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Alaska Senate delays action on proposed compromise budget plan

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 14:40

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate delayed action on a state spending package Tuesday as lawmakers evaluated their options for getting needed votes on a budget and completing their work ahead of a Friday special session deadline.

The budget proposal that advanced from a six-member conference committee Sunday attached strings to funding for programs like the annual dividend paid to residents. It was criticized by some lawmakers as a strong-arm tactic.

Dividends typically have been paid using earnings from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. But the conference committee proposal cobbled together money for dividends from various sources, including the constitutional budget reserve fund that requires three-fourths support in each the House and Senate to tap.

The check size would be cut to $525 a person if the so-called three-quarter threshold is not met, according to the Legislative Finance Division.

Some lawmakers saw the budget proposal as a way for lawmakers to avoid taking out more than they previously planned from Permanent Fund earnings and as leaving room for additional discussions later this year on the dividend program’s future.

[New compromise plan for state budget puts pressure on supporters of a large Permanent Fund dividend]

The Senate and House had scheduled Tuesday morning floor sessions. The Senate met briefly and adjourned to Wednesday.

The House meeting time was delayed.

An “action alert” sent with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s name Tuesday characterized the budget proposal as attempted coercion. But Lauren Giliam, a Dunleavy spokesperson, said the “messaging was not authorized or approved by the Governor.”

A statement from Giliam said the Restore the PFD Facebook page, administered by the governor’s office, sent an “unauthorized email with respect to the Governor’s advocacy of a vote on the budget.”

While the governor “strenuously opposes” the dividend amount proposed in the budget plan, “he did not authorize any advocacy efforts to urge votes one way or the other on the bill,” the statement said.

The budget is the subject of “vigorous negotiations” between lawmakers, and Dunleavy “is clear he is not going to interfere in those deliberations,” the statement said.

[Alaska is considering the biggest changes to the Permanent Fund since its creation, but lawmakers say public response has been light]

Dunleavy called the current special session to finish work on the budget and discuss his proposal to restructure the permanent fund and put a dividend formula in the state constitution. Special sessions can last up to 30 days, a mark that would be reached Friday.

A number of legislators have said they would prefer to discuss potential long-term changes to the dividend program with other pieces of a possible fiscal plan.

Another special session is scheduled for August, though the dividend is not currently on that agenda.

Curious Alaska: What’s Sarah Palin up to these days?

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 14:28

Sarah Palin at Politicon 2016 at The Pasadena Convention Center, June 2016. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Invision/AP) (Colin Young-Wolff/)

Curious Alaska is a weekly feature powered by your questions. What do you want to know or want us to investigate about life in Alaska, stories behind the news or why things are the way they are? Let us know in the form at the bottom of the story.

Question: What’s Sarah Palin up to?

Curious Alaska is glad you asked.

Thirteen years after her sudden rise to national notoriety, Sarah Palin is simultaneously the most famous Alaskan and nearly invisible within the state.

To answer this question, we tried reaching out to the former governor via the usual routes: Fairbanks-based attorney John Tiemessen, who has represented her on business matters over the years. The speakers bureau that represents her for paid appearances. We even tracked down the former editor of her website, sarahpalin.com, a recent Liberty University graduate named Larry. We reached out to Kevin Scholla, the host of Mama Grizzly radio and a Palin superfan. We called other past associates. We sent Sarah herself a direct message on Instagram.

No one responded. Not even an “absolutely not.”

It’s not that hard to see why. Palin hasn’t done mainstream media interviews in years. After a firestorm of media attention back in 2008, when Palin launched onto the national stage as John McCain’s running mate, the family and inner circle closed ranks and haven’t spoken to local media much since.

And when the Palin family has been in Alaska news reports over the past decade, it’s usually because a personal, painful family matter has spilled over into the public, like the 2014 Palin brawl, eldest son Track’s multiple domestic violence criminal charges (including one in which he assaulted his father) and Todd and Sarah’s divorce.

Lacking a direct line to Palin herself, we turned to the other space where she reveals details about herself regularly: social media. Public records filled in a few more facts.

Here’s what we could gather about Sarah Palin’s life these days: She lives, at least most of the time, in the same house on Lake Lucille in Wasilla that the family has occupied for more than a decade. She applies for a Permanent Fund dividend every year, which would indicate she spends the majority of the year in Alaska. She voted, absentee, in the 2020 presidential election from Alaska, according to Division of Elections records.

Todd and Sarah’s divorce was finalized last year. He has recently purchased land in the Big Lake area, according to property records.

The Palin kids have grown up and into adult lives of their own: Bristol is a real estate agent in the Austin, Texas, area with an Instagram following bigger than her mother’s. Willow has twins and a salon in the Mat-Su. Piper has pursued nursing school. Trig, born when Palin was governor, is now in high school. It’s not clear what Track is up to but court records show all of the criminal cases against him as resolved.

Though her SarahPAC closed in 2017, Sarah still maintains a national profile traveling to speak for conservative causes and candidates. Most recently, she was in Texas for Turning Points USA’s Young Women’s Leadership Summit, for a speech that promised “her signature zingers” as well as “homespun stories of everyday Americans.” She also has an ongoing federal lawsuit against The New York Times, which she says libeled her by suggesting she played a role in inspiring a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona. Her website, sarahpalin.com, is still a productive content farm, churning out a half-dozen pieces of byline-free clickbait daily. On Facebook, 4.5 million people follow her.

And then there’s Cameo, the site where people can buy custom videos from an array of celebrities ranging from Tony Hawk to Fran Drescher to Sarah Palin.

At a rate of $199 per video, Palin has filmed hundreds of messages, usually from her front yard on Lake Lucille, wearing mirrored aviators, her signature updo intact. She wishes aunts happy birthday and husbands happy retirement, sometimes uttering those self-deprecating lines about being able to see something from her house. Cameo seems to be a major Palin side hustle, which is something considering her speakers agency boasts she charges a fee of $100,000 to $200,000 for an appearance.

These days, her main form of communication is through her rather unfiltered social media pages, especially Instagram, where she appears to write her posts herself.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Sarah Palin (@sarahpalin97)

Much of the content could be categorized as classic Instagram mom and grandma: Digital scrapbooks of pictures of her granddaughters playing outside, set to an Uncle Kracker song, a proud mom montage of Trig at what looks like a Wasilla high school track meet, even an Instagram influencer moment in which she hawked a detox tea her daughter Bristol had been promoting. She’s liberal — in her use of emojis.

Palin has been almost entirely absent from Alaska politics. The administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy — a fellow Wasillan — said she hasn’t reached out.

But last fall, she lobbed a grenade by posting a video of herself, mid-yardwork, in which she directly addressed U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, suggesting she was considering running for her seat in 2022.

“This is my house,” she said. “This is my house,” she repeated, intoning different syllables.

“I’m willing to give it up for the greater good of this country ... this state.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Sarah Palin (@sarahpalin97)

Fans — and not fans — jumped in to debate her strength as a potential candidate. Alaska Republican Party leaders say they have heard nothing from her.

Once, last September, she wrote about driving down Big Lake Road and spotting a sign for a Trump rally, being held down a dirt road at a hockey rink. She spontaneously went, she said. In her own verging-on-spoken-word poetry style, she described something that sounded like a moment of introspection about where she is, and what it feels like:

“Thought of my past Presidential/VP rallies back East (some 60,000 strong!) and aimed for these independent, patriotic, FED UP workhorses all committed to making America GREAT! Readied myself for any anti-Deplorable-ites who don’t have the cajones to be in the arena but live to see fighters fall ... and in my case jab that this “has-been” is HERE - not THERE with swamp dwellers pining for the next cocktail party invite to hobnob with elites trying to control you,” she wrote. “But alas! No loud-mouths this night to have to teach: ‘rejection is protection’ & there’s a season & reason for everything.”


Alaska’s back-to-work bonus plan is killed in compromise budget

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 12:31

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, talks about a budget amendment on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 with fellow senators. (James Brooks / ADN) ( /)

JUNEAU — A panel of the Alaska Legislature has killed a bonus program that would have paid $1,200 to unemployed Alaskans who find permanent work.

The $10 million plan was removed Sunday from a compromise budget plan under consideration by the full House and Senate.

Several other states have already begun to use federal economic aid to pay residents who find full-time or part-time work and leave unemployment.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, crafted the unemployment bonus plan and said he was inspired by those states after learning the Dunleavy administration would stop accepting a federally paid $300-per-week boost to unemployment benefits.

Now, he’s disappointed.

“It was an attempt to help small businesses, and there was a lot of pushback by Republicans and conservatives, and they did take it out. Businesses can instead raise their wages to attract people,” he said.

The Senate’s lead budget negotiator, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said lawmakers who crafted the compromise budget wanted to make the Permanent Fund dividend as large as possible without violating a limit on annual spending from the Alaska Permanent Fund.

At the same time, they also wanted to preserve funding for construction and renovation work in the state’s annual capital-projects budget. That meant getting rid of things like the back-to-work program.

“We took that out because we just didn’t have enough money,” Stedman said.

“Something had to give to keep the capital projects. So that was taken out yesterday for that very reason,” he said on Monday.

The compromise budget is awaiting a vote in the House and Senate.

Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson named president of Alaska’s largest tribal health organization

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 12:29

Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson at the 7th annual AFN-NCAI Tribal Conference at the Egan Center on Oct. 17, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth/)

Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, Alaska’s former health commissioner and the first Alaska Native woman to serve as lieutenant governor, has been named the president of the state’s largest tribal health organization.

Davidson had been acting as interim president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium since March following the resignation of Andy Teuber, who served for more than a decade as consortium president and CEO before abruptly resigning on Feb. 23.

The organization’s board of directors recently voted to remove “interim” from Davidson’s title. The change took effect Monday.

Davidson, who had been on a leave of absence from her role as president of Alaska Pacific University, said this week she was stepping down from that role in order to accept her new position. She was the first woman to lead APU.

“Working with the ANTHC team over the last few months has reinforced my belief that people can do the most amazing things under the most challenging conditions as long as we have the right reasons,” Davidson said in an emailed statement. “I’m honored to advance the Board’s vision and support the incredible ANTHC team in this important work on behalf of our children, families, and Tribal communities.”

Davidson is Yup’ik and a member of the Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council.

In 2018, she became the first Alaska Native woman to serve as lieutenant governor, holding the position for a few months under former Gov. Bill Walker. Prior to that, she served as Walker’s commissioner of health and social services from 2014 until 2018.

When he named her a commissioner, Walker described Davidson as an expert on Medicaid in Alaska. She played a vital role in the governor’s decision to expand Medicaid in 2015, arguing the move meant broader health care services for Alaskans, including Alaska Natives.

Hilton Hallock will continue to serve as APU’s interim president while a search is conducted to hire a new president.

Vermont lifts coronavirus restrictions as it becomes first state to partially vaccinate 80% of eligible population

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:36

Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott announces on Monday June 14, 2021 in Montpelier, Vt., that the state had reached its goal of vaccinating 80% of the eligible population. As a result Scott lifted all remaining COVID-19 restrictions that were imposed to deal with the pandemic. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring) (Wilson Ring/)

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said Monday that more than 80% of eligible residents have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, the first state to reach that milestone.

Scott said that he would immediately lift all remaining state pandemic restrictions as a result and that Vermont’s state of emergency would expire at midnight Tuesday.

According to the state, 80.2% of Vermonters age 12 and older and 81.8% of those 18 and older have received at least one shot. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that 61.4% of the U.S. population 12 and older has received at least one dose.

“Our state has shown the world what’s possible when you have a group of people with the right attitude following the data and trusting medical science,” Scott said at a news conference.

State Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Monday that the high vaccination rate would help reduce the spread of the virus, decrease or eliminate hospitalizations and prevent deaths. Levine said it would also reduce the likelihood of more-virulent variants of the virus developing.

“This protection is what is allowing us to lift restrictions today,” he said. “That is public health at work.”

Scott noted that some businesses might choose to keep requirements in place as they wait for employees to get vaccinated. Vermont residents will still need to follow federal pandemic restrictions, such as those for public transportation, and Scott emphasized that this announcement does not mark the end of the state’s effort to vaccinate as many residents as possible.

Letter: Have faith

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:30

I’m really disheartened when I read the obituaries and realize another person has committed suicide. This is a heartfelt plea to those considering this terrible act. Think not about yourself; think about your friends and family instead. When you take your own life, you take other lives with you, as the people left behind have to endure this result for the rest of their lives. Your children you profess to love are left wondering if something they said, didn’t say, or what they did caused you to do this. You have affected me, and I don’t even know you. There is plenty of time in life to die, so don’t rush it. Put your faith in God; He can pull you through anything.

You may be suffering with pain and emotions. You are not alone. You may have trauma over losing a loved one. You are not alone. Life happens and we have to learn to live with it. There will be things ahead we will all have to face that are devastating, and the only thing pulling us through these times is faith in God.

— Rolf L. Bilet

Anchorage

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Letter: Keep exploring

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:27

With regard to contacting aliens, based on his recent commentary, it’s a good thing Mark Buchanan — physicist and scientist — was not on the ship with Ferdinand Magellan or Christopher Columbus, or traveling with Lewis and Clark or Daniel Boone.

People on the European continent would never have sailed upon unknown foreboding seas or ventured westward across a massive North American landscape fraught with dangers real and imagined, but these curious adventurers did just that. They traveled headlong into a world filled with what others had never seen, discovered what was previously unknown, expanded the knowledge for those who followed. I don’t for a minute think that there was never fear or trepidation in their hearts, but thankfully it was overcome.

The mindset of these sometimes impetuous seekers led to an expansive, physically wondrous world; the next step is what is beyond this small, comfortable blue-green orb. Onward.

— Mike Gogolowski

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: GOP’s decline

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:25

The GOP used to be the party of law and order and family values. Not anymore. It used to wrong to lie. Not anymore. It used to be wrong to cheat on your wife. Not anymore. It used to be wrong to pardon liars. Not anymore. It used to be wrong to have foreign actors to help rig elections. Not anymore. It used to be wrong to incite an insurrection, say “I’ll be there with you” — another lie, and after it say, “We love you and you are very special.” Not anymore.  

With Donald Trump still at the helm, this GOP is a sinking ship heading for the bottom.

— Bill Samuelson

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

US COVID-19 deaths top 600,000, equal to yearly cancer toll

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:23

FILE - In this Feb. 19, 2021, file photo, medical transporter Adrian Parrilla moves a patient into a COVID-19 unit at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, Calif. irtually every state is reporting surges in cases and deaths. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 600,000, even as the vaccination drive has drastically slashed daily cases and deaths and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) (Jae C. Hong/)

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as the vaccination drive has drastically brought down daily cases and fatalities and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom and look forward to summer.

The number of lives lost, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Baltimore or Milwaukee. It is about equal to the number of Americans who died of cancer in 2019. Worldwide, the COVID-19 death toll stands at about 3.8 million.

The milestone came the same day that California and New York lifted most of their remaining restrictions, joining other states in opening the way, step by step, for what could be a fun and close to normal summer for many Americans.

“Deep down I want to rejoice,” said Rita Torres, a retired university administrator in Oakland, California. But she plans to take it slow: “Because it’s kind of like, is it too soon? Will we be sorry?”

With the arrival of the vaccine in mid-December, COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. have plummeted to an average of around 340, from a high of over 3,400 in mid-January. Cases are running at about 14,000 a day on average, down from a quarter-million per day over the winter.

The real death tolls in the U.S. and around the globe are thought to be significantly higher, with many cases overlooked or possibly concealed by some countries.

President Joe Biden acknowledged the approaching milestone Monday during his visit to Europe, saying that while new cases and deaths are dropping dramatically in the U.S., “there’s still too many lives being lost,” and “now is not the time to let our guard down.”

The most recent deaths are seen in some ways as especially tragic now that the vaccine has become available practically for the asking.

More than 50% of Americans have had at least one dose of vaccine, while over 40% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But demand for shots in the U.S. has dropped off dramatically, leaving many places with a surplus of doses and casting doubt on whether the country will meet Biden’s target of having 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4. The figure stands at just under 65%.

As of a week ago, the U.S. was averaging about 1 million injections per day, down from a high of about 3.3 million a day on average in mid-April, according to the CDC.

At nearly every turn in the outbreak, the virus has exploited and worsened inequalities in the United States. CDC figures, when adjusted for age and population, show that Black, Latino and Native American people are two to three times more likely than whites to die of COVID-19.

Also, an Associated Press analysis found that Latinos are dying at much younger ages than other groups. Hispanic people between 30 and 39 have died at five times the rate of white people in the same age group.

Overall, Black and Hispanic Americans have less access to medical care and are in poorer health, with higher rates of conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They are also more likely to have jobs deemed essential, less able to work from home and more likely to live in crowded, multigenerational households.

With the overall picture improving rapidly, California, the most populous state and the first to impose a coronavirus lockdown, dropped state rules on social distancing and limits on capacity at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums and other places, ushering in what has been billed as its “Grand Reopening” just in time for summer.

Disneyland is throwing open its gates to all tourists after allowing just California residents. Fans will be able to sit elbow-to-elbow and cheer without masks at Dodgers and Giants games

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that 70% of adults in the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and he announced that the immediate easing of many of the restrictions will be celebrated with fireworks.

“What does 70% mean? It means that we can now return to life as we know it,” he said.

He said the state is lifting rules that had limited the size of gatherings and required some types of businesses to follow cleaning protocols, take people’s temperature or screen them for COVID-19 symptoms. Businesses will no longer have to restrict how many people they can allow inside based on the 6-foot rule.

For the time being, though, New Yorkers will have to keep wearing masks in schools, subways and certain other places.

Massachusetts on Tuesday officially lifted a state of emergency that had been in effect for 462 days, though many restrictions had already been eased, including mask requirements and limits on gatherings. Republican lawmakers in Kansas decided to let a state of emergency expire Tuesday. And Maryland’s governor announced that the emergency there will end on July 1, with the state no longer requiring any masks.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. were in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. During the most lethal phase of the disaster, in the winter of 2020-21, it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 deaths.

With the crisis now easing, it took close to four months for the U.S. death toll to go from a half-million to 600,000.

Letter: Do lawmakers listen?

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:23

The ADN headline on June 10 read, “Alaska weighs big changes to the Permanent Fund, but lawmakers say public response has been light.” Well, we have been responding to lawmakers about the oil money for about 40 years now. They just do not want to hear what we are saying. They have very selective hearing when it comes from anyone that doesn’t agree with them or their spending habits.

Maybe we have to say it louder. “You blew all the funds set aside for running the state government, now keep your mitts off our Permanent Fund.”  We know how to spend it on what we truly need.

— Michael Kurth

Anchorage

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Letter: Dunleavy’s bad fiscal policy

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:21

I oppose Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s efforts to create a $2,300 Permanent Fund dividend and his so-called “50-50 plan.” Both are irresponsible and unsustainable, and Dunleavy has yet to say how he will pay for them. Rather than creating a new crisis for the state, he should be working to solve the state’s budget problems. He has been in office three years and has managed to avoid publicly answering these tough questions or doing much of anything to address the state’s economy.

He wants lawmakers to support his crazy scheme for a $2,300 PFD, which was the cornerstone of his election campaign. He seems unaware that it would bankrupt the state. His only idea for a fiscal plan is cut, cut, cut. That’s not a plan.Every expert who has testified has warned that a $2,300 dividend would eventually bankrupt the PFD and create a $1.5 billion hole in the state budget. The only way to plug that hole is with $1.5 billion in new taxes. To make things worse, Dunleavy is proposing a constitution amendment to require a public vote to pass new taxes.

Dunleavy seems intent on driving the state off the cliff. And he will blame the Legislature if he gets away with it. He should be forced to publicly defend his fiscal plan — if he has one.

— Sharon Stockard

Anchorage

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Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, citing wealth gap, donates $2.7 billion from Amazon fortune

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:20

FILE - In this March 4, 2018, file photo, then-MacKenzie Bezos arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif. Galvanized by the racial justice protests and the coronavirus pandemic, charitable giving in the United States reached a record $471 billion in 2020, according to a Giving USA report released Tuesday, June 15, 2021. MacKenzie Scott stormed the philanthropy world in 2020 with $5.7 billion in unrestricted donations to hundreds of charities. The seven- and eight-figure gifts were the largest many had ever received. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File) (Evan Agostini/)

MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist known for her impromptu multi-billion dollar donations to charities and racial equity causes, announced Tuesday that she has given $2.7 billion to 286 organizations. It is the third round of no-strings-attached, major philanthropic gifts Scott has made, which together rival the charitable contributions made by the largest foundations.

Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, wrote in a Medium post that she and her husband, Dan Jewett, made the donations to enable the recipients to continue their work and as a “signal of trust and encouragement” to them and others.

And she made clear in her announcement that she is troubled by the increasing concentration of vast wealth among a small proportion of individuals. She and Jewett worked with a team of researchers and philanthropy advisors “to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change.”

“In this effort,” she said, “we are governed by a humbling belief that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others.”

In 2020, Scott made two similar surprise announcements, donating a combined $6 billion to COVID-19 relief, gender equity, historically Black colleges and universities and other schools. The 286 organizations chosen for Tuesday’s announcement included “equity-oriented” nonprofits working in long-neglected areas and were selected from a rigorous process of research and analysis, Scott said.

“Because we believe that teams with experience on the front lines of challenges will know best how to put the money to good use, we encouraged them to spend it however they choose,” she wrote.

Scott’s wealth, estimated by Forbes at roughly $60 billion, has only grown since she divorced from Bezos in 2019 and walked away with a 4% stake in Amazon. Shortly after the split, the 51-year-old signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment developed by Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett to get the world’s richest to give a majority of their wealth during their lifetimes or in their wills. Jewett also became a signatory earlier this year.

David Callahan, the founder of the Inside Philanthropy website and author of “The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age” says Scott’s giving shows not only an emphasis on the wealth gap, but also an attempt to help raise the political voice of historically marginalized communities.

Since 2020, Scott has given big contributions to organizations led by minorities, women, or others from vulnerable populations. “And, she specifically has not wanted to do philanthropy in a way that puts her, the philanthropist, in the driver’s seat,” Callahan said.

“Many philanthropists are very, kind of, controlling,” he added. “They think they have the best ideas. They pick and choose carefully who to give money to (in order) to find groups that are willing to carry out their ideas. And MacKenzie Scott is doing something quite differently. She’s finding groups who have their own ideas and empowering them to do their work.”

The latest recipients range from universities — including $40 million apiece to the University of Central Florida and the University of Texas at San Antonio — to refugee resettlement groups and civil rights groups, as well as arts and culture organizations that have suffered from a drop in giving as donors focused on more urgent needs brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The donations also went to nonprofits that focus on minority communities. The group Native Americans in Philanthropy, a recipient that connects philanthropic organizations to Native American-led nonprofits, said in a statement that the multi-million contribution will help them in their efforts to increase funding to tribal communities.

“MacKenzie Scott has recommitted to transformative work, the organizations that undertake it and the leaders whose ideas are often under-funded and overlooked,” Erik Stegman, the executive director of the group, said in a statement. “It’s important to note that she has also just written checks to these organizations, leaving her own interests to the side and giving up power to the organizations she’s funding.”

Scott’s concern about the enormous gap between the very wealthiest Americans and everyone else was underscored in a report last week from the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica. It reported that the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax than many ordinary workers do, once you include taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

Drawing upon Internal Revenue Service data on the country’s wealthiest people, ProPublica reported that some of them have paid no income tax, or nearly none, in some years. Among them is Scott’s former husband, Bezos, who, according to ProPublica, paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011.

Letter: Dunleavy is hurting our economy

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:20

The ADN’s recent editorial attacking the Legislature tells only half the story of fiscal incompetence among Alaska’s political leadership; the other half of the story belongs to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The governor’s politically motivated cut of extended unemployment will cost the Alaska economy $10.3 million per week, according to one estimate.

Whatever pain is caused by the quagmire wrought by Republican legislative incompetence in the state Senate, that pain is magnified by the governor’s crass playing to national political apparatchiks by slashing a federal benefit wrought by a Democratic Congress and the president.

Alaskans must suffer the double-whammy of Donald Trump-aligned legislators causing the implosion of our own fiscal machinery, plus being denied the benefits passed by our federal Congress because of Gov. Dunleavy’s national ambition and partisan blinders.Shame on the governor, and shame on the ADN for not holding him to account.

— Elstun W. Lauesen

Anchorage

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Letter: Voting laws

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:18

The Democrats are trying to push through the For the People Act, which is a slap in the face to every American born in this country. If you were born here, then there is a record of that; hence you have identification. And that makes you eligible for an ID so you can vote.

I don’t see a problem; you go to your local voting polling place, show identification that you’re a citizen and vote. No problem.

— John Vandike

Eagle River

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Copper River sockeye fishery reopens after delay due to low sonar counts

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:03

Fishing tenders anchor along the Copper River flats during the first commercial salmon opener in Cordova on Monday, May 17, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Copper River salmon fishermen got their nets back in the water for the first time in weeks on June 9, aiming for some of the sockeye headed upriver.

The sockeye had been sparse at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sonar at Miles Lake, but the count increased enough through June 8 to allow a 12-hour commercial drift gillnet opener. As of June 8, 187,268 sockeye had passed the sonar, on track to meet the in-river run goal, according to ADFG’s announcement.

That figure continued to swing upward over the weekend; by Saturday, 289,784 sockeye had been counted, significantly ahead of last year’s count and on track to reach the in-river escapement goal. The Chitina personal-use dipnet fishery also opened June 10 for a 96-hour period.

A June 12 release from ADFG announced a 12-hour opener for June 14, not including the expanded chinook salmon inside closure area.

“Increasing daily passage at the Miles Lake sonar station indicates that the inriver goal is likely to be met and supports opening the Copper River District commercial fishery,” ADFG noted in its June 12 announcement.

The ADFG sonar went into the lake on the south shore of Miles Lake, which based on historical counts means half the sockeye passing through have been counted. The flows in the Copper have been extremely low and cold so far, in line with the late and cold spring, which may be affecting the fish moving upstream as well.

Downriver, the Prince William Sound Science Center runs a sonar site near Clear Martin River confluence with the Copper. The fishery depends on the counts of sockeye entering the river, but because of hydrology of the system, ADFG’s sonar is at the outlet of Miles Lake — nearly two miles upriver from the mouth. To help ADFG gather management data for the commercial fishery, the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association fund the PWSSC’s sonar.

However, this year, their sonar didn’t gather much useful data. Rob Campbell, who manages the project for the PWSSC, said the flow of the river has changed to more of the water flowing down the western side. The sonar site is on the eastern.

“We’re not seeing very many fish,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the fish’s fault. It is just really, really changeable down there.”

[Record Copper River salmon prices boost market optimism ahead of bigger Bristol Bay fishery]

It’s not entirely clear whether it’s just siting or whether sockeye behavior is a little different this year, particularly with cold water. In 2019, the soaring temperatures in the Sound placed heat stress on salmon, causing die-offs, but the Copper River was deep and cold enough that it wasn’t as affected as the shallower clear-water streams elsewhere in the area.

The project may have to relocate in the future to provide more useful data, he said, but that’s something the PWSSC and the funding group will have to talk about. Early in the season, which is when the lower-river data is the most useful, Copper River sockeye salmon command high prices. That’s when an opening — or closing — means the most to the fishermen economically.

“If that stimulated one extra opener, that could be like a million bucks into the fishery,” Campbell said. “Up until last year we lined up fairly well with the state sonar.”

Copper River sockeye prices have been reportedly sky-high this season. Copper River Seafoods has two-pound packages of king salmon for about $144 and five-pound packages of sockeye for sale for about $250; Peter Pan Seafoods announced following the second drift gillnet opener of the year that the company would be paying $19.60 per pound for kings and $12.60 per pound for sockeye; those prices that are several fold greater than historical averages.

Dan Lesh, a seafood industry analyst with McKinley Research — formerly the McDowell Group — said demand is expected to be strong and inventories are low, so prices are expected to be higher this season, despite the dearth in actual fish on the docks so far.

“The general story is that most participants in the salmon industry are feeling optimistic about this year,” he said. “The harvest volumes in general are below long-term averages, but they’re still expecting prices to be strong.”

[Photos: Opening weekend on the Russian and Kenai rivers for early run sockeye]

Despite the economic damage from the pandemic in many parts of the U.S. economy, demand for frozen seafood in grocery stores and other retail locations reportedly increased. Copper River salmon, and Alaska wild salmon in general, is typically considered a premium product and thus commands a premium price, available to those with more income.

People were not spending as much on travel or food service, and there was plenty of income still accumulating, Lesh said.

“One of the things we need to understand with the pandemic is that we actually had unprecedented high personal incomes last year,” Lesh said. “People are making money and they’re not spending it as much.”

However, Copper River prices don’t always translate elsewhere in the Alaska salmon market. Lesh said it can’t be assumed that the price will stay similarly higher than usual in other fisheries as more wild sockeye hits the market.

Harvest numbers in Copper River are overall still low; as of June 12, 90,580 sockeye had been harvested. Bristol Bay will come online in the next few weeks, with forecasted harvest of about 37 million sockeye, which is about 13 percent greater than the average harvest in the last decade. Upper Cook Inlet is gearing up to begin its sockeye harvest as well, though sonar counts do not begin on the Kasilof River until June 15.

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