Monthly Archives: June 2013

At least we’re not Nigeria

Alaska may be an unstable place to do business. The weather may suck. It’s regulatory climate onerous. Its politicians feckless and it’s watchdogs zany. But at least it’s not doing this:

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathon Monday directed government agencies to recover $7.8 billion that audits carried out by the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative found oil companies operating in the country owed the government in unpaid and underpaid taxes, NEITI said Tuesday.

According to the audits, Nigeria’s government has experienced a potential revenue loss of $9.8 billion as a result of under-assessments and under-payments of taxes and rents, process manipulation and poor interpretation of agreements between the government and companies, NEITI said, adding that it has already helped recover $2 billion but $7.8 billion remains outstanding.


Rep. Don Young: sometimes a nattering nabob of niceness

Rep. Don Young has the reputation of being, well, being Don Young. Rough and irascible. Impulsive, wily and sometimes offensive. And that’s all true. But to others, particularly those outside the state, he’s also seen as one of those staunchly partisan conservatives that many blame for Washington’s ills. And all that’s not true.

From personal experience I can say that there’s little Young likes better than a good hearted, spirited debate and little he likes better than to have one with someone on the other side. And he’ll work with those on the other side as long as they deal with him in good faith. Sometimes, like the case of endorsing House colleague Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono — a Democrat — in her run for U.S. Senate, he’ll even campaign for them.

I don’t often publish press releases in full from members of our Congressional delegation because if I start, it will never end. But the one below from Young’s office congratulating Rep. John Dingell on becoming the longest serving member of Congress ever, was a particularly nice example of Young at his best, and the way D.C. should work.

Here’s the release:

I first met John Dingell long before I came to D.C. In 1960, he visited Fort Yukon, Alaska, where he met with our local community about a potential energy project in the region.  A World War II vet and member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ John has had an impact on scores of major legislation passed through Congress over the past six decades, and he truly is a legislator’s legislator.

John has never been afraid to reach across the aisle, and his many years in public office have taught him that ‘Compromise is an honorable word,’ and all of us in Washington should follow his lead.

When I came to House in 1973, we soon became fast friends, and I have enjoyed his friendship ever since. Now a lot has changed since then, but John’s work on behalf of his district in Michigan, and his passion for legislating remains as fierce as when I met him over 50 years ago. It has been an honor and pleasure to serve with him the past 40 years, and I look forward to many more years roaming the halls of Congress with my dear friend from the Great Lake State. Congratulations John.



Thank God it’s Friday’s random facts

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS: The median age in the Wade Hampton Census Area is 22.5. The median age in the Anchorage census area is 39. Percentage of persons living below poverty in the Wade Hampton area is 30 percent. Percentage of persons living below poverty in the Anchorage area is 7.9 percent. Source: U.S. Census.

SPOILS OF OIL: Of the $170 billion Alaska’s oil patch has provided the state since 1978, the state has spent $125 billion and saved $45 biilion. Source: University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research.

YOUR NOSE GROWS WHEN YOU LIE? That’s not true, however, your nose’s temperature does increase every time you tell a lie, according to thermal-imaging studies conducted by researchers in the department of experimental psychology at the University of Granada in Spain. (Which possibly means the collective nose temperature of Congress could boil water). Source : AARP.

ALASKA’S PER CAPITA INCOME RANK IN THE U.S. In 2012, Alaska ranked 10th in the United States in terms of per capita income. The average per capita income in Alaska was $46,778.00. Source: Bureau of Business and Economic Research, University of New Mexico.

DO YOU BELONG TO THIS CLUB? In 2012, six million U.S. households out of some 118.5 million had $1 million or more in investable or liquid assets (excluding sponsored retirement plans or real estate), Nationally, this represents about 5 percent of all households. In Alaska, there are 6.47 percent of the state’s households which hit this level. Source : Phoenix Marketing International.

FREE ENTERPRISE ISN’T FREE: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $136.3 million last year lobbying Congress, spending more than three times as much for such as the next biggest trade association. The chamber’s president is paid an annual salary of $4.9 million. Overall, the Chamber operates on a budget of $1 miilion a day /  $5 million per week. Source: New York Times.

NUCLEAR NUTS: China, Pakistan and India have increased their nuclear weapons by about 10 warheads each. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia continue their disarmament as prescribed by treaty. The U.S. reduced its number of warheads to 7,700 from 8,000, and Russia cut its arsenal from 10,000 to 8,500 warheads. Source: The Stockholm International Peace. Research Institute.

THE FIRST ZIP CODE: By governmental edict, the residents of the Pribilof Islands were directed to spell their names according to which island they lived. St. George residents were ordered to spell their name with one f and the residents of St. Paul spelled their names with two fs. So, residents if St. George spelled their names : Lekanof, Merculief, Philemonof. And the residents of St. Paul : Lekanoff, Merculieff, Philemonoff, etc. Source: Pribilof residents.

NOBODY TOLD THE RESIDENTS OF THE PRIBILOF ISLANDS ABOUT THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION: The residents of the Pribilof Islands, under a trilateral agreement between the United States, Japan and Russia, served as indentured servants to harvest the fur seals which were indigenous to St. George and St. Paul up until 1959. Source: Century of Servitude: Pribilof Aleuts Under United States Rule, by Dorothy Knee Jones.

PAY OR PAY FOR ELECTRICITY: Unless the State of Alaska chips in for the cost to build the Susitna-Watana dam, the retail rate for Susitna power in 2024 for Railbelt customers will be about 40 cents per kilowatt-hour. In comparison, it will be about 21 cents per kilowatt-hour if utilities provide the electricity using natural gas. If the state pitches in $5 billion—or roughly $15,000 per family of three Railbelt residents—the cost of electricity from the dam will go down to about 23 cents per kilowatt-hour. Source: University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research.

NICE GOVERNMENT PARKING PERKS: Amount paid by state workers in Albany, New York for a covered, reserved parking space: $108.00 a month. Amount they pay for a covered non-reserved space: $54.00 a month. Amount paid by Alaska state workers for a covered, reserved or unreserved parking space working in the Atwood Building in Anchorage $0. Source: Offices of General Services, New York.

PAYING FOR THEIR SWEET PARKING SPOTS: Estimated total amount the tax payer will pay for the Atwood parking lot: $77 million with interest.


Not an Onion headline: Unwed Bristol Palin to be on Celebrity Wife Swap

“I just think that God provides opportunities like this, and you can either go out and do them or not do them,” said Bristol Palin when asked why she would continually submit herself to criticism by appearing on the second season of Dancing with the Stars.

Apparently, God continues to giveth and God taketh away. Baby daddy’s for one. Dignity for another. Here’s the latest:

Reality-TV staple Bristol Palin (daughter of Sarah, of course) and comedienne/plastic surgery connoisseur Joan Rivers will trade households on “Swap,” with Joan and daughter Melissa bundling up and heading to chilly Wasilla, Alaska for a week, and Bristol and sister Willow moving into Joan’s Hollywood home. (Didn’t we already see Bristol try to make it in L.A., you ask? Yes, it was called “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp,” and no one watched.)


Cost of opting out of Medicaid expansion

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, originally sought to coerce states into expanding Medicaid to everyone who makes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. States that refused to go along with the expansion would have been denied federal Medicaid funding. However, in the Supreme Court ruling that upheld health reform, the justices also found that such coercion was unconstitutional. Now, the states can decide whether or not to enact the Medicaid expansion.

Alaska is one of seven states that is still deciding. Thirteen have opted out and Iowa is trying to create its own policy.

Most governors of the states that have either opted out of the expansion or are undecided, including Gov. Sean Parnell, have cited costs of expansion.

But a recent study by Rand Corp. published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs calculates the impact of the states opting out of the Medicaid expansion, and finds that opting in is good fiscal policy:

With fourteen states opting out, we estimate that 3.6 million fewer people would be insured, federal transfer payments to those states could fall by $8.4 billion, and state spending on uncompensated care could increase by $1 billion in 2016, compared to what would be expected if all states participated in the expansion. These effects were only partially mitigated by alternative options we considered. We conclude that in terms of coverage, cost, and federal payments, states would do best to expand Medicaid.

Currently, about 125,000 Alaskans are without insurance. Because health care is so expensive here — more expensive than anywhere else in the country — many who are insured only have catastrophic coverage. Medicaid expansion in Alaska would cover roughly 32,000 Alaskans by 2014, the time when the Medicaid provision of the law would be enacted. The federal government will cover all of the costs of that expansion for the first five years. By 2020, the states will pick up about 10 percent of the costs.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


The university communicates its tolerance for violence on campus

According to Beth Bragg at the Anchorage Daily News, the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, who are meeting in Fairbanks this week, weren’t happy with UAA’s “communication” strategy as it dealt with recent “nastiness” involving the school’s athletic programs.

As many in the community know by now, and very few university leaders seem to care, such nastiness involved a coach hitting a student with a hockey stick in 2011. Here’s how one of many witnesses Mike Spencer described the incident:

“Head Coach Dave Shyiak forcefully struck player Nick Haddad with a hockey stick in a baseball-style swing across the mid-section because Nick messed up in a practice drill. This was not a typical slash that sometimes occurs in hockey. It was hard and it was violent…The next day, on Wednesday January 12, 2011 Coach Shyiak conducted a team meeting in the locker room and instructed team members not to speak about the incident. In more specific words, Shyiak told the team to reply, ‘No comment, we were preparing for this weekend and things can get intense, it was nothing out of the ordinary,’ if asked about the assault.”

The coach’s boss, the recently fired athletic director Steve Cobb, found out about the incident, washed his hands of it and conveniently turned it over to another university staffer, who didn’t even talk to the coach or to Haddadd before he washed his hands of it and called it a day.

The problem for the university is that enough people witnessed the incident and knew about it that it refused to go away.

Cobb was fired recently. He wasn’t fired because he turned a blind eye to a coach accused of hitting a kid “baseball style” with a hockey stick. Cobb was fired because Gov. Sean Parnell wrote a letter subtly telling the university president that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated under his watch and urged him to “take a stand.”

Apparently UAA Chancellor Tom Case doesn’t understand what taking a stand means. He said that Cobb was fired because “despite his efforts, Steve will not be able to bring all elements of the public together in support of UAA, and that criticism of Steve has become a distraction from the great work that UAA does every day,” Case wrote.

Here’s the message to parents: If you want to put your kids in the hands of our university, you should know that coaches, staff, and presumably teachers can hit your kid and we’ll only take action if it becomes a “distraction.”

Our motto: Spare the rod, spoil the child, until enough people take note.

According to news reports, the regents didn’t exactly hold Case’s feet to the fire and only seemed to perpetuate the notion that this behavior would have been acceptable had it not received public attention.

Anchorage Regent Gloria O’Neill, who I know was incensed over this matter, was quoted as saying that the event was unfortunate because “it was so public…As you think forward, what kind of communication strategy (can you) employ in the future … so this nastiness does not have to play out in the community?” she asked Case.

Case’s reply: “We were communicating what we were doing; there were just those who did not like what we were doing.”

Yes. They were doing nothing. They were saying nothing. And they were hearing nothing. And they would continue until enough members of the community, or as Cobb called them, “scoundrels,” told them that that was unacceptable.

If there’s one lesson that the board of regents and the university might take away from the nastiness is this: there’s no “communications strategy” that will allow any company, any institution or any person to get away with avoiding doing the right thing.

Here’s the right thing: tell the public that violence is wrong, will not be tolerated in the university system and that anybody—coach, student, teacher, janitor—who engages in that violence will be terminated immediately.

And tell the public that university employees who cover for those who engage in such violence, and those who covered for them in the past, will also be forced out of their cushy, post-military career jobs.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


About last night’s Valley fundraiser

Last evening in Palmer, Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy and Rep. Bill Stoltze held a joint fundraiser that by all accounts appeared to be a resounding success, as such Republican gatherings in the overwhelmingly conservative Valley tend to be.

Governor Sean Parnell showed with his wife Sandy, who has kept a relatively low profile since Parnell was elected, much to some people’s dismay. Sometimes Parnell can come across as robotic, or as a writer once put it, like the Manchurian Governor. Sandy, on the other hand, is all grace and warmth.

Anchorage Sen. Lesil McGuire showed, with spouse in tow, presumably drumming up much needed Valley support for the lieutenant governor’s race.

Senate President Charlie Huggins was there with his wife Becky who, in my opinion,should get some sort of political-spouse medal for spending her birthday at the political fundraiser. She also should get some sort of special commendation for not pointing out, every time anybody mentions the decorated military career of her husband, that she is a retired major herself, and is a better helicopter pilot than he is.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Everyone loves bear cubs


Jay Bitney and bear cub

Everyone, even the relative of former Sarah Palin employee turned lobbyist, likes bear cubs. And everyone wants to save them when they’re down and out, which is what Jay Bitney, brother of John, did when he spotted an orphan bear cub while in Platinum Alaska near Bethel. Jay’s out there crushing rock for gravel used in the region. (He’s doing it for money, not as some sort of Sisyphean punishment for the perceived or otherwise sins of his brother).

The cub is now safely in the hands of Fish and Game in Bethel.

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Sen. Lesil McGuire running for lieutenant governor

The tenacious, smart, impetuous, and always interesting state Sen. Lesil McGuire will be announcing on Wednesday at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium that she’s running for lieutenant governor in the 2014 election.

McGuire was first elected as a state representative in 2000 when she was 29 years old. She won her current Senate seat in 2006, even though during her early years of public service she drew some controversy for issues related to alcohol and her ex-husband, former Rep. Tom Anderson, who was later sentenced to five years in federal prison.

McGuire’s fought hard to prove her mettle and has risen to be part of the Senate leadership team. She chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee, which dictates the flow of legislation to the floor for action. Sometimes that entails stopping bills, which McGuire has been known to do, even when pressured by other members of leadership.

Rumors have it that Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who also has raised eyebrows again for issues related to drinking, is also running. He’s yet to confirm his intentions though he did file a letter of intent to seek statewide office. He’s also reportedly been calling potential challengers, all but telling them that the seat is his and to butt out.

McGuire, however, is going to decline to do so.

No matter which other Republican she will run against in the primary, McGuire’s candidacy will be interesting if nothing else because she is likely to be the only one in the race whose politics, particularly on social issues, might be described as moderate. That is if being a moderate these days means that you don’t believe that abortion should be outlawed in cases of incest, rape, and when the mother’s life is in danger.

It’ll also be interesting because she will likely be the only candidate who can walk just as  gracefully down the carpeted halls of the Capitol building as she can on icy sidewalks, wearing stilettos.

And she’s a fighter.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Chuck Kopp rumored to be after state Sen. Fred Dyson’s seat

Rumors abound that Chuck Kopp, legislative aide to Senator Fred Dyson, is telling folks that his boss is retiring and that he intends to run for the state Senate seat in Eagle River. Dyson was first elected to the legislature in 1996 and has served in the Senate since 2002.

Fiscal conservative former Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom is also rumored to be interested in the seat. However, if Rep. Bill Stoltze, who is also in that district decided to run for the Senate, it would be his for the taking.

Kopp was Sara Palin’s very short lived public safety commissioner who resigned after it came out that he had been had been investigated and reprimanded for a sexual harassment complaint made by an employee when he was the chief of police in Kenai.

Most recently, Kopp’s name has also been in the news for being the brother-in-law of Judge Paul Pozonsky. Alaska Department of Labor hired Pozonsky as hearing officer last year, even though he was being actively and openly investigated by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office at the time of his hire. Too, the job was only open to Alaska residents. Pozonsky has recently been charged, among other things, for pilfering cocaine while on the bench in Pennsylvania.

Questions quickly arose, and keep arising, about possible political patronage. But Kopp has denied that he had anything to do with the hiring, and told the Anchorage Daily News in December that he didn’t know that Pozonsky had even applied for the job until the hiring was in process.

“I knew that he retired from his job (as a judge) and I was informed afterwards that he had applied. And I never communicated with Department of Labor or the governor’s office, or anybody. That was strictly all his doing,” Kopp told the ADN.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Branding all those Alaska goods?

The Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (DCCED) is spending $700,000 to create a new “brand” for Alaska. They have awarded a contract to Anchorage-based MSI to conduct a marketing plan to, according to DCCED, “grow Alaska’s presence in the global marketplace and to create more opportunity for Alaskan businesses and investors.”

The state’s selected contractor, MSI, has strong political ties and worked for the Super PAC that supported U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s winning write-in campaign against Joe Miller in 2010. It was the first race in the country to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling that allowed such Super PACS to spend unlimited amounts of money on a campaign, in this case more than $1.8 million. MSI also represented the Make Alaska Competitive Coalition which pushed for lower state taxes on the oil industry.

The state’s branding and marketing plan will focus on developing the state’s smaller marketing programs like minerals, forest products, agriculture, film, and other Alaska made goods, goods of which—aside from minerals- Alaska produces very little.

“This initiative will result in new high quality promotional materials, and promote Alaska’s brand through a public relations campaign in national and international markets,” DCCED said in its call for proposals.

Washington, D.C. based public opinion research firm William Cromer and Associates, which is a subcontractor for MSI, has been emailing business leaders to try to corral them to participate in a focus group to discuss the development of a new branding program for Alaska’s economic future.

Cromer and Associates is best known in the state for their work with former Gov. Bill Sheffield’s campaign (1982 and 1986) and were the guys that got it wrong for the cruise ship industry on the head tax initiative campaign.

Contact Amanda Coyne at