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Readers write: Letters to the editor, December 8, 2016

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 19:06

What is wrong with Demboski?

Even if Amy Demboski doesn't believe that her words unfairly smeared and mis-characterized Greg and Maleika Jones, you would think that simple human compassion would have led her to acknowledge their anxiety and fear for their family's safety. What is wrong with that woman?

— Glenn Wright
Anchorage

Demboski should resign

Assemblywoman Amy Demboski should resign from her seat immediately. Her racist actions are despicable. She is a disgrace to our community.

— Glenn Olson
Anchorage

Fake news distracts from issue, attacks the presenter

I am always amazed on how the media pick and chose those stories concerning a particular minority.

Most recently was a black Muslim man and his family. They are now in fear based on what a politician allegedly said. (ADN online publication 12/7: "After a Facebook post by an elected official, an Alaska Muslim finds he has to explain his faith.")

Islamophobia? Perhaps or just plain fearmongering.

What about militiaphobia? Actually fearmongering on the media's part. How dare people believe they have a right to defend themselves. At least according to the all powerful so-called nonfake news. The media continues to parrot what organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center claim. Any proof needed?

No, their word is gospel.

And so it goes. And where was the media when I was fired from my job because I helped establish militias? Where was the media when I was threatened because of the distortion of the truth? Where was the media when the SPLC claimed I was a racist? Nowhere to be found but prepared to repeat the lies on who and what I am.

There is a great deal of fake news in our environment. Usually distracting from the issues presented and attacking the presenter.

As for the fear of Muslims, hogwash. I learned years ago to judge the content of the character of the individual rather than the group they are part of.

And I remember what civil rights leader Charles E. Cobb Jr. said. He expressed it clearly in his book "This Nonviolent Stuff Will Get You Killed, How Guns Made the Civil Rights movement possible."

I would encourage Jones to purchase a gun and prepare to protect his family. That is what I have done. Of course when he does there will be those who claim he is stockpiling guns. The good news is he and I will come together to defend each other to protect us from the real threat of those who want to enslave us.

— Ray Southwell
Nikiski

Trump EPA nominee would ‘make America polluted again’

The trainwreck of the incoming Trump administration just got real. Trump's nomination for administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — his first important environmental appointment — is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. If confirmed, this disastrous appointment promises to "make America polluted again."

Pruitt has made a career out of opposing environmental protection in general, and the EPA specifically. He is currently suing the EPA to overturn the U.S. Clean Power Plan — a plan that may be our last chance to control carbon emissions and stabilize climate. And he joined other Republican attorneys general in opposition to the Exxon climate fraud investigation. Pruitt is antithetical to everything the EPA stands for and does. And that is precisely why Trump nominated him.

If confirmed, Pruitt would effectively dismantle the nation's most important environment agency, precisely when we need it most. We may as well lock the doors and turn out the lights at EPA, and let the polluters run the show again nationally. Many of the hard-won federal environmental protections over the past four decades would be at risk.

Even former President Richard Nixon, who created the EPA in 1970, will squirm in his grave over this appointment.

We can hope that Congress will not confirm this horrific appointment. After all, they have children, and should value clean water, clean air, climate stability and protection from toxic chemicals, shouldn't they? Let's hope Alaska's senators will do the right thing and oppose Pruitt's confirmation.

— Rick Steiner
Anchorage

Religious texts promote bias

Misogyny: hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls.
Women have endured it forever. Example; New Testament, I Timothy, II, 11 & 12:

"Let the women learn in silence with all subjection." "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp the authority over the man, but to be in silence."

Example; The Koran; Surah II, 282;

"… And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men not be at hand, then a man and two women, as such as ye approves as witnesses, so that if one erreth, (through forgetfulness) the other will remember."

I know the above is cherry-picking, but all the major religious texts are riddled with similar examples that carry on and promote the same ignorant bias toward women.

Come on, boys, isn't it time to acknowledge our mothers, sisters and daughters are just as smart or half the time smarter than we are? These religious books written by men are at least a thousand years past due for a major re-write. And this time "Ye Shall Have an equal number of men and women on the editorial board."

— D. Kevin Dunham
Seward

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter under 200 words for consideration, email letters@alaskadispatch.com, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to commentary@alaskadispatch.com.

Head of <b>Alaska&#39;s</b> Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office to step down

Alaska News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:59
Cynthia Franklin, the director of Alaska's Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office who has overseen the rollout of legal pot in the state, is resigning.

Ahtna completes drilling a natural gas well near Glennallen, set to begin testing

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:45

An Alaska Native corporation hoping to provide jobs and cheaper energy to its shareholders said Tuesday it has finished drilling a natural gas exploration well and will soon conduct tests to determine if gas exists in the targeted zone.

Ahtna said the two-month drilling at Tolsona No. 1, located about 12 miles west of the company's Glennallen headquarters in the Interior, was delayed by challenging geology and zones of high-pressure water. It had to be drilled 700 feet deeper than planned, but the company was able to isolate the potential gas-bearing zone from the water about a mile beneath the surface.

The drilling rig will be demobilized so it can be used again by Hilcorp, the dominate producer in the Cook Inlet region. Hilcorp allowed rig owner Schlumberger to extend the rig contract to finish drilling, Ahtna said in a statement.

Well-testing is expected to begin in mid-December, with a wireline truck lowering perforating guns down the well using a steel cable to blast holes in the pipe with explosive charges, officials said. The holes will connect the pipe to the reservoir thought to contain gas.

Ahtna won't know how much gas the company is sitting on, if any, until the pipe is perforated, said Shannon Blue, corporate communications director for Ahtna. The company is targeting a 220-foot section that starts at a depth of about 5,000 feet.

If the initial flow tests are positive, the company expects to spend about two months analyzing the data in part to determine the well's production capacity.

"We have learned so much throughout this drilling program and are thankful to have successfully reached our target and completed this important phase," said Michelle Anderson, Athna president.

Ahtna has taken advantage of the state's tax credit program in hopes of finding a discovery that could lower energy prices in the Glennallen area and potentially support new businesses such as a local gas utility.

Ahtna has estimated the Tolsona well will cost $11 million, with up to 80 percent of that potentially covered by the state under the credit program.

People Mover is vital -- let's figure out how to make it work

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:40

I hear a lot about budget deficits in state and local government, but I don't hear many creative suggestions to reorganize the way public services are delivered.

Now, however, we do have at least one: a sensible proposal on the municipal level to consolidate services in Anchorage's venerable public transit system, the People Mover.

The plan isn't aimed so much at saving money — the same number of buses will operate, but it would make improvements for efficiency and make the system sustainable in the long run.

[Anchorage's People Mover bus system considers major changes to the way routes are designed]

People Mover operates with a $32 million annual budget, about $18 million of this funded by the municipality, $6 million to $7 million from federal funds and the rest paid by riders.

Buses now operate regularly throughout the municipality, which is good. But on many routes at the extremity, like where I live in South Anchorage, there is very low ridership.

Take Bus 60, for example, which serves my neighborhood. I see it all the time, on the hour, on schedule, regular, dependable ––and typically empty. Bus 60 costs $2 million a year to operate, I'm told, and it really pains me to see it moving down Oceanview Drive with no one aboard.

There are parts of Anchorage where people depend more on People Mover and ridership is higher, mainly in East Anchorage, Midtown and downtown, but the hourly schedule is still roughly the same because the system's resources are spread thin across a big area.

The reorganization would reduce or eliminate services at the extremity, depending which option is decided, so that service can be concentrated on the higher-use corridors that connect downtown with the Midtown commercial and residential district and residential areas of East Anchorage.

Instead of hourlong waits buses would come at 15-minute or in some areas more frequent intervals. This has an important economic development aspect because it means people in those areas, many working in moderate-income service jobs, will be able to get to work and back more easily.

Paul Fuhs, who is active in the Fairview and East Anchorage business groups, says the lack of affordable housing downtown forces many people to live in Muldoon where costs are lower. More frequent public transit will expand job opportunities and help employers who need their people to be at work on time, Fuhs told me.

This isn't just a moderate-income issue, either. Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., said many in the millennial generation, often with higher incomes, want public transit as a matter of principle. "Good public transit will make our city more attractive for younger people as a place to live and work, and for companies who employ these people," Popp told me.

[Anchorage transit officials propose overhaul: Fewer bus routes, shorter waits]

One can easily see this in vibrant cities like Portland, Oregon, which has excellent public transit that adds to the attractiveness of the community for young people.

There's a connection between this and Portland's vibrant economy too.

Like Anchorage, Portland has a reputation for expensive housing and high living costs, but the city's efficient light rail and bus systems make it easy for people to commute to more affordable nearby neighborhoods.

If Anchorage wants to add to its luster for outdoor recreation, there's a connection to that too. I'll never forget getting off a plane in Salt Lake City and boarding a bus with my gear for the drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Alta and Snowbird ski resorts.

Academic work bears out these relationships. The research is a little dated, but a 2011 study from the nonprofit Center for Transit-Orientated Development showed a link between growth in knowledge industries that employ professional, technical and scientific people within areas served by good transit systems.

It should be no surprise that employers in service industries supporting higher-income knowledge industries like food, accommodation, recreation and the arts show similar relationships to public transit.

This is the point that Bill Popp makes. If Anchorage wants to build on its higher-wage, more knowledge-based economy, more efficient public transit will help. It will also help diversify the local economy because improved transit will make office parks, commercial centers and recreation possible in dispersed locations.

Municipal transportation managers also say reorganization will allow the system to operate without the current "hub and spoke" system, which has given us the downtown hub on Sixth Avenue with a bit of a seedy reputation. With a more dispersed system, People Mover managers can plot where passengers make transfers and build smaller shelters there.

Back to Bus 60 in my neighborhood. As much as I see the efficiencies and common sense of consolidation, I do see people occasionally waiting for the bus in Oceanview.

There aren't many, but these folks really do need the People Mover. We just can't forget them. One solution is simply the scaled-down version of service being considered. Or, there might be more creative solutions.

In Kennewick and Richland, Washington, Ben Franklin Transit, the regional version of People Mover, has a deal with local taxi companies to shuttle people to stops on the main routes. The service is quite affordable — though subsidized like all public transit — and it is very popular, officials with Ben Franklin told me.

I don't know if something like this would be possible in Anchorage, but people in these small, largely rural communities in eastern Washington figured this out. Maybe we can too.

My point is that we shouldn't just wring our hands about the lousy fiscal situation our regional governments are in. We should get busy with solutions and not be afraid to think outside the box.

Tim Bradner is co-publisher of the Alaska Economic Report.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email to commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

Sustain renewable resources, strengthen public process

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:30

Alaska has been in crisis for the past several years — brought about by a failed financial model and a lack of long-term vision. Alaskans, including myself, are frustrated by a lack of solutions in addressing this crisis, and on Nov. 8 we voted for new state leadership. Alaska now has a state House that will work for solutions, which will be vital as the federal landscape shifts under the president-elect.

At The Alaska Center, our vision is a thriving and sustainable Alaska for future generations. We engage, empower and elect Alaskans who stand up for clean air and water, healthy communities and a strong democracy. We believe our future is dependent upon the health of the resources that sustain our diverse cultures and way of life, and the power of people to participate in the decisions that impact our great state.

Alaska's wild salmon are part of our heritage, our identity and our future. People from every political persuasion get excited talking about their connection to salmon — it's food security, culture, family, weekend recreation, tradition and economic livelihood. While Alaskans love our salmon, salmon habitat is threatened by extractive development across the state. When salmon habitat is impacted, the ripple effect on our clean water, hunting and fishing, lands and people is huge.

For the past three years, The Alaska Center has joined thousands of Alaskans in advocating for protection of salmon habitat in the Chuitna River, the Susitna River basin and Bristol Bay — regions that feed thousands of residents, inspire the spirit of locals and tourists alike, support thousands of jobs and provide over $1 billion in economic output.

[Savor salmon? Then we'd best protect their habitat]

Climate change has major implications for the long-term health of our salmon runs, and has already significantly impacted our coastal communities and cultures. Alaska has exhausted its reputation as "ground zero" for climate impacts, and we must implement climate solutions by advocating for more clean energy. The Alaska Center has advocated for state legislation to bring more renewable energy online in the Railbelt and investments in programs like the Village Energy Efficiency Program that are proven to reduce consumption and save money. We have also supported legislation that would empower communities to decrease emissions locally, such as the property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs.

[For first Alaska Native House speaker, budget fix is personal]

But we know it's not enough to advocate for better public policy on these critical issues, and this past legislative session proved that. Ultimately, we will not see enduring impact unless we change how decisions are made. This is why we have worked to replace two major climate deniers in the state Legislature, and it is why we backed an array of Republican, independent and Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate — based on the values we share — who support healthy fisheries and a strong public process.

It's also why we helped elect mayors and assembly members in five boroughs around the state in 2015 and 2016, because we know that with issues as overwhelming as climate change, often real, tangible progress happens at the local level.

And to hold elected leaders accountable, we must ensure that all Alaskans have a voice in the decisions impacting our resources and communities. We supported Ballot Measure 1 to enact Automatic Voter Registration, joining forces with The League of Women Voters, Get Out the Native Vote, NAACP, Great Alaska Schools and many others — reflecting a broad agreement that engaging more people in decisions affecting our state will ultimately lead to a stronger democracy.

A newly minted presidential administration brings the promise of fewer protections for salmon and clean water in Alaska, as well as some potentially catastrophic backpedaling on climate change. Contrasting this is a new bipartisan coalition in the state House that is energized to address our state's challenges.

Alaskans must stand strong in advocating for a fiscal approach that prioritizes investments in our state's most valuable renewable resources, prepares us for the great challenge of climate change, and respects our combined heritage and unique way of life. We cannot be thwarted by the swinging pendulum of federal politics. We are ready to act, and we invite others from Utqiagvik to Juneau to join us in making this positive vision a reality. Our home — and our future — demand it.

Polly Carr is executive director of The Alaska Center and a mother, small business owner and community advocate.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email to commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

Acclaimed Tlingit weaver Clarissa Rizal dies at 60

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:26

Acclaimed Tlingit weaver Clarissa Rizal, best known for helping to revitalize an almost lost form of Chilkat blanket weaving, died Wednesday.

Rizal had been diagnosed with terminal colon and liver cancer this fall, according to her family's YouCaring page. She was 60.

Rizal was a multidiscipline artist who specialized in Tlingit regalia, including Chilkat and Ravenstail robes and weavings. The Chilkat robes, made of wool and cedar bark, are difficult and time-consuming to produce. According to Rizal's artist biography, making one is the equivalent of carving a totem pole for women in Tlingit culture.

The Ravenstail design, noted for its intricate geometric pattern, is considered an earlier design of Tlingit weaving, which had all but disappeared until it was revived in the 1980s. Rizal mentored under Jennie Thlunaut, the last traditional Chilkat weaver.

Earlier this year Rizal was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. The fellowship recognizes masters of folk and traditional arts. The award included a cash prize of $25,000.

Rizal's weavings have also been named best in show at the Heard Museum Indian Art Fair, the Santa Fe Artists Market, the All Alaska Juried Art Show and the Sealaska Heritage Invitational Art Exhibit.

Rizal was known for her efforts to pass on traditional weaving knowledge. She recently had completed a collaborative robe with 40 other Northwest coast artists. The robe was presented at the White House at a dinner celebrating the Heritage fellows.

Trump hires a third general, raising concerns about heavy military influence

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:21

President-elect Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. John Kelly as secretary of homeland security, officials familiar with the decision said Wednesday, recruiting a third former member of the military's brass to serve at the highest levels of his administration.

Trump's choice of Kelly — and his continued deliberations about tapping as many as two more military figures for other posts — has intensified worries among some members of Congress and national security experts that the new administration's policies may be shaped disproportionately by military commanders.

"I'm concerned," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. "Each of these individuals may have great merit in their own right, but what we've learned over the past 15 years is that when we view problems in the world through a military lens, we make big mistakes."

Despite making regular remarks on the campaign trail disparaging the nation's generals, Trump has long shown an affinity for them. In shaping his administration, Trump has prioritized what one adviser described as "can-do, no-bull types," which the president-elect sees as a deliberate contrast from the personnel choices President Barack Obama has made.

If confirmed, Kelly and defense secretary nominee James Mattis, a retired Marine general with the nickname "Mad Dog," would join retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's pick for White House national security adviser. Meanwhile, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus is under consideration for secretary of state, and Navy Adm. Michael Rogers is a contender for director of national intelligence.

Other figures with military backgrounds are populating the administration as well, including Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who graduated from West Point and served in the Army in the Gulf War, is Trump's nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, while Stephen Bannon, a former naval officer, will serve the president in the West Wing as chief strategist and senior counselor.

Trump, who received multiple draft deferments and who has no military experience beyond his years at a military boarding school, is said to be drawn to generals by their swagger and dazzled by their tales from the battlefield.

Many of those he has been interviewing and consulting have spent much of the past decade and a half at war, intimately involved in the U.S. fight against global terrorism. Trump's choices also are striking considering his noninterventionist posture in the campaign and sharp criticism of the war in Iraq and other military adventures.

As Trump formally introduced Mattis as his pick to run the Pentagon, he relished in recalling the general's exploits, and he has likened him to George S. Patton, the legendary World War II Army general.

" 'Mad Dog' plays no games, right?" Trump told a roaring crowd Tuesday night in Fayetteville, North Carolina. "Led the forces that went after the Taliban and commanded the First Marine Division in Iraq. He is one of the most effective generals that we've had in many, many decades."

To be confirmed, Mattis would have to receive a waiver from Congress because the law requires the defense secretary be a civilian for at least seven years before taking office. Mattis retired in 2013.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said of Trump, "For a guy who got four or five deferments from the draft, he seems pretty impressed with the military."

Trump's heavy reliance on military leaders marks a departure from the previous three presidents, who tapped a few generals for the highest jobs with mixed success and relied mostly on people who had spent decades in civilian service, as politicians or academics or lawyers.

"Trump is clearly operating out of a particular model," said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Almost all of his Cabinet will be made up of people from the military or people from a corporate background, and what they have in common is strong leadership and executive decision-making."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., quipped: "It's the G&G; cabinet. It does seem to be fairly limited to Goldman Sachs and generals."

On Capitol Hill, the two generals Trump has nominated for Senate-confirmed positions – Mattis and Kelly – have been relatively well-received.

"Can you have a Cabinet full of generals? No – [not] any more than you can have a Cabinet full of lawyers or a Cabinet full of business people or whatever," said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Tex. But, he said: "I'm thinking of the individuals. They're people I have incredible respect for."

Kelly especially is likely to benefit from the relationships he cultivated among lawmakers during his years in uniform, including his role in 2014 as commander of the U.S. Southern Command, managing an influx of migrant children at the border with Mexico.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., the former chairman of the Homeland Security panel, said Kelly has "genuine compassion" for immigrants and understands the root causes of the nation's immigration challenges in such Central American countries as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

"I will reserve judgment on many of the president-elect's other nominees," Carper said, "but with General Kelly, he's hit a home run with runners on base."

There does not yet appear to be a Democratic strategy to derail either nomination because of the preponderance of military figures. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats, summed up the approach: "Take 'em one at a time."

That posture could change if Trump nominates another general to a top post, such as Petraeus at the State Department.

Daniel Benjamin, the former senior counterterrorism official at the State Department in the Obama administration and now a professor at Dartmouth College, said having too many generals in what are traditionally civilian positions is "a matter of deep concern."

"Generals as a rule believe in hierarchies and taking orders, and if the president gives them an order you have to wonder how likely they are to push back against it," Benjamin said. "Generals have one set of skills, and diplomacy is not in the top drawer of that tool kit."

On social media Wednesday, there was some snarky commentary about Trump's emerging Cabinet resembling "a military junta." Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump transition team official, defended Trump's selections on Twitter: "Decorated American Generals aren't warmongers – they're among the most intelligent, disciplined & patriotic people our country has to offer!"

Most military officers have spent their entire careers within structured organizations with large staffs and clear chains of command. Sometimes they struggle in the more freewheeling world of politics and policy – to say nothing of what is expected to be the Trump White House's unpredictable environment.

"Great generals don't always make great Cabinet officials," said Phil Carter, an Iraq War veteran and senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security.

Obama tapped as his first national security adviser retired Marine Gen. James Jones Jr., who had a highly successful military career but struggled with the politics of serving and was replaced relatively early in Obama's first term. Similarly, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki served as Obama's first secretary of veterans affairs, presiding over a bureaucracy that was overwhelmed by returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan and scandals over forged records.

Other retired military officers had far smoother transitions to civilian administrations, including Brent Scowcroft, a former Air Force general who served as national security adviser to former president George H.W. Bush. Scowcroft is widely hailed as one of the most successful national security advisers in the history of the job.

"The United States military is the finest training organization in the world," said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who will chair confirmation hearings for Kelly. "It produces real leaders, people who know how to solve problems and take a very structured approach to doing so."

Galston, a Democrat who served as a White House policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, said the concerns about generals "charging ahead" with no regard for legal or constitutional constraints – or without a willingness to challenge the president's decisions – are misplaced. Galston said modern-day generals are trained to navigate a minefield of potential conflicts and legal concerns.

"They're schooled to believe that if they or any subordinates receive an unlawful order, it's not to be obeyed," Galston said. "If you asked me, would I prefer a government of generals or a government of lawyers, that's not an easy choice. We've experimented with a government of lawyers, and that hasn't been so fantastic, has it? Maybe it's time to give the generals a chance."

The Washington Post's Karoun Demirjian, Greg Jaffe and Greg Miller contributed to this report.

Criminal justice reform bill is right for Alaska

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:15

Change is hard but it can also provide opportunities. Last spring, an opportunity presented itself when our Legislature and Gov. Walker enacted Senate Bill 91, broadly reforming our criminal justice system. Before this happened, the Legislature asked the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission to study our system and recommend changes. The commission did this and came up with recommendations based on evidence of what worked in other states. This became the foundation for SB 91.

The commission — including Department of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, Department of Corrections Commissioner Dean Williams, and me as head of the Department of Law, all agree that SB 91 is the right path for our state. But it will improve public safety in the long run only if the state sees the reform efforts through. Tweaks will be needed to the new law, and the commission will monitor implementation and recommend changes where needed.

[Criminal justice reform is right on the money for rural Alaska]

SB 91 was needed because our prior laws were not working as we had hoped. Since 2005, when Alaska adopted "tough on crime" laws, our incarceration rates went through the roof. But increasing prison sentences did not reform criminals or make our communities safer in the long run. In fact, two-thirds of offenders released from jail were back behind bars within three years.

SB 91 offers an entirely new approach to criminal justice. Because substance abuse factors into most crimes and more than 40 percent of our inmates have mental health issues, a primary goal of SB 91 is to treat addiction and mental illness. SB 91 reduced prison sentences for all but the most serious crimes. We still aggressively prosecute serious crimes like homicides and sexual assaults and we will continue to seek long prison terms for violent criminals. But the Legislature has told our prosecutors to think creatively when pursuing less serious crimes, especially where a substance abuse problem or mental health issue is a factor. Similar reforms in other states show these reforms can work.

We must all understand that these reform efforts won't succeed if our criminal justice and public health systems are not adequately funded. But our state is facing a fiscal crisis as well as a drug epidemic. This is creating a perfect storm.

The state's fiscal crisis has resulted in shrinking budgets throughout the criminal justice system. The Department of Law has lost 80 positions over the last four years and had its budget slashed by more than 26 percent. Our shrinking budget is largely used for three core priorities: prosecuting crime, protecting children who are in dangerous homes, and protecting the state's sovereignty including ensuring we collect dollars owed to the state and defending against federal overreach. While our budget has shrunk, the current drug epidemic has led to increased crime and more endangered children. For example, our child-in-need-of-aid cases have gone up 55 percent in two years.

This perfect storm has pushed the Department of Law to its breaking point. Last year (before SB 91 was in effect), the number of criminal cases we had to decline to prosecute rose 6 percent because of budget cuts. The 6 percent of cases we did not prosecute let criminals go free who should have been held accountable — whether through fines, treatment, jail time, probation or other options. Because of our budget cuts and staff losses, we are forced to prioritize the crimes we prosecute and focus on the most serious offenses regardless of the direction given by SB 91.

[Why Alaska's NAACP and Republican Party both support criminal justice reform]

Alaska also does not yet have enough treatment options available for those suffering from addiction or mental illness. The recent Medicaid expansion and additional money the Legislature provided last year increased funding for treatment options, but more is needed. Within a year or two, we should see significant budget savings from reduced prison populations, and those savings should be reinvested.

More money is needed for our criminal justice system. Criminal justice reform will not work if there is no accountability or those who are diverted from jail are not given treatment. What other states have shown us is that upfront funding results in long-term savings when we successfully rehabilitate low level offenders. Rehabilitating offenders increases public safety while saving the state money. That is the goal of SB 91.

Jahna Lindemuth is Alaska's attorney general.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email to commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com

1 dead in plane crash southeast of Fairbanks

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:09

One person died Wednesday in a plane crash on Fort Wainwright, southeast of Fairbanks, according to Alaska State Troopers and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash was first reported to troopers around 1:30 p.m. The event occurred on military property 17 miles southeast of the Interior city, according to Clint Johnson, NTSB's Alaska region chief.

The pilot was the only person aboard the American Champion Citabria when it went down, troopers said in a Wednesday dispatch.

"A military helicopter happened to be flying in the area when the crash occurred," troopers said. "They heard the downed aircraft's emergency locator beacon and responded to the crash."

[Search underway for plane missing with 4 aboard en route to Anchorage]

The helicopter crew arrived and confirmed the pilot had died in the crash.

The aircraft's intended flight route wasn't immediately available Wednesday afternoon.

Troopers said they tentatively identified the pilot and notified family Wednesday, but were still awaiting official identification from the State Medical Examiner's Office.

An investigator with the NTSB was heading to the scene, Johnson said.

 

Kenai borough Assembly reverses course, votes to keep religious invocations

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:08

Although the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly seemed last month to finally settle the issue of who can give invocations before its meetings, it reversed course again Tuesday night.

The Assembly voted again on a resolution that would have tossed out a controversial rule that only representatives from Assembly-approved religious groups (or chaplains who also fit certain parameters) can deliver invocations.

While the body passed the amended resolution 5-4 two weeks ago, it didn't get enough votes this time around with one of its members absent, instead failing in a 4-4 tie.

The resolution would have taken the Assembly back to its old process for invocations, where anyone could sign up to give one on a first-come, first-served basis.

Assembly President Kelly Cooper and members Brandii Holmdahl, Gary Knopp and Paul Fischer voted in favor of the resolution. Assembly Members Blaine Gilman, Wayne Ogle, Dale Bagley and Stan Welles voted against it, and Willy Dunne was absent. Previously, Dunne had voted in favor of getting rid of the religious rules.

[Kenai borough Assembly votes — again — to change invocation rules]

"I thought the old (religious) policy was better than no policy," said Assembly member Blaine Gilman, who asked for the reconsideration. "I think that the existing policy that we have in place is not discriminatory. It treats all religions the same."

Joshua Decker, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, said in the past that the ACLU wouldn't rule out a lawsuit "if that's what upholding the Constitution takes." Decker couldn't be reached Wednesday to discuss whether the organization might now be planning to sue.

[Satanic Temple invocation opens Kenai Peninsula Borough meeting]

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre had previously asked the Assembly to appropriate $75,000 of the borough's money to spend on possible future court battles over the religious restrictions. Johni Blankenship, the borough clerk, said the mayor plans to bring up funding for legal fights again in January.

Cooper, the president, said she plans to bring forward an amendment in January that will propose opening up invocations to not just religious groups but all groups in the borough, as well as individuals.

"I still think it excludes groups, it excludes individuals," she said. "It's still not right."

A debate over what types of invocations to allow before the borough's Assembly meetings came to a head in August when a woman read a satanic invocation. The Assembly has put forward several pieces of legislation dealing with the issue this year.

Avoiding those holiday pounds while getting some fresh air

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 18:01

A friend complained recently that he showed up to a spinning class and the instructor didn't seem, well, fit. He wanted a leader with enough stamina to go as hard as everyone else in the class, while also bellowing instructions. But this spinning instructor had a pretty leisurely pace. And, unlike other spinning instructors, he didn't yell at all.

This disappointed my friend, who expects to be berated in a spinning class.

That brings me to holiday weight gain — specifically how going outdoors helps me avoid weight gain around the holidays. Meanwhile, I'm patting my turkey-and-pie-padded stomach and thinking about my qualifications. Am I like the spinning instructor, perhaps a little out of my league? Or, even though there's a little more of me this time of year, am I still OK to write about preventing weight gain?

We all know that putting on a few pounds is all-but inevitable around the holidays. My approach is less about calorie counting and anxiously stepping on the scale than it is about minimizing the gain by having fun outside.

That doesn't sound bad, right? And I don't even need to yell.

Run on empty

I think my brain has a sweetheart deal with Christmas cookies and pies. At some point, they decided to make sure I consume as much sugar as possible during the holidays. My brain seems committed to telling me I need more pie, or I might expire.

As I'm recklessly stuffing cookies in my face, I've thought of everything from, "This is critical carbo-loading for that race I'll do sometime in the future", to "the slice of pie I had before this was so tiny it didn't even count … THIS one puts me in the league of a normal human-sized serving, which I deserve."

In the morning, of course, I wake up and wonder what I've done. That sugar lobby part of my brain is nowhere to be found, replaced by guilt and the vague fear I won't be able to fit into my pants next week.

Here's what's cool, though. All that energy makes exceptional running fuel. One of the best things to do the morning after an overly extravagant meal is go for a run before breakfast. I have plenty to work with, of course. And instead of converting all the extra calories to fat immediately, I have a handy way to burn off a bit while making myself a little more physically fit.

An hour-long, slow run is also a great way to reset. Instead of focusing on feeling guilty, I have an opportunity to do something proactive. As always, filling my brain with outdoor sights and sounds is much healthier than focusing on regret.

I love that feeling of bundling up right after coffee, but before breakfast, and heading out with a podcast or some good music. Cold air wakes me up and keeps me motivated to keep moving. After a mile or so, I hit my stride and feel strong. The crunching of my footsteps combined with the sharp air on my face and low winter sunlight is an ample reward. For me, this morning-after run is as much a part of the holidays as pie.

Focus on activity

When it's really cold outside, as it has been the last two weeks, it can be hard to motivate. Maybe an hour of anything outside is too long. My trick is to just do what I can to stay active. It need not be highly aerobic, but whatever I'm doing should be done outside.

I'll go for a quick, 15-minute walk in the middle of the workday. I'll put on every item of clothing I own and go ice skating after work. I'll walk downtown to meet a friend instead of driving.

How does a brief, noncardio getaway outside help prevent holiday weight gain? In this case, it's not really about calories in versus calories out so much as the mental reset of spending time outdoors, making that push to leave the comfort of the house or office. When I'm proactive about making sure I have some time outside, I feel better in my body and able to make good decisions about what I eat.

Be OK with a little gain

Finally: it's the holidays. I know I won't be the only one muttering some kind of resolution after the New Year about getting back into fighting shape.

The trick is to not let pounds accumulate over the years. So, I figure, I can get a little pudgier in December so long as I atone for it later.

Maybe that makes me like the spinning instructor: too lenient. Maybe I don't offer enough tough love to be qualified to write ways to prevent holiday weight gain. I like to think of it more as taking the long view — and eating cookies along the way.

Alli Harvey lives, works and plays in Anchorage

Search underway for plane missing with 4 aboard en route to Anchorage

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 17:58

A search and rescue effort was underway Wednesday evening for an airplane that went missing between Port Alsworth and Anchorage with four people aboard.

The Piper PA-28 Cherokee left Port Alsworth, 165 miles southwest of Anchorage, around 10:30 a.m., said Alaska Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Edward Eagerton.

The plane was planning to fly through Lake Clark Pass and was scheduled to land at Anchorage's Merrill Field at noon.

Four people were on board the plane, Eagerton said.

In an effort led by the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, members of the Alaska and California air national guards were joining in the search for the aircraft.

[1 dead in plane crash southeast of Fairbanks]

Members of the California Air National Guard, who were in Anchorage for training, were heading out in an MC-130 aircraft, Eagerton said.

A C-130 Hercules from Alaska Air National Guard's 144th Airlift Squadron was also en route, according to Eagerton.

An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter was on its way from Eielson Air Force base southeast of Fairbanks to assist in the search Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Eagerton didn't know the identities of those on board, or whether the plane was a private or commercial flight.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Trump taps petrol industry ally for top EPA job

Alaska News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 17:46
The University of Alaska Fairbanks has completed an investigation of a campus rape case. The university will not comment on the September 2016 ...

Search underway for plane missing with 4 aboard en route to Anchorage

Alaska News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 17:40
In an effort led by the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, members of the Alaska and California air national guards were joining in the search for the ...

<b>Alaska</b> Airlines Settles a Lawsuit Over Its Virgin America Merger

Alaska News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 17:35
It's not likely Alaska Airlines would have lost in court, but this case was still a nuisance, so it makes sense that the company resolved it. Now, Alaska ...

Weed is legal in <b>Alaska</b>, but when will it go on sale in Anchorage?

Alaska News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 17:33
But Alaska's biggest city is trudging behind, leaving many to ask: When will ... On Wednesday, Alaska Fireweed on 4th Avenue became the first ...

Alaska State Troopers report a ‘trooper-involved shooting’ in Nikiski

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 17:25

An Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman said a "trooper-involved shooting" occurred Wednesday in Nikiski near Kenai, but she said she had no other details as of 4:30 p.m.

The Peninsula Clarion reported that the Nikiski Fire Department responded to the Island Lake Road area off the Kenai Spur Highway around 12:50 p.m. Wednesday. Deputy Chief Trent Burnett told the Clarion that one injured person was transported by LifeMed, primarily an aviation emergency medical service but which also operates ground ambulances.

Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said she had no additional information. She said typically a trooper-involved shooting means "at least one trooper fired a weapon," but she did not have specifics on what happened in Nikiski.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

<b>Alaska</b> State Troopers report a &#39;trooper-involved shooting&#39; in Nikiski

Alaska News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 16:56
The Peninsula Clarion reported that the Nikiski Fire Department responded to the Island Lake Road area off the Kenai Spur Highway around 12:50 ...

Around the state, 2016 Teachers of Excellence use creative ways to help students learn

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 16:17

For 20 years, BP has been recognizing Alaska’s exceptional teachers — like these five teachers from small communities around the state — with the BP Teachers of Excellence program. Since 1995, they’ve recognized 650 teachers. Click here to nominate another deserving teacher. New this year, you can also nominate a principal, school nurse, teaching assistant or other school staff member for the Educational Allies Award, recognizing the unsung heroes in our schools.

Madrigal Brown, Nuiqsut Trapper School
2016 BP Teacher of Excellence
Years in teaching: 4

Every August, Madrigal Brown is known as the “mean teacher” at Nuiqsut Trapper School, for her strict rules and the fact there are no Movie Fridays. But by the time the last bell rings in May, students leave with increased literacy and math skills, and the eagerness to learn.

Although she does not consider herself a “fun teacher,” Brown has been instrumental in helping her students leapfrog in reading ability, and all of her students now meet or surpass national norms in math when just two years ago some were having trouble counting on their hands.

“Parents entrust their kids to us for an education; we have to put learning first. It’s a gift and important, and we need to make it a priority,” she said. Her overall goal is to help children grow into adults who will better serve their community. “The kids know they owe it to their parents and their ancestors.”

When Brown started teaching, her hallway had an old welcome poster dating back to the ’80s, something kitschy and cartoonish, something she found out of a place for such a unique, cool school. So she replaced it with an Inupiaq-themed collage and started incorporating cultural history and literature into lessons. Initial writing prompts may be about camping and hunting, for example, and advance to imaginative essays that take students back in time.

In addition to her teaching, Brown volunteers with a cheerleading squad, Trapper Tuaviggich (“people who cheer”), and created a holiday shop that gives students a brief break from winter studies as they learn budgeting and the value of earning money, not just receiving money, to spend in the store.

Going forward, Brown is excited about a school booster club that will be involved in community service and an upcoming reading incentive program. As this “mean teacher” says, “Once you find the book that hooks you, you are in for life.”

Cherry Eckland, Harborview Elementary School
2016 BP Teacher of Excellence
Years in teaching: 26

“I can’t do it.”

“You can’t do it yet. In a few weeks you be will be able to. You don’t have to have all the answers right now.”

That’s how Cherry Eckland guides her students at Harborview Elementary School in Juneau, in a multi-level classroom full of community, where all ideas are valued. She purposely spends time developing relationships, combining social skills with lessons so that neither is distinct.

Rules, for example, are established through a weeklong process. Instead of receiving a list of instructions on what or what not to do, each student shares thoughts on how they will behave, treat each other and so forth. As a group, the students revise their suggestions, whittling them down to a short list which all agree upon.

“When kids are taking ownership for their own learning, intrinsically, not because they are told or asked, they feel like they have a say,” said Eckland.

She takes the same approach to lessons. “Oh this is how I solved it,” a student might respond to a multiplication problem. “Mind if I share this idea?” Eckland would ask, giving it a nickname such as “Sam’s Strategy.” Eventually, the strategy is called by its official arithmetic property, but the children have learned a math concept as if they had created it.

A Lego Robotics coach and a coordinator for Read Across America, Eckland loves to hold game nights for families, where kids and parents battle it out in Multiplication War or Go Fish for 10.

Trained in responsive classroom techniques, she strives to honor her students’ thinking so that each may value not just one’s own thought processes, but the ideas of others. When the growth mindset is positive, the children excel.

“If students are feeling comfortable and valued, they are certainly willing to take more risks with their learning,” she said.

Mindy Jacobsen, Nenana City Public School
2016 BP Teacher of Excellence
Years in teaching: 10

“There’s an app for that,” is now part of the lexicon. For the eighth graders in Mindy Jacobsen’s class at Nenana City Public School, it was a challenge they were issued. They devised edu@home, a digital planner that syncs to parents’ phones so everyone can know when assignments are due.

Trying to learn programming was more complex than anticipated but the class was able to participate in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge in the fall of 2015. “We’re hoping that UAA may be able to help with the app this summer,” Jacobsen said. “Ideally, I’d really like the kids to see the process and meet people in the field. I think it would be good for them to see what they are considering as a career.”

Using Project Lead the Way, national STEM curriculum that introduces kids to science and engineering, Jacobsen incorporates glogs (interactive graphical blogs) into lessons and chooses Prezi over PowerPoint with its usual point and clicks. “It’s the little things that amuse the junior high school students,” she noted, adding that kids are invested in the lesson as a result.

“People think I’m crazy because I like junior high school level, but I am never bored, the students are always entertaining,” said Jacobsen. “The students are fun, full of energy.”

Her 8th graders used Autodesk to design a playground, from swings to monkey bars, printing pieces to scale on a 3D printer. (Jacobsen hopes to acquire funding to build an actual playground based on their designs.) After school, she oversees a robotics group with elementary kids using Lego systems and older kids learning automation through vex kits.

“We see each other every day for two years; it becomes a family,” Jacobsen said. “They get to know me very well, and what I expect: when it’s time for fun, and when it’s time to get a lot of work done. They come in wondering how they will be able to do it all and become amazed they did something they didn’t think they could.”

Rob Parsons, Sitka High School
2016 BP Teacher of Excellence
Years in teaching: 23

Rob Parsons has been known to set his desk on fire and bark like a dog, all in the name of science. A chemistry and physics teacher at Sitka High School since 1993, he understands how visceral reactions aid in forming long-term memories and knows his pupils learn best when applying concepts.

“Everyone takes chemistry in high school and essentially remembers nothing,” Parsons said. “And physics is something you have to doto learn.” He introduces the kinetic theory of gases, for example, not by pedantic lectures but by flowing cold water over hot water that has stopped boiling, and the water boils again.

He asks his students to visualize being trapped on a different planet with just a shoe, a shoestring of known length, and a stopwatch. How could one calculate the gravitational acceleration? They can provide the answer. (Hint: it has to do with Newton’s laws.)

Complicated material is often condensed in primary school, but Parsons makes it clear to his students: “You have been lied to, and I will lie to you quite often over the course of the year to simplify things. But by the end of the year, these lies will be corrected.”

He can vary his teaching style based on grade level, or even the day, and what appears erratic is actually organized chaos. Parson talks fast, moves slowly, and will dance when asked (he has performed in the local performance of “The Nutcracker”). He will also return a grade quickly and without judgment.

“Sitka High is remarkable,” he stressed, adding that without them, he would not be able to teach as he does. “A special shout-out goes to Scott McArthur and Kent Bovee.”

Although his courses are suited for college prep, Parson doesn’t just want to pass on knowledge but a work ethic — the habit of taking responsibility for oneself. When five of the school’s recent top graduates are currently pursuing STEM degrees, with four at University of Alaska Fairbanks and one at Yale, something must have stuck.

Linda Richter, Kokhanok School
2016 BP Teacher of Excellence
Years in teaching: 33

For Linda Richter, teaching does not stop at the end of a school day; in fact, sometimes it’s just beginning. As coordinator of the online distance tutoring program for the Kokhanok School, she trains tutors to provide personalized lessons to students.

Shortly after the superintendent initiated the pilot program, Richter jumped on board, recruiting teacher candidates from various states. Accommodating different time zones, she has worked with almost 150 tutors in the last three years, including nine from the University of Alaska this school year.

“I can’t say enough of the fantastic tutors out of Oregon, Pennsylvania and Montana. But we are Alaska teachers. Teacher candidates in the state need to see what it’s like for our Bush kids too, which is a lot different than a classroom in Anchorage,” said Richter. “Because all of us win.”

As Richter explained, the student benefits by mastering specific skills that had previously given them trouble. Perhaps it’s making inferences in reading, or probability and statistics. In the process, the student learns to express him or herself while developing a relationship with a tutor.

The teacher candidate benefits, as the tutoring program may be his or her first encounter with a real student. Designing and providing personalized lessons in areas of weakness provides a valuable opportunity for a candidate just entering the field, she said.

“One of the things I always tell the tutors is to have fun with the kids. I can make learning fun by having fun,” said Richter. That means laughing, good-natured teasing, and saying something silly to make a serious topic relatable. “You have to find a way for the kids to connect to what you’re saying. Find out what they like, and in anything you try to teach, incorporate their personal experiences with the lessons.”

Click here to see all 31 Teachers of Excellence, chosen from more than 1,000 nominees, honored in 2016.

This story is sponsored by BP, celebrating the teachers who make school memorable from the first days of kindergarten through the last semester of high school.

This article was produced by the special content department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with BP. Contact the special content editor, Jamie Gonzales, at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.

1 dead in plane crash southeast of Fairbanks

Alaska News - Wed, 12/07/2016 - 16:16
One person died Wednesday when their plane crashed on Fort Wainwright, southeast of Fairbanks, according to the Alaska State Troopers and ...

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