Monthly Archives: June 2013

Dancing with both parties at Bill Sheffield’s birthday bash

SheffieldThe house not unknown to throngs of polticos and well known Alaskans was out-thronged with them on Saturday afternoon, where hundreds showed to wish former Gov. Bill Sheffield a happy 85th birthday. A Democrat in a Republican state, a staunchly pro-union businessman, pro-development, pro-choice, pro-money, and an active contributor to candidates in both parties, Sheffield has always eluded ideological labels, and it showed Saturday afternoon.

Gov. Sean Parnell and his wife Sandy made an appearance. Former Gov. Tony Knowles and his wife Susan were there.

Reps. Lindsey Holmes, Mia Costello, and Bill Stoltze formed a Republican cabal with Sens. Lesil McGuire, and Kevin Meyer.

All of whom were in spitting distance of Vic Ficsher, Jane Angvik, Jana Varratti,  Nancy Groszek, and Mike Szwmanski, to name a few prominent Dems.

There didn’t appear to be a love-fest between the two factions, but nobody that I saw at least got a drink thrown in his or her face.

Mayor Dan Sullivan showed as did former Anchorage Mayor Tom Fink, the staunchest of staunch conservatives who Sheffield beat in the governor’s race and remains one of Sheffield’s best friends.

Sheffield’s  Lt. Gov. Stephen McAlpine, who hates to be called Steve, was there. Steve is perhaps the only lieutenant governor who was serious about the Division of Elections. Also present: Diane Adams who is the wife of former Rep. Al Adams, Jim and Marty Weeks, John and AJ Shively, Kelly Campbell, the great organizer and most faithful friend ever “Mother” Laurie Herman and Dan Hickey , Paul Quesnel, Al and Ann Parrish, Curtis Thayer …The list goes on. (And of course, no party is complete without a Margy Johnson hat sighting.)

Some enterprising society page columnist rag would have had a field day at the event, and might have carried a notebook, taken some notes, and snapped a few pictures, if nothing else to remind herself that Democrats in the state once actually mattered.

As it was, I spent my time either standing at the buffet line or sitting snarfing my spoils.

Regardless of the lack of documentation, one thing would have been apparent to even the most bloated and wine soaked observer — and there were plenty of them – that all of these people, all of them with all of their various and sundry and often conflicting agendas and personalities, that all of them could all be together in goodwill is a testament to the man who brought them all together.

From Spokane, Sheffield began his career selling appliances at Sears. He worked tirelessly, leased a hotel and turned his business into the largest hotel chain in the state. He had enormous energy and determination, but he was never a natural politician. He had a nearly debilitating speech impediment and did things like making enemies of government workers by making them wear ties and cutting their salaries..

What is nearly inconceivable now, one of the biggest uproars caused by his tenure, aside from a nasty Republican-hyped non scandal, was that he consolidated Alaska’s four time zones into one.  What is also inconceivable, he is the only governor to significantly cut the budget. This at a time when oil went below $10 a barrel.

He did this and also oversaw the state’s purchase, from the federal government, of the Alaska Railroad. He also oversaw the development of Red Dog Mine and Bradley Lake dam and cracked down on air and water pollution problems in Anchorage and Fairbanks. He cared deeply about rural Alaskans and traveled all over the state to reach out to them.

Sheffield didn’t get a second term. He lost to Steve Cowper, who didn’t even own a house in Alaska and only served one term. When Cowper left, he left the state for good.

The party was said to go on well after I left. Songs were sung. Memories shared. Tears were shed. A few began to dance. Sheffield joined them. At his party, it didn’t matter what party they belonged to. He danced with them.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Thank God it’s Friday’s random facts: The Wood-Tikchik edition

Thank God it's Friday facts Just north of Dillingham, thousands of king salmon are entering the Nushegak river. Just over the hill, the Agluowak is brimming with Arctic char, sockeye salmon and rainbow trout. These waterways are in the drop-dead gorgeous Wood-Tikchik State Park, where your amasser of Friday facts is currently enjoying a visit. Here are a few Friday facts about the park, and about the nearby Pebble Mine.

    • Wood-Tikchik State Park is the largest state park in Alaska and the United States.
    • At 1.6 million acres, it’s about the size of Delaware.
    • There are 15 major lakes in the park, varying in length from 15-45 miles, and can be as deep at 900 feet.
    • The Agulowak provides spawning grounds for 200,000 sockeye salmon and passes 1.2 million others to higher spawning grounds in the drainage.
    • Some of those salmon in the park waterways will make their way to the site of the proposed Pebble Mine, which, if built, would be one of the largest gold and copper mines in the world.
    • Callan J. Chythlook-Sifsof from Aleknagik, Alaska was a member of the United States snowboarding team in the 2010 Winter Olympics and is training for the 2014 Winter Olympics. She has some things to say about Pebble Mine in Thursday’s New York Times in a piece entitled, “Native Alaska, Under Threat.”
    • Gold fell 23 percent in second quarter to close at $1,223.80 an ounce on Friday, the lowest it’s been in about three years. Mining companies are taking it hard. If things continue, Donald Marleau an analyst at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said that he would expect the market to downgrade mining companies.
    • In the past 52 weeks, Northern Dynasty’s stock has fluctuated between $5.40 and $1.85. It closed on Friday at $2.09. Northern Dynasty’s principle asset is Pebble Mine. In 2007, the company partnered with mining giant Anglo American plc. Which is required to fund US$1.5 billion of project costs to retain its 50 percent interest.
    • In the past 52 weeks, Anglo American’s stock has fluctuated between $16.96 to $9.53. On Friday, its stock closed at $9.63.
    • In 2010, 538 Washington residents held drift gillnet and set gillnet commercial salmon fishing licenses in Bristol Bay, off of which they made a total gross estimated earnings of about $60 million.
    • The 2010 census counted 299 residents in both Iliamna and Newhalen, two communities closest to the mine. Out of those, only 26 had commercial fishing permits, and only 22 fished those permits, according to the Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Healthcare hearing leaves things unsaid

Alaska state Rep. Lora Reinbold, who chairs the Administrative Regulation Review Committee, held an interesting if unbalanced hearing on the effect the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, is going to have on Alaska.

“Is Obamacare the best or worst thing to happen to the U.S.? That’s what our hearing is about; we want to learn the facts and clarify what is currently known about the program’s effects in Alaska,” she wrote in a press release announcing the hearing, two days before it was held.

Reinbold, a Republican from Eagle River, is not a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and is a cosponsor of a joint legislative resolution to call on Congress to delay the implementation of the act.

Those testifying, all invited by the committee chair, included Deborah Erickson, the executive director of Alaska’s Health Care Commission, Jeff Davis who is president of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, Division of Insurance Director Bret Kolb.

Dr. Ilona Farr, who is a primary care physician and who has been one of the state’s most vocal opponents of the ACA, also testified. She was the only health care provider who did so.

Alaska has the third highest cost of health care in the world and its citizens pay among the highest premiums rates for insurance in the country. At about 120,000 uninsured Alaskans, the state has among the highest rates of uninsured per capita in the country.

The committee didn’t invite patient advocates or anybody from the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, or any of their members including Providence Hospital or Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Nobody from the public testified.

With the absence of those voices, it was difficult to get a balanced perspective on the Act and how it will affect such people and institutions, say nothing of what it would do to such people and institutions if Gov. Sean Parnell declines to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid.

It was a topic that those presenting only touched on, which was also surprising given that it is one of the few things about the Act in which the state has a voice.

In the other major area that the state could have had say—health exchanges—Parnell  ceded the state’s voice and has allowed the feds to build Alaska’s exchange, which is supposed to be up and running by September. (Read more about exchanges here.)

The major take-away from the hearing, based on those testifying, was that health care costs are going to rise under the Act.

Farr, as she has done in the past, also spent much of her time talking about the negative impact that onerous regulations were going to have on doctors.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


How DOMA decision might affect married gay couples in Alaska

I was wrong when I wrote earlier that the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA wouldn’t affect gay couples in Alaska. Joshua Decker, Director of ACLU in Alaska told me that gay couples who married in one of the 13 states which allowed gay marriage should be able to receive the same federal benefits – over 1,000 of them — as other married couples. (Read the full list here).

But in fact they might not receive all of them. “Same-sex couples who have married in, say, New York state, and moved to Alaska may find that they will get only some federal benefits, not all, because their marriage is not recognized in Alaska,” Decker said.

The issue might be the amount of state involvement in federal programs and benefits.  Some such programs, like welfare and Medicaid, have strict federal guidelines. Other programs, like the Family Medical Leave Act, have more state involvement and defer more to state requirements.

Alaska Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills said that the Department of Law is still trying to get a grasp of the total ramifications of the ruling. What is clear, she said, is that Alaska law, which says that marriage is between a man and a woman, is still law.

We’ll see, but as Lyle Denniston from SCOTUSblog points out, the decision, related to benefits, “might be a particular problem for already-married gay couples serving in the military, who often have to move from state to state.”

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Happy Birthday Bill Sheffield

Eighty five years ago today, a young boy was born in Spokane, Washington who later migrated to Alaska and ended up selling appliances at Sears. He worked hard, leased a hotel and turned his business into the largest hotel chain in the state. He was elected governor of Alaska in 1982. If you see Bill Sheffield today, wish him a Happy Birthday.


DOMA’s done

From the SCOTUSblog, explaining in plain English what the striking down of DOMA means:

“The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.”

Take note:  Because gay marriage is constitutionally banned in Alaska, the law does nothing for the couple that Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote about when she came out against DOMA.  It only applies to couples in the 13 states that allow gay marriage.

The California ruling is a narrow one, and only allows gay marriage to go forward in that state.

Here’s what Murkowski said about the DOMA decision:

“I welcome today’s Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act because the federal government should empower households, respect the decisions of states and otherwise get out of the way.  This ruling represents victories for states’ rights and equal treatment under the law.”

More reactions and excerpts on the decision throughout the day.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Silence from the right over Murkowski and gay marriage

Josh Barro writes in Business Insider about the deafening silence from the right following U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s statement in support of gay marriage. He finds nothing.

I too spent a good part of my day on Wednesday and this morning looking for reaction to Murkowski’s statement on gay marriage. Nadda. Not from the National Review. Not from the American Spectator. Not even from Joe Miller or Sarah Palin, neither of whom have been shy about taking shots at Murkowski.

Just a few years ago, the right would have been in an uproar and would have denounced Murkowski as a heretic.

Barrow suspects that “deep down, many socially conservative writers are less confident than they used to be that gay marriage is wrong. So they’ve abdicated any effort to argue against gay marriage or hold accountable Republicans who support it.”

I suspect that deep down, they know it’s a losing issue for them. And they are also jittery about being on the wrong side of history days before the U.S. Supreme Court is set announce one or both of its decisions on gay marriage.

Contact Amanda Coyne at 


What goes on on high at the University of Alaska

Two and a half pages of a 49-page report about the 2011 assault of a UAA hockey player by the coach was released to the Anchorage Daily News on Wednesday. Although many in UAA’s administration knew about the assault –including UAA Chancellor Tom Case, and Vice Chancellor Bill Spindle –the investigation was only conducted after it was reported in the ADN and the community began to demand action.

While it’s hard to take too much from what was released, a few things are worth highlighting:

  • The report said that the coach Dave Shyiak “possibly” committed a misdemeanor assault but that charges will not be forwarded because it would be against the wishes of the victim.
  • Following the assault, the athletic department made a “very sparsely conducted” inquiry into the incident.
  • The investigator chalked the lack of inquiry up to the “lack of a Standard Operating Procedure.”
  • UAA, however, seems to dispute that. Kristin DeSmith, a UAA spokeswoman, said that anyone with a significant responsibility for student and campus activities is a “campus security authority” and is required by federal law to report a potential crime.

In other words, those who knew about it and didn’t report it might have violated federal law. That would include Case, Spindle and recently fired Athletic Director Steve Cobb.

Further, what’s been released so far appears to directly contradict the statement released by Case following Cobb’s firing. In that statement, Case said that he had spoken to the investigator, and was assured that the investigation “found no basis for recommending criminal charges against Coach Shyiak or anyone else.” And that Cobb “did in fact conduct a good faith review of the allegations at the time.”

Case also called the allegation “overstated.” (It should be noted that Cobb wasn’t fired because of the assault on his watch. He was fired, according to Case, because he had become a “distraction.”)

Either the investigator didn’t tell Case the truth about what he was finding, or Case lied to the public. In either case, someone should be held accountable.

But they likely won’t. It’s been 37 days since the assault was reported in the media, and not one member of university leadership, including any member of the Board of Regents, has yet to denounce the assault and ensure parents that their kid won’t get hit by a coach, a teacher, or secretary.

The University of Alaska’s motto is Ad Summum, meaning “To the Highest Point.”  Sounds good, until your look at what goes on on high.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Quote of the day and the wisdom of Lisa Murkowski

On the same day that Sen. Lisa Murkowski came out for gay marriage,  Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian group that promoted “reparative therapy” in order to “cure” homosexuality, is closing its doors following a remarkable apology to the gay community by Exodus’ president Alan Chambers. Here’s a passage from that apology, but it’s worth reading in full:

“Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.

More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God.”

Read more here.


U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski comes out for gay marriage

She’s the third Republican senator to come out for gay marriage. Read her op-ed in full below:


The Pursuit of Happiness – Without Government Interference

Not too long ago, I had the honor of nominating an Alaskan family as “Angels in Adoption,” a celebration of the selflessness shown by foster care families and those who adopt children. They arrived in Washington, DC, a military family who had opened their doors to not one child but four siblings to make sure that these sisters and brother had the simplest gift you can give a child: a home together.  We had lunch together, and they shared their stories with me. All the while, the children politely ate lunch and giggled as content youngsters do. Given my daily hectic Senate schedule, it’s not often that I get to sit down with such a happy family during a workday – and I think of them often, as everything our nation should encourage.

I bring them up because the partners were two women who had first made the decision to open their home to provide foster care to the eldest child in 2007.  Years later – and after a deployment abroad with the Alaska National Guard for one of them – they embraced the joy and sacrifice of four adopted children living under the same roof, with smiles, laughter, movie nights, parent-teacher conferences and runny noses.

Yet despite signing up and volunteering to give themselves fully to these four adorable children, our government does not meet this family halfway and allow them to be legally recognized as spouses. After their years of sleepless nights, afterschool pickups and birthday cakes, if one of them gets sick or injured and needs critical care, the other would not be allowed to visit them in the emergency room – and the children could possibly be taken away from the healthy partner.  They do not get considered for household health care benefit coverage like spouses nationwide.  This first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence.

The Supreme Court is set to make a pair of decisions on the topic of marriage equality shortly, and the national conversation on this issue is picking back up. This is a significant moment for our nation when it comes to rethinking our society’s priorities and the role of government in Americans’ private lives and decisions, so I want to be absolutely clear with Alaskans. I am a life-long Republican because I believe in promoting freedom and limiting the reach of government.  When government does act, I believe it should encourage family values.  I support the right of all Americans to marry the person they love and choose because I believe doing so promotes both values:  it keeps politicians out of the most private and personal aspects of peoples’ lives – while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another.  While my support for same sex civil marriage is something I believe in, I am equally committed to guaranteeing that religious freedoms remain inviolate, so that churches and other religious institutions can continue to determine and practice their own definition of marriage.

With the notion of marriage – an exclusive, emotional, binding ‘til death do you part’ tie – becoming more and more an exception to the rule given a rise in cohabitation and high rates of divorce, why should the federal government be telling adults who love one another that they cannot get married, simply because they happen to be gay? I believe when there are so many forces pulling our society apart, we need more commitment to marriage, not less.

This thinking is consistent with what I hear from more and more Alaskans especially our younger generations. Like the majority of Alaskans, I supported a constitutional amendment in 1998 defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, but my thinking has evolved as America has witnessed a clear cultural shift.  Fifteen years after that vote, I find that when one looks closer at the issue, you quickly realize that same sex unions or civil marriages are consistent with the independent mindset of our state – and they deserve a hands-off approach from our federal policies.

First, this is a personal liberty issue and has to do with the most important personal decision that any human makes. I believe that, as Americans, our freedoms come from God and not government, and include the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What could be more important to the pursuit of happiness than the right to choose your spouse without asking a Washington politician for permission?  If there is one belief that unifies most Alaskans – our true north – it is less government and more freedom.  We don’t want the government in our pockets or our bedrooms; we certainly don’t need it in our families.

Secondly, civil marriage also touches the foundation of our national culture: safe, healthy families and robust community life. In so many ways, sound families are the foundation of our society.  Any efforts or opportunity to expand the civil bonds and rights to anyone that wants to build a stable, happy household should be promoted.

Thirdly, by focusing on civil marriage — but also reserving to religious institutions the right to define marriage as they see fit — this approach respects religious liberty by stopping at the church door.   As a Catholic, I see marriage as a valued sacrament that exists exclusively between a man and a woman.  Other faiths and belief systems feel differently about this issue – and they have every right to.  Churches must be allowed to define marriage and conduct ceremonies according to their rules, but the government should not tell people who they have a right to marry through a civil ceremony.

I recently read an interview where Ronald Reagan’s daughter said that she believes he would have supported same-sex marriage, that he would think “What difference does it make to anybody else’s life? I also think because he wanted government out of peoples’ lives, he would not understand the intrusion of government banning such a thing. This is not what he would have thought government should be doing.”

Like Reagan, Alaskans believe that government works best when it gets out of the way.  Countless Alaskans and Americans want to give themselves to one another and create a home together. I support marriage equality and support the government getting out of the way to let that happen.


Bases by bruises haunt Chinooks

It was the fifteenth day of sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-seventies at Loretta French Park as the Chinooks hosted the Anchorage Glacier Pilots Friday. There was a good crowd on both sides of the field, with fans seated down both fence lines, on the hillside and behind the right-field fence.

That is the good news. The bad news for Fish fans, though, is that the fliers flew and the Fish threw too far inside too many times.

A look at the scorebook shows HP (hit by pitch) a total of seven times. Only one of those, unfortunately, was courtesy of a Pilots pitcher. Six of those bases-by-bruises were from a combination of three Chinooks pitchers. Three came in the Pilots’ big inning, the third, when three hit batters contributed to five runs after one had come across in the second frame.

The game started off with three up and three down in the top of the first thanks to a strikeout by starter Andrew Klausmeier, a line drive into the glove of shortstop Stephen Ventimilia and a long fly caught by Collin Radack in center.

A couple of singles were slapped through in the bottom of the first, the first by Radack and the second by catcher Daniel Salters. Radack was unable to move past second, however, before three fish were thrown back into the water.

Disaster fell in the top of the third with two Pilots out when Klausmeier plinked the third man up square on the helmet, causing enough concern for the coaches and trainer to check to make sure the blow did not cause serious injury. That it did not was exhibited on the next pitch when the runner speedily stole second in retaliation. An error, a single, a double and two other hit batters were experienced before the third out came on a grounder to Ventimilia who threw sharply to Tyler Krahn at first.

The Pilots loaded the bases in the fourth, but reliever Devin Stanton was able to escape giving up a run, getting the potential grand slam to turn into a ground out, short to first.

A lead-off single in the top of the sixth led to the seventh Pilots run.

Chinooks fans’ spirits were lifted by a two-out rally in the fourth. Krahn singled and moved to second thanks to a walk given up to Jake Murray, followed by a base on balls drawn by Nick Covello. Ventimilia became the hero of the game when he drove a single into the outfield, scoring the runners from third and second.

Strong Pilots pitching held the Chinooks at bay after those two runs came in. For five consecutive innings it was one-two-three.

Saturday at 7 p.m, the Chinooks host the All-Stars from the Chugiak and Eagle River American Legion teams in a seven-inning contest.

At the end of the sixth inning, a drawing will be held for an ounce of gold. Proceeds from the raffle are to be used to equip the new concession stand being constructed at the field. Completion is scheduled for June 30.

By Lee Jordan. Published here with permission.Jordan is a writer and the founder of the Eagle River Star. 


Thank God it’s Friday’s random facts

  • A 2010 study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that gay men reduced their risks of contracting HIV by up to 90 percent by taking a daily dose of an antiviral drug. A new study published by The Lancet showed drug addicts taking the pill regularly were 74 percent less likely to become infected.
  • The latest poll from YouGov shows that most Americans oppose arming Syrian rebels and intervening directly, with 54 percent opposing intervention and only 18 percent supporting it.
  • According to UA President Pat Gamble, the activities of UA employees that constitute inappropriate behavior: “unauthorized sleeping, reading, playing games, using the internet or telephone inappropriately, etc.”
  • Number of days since it was first reported in the media that in 2011 a UAA coach had struck a student with a hockey stick: 31.
  • Number of times the University of Alaska leadership has told the public that it’s wrong for one of their employees to hit a student: 0.
  • The term used by one witness to describe how the UAA hockey coach hit the kid with the stick: “”baseball-style.” The term used by UAA Chancellor Tom Case to describe the incident: “overstated.”
  • The number of Alaskans without health insurance pre-Obamacare: 130,000. The number of uninsured Alaskans post-Obamacare if state opts out of Medicaid expansion: 104,000. The number of uninsured Alaskans post-Obamacare if state opts into Medicaid expansion:  68,000.
  • Blue whale calves drink as much as 132 gallons of milk a day. A baby whale can increase its weight by 200 pounds in one day. Seal pups can double their birth weight in six days. Seal’s milk contains nearly twelve times as much fat as human milk.
  • Last year, Hallmark sold 94 million father’s day cards.
  • Alaskans eat more ice cream than Americans in any other state. The average Alaskan eats six gallons per year. The national average is four gallons per year.
  • In January, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. formally admitted about 30 members of the National LBGT Bar Association to the Supreme Court’s bar, the first time a gay legal group achieved that status.
  • Amount of money in new investment the big three oil companies have committed to spending in Alaska over the next five years post oil tax break: $1 billion, or $200 million a year.
  • Estimated yearly value to the big three from the tax break passed by the Alaska Legislature: anywhere from $2 billion to $600 million depending on the price of oil.
  • Nationwide housing sale prices rose 7.3 percent last year while prices in hard-hit Phoenix surged 23 percent. Other trouble spots, including Las Vegas and Riverside, California, have also experienced double digit gains.
  • Father’s Day was founded in Spokane, Washington at the YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd. Its first celebration was in the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910.
  • Best father ever: John R. Coyne Jr.

Quote of the day

“When all you do is talk to people who are owners, talk to folks who are Type A’s who want to succeed economically, we’re talking to a very small group of people. No wonder they don’t think we care about them. No wonder they don’t think we understand them. Folks, if we’re going to win, you just need to think about who you talk to in your life.”

Rick Santorum in a speech about why Mitt Romney didn’t win at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, D.C. Via Politico. 


The politics of PRISM and fear

You know your life has taken a strange turn when you find yourself searching for a statesman among our federal delegation only to increasingly find yourself looking U.S. Rep. Don Young in the eye.

You also know your life has taken a strange turn when you, a consistent critic of federal investigative powers and the judicial branch, finds herself defending the government’s attempt to protect its citizens.

I’m referring to the National Security Agency’s phone surveillance program, which has caused near mass hysteria across the country, hysteria that both of Alaska’s U.S. senators have done nothing to quell and in fact appear to be exacerbating for political gain.

By now, most have heard of the recently exposed program dubbed PRISM in which the government is collecting huge amounts of data from phone records in an attempt to find patterns in order to thwart terrorism attacks. It appears that PRISM was voted on in the 2008 reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted for.

The situation is constantly evolving, but this is what we know now: the government program pertains only to the date, length, and phone numbers involved in each call. Sen. Mark Begich told millions of Americans on Fox News that the program allows the government to tap the phones of millions of Americans.

That’s not true. The program does not give the government carte blanche to listen into our calls.

Let me repeat this because our senators aren’t doing so: The program does not allow the government to listen into the phone calls or even gather information about the phone number or who it belongs to. If the government then finds a troublesome pattern in the phone calls and wants to find out what is being said, it then requests a warrant from the FISA court, a court established in 1978 to authorize government wiretaps in foreign intelligence investigations.

As others have pointed out, there are plenty of reasons to be distrustful of governmental overreach. Not long ago, Alaskans got a front-row seat to what happens when the government wants you and will stop at nothing to get you.  And the late Sen. Ted Stevens was just one high profile example of that overreach which many more are victim to. Our prisons are full of low level drug dealers who are spending decades behind bars because some overzealous prosecutor wants a win on his record. Idealistic environmentalists are being charged as terrorists and spending much of their lives in prison under terrorism laws for nothing more than property damage. And our executive branch is ordering the firing of missiles at U.S. citizens and killing them without any legal proceedings.

In comparison, from what we know about the program, PRISM seems downright benign.

According to Michael Hayden, the former head of NSA under President George Bush, this is how the program works:

“So, you roll up something in Waziristan. You get a cell phone. It’s the first time you’ve ever had that cell phone number. You know it’s related to terrorism because of the pocket litter you’ve gotten in that operation…you simply ask that database, hey, any of you phone numbers in there ever talked to this phone number in Waziristan?”

In other words, someone from a terrorism network in Waziristan is calling, say, me. And the NSA wants to know if I’ve been calling any other numbers that might be connected to that terrorism network. This database of information allows it to do that. It could, perhaps go to the FISA court with a warrant to listen to future calls, but it wouldn’t have had the ability to look retroactively at calls that I might have made.

Google is able to discern that last week I was coveting lululemon’s yoga pants. Yahoo knows that two days ago (heaven help me) I clicked on a story about Bristol Palin’s imminent appearance on a reality show. But the government shouldn’t know that last week I got a call from a terrorism network in Waziristan and then the month before, called someone who was connected to the same network in Waziristan who is visiting his cousin in California?

In fact, I would be appalled if I found out that the government had the ability to track such calls and didn’t do so to thwart a terrorism attack. And so would much of the rest of the country if that Waziristan cousin lobbed a bomb in California with my assistance.

Murkowski has sent out press releases criticizing the program. “Alaskans believe the government has no business snooping around our property, our library books, our phone calls or e-mails — and that our privacy rights are guaranteed by the Constitution,” she wrote. “Our investment in protecting American lives and liberties simultaneously is not a blank check.”

She goes on to defend her rather mixed record in protecting privacy.

Though it’s true that she has voted  for and against various amendments and against various Patriot Act reauthorization bills, it’s also true that she voted for the original Patriot Act and also the bill in 2008 that allowed this program.

Begich’s hands are cleaner on this. He has consistently voted against the Patriot Act, has spoken loudly about privacy and is cosponsor of what seems to be a much needed bill that would make the FISA courts more transparent. However, he, like Murkowski, is doing little to educate the public on the program and what it does and doesn’t do. Instead, both seem intent on fomenting fear for political gain.

“Alaskans have a right to know why information about their personal communications is being monitored,” Begich said.

If there’s one thing that’s clear and that’s been stated repeatedly it is that the information is being used to stop people from harming us. Begich knows this. So does Murkowski. And they both know how the program works.

Back to Young the statesman. He, like Begich, has been consistent in his opposition to the Patriot Act. However, he has so far declined to make that an issue, nor to join with the rest of the crew in spreading fear.

Though not his usual modus operandi, as of this writing Young has stayed silent on the matter. His spokesperson said that he’s waiting to gather more information before he speaks on it.

Young’s waiting to gather information so he actually knows what he’s talking about and perhaps will be able to do what he was elected to do: tell the public the truth, instead of beating the drums of demagoguery



Loren Leman back for another round?

For God knows what reason the interest in the 2014 lieutenant governor’s race — one of the most boring jobs in state government and not that much more exciting to report on — is drawing the attention of real candidates. So far, Sen. Lesil McGuire is in. Mayor Dan Sullivan is making noises, and former Lt. Governor Loren Leman is reportedly spending significant time on the phone talking to big contributors and party operatives — the five or so left in Alaska — about getting into the race as well.

In November 2002, Leman was elected to serve as the tenth lieutenant governor of Alaska and was the first candidate of Alaska Native ancestry elected to statewide office. Prior to that, he was a legislator serving West Anchorage 14 years. Leman, assuming he runs, will inherit the mantle and support of the conservative right wing of his party. You know, those people who actually vote in primaries. Good for him that it’s a small state and folks often have opportunities to meet and interact with candidates. Leman is always more charming and human in person than he is on television.

Contact Amanda Coyne at