Opinion

OPINION: Missing the real story

Too bad for Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is already receiving an Emmy for Best Impersonation of Effective Leadership in a Pandemic. The selected-not-elected mayor of Alaska’s largest city gave a masterful performance on Nov. 25 as she choked back crocodile tears while announcing she was ordering bars and restaurants to close for the third time this year and the second time the municipality has done so without a plan for how to provide economic relief to hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees despite its allocation of more than $156 million in federal CARES Act funds. A former member of the Assembly since elevated to her position after former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was forced to quit in October, Quinn-Davidson is directly responsible for the egregious misuse of economic relief funds that have been diverted into city payroll to the tune of $49 million, Parks and Rec union beak wetting with $4.5 million for bike trails, and $2 million for Visit Anchorage while people who actually live in Anchorage, let alone those who don’t, are being prohibited from visiting Anchorage. Throw in the $5 million for the Girdwood health clinic that is a perfect candidate for a bond issue instead of an opportunistic cash grab from the federal honey hole and the Assembly has squandered more than $60 million, or nearly 40 percent, of its CARES Act money while Quinn-Davidson auditions for a Spanish-language soap opera and demands Congress drop more cash on politicians who have proven to be completely incompetent stewards of putting it to the intended use. As she lived up to the “acting” half of her title, Quinn-Davidson didn’t get any questions about why Anchorage has wasted so much economic relief money even as she claimed the municipality has “only” $15 million left. Nor was she asked why she hadn’t already urged her former colleagues to appropriate the money into exhausted business and individual programs before she unilaterally decided to put thousands of people out of work. A question about the $49 million in payroll spending to the mayor’s spokesperson wasn’t answered and the same inquiry to Assembly Chair Felix Rivera and Vice Chair John Weddleton was similarly ignored. Rather than chasing down the real story of the gross mismanagement bordering on embezzlement of federal money by Anchorage leadership, social and legacy media were tossed into a tizzy by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s community outreach liaison Dave Stieren encouraging people to support their favorite local bars on the last day they could operate until 2021. In full disclosure, Stieren is a good friend of mine. We’ve attended concerts and smoked the occasional cigar together, I’ve had dinner at his home co-hosted by his lovely wife and I had a Friday segment for a few years on his radio show during which we would have a whisky and shoot the bull over current events. That said, however, this is not about defending Stieren, who aborted his plans to support his neighborhood bar on Hunker Down Eve and at least temporarily deactivated his Facebook page as the social media mob descended and some members of the traditional press attempted to drive a wedge between him and his boss. The issue isn’t what Stieren wrote or even if it is newsworthy. The issues at hand are the misplaced priorities of both the Anchorage leadership that has put its budget ahead of household budgets and the media that has almost uniformly made accountability a standard that only applies to the wrong-thinkers like Stieren or others who have protested the onerous, arbitrary and destructive mandates of the current and former mayor and their enablers on the Assembly. Every day that goes by without elected officials in Anchorage being forced to answer for their malfeasance is an outrage as businesses close, temporarily or permanently, and their employees have to worry not just about whether they can even buy Christmas presents for their families but whether they’ll be able to pay the bills and rent come January. Meanwhile our comfortable leaders in Anchorage worry not over their paychecks, their homes or their next meal. They are not even made to answer uncomfortable questions. Uncomfortable questions are only for the governor’s office over a social media post touting the legal and morally defensible activity that is supporting local businesses. Accountability applies to everyone, especially when tens of millions of dollars are being blatantly frittered away and people’s very livelihoods are in jeopardy as a result. Anything less and the Alaska Press Club might as well start handing out its own acting awards. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Some news to be thankful for

After what has felt more like a terrifying plunge with no ups and all downs, this year has been more like a bungee jump than a roller coaster. But two recent developments have snapped us back from impact in the nick of time and given reason for thanks as we approach the holiday season. For one, as President Donald Trump repeatedly promised in the face of nearly unanimous ridicule and skepticism before the election, a COVID-19 vaccine was indeed just weeks away and is set to be deployed before the end of the year including here in Alaska. Encouraging clinical test results and a ready deployment plan are tremendous accomplishments by the public-private partnership under Operation Warp Speed that have buoyed investors and, critically for Alaska, oil prices. The price per barrel has increased by about $4 since Pfizer announced a preliminary 90 percent effective rate for its phase three clinical trial, and year-to-date North Slope crude is about $5 better than the budget forecast. This is not nearly enough to erase the projected budget deficit but is better than a kick in the shins and a long way from the prices that bizarrely and briefly went negative back in April. The Dow Jones average also crossed the 30,000-point mark on Nov. 24, which is good news for the Permanent Fund that is now the largest source of income for Alaska and as of Nov. 20 stood at nearly $70 billion in value. The record total for the Dow and the Permanent Fund came after ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack announced at the Nov. 18 Resource Development Council for Alaska conference that the company is resuming drilling on the North Slope after suspending most non-production activity and briefly curtailing output by some 100,000 barrels per day this past spring. This is outstanding news for jobs — the sector has lost some 3,000 since the COVID-19 induced price crash — and future throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. With approval for its massive Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in hand (followed like clockwork by eco-extremists filing a lawsuit against it), ConocoPhillips is getting back to work and will finally get to deploy the biggest horizontal drilling rig in North America dubbed “The Beast.” Prices weren’t the only factor in the decision to restart its North Slope programs, of course. Crucial was the overwhelming defeat of the deceptively-titled “Fair Share Act” on Nov. 3 by Alaska voters who refused to follow millionaire lawyer and initiative funder Robin Brena off the economic cliff. The dark winter still lies ahead, but progress toward a vaccine and more production on the North Slope has relegated that fact to a mere function of the calendar and no longer a metaphor for where Alaska is going. For that we have reason for thanks. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Biden manufacturing plan requires major increase in U.S. mining

As a contentious presidential campaign fades, the incoming Biden administration will face serious economic challenges. Among them is the large number of Americans left unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the president-elect should initiate his “Build Back Better” program immediately after taking office in order to strengthen America’s industrial base. During the early months of the coronavirus recession, U.S. manufacturing lost 1.4 million jobs, and has only regained roughly half through October. This decline has walloped America’s workforce because each manufacturing job supports roughly seven other jobs throughout the economy. The pandemic has also awakened the nation to the risks of over-dependence on global import supply chains. President-elect Biden appears ready to address the concerns of America’s manufacturers and their workers. He’s already pledged to award government contracts only to domestic manufacturers, explaining, “From autos to our stockpiles, we’re going to buy American.” This would be a good start. However, his ‘Build Back Better’ plan also proposes to create 1 million new auto jobs through large-scale investment in America’s electric vehicle, or EV, industry. To reach that goal, his administration will have to tackle a major challenge. In recent years, the United States has become heavily dependent on countries such as China to supply the metals and minerals needed for EVs and other advanced technologies. In fact, China is now the dominant supplier for 23 metals and minerals critical to U.S. national security. EVs and their batteries require a wide array of these key metals and minerals. Beijing is using control of them to jump ahead in the EV manufacturing race. China will soon be home to 107 lithium-ion battery mega-factories. In contrast, the U.S. has only nine in the pipeline. The story is bigger than just EVs or batteries, though. Wind turbines need rare earths like neodymium and dysprosium, plus aluminum, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. And solar panels use plenty of cadmium, tellurium, gallium, selenium, and silver. Ramping up production of electric vehicles and renewable energy systems will require massive new supplies of metals and minerals. Fortunately, the U.S. possesses an estimated $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves. However, Washington has long pursued policies that have pushed mining investment overseas. As a result, America’s reliance on imported minerals has nearly doubled in the last two decades. It’s time for the U.S. to begin ramping up production of its vast mineral reserves. Instead of increased reliance on mineral production in China, a major polluter, Washington should encourage domestic mining under world-leading environmental and labor standards. Turning a blind eye to China’s pollution, labor abuses, and human rights violations should no longer be tolerated. To succeed in the clean energy revolution, Washington must commit to rebuilding domestic mineral production and processing. U.S. firms can both mine critical minerals and be good environmental stewards. With bipartisan support already coalescing around reshoring, it’s time to bring home the supply chains that affect every aspect of our economic and national security. Kevin L. Kearns is president of the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Pebble mine is a giant black eye for Alaska

When I was young and my mom thought I was running with the wrong crowd, she had a simple admonition: if you lay down in the gutter, you get up dirty. That was long ago. But today, when I look at our industry “partners” in Alaska, it feels like we’re wallowing in the gutter. While there are many examples, perhaps the most glaring is the Pebble Partnership and its parent company, Vancouver-based Hunter Dickinson. Many things have changed over the past 15 years Inletkeeper has worked on the Pebble mine. But one thing has remained constant: the Pebble people consistently lie to Alaskans and they work in secret to undermine the rule of law and threaten our Alaskan way of life. This week Pebble provided yet another telling example: it submitted its long-awaited plan to “mitigate” the harm its massive open pit mine would cause in the headwaters of the world’s richest salmon fishery. But it kept the plan secret, and refused to share it with Alaskans. You would think Pebble would be proud to show Alaskans how it plans to protect our spectacular public resources, and to send a strong signal to investors and regulators that it knows what it’s doing. But no, Pebble once again chose secrecy and darkness over honesty and transparency. Pebble has been lying to Alaskans for years. It won’t harm salmon, Pebble tells us. It’s building a smaller mine to address local concerns. It won’t use toxic cyanide. The permitting process is fair. The project is economically viable. In the era of fake news, Pebble finds comfort in a bed of mistruths, half truths and flat-out lies. In the meantime, Pebble has spent lavishly on swampy lobbyists to game the permitting process, and paid fancy advertising firms to bamboozle Alaskans with the false promise of jobs and riches. And of course we can never forget the now-famous “Pebble Tapes,” where Pebble executives openly bragged about controlling our politicians and stacking the deck for their dead-end project. The question then becomes, what does it say about Alaska if our state and federal governments openly entertain a proposal like the Pebble mine from a bunch of dishonest people who put corporate profits above the public interest time and again? The short answer is that Pebble is a giant black eye for Alaska. It’s an ugly smear on responsible development and the people who support it. And it destroys the credibility of groups like the Resource Development Council, the Alaska Chamber and the Alaska Miners Association which refuse to call-out reckless and irresponsible development. In the end, however, we all lose with projects like Pebble. Because if Pebble’s lies, secrecy and manipulation get rewarded with the necessary permits, we’ll set the bar even lower for Outside companies to swoop-in and exploit Alaska’s incredible heritage in the years to come. And Alaska cannot afford to wallow in that gutter. ^ Bob Shavelson is Advocacy Director for Cook Inletkeeper, a local group formed by Alaskans in 1995 to protect the Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains.

BROWN'S CLOSE: A Modest List of Things to be Thankful for in 2020

Off the top of my head, a list of catastrophes that have occurred in 2020 include: Global pandemics; Wildfires in Australia, California, Washington, and Oregon; Tornadoes in the Southern United States. These also struck roughly one month after COVID-19, which frightened everyone away from the designated tornado shelters; An invasion of murder hornets; A jet plane collided with a bear; And, of course, the death of James Bond. With all of this upheaval, Thanksgiving may be subdued. In such times of tribulation, will Americans feel gratitude? State and local governments might even prefer citizens not give thanks, taking it upon themselves to restrict the number of guests permitted per Thanksgiving feast. Enforcement measures remain unclear; it’s hard to imagine even the most officious mid-level bureaucrat will want to be the designated government representative to knock on neighborhood doors, verifying the number of approved party guests. On the other hand, Thanksgiving may be raucous; perhaps Americans may count their blessings more generously than usual. I believe we continue to be blessed, despite what President-elect Biden has dubbed “a dark winter” ahead. In a quest to prove the point, I conducted some market research. Based on an anonymous survey, respondents consider themselves thankful for many items: “I’m grateful for chips.” “I’ve forgotten what work pants feel like. I’m grateful for that.” “You know what I’m grateful for? I discovered I can still somehow manage to be late for work. Even though I don’t commute. Nothing is impossible for me!” “I’m thankful that Costco installed checkout lines for shoppers with only a few items. I only ever have a few items.” “I'm grateful for Grubhub. Not even a pandemic can get me to cook apparently.” “I'm grateful I am not married. Explaining 2020 to a Quaranteen would be rough.” While limiting Thanksgiving dinner sizes struck me as churlish—“I’m thankful that I have an excuse to not go to Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t stand listening to my family argue about the election.” “I’m thankful for masks. I like the anonymity.” “I’m grateful the toilet paper shortage is over.” “I’m grateful for the toilet paper shortage. I finally learned how to use my bidet.” I personally have much to be thankful for. The second season of Haunting of Hill House was released on time on Netflix without incident. Also, grown adults have finally learned how to wash their hands. I am also thankful for the endless insights into the lives of other people, which I can glean through Zoom. One particularly memorable Zoom meeting early in the pandemic featured a participant with chains hanging from his walls. He happily sat on a meeting with fifty strangers, seemingly unaware that his choice of decor could be considered a tad radical. I am grateful that the world has finally embraced the wonders of telemedicine. I’ve been a frequent user of Teladoc ever since I discovered that I no longer have to physically go to the doctor’s office to have my rashes examined, or pervasive pink eye diagnosed. I’m pleased to welcome everyone else to this new, glorious, shame-free reality. Finally, I am thankful for the downfall of makeup generally, and Big Lipstick specifically. I have not worn makeup in eight months, thus gaining hours cumulatively back into my life. For years I resented the extra minutes per morning I was expected to spend painting on a face. In particular, I found lipstick to be insidious in nature; the constant application causes your lips to become addicted to all of the added moisture. Without lipstick, your lips soon become egregiously chapped. No longer will my lips be slaves to Big Lipstick! I’ve broken my addiction lo these eight months, and will never go back. I’m not alone. A study from late July proclaimed the death of the “lipstick index,” an economics measure previously used to measure how women spend money during lean economic times. My fellow sisters in arms have also broken free. Count your blessings folks, including what may be the most significant blessing of all –  that it is almost 2021! Sarah Brown is a grateful person. She would be so thankful should you choose to contact her at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

OPINION: Anchorage pads payroll at the expense of the public

Forty. Nine. Million. Dollars. According to a state summary of CARES Act relief fund spending, that is how much the Municipality of Anchorage has dedicated to payroll, or nearly one-third of the $156 million it was allocated to mitigate the devastating economic impacts of pandemic-related business closures and job losses. Meanwhile, on Nov. 13 the muni announced that the $20 million it set aside for rent and mortgage assistance has been exhausted. On Oct. 1, the muni likewise announced that it received more applications than it had available for a $6 million small business relief fund and had to make awards based on a random draw. To be clear, these payroll costs are not increases over what has already been budgeted for 2020 from existing funds. The Anchorage Assembly is taking advantage of a perceived loophole in the Treasury Department guidance for spending CARES funds that allows the municipality to presume every dollar of payroll for first responders through the end of the year is related to COVID-19 despite the obvious fact they are not. In an Aug. 10 email to the Assembly, a week into former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s month-long “reset” that closed bars and restaurants to indoor service without any relief available, Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt wrote regarding what was then a $21 million allocation to first responder payroll that “This is NOT an increase to either of these departments. These costs may be presumed to be related to COVID-19 for the entire period that the Title V CARES Act provisions are in effect, or from March 1, 2020 through December 30, 2020.” Since then, the Treasury Department also told the municipality that spending CARES funds as previously proposed to purchase various properties to provide homeless services was questionable at best. By dedicating additional money to payroll, the municipality may use its own unrestricted funds to purchase the properties. Time, like the days, is shrinking to provide the necessary economic relief that threatens thousands of lives and livelihoods across Anchorage as cases increase, more people stay home and the threat of additional restrictions looms. The Assembly is now nearly out of financial tools to address those needs thanks to its ill-thought out plan to pounce on the opportunity to use CARES Act money to deal with the long-standing problem of homelessness. Dedicating more to the payroll budget than to economic and rent relief combined is an unconscionable dereliction of duty. And to be sure, helping the homeless is necessary, but the muni also has a funding source through the alcohol retail tax set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The premise of the alcohol tax is to use the hospitality industry as the muni’s piggy bank to pay for those services, but whether that anticipated revenue matches expectations sort of depends on the hospitality industry surviving this economic crisis. The muni, through the Assembly, is stuffing its own coffers instead. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Trustees explore best practices to sustain the Permanent Fund

With the State relying on the Alaska Permanent Fund’s realized earnings for more than 70 percent of its unrestricted general funds, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s Board of Trustees is keenly focused on the Fund’s ability to provide both enduring intergenerational equity and reliable income-generation. This paradigm brings its own set of risks and rewards, and as the Fund’s stewards, it is our job to equip the Fund for success for decades to come. To that end, we asked Dr. Malan Rietveld, a leading expert in sovereign wealth funds, to analyze our peer funds in the U.S. and worldwide to determine why some flourish and some flounder. Based on this work, we published Trustees Paper Volume 9, identifying five lessons critical to any sovereign wealth fund’s intergenerational success. Lesson No. 1: Mission Clarity We learned through the experiences of others that mission clarity is key to intergenerational success. The legacy of the Permanent Fund is that it was enshrined in our constitution in such a way as to benefit all generations of Alaskans. Let us ensure that we hold a long-term vision for the Fund that focuses on the best practices for prudent investment management. Lesson No. 2: The Importance of Rules Successful saving and spending policies need to be embedded in a system of rules that provide policy guidance and direction to balance stabilization, savings, and income-generation functions. Well-designed rules for transfers into, out of, and between the Fund accounts promote sustainability and stability across volatile commodity and market cycles and allow APFC to best structure the investment portfolio. Lesson No. 3: Successful Enforcement of Saving Rules The constitutional amendment establishing the Alaska Permanent Fund requires at least 25 percent of the State’s mineral revenues be deposited into the Principal. In fiscal year 2020, royalty deposits into the Principal totaled $319 million, significantly less than the $844 million when oil prices were above $120 per barrel. Additionally, the Legislature has inflation-proofed the Principal to maintain its real value and has bolstered it through special appropriations. Lesson No. 4: Designing a POMV Spending Rule In 2018, Alaska’s Legislature adopted a percent of market value, or POMV, spending rule that aligns with best practices of peer institutions and limits draws from the Earnings Reserve Account, or ERA, to 5 percent starting in fiscal year 2022. The POMV draw is based on the Fund’s average market value rather than the Fund’s investment income. Using a five-year average market value has a smoothing effect and provides a stable annual draw. During debate over the legislation, it was recognized that although the draw was viewed to be sustainable in the long-term, in some years, the Fund’s earnings may exceed the draw and, in other years, may not. However, on balance, the POMV spending rule that is in place should be consistent with preserving the current value of the Fund for all generations of Alaskans. Lesson No. 5: Reforming the ERA Given the two-account structure of the Fund that allows expenditures only from the Fund’s net income, it is possible that the ERA balance may become insufficient to support the POMV draw during prolonged periods of low portfolio income and unrealized capital losses. A study performed by the Fund indicated a 50/50 chance that the ERA could not make the POMV draw in one or more years over the next two decades. Reforms could be implemented to mitigate this risk, including enhanced rules governing the ERA. Concepts are analyzed and outlined in the paper for further policy consideration. Conclusion: Successful sovereign wealth funds operate within rules-based systems that allow them to perform a combination of saving, stabilization, and income-generation functions. The latter role has come into sharper focus as income from the Fund increasingly supports the State budget in an era of lower oil revenues. Fortunately, we already have in place most of the critical building blocks to ensure a sustainable balance between these functions. As Trustees, we will continue to suggest ways to preserve the Alaska Permanent Fund’s success for decades and centuries to come. Trustees Paper Volume 9, “The Role of Sovereign Wealth Funds in Saving, Stabilization, and Generating Income,” is posted in the Report Archive/Trustees’ Papers at apfc.org. The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. Board of Trustees are William G. Moran, chair; Steve Rieger, vice chair; Corri Feige; Lucinda Mahoney; Craig Richards; and Ethan Schutt.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Four Alaska projects with fate tied to a Biden administration

Let’s assume for a minute that Jan. 20, 2021, sees a new president sworn into office. That occurrence will be a bitter day for some; a day of rejoicing for others. Where will Alaska’s energy community fall? We have a good idea, based on the priorities laid out during the campaign by the Biden-Harris team. They very well could issue executive orders reversing much of the progress made toward American energy independence during the past four years. But then again, they may not. If Joe Biden does end up living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years, here are four projects he should champion — not vilify — as so many of his supporters will be calling for. The Pebble Mine: If President Biden is serious about creating a ‘renewable revolution’, he is going to need copper. Lots and lots (and lots!) of it. The largest copper deposit in North America sits underground in the Pebble deposit in Southwest Alaska. Now, the eco-Left will scream about its location; over 100 air miles (and 230+ river miles) from Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon fishery. But the plans to mine the copper, gold, molybdenum and rhenium found in the Pebble deposit have been clearly shown by the Army Corps of Engineers to be no threat to the salmon. In fact, the final environmental impact statement goes a step further, and states it’ll co-exist with salmon in both Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet. The Ambler Mining District: If you were to compile a list of strategic minerals and rare earth elements that are needed for “green” energy development, as well as the US military and other high-tech applications, and then compare that list to what lies beneath the ground in the Ambler mining district, chances are you’d see quite the match. The district could lessen the importing of many of these needs from China, Russia and other countries who aren’t always on the US’ good side. ANWR: Yes, I know that the Biden campaign website specifically says he’ll close ANWR under a Day One executive order. But that move would be severely short-sighted, when North Slope oil and gas development is not only good for the U.S. treasury, but also much lower carbon-emitting than areas like the Permian and Marcellus basins, where flared gas creates a larger carbon footprint. Also on the positive side of the ledger are the tens of thousands of US jobs that will be associated with responsible development in ANWR; something the extremists pushing to keep this area shut forget. Another fact about ANWR often forgotten or misstated by opponents: When Congress authorized the Refuge, they also specifically approved the 10-02 area for potential future development. Congress knew what a jewel it could be in the crown of U.S. energy production. Too bad the radicals fighting against it forget that bit of history. The Tongass: A recent record of decision allows for a repeal of the “Roadless Rule,” which could create a renaissance of sorts for Southeast Alaska’s timber community. Sound management of forests is necessary to alleviate potential fuel sources for any fires that may arise. We’ve seen unkempt forests turn deadly in Oregon, Washington and California the past couple of years. In addition to sound management practices would be the jobs created in an industry that has lost nearly 90 percent of its jobs in the past 20 years. Rejuvenating those would be a good feather in President Biden’s cap, as long as he can get past the “wildlife-over-human-life” belief system that comes from extremist anti-development crowds. If America is going to have President Biden beginning in January, he and his administration need to understand the importance of easing in — rather than driving it home with a sledgehammer — changes that could dramatically affect current and future energy workers in our great state. Here’s hoping he and his inner circle read and reflect on these words. Alaska’s energy community deserves at least that much. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future, a nationwide non-profit focused on supporting energy workers, while pushing back on radical green groups and the ideologues who fund them. Contact him at [email protected]

COMMENTARY: Vaccine news doesn’t mean Congress is off the hook

Monday’s very favorable news from Pfizer Inc. – that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90 percent effective at preventing disease in early clinical trial results — raises hopes for a day, and soon, the pandemic will be behind us. It is also just one of the many vaccines that are under development. With such good news, it may be tempting for Congress to conclude that a major fiscal relief effort is no longer needed. That would be a mistake. Putting the latest news in context, Pfizer’s CEO noted that this was the most significant medical advance in the last hundred years. This is consistent with the vaccine’s ability to curb a virus that has not only claimed too many lives but also risks long-term health damage to a growing number of people that manage to survive COVID -19. A vaccine is also critical in countering the economic and political damage that liberal democracies in particular face as they fight the virus while balancing public health and personal freedom. The stunning news of over 90 percent effectiveness amplifies the positive potential. It allows for quicker government approvals and, by also enhancing the prospects of adoption by the population, brings forward the timeline for the much-hoped-for herd immunity. With all this, and with market validation through a breathtaking jump in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Russell indexes in particular, it would be tempting to conclude that the U.S. no longer needs exceptional policy support in the form of a new fiscal package. Why incur another increase in government indebtedness when the markets and economy can do the heavy lifting on their own in a more effective and sustainable manner? Such a view, while understandable, is problematic on five counts: First, it ignores the damage that will still result in the run-up to the wide rollout of the vaccine. Even if vaccine production and distribution proceed smoothly, it will take time. From bankruptcies to unemployment, the risk is that temporary short-term economic and financial challenges will become longer-term problems. This is particularly true for small- and certain medium-sized companies that do not have easy access to capital markets and, therefore, do not benefit from wide-open and cheap bridge funding. Second, it reveals a misunderstanding about debt and finance. Debt sustainability is not a single number — the level of debt — but also involves affordability in terms of cost and income generation potential. Incurring debt now to keep vulnerable segments of the economy viable and maintain long-term productivity is a good debt-financed investment, especially at current low interest rates. Third, it risks widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. Inequality — of income, wealth and opportunity — is already a problem. Without timely fiscal support, it will get worse in the journey to community immunity. Fourth, it is short-sighted. The fiscal package should not just be about relief, as important as this is. It also should be about ensuring a better glide path to an economy that can quickly overcome the damage already incurred as a result of COVID-19. This requires starting now on measures such as infrastructure modernization, climate-friendly economic rebuilding initiatives, labor market retooling and retraining, and efforts to bolster household financial security. Finally, if fiscal policy continues to lag, the Federal Reserve will feel highly compelled to do more. Inevitably, it will again use tools that are poorly suited for the task at hand, adding to concerns about collateral damage and unintended consequences. Rather than think of the good vaccine news and fiscal effort as substitutes, Congress should think about them as complementary. Indeed, there is ample to reason to believe that the combined effect of a working vaccine down the road and fiscal stimulus now would be more than the simple sum of the parts. There is an opportunity, with both, to lay the groundwork for an even stronger and more sustainable recovery. ^ Mohamed A. El-Erian is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is president of Queens’ College, Cambridge; chief economic adviser at Allianz SE, the parent company of Pimco where he served as CEO and co-CIO; and chair of Gramercy Fund Management. His books include “The Only Game in Town.”

OPINION: A loss for Trump is a loss for Alaska

Statehood, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the authorizing of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System rank as the most significant federal actions in state history, but no president has done more in sum for the Last Frontier than President Donald Trump. For whatever reason, and despite his frequent clashes with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Trump has a particular shine for Alaska and made unprecedented progress for the state in less than four years. The chapters of Trump’s presidency are still being written and this is not intended to be his political obituary with so many legal challenges and recounts unresolved. The Pennsylvania count remains unknown as the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on whether it was constitutional for a state court to extend the deadline to receive ballots by three days and independent of the state Legislature. It was no coincidence that the media in near-unison declared former Vice President Joe Biden the winner less than a day after Justice Samuel Alito ordered Pennsylvania to sequester the late ballots pending an ultimate ruling. The narrative must be given momentum and the public must be dissuaded from believing anything to the contrary or entertaining any suspicion about the witching hour changes to vote tallies across the country. As of press, Trump was trailing Biden by less than 13,000 votes in Arizona from a Nov. 4 deficit of 93,000 and about 33,500 votes remaining to be counted. Georgia is still being contested and where the result on its face makes little sense. Biden somehow leads Trump by 12,651 votes as of press, but fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff trails incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue by 82,000 votes and received nearly 100,000 fewer votes than the former vice president. The down ballot numbers are equally suspicious in the other Georgia Senate race, where the combined vote total for Democrat candidates is almost equal to the number of votes that Ossoff received and, again, nearly 100,000 fewer votes than Biden received. A similar down ballot issue is in Michigan, where Trump and Republican John James received a nearly identical number of votes but Biden received almost 70,000 more votes than incumbent Democrat Sen. Gary Peters. The above are just a few of the outstanding issues that must be addressed for more than 70 million Trump voters to have any confidence in the ultimate outcome. However, the prospect of a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration is not something we have to speculate on as it relates to Alaska. The state spent eight years under former President Barack Obama and Biden being stymied and slow-walked at every turn of the permitting process that impacts pretty much every economic effort in Alaska. Point blank, environmental radicals will wreak havoc on Alaska as the state economy is reeling from a three-year recession and the triple whammy of 2020 on oil prices, tourism and fisheries from the COVID-19 fallout. Battles Alaskans have been fighting for literally decades turned in the state’s favor under Trump: nearly 40 years to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain; almost 20 years to repeal the Roadless Rule, which contrary to media reports is not a green light to clearcut the Tongass National Forest; and more than 25 years trying to build a road from King Cove to Cold Bay that remains tied up in court but was a surprising issue for Trump to take such a personal interest in. A new management plan was approved for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and approvals were granted for the massive North Slope prospects at Pikka and Willow, which have potential to add as much as 300,000 barrels per day in new production. A road to the rich Ambler Mining District was also approved along with the key permit for the Alaska LNG Project. None of this, other than possibly the AK LNG permit, would have happened under Hillary Clinton and the ultimate outcome for these current efforts is far from certain under a Biden-Harris, or Harris-Biden, administration. There were other decisions benefitting Alaska such as reversing the steep increases of premiums in the individual insurance market under Obamacare by funding the “reinsurance” program created by the state Legislature in 2016, and fisheries relief from the White House for trade- or pandemic-related issues were often just a phone call away. Thankfully Alaska voters have returned Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young to Washington against Democrats-in-disguise Al Gross and Alyse Galvin. They also overwhelmingly rejected yet another attempt to raise oil taxes at the ballot box while the outcome remains in question for an ill-conceived experiment to upend our election process funded almost entirely by Outside interests. By sending Sullivan and Young back to Congress, reelecting Trump and turning down the economic suicide of the so-called “Fair Share Act,” Alaskan voters did their part. Counting Alaska’s ballots won’t take nearly as long as it will to know whether the progress for the state under Trump will continue or be put in reverse. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

ANALYSIS: What to take away from the results so far

WASHINGTON — A tumultuous election night yielded no definitive result between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, with both candidates locked in razor-thin races in a slate of battleground states that were expected to continue tallying votes into Nov. 4 and possibly beyond. Contests in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were all uncalled as of early Nov. 4, with officials scrambling to count both ballots cast Nov. 3 and a surge of ballots sent through the mail. Of the major swing states, The Associated Press had called Florida for Trump and Arizona for Biden early Nov. 4. The AP also called Iowa, Ohio and Texas for the president and Minnesota for Biden, though those states were considered second-tier battlegrounds. Biden also flipped the electoral vote in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, according to the AP, which could be pivotal in a close race. Election officials said they expected delayed results in many states, especially in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three Midwestern states that could ultimately determine the outcome. In some Pennsylvania counties, for instance, local officials said they planned to not even begin counting those ballots until Nov. 4. “We believe we’re on track to win this election,” Biden told a drive-in crowd in Wilmington, Delaware, early Nov. 4. “We’re confident about Arizona, that’s a turnaround. We’re still in the game in Georgia, although that’s not what we expected.” He added, “We’re going to win Pennsylvania.” That Biden did not immediately appear the victor, as polls indicated he might, is a deep disappointment to Democrats. And it will bolster Republican arguments that Trump was never as big an underdog as was widely believed, even as his path to reelection remained narrow. Speaking from the White House, Trump went further, falsely claiming that ballots still being counted were fraudulent and declaring victories in states that had not yet been called by a news outlet. “We were getting ready to win this election,” he declared, complaining about the lack of full results, even though election officials have warned for weeks that counting in certain states would take days. “Frankly, we did this election,” the president incorrectly added. There’s still a long way to go before the results are finalized, but here are three takeaways from the initial returns: No Blue Wave (or Red Wave) While a 2020 presidential election victor remains unclear, it’s now readily apparent that the results won’t create the blue wave that Democrats were increasingly hoping for entering Nov. 3. It will not prove to be a red wave, either. It’s another closely contested national election that defied polling, surprised analysts but tracked closely with what most Americans are getting used to: A relatively evenly split country, divided by deep blue cities and increasingly reddening rural areas. Whereas Trump held onto several key states he carried in 2016, like Florida, Iowa and Ohio, battlegrounds like Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin remained too close to call, with just a few percentage points separating the candidates While it was not the evening of numbers some Democrats were anticipating, it could still turn out to be a significant victory. It will just take days to know. But Republicans can take solace in avoiding the down-ballot wipeout some were privately bracing for. The GOP had escaped election night clinging to its tiny advantage in the Senate and it avoided deeper losses in the U.S. House. Polling misfires Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Polls of the presidential race were wrong. In a development eerily similar to the one that shook the political world in 2016, a battery of battleground polls in select states appear to have misjudged Trump’s level of support, painting a much more bearish picture for the president’s reelection chances in the run-up to Election Day than was actually true. That was no more true than in Florida, where an array of surveys found Biden holding a small but persistent lead. In reality, Trump appeared to easily win an outright majority in the state, with more than 95 percent of the vote in, with a million more raw votes cast for him than 2016. He led by more than 3 percentage points over Biden. The FiveThirtyEight polling average, meanwhile, showed Biden with a 2-point edge heading into Nov. 3, a net difference of 5 points. Polls also missed their mark in Ohio, where Trump won decisively despite a polling average that showed the race neck and neck. Results are still being tabulated, but even many Democrats are skeptical that the roughly 8-point national lead Biden held in polls will ultimately hold up when all the votes are counted. To an industry already reeling from after 2016, it’s yet another blow to its credibility. Democrats’ Hispanic voter flop in Florida Arguably the biggest disaster for Democrats on election night was the crumbling of their vote share in Miami-Dade County, where more than two-thirds of residents are Hispanic. Biden won just 53 percent of the traditional Democratic stronghold, a collapse of 10 points from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, dooming his chances to swipe Florida’s 29 electoral votes from the GOP’s column. The reason was immediately apparent: Trump’s appeals to the Hispanic community broke through, especially on digital and social media, where his campaign branded the Democratic ticket as socialists — a message particularly resonant with the Cuban community. “We kept saying we had to push back but completely missed the boat,” said a Biden aide working the state, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “On social targeting … we just keep getting hit under the radar. We got worked with the socialism narrative. New immigrants are more conservative and open to Trump’s message.” Two other casualties of the failure were a pair of Miami-area Democratic congresswomen: Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who were favored to win reelection. While Republicans were quick to cite Trump’s rising Hispanic support as a crucial overlooked component to his reelection path, it wasn’t immediately clear how widespread the problem was. Biden still held a comfortable lead in Arizona early Nov. 4, where nearly 20 percent of eligible voters are Hispanic.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Why I support Trump’s proposal to lift restrictions in the Tongass

The Tongass, the largest national forest in the United States at 16.7 million acres, is larger than West Virginia. Located in Southeast Alaska, it is an archipelago and comprises more than 80 percent of the regional land base. It is overwhelmingly road-free, unlogged, rich in wildlife and, despite what you might have read, will remain so even if exempted from the Roadless Rule. That’s because protecting the unique roadless values within the Tongass has long been a priority in Southeast Alaska and nationally. Congress has enshrined many of those protections in law, designating 5.7 million acres of wilderness and another 728,000 acres that are managed in a roadless state to maintain wilderness characteristics. Sweeping stream buffers authorized under another measure protect fish and wildlife habitat. When combined with national monument and other natural-setting land-use designations, more than 13 million acres of the Tongass are already explicitly restricted from resource development or are required to be managed as roadless areas. That’s nearly 80 percent of the forest. It is also critical to understand that all of the designations listed above, and all of the protections they afford, will apply to the Tongass regardless of what happens with the Roadless Rule. Most would agree that prohibiting development on such vast expanses within a 16.7-million-acre forest demonstrates sufficient protection. That is why so many Alaskans believe the burdensome Roadless Rule is unnecessary, and why we are urging the U.S. Forest Service to restore balance in its management by exempting the Tongass from it. The regulation, implemented at the last minute by the Clinton administration, prevents road construction, road reconstruction and timber harvesting across millions of acres in the Tongass. Many Alaskans believe the Roadless Rule should never have been applied to our state because of the uncertainty and barriers it imposes. It works against common-sense projects such as renewable hydropower — raising costs, extending approval timelines and causing some projects to be nixed altogether. That’s a real problem for Southeast Alaska, where less than 1 percent of the land base is privately held. The region’s social and economic health is closely tied to resource-dependent industries, including fishing, forestry, mining and tourism. All of those depend on reasonable access to the Tongass, but over the years, that access has been significantly reduced. The result? While much of the United States is experiencing record-low unemployment, many communities in the Tongass are seeing fewer job opportunities, diminished incomes, high energy costs and even declining populations as residents look elsewhere for stable year-round work. The Roadless Rule has hurt the timber industry, which now consists of just a handful of small, family-owned forest products companies. It also affects mining, transportation, energy and more. But it is critical — and only fair — to acknowledge that lifting the Roadless Rule would not automatically result in the development of more of the forest. New projects in areas where development is allowed would still have to secure all relevant federal approvals, including compliance with the Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan, the National Environmental Policy Act and other applicable laws such as the Clean Water Act. The one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule is an unnecessary layer of paralyzing regulation that should never have been applied to Alaska. A full exemption from it has always been my preference, as well as the united preference of our state’s congressional delegation and that of Alaska’s governors, regardless of party. It will allow Alaskans to create needed opportunities for a sustainable year-round economy, while still being good stewards of our lands and waters. Lisa Murkowski is the senior U.S. senator from Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: ‘Better’ elections don’t come from ranked choice voting

“How are you voting on Ballot Measure 2?” It’s a question many Alaskans have yet to answer. You’ve probably heard it has something to do with ranking candidates and putting everyone into one big primary. But despite the millions spent by out-of-state billionaires to prop up Ballot Measure 2, they really haven’t explained much. There’s a reason for that. The truth is that the dangers of Ballot Measure 2 – all 25 pages and 74 sections – can’t be conveyed in 15-second soundbite. What I’m about to tell you will take a few minutes to read, but it’s critical that you know why this initiative would be an unmitigated disaster for our democracy. In 2016, Maine become the only state in the country to utilize ranked choice voting after 388,273 voters in a state of 1.3 million people approved the measure. What followed was a travesty. The very next election, a moderate congressman named Bruce Poliquin won his election by a margin of 2,632 votes. Unfortunately, the ranked choice computers didn’t agree with Maine’s voters. After nearly two weeks of chaos, the algorithms decided voters actually preferred Poliquin’s opponent, Jared Golden. But here’s where it gets crazy. Over 8,000 voters had their ballots thrown out because they didn’t want to rank candidates they didn’t like. Others simply made a mistake when filling out the 25-bubble ballot. This meant Golden was declared the winner with less than 50 percent of the vote. Just like that, ranked choice voting’s house of cards came crumbling down. No majority winner, the most attack ads in state history, a moderate candidate kicked out of office, and no reduction in partisanship. In fact, Poliquin called it the “nastiest” race of his career while Maine’s moderate governor deemed it “the most horrific thing in the world.” Fast forward to 2020 where Sen. Susan Collins and Sara Gideon are locked in a drag-out brawl for a Senate seat in Maine. The race has set a new record in Maine for political spending at over $150 million, including $70 million in outside expenditures and $10 million in dark money. Maine’s primary TV market has seen $89 million in spending – more than both Chicago and Dallas. Much like war profiteers, political operatives are the only winners as Mainers tear each other apart. Across the country, it’s more of the same. In 2010, a San Francisco supervisor’s candidate won with 4,321 votes after 9,503 votes were thrown out during 20 rounds of computerized runoffs. To put that in simpler terms, the winner claimed just 21 percent of the votes cast that day in a runoff between two candidates. This systemic problem has been politely termed “ballot exhaustion” by ranked choice backers.  Personally, I call it ballot fraud when an American shows up to cast a vote only to have it thrown in the garbage bin. I have a feeling most Alaskans agree. The results in San Francisco and Maine are not an anomaly. University research shows a whopping 10 to 27 percent of ballots are thrown out in an average ranked choice election. Even California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who won election under ranked choice voting in 2007, criticized its false promise of greater democracy. Then there’s the “spoiled ballots” – another fancy word for votes that don’t get counted. Remember how “butterfly ballots” cost Al Gore the 2000 presidential election when many voters struggled with a slight change in ballot design? Ranked choice is butterfly ballots on steroids. The victims? Older Alaskans, those in lower socio-economic brackets, and minorities who are not native English speakers. This isn’t theoretical – it’s exactly what university research found in San Francisco. In Minneapolis, ranked choice voting had a direct impact on spoiled minority ballots while whites were unaffected. San Francisco saw a drop in minority turnout. The Kansas ACLU has claimed an 8 percent drop in turnout can be expected, especially among “new and casual voters.” Another peer-reviewed study found that ranked choice voting fails to achieve a majority winner 61 percent of the time – an incredible statistic that undermines the entire house of cards Ballot Measure 2 is built upon. Folks, this is politics at its worst. That’s why ranked choice voting has already been tried and repealed in cities across the country. In Pierce County, Wash., ranked choice voting was kicked to the curb only three years after implementation by an overwhelming 71 percent of voters. In Vermont, Burlington’s rejection occurred after a mayor won election with only 29 percent of the first-place votes. This isn’t about left, right, or middle. It’s about the trail of destruction left behind by ranked choice voting wherever it rears its sinister head. It’s about the single mom working two jobs who doesn’t have time to research and rank 15 candidates just so that her vote doesn’t get thrown out. It’s about our elders and pioneers who expect to walk into that voting booth and pick their champion the same way they’ve done since statehood. It’s about the veterans who’ve lost friends and innocence fighting for our precious right to self-determination. Most importantly, it’s about protecting your voice from a misguided experiment that is doomed to fail. John Sturgeon is chairman of Defend Alaska Elections-Vote No on 2. He previously spent 12 years fighting to reverse federal intrusion on Alaska’s public lands, achieving victory at the U.S. Supreme Court twice.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans deserve a comprehensive fiscal plan, not ballot box budgeting

It has been eight fiscal years – spanning three governors and four legislatures – since Alaska has balanced its budget: 2014-15 (Sean Parnell); 2016-19 (Bill Walker); 2020-21 (Mike Dunleavy). Over those eight years we have drawn more than $16 billion from our savings to cover shortfalls. During this period, these governors/legislatures have reduced our General Fund Budget by approximately $3.5 billion. Yet, even after all these cuts, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the 32nd Legislature are expected to face more than a $2 billion deficit this year (assuming the governor’s expected PFD). This history demonstrates that our challenges go beyond political parties and legislative majorities: Alaska lacks a stable fiscal plan. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, after eight years, we now know that Alaska cannot balance its budget without a broad solution that includes both an appropriately sized government as well as increased revenues. Those who support Ballot Measure 1 argue that oil severance taxes should be increased. (Based on historical averages, I tend to agree). Nevertheless, according to the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, or ISER, while acknowledging that Ballot Measure 1 will add some revenue, it is not a stand-alone solution to our budget challenges. For many of us who oppose Ballot Measure 1, the question is not merely whether oil companies are paying an appropriate severance tax on oil production. Rather, the question is whether we can address taxes through a political process that builds confidence in Alaska within the investment and business community. If we want to grow our economy, how we adopt change is as important as the change we make. Throughout our history, every time Alaska faces a budget gap the issue of oil taxes seems to be put on the table. Legislation is proposed and debated. Each side has its grievances: proponents believe that oil industry influence distorts the political process, while industry argues that it is unfairly singled out. (The oil industry has funded more than 80 percent of our business tax revenue.) This pattern does not create a long-term stable investment environment, and it does not create confidence in our business partners. I oppose Ballot Measure 1 for two reasons: First, because a stable fiscal environment will require a balance of revenue sources, we are not keeping faith with the oil industry by taxing them and not addressing other funding sources, particularly a broad-based tax. A comprehensive fiscal plan — including an appropriate sized government and a balance of revenue sources — will go a long way to create confidence in the investment community because it both solves the fiscal problem and demonstrates a growing state maturity as we Alaskans are willing to grapple with the hard issues and solve our problems. Second, striking the right balance will be difficult and complex, and is not well-suited for a ballot measure. It will require careful analysis from the experts. It needs time and deliberation. This is why I will vote no on Ballot Measure 1, while at the same time urging my legislators to pass a sustainable fiscal plan by continuing to constrain government spending, enacting appropriate oil severance taxes, and re-enacting broad-based taxes. I also urge the oil industry to be an active and constructive participant in the process. I invite you to join me in voting no on Ballot Measure 1. Sheldon Fisher served as Gov. Bill Walker’s Department of Revenue Commissioner from 2017-18.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Unmasking Halloween

As with every other extracurricular activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween will assuredly be dampened this year. I am not the first person to note the irony; Halloween is a holiday based entirely on the idea that everyone should wear a mask. Will Anchorage’s new mayor issue a municipal wide ban on live Halloween, as the old mayor did with live music? Will anyone host Halloween parties? Will anyone else attend? Will families go trick-or-treating? Is trick-or-treating a socially distanced activity? Should I just leave a basket of candy out on the porch and call it quits when one small marauder takes it all? Is bobbing for apples illegal? Should it be? Is the solution to wear masks underwater while bobbing for apples? Will people dress up in costume? What will be the top costume of choice? If we assume Halloween will not be stricken from the calendar, and that there will be costumes, and that people will dress up in them, below are the clear favorites for the Most Desirable Halloween Costume of 2020: For those who remained single before, during, and after quarantine –  Top Singles Costumes for Halloween 2020: The Karen – Karen, with bobbed hair, crow’s feet, and a bitter expression, has already been dubbed, “the scariest Halloween costume of 2020,” by Good Morning America; Hunter Biden – all you need is a crack pipe and a wire transfer. No shirt required; Mask-ed Vigilantes – no obligation to separate along party lines here. This costume can be applied to both pro, and anti, mask vigilantes. For those who managed to find love, despite quarantine Top Couples Costumes for Halloween 2020: Pilots and flight attendants; A pair of Sheeple; Donald Trump and Joe Biden; Amy Coney Barrett and Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir. And for the rarest life form of all, those who managed to maintain friendships despite quarantine, and subsequent highly charged political events– Top Group Costumes for Halloween 2020: The cast of Tiger King: Joe Exotic; Carole Baskin; Fraudster Jeff Lowe; Pony-tailed polygamist Bhagavan Antle; Stool pigeon Howard Baskin; Victim and tiger feed, Don Lewis. The cast of General Hospital: Doctors; Nurses; COVID virus; COVID vaccinations; Ventilators; N-95 Masks. The cast of former Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s sex scandal: Ethan Berkowitz, dressed in a backless suit and carrying a selfie stick; Maria Athens; Molly Blakey, intermittently dispensing booze and cookies; The escort known as Rae – She’s mysterious, so costumes are open to interpretation. The cast of Current Events, not to exclude: Plague; Pestilence, Exodus (sometimes known as Brexit), The Apocalypse – This can be subdivided into the Four Horsemen, and One Woman, of the Apocalypse: Scott Atlas; Alex Azar; Deborah Birx; Anthony Fauci; Mike Pence. The cast of a Zoom meeting: A baby; A pet; A bra; A toilet; A thermos of vodka; The Mute Button. The cast of Cancel Culture: Woodrow Wilson; Teddy Roosevelt; J.K. Rowling; The New York Times; Mount Rushmore; Broadway show, Hamilton; And, of course, The Founders. I myself choose not to rank costumes, but shall instead dress up as everything. On Halloween, you will find me isolated indoors eating cookies and drinking vodka out of my favorite tiger mug. Photos of Mount Rushmore will cycle repeatedly on the television, and I will don my beloved pair of fluffy sheep slippers. I will then promptly miss the mute button as I talk on the phone while doing a highly personal activity. Every year, Sarah Brown celebrates Halloween with maximum enthusiasm. This year, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

A letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Dear Senator Murkowski, Because you are an important elected voice for center-right women in Alaska and the United States, we are writing to urge you to support President Trump's nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Having the insights of Judge Barrett on the highest court is critical to protect originalist jurisprudence in our country, and the responsible development of Alaska’s resources. This is an appropriate opportunity to confirm an exceptional female legal scholar whose views on the interpretation of constitutional issues would be an important contribution to our country at a time of turmoil, confusion, and uncertainty. Importantly, we need a full complement of court members to address any issues arising from election contests. Moreover, we must seize this occasion to encourage the Court to push back against those who would attempt to misuse the court system as a vehicle to lock up ANWR and other Alaska resources. In our view, the President was elected in 2016 to perform his first term duties at least through inauguration in January 2021. Waiting to take up the matter of replacing a Supreme Court justice would be imprudent. No matter who wins the presidency in November, forfeiting the opportunity to confirm a center-right female attorney for six months, or likely more, would be misguided. We encourage you to support Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Sincerely Yours,
 100 Professional Women of Alaska See signatories here

OPINION: National media, Big Tech make a bet they cannot win

Anyone who has played poker is familiar with the term “drawing dead.” For the non-gamblers out there, it refers to a situation where the hand is not yet over, but is impossible to win for at least one player still betting. As an example, a player may be staying in because they have or are attempting to make a standard flush but their opponent is already holding a full house, also known as “the nuts,” that can’t be beat by any hand still in the game. The worst-case scenario is the player making what they think is the winning hand “on the turn” before the final card. They overconfidently shove all their chips into the middle of the table only to be called without hesitation and get busted out to the rail wondering what just happened. The national media and the Big Tech monopolies have gone all-in on Joe Biden, but they have already lost no matter what happens after Nov. 3. They just don’t know it yet. They are drawing dead. After spending eight years folding to the Obama administration despite no shortage of scandals or economic stagnation, the national press has abandoned almost entirely even the pretense of objectivity both in the slant of its coverage and its bias by omission when it comes to President Donald Trump. Russian collusion. Wikileaks. Trump Tower. The Clinton-DNC funded and foreign-sourced Steele “dossier.” Michael Flynn. Brett Kavanaugh. Ukraine. Trump’s tax returns. “Suckers and losers.” “Very fine people.” The list goes on and on of false or anonymous stories that have been spread far and wide with the help of Big Tech and the craven complicity of the blue checks in the journalist class that are addicted to Twitter affirmations. After starting this column, a headline popped up on The Hill detailing how multiple CIA officials — anonymously of course — passed along a story of Trump ordering chocolate malts during an intelligence briefing. According to the story, the incident “has become legend” in CIA ranks. This, folks, is why facepalm memes have been created. Meanwhile, these same leftist partisans with bylines have ignored, downplayed or dismissed as “conspiracy theories” the documented abuse of and lies to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on Trump’s campaign and administration; the team of Democrat donors who wiped their cell phones repeatedly during Robert Mueller’s fruitless investigation of Trump; the riots, looting and murder by antifa and Black Lives Matter they have insisted were both “mostly peaceful” while also the fault of “white supremacists”; Hunter Biden’s laptop and his business partner’s emails; a Senate report detailing millions of dollars in payments from the wife of a Moscow oligarch and members of the Chinese Communist Party to the Biden family; and again the list goes on and on. Any member of the media is not playing straight with you if they try to argue the Hunter Biden story would be treated the same were it Donald Jr. smoking crack and making deals for “the big guy.” Apparently it is also impossible to have debate moderators who aren’t firmly aligned with the left against Trump. Registered Democrat and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace regurgitated the “fine people” falsehood at the first debate and then vouched for the scheduled host for the second debate, former Joe Biden intern Steve Scully of C-SPAN, despite his obviously fabricated claim to be “hacked” when he accidentally tweeted at Anthony Scaramucci instead of using a private message. Vice presidential moderator Susan Page of USA Today is writing a biography of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The latest move against Trump by the supposedly nonpartisan debate commission is to allow NBC’s Kristen Welker to change the traditional focus from foreign policy to a rehash of the ground covered by Wallace, including yet another opportunity to disguise an accusation as a question by including “race in America” as a springboard to associate Trump with white supremacists. Staffed from top to bottom by the left, Twitter and Facebook are working to suppress and censor the New York Post’s expose of Hunter Biden’s shady dealings around the world with almost zero complaints from anyone in the media and despite the fact Joe Biden’s own campaign hasn’t even claimed the emails are faked. The FBI, CIA and IRS — the most powerful agencies in the U.S. — have all been weaponized to varying degrees against conservatives and Trump going back to the abuse of the Tea Party groups under Obama in the run-up to the 2012 elections and then against Trump from 2016 to the present. The Associated Press has changed its definition of a “riot.” Webster’s Dictionary changed its definition of “preference.” Democrats in Congress are similarly trying to change the long-understood meaning of “court packing” from adding justices to the Supreme Court into the perfectly legal process being followed now to confirm Amy Coney Barrett in accordance with the Constitution. As the guardians and gatekeepers of free speech and free flow of information, the national media and Big Tech are blindly headed for the rail as they bet the last of their trust and respect on ending Trump’s political career. Even if they make their hand, they have already lost everything. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: America’s sickening lack of health care options

In a country that prides itself on checks and balances, freedom and independence, the health care industry seems to have self-selected a different path. Our current system prioritizes complexity, opacity and insider deals over direct care, transparency and competition — leaving consumers powerless to act in their own best interest. In the U.S. health care debate today, much of the blame for our broken and overpriced system is pinned on the medical-industrial complex: big pharma, insurers and massively integrated hospital systems — many of which are tax-exempt while being extremely profitable. We keep trying to tackle this highly complex problem with one-size-fits-all policies like “Health care for all” or “Medicare for all.” Yes, making sure everyone in America has access to quality health care and can live their lives without fear of medical bankruptcy, is no-doubt the right idea, but disabling consumer choice and customization is not. One size fits all approaches mean many of us are left with a solution that just doesn’t work. We live in a free-market economy, and that economy has produced innovative products and services that have changed the world. This entrepreneurial spirit gave way to thousands of products and new ideas, so why does our health care system look relatively the same as it did decades ago? Where is the individuality, creativity, and passion that shapes most other major industries in our economy? We deserve health care options that make sense for our individual needs based on our personal life experiences. Put in a different context: imagine we are all forced to only throw away items we no longer desired, eliminating different or varied options such as hosting a garage sale, or using a technology platform like eBay, DePop, Craigslist, or Amazon. That might work for some people, but many would prefer a different option. Lucky for us, this menu of ecommerce options exists, and competition has led to constant innovation, a variety of options, and transparency. This, too, is the case with insurance. Consider you’re a father who needs medical treatment maybe once or twice a year. However, these treatments still don’t meet the annual deductible—and you are forced to pay out of pocket, with money that you don’t have, especially considering the high premiums you’ve already paid. Or you are the owner of a small business and want an affordable option for your employees, but no one network comes close to meeting everyone’s needs. Or you have found that alternative, integrative forms of medicine work better for you, but your insurance plan does not cover them. This is to say, insurance, as a health care solution, should not be a consumer’s only choice. Coverage does not guarantee care, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee affordable care. There are many non-insurance options for people eager to play a bigger role in their health care decision making and engage in negotiating lower health care costs, such as direct primary care, or DPC, and medical cost sharing, or MCS. Direct primary care allows patients unlimited access to their physician, without insurance, in exchange for an affordable monthly subscription payment. By cutting out the middleman, direct primary care physicians can spend more time, effort and focus on treating patients without the heavy administrative burdens that plague the insurance system. DPC providers prioritize patient relationships and high-quality care. DPC also pairs well with medical cost-sharing organizations which provide an innovative, non-insurance approach to managing large health care costs. Sedera and other medical cost-sharing groups promote transparency and autonomy in health decisions while encouraging mindfulness about the impact on the broader sharing community. Members of medical cost-sharing organizations are also cash-pay, which can help decrease the administrative burden on physicians. Alaska needs to be fueling the fire of competition and making the incumbent systems work harder to provide solutions that are actually beneficial to the patient, like DPC and medical cost sharing, not mandating the purchase of a product that falls short. Rejecting the current one-size-fits-all mandate is the only way we will achieve the efficient, affordable, and transparent care that we so desperately need. Our complex care system is explicitly sick, and the cure is more simple than most Americans realize. ^ Jamie Lagarde is the CEO of Sedera and Bethany Marcum is the CEO of The Alaska Policy Forum.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Show us the money — Citizens, candidates can build Alaska budget

Alaska is noisy right now. Radio ads, television commercials, mailers, and social media videos from candidates asking Alaskans for their votes bombard us daily. Most legislative candidates claim solving the state’s budget crisis will be their top priority, if elected. Few provide much detail. It doesn’t have to be that way. A new website, www.akbudget.com, offers all Alaskans, including political candidates, the opportunity to make revenue and spending choices to address the projected $1.3 billion dollar shortfall in the State of Alaska’s fiscal year 2022 budget. The interactive website was developed by Commonwealth North’s Fiscal Policy Study Group. Our nonpartisan group has worked tirelessly since May to flesh out the most likely options for balancing the state’s budget. During that tedious process, a dozen work groups and more than 60 diverse Alaskans closely examined spending and revenue choices. Because the state budget is complex and multi-faceted, the web tool focuses on undesignated general fund spending and programs that most rely on those funds. In other words, the areas where legislators can choose to spend money. The website, which is the only one of its kind in Alaska that we know of, works like this: Visitors read basic descriptions of different budget categories, and choose what actions to take. They can cut spending, add new revenue, increase current taxes, and any combination of the above. As they make choices, the website updates the budget gap in real-time. For example, when a hypothetical user chooses to implement a new tax, the site shows how much revenue would be raised and how large a gap remains. The site is meant to give Alaskans a holistic look at what balancing the budget looks like, and how large and serious the challenge is. Perhaps to the dismay of some candidates, there is no reason they cannot visit the site and make their proposed choices public. In fact, we encourage them to do so. And we encourage voters to ask candidates to “show them the money” by producing their completed budget plan. The exercise is not just for legislative candidates. All Alaskans can visit the site and have their say, which empowers citizens to provide input to elected officials as they prepare for a grueling session in Juneau. We urge Alaskans to roll up their sleeves and struggle with the same choices and trade-offs the administration and legislature will face in 2021. Make your voice heard and spending priorities known. Even better, be an informed citizen. Our elected leaders take feedback and criticism much more seriously when we demonstrate an understanding of the challenge and have done the hard work ourselves. Ultimately, Commonwealth North will collect responses from Alaskans, and share them with legislators and the administration. To be clear, our intent is not to hold up a single budget solution, but rather to engage Alaskans so they have a better understanding of the difficult choices all of face in the next year. We invite Alaskans to be part of the process now as the debate heats up. Cheryl Frasca is a former director of the State Office of Management and Budget, and former director of the Office of Management and Budget, Municipality of Anchorage. Eric Wohlforth is an attorney, and former Trustee with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. He served as the commissioner of the State Department of Revenue in the early 1970s.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 casts a pall over future of ANSEP

The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program has been guiding Alaska Native people and other Alaskans to success in our state’s resource development industry for more than 25 years. To say a lot has changed since I founded ANSEP in 1995 is an understatement — especially this year — but the support ANSEP has received from the oil and gas industry has been unwavering. The industry’s commitment to Alaskans is something we can count on. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t received the same consistency when it comes to Alaska’s tax structure. Their future investment in the state is in question as Alaskans vote this November on whether to change the oil tax structure yet again. By voting No on Ballot Measure 1, we can ensure the energy industry will be able to continue supplying jobs for our communities for generations to come. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Oil Search, Udelhoven Oilfield System Services, PEAK, and others that make up Alaska’s resource industry have provided financial support as well as internship opportunities for ANSEP students for more than 25 years. In fact, it was our partnership with ExxonMobil that led to the development and launch of ANSEP Middle School Academy, our entry-level programmatic component. It’s here we kickstart an interest in STEM and help students identify career goals that keep them motivated for a lifetime. ExxonMobil is also the founding partner for the ANSEP Acceleration Academy where students graduate from high school with two years or more of college completed thereby saving the state and families thousands of dollars per student. Acceleration Academy is a model we can adopt for every student in Alaska to reduce costs for the state and dramatically improve outcomes. This is transformational. What parent does not want their student to leave high school with years of college completed? Over the last decade, thousands of new students joined the ANSEP community as part of these industry-supported components. Our students go on to contribute to the strategy and execution of resource development in Alaska. The industry plays a valuable role in everyday life for the approximately 3,000 hardworking Alaska students and professionals who make up the ANSEP community. For many of our students, it is a lifelong goal to play a role in improving the quality of life for Alaska’s people and ensuring our resources are managed responsibly. The success of ANSEP alumni in the industry provides a model for students across the state. If you work hard, there are top-tier companies waiting to hire you so you can guide our state’s future. Our partner companies provide learning opportunities for ANSEP students now and the promise of economic stability for the future. Even during the pandemic, the oil and gas industry stepped up to provide paid internships and scholarship support for ANSEP’s Summer Bridge students so they could spend the summer before college gaining industry experience and envisioning a full-time position in the industry after college. To put the future of the industry in jeopardy is to do the same to these students’ futures. That is why I am voting no on Ballot Measure 1 in November; it is how we vote for a bright future for our state and our young people. ^ Dr. Herb Schroeder is the founder and Vice Provost for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.

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