Feed aggregator

Bipartisan collaboration on health care - Juneau Empire

Legislative News - Tue, 2018-05-22 03:48

Bipartisan collaboration on health care
Juneau Empire
The Alaska Legislature ended its session May 13. With the final gavel falling, two years of the longest budgets fights between Alaskans in over a generation came to a close. Attention will deservedly be focused on the “big ticket” items this session ...

Sea Week: A <b>Juneau</b> success story

Juneau Hot Topics - Tue, 2018-05-22 03:48
Thanks to those parents and dedicated teachers, Sea Week is a Juneau ... According to Susan Baxter, retired teacher and former Juneau Sea Week ... the back page of the Juneau Empire, get a local tide book (available for free at ... Juneau Empire - Alaska's Capital City Online Newspaper © 2018.

Eating Wild: Fiddleheads with garlic breadcrumbs

Juneau Hot Topics - Tue, 2018-05-22 03:48
Fiddleheads are the toddler stage of our local ferns, and the most ... We're on the tail end of fiddlehead time in Juneau, but there are still some colder ...

Bipartisan collaboration in health care - Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Legislative News - Tue, 2018-05-22 00:04

Bipartisan collaboration in health care
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Legislature ended its session May 13. With the final gavel falling, two years of the longest budgets fights between Alaskans in over a generation came to a close. Attention will deservedly be focused on the “big ticket” items ...

Anchorage parents are split over possible changes to school start times, survey shows

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 21:05

Anchorage parents are split over possible changes to school start times, according to survey results presented to the Anchorage School Board Monday.

The recent telephone survey is the district's latest step in its process to determine whether or not it should change school schedules starting in the 2019-20 school year. While research shows older students would benefit by starting school later, the district has said, a limited number of buses and time would mean that to do that, everyone's schedules would have to shift in some way.

[The Anchorage School District is considering changing school start times. What do you think?]

Two weeks ago, a consultant hired by the district to study school start times presented two new possible scheduling scenarios to the board: Either move all school start and end times back by 30 minutes or move schedules back and swap the start-time order. The second option would have elementary school students starting classes first at 8 a.m., high school students starting second at 8:45 a.m. and then middle school students starting at 9:30 a.m.

According to the results from the telephone survey, 45.7 percent of 383 randomly selected Anchorage parents said they liked the first scenario best, 37.6 percent preferred the second scenario and 12.5 percent said they did not support a change.

The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percent, said Adam Hays, research director at Hays Research Group, which conducted the survey.

However, some school board members questioned how accurately the survey reflected what parents wanted. School board members Starr Marsett and Dave Donley said they received complaints from parents, who told them that while they were asked which of the two schedule changes they liked, they were not asked whether they preferred no change at all.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop told the board that it has the option to not act on start time changes, leaving the schedules as they are. She said the district has also already asked the community whether it wanted a change or not. Now, she said, it wanted to determine if there was a change, what parents preferred.

According to feedback from the district's community open house meetings earlier this year, 48 percent of those who attended said they wanted to keep school schedules the same, 43 percent were split among three possible changes and 9 percent said they had no preference.

Shannon Bingham, the district's consultant, told the board Monday that the two proposed scheduling options presented this month would cost the district little to nothing to enact. If the Board wanted middle and high schools to start at identical times, instead of staggering schedules, it would cost about $9.5 million for additional buses plus about $7.7 million more each year in operational costs, he said.

School Board President Marsett said the board would continue discussing school start times June 2 at its daylong retreat. With two new board members, she said, they needed more time to talk about the possible changes. She said she did not believe the Board was leaning one way or the other as of Monday.

"I think the board really is up in the air," she said.

Letter: Alaska, U.S. health systems are a joke

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 20:49

I read the recent letter about how great the Alaska health care system is. I had to laugh.

The U.S. is the only industrialized country without health care guaranteed by its government for all the people. We are the leaders in maternal deaths.

The Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, with the help of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, as well as Rep. Don Young, are trying to take away what little health care poor people can afford. We can afford trillions of dollars for war and war equipment but nothing for people or infrastructure. The U.S. is rapidly achieving third-world status.

I suggest the good doctor look to Southcentral Foundation and the Alaska Native health care system if he wants to see a system that works.
Jay Cross
Big Lake

Letter: Why is America so united?

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 20:47

Thanks to Charles Wohlforth for his writings and articles three times a week in the ADN. Thanks to the ADN for the latter. I found his May 18 article ("Why is America so divided?") interesting and thought-provoking down to the last paragraph, when I realized we are divided as we are "united," and that we have been and are struggling to find the truth and define our future.

Questions inherently make us seek and find answers to our problems and help us define our future. Forgive me for condensing 86 years of experience into this paragraph and partly answering Mr. Wohlforth's second question, about whether we can help bridge divides in America. Yes, Alaska can help and is helping now!

Someone said life is a mystery and I would agree. I would also agree with their advice to "relax into the mystery and enjoy it." Support for the truth of these conclusions comes to me in the first 75 pages of "The Soul of America," by Jon Meacham. He offers hope for our future and insight into our division and our Union, starting with Lincoln and the Civil War.

Hugh R. Hays

Letter: Legislature passed tax on Alaskans by cutting dividends - Anchorage Daily News

Legislative News - Mon, 2018-05-21 20:17

Anchorage Daily News

Letter: Legislature passed tax on Alaskans by cutting dividends
Anchorage Daily News
A recent opinion column by Jeremy Price, director of Americans for Prosperity — Alaska, applauded the Alaska Legislature's failure to enact any new taxes. But that is incorrect. The Legislature reduced the size of the 2018 Permanent Fund dividend by ...

Letter: Legislature passed tax on Alaskans by cutting dividends

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 20:13

A recent opinion column by Jeremy Price, director of Americans for Prosperity — Alaska, applauded the Alaska Legislature's failure to enact any new taxes. But that is incorrect. The Legislature reduced the size of the 2018 Permanent Fund dividend by more than $1,000. That is effectively a $1,000 head tax on every Alaskan, from infants to seniors. Rich folks won't even notice this, but for low-income people and families, it's a big hit.

Mr. Price also quotes the AFP line, "the long-term solution is to spend less on government." Ask the folks in Kansas and Gov. Sam Brownback how that has worked out for them lately.

Should we not support the basics of civilization including: clean air and water, health care, education for our children and law enforcement, and should those of us benefiting from these services not pay our fair share? Americans for Prosperity supports only the desires of the Koch Brothers, which have little to no overlap with those aims.

Gail Heineman

Letter: 5 seconds of kindness

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 20:11

Little did you know, the boy who you threw against a locker is going into foster care because his parents died in a car accident. That girl you called fat is at home purging herself to have the "perfect body." Little did you know, the boy you called stupid is planning on taking his own life.

In the past year, I have had to experience four suicides. Three of the deaths could not have been foreseen because of the fact that the victim seemed "normal" and did not show any obvious signs of depression — but that one death could have been prevented. That one victim could have been saved.

Some people think, "It's only one person, it won't make a difference," but in reality, that one life means the world to someone. A friend of mine who took her life wrote a letter beforehand, saying, "If someone would have said something, if someone would have made me feel like I was worth fighting for, I would not have gone through with my violent actions."

If one word can change the way someone thinks, why can't one word change their actions? If everyone took five seconds out of their day to say hello to someone, those words could save a life. If you see a person that seems even the slightest bit unlike himself or herself, say something or smile to show you care.

Even if it seems like just a "hello" to you, that "hello" could save a human being. So please, take five seconds of kindness out of your day to save a life. It's that easy.

Jenna Gawrys
Eagle River

Mean ex-coworkers made my life hell. Now I have a chance to get back at them. Should I take it?

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 19:38

Q. Three years ago, a group of mean girls in the workplace made up false stories about me and ostracized me. I hadn't done anything to deserve how they treated me. They hated me because the departing CEO gave me a promotion that one of them felt was rightfully hers. After the CEO resigned, these coworkers made my work life a living hell.

I wisely quit. However, I've never been able to let go of what happened and it eats away at me. I've dreamed of revenge, of making them pay for how they hurt me. Now, life has handed me an opportunity to get back at these former coworkers. Should I take it?

A. Make your decision based on what you feel to be right. Could you fix a bad situation? Save someone else from experiencing what happened to you? When you're not able to let something go, taking action can be emotionally satisfying.
On the other hand, when you have a wound that needs healing, do you pull the scab off? Revenge re-opens and aggravates emotional wounds. Further, revenge rarely fully satisfies, because whatever was done to you has happened and revenge can't undo history.

Further, revenge can backfire. Gov. Chris Christie's presidential aspirations experienced a potentially fatal blow after his team was alleged to have created a traffic jam that tied up traffic at the George Washington Bridge and turned a half hour commute into a four hour experience for many furious New Jersey residents.

Here's the more important question. Why have you given these mean girls the power to stay in your mind and thus your life? What exactly eats at you? Is it that you let them run you off? What if you took that energy you've channeled toward revenge and put it into your personal and professional growth? When you mentally move forward, you can make these former mean girls irrelevant. Then, from that perspective, you can answer your own question. Will getting back at these former coworkers make you feel better or worse?

Q. When we promoted "Jack" as department lead, we thought we'd made the right choice. He knew every job in the department, was hard-working and completely committed to our company. Soon after we made him the lead, two other employees quit. We figured they were jealous.

Since then, seven other employees have left. The last three employees who quit told the same story. They call Jack a jerk, say he's "on them" the whole time they're working, and they don't want to work with him. What do we do? We don't want to demote Jack; if we do so, we'll lose him and he regularly saves the day when his direct reports slip up. At the same time, we can't afford any more employees quitting.

A. If you didn't provide Jack with supervisory training when you promoted him, you set him up to fail. Jack sounds like a man who sets high standards for himself and others. He may not, however, know how to work with those who don't meet his standards.

Here's what Jack needs to know. He needs to know how to talk with and not at those who report to him. He needs to learn how to set clear expectations for his crew and then work as the coach on the sidelines rather than as the hero who runs onto the field. He needs to know how to give constructive feedback in a way that elicits understanding and change instead of in manner that belittles. The good news — Jack's a hard worker and can learn supervision — if you provide the training.

Wildlife officers investigating the illegal killing of a black bear in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 19:04

Wildlife officers are investigating the illegal killing of a black bear last week on a popular road within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. They're asking anyone with information about the apparent poaching to come forward.

"We try to provide the greatest opportunity for people to do wildlife viewing," Steve Miller, deputy refuge manager, said Monday. "One of those bears that people would normally see is now gone."

Witnesses who were driving on the road told wildlife officers that a person shot a bear Thursday as it stood in the middle of Skilak Lake Road, about a half-mile from Jim's Landing, a recreation area with access to the Kenai River. They said the bear weighed about 100 pounds and it seemed to have no fear of vehicles or people, Miller said.

Miller said it's believed the person shot the bear, dragged it into the woods for "minimal processing" and pulled the bear's carcass back to the road. The person then loaded it into a blue hatchback, similar to a Subaru Outback, according to the refuge.

"This was a harvest of an animal that was otherwise legally allowed to be harvested, but it was in a closed area," Miller said.

While some parts of the refuge are open for hunting, this area is not, he said. Even if it was, it's illegal for someone to take game by shooting on, from or across a drivable surface, according to Alaska hunting regulations.

Wildlife officers first learned of the shooting around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Miller said.

Photographs that the refuge posted online Sunday show a pool of blood on the road and a trail of blood leading into the nearby trees.

Miller said Monday that wildlife officers continued to follow up on tips in the case. He asked anyone with information about the shooting to call Federal Wildlife Officer Rob Barto at 907-262-7021. All information will remain confidential, he said.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = 'https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v3.0'; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

On Thursday, May 17, 2018 at approximately 0930 hours, Federal Wildlife Officers (FWO) received a report of a Black Bear...

Posted by Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday, May 20, 2018

Potter Creek trailhead closed due to moose kill attracting bears

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 18:14

Anchorage's popular Potter Creek trailhead is closed due to a moose kill that has attracted bears, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Chugach State Park rangers closed the trailhead, located at Mile 15 of the Seward Highway, on Saturday, said Ken Marsh with the Department of Fish and Game.

The moose kill is about a mile from the trailhead in the direction of McHugh Creek.

Marsh said black bears had been seen eating the carcass.

"The estimate is that it will be closed for about a week," he said.

A red bear danger sign has been posted at the site.

The Potter Creek trailhead is a heavily-used gateway to the Turnagain Arm Trail, a 9.4 mile trail that paralells the highway below from Potter to Windy Corner. Bears are often spotted along the trail.

1 injured by stray bullet after cars fire at eachother in Fairview, police say

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 17:17

The Anchorage Police Department is asking the public's help in gathering information after a stray bullet hit a person in a Fairview residence Monday afternoon.

At 3:54 p.m., police began getting calls about two moving vehicles firing shots at each other. A stray bullet went into a residence on the 700-block of East 11th Avenue, police said.

A female, in her living room with other family members, was struck. She was taken to a hospital; the extent of her injuries was not known Monday evening.

Anyone with information is asked to called Anchorage's non-emergency line, 311, or submit an anonymous tip through Anchorage Crime Stoppers.

Abandoned tugboat stuck in middle of Gastineau Channel

Juneau Hot Topics - Mon, 2018-05-21 16:33
The tug, called the Lumberman, was built in 1941 and came to Juneau in ... Uchytil pointed out this isn't the first time in recent years a tugboat has ...

SB 91 must be repealed and replaced to restore public confidence

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 16:21

As a State House candidate from South Anchorage, self-described as fiscally conservative and socially progressive, I've been catching a great deal of grief for stating firmly and without any reticence that I believe Senate Bill 91 should be repealed and replaced.

One of the principal reasons the bill was created was to decrease the costs of Alaska's criminal justice system. That was a stated goal in the creation of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission and in the bill's sponsor statement, and it was the dominant discussion as the bill made its way through the Legislature.

To be fair, our system is expensive, and it has terrible outcomes. We have more prisoners, they stay in prison longer, and many of them are going back in once they get out. On top of that, Alaska's pretrial population makes up a quarter of the prison population. So, people who haven't been convicted are sitting in jail. That's particularly terrible for people who are ultimately found not guilty.

[How SB 91 has changed Alaska's justice system]

Also, to be fair, SB 91 may be successful in a stated purpose (saving the state money), but Alaskans won't like how it does it. The omnibus crime bill will save the state money by essentially decriminalizing – or abandoning meaningful consequences for – many crimes. People can steal, stalk people, sell drugs and do all kinds of terrible things to their friends, family and neighbors and be given a citation instead of going to prison. This doesn't drive down crime, it simply shifts the cost of the crime to friends, family, neighbors, small business owners, nonprofits, and communities. It's that simple.

The bill is supported by numbers put forward by an out-of-state firm called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which has helped a lot of other states implement similar (but not apples-to-apples) initiatives. The results of these programs are mixed. If you're told that the system put forward by SB 91 is successful somewhere else, listen with skepticism – it should be clear that there is no place where this exact system exists; Alaska is the only state to have instituted so many of the recommendations made by the JRI.

It's also important to note that true believers in justice reinvestment programs, like Susan B. Tucker and Eric Cadora, visionaries in justice reinvestment, aren't fans of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative because they view it as a bastardization of the concept. The original justice reinvestment concept was, at its core, about finding community-level solutions to community problems. It was focused on finding out what drives criminal behavior, then redirecting the money formerly used to incarcerate people into fixing whatever enabled the criminal behavior in the community.

[People in Anchorage are fed up with crime. Did SB 91 make it worse?]

That's not what SB 91 does at all. SB 91 is focused on savings first and reinvestment peripherally. We're not taking the total "savings" from incarcerating people and developing comprehensive, community-driven programs to strengthen the webs of support under those people likely to commit crimes and most in need of our support. Very little reinvestment is being done at all. We're basically just giving them a stern talking-to and sending them out into whatever situations led them to make their previous bad decisions.

In fact, we're weakening those webs of support by perpetuating petty crime and developing a sense of divisiveness within our communities, which leads to less neighborliness, less trust between fellow community members, and more likelihood that people needing support will slip through the cracks. On Nextdoor and Facebook, people are talking about SB 91, posting pictures of people in their neighborhoods whom they believe don't belong, and warning neighbors about "suspicious characters." That is the antithesis of community building. We are developing neighborhood-by-neighborhood xenophobia.

So why are so many progressive folks defending SB 91? Well, the population in our prisons is not reflective, by demographic breakdown, of the population of our communities, and many find this troubling. This is a problem that we absolutely need to deal with, and we need to deal with it immediately. But we don't do that by decriminalizing crime. We do that by better engaging our diverse communities and applying their wisdom, knowledge, and resources to create community-level fixes that considers them. We do that by developing bottom-up solutions that address issues that drive or enable crime. We invest in aggressive opioid addiction support programs. We find ways to ensure Alaska's youth have strong connections to the community and positive role models. We make our education system the best in the country. We fix the economy so that a positive future is a given, rather than a hope. We need to find solutions to issues like moving people through pretrial quickly or keeping rural Alaskans close to their families and communities even if they commit crimes, so their communities can be a part of driving down recidivism and helping them to create a better life.

So, yes, I believe that we should repeal and replace SB 91. The bill was rolled out during an opioid crisis, a fiscal crisis, rising unemployment rates, and after years of cuts to our police force in Anchorage (which Mayor Berkowitz has gone a good way to restore).

We have the real problem of crime in our communities. Alaskans don't feel safe in their daily lives or heard by their representatives. SB 91 is contributing to that situation both from public perception and a practical perspective (by hamstringing law enforcement, prosecution, and corrections).

We need to restore public safety as a priority and, in doing so, we'll restore the public's confidence. Conservatives and progressives share the vision of criminal justice reform, but what we're arguing about is our ability fund necessary programs – an impossibility under our current fiscal situation.

So why is a progressive Alaskan supporting the repeal of a bill that was pushed hard by progressive groups? Because I believe that, at its core, this bill is not about creating true equity; it's about saving money and creating a fictional equality of outcomes through the manipulation of statistics. At the core of our progressive values is social equity, and that doesn't happen by shifting government's responsibility for public safety to Alaskans.

Amber Lee is a candidate for House District 28 in Anchorage. She is a longtime resident of Bear Valley, owns a consulting firm and is the mother of two boys who attend Bear Valley Elementary.

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@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Alaska Airlines says goodbye to plastic straws, stir sticks

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 16:17

Alaska Airlines is ditching plastic straws.

In an announcement Monday, the company said that it will no longer be handing out single-use, non-recyclable plastic straws, stir sticks and citrus picks.

The airline plans to make the switch July 16 on all of its domestic and international commercial flights, as well as in airport lounges, the release says.

In 2017, the company handed out 22 million plastic stir straws and citrus picks. In July, those will be replaced by white birch stir sticks, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and bamboo citrus picks.

Meanwhile, "non-plastic, marine-friendly straws will be made available to guests with special needs and upon request," the release says.

Alaska Airlines hopes to reduce per-passenger in-flight waste by 70 percent by 2020, the company says.

Esteban Santiago researched layout of Los Angeles airport days before deadly Fort Lauderdale shooting, feds say

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 16:11

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Three days before carrying out the deadly mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale’s main airport, Esteban Santiago researched the layout of the Los Angeles international airport, prosecutors revealed Monday.

Santiago used his cellphone to look up a map of the LAX airport on Jan. 3, 2017, prosecutors wrote in court records. They did not elaborate on why Santiago traveled instead to South Florida.

That same day, Santiago purchased a one-way ticket on a Delta flight from Anchorage, Alaska, where he lived, to Fort Lauderdale, via Minneapolis. The flight departed on Jan. 5 and landed in Fort Lauderdale around lunchtime on Jan. 6.

Santiago, 28, is expected to plead guilty to multiple charges this week and will be sentenced to five life terms plus 120 years in federal prison, according to court records filed Monday.

He is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing Wednesday in federal court and the sentencing will be scheduled in several weeks. Prosecutors have agreed to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for his guilty pleas to 11 charges linked to the Jan. 6, 2017, mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale’s international airport.

[As his life unraveled in Anchorage, Esteban Santiago slipped through all the cracks]

Santiago does not appear to have any significant assets but if he ever comes into any money, he must turn it over as restitution to the victims. The plea agreement includes any money paid to him, or anyone on his behalf, for “writing, interviews, documentaries, movies, or other information disclosed by the defendant, including, but not limited to access to the defendant, photographs or drawing of or by the defendant, or any other type of artifact or memorabilia.”

Five people died in the mass shooting: Mary Louise Amzibel, 69; Michael Oehme, 56; Olga Weltering, 84; Shirley Timmons, 70; and Terry Andres, 62.

And six people, who are only identified by their initials in court records, were seriously injured. Some of the injured were spouses of the murder victims.

Authorities also revealed new details about those injuries in Monday’s court filing.

“J.S. suffered a gunshot wound through her shoulder. B.G. suffered a gunshot wound through his left arm that resulted in a life-threatening arterial injury requiring emergency surgery in order to stem the bleeding and to transplant a vein from his leg in order to effect a repair of that artery,” prosecutors wrote in the plea agreement.

“C.S.T. suffered a gunshot wound to the head resulting in the loss of his left eye and the excision [removal] of part of his skull in order to remove damaged brain tissue. C.P. suffered a gunshot wound to his left wrist, requiring surgery to insert metal parts in order to reconstruct the bones in that wrist. K.K.O. suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, which lodged in her upper back, causing fractures to two vertebrae.”

School shooters are a symptom of a culture that is ill

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 16:08

I know two Greek-American kids who brought shotguns to high school.

My brother Peter and me.

There were two 12-gauge shotguns. We were going hunting.

I suppose that sounds crazy, after what happened at the Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday.

Another mass school shooting, another horror show with at least 10 students and staff dead, at least 10 others wounded and a disturbed shooting suspect in custody who left explosive devices to kill more people.

His name is Dimitrios Pagourtzis, and he’s 17.

He allegedly used his father’s shotgun and a .38, and so the father is responsible for this, too.

I can’t say yet if he’s legally responsible. But he’s morally responsible. Those were his guns. That was his son.

If he didn’t know that something was deadly wrong with his son, he should have. He’s the father. Ten innocent people are dead.

We live in a legalistic culture now, where responsibility is narrowly defined. The lawyers come up with reasons to mitigate responsibility.

But in my view, the father is the father. The guns were his. The suspect is his son.

As I write this, after the politicians in Texas had their say, the tired liturgy began anew.

You know how this goes. You’ve seen it before: anger, tribal chant and politics, those who want armed security at schools, those who say there are too many guns in America already.

We slide into our default positions. We think by hashtag.

The uglier our thoughts, the harsher they are, the better. People let their anger roll off their thumbs and onto the Twitter accounts. You can watch the number of your Twitter followers grow when you call people like me a “gun fetishist.”

Or you can posture and preen, blame President Trump and the Bill of Rights, and signal your virtue to people you don’t know.

It has nothing to do with understanding.

It has nothing to do with seeing these boy shooters at schools as something more than mere platforms for our gun politics.

They’re monsters, yes. And they’re evil. And the parents in such cases who say they never realized their boy was dangerously mentally ill seem to me to be nothing but liars.

If you want gun control, I’ll offer some now: The mentally ill should be nowhere near guns. I support the Second Amendment, making me an almost extinct creature in the world of journalism.

But I don’t care if the NRA likes that idea or not.

Also, every state should implement some version of a Gun Violence Restraining Order, so families may petition the courts for the temporary confiscation of guns from the mentally ill.

Schools, like hospitals, are soft targets. They must be hardened.

Every school should have a trained law enforcement officer -- not an untrained teacher -- armed and ready.

There were law enforcement officers at the Texas school, and more would have been killed if they hadn’t been there.

But I see the killers as something else, too.

I see them as symptoms of a culture that is seriously ill.

The boy shooters filled with nihilism and despair, with hate, with little regard for the lives of others. But how were they formed?

The boy shooters weren’t hatched from dead eggs in an empty desert and raised up alone.

We’re all part of the culture. So we shape them, if not directly then indirectly as we pursue our own wants and desires. We till the ground for the young.

Belief in God is mocked in our culture. Religion is belittled. Decency is snickered at. Tradition is deconstructed.

Liberty is defined as doing what we want with our bodies. We glaze our minds with media and say hateful things to people we don’t know by using our phones, because we’re right and those who disagree are wrong.

The wave of school shootings dating back to Columbine are telling us something, but we don’t want to understand, because understanding might make us guilty, and get in the way of our true American pastime: seeking instant gratification.

When Peter and I brought our guns to school, we weren’t threats. We didn’t have Twitter or Facebook.

We were just two boys with a good pointing dog on a cool morning in autumn.

We locked the shotguns in the trunk in the school parking lot and parked in the shade. We left our pointer, Jason, in the car with a bowl of water in his dog cage, with the windows half open.

Then we went to class to be marked as “present” before we ditched and drove to some fields near Kankakee to hunt pheasants.

“We didn’t think about killing anybody,” said Pete.

“No,” I said. “Dad knew what we were doing.”

Pete had just come back from the cemetery where he’d taken our mom and my wife, Betty. They’d gone to tend Dad’s grave.

And when they walked back into the house, I was there with the TV. The Texas shooting suspect’s name was on screen:

Dimitrios Pagourtzis.

My mom’s jaw dropped, the immigrant fear of shame brought upon her people was obvious.

“He’s Greek?”

That doesn’t matter. He’s an American high school student and he’s accused of killing 10 people with his father’s guns.

And now we fight the same fight all over again.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His Twitter handle is @john_kass.

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@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Supreme Court upholds arbitration that bans workers from joining forces over lost wages

Alaska News - Mon, 2018-05-21 15:58

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a major victory to corporations by sharply restricting the rights of American workers to join together to challenge their employers for allegedly violating federal laws on wages, overtime pay or civil rights.

The justices by a 5-4 vote agreed with Trump administration lawyers and ruled that employers may enforce so-called individual arbitration agreements that require workers to give up the ability to collectively pursue claims that they were short changed or treated unfairly.

The court’s conservatives, speaking through Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, said the employees must abide by a company’s arbitration contract, including provisions that limit them to bringing only individual claims.

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “egregiously wrong” and said it harkens back to the era of “yellow dog contracts.” She was referring to a pre-1930s period when workers could be forced to abide by contracts that prohibited them from joining with others, including to form a union.

Labor law experts said the impact of the ruling in Epic Systems vs. Lewis will fall heaviest on tens of millions of low-wage workers who do not belong to unions. As a practical matter, they said, workers at convenience stores, restaurants, hotels or the like will find it expensive and risky to bring complaints if they must do so on their own.

Ginsburg said the “inevitable result of today’s decision will be the underenforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers ... One study estimated that in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City alone, low-wage workers lose nearly $3 billion in legally owed wages each year.”

The ruling is consistent with a series of high court decisions over the past 25 years which have expanded the reach of the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, a measure originally adopted to uphold commercial contracts between two companies. As a result, it is now routine for banks, credit card companies, cellphone providers and others to include arbitration clauses in their contracts. By doing so, they can prevent consumers from joining class-action suits if they believe the company has violated part of the contract.

The ruling not only affirmed employers’ ability to bind workers to arbitration, it expanded that power to include asking workers to waive the right to take collective action, even though such a right is protected by 1930s’ labor laws and 1960s’ civil rights measures. The court’s majority ruled the arbitration law in this case overrides later labor laws.

Workers rights advocates accused the court of undermining enforcement of workplace rights laws.

“The Supreme Court has dramatically tilted the legal landscape against working people,” said Catherine K. Ruckelshaus, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project. She said the ”#MeToo” movement had also exposed the danger of arbitration clauses, which have allowed some employers to conceal sexual abuse and harassment by top executives.

About 60 million nonunionized workers in the private sector are covered by arbitration agreements that bar them going to court to sue over alleged violations of federal workplace laws, according to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal group based in Washington. Among them, about 25 million are also required to arbitrate as individuals. Lawyers predicted Monday that number will rise quickly.

The decision is not likely to affect workers who belong to a union. For them, the union negotiates a contract, and it may represent them before an arbitrator.

The case before the court began when several workers in gas stations in Alabama complained they were not paid overtime for working after hours. Their employer, Murphy Oil, which operates more than 1,000 gas stations in 21 states, pointed to an arbitration agreement which prohibited them from suing or joining a class complaint. The National Labor Relations Board, led by Obama appointees, ruled this restriction was an unfair labor practice. It pointed to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 which said workers had a right to join a union or “engage in other concerted activities for ... mutual aid or protection.”

A similar dispute over overtime pay arose from software workers employed by EPIC Systems in Wisconsin and accountants for Ernst & Young in Northern California. The Supreme Court took up all three cases and decided them as one.

It is not clear whether discrimination and civil rights claims will be affected. Gorsuch’s majority opinion did not mention the issue. In dissent, Ginsburg said it “would be grossly exorbitant” to read the ruling so as to “devastate” discrimination claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ginsburg read much of her dissent in court. She said her colleagues in the majority had upheld “these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave it contracts” even though the labor laws of the 1930s have recognized “there is strength in numbers.”

Epic Systems Corp., a Verona, Wis.-based provider of health care software, said it was pleased with the court’s decision. “It is important that employers protect an employee’s right to file complaints, while also providing for a fair forum in which those grievances are addressed,” Epic founder and chief executive Judy Faulkner said in a statement. “When it comes to grievances regarding wages and hours, we believe individual arbitration agreements strike that reasonable balance.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the decision, saying it “restores the law to where it was prior to the NLRB’s overreaching 2012 determination that the National Labor Relations Act overrides the Federal Arbitration Act ... Gutting America’s arbitration system harms all Americans but one group _ the plaintiffs’ bar,” the chamber said. “Plaintiffs’ class-action lawyers will vigorously attack this decision because they will lose hundreds of millions in fees.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on Twitter that despite the ruling “we will continue to defend Californians from all backgrounds and their rights to band together _ our hardworking families need a meaningful option to protect themselves in the workplace.”

Al Latham, partner at the law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker who also teaches at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, said “California is bound by this decision.” He said the ruling would encourage companies that don’t yet have arbitration agreements with workers to implement them because “class-action cases are extremely risky for employers even if ultimately there’s no merit to the case. The cost of litigation is huge and the risk is huge, should _ at the end of the road _ a jury decide there was merit to the class-action claims.”

The Obama and Trump administrations took opposite stands on the case as it moved through the courts. Early in 2016, Obama’s lawyers appealed the case of the gas station workers from Alabama and urged the court to allow them to bring a complaint seeking overtime pay. But in 2017, when Trump appointees took office, they switched sides and urged the court to rule for the company.

When the justices heard arguments on the issue in October, they heard from two government lawyers, one of whom represented the Obama-era workers’ rights view at the NLRB and one from the Justice Department representing the Trump administration’s pro-employer view.

Joining Gorsuch in the majority were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Ginsburg in dissent.