Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Governor Recall Campaign Kicks off Tomorrow!

The Recall Dunleavy campaign officially kicks off tomorrow! (Details on why here.)

It is being spear-headed by Joseph E. Usibelli Sr. and Peggy Shumaker, Arliss Sturgulewski, and Vic Fischer.

Usibelli is chairman of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.
Shumaker is a poet and author, and was Alaska State Writer Laureate from 2010-2012.
Sturgulewski is a businesswoman and prominent Republican who represented Anchorage in the Alaska Senate from 1979 to 1993.
Fischer served in Alaska's territorial Legislature and its state Senate, and was a delegate to the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention.

It is being championed by The Anchorage Daily News and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. (The Juneau Empire has not advocated for the recall as of today, but every opinion piece it has published regarding the budget and the vetoes is anti-Dunleavy.)

Simultaneous kick-off events are scheduled in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau, Kodiak, Ketchikan, and Wasilla, as well as smaller communities from Sitka to Unalaska to Nome.

Link to live map here.

In addition to collecting more than 28,500 signatures, the group must also prove one of the following grounds for recall: lack of fitness; incompetence; neglecting duties; or corruption. "We’re going to be going with: Neglect of duties, incompetence, and lack of fitness," said Recall Dunleavy chair Meda DeWitt.

During the first signature collection drive, 28,501 Alaskans need to sign in order to advance it to the Director of the Division of Elections for review. After that, the petition would need signatures from 25% of the electorate that turned out in last year’s election, which would be 71,252 signatures of registered Alaska voters. His approval ratings are not high, and there is a lot of anger toward him, so I am hoping it all comes to pass.

I'm very pleased that the recall campaign is so well-organized, and backed by big names from both sides of the political spectrum. And most of all that signatures will be collected in a certifiable way, requiring ID and proof of Alaska voter registration. This will be WAY more credible than an internet petition, or even an in-person petition, which you so commonly see collecting signatures from any warm body, whether or not they even live or vote in Alaska.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Lessons from the Denali Center

Today, Starbuck-A-Roo and I visited her Friends at the Denali Center. Among them is a Friend who was hit by a drunk driver and is now a quadriplegic. Among our Friends there, she is one of the few who are fully possessed of all of their marbles. She is constantly looking up the latest research and advances that might possibly fix her condition, and in parallel is gradually, slowly recovering what muscle usage she can. For example, now she can use a stylus rubber banded to her hand to surf the internet on a touch pad. Today, she fed Roo three pieces of beef jerky! She was so proud she called a health aide in to come look. Roo, for her part, was happy to assist in her physical therapy.

Then she mentioned that if she could ever live independently, she might move to Wyoming. I told her I had driven through Wyoming and thought it was beautiful. I was on my way to and from Colorado, and I liked Wyoming better than Colorado, which was too crowded for me. She said she *hated* Denver. I recalled the crowds and traffic and urban lifestyle, and told her I had hated it, too. To which she replied, "Everyone in Denver speaks Mexican."

Record scratch.

"You know how you and I are speaking American since we are in America? Well, in Denver, they speak Mexican! I don't like it! I was so angry I had to walk right out of the restaurant."

"Well," I replied. "I'm originally from California, which used to be part of Mexico. So... errr... I'm sort of used to people speaking Spanish... er... Mexican?"

"But it's wrong!" she was getting angry at this point. "It's America, and we should all speak American!"

I could see there was no point in arguing, so I changed the topic. Roo of course does not love her any less. I see now that one of the lessons of being a therapy dog handler is that people can hold views that are morally abhorrent and/or ignorant and you can still share the love of a good dog. A dog's love is not something one earns; it is a grace that sometimes we are just lucky enough to get.

Another of our Friends is in stroke recovery and is cognizant of her incognizance. She constantly fumbles words and forgets things, then says, "I'm sorry, honey. It's my stroke that makes me this way." Today, she informed us "Well, I died a month ago. I was dead for about an hour, but then I came back. While I was dead, I saw a few old friends from church. I mentioned them to [the hospital chaplain] afterwards, and he remembered them too!" We have another Friend that never says he "dreamed about" his mom and dog. He says, "My mom and Schatze came to see me last night". It does make me wonder.

A third friend we bumped into at the front desk. He was with his little girl, and with one of our resident Friends, who was in a wheelchair, and he was trying to figure out how to do the paperwork to get her out for the evening. "Are you a blood relative?" "Well no, not exactly, but she's my aunty, sort of." This seems to be a cultural difference that white Americans don't quite grasp. To any Asian, Hawaiian, or Alaskan Native, no child refers to other adults by their first names alone, nor by "Mr." or "Mrs.". "Aunty" or "Uncle" is a term of both respect and endearment. Anyway, while he showed ID and tried to prove that he indeed intended to bring the elder lady back within a few hours, the little girl got on the floor next to Roo and squoze her like a teddy bear. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

Anyway, he turned to me and asked how I was doing. I told him, "Okay, of course I'm concerned about... things... but pretty good, I guess."

"What things?

"You know... the state of the State? Dunleavy things?"

"Ohhh... when you said that state of the State, I was thinking about the even scarier stuff. The salmon dying. The water warming. I saw salmon dead that were so sick the eagles wouldn't even eat them. I'm more worried about that than about Dunleavy."

I had to admit, that was good perspective.

Roo had fun.

Monday, July 22, 2019


Today I am presenting at the Chancellor's Cabinet meeting. I clean up good, huh?

The premise is: Please Support My Team as we Prepare this Proposal. The theme is: Rhubarb as a Metaphor for Resilience.

It's an excellent metaphor not only for resilience, but for community, caring, sharing, and strength and persistence in adversity. This summer I split off four baby rhubarbs and gave them away, two to a friend who did her BS degree at UAF decades ago, and now returned and accepted a faculty position with us. It's very apt for both her and me, since we are both not native to this region, but proceeded to put down deep roots.

The rhubarb plant requires almost no care, and thrives through intense heat, rain, sun, smoke, clear skies, wind, hail, lightning, good economy, bad economy, good president, bad president, good governor, bad governor. The rhubarb lives on.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The circle of life, I guess

Tuesday morning on our run, Cricket dove into the bushes and came out with a *very* young baby bird, still with pin feathers. I told her to drop it, and she did, but it was still struggling. I picked it up, and it immediately relaxed, then within a few seconds died in my hand. Even though I know that wild birds produce far more than survive, I could not help but grieve for this one. Such a sweet, precious, trusting thing. Even looking at these photos still makes my heart feel a little soft and a little heavy, like a half-inflated water balloon.

I carried it home, took some photos, and buried it in the yard. Then I placed a heart-shaped rock over it (I collect them) and texted MB, who is a wildlife biologist who in fact specializes in birds, although more shorebirds. "Can you please tell me the cold, hard truth? Is this some ground-nesting bird that she killed? Or did it fall out of a nest too young and it would have died anyway?"

"I'm not going to love her any less, obvy (hopefully that was not necessary to say). But I just feel like my heart needs to know. I understand that it's just instinct for her. Autumn or Linden would have gobbled it down before I even knew what it was, so who knows, they might have killed a dozen of them."

She wrote back: "It is a passerine, a perching bird. Sometimes they spend time on the ground before they are fully flighted, but this one probably did blow or fall out. Not enough feathers, and it does not even have eyes that work yet... So her treasure would have died either way, and she probably ended its suffering. And no, you did not have to tell me you would still love her just as much. You are one of the best dog moms I know!"

"PS Passerines are rarely left unattended, as both parents incubate. So if no adult was freaking out in the area, that is another sign it fell out before you arrived."

We had a nice, heavy rainshower last night, and the tiny grave is already starting to blend in with its surroundings.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

State of Alaska in Crisis

This was never meant to be a political or even a serious blog, but I cannot let the current state of affairs here go unmentioned. Last year, during gubernatorial elections, the independent incumbent, Bill Walker, suddenly withdrew his candidacy, throwing his support behind democrat Mark Begich. Republican Mike Dunleavy still won, on a platform of increasing Permanent Fund Dividend checks from their current amount of about $1000 per person to about $6000 per person. Since oil prices were still low, we wondered where that money was going to come from. Was he going to propose a state income tax? No. Was he going to threaten funding to the University system, or K12 education? No. Was the aging Alaska Marine Highway System, the lifeblood of the Alaskan Southeast, going to be threatened? No. What about health care, Medicaid and Medicare? No, he said. He had no plan to cut those.

Well, the State budget he put forth revealed his campaign lies. The new PFD amount would be about $3000 per person, and still no state income tax. Oil prices are still low, so where would the money come from? Well, it turns out just about everything it takes to make a state function...

K12 and pre-K education, health care for the poor and the elderly, mental health care, the arts, the Power Cost equalization program (which gives rural Alaskans the benefits of reduced power costs in exchange for them not benefiting from capital projects that have reduced the cost of power on the Railbelt) and funding for local organizations in Fairbanks and Anchorage that help the homeless, victims of domestic violence, and at-risk youth. Finally (I mention this last because it seems very self-interested to mention it, but of course it's huge), the University of Alaska system would have a 41% cut of state support.

The Legislature ignored most of these recommendations and came up a more reasonable budget with minor, although not drastic, cuts to the aforementioned institutions, preserving the PFD in a reasonable amount, and even ending up with a surplus.

Dunleavy vetoed this budget and reinstated his original Alaska-killing one.

Alaska is one of the few states that requires a 75% vote from the Legislature to override an executive veto, instead of the 2/3 that is far more common (and that is the veto override requirement at the federal level). So immediately, supporters of the UA system, the arts, and parents and teachers began a campaign to encourage their legislators to vote to override.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, including a childish disagreement about where to meet for the vote, the results were, of 60 legislators:
37 voted to override the vetoes.
1 (Tammy Wilson) voted to let the vetoes stand.
22 remained where they were in Wasilla, digging their heels in on the red herring of a location dispute rather than have the courage to vote at all.

So the veto stands, and so does Dunleavy's budget. As I emailed to an friend and cohort of Sili Valley days:

Our governor has vetoed the state budget put forth by the legislature, in favor of one he has to cut the U of A budget by 40%, effectively gutting the University. That is the most visible issue, but he has a list of other tragedies in there, including slashing K12 education, Head Start preschool, Medicaid and Medicare, programs for mental health, elder care, the arts, transportation (including 100% completely obliterating the state ferry system, aka the Alaska Marine Highway, which is the only way to support the entire Alaskan panhandle including many tiny communities). He's also withdrawing all agriculture support, even though it comes with 10:1 match of federal funding, and we import 99% of our food statewide and desperately need to encourage local food production. His proposed budget is also leading to a huge reduction in services for two of our homeless shelters (one for adults/families and the other for teens, many of whom have fled terrible home situations and will now have nowhere to go), as well as for the domestic violence shelter. This is also happening in Anchorage on a larger scale, of course. Even the tiny little elder care clinics in rural Alaska, which are currently housing Native elders, are going under the knife.

As for DL and me, both University employees, we both have pretty broad resumes that are marketable for other industries, and we live SUPER cheap (still in my dry cabin that I bought when I was a starving student!), so I'm not concerned about us. I'm deeply concerned about the future of this state, and whether anyone will want to live, invest, and raise a family here, or whether it will turn into a strictly extractive place (like those mines in rural Canada or the Australian outback), as well as a playground for the super wealthy. At present, there is a malaise around town as thick as the wildfire smoke.

I am going to start here a laundry list of the things Dunleavy is destroying with his completely manufactured budget crisis. You will note that the only thing he has not cut is oil subsidies, and the oil companies are getting the biggest oil tax credits in the history of the state ($1.6 billion). We Alaskans will, however, each get an extra $2000 in our PFDs. I still will be teaching next academic year, so as long as I remain employed, I will donate most of mine to offset the things being destroyed. I will keep editing this page to keep the list together, so please bookmark it if you are interested in witnessing the results of this disaster.

* The Fairbanks Rescue Mission has lost $311,568, and has vowed to remain, open, although with greatly reduced hours and services. Quote: This whole budget veto stuff is overwhelming. The Rescue Mission does so much with so little for our community. Now, we are on the cusp of losing over $300,000 of state funding. These are funds that cover our overhead cost. It pays for our operating insurance, utilities, building maintenance, homeless data tracking and a transitional program position. The loss of these monies will not shut the doors of the Mission, but would severely limit what services we will be able to provide. If we lose our funding, it will cost the city and state a great deal more than what we receive. We are able to generate positive results for a fraction of what it would cost governmental agencies.

* Fairbanks Youth Advocates, who also operate The Door, the local homeless youth shelter, has lost $189,514 and will shut down without an influx of funding to replace what was lost. Quote: We are recipients of state Basic Homeless Assistance (BHAP) Funding - nearly all of which has been eliminated per the the veto list. 100% of our BHAP funds covers 59% of our shelter staffing. As a licensed child care facility for homeless youth and youth in crisis, we've been told we must operate 24-7. For the record, our staff are under paid. They receive no medical coverage. They receive very few benefits other than knowing they are making a difference in the lives of kids. They work long hours and give up their holidays to make sure kids in Fairbanks have safe options.

* The Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living has lost $223,339.

* The "No Limits" Permanent Supportive Housing has lost $11,647.

* Tanana Chiefs Conference's Housing First Fairbanks has lost $471,560.

* The The Salvation Army of Fairbanks has lost $155,565.

* Love In the Name of Christ, or Love INC, which helps churches help people in poverty with housing, meals, and job placement. has already lost $15,000 (20% of its funding) for this year. They will lose $30,000 in funding starting next year.

* The Alaska Marine Highway will discontinue ferry service after this summer. Many Southeast communities will definitely die. There are some things you need to maintain a community that simply will not fit on a plane, so without the ferries, the power plants can't keep running.

* Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has already begun by slashing hospice care. As a Friend of the elderly there, I am horrified.

* The Sitka Community Hospital will close its doors at the end of the month.

* The Anchorage homeless shelter will now close during the daytime.

* Of course the UA System cuts of $130 million, on top of the $5 million approved by the Legislature, for a total of $135 million, or 41% of our state funding. You can follow how the Universities are coping with this all over the media.

* The Department of Natural Resources is losing $1.2 million, and a loan program for farmers is being defunded. This in a state that is severely food-insecure and imports 99% of its food. This also despite the evident success of the program: "The number of farms in Alaska has risen 30 percent in the last five years, even as the number of farms decreases nationally."

* The Power Cost Equalization program will be over. PCE is often misunderstood to be a "subsidy" to rural residents. Detractors complain that rural residents should not get "subsidies" for their own life choices. PCE is not a subsidy. PCE was created as an endowment to help offset the higher cost of power in rural communities who were unable to benefit from the huge capital investments that the State put into Railbelt communities, such as large hydropower projects, and the development of Cook Inlet natural gas infrastructure. Anyway, somehow Dunleavy is taking that away, too.

* The approximately 12,000 UA Students on both merit-based and need-based scholarships abruptly had their scholarships cancelled. This makes me very angry! My brightest, hardest-working students are scholarship students! Without them, my own quality of life will suffer, as my scholarship students comprise my brightest! Also, it is dreadfully unfair to announce in July that you are withdrawing someone's funding for this coming academic year. I have no idea what those students are going to do, but I hope from the bottom of my heart that they find a way to complete their degrees.

* Head Start pre-K programs are going to be gone. "the program prioritizes serving the most vulnerable families first: like children in foster care or special education, and low-income families"

* The Alaska State Council on the Arts already no longer exists. We are now the only state in the nation without a council on the arts.

* The Nome Youth Facility, which is a treatment facility for troubled youth all over Western Alaska, has lost all of its funding and will close its doors.

* The Village Public Safety Office program, the sole form of law enforcement in the smallest communities, is losing $3 million.

* Substance abuse providers express concern over budget, vetoes, as they lose $8.8 million in behavioral health treatment. "Same-day access to services is so hard already," said Wesley Brewington, a CITC recovery coach who went through substance abuse treatment and has now been sober for six years. "Finding a detox bed for somebody, finding a treatment bed for somebody can be a struggle a lot of the time. So just to hear more cuts are coming... It's kind of scary with the eliminated services we already have."

* Impacts of hits to the agriculture program discussed here.

* Today (22nd July), the UA Board of Regents voted to declare financial exigency.

* Today (24 July), Anchorage has declared a civil emergency "The emergency declaration gives the municipality, among other things, the ability to set up temporary emergency shelters to house the estimated 800 people the city expects to see added to the Anchorage homeless population as a result of the budget vetoes."

* Today (24 July), Alaska State Ferry Service is suspended "The Alaska Marine Highway System stopped all sailings Wednesday after a decision by its largest union to strike following the failure of contract negotiations with the state."

* Today (4 Aug), Dunleavy has withdrawn $7 million of state support for Pioneer Homes, which provide elder care to long-term Alaska residents, many of whom built the state to what it is today. Many residents' rates are expected to double.

* Today (9 Aug), he signed a bill re-adding funding to the Power Cost Equalization and the University Scholarship funds. Phew, at leas there is that...

Keep in mind, all of these cuts are due to a completely manufactured "budget crisis" because Dunleavy wants to maintain the $1.6 billion oil tax credits and give out cash handouts to people who mostly don't even want them. He won the election on a short-sighted popularity contest, and I believe he thinks he will maintain his base of support doing the same. It doesn't seem to be working out for him. In the most recent poll, his approval rating was 9 percent in rural Alaska. It was highest in the Mat-Su at 42 percent (which is still less than half). In Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Kenai that number hovers in the 30 percent range. And in Juneau it is 16 percent.

Could you imagine this situation happening in any other state in the Nation? "Hey everybody! I would like to give every man, woman, and child in the state a check for $3000--no strings attached! In exchange, I will halve or eliminate support for education, medical care, social services, agriculture, and energy and public transportation infrastructure. Deal?" I do believe most people would think that is crazy!

Now a serious effort at a recall of the governor is underway. There is a long list of reasons on that website, but in my humble, nonlegal opinion, the strongest reason (by law, not by emotions), is slapping the judiciary with a retaliatory budget slash because he disagreed with one of their rulings, and he explicitly said so. That is deeply unconstitutional and violates the independence and equality of the three branches of government.

The recall effort launches on August 1st! Here is a memo outlining the recall justifications.

There is another parallel movement to reclaim the money to these organizations via legislative appropriations.

There are also lawsuits being filed claiming that Dunleavy has no right to destroy education and healthcare. And another claiming it was illegal for him to call a special session in Wasilla.
And the ACLU is going after him for the retaliatory judicial budget cut.

A bill put forth to restore the capital budget has failed, with the same minority of legislators deadlocking it.

Well, please keep us in your thoughts that somehow, sanity prevails, and we remain a civilized state! And if you would like to donate to any of the above-mentioned organizations that are still around, but struggling for funds, it would be much appreciated.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Fires update, and some photos from our neighborhood trail walk today

The heat wave has finally broken, rain has come, and the local fires have calmed down a bit. The Shovel Creek Fire on top of Murphy Dome was hit hard by over 700 personnel, including Alaska State Forestry firefighters, elite hotshot teams from both within Alaska, and flown up from the Lower 48 (Oregon, Montana, Washington, California, and more), and the National Guard. A photographer who recently moved with his wife to Alaska from Germany has been taking some really stunning photos of them at work, as well as providing canine therapy. He has not uploaded the photos to his website yet, but if you are on Facebook, you can see them here. Anyway, earlier this week, they announced that the firebreak lines they had made via dozers and backburns had joined each other at the Chatanika River, and they were well on their way to full containment. They lifted the evacuation orders, and today, the report is 40% containment.

OK I could not resist stealing a few photos from the Facebook feed of Fairbanks North Star Borough Emergency Operations. This is Gracie, the Morale Dog, who has been visiting daily and giving Love.

PatRick Initial Attack Crew from Ellensburg, Washington:

National Guardsmen (Guardspeople?):

She wants bellyrubs!

This young lady is with the Rogue River Hotshots in Oregon:

PatRick hotshots:


She has a husky smile!

Big State Night Shift Engine Crew:

This young man is with the Mendocino Hotshots Crew:

We are so grateful to the tough and courageous men and women who are willing to give the strongest years of their lives to helping others. I pray they will always be safe!

The other big fire, the Hess Creek Fire near Livengood, is at present the largest wildfire in the country, and is at 170,000 acres and growing, of course. It's so far from humans or structures that they are just watching it burn, but Winter will put it out!

What all of this means for us at Casa Fuzzies is that our Friends that live on Murphy Dome are safe, and the air is clearer now, and we can take long walkies again!

The raspberries are ripe now. We have a few in our yard, but they are everywhere:

Both our raspberries and our rhubarb keep producing, despite getting very little care from us (only minimal weeding, so they don't get choked out):

Highbush cranberries are already turning red. I believe this is the first time we have seen this contemporaneous with fireweed in full bloom:

We are at peak fireweed now. So beautiful!

Poisonous baneberries. I've been told that eating only a few will kill a small child:

Another shot of the fireweed:

Why hell-ooooo, my beauties! The famously delicious nagoonberries:

Aqpiks. I do not care for their flavor or gooshy texture, but I eat a few anyway:

Beauty is truth...


Pretty yellow wildflowers:

The first few blueberries are juuuuust ripe:

Cricket enjoying her walk:

I don't know what these are. I had never seen them before, and now there are about a dozen of them along a mile stretch of trail.


Truth, beauty...

I made the ladies "FREE HUGS" bandanas. :)

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The hot summer continues along...

It got hot again, ugh:

This has not helped the firefighters, who are battling dozens of fires around the state. The one closest to us, which has been impacting our air quality, is the Shovel Creek Fire, which is burning on top of Murphy Dome, where we have hiked many, many, many, many times. The local residents are on evacuation alert, and emergency shelters have been set up at the fairgrounds for pets. In addition, the local mushers who are not in the fire zone are offering housing to all of the sled dogs that are being evacuated. A Facebook page has been set up to coordinate people who need help with people who can help. Volunteers are knocking on doors in the neighborhood of the fire, just in case residents did not know about the evacuation alerts.

People keep calling and asking what they can do to help. They are told, maintain a defensible space (DL and I maintain over 100 feet), prepare for evacuation, and evacuate when you are told to evacuate, so resources aren't spent on saving you at the last minute. Stay aware, stay informed, and firefighters are not allowed to accept donations of money or food (which is a warning that needs to be made... everyone likes to bring food to heros!).

In other words, it's "Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others", y'all.

Last night they did a huge back burn to attempt to control the spread. I cannot even imagine the tremendous amount of labor and exertion it takes to do the kind of work that they do to fight wildland fires. God bless the hotshots, who have come from the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, California, and many others that were not named in the reports.

In lighter news, here is a photo of Cricket flopped on the couch:

And Roo flopped in the doorway.

They prefer to be outside, but I told them it was Too Hot. When the sun moved around behind the house to give them some shade, I let 'em out:

Here is a photo of a kitchen flop:

And a couch flop:

And another couch flop:

In the last few days, the fireweed has bloomed:

And the heat has become slightly more tolerable:

Here are photos from the Singapore noodles I made the other night:

Mmm noodles!