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Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Ex-National Security Council official testifies to Congress

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 18:06

Former White House advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill, center, leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, after testifying before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Manuel Balce Ceneta/)

WASHINGTON — Fiona Hill, a former top National Security Council expert on Russia, testified to Congress behind closed doors Monday, the latest former Trump administration official to be subpoenaed as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Hill wouldn't comment as she arrived on Capitol Hill, but the hearing stretched beyond 10 hours. Her attorney said she had received a congressional subpoena and would "comply and answer questions" from lawmakers. She resigned from the White House National Security Council over the summer.

She was the first White House official to appear as part of the House impeachment inquiry. Her appearance came despite a White House vow to halt any and all cooperation with what it termed the "illegitimate" impeachment probe. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about whether they had sought to limit Hill's testimony.

A former top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also been asked to appear for an interview this week, according to several officials familiar with the planning.

Michael McKinley, a career foreign service officer and Pompeo's de facto chief of staff, resigned Friday, ending a 37-year career, as the impeachment probe turns its focus on the State Department in the Ukraine matter.

The sources were unauthorized to discuss the planning and granted anonymity.

House Democrats asked that McKinley appear for a closed-door interview Wednesday, the day after George Kent, another State Department official, is scheduled. It is unclear if they will appear.

Republicans called on Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, to release transcripts of the depositions to the public. The California Democrat said Sunday that having witnesses appear behind closed doors would prevent them from knowing what other witnesses said.

"We want to make sure that we meet the needs of the investigation and not give the president or his legal minions the opportunity to tailor their testimony and in some cases fabricate testimony to suit their interests," Schiff said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House oversight committee, said he learned Monday morning that Schiff had subpoenaed Hill.

"She was going to come, she'd agreed to come, she was going to come voluntarily but he's going to subpoena her, I believe, so he could ask certain questions and again keep those secret except for the certain things he wants to leak," Jordan said. "The tragedy here and the crime here is that the American people don't get to see what's going on in these sessions."

The subpoena was issued because of attempts by the Trump administration to direct witnesses not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry and to limit the testimony of witnesses, an official working on the impeachment inquiry told The Associated Press. Hill complied with the subpoena and was answering questions from both Democrats and Republicans, the official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the closed-door deposition.

Later this week, U.S. ambassador Gordon Sondland, Trump's hand-picked ambassador to the European Union, is expected to appear for a deposition against the wishes of the White House, after being subpoenaed. He's expected to tell Congress that his text message reassuring another envoy that there was no quid pro quo in their interactions with Ukraine was based solely on what Trump told him, according to a person familiar with his coming testimony.

Sondland's appearance, set for Thursday, comes after a cache of text messages from top envoys provided a vivid account of their work acting as intermediaries around the time Trump urged Ukraine's new president, Volodymr Zelenskiy, to start investigations into a company linked to the family of Democratic rival Joe Biden.

One witness who may not be called before Congress is the still-anonymous government whistleblower who touched off the impeachment inquiry.

Top Democrats say testimony and evidence coming in from other witnesses, and even the Republican president himself, are backing up the whistleblower's account of what transpired during Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy. Lawmakers have grown deeply concerned about protecting the person from Trump's threats and may not wish to risk exposing the whistleblower's identity.

Schiff said Sunday that Democrats "don't need the whistleblower, who wasn't on the call, to tell us what took place on the call."

Schiff said it "may not be necessary" to reveal the whistleblower's identity as the House gathers evidence. "Our primary interest right now is making sure that that person is protected," he said.

But Trump strongly objected.

"Adam Schiff now doesn't seem to want the Whistleblower to testify. NO!" the Republican president tweeted early Monday. "We must determine the Whistleblower's identity to determine WHY this was done to the USA."

The impeachment inquiry is testing the Constitution's system of checks and balances as the House presses forward with the probe and the White House dismisses it as "illegitimate" because there has been no formal vote of the House to open impeachment proceedings.

In calling for a vote, the White House is trying to press House Democrats who may be politically reluctant to put their names formally behind impeachment.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has resisted those efforts and is unlikely to budge as Congress returns this week. Democrats say Congress is well within its power as the legislative branch to conduct oversight of the president and it is Republicans, having grown weary of Trump's actions, who may be in the greater political bind over a vote.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.


Trump calls for cease-fire in northern Syria and imposes sanctions on Turkey

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 18:01

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media before traveling to Azerbaijan, in Istanbul, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Erdogan has criticized NATO allies which are looking to broaden an arms embargo against Turkey over its push into northern Syria. (Presidential Press Service/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to implement an immediate cease-fire in northern Syria and imposed sanctions against Turkey on Monday in response to its military aggression as the situation on the ground continued to deteriorate after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.

Vice President Mike Pence announced that he and national security adviser Robert O'Brien would lead a delegation to Turkey in the "immediate future" in an effort to end the violence in the region that has increasingly become a political problem for Trump at home.

Pence said that Erdogan and Trump spoke by phone on Monday and that the U.S. president "communicated to him very clearly that the United States of America wants Turkey to stop the invasion, to implement an immediate cease-fire and to begin to negotiate with Kurdish forces in Syria to bring an end to the violence."

Trump has faced intense criticism, including from leading Republicans, for his decision to pull the troops, and he has been under pressure to get Turkey to back off its military incursion, which has targeted Kurdish fighters who have aided the U.S. fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

"For years, the United States and our Syrian Kurdish partners have fought heroically to corner ISIS and destroy its physical caliphate," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday. "Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS."

The sanctions are aimed at Turkey's ministries of defense and energy, as well as three senior Turkish officials. Among them was the interior minister, a powerful position responsible for domestic security.

Despite the sanctions move and tough rhetoric from administration officials, Trump continued to defend his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria even though he was warned in advance that it would result in the mayhem occurring now.

"After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land." Trump tweeted, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad. "I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy? Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!"

Along with the sanctions, Trump said that tariffs on steel imports from Turkey will be raised 50 percent, and that the United States has halted negotiations over a $100 billion trade deal with the country.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions are not meant to disrupt humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, but some aid groups already have started to pull their workers out of northeastern Syria.

As Syrian Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Force, or SDF, battled Turkish government troops and their allied militias at various points along the border Monday, Syrian government forces loyal to Assad began entering border cities at Kurdish invitation, under an agreement brokered by Russia. Fears rose across the region that an all-out war could start between Turkey and the Syrian troops, ultimately involving Russia and Iran, Assad's primary backers.

Pence and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin addressed reporters late in the afternoon and attempted to defend the president from criticism that he essentially gave Erdogan a green light to invade northern Syria during an Oct. 6 phone call.

The White House released a statement after the call that said Erdogan informed the president that Turkey "will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria" and that the United States did not support the move. The statement, however, made no mention of what Trump would do to oppose or stop Turkey's aggression.

"President Trump made it very clear that the United States is going to continue to take actions against Turkey's economy until they bring the violence to an end," Pence said of the two leaders' Monday phone call.

Trump was told on Monday afternoon by advisers that it would be costly not to do anything, that the absence of the United States from the region could strengthen Iran, and that the deteriorating situation could hurt him politically, according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private conversations.

It "has been a days-long effort to get him in a better place," one official said of Trump, adding that Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been key to that effort.

The sanctions are "designed to focus Turkey's attention on the gravity of the situation in northeast Syria," said a senior administration official, one of several who briefed reporters on the day's actions on the condition of anonymity imposed by the administration.

Pence and O'Brien, the official said, would "depart for Ankara as soon as possible to see if we can achieve a deal," including an immediate cease-fire and the start of negotiations.

Asked whether Trump had provoked the Turkish incursion in the first place by signaling an initial withdrawal of U.S. troops, one official responded sharply that "this was something caused by the action of President Erdogan, after repeated warnings that this was a bad idea, and that the United States in no way endorsed this activity."

The small number of U.S. troops in Syria, this official said, was not in a "position to stop an invading army." Another official noted that "rather than them being encircled, and potentially being in the crossfire . . . we had to focus on [the troops'] protection."

Trump's concern now, this official and others said, was possible harm to civilians, and the escape of Islamic State detainees being guarded by Kurds who have turned their attention to Turkey.

An official said the United States has limited information on the current status of about 10,000 detainees, approximately 2,000 of them from other countries. "We don't have a large footprint in Syria; we can't be everywhere and know everything," the official said. Indicating that most of the official's information came from open media sources, the official said "we can't provide confirmation of specifics on the number of potential detainees that may have escaped."

Asked whether, in the Monday call, Erdogan had given Trump any indication that he was prepared to acquiesce to demands for a cease-fire and negotiations, a senior official said "the president would not be willing to send a high-level delegation on short notice like this unless he was pretty confident there was at least a chance of getting a cease-fire."

Last week, when Trump offered to mediate between the Syrian Kurds and Turkey, Turkish officials firmly refused, saying the United States would not negotiate with "terrorists" and shouldn't expect Turkey to do so.

The administration has faced bipartisan pressure from Capitol Hill to impose sanctions against Turkey, and Trump's decision to pull out the troops has prompted an unusual outcry among GOP lawmakers who have otherwise hesitated to criticize the president.

In a tweet Monday, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., called Trump's approach to Syria "weakness" and added: "America is far more honorable than this."

The widespread anger on Capitol Hill has created unusual alliances. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, earlier Monday and said the two agreed to pursue a congressional resolution "to overturn the president's dangerous decision in Syria immediately."

The prime goal of the resolution, according to one aide familiar with the strategy, is to show a "strong, bipartisan consensus that the president's decision must be overturned" and force Trump to either sign it or veto the measure.

Pelosi and Graham also agreed to work on a sanctions measure, with the speaker insisting on a package that was "stronger" than what had been proposed by the White House. Arguing that Trump has "unleashed an escalation of chaos and insecurity in Syria," Pelosi said the plan unveiled by the administration late Monday "falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster."

Graham, who was at the White House on Monday, told Trump that getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on sanctions would show they are popular, which is key to getting him to sign the legislation.

Democrats continue to hammer Trump over his decision and said he is now responsible for cleaning up a mess he created.

"As Congress works to counter the president's reckless decision, the only person able to immediately stop this tragedy unfolding is the president himself," three top Senate Democrats - Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York; Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee; and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee - said in a joint statement Monday.

The pending trade agreement that Trump said would be halted Monday was one element of a package that the Untied States had offered Turkey before the incursion began. It was an attempt to prevent the offensive and repair relations between the two countries.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has estimated that total trade between the United States and Turkey was $24 billion in 2017. That figure is nowhere near the $100 billion referenced by Trump, although in June, the president said at the Group of 20 summit in Japan that the United States was looking to quadruple its trade with Turkey as he met with Erdogan.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross spent several days in Istanbul and Ankara last month in meetings with Turkish officials aimed at smoothing commercial relations between the NATO allies. He was accompanied by representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and about 15 companies, including members of the Fortune 100.

But some experts speculated that expanding trade with Turkey by that magnitude was already unrealistic, taking some teeth out of the threat to halt trade talks between the two countries.

"It is dishonest to then claim we won't do what was impossible anyway and feel that we are punishing Erdogan," said Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "That's the trade equivalent of putting Turkey on double-secret probation."

- - -

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Dan Lamothe, David Lynch, Carol Morello and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

Anchorage woman gets 60 years in boyfriend’s burning death

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 17:48

Gina Virgilio cries at the defense table Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Anchorage Superior Court, where her sentencing began after pleading guilty to killing her boyfriend, Michael Gonzalez in 2012 by dousing the couch he was sleeping on with gasoline and setting it on fire. Friday's proceedings included family impact statements, and will continue on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen) (Mark Thiessen/)

A woman who poured gasoline on the couch where her sleeping boyfriend lay and then shut the door after seeing him jump up and yell "hot, hot" will spend 60 years in prison for first-degree murder.

Saying it represents as horrific an offense as he's ever dealt with, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton on Monday sentenced Gina Virgilio to 99 years with 39 years suspended. She also was sentenced to 10 years of probation after her release for the 2012 death of Michael Gonzalez.

Virgilio, 32, sat with her face buried in her hands as Wolverton announced the sentence. He said she was not a monster and has shown remorse but did a "horrific, horrific, thing."

Before sentencing Virgilio indicated to the judge that mental illness drove her to this act.

"I hate me for what I did. I can never bring him back," she said.

There was no motive for the murder, which she called frustrating.

"You can't make sense out of a mind that makes no sense," Virgilio said. "Everything that ever happened with my son, with Michael, it was from my mind. When you believe something, you act on those things."

She said once she has come back to normal, her life picked up right where it was before she got into drugs. She's active with a faith-based therapeutic program at the women's prison, and she is setting records in the running program.

Gonzalez family members gave heart-wrenching victim impact statements to the court on Oct. 4. The rest of the sentencing phase was continued to Monday.

Outside the courtroom, the victim's youngest brother was relieved with the sentence and happy to have the seven-year ordeal over.

"I believe as long as she gets out at a late enough age to where she's not a danger to me, my family or society, I'm OK with it," Austine Gonzalez said.

Virgilio entered a plea deal earlier this year, and the state agreed to a sentence of 30 to 70 years. But during sentencing Monday, the state pushed for 70 years, noting circumstances of the crime warranted the higher end.

"I think the court considered and made an appropriate sentence," Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Patrick McKay said. Virgilio's public defender, Craig Howard, declined comment.

Virgilio's supporters spoke on her behalf Monday, including a brother and three representatives of organizations that help at the prison.

Her brother, Reginald Carney, said he was closest to Gina among the family's six siblings.

He said she began to change after she began experimenting with drugs, at about age 20, everything from Oxcyotin and marijuana to cocaine.

She later graduated to intravenous meth use. In January 2012, she disappeared for about two weeks, attending a meth-fueled party somewhere between Talkeetna and Willow that began a six-month decline into drug psychosis that ended with Gonzalez's murder.

"Her brain was fried from the meth," Howard said.

She lost weight, kept distance from loved ones and once tried to kill her child. She also became obsessed with fire, Howard said.

The state eventually took the child from her, shortly before she set the apartment on fire. Before the fire, her brother took her to the emergency room, fearful she would harm herself.

She was released after about three hours with the prognosis of drug-induced psychosis, which would pass.

After the fire, she tested negative for drugs and alcohol.

On the night of June 7, 2012, Virgilio and Gonzalez held a party for Gonzalez's 24th birthday. While he passed out or fell asleep on the couch early the next morning after drinking beer, she found a gas can and walked a quarter mile to the nearest gas station. When she got there, she only had 53 cents in her pocket, so the clerk gave her $5 for gas.

Virgilio then walked back to the apartment, stared at her boyfriend for a while and doused the couch, the carpet in front of it and the area in front of the apartment's only doorway with gasoline.

She lit mail on fire and tossed it inside. When she saw Gonzalez get up and yell “hot, hot” she shut the door and fled. He died from smoke inhalation and severe burns.

Photos: Best of October 2019

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 17:32

The best photos of life in Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska from Anchorage Daily News photojournalists and contributing photographers.

Texas officer charged with murder, resigns after shooting

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 17:11

FORT WORTH, Texas — A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.


This undated photo provided by the Tarrant County Jail shows Aaron Dean. The Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force. (Tarrant County Jail via AP)

Aaron Dean, 34, was booked into jail on a murder charge Monday afternoon. The police chief said earlier in the day that he acted without justification and would have been fired if he didn't quit.

Police bodycam video showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was caring for her 8-year-old nephew early Saturday. He then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.

Dean was not heard identifying himself as police on the video, and Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was no sign Dean or the other officer who responded even knocked on the front door.

"Nobody looked at this video and said that there's any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately," Kraus said.

Earlier in the day, Jefferson's family had demanded that Dean, a member of the force for 1½ years, be fired and arrested.

"Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community," family attorney Lee Merritt said, hours before Dean was booked into jail.

Police went to Jefferson's home about 2:25 a.m. after a neighbor called a non-emergency line to report a door ajar. In a statement over the weekend, the department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after "perceiving a threat."

The video showed Dean shouting, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" and immediately firing.

Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family's attorney.

As for what, exactly, led Dean to open fire, the police chief said: "I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life." The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.

The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn't be considered unusual in Texas.

"We're homeowners in Texas," the police chief said. "Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn't be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting." Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was "a bad thing to do."

Mayor Betsy Price called the gun "irrelevant."

"Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew. She was a victim," Price said.

Texas has had a "castle doctrine" law on the books since 2007 that gives people a stronger legal defense to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to "stand your ground" measures across the U.S. that say a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.

Fort Worth is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.

In that case, white Dallas officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her black neighbor Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.

A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson's home Sunday night for a vigil after demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-story, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.


Protesters gather outside the house, right, where Atatiana Jefferson was shot Saturday and killed by police, during a community vigil for Jefferson on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Fort Worth, Texas. A white police officer who killed the black woman inside her Texas home while responding to a neighbor's call about an open front door "didn't have time to perceive a threat" before he opened fire, an attorney for Jefferson's family said. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP) (Smiley N. Pool/)

The police chief said Dean could face state charges and that he had submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.

Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state's largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.

Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings. In June, the department released footage of officers killing a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.

Of the nine officer-involved shootings so far this year in Fort Worth, five targeted African Americans and six resulted in death, according to department data.

Nearly two-thirds of the department's 1,100 officers are white, just over 20% are Hispanic, and about 10% are black. The city of nearly 900,000 people is about 40% white, 35% Hispanic and 19% black.

Calling the shooting "a pivotal moment in our city," the mayor said she was ordering a top-to-bottom review of the police force and vowed to "rebuild a sense of trust within the city and with our police department."

Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor's degree in biology. She was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going to medical school, according to the family's lawyer.

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Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Houston and Adam Kealoha Causey in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.



The oil tax initiative: Fair for whom?

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 17:11

The 800-mile Trans-Alaska pipeline snakes its way across the tundra north of Fairbanks. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File) (AL GRILLO/)

Alaska’s constitution provides for “utilization, development, and conservation of … resources … for the maximum benefit of the people.” What is maximum benefit? Cash to the state? Short-term cash? Long-term? Jobs? Income? Environmental quality? Who knows?

Then there is the idea of the state getting its “fair share.” What is fair? For eons, philosophers, theologians, lawyers, economist and countless others have pondered this. There is currently a ballot initiative to raise oil taxes called “The Fair Share Act.”

Most economists would say fairness entails taxes being competitive; taxpayers should pay a similar amount to what they pay in other similar places. Otherwise investment will go elsewhere and production suffers. As measured by percentage of net pre-tax profits going to the state and federal government, the current system is competitive. (Including the “credits,” which do not really function as credits, but rather provide progressivity to the system.)

Presently, the state alone is getting 45% of the net profits at current prices. It would get 64% under the initiative. (These calculations are mine, based on public data.)

On their website, the initiative sponsors call for gross revenues (market price less transportation cost) to be split one-third each to the state, the federal government and the taxpayers. Ascribing and measuring shares of gross revenues going to the three entities makes no sense. Currently, gross revenues are about $50 per barrel. Half of this are upstream development costs; this share of gross revenues go to no one, but is incurred by taxpayers. Per the sponsors’ approach, if you spend $25 to develop oil and sell it for $50, you’ve made $50.

In an Aug. 2018 op-ed, the initiative sponsor lamented that between 2009–2015, taxes had declined from $12 per barrel to $2 per barrel even though oil prices had stayed similar. What was not mentioned was that between those years, upstream costs had increased from $17 per barrel to $40 per barrel. So even with the lower taxes, taxpayers’ after-tax profits were $10 per barrel less.

Most moralists would agree that for something to be fair it needs to be fair to both sides. Generally in the world there is a basic risk/reward symmetry between how taxpayers and governments share downside price risk and upside potential. Either the taxpayers assume downside risk and realize upside potential, or the government does.

The initiative raises taxes at low prices, high prices, and in-between. At prices under $45 per barrel the taxpayers would lose money while the state makes several dollars per barrel. At high prices, the marginal tax rate would be 70%. The taxpayer assumes the downside risk and the state gets the upside potential. It is a classic “heads I win, tails you lose” scheme.

As easy as it is to be cynical about laws that are the outcome of the legislative process, they could be much worse. At least that process provides many checks and balances to the initial subjectivity of a single legislator that may be embedded in early drafts.

For a bill to become a law it will be reviewed by a number of legislators in the initial committee, be analyzed by experts, receive public input, go on to other committees, the body as a whole (House or Senate), and go through the same process in the other body. Along the way, there are exchanges of ideas and the proposition is modified.

In the end, it will be subject to a multiplicity of perspectives and information. The initial favoritism gets tempered. This ultimately results in decisions that are better than could have been made by any single member.

That is the problem with ballot initiatives. They are statutes drafted by a small number of like-minded sponsors. If passed, the Legislature cannot touch them for two years. It’s “take-it-or-leave-it” lawmaking without the balanced review good legislation needs.

The initiative sponsors have not stated what is fair, how they justify it, how they measure it or how the initiative attains fairness. They better have some basis, because economically it is a mess.

Roger Marks is an economist in private practice in Anchorage. He formerly served as a petroleum economist with the Tax Division in the Alaska Department of Revenue.

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

Syrian troops enter towns in northeast as Turkey warns of wider offensive

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 17:10

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, people welcome Syrian troops as they enter the town of Ein Issa, north of Raqqa, Syria, Monday, Oct 14, 2019. Syrian troops moved east from Aleppo province to Raqqa where state media said they had reached Ein Issa. Heavy fighting the previous day there reached a Kurdish-run displaced-person camp that is home to some 12,000 people, including around 1,000 wives and widows of IS fighters and their children. Hundreds are believed to escaped amid the chaos. (SANA via AP)

ISTANBUL - Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deployed Monday to several key towns across northeastern Syria after a dramatic 11th-hour deal with local Kurdish fighters to ward off a Turkish assault, an advance that promised to alter, yet again, the ever-shifting alliances of the years-long civil war.

For the first time in years, Syrian government forces arrived in the towns of Tabqa, on the outskirts of Raqqa, and Ain Issa, which served as the headquarters of the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in northeast Syria, about 20 miles from the Turkish border. Images published by the official Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, showed government troops arriving atop pickup trucks and waving Syrian flags.

The swift Syrian advance was set in motion by President Trump's sudden decision in recent days to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, leaving the Kurdish forces long allied with the United States vulnerable to attack from the Turkish military.

The return of Assad's forces in the northeast came as part of a surprise agreement with Syrian Kurdish authorities seeking to prevent Turkey and its rebel proxies from seizing swaths of territory amid a Turkish-backed offensive. It also represented a stunning reversal for the Kurdish-led administration and allied Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, which had partnered with the United States to battle the Islamic State militant group in the area.

The deal was made to allow Syrian government forces to take over security in some border areas, according to Syrian Kurdish officials, who said their administration would maintain control of local institutions.

Syria’s government, however, sees the agreement as effectively killing Kurdish ambitions to establish a de facto state in the country’s northeast, said Kamal Jafa, a pro-government military analyst in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. Syria’s government “managed to find a way to re-establish control over one-third of Syria without firing a bullet,” he said. “The key thing is the Syrian army’s intervention has ended the prospect of a de-facto Kurdish state.”

But even as the two sides tussled over the specifics, Turkish-backed forces operating under the Syrian National Army, an umbrella group of rebel factions, announced the start of an operation to retake the northern city of Manbij from the SDF.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hinted at an imminent offensive Monday, saying that Turkey was "in the process of implementing our decision on the subject of Manbij."

Turkey had long demanded that the United States expel the SDF from Manbij and complained that a deal struck with Washington to remove the fighters was not being implemented.

Turkey and the United States agreed in December on a plan for the Kurdish-led SDF to withdraw from Manbij, about 25 miles west of the Euphrates River, where a road map envisioned joint U.S.-Turkish patrols in the city. Turkish officials view the Kurdish fighters in Syria as terrorists for their links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long war for autonomy inside Turkey.

A U.S. official with knowledge of operations in Syria said Monday that American troops remained in Manbij.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said he did not anticipate significant changes for the U.S. military in Syria on Monday but added that preparations were "underway" to consolidate forces and depart from the country.

"The Turks going in is not good for Manbij," he said.

Earlier Monday, the official said, U.S. troops communicated with forces loyal to Assad as they advanced toward Manbij. He said the convoy may have included Russian troops or mercenaries, both of which have backed Assad's forces in their battle against Syria's rebels.

“They turned them around when we told them we were still in the area,” the U.S. official said of Syrian government troops.

A second U.S. official with knowledge of military operations in Syria said it was likely that Russia, a key ally of Syria's government, would move into Manbij after U.S. troops leave.

The official denied U.S. forces were planning a handover to the Russians, however, instead saying that the two sides were "de-conflicting" in the city. The term has been used by the Pentagon to define communication between U.S. and Russian forces that are restricted to the communication of positions and plans to improve safety and prevent accidents that would heighten tensions.

The in northeast Syria has become highly unpredictable since Turkey began its offensive last week, hitting towns and cities with artillery and airstrikes while ground troops advanced and captured territory.

As the campaign escalated, aid agencies pulled out of the area, saying they were scaling down or suspending humanitarian operations due to the fighting.

"This is our nightmare scenario. There are tens of thousands of people on the run and we have no way of getting to them," said Made Ferguson, deputy country director for Syria at Mercy Corps, a U.S.-based aid agency.

Mercy Corps said in a statement Monday that it was suspending all operations in northeastern Syria and evacuating international staff.

"The humanitarian crisis is worsening by the day, and now aid workers are cut off from providing lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable," Ferguson said, citing heavy shelling and road closures.

The United Nations has said that as many as 160,000 people, including 70,000 children, have been displaced since the fighting in northeast Syria escalated nearly a week ago. Schools have been converted to shelters for those displaced, according to the World Food Program. In Hasakah province, a water station supplying 400,000 people was knocked out of service as a result of the hostilities.

Of particular concern to the U.N. and other agencies were the thousands of people housed in detention camps across the northeast, including family members of Islamic State militants.

On Sunday, hundreds of relatives of Islamic State fighters escaped a detention camp in Ain Issa after Turkish shellfire hit the area. The U.N. Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs said it had "grave concerns" for the population of the camp, which hosts about 13,000 civilians.

SDF forces guarding al-Hol, a sprawling camp holding some 70,000 people disgorged from the Islamic State's final scrap of territory, have also pulled back as fighters are diverted to the front lines with Turkey.

"It's quiet in the camp for now, but we're all scared of the uncertainty," said a medic, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to the media. "We thought that America would protect us here. Why are they walking away?"

- - -

Dadouch and Khattab reported from Beirut. Lamothe reported from Washington, The Washington Post’s Kareem Fahim in Istanbul and Louisa Loveluck in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.

Annual race to benefit local 13-year-old cancer patient

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 16:14

Jack Nelson, left, poses for a photo while visiting his younger brother, Nic, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where Nic is undergoing treatment for cancer. (Jane Nelson photo)

Nic Nelson can’t do much running right now, so a couple hundred of his closest friends are going to run for him.

Nelson is an Anchorage 13-year-old currently undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Before he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma this spring, Nelson’s main concern was training for triathlons.

“That’s actually how this all started...” recalled his mom, Jane.

Nic had been complaining of hip pain, so he began seeing a physical therapist. But after competing in the Salmon Run 10-kilometer race in May, the pain continued to get worse, so the therapist recommended seeing a doctor.

“It just wasn’t getting better,” Jane Nelson recalled.

At 11 a.m. on the final Monday of his sixth grade school year, Nic went to see a doctor. The doctor ordered an MRI, and at 1 p.m. Jane’s phone rang. The mother of two boys knew bad news travels fast.

“As soon as I saw that number I knew something was wrong,” she said.

Nic had a tennis ball-sized tumor in his pelvis that couldn’t be operated on. Doctors said he had to fly Outside for treatment. By that weekend, the family was in Maryland, where Nic spent his summer vacation fighting for his life.

It hasn’t been easy. Jane said her son has been forced to endure alternating rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

“We’re the first ones in and the last to leave,” she said.

The treatment is grueling, and even on “off” weeks Nic has a couple appointments a week for check-ups. To keep his spirits up, Nic passes the time visiting his cousins (Jane is originally from the Baltimore area), going to escape rooms or taking in football games. But the biggest boost came recently when he got a visit from his buddy, Reece.

“That was a huge morale booster,” she said. “He started eating a lot more and he started asking, ‘When can I go home?’”

Knowing people back home are pulling for him means a lot to her son, Jane said, so she was thrilled when she was approached by Dana Johnson, coordinator of the annual Maddy’s Run in Eagle River. Johnson said she heard about Nic’s story through mutual friends in the youth sports community and immediately thought the event -- an annual fundraising 5K run for children with cancer -- would be an ideal way to help the Nelson family.

“It seemed like a perfect fit,” Johnson said.


Nic Nelson is an Anchorage 13-year-old currently undergoing treatment for cancer in Maryland. His family has been chosen as the recipients for this year's Maddy's Run, an annual fundraising race in Eagle River to benefit children battling cancer. (Jane Nelson photo)

Maddy’s Run started in 2015 to benefit Homestead Elementary student Maddy “Strong” Brandl. Brandl lived long enough to run in the inaugural event before succumbing to her disease at age 11. But the event has lived on in her memory, and last year it raised more than $13,000 for the families of two children battling childhood cancer.

This year’s race will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday on the trails at Eagle River High School. In addition to the timed 5K race there are also 0.7K and 2.5K fun run options, as well as a “virtual race” where supporters can participate from anywhere in the world. This cost is $25 per runner for the 5K, $20 for the virtual race, $15 for the 2.5K and $10 for the 0.7K.

There will also be a “Fill the Keg” event at Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River starting at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Nic has picked up on the “Strong” nickname, with friends and family now proudly displaying #NicStrong bracelets and T-shirts wherever they go. There’s even a Facebook page. His mom said the support her son has received from the Anchorage area community has been overwhelming.

“It just shows how much love and how much good there is in the world,” she said.

Johnson said it’s gratifying to see Maddy’s legacy live on in both the children the race supports and the runners who continue to show up each year to support the Eagle River girl’s memory.

“I was just saying how amazing it is to see those same names show up every year,” she said. “They have that tie to Maddy, and that’s what keeps a lot of people coming back year after year.”

Nelson said she’s thankful for the financial support the race will provide her family. Although they have medical insurance and family to help out, she said there are so many little things that aren’t covered -- everything from parking fees to plane flights between Alaska and Maryland for her husband and older son.

“It’s just those little things,” she said.

Ironically, it’s also the little things that make the biggest difference when it comes to her son’s recovery. Simply getting a card from back home or hearing people are pulling for him means to world to Nic, she said.

“I really feel so much love and support and I know he does too.”

To learn more about the race or to sign up for this year’s Maddy’s Run, visit maddysrunak.com.

River otters attack, injure family dog in Anchorage park

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 14:52

River otter (iStock / Getty Images) (Jupiterimages/)

A man rescued his family’s dog from an attack by river otters in a small lake at an Anchorage park, he said.

Kenny Brewer waded waist-deep into Taku Lake and suffered a bite on his hand while pulling the dog away from the river otters that converged on the pet, Alaska Public Media reported.

The 27-year-old Anchorage dietitian and his wife, Kira, were walking the husky-mix named Ruby, which was bitten by a group of otters that dragged the dog underwater.

A veterinarian performed a "mini-surgery" to clean the dog's cuts, slice away damaged tissue and stitch a drain tube into its leg, Brewer said.

The couple walked the dog through the park south of midtown Anchorage and saw the otters swimming and climbing on a log.

"They would slither off of it into the water, and they just looked very playful and non-imposing," Brewer said.

After throwing a tennis ball into the water for the dog, the couple saw "water splashing, and thrashing."

"First it was just the one otter on her, and then it seemed like three more," Brewer said. "They started dragging her down, basically. You could tell she was getting bit, she was howling, she was kind of fighting back, but she was getting dragged under for two or three seconds at a time."

Beavers have attacked dogs at Anchorage's University Lake, but wildlife biologists said they were not aware of attacks by river otters.

The otters probably perceived the dog as a threat, biologist Dave Battle said.

“They’re cute, and they’re doing all their activities. They’re very interesting to watch,” Battle said. “But they’re still a wild animal, and they can be dangerous. So just give them their space.”

Trump orders Turkey sanctions; US scrambles for Syria exit

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 13:56

A Turkish forces tank is driven to its new position after was transported by trucks, on a road towards the border with Syria in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Syrian troops entered several northern towns and villages Monday, getting close to the Turkish border as Turkey's army and opposition forces backed by Ankara marched south in the same direction, raising concerns of a clash between the two sides as Turkey's invasion of northern Syria entered its sixth day. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel) (Emrah Gurel/)

WASHINGTON — Targeting Turkey’s economy, President Donald Trump announced sanctions Monday aimed at restraining the Turks’ assault against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria -- an assault Turkey began after Trump announced he was moving U.S. troops out of the way.

Meanwhile, the Americans were scrambling for Syria's exits, a move criticized at home and abroad as opening the door to a resurgence of the Islamic State group whose violent takeover of Syrian and Iraq lands five years ago was the reason American forces came in the first place.

Trump said the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops who had been partnering with local Kurdish fighters to battle IS in northern Syria are leaving the country. They will remain in the Middle East, he said, to "monitor the situation" and to prevent a revival of IS -- a goal that even Trump's allies say has become much harder as a result of the U.S. pullout.

The Turks began attacks in Syria last week against the Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom the Turks see as terrorists. On Monday, Syrian government troops moved north toward the border region, setting up a potential clash with Turkish-led forces.

Trump said Turkey's invasion is "precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes," a reference to reports of Turkish-backed fighters executing Kurdish fighters on the battlefield.

The Kurdish forces previously allied with the U.S. said they had reached a deal with President Bashar Assad's government to help them fend off Turkey's invasion, a move that brings Russian forces deeper into the conflict.

In his sanctions announcement, Trump said he was halting trade negotiations with Turkey and raising steel tariffs. He said he would soon sign an order permitting sanctions to be imposed on current and former Turkish officials.

"I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey's economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path," Trump said.

American troops consolidated their positions in northern Syria on Monday and prepared to evacuate equipment in advance of a full withdrawal , a U.S. defense official said.

The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said U.S. officials were weighing options for a potential future counter-IS campaign, including the possibility of waging it with a combination of air power and special operations forces based outside of Syria, perhaps in Iraq.

The hurried preparations for a U.S. exit were triggered by Trump's decision Saturday to expand a limited troop pullout into a complete withdrawal.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday he would travel to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week to urge European allies to impose "diplomatic and economic measures" against Turkey -- a fellow NATO ally -- for what Esper called Ankara's "egregious" actions.

Esper said Turkey's incursion had created unacceptable risk to U.S. forces in northern Syria and "we also are at risk of being engulfed in a broader conflict."

The only exception to the U.S. withdrawal from Syria is a group of perhaps 200 troops who will remain at a base called Tanf in southern Syria near the Jordanian border along the strategically important Baghdad-to-Damascus highway. Those troops work with Syrian opposition forces unrelated to the Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

Esper said the U.S. withdrawal would be done carefully to protect the troops and to ensure that no U.S. equipment was left behind. He declined to say how long that might take.

In a series of tweets Monday, Trump defended his gamble that pulling U.S. forces out of Syria would not weaken U.S. security and credibility. He took sarcastic swipes at critics who say his Syria withdrawal amounts to a betrayal of the Kurds and plays into the hands of Russia.

"Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte," he wrote. "I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!"

Trump has dug in on his decision to pull out the troops, believing it fulfills a key campaign promise and will be a winning issue in the 2020 election, according to White House officials.

This has effectively ended a five-year effort to partner with Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters to ensure a lasting defeat of the Islamic State group. Hundreds of IS supporters escaped a holding camp amid clashes between invading Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters, and analysts said an IS resurgence seemed more likely, just months after Trump declared the extremists defeated.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, normally a staunch Trump supporter, said he was "gravely concerned" by events in Syria and Trump's response so far.

Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria "would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS," he said in a statement. "And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States' strategic interests."

However, Trump got quick support from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who had lambasted his withdrawal decision last week as "shortsighted," ''irresponsible" and "unnerving to its core." On Monday, echoing Trump, Graham said on Fox News Channel that the current situation was Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan's fault and Turkey would face "crippling sanctions" from the U.S. on its economy.

The Kurds have turned to the Syrian government and Russia for military assistance, further complicating the battlefield.

The prospect of enhancing the Syrian government's position on the battlefield and inviting Russia to get more directly involved is seen by Trump's critics as a major mistake. But he tweeted that it shouldn't matter.

"Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other," he wrote. "Let them!"

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump is weakening America. 'To be clear, this administration’s chaotic and haphazard approach to policy by tweet is endangering the lives of U.S. troops and civilians," Menendez said in a statement.

Some states honoring indigenous people instead of Columbus

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 13:14

In this April 27, 2019 file photo, dancers enter at the Gathering of Nations, one of the world's largest gatherings of indigenous people in Albuquerque, N.M. A handful of states, including New Mexico and Maine, are celebrating their first Indigenous Peoples' Day as part of a trend to move away from a day honoring Christopher Columbus. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File) (Russell Contreras/)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A handful of states are celebrating their first Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday as part of a trend to move away from a day honoring Christopher Columbus.

New Mexico, Vermont and Maine are among the latest to pass measures doing away with Columbus Day celebrations in deference to Native Americans. The federal Columbus Day holiday remains in place.

In all, around 10 states observe some version of Indigenous Peoples Day in October, along with more than 100 U.S. cities. Washington, D.C., is celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day this year under a temporary measure.

Since 1992, Native American advocates have pressed states to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day over concerns that Columbus helped launched centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.

New Mexico is marking its statewide Indigenous Peoples Day with an invocation by several tribal leaders in unison in their native languages. There also will be a parade and traditional dances at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.


In this Feb. 1, 2019 file photo, Calela Lamy of Zuni Pueblo performs the pottery dance at the New Mexico Statehouse in Santa Fe, N.M. before the state adopted it's first Indigenous Peoples' Day. A handful of states, including New Mexico and Maine, are celebrating their first Indigenous Peoples' Day as part of a trend to move away from a day honoring Christopher Columbus. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File) (Morgan Lee/)

"I think it's great and it's about time," said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres, a member of Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico.

State offices in Maine also are scheduled to close for the holiday. Maine, home to four federally recognized tribes, ditched Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day with an April bill signing by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

She said at the time she hoped the change would represent a move "toward healing, toward inclusiveness." Tribes in Maine have had a rocky relationship with the state government over the years, and the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes withdrew representatives to the Legislature in 2015, when Republican Gov. Paul LePage was in office.

The change to Indigenous Peoples Day prompted some backlash in conservative circles and among Italian Americans. University of Maine College Republicans, for example, have described the move as part of a "radical left-wing agenda."


FILE - In this April 26, 2019, file photo, Maine Gov. Janet Mills signs a bill to establish Indigenous Peoples' Day at the State House in Augusta, Maine. A handful of states, including New Mexico and Maine, are celebrating their first Indigenous Peoples' Day as part of a trend to move away from a day honoring Christopher Columbus. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) (Robert F. Bukaty/)

But Native Americans in some states have welcomed the change and said it was time to pay homage to Native Americans instead of Columbus.

Democratic New Mexico state Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo, the sponsor of the New Mexico legislation that changed the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day, said the day allows reflection on the United States' complicated history. Adopting the holiday, he said, provides some restorative justice for indigenous communities.

___

Associated Press reporter Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.


The deficit has gotten worse. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 12:33

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon/)

The GOP’s fiscal hawks have finally flown the coop.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released its latest estimate for the federal budget deficit for the fiscal year that just ended. Lo and behold, the deficit likely reached nearly $1 trillion — $984 billion, to be precise. Final numbers are due from the Treasury Department any day now.

To put this in context: This was the largest annual deficit in both raw dollar terms and as a share of the economy since 2012, when we were still recovering from the aftermath of the financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession. It was also a huge jump from where it was when President Trump first took office; the deficit is up by 26% since fiscal 2018 and a whopping 48% since 2017.

This is, needless to say, not what either Trump or others in his party told us to expect under Republican leadership. For years, the GOP cast itself as the party of fiscal responsibility, fighting tooth and nail against virtually any Obama-era expense even when the struggling economy desperately needed more fiscal stimulus.

When he ran for president in 2016, Trump promised to not only shrink deficits but to actually eliminate the entire federal debt -- that is, to pay down all the accumulated deficits we've had over the years, which now add up to about $23 trillion.

The King of Debt's promise to wipe out government debt was always nonsense. But reducing deficits? That seemed at least theoretically possible.

We're more than a decade into an economic expansion, after all. For most of the postwar period, when unemployment was low, budget deficits fell or even flipped into surpluses.

That's because a strong economy usually means much stronger tax revenue: People and companies earn more money and so remit more taxes. A strong economy also typically means less need for safety-net services such as food stamps or unemployment benefits, and therefore less overall government spending.

In the past few years, though, the health of the economy and the health of the budget have decoupled. In fact, fiscal 2019 was the fourth consecutive year in which the deficit increased as a percentage of the economy, despite falling unemployment.

So what went wrong?

To be fair, the country is aging. That means more Americans enrolling in Social Security and Medicare, which of course swells spending.

But even aside from this demographic change, our political leaders, corralled by Trump, have made things appreciably worse through their policy choices.

A political leader who's serious about curbing budget deficits would propose actual fixes -- including unpopular or painful ones, such as spending cuts or tax hikes. Instead, Trump decided to go on a tax-cut-and-spending-hike spree. He wished away the predictable deficit consequences with promises of turbocharged growth. While independent forecasters projected long-term economic growth around 2%, Trump instead pledged rates around 5%.

As I've explained before, a good rule of thumb is that the more growth a politician promises, the worse his economic plan likely is; it suggests he needed to make extra-rosy assumptions to get his math to work out. And that has clearly been the case with Trump.

Even Trump's own economic advisers, such as Stephen Moore, now admit 5% economic growth was never remotely feasible. Trumpkins eventually scaled back their growth promises to a "mere" 4%, but those haven't materialized, either.

We had a brief sugar high in growth last year, and now we're reverting to annual rates in the mid-2% range. Which, to be clear, is still respectable. Because Republicans slashed tax rates, though, Treasury coffers haven't benefited much from the continued expansion.

Even rising tariff revenue -- which, despite Trump's claims to the contrary, are taxes paid by Americans -- won't make up the difference. In other words: No, tax cuts aren't paying for themselves. The CBO estimated that the GOP tax cut would actually leave deficits over the next decade nearly $2 trillion larger than they would have otherwise been had the tax system stayed the same.

Meanwhile, federal spending has grown. A lot. And not just on the growing legions of elderly Americans; defense and other areas of discretionary spending have also shot up under Trump's presidency. So have interest payments on the debt, even as interest rates have fallen.

There’s nary a peep about any of these trends from politicians of either party. And don’t expect one anytime soon -- at least not until there’s a Democrat back in the White House, when we can expect all those Republican fiscal hawks to abruptly fly back home.

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

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