Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Human Cost of Alaska’s Budget Cuts: Stories from the Front Lines

At the suggestion of a reader, I put out a call for anonymous stories about the human impact of Alaska's proposed budget cuts. Here they are, unfiltered and edited only lightly for grammar, spelling, and syntax. 

VETERAN/SCHOOL TEACHER: Well our working conditions are terrible, but at least we know the body politic places zero value on our profession. I’m sure cutting Medicaid will make it all better.

TEACHER/UNIVERSITY EMPLOYEE: After ten years in rural Alaska teaching public school, last week I just started a new position with the University. This new job is exactly what I want in a career, our new town has great schools for my kids, and my husband is able to continue his own training at night through the UA system. In short, this transition met all of our short term goals and propelled us solidly towards long term success. Now, It seems this job will singlehandedly bankrupt us. We just spent our savings on the move, and budgeted it all exactly so that my first paycheck from UA came at just the right time. We did everything fiscally correct for ourselves. And yet, Dunleavy’s veto means my impending furlough and more than likely ultimate job loss. We invested everything we had into finding just the right spot for us in the state, a place where we will be the most productive and happy. What happens to us now? I am the sole income earner, and it looks like I will soon have no income. My husband is enrolled in the UA system for the fall, using his tuition waiver benefit. My son is enrolled in kindergarten. We can’t afford to move, and we can’t afford to stay. How can one person have such a dramatic and pervasive negative impact on so many hard-working Alaskans?

JOURNALIST: My friend works in public radio for UAF and will lose his job. He is the sole breadwinner for his family of five.

RURAL ALASKA RESIDENT: I don't know how much worse it will be in the bush. We haven't had a VPSO (Village Public Safety Officer) in any village in our area for about five years. Our school year was shortened two years ago to end on May 5. These are a few of the things that happened BEFORE the governor is making the skinny state wallet apparent to urban Alaska. Of course no one in urban Alaska gives a fuck about the bush until they feel the pinch.

SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I own a residential design company in Anchorage: 50% custom private houses, 50% public housing. If these vetoes hold, the mass exodus will tank the housing market, eliminating most of the former; the latter will be curtailed as projects become increasingly difficult to finance--reduced demand, reduced rents. It's a race to the bottom that will quickly get as ugly as the 1980s.

HOUSING/HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION ADVOCATE: I've been on the phone with multiple communities that will be forced to cease operation of all homeless/housing resources. One example is Nome, which will be forced to shutter its only cold weather emergency shelter--a shelter that was opened in response to two fatalities due to folks having to sleep on the seawall. Since opening in 2009, there have been no winter fatalities on the seawall. The Kenai/Soldotna area will also lose all housing supports. They housed 300 individuals last year: one third of which were children. As a community with no shetler system, those families and children will have zero housing options and likely result in being homeless. These reckless cuts will literally kill people.

JOURNALIST/FISHING INDUSTRY EXPERT: I would like to inform the fishing industry on how these cuts to ADF&G will affect them but there is a gag order on managers and all fishery questions are referred to "the administration." In my 30+ years of covering fisheries, this is the first time state managers have not been able to talk and clarify impacts from budget cuts.

MENTAL HEALTH NON-PROFIT BOARD MEMBER: I’m on the board of a non-profit that provides much needed mental health services to Alaskan youth. We could only pass a “tentative” budget for the start of the fiscal year because we didn’t know what the Governor would do. That budget was based on the 5% decrease to Medicaid passed by the legislature. With no raises for our staff and other crucial cuts, we could only get it to balance if we ignored depreciation of our buildings and deferred maintenance even further. With another 50 million in undesignated cuts to Medicaid we still can’t make a solid budget. Any further cuts might require us to close cottages. There are few other options in Alaska for residential care. Kids will either have to remain in the hospital, or be shipped out of state. Sadly we are better equipped than most other non-profits in the sector. They likely won’t survive.

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTHCARE RECIPIENT: I had a Medicaid abortion in Alaska before I was ready to raise children. I had no money and trouble finding work at the time (2010). Dunleavy trying to make a point against state funded abortions by punishing the Alaska Supreme Court system with budget cuts he says are commensurate with the cost of such abortions scares me. It is a personal attack on my voice to exercise my constitutional right to make choices about my own body.  I also had my first child at Bartlett in Juneau. During the birth, many mistakes were made by an admittedly overworked staff. They later told me budget cuts meant they were understaffed. The doctor performed a cesarean and sewed me up. As I lay in recovery, I started to feel faint and my stomach kept getting bigger and bigger. It took the staff six hours to realize I was internally bleeding. By the time I went in for a second emergency surgery, I had lost 3 LITERS of blood into my abdominal cavity. I nearly died due to the poor quality of care at one of Alaska’s major hospitals. Alaska’s quality of care issues are directly tied to our Medicaid funds being used as a political football. Dunleavy has just made this dangerous healthcare situation much, much worse. More women will have difficult births due to low quality of care, and it clearly puts the lives of mothers and babies at risk. How dare Dunleavy and team seek to restrict abortion while they simultaneously worsen the quality of care women receive when they bring a pregnancy to term. His budget is a bold attack on women and children.
STATE EMPLOYEE/UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR/FOSTER PARENT: I’m sick to my stomach about the budget. My husband will almost certainly lose his job. Our foster kid will lose all kinds of benefits. We may well have to leave the state, where we’ve raised our family and been active community members. The cuts will shut the transitional housing where my foster daughter lived so her family could get out of the homeless shelter/hotel room they were living in. And the mental health cuts are going to make the crime in Anchorage so much worse than it already is. As someone who works in public benefits programs, I can’t imagine the devastation this will cause to the poorest and most vulnerable. And as a family with significant university involvement, we’re heartsick. There is literally no way to keep UAA meaningfully functional with a cut that deep. Alaskan kids will suffer so much for this.

UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: I was a professor at a UA school. There were many reasons I decided to leave at the end of the last school year, but an uncertain job future and increasing duties to cover for those leaving (at no extra pay) were the death knell. In light of the current situation, I made the right choice. I could not handle watching students in my classes every day suffering- paying high costs of tuition, needing to work FT while going to school, worrying about food insecurity. I am packing to leave the state, and took a short break to write this. Alaskans need to know that UA is being gutted, they’re losing a lot of good people, and the terrific people left behind will be buried beneath more work than they can reasonably handle. If you use this, please keep it anonymous. I don’t want to hurt my co-workers, and I am still adjunct teaching next year to help them fill-in gaps.

PARENT/MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEE: The wonderful woman who was going to be my daughter's third grade teacher is leaving the public schools and will be teaching in a private school instead. She told me, I am heartbroken. I love this school and these kids. But I can't afford to get layoff notices every summer and not know if I'm going to have a job in the fall.

DISABLED MEDICAID RECIPIENT: I am an Alaskan who qualified for the Medicaid Expansion 3.5 years ago. Since then I have qualified for SSI due to disability. I currently am in a 70-day wait to see my primary care provider because of how busy she/the clinic is. The Medicaid cut looms large in my brain and I wonder if I'll be able to find care for myself. Making this statement makes me feel like I am ungrateful because I am lucky I received these services (not so lucky my legs and brain don't do what they are asked) and I know there are a lot of Alaskans who would view me (and people like me) as mooches. But many also do not realize that they too could end up needing Medicaid and you will do what you need to do to survive.

STATE EMPLOYEE/MS PATIENT: I have MS and my husband is a chef with no insurance. I have a staff made up of two high school interns, three college interns, four non-permanent positions, and one short-term position (all 100% federally funded). I have three other positions (including mine) that are partially federally funded and enough funds to cover them all without general funds. We are all being let go. I run millions of dollars in grants, most of which are awarded out. I finally got retailers to pay us for marketing supplies and enough customer/industry support to generate a sustainable revenue for our section, but not enough receipt authority. My staff and I have been covering all our programs full steam as instructed, not allowed to fill vacancies for help, and found out on TV instead of hearing from my Department ahead of time.

PRE-MED STUDENT: I was a UA student before I decided to take a few years off to travel abroad and work. I wanted to take the time to find what I actually wanted to do, instead of earn a degree for a field I wasn't passionate about. Well now I've discovered my passion. I'm about two years away from returning to school (gotta save so I don't drown in debt) and now that looks like a pipe dream. I wanted to obtain my bachelors and then go to medical school. That would require me to leave Alaska after my bachelors, but I had always planned to return and serve those who need it here. Now I'm fearful. I don't have enough money to start over in another state, but if the UA system closes, what choice will I have? Will there be a market for me to come home to once I'm done? I'm worried my goal of becoming a doctor will force me to abandon the only place I've really felt at home. And that in turn worries me more, because who else will leave because they can't grow here? These cuts will stunt the growth of this state.

UNIVERSITY EMPLOYEE/MOTHER: I work for UAA. I have one daughter who is in an undergraduate program and one who is about to start a doctoral program. If my job is cut, none of us will have a reason to stay in Alaska. I have three graduate degrees and my daughters are on their way to being well-educated, contributing members of society and we do not see a future here. One of my daughters (20 years old) is considering a tubal ligation because of threats to birth control and abortion. The decisions being made do not reflect our values or the society we want to live in.

UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: I am a recently tenured liberal arts faculty member at UAF. There are one to two tenure track faculty positions in my specialization in the anglophone world annually. Tenured faculty, unless they are superstars, are generally not able to move after tenure: we are too expensive and less likely to eat shit than a recently minted PhD, so those job openings are for junior faculty. In short, when I lose my job at UAF, I am done being a professor, which is the only job I've had aside from food service in college. I am 47 and have a chronic illness; it's the loss of health insurance I fear most. My meds--without which I will become disabled--cost $1,500 a month. I just received tenure, which in a state not run by clowns is supposed to provide job security until retirement.  And I'm not dead wood, as soon as classes got out I started writing the book I was awarded a sabbatical to complete. The sabbatical is sure to be revoked. I recently separated from my husband, who is also faculty, and going from having a joint to single income in the last year has been expensive, so I do not have much savings. No one in the university system thought he would stick to his draconian 41% budget cut. My program, UA wide, is one of the starts of liberal arts because we bring in grants and are prominent in our field. The assumption had been that even in a 20% cut scenario we'd be preserved in some way, even if the liberal arts (the public's and the university's lowest priority) get gutted. It would require shutting UAF down entirely to meet these budget cuts. I am not an optimist, but I don't think I'm paranoid. I just told my landlady that I am not renewing my lease and am going to move into a one room month-to-month dry cabin so I can be flexible and save money. (If I'm ever paid again--we are "off contract" and unpaid during the summers). I think there's a chance they will keep us one semester if there's no override so students can still take the classes they registered for? But if there is no override, one semester more of pay is like the ultra best scenario for me. I'm looking into moving into my dad's basement in Michigan and hoping there is some office job there with health insurance that I can take on until I save enough money to relocate to a Latin American country to retire and die. I don't think my scenario is even much better if there is an override--something dramatic would have to change for this to not be an annual battle and I don't trust the legislators to stand up to the governor every year (or at all actually). An override will just kick the can down the road for one year, so I'm packing my bags for that dry cabin (started this morning) regardless.

PARENT/MULTI-GENERATION ALASKAN: These budget cuts are going to shut down my kids' school in Anchor Point--Chapman K-8, a school I went to and my dad went to. This isn't wrong because of our nostalgia, but now my daughter in kindergarten will have to spend an extra two hours on a bus to go to school in Homer (where class sizes will blow up, mind you). We've already lost so many good teachers because of the threat of these cuts. All of this has got me thinking hard about moving my family out of state to a place where education is a priority. We will essentially be "Dunleavy Refugees."

GRADUATE STUDENT: I am a graduate student at UAF. Before this disastrous budget proposal, I was offered the possibility of teaching as an adjunct after graduation. I am passionate about education and this job would be a dream come true. My husband and I decided to build our future here in Fairbanks and are in the process of building a home. Now it looks as though my career will be traded away for an annual payout. Our future here is uncertain. All I want to do is work. If there is anything I would like Alaskans to understand, it's the impact this budget will have on their neighbors' lives.

JUNEAUITE: Without Medicare we lose our hospital. Without our hospital, we lose our coast guard families. Without our coast guard families, we lose school funding. No more ferries, we can’t afford sports and other school travel. Without sports programs, families will leave. The dominoes will fall in quick succession.

UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: I'm an assistant professor at UAA, I just finished my third year, and I'm really worried. President Johnsen has basically said they have no idea how UAA, UAF, and statewide are going to absorb these cuts (UAS and community campuses are apparently exempt), since they are astronomical. If there is no override and the university declares exigency on July 15, this means that the university does not need to honor the terms of our contracts (for example, my tenure track contract would ordinarily require I have 12 months of notice before I am let go, since the academic hiring market process lasts the whole academic year). So I could very well be let go. No one knows what is going to happen, though I've heard the 1,300 layoffs number being kicked around. I moved my entire family here to take this job, which I love, and I worry for my students, who will face tuition hikes, drastically reduced course offerings, and significant challenges that might make it difficult to impossible to finish their degrees. They may have to transfer out of state, and this makes them statistically less likely to return to the state and reinvest in it after they receive their degrees. My husband is a public school teacher, so if I lose my job, we will survive (I will try to cobble together side jobs and online work as I can), but given that the governor has said that K-12 will be a target in next year's budget, it's really hard to see a future here. If the university declares exigency and fires tenured or tenure track professors, it will have catastrophic impacts on future hiring and retention of faculty. People will leave (even if I keep my job, I will go on the market this year, because I cannot take three more years of this insanity and uncertainty), and the university will not be able to attract new faculty because it will be seen as unreliable and not worth moving up here for a job that could be taken away immediately.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Guess It’s Time for Me to Drop Science on Silence

So now we have “whatever you want to call them” camps in America. And they’re not the kind where you roast s’mores and make friendship bracelets, unfortunately. 

To a panel of appellate judges’ incredulity, a DOJ lawyer just argued that soap, toothpaste, and the ability to sleep aren’t part of “safe and sanitary” conditions for women and children who’ve crossed the southern border fleeing gang violence at home and find themselves in CBP custody.

Look. Every government lawyer has to make arguments they don’t like. That’s part of the job. But we can also choose what lines we draw, both professionally and morally. That line is different for every lawyer. But it can and should exist, because as Nuremberg taught us, “I was just doing my job” has a limit.

I was a government lawyer my whole career before I was fired for criticizing Trump. To those still in government under these regimes, I would say only this: think long and hard—right now—about what you’re doing and where your line is, because history shows: that line will come before you’re ready.

The difficult truth for me is that I’m not wired for silence or keeping my head down in the face of this level of devolution of democracy and humanity. I’m just not. My mom is like this and has lost jobs and friends because of it. My grandfather, her father, was sentenced to seven years in a federal prison for union organizing. America since 11/9/16 is not normal. I am congenitally unable to stop saying so. My mom says maybe that’s because we’re Jews, and we know all to well the consequences of silence.

I’d also add, however, that remaining silent in the face of what has happened to America now is the epitome—the absolute zenith—of white privilege. Many white people with no cultural history of trauma or persecution are seemingly fine saying/doing nothing because they think they will always be “safe.”

Maybe, maybe not.

I hope those who stay silent with their heads down and who keep going along to get along in order to protect and squirrel away their own little personal corner of the universe never have to face any real consequences of Trump’s atrocities. I really do. Some of us don’t have that option, and it would behoove every citizen of this country to remember that eventually, your turn comes. Either you’re a victim, a bystander, or a persecutor. Those are the three options you have if you’re not willing to say or do anything else.

The sad truth is that most people, when given a choice, will always choose self-preservation above all else. People who are hard-wired to risk self-destruction for principles are the exception, not the norm, because it’s maladaptive. Those people end up isolated, destitute, imprisoned, dead, or some combination thereof. I know it’s futile to be disappointed in human nature, and yet I am. 


Here’s another thing: if this post makes you mad, if you’re crying metaphorical white tears, if you feel fragile, if your first instinct is to be defensive about your self-preservation-at-all-costs mentality, then maybe it’s time to look in the mirror.  Maybe you’re mad at yourself, and that’s okay. It’s not too late to do or say something. Anything. 

Because if you think the stakes are high now, just wait.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Suggested Letter to Congress About Southern Border Detention Camps

An O.H.M. reader wrote this letter to her congressperson. I think it’s a good idea if others do the same, so I thought I’d share it:

Dear [Congress person],

I am writing to urge you to 1) educate yourself to more fully understand the depth of the mistreatment of human beings happening at the southern U.S. border while in U.S. custody, and 2) to do something about these inhuman conditions, because you are in a position of power to do so. If you have already taken steps toward #1, it is unimaginable how you could not be compelled to take steps toward #2.

Setting aside the symbolic significance of using a former WW2 Japanese internment camp in the United States to detain human beings in the 21st century, the willful, systematic mistreatment of human beings by the United States on U.S. soil is wrong. It ignores the lessons of the 20th century, learned painfully and over too much time, that it is immoral and extremely dangerous for governments to use their power against any human being, let alone innocent civilians and children, in this way. It is not acceptable to treat some human beings like they are less than human, in order to make the majority feel more comfortable. It is immoral to treat prisoners in these ways, even if they have committed terrible crimes and display anti-social behavior. 

It is therefore that much more heinous to treat people who have not committed crimes in the same way or worse, and even more so for young women, children, and babies. And it is difficult to imagine the level of trauma and pain that someone who is a refugee, fleeing a country in which they are not safe from violence on a day to day basis, that they otherwise consider home and likely did not leave without considerable reason to do so, compounded by the inhuman treatment of the country that ostensibly welcomes immigrants and was founded on the values of freedom, tolerance and opportunity, to intern human beings and then to take further steps to shield these internment camps and the mistreatment of these human beings from the press and the general public.

I ask you to reflect on your own family history: when and how did your family arrive in the United States? Did they emigrate from a country where they faced any form of persecution, lack of economic opportunity, or otherwise did not see a bright future for themselves? Mine did, from several different countries. Some of my ancestors came from Ireland, a country (and not even at that time its own country) that faced a devastating famine, and for whom the exodus of the population became a "scourge" of unwanted immigrants to the United States in the 19th century. 

Amazingly, while Irish immigrants were generally not treated well, from exclusion from work opportunities to overcrowded and unsanitary housing, they were not detained for weeks at a time and interned and denied food, heat, clothing, medical care, and other basic necessities. Perhaps the conditions at Ellis Island were comparable, particularly those who were quarantined if they were considered disease carriers. But this was also almost two centuries ago.

This needs to stop. We are on a path toward another atrocity, committed in peace time against those who do not pose a credible threat to our nation, that our children and grandchildren will struggle to understand and ask why all of us did nothing while it happened. I don't know what to do or how to stop this, so the very least I can do is express my outrage and sadness to those who are in a position to do something.

I should not have to state, but I am stating loud and clear, that I do not support internment and systematic treatment of human beings, but I am stating it now because it appears that nothing is being done, and that no one cares enough to make this stop. If we do not stop this, we will have lessened ourselves as a nation and as a people, doubly so because we did not learn the first time, when we interned our own citizens because of their race. 

The wars and atrocities of the 20th century, which we as a nation fought against but also perpetrated ourselves, should have taught all human beings on earth that mass destruction of our species is never that far away, and the worst forces in our nature must be kept in check as we continue to develop technologies and systems to commit atrocities on a grand scale.

In closing, I urge you to fully understand what is happening at the border, because to understand it even at a basic level and from a distance is sufficient information to understand that it is wrong, and it is un-American. 

Please do something. Please stop the systematic mistreatment of human beings on U.S. soil, and act more worthy of the century we live in now, to show that we have learned even one small lesson from our profound mistakes that define the 20th century.

Cedar Attanasio / AP

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Don’t Look Away: Important Information on Border Atrocities

This is a twitter thread from Elizabeth C. McLaughlin put into a blog post:
IF YOU CARE ABOUT WHAT TRUMP IS DOING AT THE BORDER, you need to read and share this thread. 
  please read this. 
I have just gotten off the phone with a friend who is a legal volunteer in Border Patrol facilities. 
Don't look away.
My friend has done two tours now volunteering as a legal advocate inside CBP facilities. 
She passed along information about what is happening there that indicates that the Trump Administration is violating every basic human right, and is moving toward military "solutions."
So that folks understand the process: CBP has outposts on the border. Refugees seeking asylum travel hundreds of miles on foot, including with infants and small children, and turn themselves in at these outposts *on foot.* 
Here's what happens next. Don't look away.
CBP then transfers these human beings to a facility called "the Dog Pound." (Here, my friend started crying.) 
The "Dog Pound" is comprised of cages, outside and on dirt, with no protection from the elements. 
Don't look away.
There are dozens of teen moms there. 
There is no baby food. 
While there, my friend saw a CBP agent take a baby from her teenage mother, strip the baby of its clothes, hand the baby back to the mother, and send them outside to the "Dog Pound" to sleep in the dirt.
The "Dog Pound" has no running water, no covers, no tarp, no care, no safety from the elements. It is freezing at night, and deathly hot during the day. 
Everyone is sick. My friend said she saw a baby on this trip that was so sick "I thought it would be dead by morning."
Toddlers in the "Dog Pound" who had been eating solid food are given only infant formula. Moms are trying to start breast feeding again so their children don't starve. 
These moms are dehydrated, sick, & have walked miles through desert with no water. CBP gives them nothing.
It gets worse. Don't look away. From the "Dog Pound," these human beings are moved to an area called "The Freezer." 
The Freezer is kept at 55 degrees. 
Some of the refugees who are moved there are still wet from their journey, and are put in The Freezer wet.
CBP is keeping human beings in "The Freezer" for weeks at a time. WEEKS. 
Including critically ill people, disabled people, sick children, teenage mothers with babies. 
The floor of The Freezer is made of dirt or very rough concrete. There are no beds. 
Keep reading.
From "The Freezer," refugees are supposed to be moved to ICE facilities that are designed for residential care. They have beds, food, bathrooms. 
However, (keep reading) THOSE FACILITIES ARE EMPTY. 
Don't look away.
What our government is doing instead is moving refugees to MILITARY INSTALLATIONS. 
The announcement about Fort Sill, which was used as a Japanese internment camp, is only the start. 
So why would our government be doing this?
Here's why:
These concentration camps (let's call them what they are) will be under the control of the Department of Homeland Security, but within the Department of Defense.
Unlike ICE facilities, which allow site inspectors inside, there will be no inspection of military-run camps. 
The military will be able to deny access to anyone it chooses. No media. No oversight.
Lawyers will not be allowed in. Human rights monitors will not be allowed in. 
The camps will also be protected airspace, meaning that no drones can fly over them to take pictures of what's going on inside.
The Trump administration will be able to conduct itself in whatever way it wants to without anyone knowing what's going on inside. 
Think about what that means. Think about why they would want that. 
This is happening RIGHT NOW. 
ICE facilities with beds and food are EMPTY, because the Trump administration is moving refugees into military-run concentration camps where they can do ANYTHING THEY CHOOSE without oversight, media scrutiny or advocate access.
This administration is already committing atrocities at CBP facilities. 
Border Patrol agents at the facility where my friend was working refer to these human beings as "bodies." Not people. "Bodies." 
They are denying medicine, toilets, beds, food, shelter and clothes.
My friend said that "Flores is on very tenuous ground." 
We're days away from being met with "we're not going to let you in, no matter what."
What is coming is crimes against humanity. 
America is already perpetrating mass human rights violations, and this administration is setting it up so they can do far worse, in secret, under military supervision.
Military forces are already been shifted to CBP. My friend saw *coast guard agents* (read that again) working for CBP at this facility. 
If we do nothing, there will be blood on our hands.
If Pelosi does nothing, there will be blood on her hands and the hands of every Democrat who refuses to act to end this administration's reign. 
Fascism is here. 
If this enrages you, devastates you, frightens you, share this thread. 
Then call your member of Congress and read it to them. 
Then call  and ask her why she sits silently by as our government does this.
We're on a fast train to hell. 
There's only one way to stop it. 
Trump must be removed from power immediately, by any legal means, using every weapon in our arsenal.
This is where we are. This is WHO we are. 
Look reality in the face. 
Don't look away. 
Fight like human life depends on it. 
It does. It does. It does.
PS. I have been asked to tag  in this thread with an urgent plea that she read it. 
What is happening at the border mandates immediate action and revolt in the Democratic party. 
PPS. My friend has photos of the facility. This is real. It's America, right now.
Last tweet: please donate to . Please do it immediately and as much as you can. 
Please donate to the . Please fight against this administration with everything you've got.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

My Straight Ally Manifesto

Pride is more than parties. For me it’s thinking in concrete ways about things I can do to be a true ally to the LGBTQ+ community. So I am committing to these ten concrete things:

1. Make the most of my board service on SEAGLA.

2. Use my platform to shine a light on and speak out against homophobia and transphobia.

3. Take the time to learn and respect people’s gender identity and their pronouns.

4. Vocally resist bathroom bills, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, and similar attempts to weaponize government and litigation to undermine the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

5. Raise my children to know, love, & respect LGBTQ+ as fellow equal human beings.

6. Correct homophobic and transphobic slurs each and every time I hear a person use one.

7. Remember that Stonewall was a riot and the birth of a human rights movement.

8. Credit the LGBTQ+ community for being the first to actively assert health care as a social justice issue during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

9. Offer my home as a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth fleeing persecution in their own lives.

10. Acknowledge that many LGBTQ+ still must live in fear, danger, and secrecy; work to change that forever.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

I Have the Exclusive on the Anchorage Cow Moose Cat Fight

KTUU might have caught it on camera, but only O.H.M. has the sources and access to get the real scoop behind the “disagreement in Eagle River” that “turned into a confrontation in the street” between two cow moose with their four respective calves nearby.

The two moms went “hoof to hoof” this week in the Anchorage subburb. That much is clear. But the question of “why” remains. 

Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologists have speculated that the argument arose due to competition over vegetation and territory in the woods abutting a local subdivision; but that, my ungulate-loving friends, turns out to be FAKE NEWS.

In fact, the two females—whom ADF&G identified in a previous aerial survey and collared as individuals A/986 and A/765—are notorious scrappers who have literally locked horns in a long-standing feud over limited spots on the Chugach Mountain Moose Calf Dance & Cheer Team.

In an exclusive interview, O.H.M. confirmed that individual A/986 was enraged because her calf had been passed over for a prime spot in the lineup for the big upcoming mate-fight between two prominent bulls in rut. 

Meanwhile, individual A/765 was insisting that HER calf had had a better tryout, and A/986 retorted that she was trying to buy off the judges with gifts of mud cakes and that her calf’s outfit was slutty and tacky AF.

It was this last slight over the calf’s outfit that triggered the row and led the two cows to hooficuffs. Eventually, the calves, humiliated by their mothers’ infantile behavior, managed to corral their mothers back into the woods.

The coach of the Chugach Mountain Moose Calf Dance & Cheer Team could not be reached for comment, but the organization released this statement:

“We have been made aware of a physical confrontation between two of our Team Moms. CMMCDCT does not condone violence of any kind, and our selection process for team and competition placement is transparent and fair. We look forward to a great performance at next week’s bull fight.”

A Sitka black-tailed deer, individual D/545, contributed reporting to this article.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

But I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Last week, for the the second time in my life, I was lucky enough to touch a Joshua tree. 

My three college roommates and I, scattered across the country, decided to skip our 20th college reunion and meet up in Palm Springs instead. Driving through the park, listening to (what else) U2, it was easy to imagine how this alien landscape once inspired a musical opus.

Yucca Brevifolia. That's the Joshua tree's scientific name. It's endangered, like all living things, by climate change. Something between a tree, a cactus, and a cartoon out of a Dr. Seuss book, the Joshua tree grows only in the deserts of the southwestern United States. Per Wikipedia:
The name "Joshua tree" is commonly said to have been given by a group of Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century: the tree's role in guiding them through the desert combined with its unique shape reminded them of a biblical story in which Joshua keeps his hands reached out for an extended period of time in order to guide the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. 
The Joshua tree has a deep and extensive root system and can live for up to a thousand years. (WUT). The evergreen leaves are dark and sharp, flowers bloom only intermittently. 

I put my right hand on the trunk of one of these trees and thought about the tattoo I had inked on the back of my neck (shoutout High Tide Tattoo) shortly after the 2016 election. It was one word in lower case typewriter font, with an ellipses: "unless . . .". It refers to one of the last lines in Dr. Seuss's The Lorax: "unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

Even then I recognized that I would need a permanent reminder of the work I knew was coming. The work of caring. The work of trying to make things better. Problem was, I was naive and blinded by privilege, because I thought I would be able to do that comfortably, loudly, without real sacrifice, without pushback, from a place of safety and support. I was wrong. Extremely wrong. And I've been wrestling with that miscalculation and its ramifications ever since. I overestimated my friends and I underestimated my enemies. I grew more cynical than I already was. I lost faith in "the system," whatever that is, and I lost the ability to trust people. I'm never getting those things back. They are gone forever, and that's just something I need to accept.

Most days I just try to go about my business. I seek out work and when I get it, I do it well. I pay my bills and provide for my kids. I shuttle them from baseball to arts camp, driving the same miles of pavement over and over, listening to the same songs on the radio. I numb my feelings and distract myself with sugar, intoxicants, online scrabble, and books. I don't exercise enough and I cry a lot. For the state of the world, mostly, and out of self-pity for my disillusionment, shame, and the isolating limbo I find myself trapped in. I despair that this is never, ever going to end. And by "this," I mean exactly that: This. Everything. This time. The dumbest time. All of the irreparable damage it has done to families and to our national zeitgeist.

But now I'm thinking back to the Joshua tree. 

I didn't realize it until I researched it later, but it turns out that I've got more in common with this weird looking tree than I do with most people. I have a deep and extensive root system that propelled me here. I can outlast the elements (maybe). I can reach out my hands. I can try to be a beacon. 

Standing next to that tree, I thought about how easy it is to just wander off into the desert; crawl under a boulder with the lizards and the scorpions; lie there until you fade to black. That's the easy way. The hard way is to stand there: weird, resilient, waiting. Reaching up, reaching out. Just taking in and absorbing whatever punishments the universe metes out and whatever gifts it delivers.

Looks like I'm taking the hard way.