- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Oct. 27, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Three in 10 Alaskans now considered seriously overweight

Alaskans like to think of ourselves as rugged individuals, far removed from the lethargy and urban sprawl of the Lower 48. But figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that if we want to live up to that image, we’d better start exercising and getting outside more. Far from being a land of strapping frontier residents, Alaska’s obesity problem reflects a problem with weight very similar to the one facing the rest of the U.S.

It’s hard to overstate how consequential the struggle with obesity is for Alaska and the U.S. With an adult obesity rate of 29.7 percent, Alaska is 24th among the 50 states, squarely in the middle of the bell curve. That means three in 10 Alaskans are significantly overweight, with a body mass index of 30 or higher. For the average American with height of 5 feet, 9 inches, the “obese” range starts at around 203 pounds, according to the CDC’s website.

All those extra pounds add up to serious costs for the state - $459 million per year, according to state Division of Public Health Obesity Prevention and Control Program Manager Karol Fink. That’s more than $100 million more per year than health costs associated with tobacco ($318 million) and a substantial fraction of the state’s budget shortfall, though many of the costs of obesity are borne by Alaskans directly through medical expenses and other secondary costs.

The nationwide obesity epidemic, which has its epicenter in the Midwest and South, is one to which no state appears to have a cure. Even Colorado, the nation’s least-obese state, has more than a fifth of its adult residents falling above the obesity threshold.

The good news, insofar as there is good news, is that such high rates of obesity are a fairly recent development. In 1991, only 13 percent of Alaskans were obese - less than half the current rate. The factors contributing to obesity in Alaska are many: Long, cold winters that make it difficult to get outside, a relatively minimal amount of locally grown produce and sedentary work environments for most residents are just a few. But if such a serious problem can arise in a relatively short time period, it can also be turned around.

But just as many factors have gone into increasing the state and nation’s obesity rate, a multi-pronged solution is needed to combat the problem. The state is working with schools and businesses to offer healthier food options, sponsor fitness challenges and promote awareness of the importance of staying at a healthy weight.

Part of the responsibility, too, falls on our own shoulders. A healthy lifestyle can start with buying more nutritious foods at the grocery store, going to the gym on the weekend or choosing to walk with friends on a lunch break instead of grabbing fast food. And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing commitment: Just as there were many steps on the way to this point, every step taken away from obesity - however small - helps take the state to a better place.

Statistics from the CDC indicate that without action on obesity, the current generation of young people could be the first whose life expectancy is shorter than that of their parents. That would be an awful legacy - let’s turn it around so we can spend more time exploring the state we love.


Oct. 28, 2015

Juneau Empire: Build the money factory to keep Alaska solvent

The next time someone you know uses the phrase “raiding the Permanent Fund,” please do us a favor.

Take them aside, talk to them, and gently give them a dope slap.

That overused cliche does nothing to solve the state’s rapidly approaching fiscal cliff and does much to poison good ideas.

On Wednesday, we heard one of those good ideas from Attorney General Craig Richards. In a presentation to lawmakers, he explained how the state can turn the Permanent Fund into what is effectively a money factory by loading it with most of the oil and gas revenue of the state every year.

That money, invested in the Permanent Fund, can earn an important return for Alaskans.

Thanks to the sharp leadership of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, the Permanent Fund has averaged a 6.4 percent return over the past decade. If it averages a return of at least 6.7 percent (over the past five years, the average return has been above 10 percent) and the Walker Administration Plan is implemented, the state could generate $3.3 billion per year from the Permanent Fund - forever.

The state right now faces a $4 billion gap between revenue and expenses. The Walker Administration Plan won’t fill all of that gap, but it reduces it to a manageable level, a solvable level.

Furthermore, it does so without killing the dividends that many Alaskans rely upon. Half of the state’s oil and gas royalties will each year be devoted to the dividend, ensuring it continues.

Unfortunately, it won’t continue without cost.

Richards estimates that if the plan is implemented and oil prices don’t rise, next year’s dividend would be in the range of $1,000 instead of the $2,000 we saw this year.

Furthermore, the dividend would be subject to the volatility that state revenue now experiences. The state would be granting itself the relative stability of Permanent Fund earnings, while giving Alaskans the year-to-year volatility of oil prices.

If you consider the economic effects of state government, you may well think that exchange is a worthwhile one. According to Raincoast Data’s latest analysis, state government jobs pay 14 percent of all wages in Southeast Alaska.

“Wages” is a cold way to measure the jobs of our local friends and family, but it’s countable and exact. Every dollar spent locally creates other local jobs, helping Southeast Alaska stay vibrant and livable.

Alaska Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, has said the “devil is in the details” of this proposal.

We agree. The Alaska Legislature should give the Walker Administration Plan a firm vetting, but it should be a fair one, and it should be done this year.

It’s entirely possible that this plan is simply a political football. Legislators, particularly those from the Railbelt, have called for Gov. Bill Walker to simply cut his way to a balanced budget. The Walker Administration Plan offers a partial alternative, and if legislators reject it, they will cut out what is expected to be the heart of the governor’s budget plan.

If that happens, lawmakers themselves will have to cut the budget (during an election year) or simply kick the can down the road for another year.

The state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve, as of Aug. 1, contained $9 billion in reserves. Every day the state operates without a balanced budget draws down that savings account. In two years - barring a sudden rise in oil prices - it will be exhausted and the state will face a truly impossible choice.

We’re told that implementing the Walker Administration Plan will cost at least $3 billion from the CBR. If the Legislature does not act in this approaching regular session, it may not have time to act at all.


Oct. 31

Ketchikan Daily News: It’s best wild

It’s not only a Halloween trick when farmed fish is being dressed up and sold as wild-caught salmon, which is a treat to most palates, it’s fraud of huge proportions in the winter.

An estimated 43 percent of wild-caught salmon is mislabeled, according to a new study by Oceana, an international conservancy group.

The group, using DNA, tested 82 salmon samples advertised as wild-caught at restaurants and grocery stores. Test results showed that nearly 69 percent of those samples was farmed Atlantic salmon.

The group collected the samples in Virginia, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York during the winter of 2013-2014, the time of year when most wild-caught salmon is considered out of season.

Dr. Kimberly Warner, the author of the report and senior scientist at Oceana, says that enough wild salmon is caught to supply 80 percent of the U.S. market. But, too much of it - 70 percent - is exported, although an unknown amount returns in the form of consumer products.

Insufficient domestic supply might be part of the impetus behind the mislabeling, but to what extent isn’t measurable. Another likely scenario, also at least in part, would be an intent to increase profits. Money is a key component of fraud, and farmed salmon is lower priced than wild-caught. By buying farmed and labeling it as wild, some in the market might be increasing profits. That’s surely not the case with everyone, but it likely does occur.

It might not be exclusive to salmon, either.

Alaskans, who know their wild-caught fish better than most, might have experienced the mislabeling. An order of halibut might taste more like cod when it is eaten in a Lower 48 restaurant. The price difference between the two is significant, and the potential for a bigger profit might be tempting.

The damage resulting from fraud can be extensive. When it comes to wild-caught salmon and the fishing industry, it economically robs everyone from the fishermen to the consumers.

Farmed salmon is inferior in taste to the wild. Its production also involves the use of antibiotics and pesticides.

When consumers buy wild-caught salmon, it isn’t only a choice of a better taste, but also for a healthier fish. It’s an attempt to avoid additives.

Oceana has done similar studies with shrimp and crab cakes. Including fish, it estimates that about 33 percent of seafood is mislabeled.

That percentage can be expected to increase unless the providers and consumers of salmon and other seafood take action.

President Obama established a task force in 2014 for combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud. But it will take the task force coming up with a proposal to be presented to Obama and Congress.

The proposal should include a means of tracing the source of fish products. When a restaurant patron or grocery store customer selects a piece of salmon labeled “wild,” it should be traceable back to Alaska, from which most of it comes and the scary fish are banned.

No frankenfish here; this is wild country.

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