Alaska Dispatch News
WASHINGTON – The Senate Republican drive to pass a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws took another unexpected turn late Monday when the office of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced he would return to Washington for a planned Tuesday vote.
McCain, who was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, could provide a critical vote to open debate on the GOP bill. The senator had been recuperating from surgery and exploring treatment options in Arizona.
McCain's announcement came as some Senate GOP leaders expressed confidence in a newly emerging strategy of trying to pass smaller-scale changes to the Affordable Care Act, with an eye toward continue negotiations into the fall.
While it was unclear if McCain's return would improve the chances of the bill clearing a key procedural hurdle as he has expressed concerns about the proposal. But some Republicans were privately abuzz with speculation that leaders might be close to securing the votes they needed to at least keep alive a months-long effort that all but died last week.
Still, the prospects of success were murky at best. President Donald Trump threateningly urged Republican senators to get behind the effort Monday, but his sharp rhetoric produced no new public support. And Republican senators were confused about what kind of measure their own leadership even intended to bring to a vote.
"Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea," McCain's office said in a statement.
Hours earlier at a White House event on Monday afternoon, Trump forcefully encouraged Senate Republicans to vote "yes" on a procedural motion that would allow debate on health-care legislation to begin. However, exactly what legislation lawmakers would be debating remained unclear to many of them late Monday.
In a West Virginia speech before the National Boy Scout Jamboree later on, Trump sought to pressure Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., by saying, "You better get Senator Capito to vote for it," referring to his health and human services secretary, Tom Price, who was with him. Trump also quipped that he would fire Price if he did not round up enough votes.
"As the Scout law says, a Scout is trustworthy, loyal – we could use some more loyalty, I can tell you that," Trump said in a day that was filled with thinly veiled barbs at Republicans who have failed to advance the health-care revamp.
Revered on both sides of the aisle, the news that McCain has brain cancer cast a pall over the Capitol last week and his return is sure to provide a morale boost for colleagues in both parties.
But most immediately, McCain may provide a critical vote in support of beginning formal debate on the health-care bill. Republican leaders openly discussed the possibility of McCain's return with reporters on Monday during an evening vote.
"I'm pretty confident we'll get on the bill even without John, " Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chamber's lead GOP vote-counter, told reporters.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she spoke with McCain on Saturday and that her frequent collaborator was eager to get back to work.
"It is just extraordinary how upbeat he is and how accepting of his diagnosis – it was truly inspirational to talk with him," she said. "I have a feeling that if there's any way he can be back, he will be here – whether his doctors like it. It just reminds me of what an extraordinarily brave person he is."
Without McCain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could only have afforded one GOP defection. Multiple Republican senators have raised objections to each health-care proposal that has been offered, leaving McConnell and Trump in a very difficult spot.
"There is still time to do the right thing," Trump said at the White House on Monday. He added a word of warning: "Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling Americans that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare."
Vice President Pence is also lobbying heavily for wary senators to pass a health-care overhaul and was spotted heading toward McConnell's Capitol Hill office late Monday afternoon as votes were getting underway.
McConnell encouraged senators to vote Tuesday to open what he said would be a period of "robust debate" on health care. "I will vote 'yes' on the motion to proceed and I would urge all of our colleagues to do the same," he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
But a flurry of problems remained for McConnell as he insisted on taking up the troubled legislation, which must receive 50 votes to be approved, with Pence ready to break a tie.
His plan is catching flak from all sides – ranging from moderate senators who disagree with the Medicaid cuts to conservatives who don't believe the package goes far enough to repeal the ACA, which they have campaigned against for seven years.
After it became clear last week there weren't sufficient votes for the Senate package to repeal and replace the ACA that McConnell negotiated, the majority leader said the Senate would instead move to a straight repeal bill like one they voted on in 2015.
But there was confusion Monday about exactly which direction senators would go on Tuesday when and if the voting starts. And none of the options that McConnell has presented had won enough public support to guarantee passage.
"What are we proceeding to?" Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a conservative critic of the effort, wondered aloud to reporters.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, centrist Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would not vote "yes" to move forward on any of the plans that have been floated so far.
One emerging idea late Monday was to scale down the scope of the proposals and instead find a narrower bill, That would set up a House-Senate conference to resolve the differences between the two proposals, buying Republicans more time,
Cornyn confirmed Monday evening that congressional leaders were now leaning against the original plan, if the Senate could approve legislation, to have the House immediately approve the Senate bill once it was approved in the upper chamber.
"Initially there was some thought maybe the House would take up the bill we passed, but that may not be the case. So what we need to do is make progress," Cornyn told reporters.
That point – just "make progress" – was echoed by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who held a robust conversation with GOP leaders on the Senate floor during votes and explained that the aim is just to make sure some legislative proposal passes in a bid to keep the effort alive.
Officially, the Senate plans to vote on a motion to proceed to a House-passed repeal-and-replace bill. But from there, that measure could be amended in any number of ways.
In his remarks Monday, McConnell referred to the 2015 repeal-only bill that passed with overwhelming GOP support but was vetoed by President Barack Obama.
McConnell said senators have another chance to vote for that measure, and this time "President Trump will use his pen to sign such legislation."
The GOP leader did not mention the Senate bill to "repeal and replace" Obamacare simultaneously. Trump has pushed lawmakers not to give up on the simultaneous repeal-and-replace approach, leaving many scratching their heads about what direction McConnell would go should legislation advance to a full floor debate.
"We'll have several amendments," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. "Members are discussing timing."
Cornyn said Monday that leaders hadn't decided which version of the bill would come up if the motion to proceed succeeds – in part because they want to keep their options open.
"We're trying to maximize the number of votes," Cornyn told reporters. "What we're trying to do is convince everybody that if they'd like to get a vote on their amendment, then they need to vote to proceed to the House bill."
McConnell met with conservative activists Monday to discuss health care. Two attendees – Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of tea party Patriots and Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks – said they support the motion to proceed.
Martin said she hoped that "at the very least, at the end of this process" lawmakers could pass the 2015 repeal bill. Pye also voiced support for that measure.
But neither said they walked away from the meeting with a clear understanding of which amendments to the bill would be brought up in which order, if debate can even begin.
The Washington Post's Paul Kane and Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.
A Nenana man was arrested last week for allegedly threatening to shoot his girlfriend after she turned down his marriage proposal.
Around 12:45 a.m. on the morning of July 19, Alaska State Troopers got a call of an assault at the Fireweed Roadhouse near Nenana, at Mile 288.5 of the Parks Highway. An employee was intoxicated and threatening to shoot people, dispatchers were told.
Charging documents allege that Miguel Angel Serrano-Moya, 25, had proposed to his girlfriend and she declined. Enraged, he had loaded his .45-caliber handgun and pointed it at her, the woman told officers.
She fled out the backdoor of the roadhouse and hid in the bushes. A friend living at the roadhouse found her, and together they fled from the scene.
With the roadhouse empty, officers decided to contact Serrano-Moya later that day, "when the situation was calmed down," the charging document says.
Around 1 p.m., officers returned to find Serrano-Moya at the front of the roadhouse.
Serrano-Moya told an officer he didn't remember all that had happened, but he "realized he did something wrong when he woke up to find everyone gone and a door to the bedroom broken off the hinges," the criminal complaint says.
He had broken two doors off the hinges and punched two holes in the wall at the roadhouse. Estimated damage was $400.
Serrano-Moya was arrested without incident. He faces charges of assault in the third degree, criminal mischief in the fourth degree, and misconduct with weapons in the fourth degree.
Murkowski, keep your promise
As the U.S. Senate considers legislation that would slash Medicaid funding and strip health insurance from tens of thousands of Alaskans and millions across the country, I write to remind Sen. Lisa Murkowski to stand by her words from her Feb. 22 address to the Alaska Legislature. She stated: "We must continue to prohibit insurers from discriminating against pre-existing conditions. We must retain mental health parity." Regarding Medicaid she went on to say, "As long as this Legislature wants to keep the expansion, Alaska should have the option — so I will not vote to repeal it." She also promised to protect access to crucial services saying, "I will not vote to deny Alaskans access to the health services that Planned Parenthood provides." A vote in support of any of the currently proposed Senate bills would be a failure to uphold these spoken promises and would result in catastrophic consequences for Alaskans. We must hold our senior senator accountable and ensure her words turn into action — in the form of a no vote on any bill that repeals the Affordable Care Act without a replacement plan as she publicly promised last week, or any bill that cuts or caps Medicaid.
— Susan Fleurant
Fine Alaskans help Outsiders
On the afternoon of July 16, I was involved in a rollover accident on the Parks Highway, near Wasilla. My wife and adult daughter were in the car with me; we were all visiting from out of state. I would like to thank all the many fine people who helped us, including those who stopped immediately and helped to get us out of the wrecked car, the paramedics, the people at the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, the state trooper, the road construction worker who brought my backpack to me at the medical center, and many others.
You are all wonderful. Thank you.
— John Miller
Wanton waste of wolves
We recently learned the Alaska Department of Fish and Game may suspend wolf control in the Fortymile area at the end of the 2017-2018 season. A recent peer-reviewed paper by state biologists cautions that nutritional stress, rather than wolves, could lead to significant population decline. But how long has this situation been known? It turns out that state biologists first raised this concern more than five years ago. The department and the Alaska Board of Game, however, have doggedly continued wolf control at all costs.
For example, annual reports to the Game Board from 2011 to 2016 reveal that rising costs coupled with less wolves taken by Fish and Game resulted in some alarming figures. In 2016, Fish and Game reported their take of 19 wolves and spending $478,300, which amounts to $25,174 per wolf. If associated "research" costs are also counted, the figure rises to $37,384 per wolf taken by the department.
Pro-wolf control propaganda can be found on the Fish and Game website "Stories of Success," featuring the Fortymile program. The story fails to admit that the final decline of the herd in 1972 was caused by excessive hunting. It also fails to acknowledge recent research by department biologists finding that nearly all of the increase in Fortymile caribou occurred before wolf control, and that wolf control did not improve caribou survival. The story should be renamed "Story of Failure."
It's time to suspend this wasteful, ineffective program immediately and allow wolves to play their role in maintaining healthy caribou populations.
— Francis Mauer
Give readers freedom of choice
Please do not stop printing opinion pieces from national commentators. I may not read all of them. I may not agree with all of them, but I want to have the choice of hearing their voices. To restrict contributors from just Alaska is a terrible disservice. It is a very small pool to draw from. Yes, I read them and I almost never take Paul Jenkins seriously, but I still want to choose to read or not.
— Jan Wyland
Process Alaska seafood locally
Why do we pay so much for seafood in Alaska when it comes from here? When we send it out to the Lower 48 to get processed and it gets sent back to us — is this the right thing to do? What happened to fish processing here? It needs to come back. Stop paying other people to do our work and keep the prices down. Let the Lower 48 pay the higher prices.
— James Christenson
GOP has lost all credibility
After watching the now typical political GOP dogma from Vice President Mike Pence last night on the Channel 2 news, I once again find myself wondering why I even bother to listen to this blatantly dishonest administration, much less believe them. These guys (GOP) have lost all credibility, and anyone with two brain cells should know all their policies cater to the rich. GOP policies seldom do what they preach. We the people will get bilked (again) and left (again) without health care. I hope our Alaska senators see through this health care charade. Let's move on folks, there's nothing to see here.
— Wayne Jones
Taxpayers can't foot jurors' bills
In regards to the article "Can village residents get a fair trial?" (ADN, July 14), the U.S. Constitution does not mention the right to serve on a jury. We cannot question the sincerity of village residents to serve on a jury to feel connected to the court system, and not just as a way for the state to pay for a trip somewhere out of the village. But, we do have the right to question whether taxpayers should pay for the service of remote jurors, which is far more costly. Limitations of juror cost do need to be considered when it is the taxpayers that pay for this privilege to serve. If the need to feel connected to the court system is critical, then villagers can pay for the transportation, hotel and food — either in full, or partly subsidized. Our state will then cover any loss of wages they may have while being away from their villages.
There are sacrifices when one lives in remote areas. The only residents that do not have this choice are the infants and elderly with limited mobility.
— Linda L. Compton
Save expense of Juneau road
The Legislature is about to begin work on the capital budget. I have recently heard that the Juneau Access Road may be part of that budget.
I have had opportunities to travel to Juneau from Haines on the Alaska Marine Highway System. I have driven the road from Juneau to Berners Bay on several occasions. The access road project doesn't make sense to me. Improving the road from Juneau to the hard rock mine just beyond Berners, and the private land in the vicinity, would foster economic growth but should the state of Alaska and federal government be paying for it? Fifty miles of road construction through some of the fiercest looking mountains and avalanche areas along Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal across from Haines seems a little ridiculous to me. I would still have to put my car on a new ferry, travel a short distance and offload at a new ferry terminal, then drive to Juneau through new tunnels and avalanche sheds. All that just to save a few hours travel time?
I think this project has been grossly underestimated as to what it will cost. And I don't think Alaska can afford it, especially if we are cutting education, public safety and municipal revenue sharing.
— Pete Panarese
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com.
WASHINGTON — President Trump has finally found a courtier who can give him the buttery, boundless respect he craves.
A wealthy mini-me Manhattan bro with wolfy smile and slick coif who will say anything and flip any position. A self-promoter extraordinaire and master salesman who doesn't mind pushing a bad product — and probably sees it as more fun.
For ego gratification, Trump has struck gold — or Goldman Sachs — with his appointment of Wall Street hedge fund guy and cable TV diva Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director.
The Mogul and the Mooch is a tender love story with dramatic implications for the imploding White House.
They have so much in common beyond an addiction to hair product. Both enjoy stirring the pot and shifting political loyalties. (Both had high praise for Hillary.)
They savor counterpunching, especially in donnybrooks with CNN. Trump was taken with Scaramucci's win in getting CNN to retract a story linking him to a Russian investment fund supposedly under Senate investigation, a debacle that ended in three reporters losing their jobs.
The Mogul and the Mooch have the same fluid relationship with the truth and the same definition of loyalty.
Donald Trump made it clear in an interview with Michael Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker in The Times on Wednesday that he was hurt that Jeff Sessions essentially put the Constitution over him, calling his attorney general's decision to recuse himself on the Russia investigation "very unfair to the president."
And Politico reported about Scaramucci: "A few years ago, while interviewing PR firms, he was blunt about what he was looking for, according to one person present for the meeting. During the 90-minute meeting, Scaramucci told this person: 'I need someone who's prepared to go to the mat and lie for me.'"
Sean Spicer had the impossible task of defending a president who didn't believe in telling the truth to a press fixated on the president's lying. He was impersonated by a woman on "Saturday Night Live" and put up with Steve Bannon calling him fat. He made up a bunch of nonsense about crowd sizes to please a boss who tallies his own personal value by crowd sizes.
The devout Catholic was cruelly denied his greatest dream when he was deliberately left out of a meeting with the pope during Trump's trip to the Vatican.
And in a new revelation of humiliation, Michael Bender reported in The Wall Street Journal that Spicer even had to steal his own minifridge soon after he started, lugging one in at night from a nearby executive office building.
But somehow Spicer's red line was the hiring of Scaramucci, which signaled his own diminished power. And the Mooch's other foes were worried that he would make the White House seem even more amateur, as though that were possible.
Also worried were White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Bannon, who, according to Politico, "confronted Anthony Scaramucci in the West Wing on Friday morning, threatening to block the financier's appointment."
But in his first turn at the White House podium Friday, the natty Scaramucci easily outdid Spicer, who in his first outing had upset the president by wearing a suit that was too big.
The Mooch instantly showed he knew the point of his job was not communicating with the reporters assembled before him. The point was communicating with the needy egomaniac in the Oval Office.
"But here's what I tell you about the president," Scaramucci said. "He's the most competitive person I've ever met. OK — I've seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I've seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, he's standing in the key and he's hitting foul shots and he's swishing them, OK? He sinks 3-foot putts."
And not only that.
"The president has really good karma, OK?"
Scaramucci used big brushstrokes to paint a portrait of his skyscraper-high regard for Trump, even though it was a mere two years ago that he was dismissing Trump on Fox News as a "hack politician" with "crazy rhetoric" that was "anti-American" and "very, very divisive."
The Daily Beast reported that, hours after he got the White House job, Scaramucci deleted his old tweets praising Hillary, calling her "the real deal."
On Friday, it was all Trump love.
First, he instructed about the "disconnect between the way we see the president and how much we love the president and the way some of you perhaps see the president."
Then he just spit it out: "I love the president."
Then he added: "But I love the president and I'm very, very loyal to the president. And I love the mission that the president has." And then he added, "I love the president." Then: "But here's what I will tell you, OK? I love the president."
The arrival of the Mooch was a win for the New York-ification of the White House, another Goldman veteran and a power shift toward those who pushed for the gregarious Scaramucci, including Jared, Ivanka and Wilbur Ross, against the swamp creatures, Priebus and Spicer, and the bridge troll, Bannon.
But a change in communications personnel will not solve the central problem for President Trump. He doesn't understand that Robert Mueller is not a contractor he's in a civil litigation dispute with, someone he can intimidate and wear down and threaten and bleed out.
Bringing in another New York dealmaker won't help him understand the existential threat he faces in Washington from Mueller.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist at The New York Times. Twitter, @MaureenDowd.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com.
Lawmakers are headed back to Juneau for the third special session of the year on Thursday, an expected one-day meeting to allow lawmakers to pass a slender — and delayed — capital budget that leverages more than $1 billion in funds.
The Legislature is calling itself into the session after presiding officers of the House and Senate, in a straw poll, found more than the constitutionally required two-thirds of the Legislature's 60 members supported the idea.
The capital budget, consisting mainly of public works spending, is the only item on the agenda.
The capital budget is typically passed by July 1, the start of the fiscal year. But lawmakers were not able to approve it in time as Alaska faces nagging questions about how to solve a giant fiscal crisis brought on by low oil prices.
Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster and Eagle River Republican Sen. Anna MacKinnon, co-chairs of their chambers' finance committees, were the key negotiators over the last week of the capital-budget compromise lawmakers will consider.
Laura Cramer, chief of staff to MacKinnon, said Monday the capital budget will be publicly released before the session convenes. The plan will include more than $100 million in state funding for projects, providing money that leverages close to $1.2 billion in federal money, Cramer said.
The capital budget, dealing primarily with roads, bridges and several other projects across the state, will also provide guidance on what to do with money still held by two mothballed megaprojects, the Knik Arm Bridge and the Juneau Access Road.
The Juneau road project, which had called for a 50-mile road from Juneau to an unbuilt ferry terminal on the line north to Haines, contains more than $40 million, Cramer said.
The Knik Arm Bridge, proposing a nearly 2-mile-long span connecting Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susistna Borough, contains about $5 million, she said.
The question is whether the funds should remain within the projects or be re-appropriated to other projects, Cramer said.
The special session starts at 11 a.m. Thursday, and is expected to be wrapped up later that day.
The single-day plan, following the budget negotiations and compromise, is designed to reduce costs associated with per diems and hotels that could accumulate if lawmakers met more than one day, Cramer said.
"The goal is to get people in and out and minimize costs as much as possible," she said.
Nunaka Valley of Anchorage on Monday lost for the first time in its three games at the Little League Junior Softball West Regional in Tucson, Arizona, where it faces an elimination game Tuesday.
Garden City of Missoula, Montana, beat the Alaskans, 7-0, in the double-elimination tournament for players ages 12-14.
Nunaka Valley on Tuesday will play Utah, which it beat 7-4 last week. Nunaka Valley last week also beat Oregon 3-2.
Lexie Davis delivered two of Nunaka Valley's four hits Monday.
Meanwhile, at the Little League Intermediate 50/70 Baseball West Regional in Nogales, Arizona, Abbott-O-Rabbit of Anchorage lost 14-4 to Central East of Maui, Hawaii, to fall to 2-2 entering the playoff round in that tournament for players 12-13. Oliver Davis went 3 for 4 for Abbott-O-Rabbit.
Gastineau Channel of Juneau lost 11-0 in four innings to Cedar City National of Utah on Monday to fall to 0-2 at the Little League Softball West Regional for players ages 9-12 in San Bernardino, California.
WASHINGTON — Pressure mounted Monday on Alaska's two Republican senators as they prepared to take a vote on repealing — and potentially replacing — the Affordable Care Act Tuesday, without knowing which bill would be the subject of their vote.
The likely vote of Alaska's senior Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in particular, has been the focus of political curiosity as a possible swing-vote.
Much of the visible pressure on lawmakers, such as call-in campaigns and advertisements, has been from pro-"Obamacare" forces. But Republican lawmakers are facing enormous pressure from within their own party to stick to the promises uttered over and again for the last seven years.
Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan heard the same message over the last several days from the head of the Alaska Republican Party, Tuckerman Babcock, President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: You promised to repeal "Obamacare;" now do it.
Republicans have kept the plans a party-line affair, and can only afford to lose two votes, to pass a bill.
But whether Murkowski and Sullivan would vote for any repeal and replace bill offered up this week remains unknown, as negotiations head through fits and starts, and both senators remained unsure what bill would come up on the Senate floor Tuesday.
In a letter to both lawmakers this weekend, Babcock sought to remind them of the promises made to Alaska Republicans.
"I recognize that it is the job of those we elect to administrate and legislate. I respect those spheres of responsibility and fully appreciate that the complexity of crafting and amending legislation is your responsibility and not that of the Party," Babcock said in the letter.
"However, there are times when a specific issue is so central to our message, to our platform and to our promises to voters that I am persuaded a public statement from the Alaska Republican Party is warranted," he said.
Since 2010, repealing the ACA has been central to the GOP's message to voters, Babcock said. "The integrity of our mutual promise, our united message and our platform could not be more direct or more clear," he wrote.
In an interview Monday, Babcock said he just could not imagine a situation where voters granted Republicans control of the U.S. House, Senate and White House, and the party failed to follow through on repealing the ACA.
Babcock said he was not attempting to weigh in on what Congress should do to replace the law and he hoped for a bipartisan effort.
But "I think it would be a true mark of failure on the Republican Party nationally and in Alaska" to fail to repeal the law, he said. "You can't have something be your central promise election after election after election" and fail to do it, Babcock said.
That same message came from a lectern in the White House Monday afternoon, as the president spoke on the subject of repealing the ACA.
"Remember: Repeal and replace, repeal and replace. They kept saying it over and over again. Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law," Trump said Monday.
Republicans "must fulfill that solemn promise to the voters of this country to repeal and replace — what they've been saying for the last seven years," Trump said.
"Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the 'Obamacare' nightmare, which is what it is," he said.
McConnell took to the Senate floor Monday afternoon and echoed that statement.
The majority leader urged his colleagues in the Senate to vote "yes" on beginning debate on a bill to repeal the law.
"That means voting to begin the open amendment process. That means voting to kick off a robust debate in which Senators from all parties can represent the views of their constituents. It means voting to proceed. And that will occur tomorrow," McConnell said Monday.
But Murkowski and Sullivan weren't only hearing political pressure from the party Monday. A slew of health care organizations and companies urged caution, and questioned the quality of the bills offered.
Becky Hultberg, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said Monday that group remains "deeply concerned about both the process and policy" that led to the Senate's planned Tuesday vote.
The proposals would result in "higher health care costs for Alaskans, even for those covered with employer-based insurance, and fewer Alaskans with health insurance. From what we know, the proposals would also be devastating for Alaska health care providers. This is bad policy and it would move Alaska in the wrong direction," Hultberg said.
Moreover, Hultberg criticized the process by which the Senate crafted its bills, behind closed doors and without the transparency of a public committee process. Murkowski has made that argument regularly over the last month.
There are several options for a vote Tuesday.
The "Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act" — already passed by the Senate in 2015, but vetoed by President Barack Obama, would repeal the law starting in two years.
That would, presumably, give Congress two years to come up with replacement measures. Both Murkowski and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan voted for the bill in 2015.
But it's a nonstarter for Murkowski now, she said last week. Murkowski, worried about the prospects of undoing Medicaid expansion and other provisions of the law without a plan for replacement, said she would vote no on a motion to proceed with debate on that bill.
Sullivan said he would vote yes on the bill, as he had in 2015.
The Senate could also vote to start debate on some version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate's current repeal-and-replace effort.
Neither Murkowski nor Sullivan has clearly stated whether they would vote for the bill. The senators did secure Alaska-focused funding in the latest version of the bill, but both said they have remaining concerns about how the bill would impact Medicaid in Alaska.
The Senate could also take a vote on a bill that hasn't had much discussion in recent weeks: the repeal-and-replace bill that passed the House in May, the American Health Care Act.
Neither Murkowski nor Sullivan has expressed a recent opinion on the House-passed bill, but Alaska's lawmakers offered up concerns with its disproportionate impact on Alaska when it was passed.
Murkowski said she didn't get the sense that the bill was built on "good policy," but instead through an effort "to find votes."
Alaska's Republican Rep. Don Young voted in favor of the bill, but said he did so with promises that it would be a starting point for negotiations, and the bill would never make it to the president's desk in its current form.
"I've talked to the Secretary (of Health and Human Services) — Dr. (Tom) Price — and he assures me that (Alaska) will be made whole, if it was to become law," Young said at the time.
The jet engines' pitch dropped as they slowed for the plane's descent. Soon we were on final approach to Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands, where a small diplomatic delegation was waiting for me.
Members of the delegation were recognizable as foreigners, but they didn't look much like diplomats. Dressed in T-shirts and shorts, they might have been young, budget-minded tourists — or maybe American kids just hanging out.
But they were, in fact, quiet diplomats – and well-disguised ones at that. With America's international reputation in free fall, we need emissaries like them. They work to make new friends for America, counteracting the daily drumbeat of negative news coming from Washington, D.C.
Well, to be honest, the "diplomats" were really four of my students. They had volunteered to spend the summer applying their computer skills to help the people of the Marshall Islands, a small nation visible on a map of the Pacific only as a few dots halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
These young people weren't Alaskans, but they might have been because this opportunity is available to all.
They might have been working in Latin America, Africa or South Asia. Each summer students from our university and others fan out across the globe to work on technology projects in developing nations.
At Carnegie Mellon, some professors call them participants in our Technology Consulting in the Global Community program. I call them "geeks on a mission."
Carnegie Mellon is well known for its technology prowess, and each summer we offer students a chance to use their newly acquired skills to help people in host nations around the world. The students work as professional consultants to client organizations, often nongovernmental organizations or government agencies.
The clients get top-notch professional assistance, and the volunteer consultants get an experience not available in any classroom. Everyone wins.
Some readers may believe that smart young techies are self-centered and greedy — that their only goal is to make lots of money. But these students are not like that. They use their skills to help others. They help people who have neither the knowledge nor the financial resources to use technology to enhance their own lives.
As they quietly go about their work with nonprofits and government agencies, they're making friends and showing them the true America is not the one shown on television. Not the America of immigration bans. Not the America of religious intolerance. And not the America of greed.
It sounds a bit like the Peace Corps, and the spirit of the Peace Corps is alive in these students. Their work, though, is laser-focused. They work on specific projects aimed at meeting the goals of their clients and the people they serve.
At summer's end, when consulting projects are complete, clients are thrilled with the results. And the students are happy, too.
They've had the benefit of living and working in a foreign country, immersed in its language and culture. And they've done important work. Very important work.
Some say, "this was the best part of my university education." Others say it was a life-changing experience that changed the direction of their careers and even their lives.
When asked if her work made a difference to the people she helped, one returning student said, "It made more of an impact on my life … It helped me believe that I could do something big."
But their biggest impact is the impression they leave behind. Folks in developing nations learn that the essence of the United States is not the rhetoric of its politicians but rather the generosity of its people and what's in their hearts. Young people whose only agenda is to help others — and have a little fun along the way — may be the purest measure of America's essence.
We need more of these quiet diplomats. They may be our best hope for world peace.
Dr. Alex Hills is distinguished service professor at Carnegie Mellon University and affiliate distinguished professor at UAA. His latest book is "Finding Alaska's Villages: And Connecting Them." He lives in Palmer.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com.
Alaskans were warned Monday of a door-to-door scam in which paving services are offered at an extremely low rate, only to have the prices hiked after a subpar job is completed.
In the last few days, three complaints have been reported to the Alaska Department of Law's Consumer Protection Unit, said assistant attorney general Cynthia Franklin. Two came from the Interior community of North Pole; one was from Anchorage.
Scammers come to a homeowner's door falsely representing themselves as a local business. They claim to have leftover materials from another job, and offer to pave the driveway for $2,000 or $2,500.
They complete the job, but it's subpar, Franklin said. In one case, a person's driveway wasn't properly sealed and the pavement stuck to their tires, Franklin said.
After the work is done, the scammers come back and say the cost ended up being much higher – around three times their initial quote.
In Alaska, all door-to-door sales are subject to a law that allows the buyer to get their money back within five business days of the sale. A written notice is required explaining this to customers.
"We call it the five day cooling off period," said Franklin. Anyone contacted with an offer that seems too good to be true should ask for this written notice, and not agree to the deal, the Consumer Protection Unit says.
Any homeowners who give scammers their money will likely have a hard time recouping losses, as the scammers are not believed to be Alaska residents.
Similar scams happen every summer, Franklin said.
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump made a last-ditch plea to U.S. Senate Republicans on Monday to "do the right thing" and fulfill seven years of campaign promises to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.
The Senate will vote on Tuesday on whether to open debate on an overhaul of the law, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promising an open amendment process and a "robust" debate.
"To every member of the Senate I say this: The American people have waited long enough. There's been enough talk, and no action. Now is the time for action," Trump said on Monday at the White House.
Standing in front of families who he said had been hurt by the law popularly known as Obamacare, Trump said, "So far, Senate Republicans have not done their job in ending the Obamacare nightmare."
Even as it remained unclear on Monday whether McConnell had enough votes in the Senate to open debate, he said the vote would take place regardless.
"I know many of us have waited years for this moment to finally arrive. And, at long last, it finally has. I would urge every colleague to join me," McConnell said.
Senator John McCain, who has been battling brain cancer in his home state of Arizona, is expected to return to the Senate to cast a vote, his office said on Monday.
Moderate Senator Susan Collins, who has vocally opposed McConnell's efforts so far, said on Monday she would vote "no" on a motion to proceed.
Republicans have been under heavy political pressure to make good on their longstanding campaign promises to gut the 2010 law, which they view as a government intrusion in the healthcare market.
But the party is deeply divided between moderates concerned the Senate bill would eliminate insurance for millions of low-income Americans and conservatives who want to see even deeper cuts to the Obamacare legislation.
Senate Republicans have been unable to reach consensus on an approach, with McConnell failing to secure enough votes for either a repeal and replacement of Obamacare or a straight repeal.
Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the 100-member Senate. With Democrats united in opposition, McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes.
"The question for every senator, Democrat or Republican, is whether they will side with Obamacare's architects, which have been so destructive to our country, or its forgotten victims?" Trump said.
While Trump has repeatedly called on Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare, he has shown little interest in the policy specifics. Trump last week initially suggested he was fine with letting Obamacare collapse, then urged Republican senators to hash out a deal.
His remarks on Monday were among the lengthiest statements he has made regarding healthcare.
"Obamacare is death. That's the one that's death," Trump said. "And besides that, it's failing so you won't have it anyway."
McConnell will ask senators whether to begin debate on the healthcare bill passed in May by the House of Representatives. If that procedural vote succeeds, the House bill would then be open for amendment on the Senate floor.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the Senate's replacement bill could lead to as many as 22 million fewer Americans being insured. A plan to repeal Obamacare without replacing it could cost 32 million Americans their health insurance by 2026, CBO estimated.
At the same time, premiums on individual insurance plans would rise 25 percent next year and double by 2026 if Obamacare is repealed, CBO said.
Uncertainty over the future of healthcare has left health insurance companies and U.S. states as well as hospitals and doctors unclear about future funding and coverage.
Public opinion polls also show Americans worried about potential changes to the healthcare system.
Even before the shooting at a baseball field in northern Virginia last month, Congress was rattled by the increasingly hostile political environment that has produced combative town hall meetings and violent encounters among political activists. This year, the rate of threats against members of Congress has surpassed last year's, and a growing number of rank-and-file lawmakers are traveling the halls of the Capitol – and the streets of their home towns – with security details.
That unease was amplified significantly by the shooting that grievously wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who remains hospitalized in fair condition in Washington. The wounds are healing for the other people shot by James T. Hodgkinson – who was killed in the attack – but the possibility of another attack worries many on Capitol Hill.
"If you shoot a police officer, you're going to make the 5, 6 and 10 o'clock news. But if you shoot a congressperson you're going to make the world news," said Rep. Cedric Richmond , D-La., a longtime friend of Scalise's. "We're in a very vulnerable state because tensions are high in this country."
All of it brings unsettling implications for democracy and discourse, and has prompted a debate about how much security is necessary – and affordable. Some lawmakers are carrying firearms or installing security systems at their homes and offices. Some have decided not to hold town hall meetings at all – restricting voters from meeting their elected leaders. Some are demanding that the government pay for a security detail for every member of Congress – a prospect that has enormous budgetary implications and that also might create even more chaos on already overcrowded Capitol Hill.
"Could you imagine 435 black SUVs with security details trying to pull up for votes?" asked Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., who leads the House Appropriations subcommittee that sets budgets for congressional offices. He guessed the cost for Congress-wide protection would reach into the billions. "I just think the practicalities of it don't really work."
Yet Yoder acknowledged that rising threats and political acrimony have left lawmakers and their families on edge and wanting to do more to protect themselves.
In a sign of that reality, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was spotted last week and again on Monday walking around the Capitol with three U.S. Capitol Police officers wearing suits and ties. Aides confirmed that the senator's security detail began last week but declined to say why. Capitol Police also declined to comment.
"There are a number of members who've had very specific threats that scare them or their spouses or their staffers," said Yoder, who is a member of the GOP baseball team but wasn't at practice on June 14, the day of the shooting. "I've heard of members with staff who are too scared to come to work. So, this is for the safety of the members, and their families and constituents that come to events."
The attack on Republican lawmakers practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game last month had a unique Capitol Hill flavor: It directly affected the men and women who set national policy on guns, mental health and federal funding for police agencies.
Scalise and his teammates are still working through their physical and mental recovery; he is battling an infection after gunfire tore through his hip, shattered bone and damaged organs.
Hodgkinson had a history of sharing hostile rhetoric on social media against President Donald Trump. His rampage could have been much worse if Scalise, the House majority whip, hadn't been there with his Capitol Police security detail.
Since the shooting, security officials have responded to a handful of specific threats against lawmakers.
Police responded this month to an incident at the Las Vegas office of Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., that reportedly included a note left on the door threatening the senator's life if he voted for the Republican health-care plan. That incident followed an arrest over the July Fourth recess of a protester outside the Tucson office of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. The protester told a Flake staff member, "You know how liberals are going to solve the Republican problem? They are going to get better aim," according to local reports.
This month, an Omaha man was arrested after walking into an Iowa motorcycle shop and saying that he "could kill" Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who was scheduled to visit the shop the next day.
After the baseball shooting, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told Fox News Channel that somebody contacted him saying, "I wish you were on second base" – the location where Scalise was shot. And the day of the shooting, an Ohio man called the office of Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, and threatened the congressman, his wife and daughter. The man was arrested for making at least five threatening phone calls to Stivers, according to a federal court filing.
The Secret Service and the Capitol Police declined to release the number of threat cases they have investigated or generally talk about whether they are increasing or decreasing.
And the FBI said in a statement that it "has not seen a sustained trend in criminal threats to Members of Congress," despite the recent shooting. It opens investigations only "when the threats are regarded as credible and meeting a certain threshold."
Still, already this year, more than 1,650 threats have been made against lawmakers, or the U.S. Capitol or Congress, said senior congressional aides familiar with the figures who were not authorized to share them publicly. That figure for about the first half of the year is just short of the number of threats in all of 2016, the aides said.
As of late June, House members had received about 950 "threatening communication messages," easily surpassing the roughly 902 messages received in all of 2016, said House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving. The number of specific threats against senators was unavailable.
"This is an urgent matter," Irving said last month as he shared the statistics with the Federal Election Commission, telling regulators that every House member needs "a residential security system due to the threat environment."
Irving's warning prompted the FEC to rule this month that all lawmakers can now use money raised from campaign donors to pay for security cameras, door locks, motion sensors and other security upgrades at their homes.
The blanket authority is warranted, FEC commissioners said, because they now consider security costs the kind of "ordinary and necessary expenses" that lawmakers incur as part of the job.
Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., who chairs the House Administration Committee, which doles out office space and deals with other congressional housekeeping concerns, said he knows of several colleagues with plans to take advantage of the FEC decision.
"When you've had threats to your home, involving your spouse, or your children have been mentioned, those things are really having the biggest impact on members," he said.
More taxpayer money also will be spent on congressional security. Already, at least $5 million is earmarked for Irving's team to pay for security upgrades at House district offices that face threats or are considered vulnerable. The Capitol Police budget will grow by $7.5 million to hire 39 more officers and personnel and buy equipment. And all 435 House members are receiving $25,000 in emergency funding to be used for the remainder of the year for any security purpose – to add bulletproof windows at district offices or hire private security guards for public events back home. The Senate, which has fewer district offices to protect, has not yet allotted such money.
Richmond, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, became so concerned about threats against colleagues earlier this year that he arranged to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a week before Scalise was shot. Richmond told Ryan that he wants even more taxpayer funding to protect lawmakers.
"If you look at our leadership, from even the Senate or the House, they have full-time protection detail. Everybody else is just really left out there on their own," he said. "For the House sergeant at arms to absorb the costs of putting a camera system or alarm system on 435 houses – the 435 people who vote for this country to go to war, the 435 people that make tough decisions about anything from health care to entitlements to how we treat our veterans to all of those things – I think it's not unreasonable."
Yoder said that next year, "if there was another incident or people continue to feel at a heightened sense of being threatened, we would look at additional measures."
On Capitol Hill in recent weeks, one of the few visible reminders of the shooting was the boot on Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, who was injured as he dove away from the gunfire. Also injured were Williams' aide Zach Barth, lobbyist Matt Mika, and U.S. Capitol Police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey, who returned fire. All are poised to recover fully – but other, less visible signs of the shooting remain.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, will never forget the look on his 11-year-old son Jack's face as he ran for cover that morning. "It was fear, surprise, wonderment," Barton recalled.
As Barton and others affected by the shooting move on, they have been struck that the tone of discourse hasn't much changed since. It's the dual burden of facing a shooting in politics: trying to carry on at a personal level – and trying to make a difference in the public domain. It's another reason to continue protecting themselves, several said.
"I definitely know where my firearm is at all times," Richmond said.
Harper said that he or a traveling aide always carries a weapon when they make stops in his district. Barton, who doesn't own a gun, said he's considering getting the training to do so.
Just hours after the shooting, Rep. Charles "Chuck" Fleischmann, R-Tenn., a member of the baseball team, walked onto the House floor still dressed in his dusty uniform, looking stunned. He's coping well, he said more recently, but "some members have told me that they're having some problems and that they're not going to be able to play baseball again next year."
"You just feel thankful that the carnage was not as great as it could have been," he said.
Fleischmann and Yoder credited Rep. Tim Murphy, R, for providing support. An eight-term lawmaker from southwestern Pennsylvania, he's a Navy psychologist who works at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, with wounded service members who have trauma issues. On the day of the shooting, Murphy stood up at a security briefing for all lawmakers to offer advice on how to deal with shock.
Fleischmann recalled Murphy telling him later, "Go watch a fireworks exhibit online, just so that when you go out there that – not that you would have problems – but just so you don't." Fleischmann was grateful for the advice. "I went to see many fireworks displays, didn't have any issues, but I thought it was very kind of him."
Murphy said that the tone still gets hot in committee rooms, where "people continue to say things that try and provoke each other."
Said Yoder: "The uncivil tone in this town has gotten worse – it was already bad, it's gotten worse. We all have an obligation, from the president, to us, to our constituents – we all have a role in that. I can't stop my constituents from not being civil, what I can do is make sure I'm leading by example."
The Washington Post's Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.
It is no secret that what the major media seem to care most about is radically different from what concerns average Americans. While the Beltway crowd continues to focus on alleged collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia, real concerns like the future of Social Security are ignored.
The Social Security Board of Trustees, a six-member panel which serves the federal government by offering a short-term and long-range forecast on the health of the Social Security program, has issued a new report, which says that while the retirement program will be "cash flow positive" through 2021, it is still in line to run out of money unless taxes are raised, or benefits are substantially reduced.
Financial planner Ric Edelman has come up with an idea that is so simple and workable it could transform the aging program and make retirement more comfortable and secure for years to come. Full disclosure: Edelman, who has been ranked three times the No. 1 independent adviser by Barron's, is my financial adviser.
Edelman says reforming Social Security is essential because, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, roughly 58 percent of workers have access to a retirement plan, while 49 percent participate in one.
Edelman notes that people who do have such plans don't have much money in them, just an average balance of $159,000, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. That amount can only generate a few hundred dollars a month in retirement income, which is why even when Social Security is added to this pittance it can't adequately provide for the needs of most retirees.
Edelman's solution? The federal government would set aside $7,000 one time for each child born during the next 35 years. The money would be placed in an investment account managed by a blue-ribbon panel of investment experts appointed by the president and Congress.
After 35 years, the government gets back its $7,000 — increased for inflation — and uses the money to pay for children born during the next 35-year cycle, making it self-funding.
When the child reaches age 70, monthly benefits are provided — equal in income to what Social Security provides, allowing the current program to be replaced with no adverse effect on retirees.
I asked Edelman about the politics of this, since Social Security is considered a political third rail, untouchable, highly charged.
"That's why I don't propose altering how the Social Security trust fund is managed," he said, "which is what killed privatization efforts years ago."
Under his proposal (he calls it the "Trust Fund for America"), the money would be invested in a diversified portfolio put together by a panel of investment experts consistent with how the nation's pensions funds and endowments are managed.
To keep the money from being "raided" by Congress, Edelman says each baby would be assigned an individual account, much like an IRA, and would receive annual statements showing the account balance.
Edelman says he is joining the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that addresses the challenges facing the nation, to focus on fixing the problems with Social Security and ensure a stable retirement program for every American.
Anticipating criticism from the usual suspects who want to use Social Security as a political weapon instead of fixing it, Edelman says, "If anyone complains about my proposal, they need to complain about the nation's pension plans, too, because I am doing nothing different from them."
Wouldn't you like to see dysfunctional Washington and the anti-Trump news media actually get behind something that benefits the most people? If surveyed, I'd bet an overwhelming number of respondents who are fed-up with issues that do not impact their lives, would scream "yes."
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WASHINGTON — In the normal course of events, the revelation of attempted collusion with Russia to determine the outcome of a presidential election might cause an administration to overcorrect in the other direction. A president might find ways to confront the range of Russian aggression, including cyber-aggression, if only to avoid the impression of being bought and sold by a strategic rival.
But once again, Donald Trump — after extended personal contact with Vladimir Putin and the complete surrender to Russian interests in Syria — acts precisely like he has been bought and sold by a strategic rival. The ignoble cutoff of aid to American proxies means that "Putin won in Syria," as an administration official was quoted by The Washington Post. Concessions without reciprocation, made against the better judgment of foreign policy advisers, smack more of payoff than outreach. If this is what Trump's version of "winning" looks like, what might further victory entail? The re-creation of the Warsaw Pact? The reversion of Alaska to Russian control?
There is nothing normal about an American president's subservience to Russia's interests and worldview. It is not the result of some bold, secret, Nixonian foreign policy stratagem — the most laughable possible explanation. Does it come from Trump's bad case of authoritarianism envy? A fundamental sympathy with European right-wing, anti-democratic populism? An exposure to pressure from his checkered financial history? There are no benign explanations, and the worst ones seem the most plausible.
There is no way to venture where this approach ends up, except that it involves greater Russian influence and intimidation in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East (where Iran, the Syrian regime and Hezbollah are winners as well). But we can already count some of the costs.
Trump is alienating Republicans from their own heroic, foreign policy tradition. The conduct of the Cold War was steadied and steeled by Ronald Reagan, who engaged with Soviet leaders but was an enemy of communism and a foe of Soviet aggression. In fact, he successfully engaged Soviet leaders because he was an enemy of communism and a foe of Soviet aggression. There is no single or simple explanation for the end of the Cold War, but Republicans have generally held that America's strategic determination played a central role.
Now Trump pursues a policy of pre-emptive concession with a Russia that is literally on the march in places such as Georgia and the Ukraine. Trump is the Henry Wallace of the populist right (which more than occasionally finds common cause with the populist left). "We should recognize," Wallace argued following World War II, "that we have no more business in the political affairs of Eastern Europe than Russia has in the political affairs of Latin America, Western Europe and the United States." The difference now is that Russia has made the political affairs of the United States very much its business. With almost no serious American response. Russian interference in America's self-defining civic ritual has been almost costless.
And this points to the main cost of Trump's Russophilia. It is effective permission for a broad, unconventional Russian offensive, designed to undo the "color revolutions" and restore lost glory at the expense of neighbors and American interests. Russia has employed a sophisticated mix of conventional operations and cyber-operations to annex territory and destabilize governments. It has systematically encouraged far-right, nationalist leaders and supported pro-Russian, anti-democratic parties across Europe. It is trying to delegitimize democratic processes on the theory that turbulence in the West is good for a rising East. This is a strategy that allows Russia to punch above its strategic weight, especially since Trump has chosen to abdicate America's natural role in opposition.
How deep is this transformation of America's global self-conception? I suspect (and social science seems to indicate) that most foreign policy views of the public are shallowly held and that leaders play a disproportionate role in legitimizing or delegitimizing views on things like trade, foreign aid or Russia. So 49 percent of Republicans now identify Russia as an ally or friend, taking their political signal from the head of their party. But this cognitive conformity would probably work in the other direction with a more traditional Republican leader.
The problem is the damage to American interests done in the meantime. It now seems that the Russians — by meddling in a presidential election and by downplaying such aggression — has achieved an intelligence coup beyond the dreams of the Soviet era. The result is an America strategically and morally disarmed.
Michael Gerson is a columnist for The Washington Post. Email, email@example.com.
No one who knew her would be surprised that at 15 years of age Olivia Tafs found herself on a dais with Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, instructing him on the relevance of the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II to President Trump's travel ban.
Tafs won an essay contest run by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the West Coast and Pacific region, including Alaska. She read the essay at a judicial conference in San Francisco last week.
Gorsuch was a late fill-in speaker at the event. Since he was Trump's appointee and supporter of his executive order limiting travel from a group of majority Muslim countries, some international media made a big deal that he had to listen to Tafs' essay. The Daily Mail of London called it a confrontation.
But it wasn't. Tafs is a polite and sensible girl. She had a pleasant conversation with Gorsuch.
Her essay reads like a Supreme Court brief, closely reasoned and deeply researched, without emotion or cliches. She explains the legal basis for the imprisonment of 100,000 Japanese Americans in 1942 and how such wartime abuses can return.
"The ability to discriminate against racial or ethnic groups in times of war remains a legal precedent and a part of America's national consciousness, and in the fight against terrorism we've seen how the instinct to profile and mistreat groups deemed 'the enemy' returns in times of conflict," she wrote.
"Remembering the lessons we learned after Japanese internment is essential today, as America struggles to find a balance between the safety of the masses and the standards of liberty and civil rights our country was built upon," Tafs continued.
She told me she didn't expect to persuade Gorsuch, because he should make his ruling on the travel ban based on the Constitution, not her ideas. But she hoped the experience broadened his judicial viewpoint with real-world context.
What interested me more was what this taught me about education.
I worked with Olivia a few years ago in a writing group for my younger daughter's class at Chugach Optional Elementary. Her talent and calm intelligence were already obvious in fifth grade. In sixth grade, she won the Anchorage Daily News writing contest with a short story about refugees.
Another student in teacher Linda Biddle's class, with my older daughter, wrote about quarterbacks winning championship football games in every story for my group. I couldn't get him to write about anything else.
A few years later I picked up the newspaper and read that this student, Conor Feckley, by then a high school sophomore, had led West High to its first football state championship. Although short of stature, Feckley went on to set records as a quarterback in his college football career at the Division III level.
"When I picked up that newspaper, I was not surprised at all," said Linda Biddle, Conor's fifth- and sixth-grade teacher. "It was his Excalibur sword. He picked up that ball and he knew who he was. He recognized himself."
"I knew he was a frustrated little boy. How could I get him to recognize what he was good at?" she said. "Take that to your heart and know you can accomplish lots of things."
Biddle taught 25 years, including eight when each of my four children went through her fifth-sixth grade classroom. As I look back on it, Tafs and Feckley's stories are not unique. An amazing group of young people came through that classroom before they were amazing.
This is the legacy of a great teacher. I wonder how many Excalibur swords Biddle helped her students find.
With Olivia Tafs, talent and bookishness were evident. Biddle just wanted her to laugh.
As I've written before, these highly gifted students can easily become miserably over-competitive. Some rush to high academic levels quickly, arriving at the top as boring, dimensionless drones, or simply regretful they missed the fun of childhood.
Tafs was lucky neither Biddle nor her parents wanted that to happen. Biddle saw how Phil and Cristina Tafs fed and balanced their daughter's brilliance, giving her support and freedom.
"I want her to be a kid, encouraging her not to take every advanced class and difficult class there is. I want her to take pottery too, some of the fun stuff," said Olivia's father, Phil.
"I didn't have that much homework load, but I'm probably not as bright as my daughter," he said.
Phil said he and his wife still have frequent conversations about how to raise and develop their bright children — Olivia's younger brother, Paul, is following her in the highly gifted program at Romig Middle School.
Phil owns a business that works with young people with behavioral problems. Cristina is an attorney. She asks Olivia to read her appeal briefs for feedback.
Neither takes credit for their daughter's accomplishments. Olivia's interests and political views are her own, based on her extensive reading.
She had Brian Goudreau as a biology teacher at West. He uses discussion and individual exploration to develop a holistic view of science. Now Olivia wants to be a scientist.
She had Adam Johnson at Romig. He taught her to write an essay. Ben Walker inspired her at Romig, too.
She learned about the immigrant experience from her Ecuadorian grandmother. Her award-winning short story — done for Biddle's class in sixth grade — shows that empathy.
Her award-winning persuasive essay shows her reasoning and research skill.
"She was like, 'I don't have that much homework right now, so I thought I might as well do the essay,'" recalls her father. "Which is not what I would have thought of when I was a kid."
The gifts this child received only began with her genes. Great teachers and thoughtful parents helped her get here, feeling comfortable with her own ideas and potential and eager to learn.
She can do a lot of good in her life.
"I definitely think I have a lot of options," she said. "I've got time to figure things out."
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 commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser.
It's a typical weeknight for 44-year-old Hall of Fame powerlifter Priscilla Ribic.
She's in the middle of a superhuman workout session at Southside Strength and Fitness in Anchorage. She wraps her wrists and knees and fastens a belt around her waist before limboing underneath a barbell. She positions the bar on her upper back and clutches it with both hands. She creates Vs with her elbows and slowly walks backward.
With 518 pounds on her shoulders, she dips not once but twice. With the help of her crew, she puts the bar back on the rack and catches her breath.
Ribic, who weighs less than 160 pounds, believes she is stronger than ever heading into this week's World Games in Poland, an international competition held every four years.
Last year, she set an American women's open record with a combined total of nearly 1,395 pounds in the squat, bench press and deadlift. Since winning a national championship in May with a 529-pound squat, she has squatted 573, 578 and 606 pounds in practice.
"If this training cycle that has been preparing me is any indication, this is the strongest I've ever been," Ribic said. "Which is kind of fun to say at the age of 44."
Ribic, who is USA Powerlifting's executive director, is a 15-time world champion and owns, or has held, 30 records in the sport. She was the top-ranked female in USA Powerlifting 11 times between 2003-15 and was inducted into the USA Powerlifting Hall of Fame in 2011.
"As a competitor, she's absolutely fierce," said USA Powerlifting state chairman Ryan Carrillo. "… She's fearless, confident and she doesn't get shook very easily. That's why she's a champion."
Ribic moved to Anchorage 10 years ago from Spokane, Washington. She began testing her physical strength in a high school weight-training class, but she was 27 before she began competing in powerlifting.
"I didn't know anything about (competitive powerlifting) and so I hopped in my car and I drove over to the next competition … just to watch it," Ribic said. "Actually I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm out of my league.' "
Ribic, who began her competitive career in 1999, faced stage fright at first. In one of her first meets, she dropped the bar while celebrating a 350-pound deadlift. The effort didn't count because she failed to complete the entire process.
Nearly 20 years later, she is slated to represent Team USA in her fourth World Games — a record for any American powerlifter, she said.
Over the course of her career, she has seen the climate of the sport change for women.
"With other sports such as CrossFit, (and) weightlifting as a whole, you see more and more women now encouraged to be in strength sports where back in the day you didn't really see that," she said.
Ribic said she hopes her long career empowers other women. Carillo said it has.
"Priscilla is a role model for young women because Priscilla's always done things her way and walked her own path," Carrillo said. "… You have a woman like Priscilla who just decided from the get-go, 'I'm going to be stronger than the boys,' and she is."
Ribic will join eight other American powerlifters at the 10th World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. Her husband, Larry Maile, will also join the team as a coach. She'll compete in the squat, bench press and deadlift in the 159-pound women's heavyweight division.
Her goal is to medal for the fourth straight time — she already owns one silver and two bronzes. She also hopes to squat 573 pounds.
The World Games is the Olympics for a number of sports, including powerlifting. It features what Ribic calls "the oddball sports" — things not contested at the Olympics, like bowling, billiards and baseball.
The hope is to demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee that powerlifting and other sports are ready for the Olympics. Carrillo thinks powerlifting is getting close. Weightlifting, which features the clean-and-jerk and snatch lifts, has been contested since the early days of the Olympics.
After this week, the next big international powerlifting competition will be the 2021 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. Ribic will be 48 then, and she hopes to still be competing.
"I'm not done yet," Ribic said. "I'm not ready to kind of give it up."
Alaska oil well regulators fined an independent oil and gas company $200,000 for abandoning two onshore wells in the Cook Inlet region without plugging them, striking a blow to a company that is also suing former executives after millions of dollars went missing.
Nordaq Energy offered multiple reasons in protesting the fines, including that a theft at its offices in Midtown Anchorage prevented it from responding to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's initial notices proposing the penalties in December, according to the agency.
But the company did not dispute that it did not cap the wells before the rights to its leases ended, as it should have done, the agency's orders said.
The wells are Tiger Eye-1 on the west side of Cook Inlet and Shadura-1 on the east side of the inlet. They are still not properly capped, the orders show.
Now, the AOGCC is also requiring $2 million in bonds. The contracts are designed to protect the state if Nordaq doesn't properly plug and abandon the wells within a year and the state is forced to pay for their capping and cleanup.
On the North Slope, Nordaq owns 17.5 percent of the Smith Bay leases, where Caelus Energy Alaska announced a large oil discovery last year. Caelus has said it won't drill an appraisal well in Smith Bay this winter, as originally planned, potentially delaying oil revenue from the field's development and leaving the prospect unconfirmed.
Nordaq is also in federal court suing former executives fired from the company in 2015 after, the company says, they improperly spent large sums of money.
Q: We'd like to terminate "Betsy." She's a mediocre supervisor, a gossip and a pot-stirrer. She frequently closes her office doors to "chat" with employees, including those who work under other supervisors. We've counseled Betsy about this, as it's a productivity drain for both her and the employees, but she claims that employees see her as someone to vent to and that she defuses a lot of problems.
Worse, when Betsy doesn't like a fellow supervisor, she creates stories about them, and some of these rumors take on a life of their own. Recently, she got cross-wise with "Jack" and told us that she'd been told "in confidence" that he'd said sexually provocative things to two employees.
We immediately launched an investigation and forced Betsy to name the two employees. She initially insisted she couldn't as the employees had spoken to her "in confidence," but we told Betsy that harassment was a serious accusation and we had to get to the bottom of it. At the bottom, we found Betsy. Both employees said Jack had teased them, but never said anything sexual. When we told this to Betsy, she alleged that the investigation process had so intimidated the employees that they hadn't been willing to "go public" with what they'd told her.
We believe Betsy made up a story, but we're somewhat afraid to terminate her as she might be able to allege retaliation.
A: In June, a Fourth Circuit Court ruled that an employer can terminate an employee who falsely alleges discrimination. In the case, Villa v. CavaMezze Grill, Patricia Villa told Cava's upper management that a store manager had sexually harassed two employees. She said she'd been told this by one of those employees while another Cava employee was present.
Cava's management immediately investigated Villa's report by interviewing the two employees reported to have been harassed, as well the employee Villa had claimed had heard one of the reports. But both of the alleged victims denied being harassed and denied reporting harassment to Villa. The person who Bonilla said was a witness said he'd never heard Bonilla say anything about harassment.
Cava management terminated Villa for making a false report. After Cava terminated Villa, one of the women she'd identified as a victim allegedly confessed to Villa that she had told Villa she had been harassed, but had not actually been harassed. Villa then asserted Cava shouldn't have terminated her for making a good faith complaint of harassment.
The court ruled that an employer who fires an employee based on a good faith belief she engaged in misconduct isn't liable for retaliation even if it turns out she didn't engage in the misconduct. According to the ruling, Cava terminated Villa because they believed she made a false report, not in retaliation for reporting the alleged harassment.
Before terminating Betsy, former attorney turned human resources and workplace consultant Rick Birdsall suggests you find out exactly what your employees told Betsy. "If your employees deny talking with Betsy about sexual harassment, you have stronger evidence her report may have been false."
I suggest you go beyond this, and find out from your employees and Betsy exactly what she and they discuss during these closed door meetings. Venting rarely produces positive results and Betsy may be training employees to sound off about issues, instead of coaching them on how to productively and directly working things out with those with whom they have grievances. Further, she appears to be supplanting their actual supervisors, thus setting up potential triangulation.
Going forward, you additionally may need to strengthen your employee handbook, making it clear that your company encourages employees to come forward if they feel harassed, that it will not retaliate against any employee who makes a good faith claim of harassment, and that false and malicious allegations may be the subject of appropriate disciplinary action.
Stubbs the cat, the rusty orange feline fixture of Talkeetna, died last week.
Stubbs, a Manx mix without much of a tail, was a common sight for two decades in this quirky hamlet at the base of Denali. He also was the center of a pseudo-fabricated tale about a long-ago write-in election that made him mayor of a town that in reality doesn't even have a city council.
Stubbs made it to 20-plus years before passing in his sleep sometime between Thursday night and Friday morning.
The Spone family, owners of Stubbs hangouts Nagley's Store and the West Rib Pub & Grill, issued a statement over the weekend. The family bought the businesses in 2015 and signed a contract that included the provision Stubbs stayed with the store. They were "warned" about all the publicity that came with him, though it was hard to fight the free public relations.
"No one could imagine the notoriety that Stubbs had," the family wrote in the statement. "Over 75 percent of visitors ask, 'Where's the Mayor?' or come in with this statement 'I have an appointment with the mayor.' I think we heard those two statements over 100 times a day during our first year."
An aging Stubbs began shrinking from the limelight in 2015 and more so last year, though he'd still occasionally hop up on the West Rib bar for his margarita glass full of water and catnip.
Over the years, Stubbs survived a BB gun shooting, a dog attack, an unplanned trip on a garbage truck, and a fall into a fryer vat not in use at the time.
But he never survived an election.
A political mythology sprang up around Stubbs years ago. Word got out — and remains in circulation — that he was actually elected Talkeetna's mayor in a 1990s write-in bid mounted by voters unhappy with the human candidates.
A standing Wikipedia entry for "Stubbs (cat)" that calls Talkeetna "only a historic district" describes him as mayor through early 2017.
That never happened: there was no write-in bid.
Also: there is no mayor of Talkeetna, human, feline or any other species. It's an unincorporated community where locals complain about the lack of control over Matanuska-Susitna Borough government but have yet to unify around becoming a city. A community council here advises the borough Assembly.
Nonetheless, the honorary title and trumped-up story attracted national headlines.
Stubbs and his people played it up, too.
Somebody set up a Twitter account — @MayorStubbs — in the name of "Mayor Stubbs, a cat." Stubbs made a run for president last year, turned 20 in April and didn't think much of dogs.
His death was marked in a tweet July 23: "20+ years. Several uncontested elections. Thousands of naps. We had a good run. #RIPStubbs"
And then this on Sunday: "Good news: I'm in Heaven. Bad news: ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN."
Good news: I’m in Heaven Bad news: ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN. #RIPStubbs — Mayor Stubbs, a cat. (@MayorStubbs) July 24, 2017
Now a new cat takes the furry mantle of in-name-only mayor: Denali, a sociable cat the Spones brought into the household last summer. He will pose with anyone, his owners say, "or just let you carry him around like a baby."
The Spones are putting together a photo and memory book about Stubbs to display at Nagley's. Photos can be emailed to info@NagleysStore.com
The family asked that people send cards or letters about Stubbs to Mayor Stubbs/Nagley's Store, P.O. Box 413, Talkeetna AK 99676.
UAA's Vanessa Aniteye has used her strong freshman season in outdoor track last spring as a springboard to summer success.
The sophomore-to-be on Sunday ran the lead-off leg for the German team that seized the silver medal in the 4×400-meter relay at the 2017 European Under-20 Track & Field Championships in Grosseto, Italy.
Aniteye, 19, clocked 54.2 seconds on her circuit to position the Germans in second place at the first half-off of the baton. They clocked 3:33:08 and were edged by Ukraine, which captured gold in 3:32.82.
Aniteye earlier this summer lowered her personal-best in the open 400 to 53.69 in the German Under-23 Championships. She owns the UAA record in the indoor 400 at 55.89 and is No. 2 all-time outdoors in 54.88, all of which gives her a strong shot at Mary Pearce's outdoor school record of 53.56 (2007).
Aniteye last spring was named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's Freshman of the Year after winning the 400 at the conference championships and also anchoring the winning 4×100-meter team and 4×400-meter runner-up. She qualified for the NCAA Division II championships in both the 400 and 4×400 relay.
When ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft debuted in Alaska last month, Lance Ahern was among the first people to get signed up to drive for the services.
Ahern, who works as a business adviser for the Alaska Small Business Development Center, said he gave about 300 rides in the first three weeks the platforms were live in the state. Working roughly 50 hours a week driving, on top of his full-time job, he said he made about $5,000.
"Suddenly there's a new set of tools and platforms out there that wasn't there before," Ahern said.
The arrival of Uber and Lyft in Alaska is perhaps the biggest development for Alaska's gig economy, which appears to be growing even though it seems to still lag behind other states.
The gig economy, sharing economy or on-demand economy can be hard to define. Generally, it involves people monetizing the assets or skills they have through peer-to-peer transactions facilitated by apps. This is somewhat distinct from contract or freelance work, though lines blur easily. Gig workers are also hard to count because they aren't clearly identified in employment and earnings surveys, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, so it's hard to know exactly how much of the economy they comprise.
Many sharing economy services that exist in big metro areas across the country — Postmates, TaskRabbit, UberEATS, WeWork — aren't available in Alaska, just as they aren't available in many smaller communities or more rural parts of the Lower 48.
Katherine Jernstrom is the CEO of the coworking space The Boardroom in downtown Anchorage. She said that Alaska's largest city is included in the growth of the gig or sharing economy that's happening nationwide. But many smaller platforms have yet to arrive.
"Uber and Lyft, because they're in markets of transportation and hospitality, everyone uses it, and you can move into a smaller market like Anchorage and still pick up a large market share," she said. "The case for smaller gig economy or sharing economy infrastructure such as TaskRabbit or UberEATS, all of this other stuff — we just don't have a big enough market here."
Alaska is no stranger to being among the last stops for many national chains when it comes to brick-and-mortar stores. It's only within the last year or two the state has seen its first Victoria's Secret, Krispy Kreme and Panda Express outlets.
But some people in Alaska are filling the gig economy gaps themselves.
"That means more local entrepreneurs do it themselves here, but it's hard to make money if you can't scale it," Jernstrom said. "So then it turns into more of a hobby project."
The Boardroom is a local version of the shared coworking spaces across the country that have been on the rise in recent years. People, usually freelancers, pay a membership fee in order to have a spot to work.
Amy Nicolaisen rents kitchen space in Anchorage's Northway Mall for her catering business, Wooden Spoons Alaska. But when her rent shot up this year from $300 to $2,000 per month, she was looking for ways to help offset it.
In April, she started to rent the area to other small-scale food entrepreneurs at a rate of $25 per hour, along with a deposit. She calls the space the East Anchorage Commercial Kitchen.
"I think of myself as a facilitator," she said, "because there aren't that many kitchens and because they're expensive. I'm a gateway to independence and starting something."
Pans and utensils hang along the walls near a massive eight-burner industrial stove. Recipes and postcards hang on one of the huge stainless-steel refrigerators. The kitchen is available at any hour of the day for people who sign up to use it.
Nicolaisen uses an app called Food Corridor, which matches businesses looking for cooking space with commercial kitchens like hers, to get the word out about the place. She said she hasn't turned a profit yet, but hopes to score an anchor tenant to help her do so.
"There have been, nationally, a lot of businesses that are trying to take this model of 'What's an asset a lot of us have that we can try to monetize?' " said Nolan Klouda, executive director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Alaska Anchorage. "I think we should expect to see people applying that type of logic to more things than just rides or lodging. It's something we should expect to see in-state as well as nationally."
It's hard to know exactly how many people, here or around the country, work in the gig economy. A Brookings Institution report from October said that this sector is "significant and growing fast."
"Overall, there has been a clear surge in nonemployer firms' — a measure of contractor and freelance individuals — business activity in the last decade," the report found, "which almost certainly reflects, at least in part, the rise of online platforms."
It's also unclear just how much the gig economy will upend the future of more traditional work. That Brookings report found that while platform-based freelance work isn't yet displacing payroll employment, "that could change."
App-based freelance gigs offer upsides such as flexibility in scheduling and low barriers to entry. You can generally work as much or as little as you want. But such jobs also often lack security and benefits, and "some experts see the rise of gig work as an increase in the precariousness of jobs and part of a larger erosion of labor power that began decades ago," a 2016 research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said.
When Uber first arrived in Alaska in 2014, it ended up in a dispute with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development over not paying workers' compensation insurance for its drivers. Both Uber and Lyft have faced scrutiny for classifying drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.
"I think the gig economy is not a new concept," said Jernstrom. "People have been doing it forever; the only thing is it's more mainstream with technology and ratings apps. And millennials have a higher culture of sharing and not buying everything, but renting it."
Klouda, at UAA, said the biggest winners in the gig economy are generally the consumers. While many people can supplement their income with jobs renting out rooms or giving rides in their free time, it's "a relatively small number that can make a living off of it."
In rural Alaska, the meaning of "sharing economy" takes on a less tech-dependent definition. In those areas, subsistence resources are highly shared, and cash isn't exchanged as much, said Alyssa Rodrigues, an economist at the state's Labor Department.
"There, economies only work because there's such high levels of sharing," she said, adding that the ability to offer up work in major cities on websites like Craigslist has been around for years.
"These things have existed. It might just might be a matter of it becoming easier and easier," she said.
Opportunities doing piecemeal work might also offer a boost in Alaska's recession. If you lose a full-time job or get your hours cut, it's easy enough to start driving for a ride-hailing company if you have your own car. When Ahern was signing up for Uber, he said, the line of people who wanted to get started driving with the platform was out the door.
"One of the things I think is interesting to me is where this particular industry is going to fit in Alaska as we go into these economic hard times," said Jon Bittner, executive director of the Alaska Small Business Development Center. "Is it something people will use to supplement income? Is it something people in rural Alaska will use to generate new income?"
Usually these gig economy companies are centered on dense urban centers. So what does that mean for a state with so many remote, tiny communities?
"That's not really what's going to happen if this gets deployed out in rural Alaska in Anaktuvuk Pass or something," Bittner said.