money.

Already, some of those steps have been delayed or proven impossible to complete on time. A program intended to streamline payments, saving an estimated $4.5 million, won’t be implemented until the end of the current fiscal year. A change to nursing care, estimated to save $2 million, has been delayed. On Friday, a program limiting the time that doctors are allowed to submit bills to the state (estimated to save $10 million) was delayed until 2020.

In addition, the state is being sued by the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, which has said the state violated procedures when it abruptly cut payments to doctors and clinics on July 1. An Anchorage judge is expected to decide a preliminary injunction next week, and if she sides with the association, millions more in projected savings will evaporate.

Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the hospital and nursing home association, said that with so much unresolved, the state’s claims of big Medicaid cuts are an illusion.

“They’re not real,” she said. “(The state) can still do a tremendous amount of damage in trying to achieve them, but they’re not real.”

When it comes to dental coverage in particular, the governor’s Office of Management and Budget indicated funding would end July 1. But doing so requires approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and that permission wasn’t requested until after the new fiscal year began. Service can’t end in the middle of a quarter, so that means dental coverage until the end of September, even though it hasn’t been budgeted.

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said by email that “CMS is aware of Alaska’s proposal and is working with the state.”

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said “the true test” of projected Medicaid savings will come in the state’s supplemental budget next year. Every spring, the Alaska Legislature must pass a supplemental spending bill to cover expenses that were unforeseen when the previous year’s budget became law.

“I suspect there’s going to be quite a large one,” said Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, about the possibility of a supplemental budget.

“The wildfire spending is going to be quite a bit, and there’s been some squeaking about the earthquake damage — I’m hearing there’s going to be a huge price tag with schools — and then we’ve got Medicaid.”

The true picture of the state’s Medicaid budget will take months to resolve. In the meantime, Alaskans will continue to get care.

Even when it ends in September, the end of the adult Medicaid dental program doesn’t mean an end to the state’s involvement in dental care.

On the day after the governor announced his veto, the Department of Health and Social Services advertised that it is now seeking a part-time dentist to become the state’s new dental director.

For no more than $225,000, spread across three years, the director will be asked to find the best way to provide dental care for “Alaska’s most vulnerable populations.”

I am not a ‘fighter’ because I survived cancer

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 10:23

iStock / Getty Images (bankrx/)

Dvorak is a writer, speaker and cancer survivor who advocates for young patients and is working on a memoir.

I am not a “fighter” because I survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 19. I am lucky among the unlucky.

In the face of serious illness, especially cancer, we immediately declare patients as "fighters," or talk about "winning" or "losing" the battle with the disease. That stock phrasing shows up in news headlines and charity campaigns; it's spoken by politicians, celebrities and well-meaning acquaintances alike. Each person has the right to describe their experience of their disease as they see fit, but it often feels impossible to avoid terms like "attack," "invade," and "fight," which are so deeply embedded in cancer culture.

For me, military language was a way for the people around me to evade the complex realities that accompanied my diagnosis. It put the gray areas of living with cancer - the physical anguish, and the existential uncertainty - into stark, confrontational terms. That vocabulary stamped me as brave and heroic when I felt most weak and defenseless. I was convinced that I would let everybody down.

When news of my diagnosis broke out, my community forgot I was the same person. They saw only illness, and it showed in the way they spoke to me. They tried to console me with encouragement. One family friend confided, "I'm close with a woman who had a breast growth and worked full time during treatment, didn't even lose her hair." A classmate offered: "I read about this man who cured his inoperable malignancy on his own. Poof, gone one day to the next." Within days, I had dropped out of college and moved home to get chemotherapy full-time; my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out. I couldn't measure up to these cancer prodigies.

But I did the best I could to muster the energy and composure that these words demanded of me. I tried to hide the atrocities of my daily life from the well-wishers who seemed unable to accept life's impermanence with me. I hid my IV pole in my bedroom closet, along with a bag of pill bottles and the needles I used to give myself shots of white blood cells. Despite my best efforts, my basic presence, a walking reminder of death, could darken the mood in the room. I lifted a hood over my cancer tell - a shiny head - exchanged the word "cancer" for "sick" and shoved down my anxiety to appear put-together.

People wanted me to be the face of cancer - upbeat and optimistic, despite my suffering - while lymphoma acted like a tornado in my life, tearing through any normalcy. In others' eyes, my diagnosis had put me on the fast track to sainthood, but on the inside, I was an angst-filled teenager, feeling singled out and misunderstood. I didn't know how to express how others' vocabulary affected me. Eventually, my dad had to act as a gatekeeper, politely telling friends I wasn't up for visitors. My mounting isolation lengthened the road to recovery.

When a fellow patient died, people would say, "She lost her battle, but you'll win yours." They thought that this metaphor would uplift me. But the implication that someone else died because they had, in some way, failed, or not been persistent enough to survive, put more pressure on my own health.

The only war raging on was the one between my doctors and my lymphoma. My oncologists ordered chemo, which coursed through my veins to combat the tumor growing on my heart and lungs. Tumor vs. chemo. I was a body stuck in the middle.

After my course of treatment was finished, my parents threw a dinner party, inviting family friends who made us weekly meals and drove me to chemo, through blizzards, in their four-wheel drives. I wanted our loved ones to enjoy their sense of relief, but I didn't understand why I was the focus of celebration. Everything had happened to me. Unlike a soldier given an external enemy, mine was internal - when it came down to it, the enemy was me. I was to blame for my family's unrelenting fear and sleepless nights. Every congratulatory "You won the battle" just reminded me of what I'd really, privately won: post-traumatic stress, agoraphobia and addiction to morphine. I didn't feel victorious. Now, I had to piece my life together, wracked with guilt over why I'd lived, while others - who I'd been sure would survive - hadn't.

Yet despite this experience, when I was in remission and learned my friend was diagnosed with leukemia, I fell back on the euphemistic language I'd rejected. I rushed to the hospital to spend time with her. Her morale was low; she was upset at her lack of freedom. "Nurses walk in and out, these IVs are stuck to me, there's no privacy," she said. She asked if I knew anyone with the disease. I said yes, and then clammed up. I didn't want to divulge that he'd died.

Reading my expression, my friend told me, "Alex, I know people die from what I have. We can say it out loud." Even as a survivor, I'd fallen into the pattern of trying to shield her, through language, from the dangers already inside her body. From that moment on, we had an understanding: no tiptoeing allowed, even with a difficult topic. That understanding bonded us forever.

What we both craved most during our treatment was openness. We didn't want people to hold us up as brave warriors; we wanted them to face the discomfort with us. The sick and the healthy are on the same side - all scared of the same malady. But the destructiveness of cancer can't be glossed over with cliches.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Trump says he wishes he’d raised tariffs even higher on China as trade war escalates

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 07:20

French President Emmanuel Macron, center left, and President Donald Trump, center right, participate in a G-7 Working Session on the Global Economy, Foreign Policy, and Security Affairs the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Also pictured is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second from left, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, third from left, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, center, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, top second from right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool) (Andrew Harnik/)

BIARRITZ, France - President Donald Trump conceded regret about his escalating trade war with China on Sunday morning before reversing course in the afternoon and saying he only wished he’d raised the tariffs higher.

It was a head spinning about-face after the president showed rare second thoughts on a key issue, even as White House officials said his comments had been "misinterpreted."

"The president was asked if he had 'any second thought on escalating the trade war with China.' His answer has been greatly misinterpreted. President Trump responded in the affirmative - because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher," press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

Trump, who is acutely attuned to media coverage and public perception of his presidency, makes a usual practice of not ever apologizing or admitting that he was wrong - and prides being seen as "strong" above all, according to current and former administration officials.

During a morning breakfast with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a reporter asked Trump if he had any "second thoughts" regarding his escalating trade war with China. Trump responded "yeah, sure. Why not."

"Might as well," he said. "Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything."

Trump then claimed talks were going well with China and that he planned to back away from some of his recent threats, such as seeking to force companies to leave China.

The comments drew immediate international attention because Trump had been so defiant with his unilateral decision to engage in a trade war with China.

The confusing change reflects Trump's wildly shifting approach to China, which has had a major impact on the U.S. economy and could impact his reelection chances next year. But it was also part of a stark counter narrative Trump offered during the summit, as he presented a different version of private talks than virtually every one else attending. And those differences spilled into public view multiple times at the picturesque seaside summit.

For example, Trump claimed to have not discussed a joint approach to Iran, even though French officials insisted an agreement had been reached between each of the leaders Saturday night. "I haven't discussed that," Trump said. "We will do our own outreach, but I can't stop people from talking. If they want to talk they can talk." Trump administration officials have previously criticized the French for talking to Iran.

He quipped to reporters that North Korea hadn't violated any rules by launching missiles, only to be quickly corrected by Japanese leader Shinzo Abe.

"We're in the world of missiles folks, whether you like it or not," Trump said, adding he understands how Abe "feels that way."

"I'm not happy about it," he said of North Korea's launches, but continued to praise Kim Jong Un.

He suggested that multiple foreign leaders had told him they agreed that Russia should be readmitted to the G-7, when Europeans have been adamant that Russia should remain ostracized and argued with Trump about it at a dinner Saturday evening. Trump declined to specify who had agreed with him. "I could but I don't believe that's necessary," he said.

And he said his lunch Saturday with French President Emmanuel Macron was "the best hour and half I've ever spent with him." But while they were having lunch by the sea, Trump administration officials were criticizing Macron and France to U.S. reporters, saying there was too much on "niche" issues like climate change and African development instead of on the global economy.

His shifting views on China were striking, though it is unclear what the vacillations will signify. In recent days, China has slapped new tariffs on U.S. goods, and Trump responded by jacking up tariff rates on more than $500 billion in Chinese products. These actions have rattled investors and stoked fears that a prolonged standoff could lead to a global recession.

Despite his brief expressions of regret earlier Sunday, Trump showed no willingness to reverse the tariffs. "I think they respect the trade war," he said about his G-7 allies, who have urged against their escalation. "It has to happen."

"I think they want to make a deal much more than I do," Trump said before a breakfast with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Trump claimed negotiations with China were ongoing, but a few days ago he suggested that Chinese leader Xi Jinping was an "enemy" of the United States.

Still, his tactics with China appear to be shifting. On Friday, Trump had said "I hereby order" U.S. companies to prepare to stop doing business with China, a shocking statement that drew rebuke from a range of U.S. firms. When he was pressed on whether he actually had the power to make such a directive, Trump cited a 1977 law that - during an emergency - gives the president broad latitude to intervene.

In a reversal, Trump on Sunday said he had no plans to invoke this law, making it appear that he is also backing down from his push for companies to withdraw from China.

"I have no plans right now," Trump said. "Actually we're getting along very well with China right now."

Trump did appear sensitive to the growing international anxiety about his showdown with China. He told reporters Sunday morning that so far no foreign leader had challenged him on his approach. Seconds later, Johnson did.

"Just to register the faint, sheeplike note of our view on the trade war," the British prime minister said, "we're in favor of trade peace on the whole. We think that on the whole the U.K. has profited massively in the last 200 years from free trade."

Other world leaders, including EU President Donald Tusk, have repeatedly urged a de-escalation of the trade tiffs.

Britain has long been a free trade superpower, and British diplomats complain as bitterly as their French and German peers about Trump's tactics on China. But Johnson, who is mired in negotiations to pull his country out of the European Union, desperately wants a trade deal with Trump to bolster his own prospects at home.

It was a rare moment of a foreign leader challenging Trump's tactics while sitting across the table from the U.S. president, delivered in the gentlest of forms.

At their first joint meeting - a dinner of regional Basque specialties - leaders had "constructive discussions" about Amazonian deforestation and Iran, according to a senior European official. But the conversation turned "rough and tumble" when it started on Trump's desire to bring Russia back into the group next year.

Russia was kicked out in 2014 after it invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.

The other G-7 leaders have been deeply opposed to Trump's effort to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin back to their table, saying it would reward bad behavior and give a green light to the annexation and ongoing war in eastern Ukraine.

Over dinner, Trump spent some time bashing former President Barack Obama about the decision to kick out Russia, repeating his public statements that Putin had only been kicked out because he outsmarted Obama, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

In a clear sign that their differences were not resolved during the dinner, Trump told reporters on Sunday that it was "certainly possible" that he would invite Putin to the G-7 next year. The G-7 in 2020 is set to be held in the United States, giving Trump more power to decide who is invited.

Aides say Trump was hoping to refocus discussions on the economy and could even skip some of the sessions Macron has planned.

Trump has at times boasted that the U.S. economy is performing much better than other countries, and he has said there is a global recession that is harming most of the major nations except for the United States. Other leaders have countered that Trump's trade war is causing global supply chains to seize up, and there is evidence the U.S. economy is slowing much more quickly than anticipated.

Just in the past week, Trump has swung dramatically in his approach to the economy, saying he is contemplating tax cuts, then saying tax cuts aren't needed, and then on Saturday saying he planned to pursue tax cuts in 2021.

Trump's attempt to create a sort of alternate version of the summit came as other world leaders, in public statements, described the global dynamic as being in a state of crisis.

The G-7 countries include the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada. The gatherings are typically capped off with a joint statement, known as a communique, that is meant to reflect the leaders' shared values and goals.

Early Sunday morning, Trump remarked on his initial meetings at the summit by saying "Progress being made!" He spent considerable time attacking the news media - one of his most frequent activities whether he is home or abroad.

"Such False and Inaccurate reporting thus far on the G-7. The Fake News knows this but they can't help themselves!" Trump wrote.

It wasn’t immediately clear what his concerns were, and White House officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Former congressman Joe Walsh announces primary challenge against Trump

Alaska News - Sun, 2019-08-25 07:15

FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2011, file photo former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Carolyn Kaster/)

Former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh announced Sunday that he will challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 primary, becoming the second Republican to wage a bid against the president.

Walsh, a talk-radio host, was elected to Congress in 2010 as part of the tea party wave and served one term. He has described himself as an immigration hard-liner and said he would not challenge Trump from the center but from the right and on moral grounds.

"I'm going to run for president," Walsh said Sunday in an interview on ABC News' "This Week," charging that the president is "incompetent," "a bigot" and "a narcissist."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld also has declared that he is running against Trump in the Republican primary, but he has struggled to gain traction.

In Sunday's interview, Walsh staked his run on harsh criticism of the president and questioned Trump's support among Republicans, despite polls showing that the president is popular with the overwhelming majority of GOP voters.

According to a Monmouth University poll released last week, 84% of Republicans approve of Trump's job performance. His highest recent approval mark among fellow Republicans was 88% in a Fox News poll of registered voters earlier this month.

"He's nuts. He's erratic. He's cruel. He stokes bigotry. He's incompetent. He doesn't know what he's doing, George, he's a narcissist," Walsh told host George Stephanopoulos.

Walsh also apologized for his past criticism of former President Barack Obama during his time in office, saying he and other tea party Republicans helped create a partisan political environment that facilitated Trump's election.

"I got personal and I got hateful. I said some ugly things about President Obama that I regret . . . that helped create Trump, and I feel responsible for that," he said.

Others who are mulling Republican primary challenges against Trump include Mark Sanford, a former South Carolina governor and congressman, and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Jeff Flake, a former senator from Arizona and a Trump antagonist, also has said he has taken a flurry of recruitment calls from GOP donors rattled by signs of an economic slowdown and hungry for an alternative to Trump.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Robert Costa and Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Medicaid cuts will have broad impacts for <b>Juneau</b>

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2019-08-25 06:10
Woody MacAllister waited a long time to sign up for Medicaid. “Got to Juneau, people at Front Street Clinic kept bothering me and bothering me, ...

Self-Care: It&#39;s for Alaskans Now!

Juneau Hot Topics - Sun, 2019-08-25 06:03
Listen up, Last Frontier! Have I got news for you! And it's got nothing to do with government turmoil or environmental meltdown! Can you believe news ...

The future of the PFD: A smaller 2019 dividend is wise; now let's look at the formula - Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Legislative News - Sun, 2019-08-25 05:00
The future of the PFD: A smaller 2019 dividend is wise; now let's look at the formula  Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

News-Miner opinion: Gov. Mike Dunleavy's decision to relent on his demand for a $3000 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend this year has no doubt upset his ...