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Alaska’s Leaders Need To Start Living in This Century

Beautiful birds are dying on remote Alaska islands in the Bering Sea. Polar Bears are being spotted away from their usual frozen habitat, because the ice is melting. Now, in just the last few months, after another unseasonably warm winter in the largest state, four whales have shown up dead on beaches across south-central Alaska. These events have made the major news headlines across the state and the country. But, have they drawn the interest of the Alaska legislature? Not likely. They continue to fight about how to keep the state operating. But, they haven’t decided how to raise enough money to operate this huge state, without using earnings of the permanent fund? Just another broken record.

The majority in the Senate and in the House will not create an income tax, or anything else to increase funding to the state’s coffers. But, some do support plenty of cuts. Some lawmakers want to reduce government jobs. They want to reduce funding to government programs and agencies. Plus, they want to eliminate the state programs that traditionally lose money, such as the marine highway system. One cut that the new governor wants is a huge reduction in funding for education that had been approved in a prior legislative session. The governor wants that money back to cover the cost of a higher PFD that he had promised in his campaign. But, the legislature disagrees, and is willing to sue him in court to make certain that money stays in place for the schools.

So, once again, its overtime for the State Legislature and its staff in Anchorage and Juneau as, once again, the state is going to waste more money on a special session to get all these lawmakers to agree on a budget, before the fiscal year ends. So, as the state waits for this “bureaucratic snail” to complete its annual long and lengthy journey, the state will continue to lose out on more and more opportunities to move away from its 20th century economics formula of “making more money through fossil fuels”.

The year is 2019, more and more cars are running on alternatives to gasoline. The United States is back on top as the leader in oil and natural gas production; and, that is helpful. Unfortunately, it comes at a time when Prudhoe Bay oil reserves are continuing to shrink. New development for Alaska oil will likely come from federal land, not state land. That means less money for the state. And, as for the Big LNG Dream from the North Slope, it’s progressing SLOWER THAN the “bureaucratic snail”.

So, once again, just like before, the question has to be asked……When are the true leaders of this state going to wake up from the 20th century. Get out of their Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, and Mercury’s. Stop going out to their mailbox, outside, when their computer says they have mail to read. And, start to understand that the young adults in this state were actually born after the year 2000.

Alaska needs to catch up with the other states in business development, education, and government services. This state is becoming a poor state because of its reliance on the 20th century. If it doesn’t start thinking “outside of the box”, other states will take Alaska’s place in line in areas like climate study, alternative energy, preserving a fresh drinking water supply, reducing UV ray exposure, preparing for robotics, preparing for AI, 21st Century Healthcare, and, on and on. That is something to think about the next time you sit down in your Lazy-Boy for an evening of cable television, while you drink bottled water from the refrigerator, since the sink water hasn’t tasted right since the earthquake last fall. And, you probably will never find out what is wrong with that water because the state got rid of most of its geologists in a previous downsizing. All of the private geologists are swamped with work.

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Alaska’s Competitive Nature

Anyone who travels across this large state will quickly realize how competitive the individual regions are when competing with other parts of the state. One very prominent example of this territorial competition can be seen over the years between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Each community has a University of Alaska. Each community has been the hub in Alaska’s history for the refueling of jets. Fairbanks was the first hub. But, by the time Anchorage renamed its airport the Ted Stevens International Airport, the cargo jet capitol for the state was on the shores of the Cook Inlet.

Another competitive nature that exists in the state is within the salmon fishing industry. On the Kenai Peninsula, the Nikiski community prides itself as a family-oriented setnet community that goes after the salmon every summer. To the south, Kenai fishermen have a blend of commercial fishermen, sports fishermen, and those who dipnet for subsistence at the Kenai River’s mouth. Further downstream on the Kenai River is Soldotna. It is a sportfishing community. Finally, when the popularity of the Kenai River brings in large crowds, many anglers also try their luck for king salmon and subsistance fishing on the Kasilof River, which empties into the Cook Inlet after leaving Tustumena Lake.

Competing for that precious summer tourism revenue is another big event. Beginning in late April and early May, Seward, Anchorage and Whittier become the four major destinations for cruise ships. After docking, the passengers get the opportunity to see more of the state through train, shuttle and bus services. The industry also has agreements with lodging operations across the state. Plus, some tourists who arrive in state are able to rent recreational vehicles to travel the road system.

The tourists don’t just travel by boat. Others come by airplane. Others come by way of the Alaska Highway through Canada. Then, there is an even larger group of people who call Alaska home for six to eight months out of the year by parking their RV’s at campsites. Or, returning to their Alaska home from one of the warm states.

The boroughs along the state’s road systems have spent years coming up with unique ways to capture some revenue from all of these cruise ship passengers and RV travelers. Examples of some revenues include: bed taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, user fees, parking fees, fees for the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses, and even fees to clean up the air pollution and water pollution caused by the cruise ship industry, and the increased highway traffic.

The next example of Alaska’s extremely competitive nature has been with the plan to develop a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope. However, this example shows where Alaska’s competive nature can actually be destructive.

When the oil supply at Prudeau Bay was discovered, pockets of natural gas were also found. Instead of burning off the natural gas, the producers returned the gas back to the ground. Their plan was to bring it back out after the oil was depleted.

By the year 2000, the state had already started considering the extraction of this natural gas. Unfortunately, since the early 2000’s, the state has been unsuccessful in marketing the natural gas project, primarily due to the competive nature of those involved in the process since 2003.

The first pipeline idea was to take the gas through Canada, and connect it with the North American market. Most Alaskans disagreed, saying the gas belonged to Alaska, not Canada or the Lower 48. Alaska wanted some of the gas to heat homes and businesses in locations like Fairbanks, Nome, and the villages.

The second pipeline idea would be an in-state line to Nikiski. But, when the producers said it would cost to much money to build, they backed out of it. The state decided to go it alone. But, the progress didn’t make it very far, despite verbal marketing agreements in Asia. The state finally lost funding to move the project forward, without some type of outside investments being made.

Once again, differing opinions in the nations largest state left an idea, thought to be the state’s future, simply a pipe dream with nothing inside.

Many Alaskans Don’t Like Slow Drivers Just Like They Don’t Want to be Taxed

If you are a newcomer to the big state of Alaska, welcome to the Last Frontier, where the bear, moose and people who like their guns like to play.

If you plan on driving in this big, big state, you will want to keep something in mind. Just like guns, people like their cars and trucks up here. They like how loud the engine gets when it can get on the open road. And, if you are driving too slow for them on their “open road” they will let you know.

The best thing Alaska could have ever done was to build as many four-lane roads as possible with their old 20th century oil money. They had milions and milions of dollars. If they had built these four-lane roads, Alaska motorists would not be reading signs today on all two-lane state highways that say “slower cars pull off to the side”, “passing lanes ahead”, “passing lane ending”, “do not pass slower cars on the left”, “do not drive on the shoulder”, “bike path ahead, do not drive on shoulder”, “the shoulder is not a right turn lane”, “pedestrian crossing ahead”, etc…

I know the state is not allowed to be subjective with its signage; but, if they could, it might make for some interesting reading. “Hey….You in the car with the Camera….You are driving way too slow……speed up….or pull off the road.” “Hey….You in the car…..Driving only 35 in a 55….You just got a ticket for going too slow.”

Now, the roads are so crowded, winter and summer, that cars cannot even make a right or left turn off a major road without the use of a traffic light to stop the flow of traffic in the other direction. People who need to just cross the street have to ask the lighting system to cross, so the traffic light can stop all of the traffic. In the summer, it can be like Dallas, up here.

So, Alaska is getting more people, and more traffic everywhere. More people means more services will be requested. More traffic may mean requests for more roads and road improvements. Here is the problem. The only item we are not getting is more revenue into the state coffers to help fix these issues. As one Alaskan put it years ago, “This state got spoiled by oil.” Now, that the oil tap is starting to run dry, everybody is asking, “Higher taxes; but, WHY?” Other Alaskans, many who are Republican or Libertarian, always say, “Why tax Alaskans, let’s tax the tourists?” (That usually comes from the Alaskans who want to be left alone.) Others want to cut, cut, cut, government spending. Others want to shut down parts of education funding and higher education funding.

Those who do support an income tax say it is needed to continue providing services to everyone. For the Alaskans who want public services, they have to be funded. That includes public education, higher education, health services, in-need services, public safety, state government, etc…

So, it is time for one of the youngest states to figure out how it plans to keep on being a state that can support itself. How can it keep its “Don’t Tread on Me” citizens happy? How can this big state keep all of its “Davy Crockett”, “John Wayne”, and “Amelia Earhart” citizens happy? How can it keep the newcomers of the 21st century happy? That will be a difficult task.

The “Don’t Tread On Me’s” basically came to disappear. Many of them are off the grid with their guns, dogs, log cabin that they built, animal hides on their walls from their hunts, their big fish catches on their walls, and a picture of their first plane that they learned how to fly that crashed somewhere in the state after everybody bailed out at the last minute into the snow.

The Davy Crockett’s are like the first group, except they work better with people. They are leaders with the same type of Alaska skills from the early days. They came here to help people who wanted to disappear. They were probably retailers.

John Wayne’s are the “Gotta Get It Done Guys”. In other words, they came here to help build everything in the state. Welders, truckers, pipeline workers, oilfield workers, shipping crews, fishermen, etc…..

The Amelia Earhart’s are the “Gotta Get It Gone Gals”. They did much of the same work as the Wayne’s over the years.

Now, all that this state needs is the Newcomers to find their new versions of Davy Crockett, John Wayne and Amelia Earhart to lead the Newcomers of this new century in the Last Frontier.

Alaska’s Other State Bird: The Mosquito

There is a reason people in Alaska want to wear long sleeves and jeans in the summer. They want to keep some of their blood. Because, by the month of the June, the insect that is often called Alaska’s “Other” State Bird has hatched and is looking for blood. The biggest mosquito anyone will ever see can be found in Alaska. This “thing” is all legs and wings.  It can be up to three or four inches tall, when Alaska is hit with quite a bit of moisture.

All of the tourism sites go out of their way to warn visitors about these “Creatures of the North”.   Some sites offer plenty of tips to avoid the bloodsuckers.  Some of these include:  cover up the arms and legs, if you plan on camping bring bug spray, bug zappers, and mosquito netting for your tents and RV’s.  If you plan on renting a cabin for a few weeks, mosquito netting around open doors and windows is good to keep pests outside.  These are just a few tips that can be found.

When everyone first sees these mosquitoes, they look really scary.  But, they  are really slow and easy to kill, because they are so darn big.  In a way, it reminds me of trying to kill a dragonfly with a rolled-up paper.   As long as everyone stays on the lookout for these overgrown pests, that is all they will be…a vacation pest.

It’s better than having to deal with the pests that haven’t made it up here, yet….like rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and mice.  But, we do have spiders, shrews, ants, squirrels, and robo-callers.  Have a good one, everyone.

One Sound I Miss Hearing in Alaska

Growing up in the Lower 48, right in the middle of Tornado Alley, every spring and summer I would hear the sound of mother nature bringing in the thunderstorms. It didn’t seem to scare me that much as a kid. I was always amazed how the sky would light up at night. I always enjoyed watching the lightning and hearing the thunder. I was always told, after the lightning strike, start counting, that would tell you how many miles the storm was from you.

Now, that my family lives in Alaska, we are away from severe weather and thunderstorms. There are some areas of the state that do experience some thunder and lightning, also some small hail on the really warm summer days. But those days are rare. Usually, the rain clouds are very dense from all of the moisture from the ocean and water-soaked land.

Now, when we make trips to the Lower 48, I have to explain to my kids that they are hearing thunder or seeing lightning. I remember first seeing all of this stuff as an infant. Kids who are in grade school, and just seeing this stuff, might be a little more scared. I wonder how an adult, who had never heard or seen thunder and lightning, would react to it for the very first time?

Even though I miss the sounds made by the storms, I certainly don’t miss the destruction. I remember telling myself decades ago, if I find work away from Tornado Alley, I think I might take it.

Keeping Tabs on Your Vitals

After I quit smoking over two decades ago, I told myself I would always do my best to keep track of my vital signs and keep track of my general health. During the 20th century, I had watched my friends and relatives who kept in good shape and those who were not able to stay in shape.

Twenty-years later, I’m glad that I did. These tools are a great investment. Here is what a person can do. First, anyone who wants to keep track of what they put into their body doesn’t need to buy anything but a tablet and a pencil. Nutrition information is out there for virtually everything. It doesn’t take that much research. If you need to find info on a food item….and what it contains try http://www.nutrition.gov. It has a huge database of food items, including fast foods.

An item to track your heart is a watch that also measures your pulse while you exercise. It can help someone reach their maximum heart rate when they workout. It also reminds someone not to overdo it.

Pedometers are great, as well. Especially for seniors, or for those who don’t run as much, anymore. Walking is a great exercise, and many people are surprised to learn how many steps they actually take everyday.

Other small tools to consider getting for the house are bathroom scales and blood pressure monitors. Just keeping tabs on your weight once a week or once a month let’s you know if you are eating something bad in your diet. Are you putting too much sugar in your coffee? Are you grabbing food on your way to work too often? It is just a simple way to stop a bad thing, before it gets out of control. I did it with sub sandwiches one time. Then, I tried to save money by making a homemade cappucino mix, instead of buying one at the store. Yeah, that took a few thousand miles of walking to fix. Not to mention a few pairs of tennis shoes.

As for the blood pressure monitor, I am still shopping for one of those. I don’t need one, yet. But, it’s better to start keeping track of your pressure before your doctor says you have to start. As long as you start somewhere with the vitals it will be in the right direction. Another piece of good advice is to keep an eye out for those free health fairs, too. They usually start up in the springtime, and offer all kinds of valuable health tips for free. Have a good one!

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“Have You Ever Met An Alaskan?”

Now, there’s a loaded question! Have you ever met an Alaskan? The first answer will obviously be “yes or no”. The more interesting question is the follow-up to a yes. What was the Alaskan like? That could probably bring out some very interesting responses.

I remember one Alaskan that I met. He had lived here most of his life, and maybe all of it. He had worked in commercial fishing. He had learned many other jobs throughout his long life to keep him busy between fishing seasons. Plus, when the fishing seasons were not very good, he would make money with his other talents and skills, including retail sales. He was one of many hard workers that I have met in this state.

Another Alaskan that I remember meeting when I first arrived in the state was also a commercial fisherman. He seemed very angry at the way the state had managed the salmon fishing industry. He, like many other commercial fishermen, had become set in his ways about “the system in place” to regulate who would fish on certain days. In Alaska, especially the Cook Inlet, every summer is a Salmon War. The commercial boats and setnetters want their catch. The sports fishermen in the rivers want their clients to be able to catch kings, sockeyes, and silvers. Then, the state has spent the passed few decades opening up the mouth of two major rivers in the Cook Inlet for something a person will only see in Alaska…….subsistence fishing with a dipnet.

What is subsistence fishing with a dipnet? It is where an Alaska resident, who has lived in the state for one year, wears wetgear up to his or her head. Then, that person will carry a large net that is tied onto the end of a metal stick(it basically looks like a really huge tennis racket with a sagging net). The large net on a stick has to be pushed out into the cold water along the sand from the beach until it is virtually under water. Then, this Alaskan resident will stand in the cold water until a salmon gets caught in the dipnet.

I remember hearing stories from the angry commercial fisherman about how he didn’t like giving up part of his catch to dipnetters. Commercial fishermen have to invest thousands of dollars every year into their operation that is usually family-owned. They can only fish during the summer months. So, their income is tied to the returning salmon. For some of them, without a decent summer catch it could be a long winter. But, these local fishermen going out in the small boats would always be accused by the dipnetters of driving too close making large waves, scaring the salmon away, or being allowed to fish too close to shore and taking the dipnetters’ salmon catch away with their bigger nets. This always made for interesting summers at the local coffee shops. Who should be allowed to fish near the mouth of the rivers, the commercial fishermen, the sports fishermen, or the dipnetters? “Here come the fishermen, guys, hide all of the sharp knives!”

On a friendlier note, another interesting Alaskan that I had the chance to meet over the years spent his time bringing Alaskans together, instead of dividing them. He worked with others to help remember all of those who paid the highest price for their country….the veterans. This local Alaskan, along with his collegues from past confrontations, made sure the public knew when and where every Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day celebration was going to take place. And, if anyone had a question about the celebrations, they knew who to call.

This is just a short list of the types of people who make up Alaska. They come from different places……with different dreams about the Last Frontier. When they leave the Last Frontier, their impact on the state stays here. They changed the state while they were here, because their actions motivated others…either in a positive or a negative way.