Category: Toe2Toe

October 30, 2016 Michael Thomas

Election time is coming in the United States and with this year’s election being frustrating for many Americans, the best way to change things is to go down to the ballot box and vote. The right to vote has sparked revolutions throughout history. The United States fought for independence from the British Empire for this…

October 30, 2016 Lee Piltz

Every four years, the United States of America must make a very important choice. This choice is one that will shape our nation for the following four years. It is election time in the good old USA, and plenty of people will be heading to the polls to cast their votes. However, there are a…

December 6, 2015 Nolin Ainsworth

Nolin:

Something is wrong when I hear more stories about graduates not bothering going to their commencement than those who do.

When did receiving recognition for an accomplishment go out of fashion? I’m the type of person that revels in accomplishments – both big and small. Seeing as I’m still working toward my degree, most of them up to this point in my life have been small. I know this because I hold on to all them – including a beleaguered bowling pin in my closet bearing my name and an old date in Sharpie for having the highest score on the last day of a youth bowling camp. I also keep an old shoebox under my bed with cheap plastic soccer trophies I won as a 7-year-old just to remind myself that I’m a winner. Same with old birthday cards from relatives that reaffirm I’m unique. It may just be the packrat in me, or it may be the fact that I like to hold on to good memories.

If you YouTube commencement speeches, you’ll get a bunch of ones from Harvard and Dartmouth where some famous person who didn’t go to that college offers up their recipe for success. Here in Alaska, we can’t attract top-talent to be our commencement speaker, but whose to say we want to? The closer to home our speaker is, the more clout they should have with us. Struggling out of bed in the cold and dark at 9 a.m. is one of the many signature experiences every college student in Alaska has the pleasure of enduring. A commencement speech given by a fellow Seawolf will undoubtedly strike at least one chord with you … unless you just transferred up last semester from Hawaii.

At this point, you’re probably thinking of a counterargument to my stance like my colleague Mr. Burns. Excuses like, “it costs too much money, Nolin!” or “it’s just for my family” just won’t cut it. What is an extra $50 to buy a cap and gown when you just unloaded $40,000 on your education? If you have siblings who graduated, chances are their gown is tucked away in some closet waiting to see the daylight on at least one more occasion. So what if Mom and Aunt Martha make a big deal out of this stuff… Even if you could care less, “walk” out of your love for them. After all, if it wasn’t for family support, not many of us would even be graduating college in the first place. Remember the care packages, the Thanksgiving trips home, all the love shown over the last four years. This is your opportunity to do something nice in return for them. It means a lot more than we even realize.

Who knows? It could even be the time of your life! When else will confetti rain down over you a la an Alaskan snow storm but without the cold and wind in your face?

See you there.

Nathan:

“Why aren’t you going to walk for commencement?” It’s a question that every student who doesn’t walk at commencement gets asked incessantly by people who aren’t the person graduating. There are other reasons not to walk other than being harassed by busybodies, and if you choose to save yourself two hours of grief, you shouldn’t have to defend your choices.

Graduating students get sorted alphabetically into their seats and get to sit through a two hour ceremony before their thirty seconds of fame. The commencement ceremony is always a dry affair, students get showered in generalities by a variety of university bigwigs they haven’t met, telling you how proud they are of you for contributing to the graduation rate and their sincere hope that you live productive lives, full of happiness and regular contributions to the alumni organization.

You get to hear the commencement speakers give a series of interchangeable speeches. You will hear “what an honor it is to speak to you,” about how you should “follow your dreams,” and “always keep learning” while “passing it forward” as you “question everything” because “the future is in your hands.” If you miss this part of the ceremony, I recommend looking at the motivational pictures on your aunt’s Facebook wall or opening a bunch of fortune cookies for an equivalent education in trite, vaguely-applicable life advice.

Last, and possibly least comes your 30 seconds of excitement, you have your name read, you get to walk to the stage, get a handshake, and a piece of paper while the whole stadium cheers for you. Well, cheers is a strong word, everyone else isn’t here to see you graduate, they are there to see their loved ones walk, and happen to be polite enough to clap while they wait to hear a name they recognize.

You will miss a chance to spend your Sunday, waiting around for hours with people you don’t know, having spent $50 on robes you can never wear outside of Halloween, all for 30 seconds. It’s like waiting in line at midnight for the newest Harry Potter book, but instead of getting to enter a magical world of friendship and adventure, you get a receipt confirming your purchase of a college education a week earlier than you would have gotten otherwise.

What about the memories? College makes, according to the vast majority of people who have gone, some of their fondest memories. Won’t you miss out on that by skipping commencement? You might remember playing video games until six in the morning, the time you crammed a semester’s worth of studying for missed classes, or completing a 20 page paper, or your first love and first loss. You’ll fondly recall friends, relationships, and experiences. You won’t ever fondly look back on sitting through commencement. If someone thinks that commencement is important, ask them how often they think of it. Ask them the name of who sat next to them, what their commencement speaker said, and which faculty members handed them their diploma. The answers will be telling.

Regardless of what you choose, remember that YOU choose. You didn’t spend the past 4 years becoming an adult, to not be able to decide for yourself.

October 21, 2015 Kelly Ireland

As a journalist I’m told to keep my opinion private, to not let anyone on to my beliefs, but a man named Bernie Sanders has caught my attention and I’m not ready to be quiet about how much I believe in him. For those of you who don’t know, he’s a democratic hopeful for the…

October 21, 2015 Nathan Burns

In my official capacity as just some guy, I’m told that I shouldn’t have deeply held opinions about complex issues that I have no knowledge of. But a man named Donald Trump taught me that shouldn’t stop me from yelling them at people, whether they want to hear it or not. For those of you…

April 1, 2014 Tulsi Patil

Bearing arms is an AK state right By Calvin Henry The hysteria raised by the firearms debate makes logically arguing the subject a very challenging and elusive task. It is hard to find factual data regarding how many people are killed every year due to firearms. Finding such data is heavily biased, depending on who…

November 8, 2011 TNL Staff

Daniel McDonald
President Obama’s student loan plan is essentially a campaign stunt that will provide little relief, foot taxpayers with the bill, and do nothing to address rising tuition costs.

To start, in order to qualify you must have at least $28,000 in student loans when you graduate, which in turn means you could save anywhere from $4 to $8 per month. But if you really don’t feel like paying off those debts, you could just wait 25 years.

Long after the President has left office, the government will just forgive your debt and taxpayers will cover the difference. Isn’t it nice to be able to hand out goodies today, knowing you won’t be responsible for the costs down the road?

The trouble is, most of today’s college students will be taxpayers two decades from now. We’ll have to pay one way or another. The government can’t just wave a magic wand and make all our financial woes go away.

Furthermore, this plan attempts to address the symptom (debt) of the problem rather than the disease (cost).

In fact, this plan incentivizes students to ignore costs and encourages colleges and universities to increase tuition rates, which are already going up at astronomical rates.

The inhibitions of a perspective borrower are set aside when government steps in and reduces the risk attached to a federal loan. We have less reason to make fiscally responsible choices due to the fact that future losses are socialized. If you decided to take the more cost effective route of attending a state college like UAA or serve in the military, too bad. You’re going to have to help pay off the loans of Ivy League grads.

And it’s not just us UAA students, but many blue-collar and low-income workers with no college degrees will have the bear the burden. When the President spoke of “spreading the wealth around,” who knew he meant from top to bottom?

The second problem is that federal loans in general are actually the biggest driver of the inflation in education costs. The government has made it easier for Americans to attend college through these loans, which means colleges and universities have the incentive to increase prices.

In a normal market, the ability and willingness of people to attend college would be hampered by costs; however, because the government hands out loans that would often be ordinarily too risky for private entities, there is no shortage of students. It’s a simple illustration of supply and demand. When the demand increases, so does the price.

In the end, this vote-buying handout only kicks the can down the road and puts the costs on the backs of those who made responsible choices as well as our fellow low-income Americans who are most vulnerable in this down economy.

——————————
Brett Frazer

The United States is drowning in debt. While our government drowns in public debt, incurred from inefficient spending and imprudent tax cuts, citizens are drowning in student loan debt. No wonder the Occupy Wall Street protestors are upset. Debt from student loans is expected to surpass $1 trillion dollars within the next few years, surpassing credit card debt to become the second-highest form of private debt, just behind mortgages. Really, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The cost of education is skyrocketing out of control. The college tuition inflation rate (in 1986 dollars) is 500%, compared with an overall consumer price inflation rate of 119%.

Moreover, like mortgages, college tuition must be paid on a fixed schedule. This means that someone with debt is required to make payments, regardless of their income. Other countries, such as Britain and Australia, make student debt payments contingent on reaching a certain income threshold. Thus, if a student cannot find a job immediately after graduation, his loan payments are deferred until he can. This greatly reduces the risk of defaulting on a student loan. The current default rate on student loans is at an all time high of 8.8%. Additionally, this incentivizes people to attend college. If students don’t have a powerful fear of defaulting, or severely damaging their credit, then they’re more likely to acquire a college degree.

President Obama’s recent student debt relief plan is a step in the right direction. His plan, which would allow students who cannot earn enough to make their loan payments to make a lower monthly payment 10% of their discretionary income, could save some students hundreds of dollars a month.

Obama’s plan does three things. First, it results in real economic benefits students graduating in a poor job market. Second, it restores confidence amongst graduates. And third, it demonstrates a continued investment in college education.

The unemployment rate for people with college degrees under the age of 25 is currently around 10%. The average amount of student debt in the Untied States is around $25,000. This means that roughly 300,000 recent graduates are left scratching their heads, wondering how they will pay off their debt. Under Obama’s new plan, as many as six million American students who qualify for the debt reduction program could consolidate their loan payments and reduce their monthly payments by as much as $1,000 a month. This seriously eases the debt burden on recent college graduates.

This ultimately restores confidence in an economy infected with economic malaise. Last week, I wrote about Occupy Wall Street and I discussed how much of the protest movement is driven by a profound dissatisfaction with our political leaders. Obama’s gesture to students across the nation is a sign that our president is responding to the needs of the American people. Some people, including Daniel McDonald, the other opinion writer for The Northern Light, believe that Obama’s use of an executive order is inappropriate. However, congress is broken. When our congressional leaders are concerned more with politicking than passing greatly needed policy, then Obama must find a way to lead. If leading requires him to issue a completely legal executive order in order to provide relief to millions of Americans, then so be it.

My hope is that Obama’s program is just the first step in a recommitment effort to education. The global market is fiercely competitive. Now more than ever, a college education is necessary to capture the attention of employers. Just look at the statistics. Overall unemployment in the United Sates for people without a college degree is 17%. For people with a college degree, it’s 4.5%. These figures speak volumes to the value of a college education. Without a degree, you have a one in five chance of being jobless. Though recent graduates struggle, the advantage of a college degree cannot be understated. Obama is heading in the right direction, but we need to do more. Debt relief is a short-term fix. Ultimately, policies that combat that ballooning cost of education will be needed. If we as Americans fail in our pursuit if higher education, then it won’t just be our economy that suffers. It be our children, and the generations that follow.

July 26, 2011 Opinion

Brett Frazer: We ought to raise the minimum wage

The federal minimum wage can barely provide a subsistence wage in the status quo. Working 50 hours a week at minimum wage gives an individual approximately $1,100 after taxes. After rent, utilities, food purchases, transportation, health costs, and unexpected expenses are considered, there is no money left. In fact, in most cases there won’t be enough money for an individual to cover all their expenses. If anything, policy regarding the minimum wage should focus on raising the minimum wage, rather than abolishing it.

Abolishing the minimum wage means that jobs will move from adults, who live on their own and require a higher living wage, to teenagers and individuals who are subsidized by their families. If Carrs Quality Center were not forced to pay its employees a minimum wage, people subsidized by their families would be more willing to negotiate a lower wage. What this means is that the people who can least afford to lose their jobs will not be able to find work. Unskilled workers who aren’t subsidized by their families, despite their work ethic, will not be able to find employment.

Of course, if the author of the other article in this column were willing to offer massive government subsidies to offset this negative effect, perhaps the story would be different. I am willing to bet that he’s not willing to expand government to provide the necessary social services to combat the flood of family-supported workers.

If the minimum wage were raised, individuals would be able to make a real living wage, and would be incentivized to find work. In the status quo, and individual can work full time at minimum wage and make only marginally more than he would if were collecting unemployment. Working 40 hours a week for a negligible increase in income does not create incentive to find work. This phenomenon is not driven by laziness, as some often say. Rather, this is simple rule of economics. The law of diminishing returns states that rational actors will cease to substantially increase their effort if the returns are so greatly diminished.

There are two ways to combat this problem of perverse incentives. First, we could abolish unemployment. This would mean that people who cannot find work would be left to fend for themselves. Or, we would raise the minimum wage. Both policies would have the same net effect. If an individual could earn substantially more working than they could collecting unemployment, then there is a new incentive to find work. Moreover, for those individuals who still can’t find work, there is still a social insurance program to protect them.

Daniel Mcdonald: Minimum wages hurt unskilled workers

The vast majority of advocates for a minimum wage have good intentions; unfortunately, minimum wage laws have a major unintended consequence that happens to be highly relevant to our current economic downturn. Minimum wage laws cause unemployment, hurting those they aim to protect.
A minimum wage is essentially a price-floor, which is a minimum price set by government at which a commodity can be sold. A result of a price-floor is to have the price of a commodity above the market-equilibrium. If the market determines that the price of soap is $1 and the government sets a price-floor of $2, then the consumer will be less inclined to purchase a bar of soap. And so there will be a left over supply of soap in the marketplace because the set price is above what some are willing to pay.

The same rule applies to labor. A wage acts in the same way as the price of a commodity. The employer is the consumer and the employee the producer. If the minimum wage is determined by law to be $8.50, and an employer determines that the skill of an individual can only justify $5, then there are only two options. The first is to simply not hire the worker. If the employer cannot hire him for the $5 at which he is worth, then the prudent policy is to find a worker who does justify such a wage. The second is to hire the man, which essentially equates to charity. Most businesses are not operating as charities but instead trying to make a profit, so as generous as this option may be, it cannot be expected to be the choice for most.

Therefore, minimum wage laws make the extremely low-skilled worker, who is most often very poor, unable to be hired. He can either become dependent on government welfare or attempt to increase his market value by learning new skills, but the existence of the minimum wage makes it practically illegal to hire him in the eyes of a profit-seeking employer. Much like the price-floor on soap, a minimum wage creates unemployment by its mandate of an artificial price of labor, leaving many behind who fall under what the market determines the value of their labor to be.

With an unemployment rate of 9.2%, and youth unemployment at 26%, minimum wage laws are becoming increasingly cumbersome to economic productivity.

At the end of the day, the choice comes down to this: is it better to allow people to work for a low wage or to bar them from working altogether, forcing them to become recipients of welfare?

 

 

 

 

May 31, 2011 TNL Staff

“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda. But his death does not mark the end of our effort.”

President Obama prompted a brief wave of unified patriotism across the U.S. with this comment on May 2, not long after a SEAL team raided Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound and killed him. But there’s a lot to unpack in the president’s statement. America’s war against Al Qaeda started in 2001 with the prime objective of bringing bin Laden “to justice.

January 20, 2009 Northern Light

Death penalty is worthy punishment for heinous crimes
By Ashley Smith

Since the death penalty has recently been brought back into the spotlight by Alaska legislature, many Alaskans are scrutinizing facts vs. opinion. But the deterrence of crime brought on by the fear of the death penalty cannot be denied. With the sexual assault rate at nearly three times the national average, Alaska has been plagued with this title for years. Despite the effort put into The criminal justice system, it is obvious that something is not working. One indisputable fact for criminal punishment is that when a criminal is sentenced to death:
there are no repeat offenses. With today’s technology, there are far fewer cases of falsely charged felons, therefore there is a lesser chance to execute the innocent. A common argument against this punishment is that the death penalty violates the “Cruel and Unusual” punishment clause in the Bill of Rights. But this just shows the illogical sympathy that we have for criminals that have committed heinous crimes. What about the victims who suffered a cruel death? What about the surviving families that have to live with the loss of a loved one? These are the individuals to whom sympathy should be given. Another argument that excludes emotions is the fact that life in prison costs taxpayers less than an execution. Much of the cost of the death penalty is the redundant appeals, the other processes of the of the court system should be revised, not the death penalty. Ultimately, criminals that are deserving of capital punishment should receive it. It brings along with a strong deterrence factor, something Alaska needs at this point in its history.

Archaic methods no use in modern society
By Brianna Dym

There is currently a bill in Alaska legislation (HB9) calling for capital punishment to be implemented into the state’s criminal justice system. This is a bad idea not only because of the moral headaches and nonsense  behind it, but because of the problems and entanglements it will make within the courts and other branches of the state. To begin with, it is an archaic idea of killing murderers to make an example of how it is wrong. The whole punishment reeks of the old standard of Hammurabi’s Code, an eye for an eye, a life
for a life. Next thing you know, punishment for stealing will be cutting off the hands of thieves. Is lifetime incarceration not enough? Is it not enough to be forever disconnected from the world in a cold little prison cell with no freedoms compared to the glories of the outside world? It is written in America’s laws that killing a person is wrong. It seems completely backwards that punishment for murder
or other vile crimes should be death as well. There is also the problem of the courts and how it will affect them with capital punishment
being part of Alaska’s system. Capital punishment will make attorneys look for more evidence where there is none to be found and people will most likely be pressured for more work out of nothing. The appeals process  will only go on to clog the courts even more and add unnecessary strains on the system. In order to advance and not put added pressures on the state, Alaska should leave behind the gallows so reminiscent of Medieval England and not pass the capital punishment bill.

September 30, 2008 Northern Light

Businesses should regulate themselves, not government

By Megan Proffer

The Northern Light

Most everyone has heard of the $700 billion bailout the Federal government is giving companies like AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It is being sold by Ben Bernanke and the White House as a cure-all for our economy.

What they are not talking about is the free market, the corporate responsibility of the previously mentioned companies, and their irrational assumption that the same companies will not act on the same greed-based business principles in the future.

By defining the American market as free, its citizens accept the responsibility of situations such as this that may arise because of a corporation’s greed. A free market is free of government regulation except in instances involving fraud or force.

By giving the companies the estimated $700 billion, the government is teaching them that it is okay to practice risky and greedy business practices as long as they are big enough for their failure to affect the economy. Yes, the economy will be initially affected by the failure, but it will reach equilibrium once again as more trustworthy corporations emerge.

The bottom line is that a corporation is responsible for itself. The government should not have to baby-sit and feed them in order to reach equilibrium. If the government is inclined to offer assistance, it should be given to those losing their homes instead of those corporations possessing limited liability and grossing millions of dollars in salary. Stimulating the American economy is most effectively done by stimulating the average American’s wallet.

Free market led to crisis, bailout will ease tension

By Brianna Dym

The Northern Light

America’s economy has gone a long stretch of good times and economical growth. Now that it is on the brink of stalling and dying out, action must be taken immediately to ensure that long term plans may be made to fix the problem that ails this country.

A $700 billion bailout may not sound pretty, but it is necessary as a short-term solution to keep America’s economy chugging along until a more solid plan is developed.

It may be interfering with the free market at work, but political tampering with the “free market” over the years has condemned America to its current financial. It is impossible to say America has even been operating under a free market these past years with the existence of fiscal policy, an idea that often goes against letting the economy live and let be.

A permanent solution to fixing the economy will take a long time to develop, most likely longer than this wounded economy has. If these financial institutions are allowed to go under, it could very easily result in the stalling of America’s economy, and once that point is hit, it will be much harder for things to get going again.

So the $700 billion is by no means a permanent solution to America’s economical problem, but it is a method of buying time for the real solution to be thought out with care and attention from professionals in the fed and other institutions.

April 22, 2008 Kaitlin Johnson and Kyra Sherw

Demonstrators don’t understand meaning of genocide


By Kaitlin Johnson
The Northern Light

All Americans have the right to promote and defend their beliefs. However, they also have a responsibility to represent issues in an honest manner.

The Genocide Awareness Project, which has been hosted all across the nation, displayed its anti-abortion message for students to see. The project uses billboards covered in explicit images that claim abortion is genocide.

I do not pretend to have the moral superiority to define what is right or wrong. However, I dispute any attempt to call abortion genocide.

Genocide is defined by international law as any of a few specific acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. These acts include killing members of the group; deliberately causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life that are calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of that group to another group.

One key aspect of the definition of genocide is intent. To be genocide, there must exist intent to destroy a group of people.

There simply is no intent to systematically annihilate fetuses as a group. No one has suggested a plan to destroy all babies before they’re born. Each abortion is the individual choice of adults involved.

If you believe that a fetus becomes a human being at the instant of conception, and that abortion is therefore immoral, then call abortion murder.

Over 16,500 people were murdered in America in 2005. The deaths of these individuals are not considered collectively as genocide. That’s because genocide is not the murder of a mass amount of people. It is a mass murder.

Hannah Lien, a participant in the April 15 and 16 demonstration, defended the comparison.

“Jews were killed because they were unwanted and now babies are being killed because they are unwanted,” she said in reference to the Holocaust. Lien said that during the Nazi times, killing Jews was acceptable, just like having abortions is now.

This is a gross oversimplification of the Holocaust. Instead of providing us with factual information, the demonstration bastardized history to fit a purpose.

There is nothing illegal in what the demonstrators did, but there was something inherently unethical in this choice.

Those who have survived genocide may attest that having an abortion is nothing like the slow process of dehumanizing and torture that accompanies genocide. Perhaps participants of the Genocide Awareness Project should spend time speaking with survivors. This might give them a better understanding of the emotional impact their claims have.

I applaud demonstrators for expressing their opinions. As a journalist, I fully support free speech.

However, I don’t think the participants took the time to fully understand the gravity of the claims they’ve made. I also don’t think they took the time to consider whether calling abortion genocide is an honest representation of either abortion or genocide.

Abortion is an issue that revolves around morality. Morality is closely related to honesty. In the future, before placing moral judgments on anyone, I hope demonstrators in Anchorage will take the time to consider if they are representing issues in the most honest light.

View of demonstration depends on definition of human


By Kyra Sherwood
The Northern Light

Everyone saw them: giant photographs of blood and little hands and feet, with signs posted to warn of genocide images.

But they weren’t pictures of Holocaust victims or refugees from Darfur. They were aborted babies.

If the demonstrators were looking for a reaction, they got one. Many students were offended or outraged, and most decried the comparison of abortion to genocide.

But that very comparison gets directly at the heart of this issue. Those who don’t believe a fetus is a human being can’t even begin to understand the use of the genocide label; for those who do, it’s obvious. If a fetus is a human being, and if fetuses can be called a distinct group of people classified by age and level of development, applying the dictionary definition of genocide to abortion isn’t so hard.

It becomes easier yet if one considers the statistics (more than 1 million abortions performed each year in the U.S. alone), the number of abortion centers across the nation, and the rhetoric used to support the practice.

That rhetoric is just what the Genocide Awareness Project is targeting with its campaign. According to the project’s Web site at abortionno.org, “Our purpose is to illuminate the conceptual similarities which exist between abortion and more widely recognized forms of genocide.”

It’s intended to shock, to confront people with the visceral reality of choices, to force them to think about abortion in a different way. It brings the true question of the abortion debate back into focus and strips it down to its bare and bloody core, leaving aside everything else: women’s choice, the tired specter of coat-hanger abortions in back alleys, products of rape or incest. These are important issues, yes, but they’re all secondary.

The heart is this: A fetus is not a collection of cells, a parasite, a clump of tissue. It’s a tiny human being, one with detectable brain waves at six weeks, every organ in place and unique fingerprints forming at eight, the ability to experience pain at three months.

The only important things separating an unborn baby from anyone on this campus are size, level of development, environment and time. If that fetus can be legally destroyed because it’s not human, at what point does it become human? What makes it a life one day when it wasn’t the day before?

Viability outside the mother’s body isn’t even a good dividing line. A womb is nothing more than an environmental support system, and no adult human would last long if stripped naked – deprived of the environmental support system of food, clothes and shelter, in other words – and abandoned in the Alaska wilderness in winter.

Some elements of the campaign and the rhetoric used are unfortunate, treading near the sensational and distracting from the humanity of the unborn that the GAP wants to emphasize, but the point is still clear, and it can’t be ignored when the pictures are staring you in the face. They demand a reaction – and not just a knee-jerk response.

Think about it. Why did the photographs bother people so much? They were just images of reality. So is it that reality that prompted people to such outrage?

Try it. Take a moment and look at the absolute facts. You don’t have to change your mind; just step outside of what you know and believe for five minutes. Embrace the open-mindedness so highly prized in U.S. universities. Your life doesn’t depend on it, but someone else’s might.

Related articles:
Get the facts on this story
Watch a video on the GAP protest
Letters to the editor: Readers respond to demonstration

November 27, 2007 Northern Light

Smokers have the right to light up

By Emma Gould
The Northern Light

The smokers’ world is rapidly shrinking, and they are fuming mad.

Providence Alaska Medical Center’s recent decision to ban smoking on their property has some wondering if the same would ever be considered across the street at UAA.

More than 1.8 million full-time college students are smokers, according to a national Harvard University study in 2001. This is a huge demographic that the university authorities cannot just ignore. A campus-wide smoking ban would alienate this group of people and trample on their right to make personal decisions.

As a smoker, a push for a ban feels personal to me. Does my decision to smoke make me any less of a person? Does my choice to light a cigarette mean that other people who choose not to can tell me where to go or try to eliminate that choice altogether?

There are a myriad of products on the market and in our homes that cause cancer, yet secondhand smoke seems to be targeted the most. Are you going to stop washing your hair just because nearly every shampoo on the shelf contains sodium laureth sulfate, a chemical known to cause cancer in lab tests, but that also gives your shampoo a lovely sudsy effect? The same people who argue that they do not want to breathe in secondhand smoke are willing to breathe in exhaust from a car or eat processed foods that may cause a heart attack.

The thing is, smokers know that what they are doing is bad; they know that it is an expensive addiction, but when it comes to a ban, they do not want to talk health issues. As the number of legal places to smoke wanes, they will readily speak out about civil rights and personal decisions. Many smokers feel that their shared habit is a lifestyle choice, and they want at least some place where they can congregate publicly and enjoy it, even if it is around an ashtray that is 50 feet from a building.

Students, faculty and staff have the right to choose what they want to do, be it smoke a cigarette, wash their hair with cancer-causing shampoo or drive a car that emits ozone-dissolving fumes. A board of university officials does not have the right to limit what personal decisions people make.

We smokers have respected the non-smokers by staying out of the buildings, we have respected them by standing 50 feet from the door and we have done so with a smile on our faces and a cigarette in hand. The least they can do is afford the same respect toward our choice to light up, just as they choose not to.

Ban on campus would save lives

By Kyra Sherwood
The Northern Light

The Alaska Native Medical Center declared its campus completely smoke-free a year ago, banning smoking even in the parking lots. Now Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Regional and North Star Behavioral hospitals, and the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center are following suit.

Considering the purpose of a hospital is to help people regain and maintain their health, it makes sense to ban a drug that causes illnesses those hospitals are fighting.

What if UAA made the same move, forcing smokers to leave campus entirely to light up?

A recent CNN article reported that nearly 60 colleges across the U.S. have instated smoke-free policies that affect the entire campus.

As much as it would inconvenience smokers at UAA, such a move on the administration’s part would make just as much sense as it does at area hospitals.

Tobacco, after all, causes 30 percent of all deaths from cancer, according to the American Cancer Society; a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in 2002 found that smoking-related illnesses cost the nation upwards of $157 billion every year. Fully one-third of all smokers will suffer an early death because of tobacco use.and about a third of college students are smokers. Of the 15 million college students today, about 1.7 million will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses, according to the Health & Human Development Programs.

And it’s not just the smokers themselves who suffer. Unlike alcohol – an equally legal and dangerous drug – tobacco is generally seen to affect only those who choose to consume it. Last year, though, Surgeon General Richard Carmona released a report saying there is no safe level for secondhand smoke either: “Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.”

Nonsmokers make up the majority of UAA’s student population, but it’s nearly impossible to walk between buildings without inhaling a lungful of cigarette smoke – especially when smokers light up just outside doorways and force everyone who wants to enter to walk right by them. (The instant headache when a classmate reeking of smoke sits next to you doesn’t help in studying, either.)

Many smokers at Anchorage’s hospitals aren’t happy about the ban, and those at UAA wouldn’t be either if the university made a similar decision. But the inconvenience of walking a long distance to puff a cigarette might convince some to kick their deadly habit – and isn’t a little irritation worth saving lives?

November 20, 2007 Kyra Sherwood and Emma Gould

Snuffing out puffing on campus would save lives

By Kyra Sherwood

The Northern Light

The Alaska Native Medical Center declared its campus completely smoke-free a year ago, banning smoking even in the parking lots. Now Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Regional and North Star Behavioral hospitals, and the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center are following suit.

Some are applauding the change; others say it’s too severe to require employees, patients and visitors alike to pack away their cigarettes the entire time they’re on the hospitals’ campuses. Still, considering the purpose of a hospital is to help people regain and maintain their health, it makes sense to ban a drug that causes illnesses those hospitals are fighting.

What if UAA made the same move, forcing smokers to leave campus entirely to light up?

It’s not an impossible idea. A recent CNN article reported that nearly 60 colleges across the U.S. have instated smoke-free policies that affect the entire campus, and many more have less strict policies, similar to UAA’s current stance on smoking that has banned it indoors since 1989.

As much as it would inconvenience smokers at UAA, such a move on the administration’s part would make just as much sense as it does at area hospitals.

Tobacco, after all, causes 30 percent of all deaths from cancer, according to the American Cancer Society; a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in 2002 found that smoking-related illnesses cost the nation upwards of $157 billion every year. Fully one-third of all smokers will suffer an early death because of tobacco use.and about a third of college students are smokers. Of the 15 million college students today, about 1.7 million will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses, according to the Health & Human Development Programs.

And it’s not just the smokers themselves who suffer. Unlike alcohol – an equally legal and dangerous drug – tobacco is generally seen to affect only those who choose to consume it. Last year, though, Surgeon General Richard Carmona released a report saying there is no safe level for secondhand smoke either: “Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.”

Nonsmokers make up the majority of UAA’s student population, but it’s nearly impossible to walk between buildings without inhaling a lungful of cigarette smoke – especially when smokers light up just outside doorways and force everyone who wants to enter to walk right by them. (The instant headache when a classmate reeking of smoke sits next to you doesn’t help in studying, either.)

Many smokers at Anchorage’s hospitals aren’t happy about the ban, and those at UAA wouldn’t be either if the university made a similar decision. But the inconvenience of walking a long distance to puff a cigarette might convince some to kick their deadly habit – and isn’t a little irritation worth saving lives?

Smokers have a right to light up

By Emma Gould

The Northern Light

The smokers’ world is rapidly shrinking, and they are fuming mad.

Providence Alaska Medical Center’s recent decision to ban smoking on their property has some wondering if the same would ever be considered across the street at UAA.

More than 1.8 million full-time college students are smokers, according to a national Harvard University study in 2001. This is a huge demographic that the university authorities cannot just ignore. A campus-wide smoking ban would alienate this group of people and trample on their right to make personal decisions.

As a smoker, a push for a ban feels personal to me. Does my decision to smoke make me any less of a person? Does my choice to light a cigarette mean that other people who choose not to can tell me where to go or try to eliminate that choice altogether?

There are a myriad of products on the market and in our homes that cause cancer, yet secondhand smoke seems to be targeted the most. Are you going to stop washing your hair just because nearly every shampoo on the shelf contains sodium laureth sulfate, a chemical known to cause cancer in lab tests, but that also gives your shampoo a lovely sudsy effect? The same people who argue that they do not want to breathe in secondhand smoke are willing to breathe in exhaust from a car or eat processed foods that may cause a heart attack.

The thing is, smokers know that what they are doing is bad; they know that it is an expensive addiction, but when it comes to a ban, they do not want to talk health issues. As the number of legal places to smoke wanes, they will readily speak out about civil rights and personal decisions. Many smokers feel that their shared habit is a lifestyle choice, and they want at least some place where they can congregate publicly and enjoy it, even if it is around an ashtray that is 50 feet from a building.

Students, faculty and staff have the right to choose what they want to do, be it smoke a cigarette, wash their hair with cancer-causing shampoo or drive a car that emits ozone-dissolving fumes. A board of university officials does not have the right to limit what personal decisions people make.

We smokers have respected the non-smokers by staying out of the buildings, we have respected them by standing 50 feet from the door and we have done so with a smile on our faces and a cigarette in hand. The least they can do is afford the same respect toward our choice to light up, just as they choose not to.

October 30, 2007 Northern Light

Maine decision an effective way to avoid child parents


Teresa Combs
The Northern Light

It’s undeniable that kids today are maturing and growing up faster. Whether this is due to media influence or something in the meat they’re eating, there is a definite sexual energy that permeates America’s youth. And young kids are going to do what they do best: being sneaky and getting what they want.

Most parents don’t want to admit to themselves the obvious: Their children are going to grow up into sexual beings, and sometimes this happens a lot earlier than they expected. As shocking as it may seem, something needs to be done if middle school and junior high students are having sex.

We can’t be ignorant to the fact that this is going on. Though these kids are on their way to becoming sexually mature, how much comprehensive sexual education are they receiving? They can’t be too young to be taught the repercussions of having sex, and for those who will continue to do so, someone needs to take the responsibility to make sure that these kids aren’t having kids of their own.

Three of Portland, Maine’s middle schools have had a total of 17 reported pregnancies, a number that doesn’t necessarily reflect any abortions or miscarriages. Whether because of outside influences or of their own accord, these students are exploring sexual avenues, and they are likely unaware of what can happen. Not all kids are comfortable approaching their parents about bodily and emotional changes. If a school can provide that service for free and guide them down a healthy path to the future, then allow that program to flourish. This won’t be an enabler for kids who have already made their choice – it’s going to protect them.

But just allowing kids to have a place to talk to someone and get birth control isn’t going to be sufficient. Sexual education classes need to be implemented in younger grades, to dispense unbiased information about sexual activities. They need to be taught the benefits of abstinence, condoms and birth control pills, as well as the negative aspects of sexual promiscuity, STDs, and the emotional and physical effects of engaging in intercourse at such a young age.

There must be a hands-on, personal approach. Pretending that kids will learn about sex through osmosis is dangerous. Unless they have a well-rounded and complete education of what is in their future, we’ll have a bunch of preteens fumbling around with condoms, pills and feelings and not knowing what to make of any of it. The information and help can be made available – it’s up to them what they’re going to do with it, but at least they know it’s there.

New rule doesn’t let kids stay kids or parents stay parents

Kyra Sherwood
The Northern Light

The Portland School Committee in Portland, Maine, voted recently to allow the clinic at King Middle School to give prescription birth control to students as young as 11 – without parental consent or even knowledge. Under existing rules, parents have to sign a waiver to allow their children to visit the health center – which provides other services like immunizations – but once the waiver is signed, doctor-patient confidentiality means parents are not allowed to find out what their child may have been treated for unless the child specifically tells them.

Somehow, this is supposed to be a good thing.

Faced with seven middle-school pregnancies in the last year alone, the school board clearly decided they had to respond somehow. Fears of abuse taking place at home might mean students would be in greater danger if parents were notified of their kids being given birth control, and if the school wants to help, all it can do is keep the girls from becoming pregnant as well. And the fact that some of these middle-school students are getting pregnant means some of them are clearly having unprotected sex, so obviously, something needs to be done.

This isn’t it.

The vast majority of parents, at this particular school or otherwise, are loving and responsible. Cutting all parents – not just the irresponsible or abusive ones – out of such a major aspect of their children’s lives is nothing short of unconscionable. These aren’t high-school kids we’re talking about here, confused by hormones but nearing the age of majority. Middle-school children are exactly that: children. They depend on their parents for everything, and it’s the job of those parents, not the school, to raise these kids. Sex, whatever your views on it, is huge, and yet at King Middle School, it’s the one area in which parents have effectively been told to butt out.

What’s worse, birth-control pills themselves hold their own dangers. According to a Reuters report in August, a recent study showed that oral contraceptives can damage bone health in adults. Children’s bodies, especially their skeletal systems, are still developing. Going on the pill at such a young age could cause permanent damage to this or other parts of the body.

And although simply having options available may not actually encourage kids to have sex earlier, access to birth control could create a false sense of security that would lead to more sexual experimentation, along with its physical and emotional repercussions.

When the condoms fail, or missed birth-control doses result in a pregnant child, or an STD slips through because even “safe” sex is never completely safe, who has to deal with the consequences? Not the school, but the children – and their parents, who will have to deal with a choice they weren’t allowed to make in the first place.

July 31, 2007 Suzanna Caldwell and Kyra Sher

Suzanna Caldwell: New sports center necessary for athletic growth. When Gov. Sarah Palin vetoed the building of the new sports center, she also vetoed the chance to make UAA a shining example of athletics in our community. Kyra Sherwood: Other projects should take precedence over sports arena.

June 26, 2007 Kyra Sherwood and Teresa Combs

Desire for death often prompted by depression


By Kyra Sherwood

When it comes to basic instincts, survival is among the strongest and most primal. Most people, given the chance, will fight tooth and nail to survive.

So when we hear about people who overrode that instinct and voluntarily gave up their lives, we can reach two logical conclusions: Either they made extraordinary sacrifices for some cause or person outside themselves, or something inside their brains went seriously wrong.

And when we hear about the 130 known patients Jack Kevorkian helped to die over his career as one of the world’s most well-known practitioners of physician-assisted suicide, or the almost 300 under the Death With Dignity Act in Oregon, are we really supposed to believe that these patients made free and rational choices to end their lives?

Proponents of legalized physician-assisted suicide present it as a reasonable and compassionate way to help terminally ill people die with dignity and autonomy, without pain.

It might be, if all that were true.

But because of improving hospice care and pain management, dying patients don’t have to suffer unbearable pain – and it isn’t even the primary reason people request physician-assisted suicide. Only about 20 percent of the patients who died under Oregon’s law listed inadequate pain control as a chief reason in their requests.

They’re not always terminally ill, either. Oregon doesn’t require autopsies for people who die from physician-assisted suicide, so there’s no way of knowing for sure whether the patients were even sick, and the law doesn’t allow investigations into the way doctors determine their patients’ life expectancy in the first place. Autopsies of 69 of Kevorkian’s patients, however, revealed that only 16 were terminally ill, 48 were sick with nonterminal diseases and five showed no evidence of disease at all.

Guess which nonterminal disease produces the most suicides?

Depression does.

Oregon’s law prohibits physician-assisted suicide for psychological disorders like depression, but just like the other guidelines in place to prevent abuse, this rule isn’t always followed. Studies show that just 19 of 204 assisted-suicide patients who died in Oregon between 2000 and 2005 were referred to a psychiatrist, and 50 percent of those killed under similar laws in the Netherlands were probably suffering from depression.

When depression rules your thinking, it makes your choices for you. It says there’s no hope, ever; it calls you worthless and whispers that you don’t want to be a burden, do you? Suicide becomes the rational solution.

Autonomy? Hardly.

But Kevorkian, released from jail June 1, will promote it as such – and depression will make sure people believe him.

Kevorkian risked career to give patients peace


By Teresa Combs

Abortion, death penalty, stem cell research and euthanasia: We love our moral battles, and we love to fight them fiercely. Religious convictions stand as the self-proclaimed moral ground for defending the evils of these choices, without much consideration given to the individual problems in each scenario.

Jack Kevorkian was recently released from prison after serving 10 years for aiding Thomas Youk in his suicide. Youk suffered from the debilitating Lou Gehrig’s disease. People like Youk, who are crippled by horrific illnesses, will find some way to end their lives if they want to. They should not suffer unfairly because of some warped idea of the sanctity of life. Life is not such, if its owner is unable to live it freely and happily. It is not much different than a living will. A person can be in a vegetative state and have it declared in legal documentation the wish to have “the plug pulled.” The only difference is that Youk had an explicit, real-time voice to speak his desire.

Family members of other Kevorkian clients are either relieved or angry. For some, it is a grateful relief that their loved ones are no longer in pain. Others claim they knew their family member’s story better. “Her thing was depression,” Tina Allerellie claimed. Yet Tina was not her sister Karen, nor was she experiencing the emotional trauma the multiple-sclerosis paralytic experienced. Karen’s choice was her own – not her family’s, nor society’s. If she had the ability to give herself a peaceful ending, she would have found it. Instead, she sought the safety and knowledge of a trained doctor who was compassionate enough to risk his career for her and many more. I believe the most tragic part of her story is that Karen could not find solace in her family during her final moments.

We give drugs and treatments to people who may not survive. People may choose to not have treatment at all, which ultimately leads to the inevitable. When they pass that point, when there is no hope, and they have come to terms with it, why should they be forced to wait for a possibly painful and horrible death?

We can’t speak for people who want to die and are in pain we can’t comprehend by telling them they are wrong, but in our free-market, democratic society we should not take away the power of those who want to help them.

May 29, 2007 Northern Light

Insanity law shouldn’t protect guilty from justice

By Kelly McLain

Cynthia Lord did what a sane mother can only fear.

According to news reports, while at her Anchorage home in 2004, Lord shot three of her four children: Christopher, Joey and Michael. Lord’s reason for the murders was her belief that her sons were going to be turned into clones.

A superior court judge found her guilty of first-degree murder and also mentally ill May 15. In order for Lord to have been ruled not guilty but insane, she had to prove that she didn’t know she was going to murder the three boys by her actions.

Lord knew she was going to deliberately kill her sons. The judge was provided with clear evidence from Lord’s description of her buying the gun months in advance to shooting her sons over an 11-hour period. There is clearly a discrepancy between the time of obtaining the murder weapon and killing the three boys.

Lord not only said that she believed her sons were becoming clones, but by killing them she was saving them from “evil.”

Clearly, the woman is mentally unstable.

But regardless of Lord’s suspicion that her children were clones, she admitted to police and mental health experts that she knew her children were human.

The judge made the right decision in ruling that Lord is both guilty and mentally ill. The judge could have ruled that Lord was only guilty, or not guilty but insane. However, by separating the two accounts, the judge recognizes the judicial question of guilt separate from the acknowledgement and treatment of her illness.

If Lord were to have been sent to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, she would not only be dismissed of her time in prison but also offered the chance to be released back into society.

This is a chance that Lord doesn’t deserve.

This is similar to the 1982 case involving Alaska resident Charles Meach, who murdered a woman and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Years later, his doctors said he was in remission of his mental illness. Shortly afterward, Meach was found guilty of killing four teenagers. Alaska’s insanity laws have changed since then, but the idea that the insane cannot be fully rehabilitated hasn’t.

Imagine if Lord was eventually released back into society and thought that any other person was an evil clone.

Through her own testimony, Lord proves she knowingly murdered her sons. She doesn’t only need psychiatric help; she needs to be in a penitentiary to account for her actions.

Mentally insane need proper care, not prison term

By Suzanna Caldwell

The line between guilty and not guilty can sometimes be an obvious one. But for people suffering from mental illness, that line can be vague.

So when they commit a crime, where do we draw the line on their punishment?

Alaska has some of the most stringent insanity defense laws in the nation. A judge ruled, May 15, that Cynthia Lord was guilty but mentally ill, regardless of the fact that she believed her sons were turning into evil spirits and clones when she killed them.

Lord now faces life in prison for her actions, but not for her mental state. Records show that Lord had been in and out of the Alaska mental health care system since 1994. Lord clearly suffers from severe mental illness.

In the days where people sue McDonalds for serving their coffee too hot, people assume that others use the insanity defense as a means to escape punishment. This is rarely the case, especially in Alaska. In order to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, individuals have to prove they had no idea that what they where doing was wrong. Temporary insanity or extreme mental duress cannot be used as a defense.

But mental illness cannot last forever. People who suffer from diseases like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have been to known to recover from them. Schizophrenic mathematician John Nash overcame his illness and went on to receive the Nobel Prize. Even Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression for a good portion of his life and still achieved greatness.

So sending a person to prison or even having them executed and giving them no chance at recovery seems like cruel and unusual punishment. Lord was found guilty of the murders, but maybe they could have been prevented if Lord had received better psychiatric care earlier in her life.

Even John Hinckley Jr., the man who attempted to assassinate former president Ronald Reagan in 1981, has been found to be in full remission from the mental illness that provoked the attacks.

Ultimately, placing a person in prison for committing a crime they did not understand in no way helps the individual recover from the illness that caused the crime. Filling our prisons with people who unknowingly harm others brings more danger to the other prisoners and ensures that the person in question will not receive the proper medical care they require.

People who are found guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity are as much a victim as their own victims. To not allow them proper care is as morally wrong as the crimes they have committed.

April 17, 2007 Northern Light

Human contribution to global warming is negligible

By Aaron Burkhart

The fact is, temperature fluctuations – both short term and long term – are a natural part of the Earth’s climate. In the ’60s and ’70s, many scientists were warning of global cooling, as temperatures had dipped since the ’40s. Later, when temperatures started to rise, the impending disaster of global warming became the new threat scientists would need millions of dollars to fight.

It turns out that fluctuations in temperature occur in cycles – daily, seasonal, yearly, etc. – and the Earth is just reaching the higher points of a warming cycle that restarts after every ice age. Proponents of global warming acknowledge this, but claim that increased emission of greenhouse gases by humans is somehow speeding up the process. In other words, they admit it will still happen no matter what we do.

And what are greenhouse gasses? Mainly water vapor, responsible more than any other greenhouse gas for the majority of warming. And as temperatures rise, glacial ice melts; as water surface area grows, water evaporation increases; as water vapor increases, so does the temperature. It’s part of the positive feedback that’s been going on since the end of the last ice age.

Carbon dioxide is cited as the biggest greenhouse gas humans are contributing to, which is true. However, volcanic activity – above and below the water – puts out tremendous amounts of CO2 as well, some figures placing volcanic emissions as greater than the human contribution. But it might not even matter: the causal effect of CO2 leading to higher temperatures has never been proven. Ice core samples show CO2 levels rising and falling with each ice age, but that’s a correlation, not causation. In fact, temperatures have continued to fluctuate even as CO2 emissions rose steadily. However, studies of the sun show an almost exact correlation between solar activity and Earth’s temperature over the last 100 years. It certainly is assumed by the majority of scientists that CO2 causes warming, and maybe it’s that pre-assumption that led to research with a foregone conclusion.

Scientists who risk their careers to publish evidence contrary to global warming call it a “hoax,” “swindle” or other deception. While that may seem unlikely, millions upon millions of research dollars are at stake, and how else are climatologists going to feel like their work means anything than to say their research will save the world? Those scientists aren’t necessarily trying to fool anyone, but by jumping on the bandwagon of assumptions, they created this theory that’s becoming too ingrained to question. Or maybe it is a conspiracy – not to get too crazy, but it’s pretty convenient that developing countries are being told they have to limit industrialization to save the planet, while the Western world may only have to consider – eventually, maybe – switching to hybrid cars.

There’s no question that pollution is bad, and the industrialized world needs to better limit and clean its waste, but saying we’re going to cause the world to end because of mass transportation is nothing more than lazy science.

Humans are the cause, and solution, of warming

By Teresa Combs

Anyone who’s taken an introductory astronomy course has an understanding of global warming, how it affects multiple planets in our solar system, and that it’s completely normal.

In case you forgot to sign up for one of those fabulous courses, here’s the rundown: Infrared radiation warms a planet, but a planet needs to reflect off what it can’t absorb. Depending on the thickness of the atmosphere, and its gaseous components will affect how much heat can actually escape.

Many naturally occurring gases reside in our atmosphere and have been able to continue the normal greenhouse effect. However, introducing unnatural compounds undoubtedly has unnatural effects.

Insert humans, and, more importantly, industrialization, into the picture. Ice core samples have shown there to be a startling increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere over hundreds of thousands of years. One defining point? The year 1750.

There has been no empirical evidence that can state the Earth has seen levels this alarming in any given point of life’s existence here. It would be stupid to deny global warming and its importance to sustaining Earth’s dynamic – but relatively stable – weather. It would take a new kind of idiocy to deny that humans have nothing to do with it.

What our exhaust and our wastes do to the atmosphere is not like what any other planet has experienced. Our species, the only intelligent life in this universe (for now) has a hand in how our planet functions. Contribution of billions of peoples’ trash and pollutants has resulted in premature breakage of arctic ice, smog and extinction of other species.

Carbon dioxide has increased since 1750 by 38 percent, while methane has increased by 149 percent. It is unlikely that just a million cows in the Midwest are responsible for the latter. Our species has been here barely any length of time in the grander scheme of things.

It is our responsibility to take care of our planet, and we are failing. We can’t be wasteful and destroy nature, expel pollutants into the water and the air and destroy species that are part of the ecosystem. Even Stephen Hawking, a treasured and intelligent physicist, warns us of our crime. He fears that we will have to seek other homes soon, because of possibly irreversible damage we have incurred here. What we have done is not normal for our planet.

Every little bit counts, and every little bit of excess carbon dioxide that burns its way into our atmosphere counts as well. You can take the initiative. Educate yourself by visiting informative sites such as stopglobalwarming.org, reduce your waste, avoid uses of harmful products and chemicals, and let your voice be heard.

What you do right now may not have an immediate effect in our time, but if we can right our ways and help our planet, we can hope that some of it will still be here for future generations.

April 3, 2007 Northern Light

Benefits struggle reveals intolerance


By Teresa Combs

“The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Sound familiar? Probably not. That’s a bit of historical evidence from 1796 in the Treaty of Tripoli, and one of the explicit statements that emphasize the nonreligious founding of our nation. Many people enjoy ignoring that, however, because they misinterpret “freedom of religion” (including the choice to not pursue one) as “freedom of only a couple religions to dominate societal morals with complete disregard to our nation’s liberties.”

We Americans tend to pride ourselves on our freedom so much that we wear mottos on our bumper stickers and shirts proclaiming it. But the disclaimer that not many are aware of warns that it’s only a selective freedom available to the few who are able to meet unwritten, rigid societal standards.

Forbidding gay couples from shared benefits is discrimination. Basing legislation on what people find attractive is insulting. Dominating their way of life because others, who are insecure and prejudiced, think they’re jeopardized by a gay person’s presence is disgusting and bigoted. Deciding who can get what based on what goes on in a private home is bringing us closer to a “Big Brother”-governed state.

There are signs on campus pleading voters to “protect marriage.” But what is marriage being threatened by? Some conspiracy initiated by the gay community? The only agenda it holds is the desire to be equal. And if their personal choices are so damning and so impeding to your personal life, then perhaps it’s you we ought to be protecting marriage from.

Future generations will look back on our point in history and wonder, “What were they thinking?” It is just how we reflect on the past, when certain groups were segregated, not allowed to participate in government, or live their lives like humans. Our story now is not about viciously judging people based on color or gender, but what they like and whom they love.

There is an opportunity to extend vital benefits, and some want to take it away. How is it fair that public servants are giving their all to the state, just like their heterosexual counterparts, but are unable to reap equal benefits? Does it matter so much that money will go to fund benefits for a gay couple, straight couple or anyone at all? None of us are worthy or just enough to have the audacity to declare that only a certain people are allowed benefits and marriage.

To classify and ostracize people because they share a belief or lifestyle is nothing but a nuisance that contributes to an endless cycle of hatred and prejudice. A nation suffers when its people lie to themselves: We are never going to be free until we release this intolerance and every single one of our country’s citizens is truly able to know what freedom means.

Keep benfits, and spending, in check


By James Halpin

Forget the Scripture. Forget the name-calling. It’s no great secret that everyone is equal when it comes to raising a family. That is, everyone, gay or straight, is equally capable of being a deadbeat. That’s why I think proponents of affording benefits to same-sex partners of state employees are right: This is not about the sanctity of marriage. That was lost in the ’60s.

This is about a business arrangement called health care coverage. It’s not personal.

It is not about civil rights or discrimination. Last I checked, no one in this country had a right to receive discount health care coverage. Everybody does have a right to be treated in emergencies, and everybody also has an equal opportunity to pay for such care. But to force the state to subsidize health care for unmarried people is only one step shy of enacting universal health care. And that is simply cost-prohibitive.

As is the case with most government spending, the cost of same-sex benefits in Alaska has started off relatively low – the low-ball estimate is $464,000 for fiscal year 2007, according to the Alaska Division of Retirement and Benefits. But once word gets out that Alaska is offering up this gravy train, you can be sure more and more people will be lining up: The division estimates that the annual price tag could be as much as $3.2 million in health care costs within four years.

If this is an issue of public health, as proponents of increased benefits would have us believe, why limit benefits at all? I think one could argue pretty convincingly that in some cases roommates are more financially dependent on each other than some married couples are.

The point is that the state shouldn’t be in the position to gauge the depth of a relationship. With married couples, it doesn’t. Married couples have a marriage certificate proving that they are committed to one another. But even then, fraud is rampant. People marry all the time to get citizenship and benefits, especially in the military. Creating more opportunities for such fraud hardly seems like an answer.

And even though gays are required to sign an affidavit declaring their homosexuality to get these benefits, it is not enough to justify expansion of the welfare state. People need to earn their benefits, pure and simple. Otherwise, we will see increasingly rampant government spending as the country launches into the Social Security fiasco of the 21st century.

In order to avoid that, the constitution needs to be amended. Gov. Sarah Palin wanted to play it safe by holding the April 3 advisory vote – at an estimated cost of $1 million – to test the waters. Well, as Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “While you’re saving your face, you’re losing your ass.”

In our quest to be politically correct, let’s try not to lose more than we need to.

March 6, 2007 Northern Light

ANWR is not a sustainable energy option

Teresa Combs

From the mouth of the man who spoke of a bridge to replace a seven-minute ferry ride to Ketchikan, and who referred to the “Internets” as “series of tubes,” 84-year-old Ted Stevens has also flapped his lips in defense of opening up Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

But the solution for the fluctuating severity of oil crises should not be to continue drilling, especially in fragile ecosystems.

In 1998, the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that there is a potential of at least 5.7 billion barrels of oil under the ANWR area, possibly more. This reserve could serve the country, according to the estimate, for anywhere from 12-32 years. But then what?

The time, manpower and energy that would need to be dedicated to surveying the area, testing it, preserving it and draining it could better be channeled into researching and supporting alternative methods that would have limitless possibility for renewable and reproducible energy. While our oil usage at this very moment may not affect us immediately, what will we leave behind after those 32 years when we’ve used up most of what remains of this limited source?

It is not being suggested that we completely sacrifice all of our dependence on oil so soon, as that isn’t completely feasible now. But we can at the very least focus on reducing our oil consumption where it affects us the most. We have the knowledge and ability to eliminate a huge consumer of our natural oil so that we will be able to rectify the impending crisis and learn to control what little we have left.

Entrepreneurs have created hybrids for cars and made the ability for a diesel engine to run on used vegetable oil. With this engineering spirit, there are so many possibilities available that can have endless benefits without hurting our environment more than we already have. We must be aware, and we must have backup plans. Reliance on only one major resource without acknowledging alternatives is ignorance.

Perhaps Stevens, a prominent public servant who has had many years to his name, could stop relying on aging ideas that only have an immediate gratification with no regard to the future. He needs to encourage and embrace the technology that others have pioneered.

Don’t think about what money it could bring to the state or economy in the now, but focus on what is more important. Whatever we decide at this moment, future generations will have to deal with its repercussions. Let us take that step now to produce these possibilities instead of forcing our drills into virgin land.

Opening ANWR will reduce dependence

Kelly McLain

There have been several failed attempts in Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during the past three decades, and it is in the spotlight once again, after President Bush called for expanding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by continuing to buy foreign oil at ridiculous prices for the next 20 years.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens has recently backed a new approach to opening ANWR by using its reserves as part of the nation’s emergency stockpile of oil. The stockpile now holds about 700 million barrels of federally owned oil stored for a national emergency. Instead of expanding the strategic reserve to regions outside the U.S., the idea proposed is for Congress to lease oil from Alaska for a certain amount of time, after which the state would be able to sell it.

It’s no secret that Stevens has received harsh criticism for his actions in the Senate and his infamous “series of tubes” metaphor. But the consequences of the U.S. relying on foreign oil are something we can all consider.

Past attempts to open ANWR have been based on prospective production. ANWR is a 19 million acre refuge in the northeast region of Alaska. A great concern for environmentalists is the impact of drilling in the arctic region. Oil fields in Prudhoe Bay have spent millions of dollars on research to ensure that the wildlife and oil field facilities can coexist with as little disruption as possible.

By all means, I don’t think we should neglect the consequences. We should be concerned about the impact on the environment and the project’s feasibility to maintain carefully planned development and environmental protection.

But aside from the concern about the caribou, our nation’s energy security is at stake.

Let’s face it. Oil production is necessary to sustain our rapidly growing and competitive country, which is in desperate need of natural resources. The U.S. has long been more dependent on foreign oil than on our own. The solution is that we have a reliable emergency stockpile, and ANWR is a worthy candidate. We shouldn’t have to rely on billions of dollars’ worth of foreign oil when we could be using our country’s own resources.

This new approach to ANWR is a creative compromise for our nation’s emergency stockpile. There would need to be equitable means for estimating the amount of oil thought to be available and the payment to Alaska for it.

This is a matter of securing our nation’s emergency stockpile with resources available in Alaska, by becoming self-sufficient. Opening ANWR as a strategic reserve is a necessity for our nation’s security.

February 20, 2007 Northern Light

Smoking in bars should be banned

By Jessica Sincich
The Northern Light

A peer of mine once mentioned that she was a bartender. I heard terrible stories of the asthmatic problems that many bartenders developed while working. I also heard of the “smurfs” these bartenders would cough up at the end of the night; just picture black loogies and you’ll get the idea.

These complications were caused by the excessive secondhand smoke the bartenders had to endure. After hearing stories like these, it is clear that a change needs to take place.

Anchorage voters will soon decide if they want to uphold the indoor-smoking ban voted on by the Anchorage Assembly. All bars are included in this ban.If the initiative is not repealed, smoking will no longer be allowed within five feet of a bar’s entrance. Smoking will be only allowed on the patios and decks.

Thank goodness.

It is about time that Anchorage falls in line with many other cities around the country. So far, 18 states have approved smoking bans in all places of employment, including bars. Many other cities have independently approved smoking bans as well.

The smoking ban idea is not new, as smoking in restaurants and businesses has been banned in Anchorage since 2001.

Looking at Alaska smoking statistics, there is no doubt that this ban is needed.

According to the Alaska Tobacco Facts, 2006, “In 2004, more Alaskans died from the effects of smoking than from suicide, motor vehicle crashes, homicide, HIV/AIDS, and influenza combined.”

The study also concluded that only 24 percent of Alaska residents are smokers. Why is such a fuss being made over a large minority?

Another shocking statistic is that eight out of ten smokers believe that secondhand smoke is harmful and that people should be protected from it.

So if 80 percent of smokers themselves feel people should be protected from secondhand smoke, then what is the problem in upholding the ban?

The opponents of the ban were required to obtain 7,000 signatures to put the issue on the next ballot. The “news” was that 12,000 signatures were received. Wow, 12,000 signatures in a city of 275,000 people. Impressive.

The smokers contesting this ban are not considering the employees of these bars and the fact that they have to tolerate the excessive smoke for hours at a time. And to say this is all excusable because they work in a bar is unacceptable. If someone were to come and fill my office smoking a cigarette, I wouldn’t be happy about it either.

The purpose of going to the bar is to spend time with friends, dance and drink. Not to light a cigarette.

Just because a quarter of the population smokes, it doesn’t mean the rest of us should have to.

Banning smoking is not only option

By James Halpin
The Northern Light

It should come as no surprise to anyone that secondhand smoke is unhealthy. That’s why it is utterly stunning when, in the wake of a study detailing the dangers of secondhand smoke, the Anchorage Assembly reacts in a truly knee-jerk fashion.

Banning smoking in bars is, simply put, ridiculous. There are certainly other unhealthy things that a person can do in a bar: Drinking is one thing that comes to mind.

Sure, the 20,000 alcohol-related deaths reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2006 (not including accidents and homicides) can’t compare to the more than 400,000 people who die each year from smoking.

What they can do, though, is dwarf the estimated 3,000 deaths each year attributed to secondhand smoke, as reported by the CDC.

The point is, nonsmokers are concerned about their pristine lungs being contaminated, yet people die from drinking almost seven times more often than from secondhand smoke.

Despite that lapse in judgment, most smokers can probably respect the fact that nonsmokers don’t want to have to come home from a bar smelling like an ashtray. That can be avoided simply by having separate facilities.

The Peanut Farm comes to mind. It has a brand-new, state-of-the-art section with projection TVs and live entertainment. There is also no smoking. People can smoke on the old side, but the tradeoff is watching the game on tiny, old screens. That’s fine.

The two bars are in separate buildings and there is absolutely no danger of anyone getting smoked out. And for employees who complain about their health while choosing to work in a bar that allows smoking, the workers there can have the option to work in the nonsmoking area.

Of course, not every bar can afford to build a separate smoking area. There is a simple solution to that: Create a smoking room, complete with air filtration and a sealed door. Then nobody except the one employee – preferably a smoker – that needs to clean it will have to brave the toxic air.

The Sea Galley has such a room, and anybody who doesn’t want to be affected by it, can easily avoid it.

Such rooms shouldn’t be mandatory, but at least then bar owners would have the option to accommodate the large portion of their clientele – about 25 percent of Alaska’s population, according to the American Lung Association – who would appreciate it.

Those who choose not to set aside such a room would find – much to their customers’ dismay – their entryways clogged with smokers. Despite the fact that walking past cigarette smoke outside is about as harmful as idling down an exhaust-choked Tudor Road, nonsmokers continue to whine about having to smell even the most minute whiff of it.

But they don’t have to.

February 6, 2007 Northern Light

Wage increase will only drive up costs

By Teresa Combs
The Northern Light

It seems today that the most logical way to pull an unskilled, working-class citizen out of an impending poverty designation is to simply give them more money. Why not raise the minimum wage a buck or two? It will ensure that the average Joe will make more money for the same job he’s been doing, and he won’t be so poor anymore. Makes sense, right?

Not exactly. As the country has just approved the increase in the federal minimum wage, and Alaska considers raising it even more, such an action has obvious repercussions.

For example, just because you’re getting more money doesn’t mean everything will cost the same. Employers will have to combat their loss in increased wages by raising the price of goods and services.

If wages increase too much, it’s likely that businesses will have to downsize. Why keep eight employees around when you could have six and just give them more work to do?

Of course, the work will probably have to be done in the same amount of time, so this will force an employee to work even harder for that extra cash. This in turn will make it more difficult for an already unfortunate jobseeker to get a job.

A minimum wage forces employees to work for the bare minimum. If everyone’s getting the same amount, a company won’t bother giving more money because they know everyone else in their field is paying about the same. It also doesn’t give employees much incentive to try their best when they don’t have to.

If competitiveness and fair wages for the actual work performed could be left to the market, it could create an exciting economy – people will want to work. It could lower prices and make living more affordable for everyone.

We wouldn’t have this steadily growing inflation, and we could better stabilize our economy.

As college students, we get jobs that fit our awkward schedules and require no real formal training or knowledge. And what we make keeps us on the brink of crisis – do we need medicine or food? Can we afford a new textbook, or should we wait four to 10 working days for a used one online? The check engine light is on; surely it can wait.

But even at $7.50 an hour, you can only buy so much. When prices go up to correspond to wages, those decisions aren’t going to become any easier.

Don’t be fooled by an increase, because the cost of your future meals and new clothes will reflect any change in wages. You’re going to find yourself just as poor with those deceptive numbers on your pay stub.

Wage laws keep the poor on their feet

By Aaron Burkhart
The Northern Light

A minimum wage is needed to ensure that people willing to work, often in already degrading and thankless jobs, make enough money to live on. By some estimates, as many as 6.6 million people earn less than the $7.25 proposed minimum. Of course, some businesses might be adversely affected, but if profit margin dictated policy, we’d all be working in sweatshops. Businesses that rely on minimum wage workers should look at their business model if that’s the only way they can stay open.

Without a minimum wage, this country would become even more economically divided – the poor would get poorer and the rich would get richer. Since morality and business decisions don’t mix, a federally mandated minimum wage is the only thing keeping many businesses in check. Large national corporations are usually the ones that object to paying workers more, even though they’re the ones that can most afford it. They don’t care about staying in business, they care about making ever-increasing profits – why worry about the common worker’s pay when their CEO needs a $50 million raise?

Ethics aside, saying a minimum wage hurts the economy overall is not based in fact. Empirical studies by the Economic Policy Institute after the last round of minimum wage increases a decade ago showed no negative impact on job opportunities. By increasing the income of the lowest paid workers, it puts more consumers into the economy, meaning business can now afford to pay workers more – it’s an upward spiral of economic growth that gives people a reason to get off welfare and start contributing back to the community. Small businesses that already pay more than the minimum wage won’t be affected, other than seeing millions of customers have greater buying power. Even if prices do rise slightly on some goods or services, workers who get a 70-cents-an-hour raise each year won’t mind paying an extra nickel here and there – they still come out ahead.

And those who already earn more and now find minimum wage creeping up on them have a reason to ask their own bosses for a raise. Again, it’s the upward spiral that leads to more economic development.

After adjusting for inflation, the current value of the minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1955. Without an increase, the wage gap will continue to grow, and the result will be as bad as not having a minimum wage at all – which, again, would be disastrous for the country. The only ones who want that are those already in that top 5 percent who make as much money as the rest of the country combined. A minimum wage that people can live on is all that keeps that gap from getting larger.