Dermot Cole

The refugee children from Syria aren’t asking all that much, the speaker told the Anchorage audience. “They ran away from violence and don’t want to see any more of it,” he said. “They ran away from their homes and when some of them come here to make a new home -- we should welcome them.” Then he delivered a greeting in Arabic to Syrian refugees and translated it into English for the crowd of nearly 500 at the Dena’ina Center: “You are welcome here.” Some will scoff at this childlike view of American values, which is so out of sync with the bellicose experts. But during this season of fearmongering, there is something refreshing about the idealism and sentiment, which is childlike for good reason. The speaker, who stood on a box to get above the lectern, was a 10-year-old Anchorage boy,...Dermot Cole
There must be seven or eight Republican politicians in Alaska who haven't shared panic-stricken statements about the Syrian refugee crisis, pretending to know what's really going on. What's wrong with these slackers? They aren't doing their part to create hysteria or display the depth of their understanding of world events. They need to follow the lead of Fairbanks Sen. Pete Kelly, who once modestly said, "Sometimes I think I know too much." These aren't refugees, says Kelly. They are invaders, trying to install sharia law from Skagway to Shishmaref. "Europe is under invasion and Paris is the first city to fall under full attack. We in the U.S. are next and the Quisling who has opened wide our gates to the invading horde is our very own president," says the man who knows too much . Kelly...Dermot Cole
It would have been better for Gilbert Joseph had he never been placed in “protective custody” by the state that summer night in Fairbanks. If so, he might be alive today. Joseph had been arrested and cited dozens of times over the past 35 years, usually on misdemeanor charges, but it was not a fresh allegation of criminal wrongdoing that landed him in a cell at the Fairbanks Correction Center after 11:45 p.m. on Aug. 26. He had been deposited there to keep from getting hurt. The 57-year-old had been drinking hand sanitizer, which contains enough alcohol to make anyone senseless, and the jail staff could not get a breath alcohol reading. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t stand. Jail is no place for a man in that condition. But we haven't come up with better places for men and women in that...Dermot Cole
The headlines Tuesday about the new standardized tests taken by nearly 73,000 Alaska students struck a standard theme. "In tougher tests, Juneau students beat state average," the Juneau Empire said about the tests taken last spring. "Local schools stand out in state tests," the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner said. "Anchorage students score better than statewide average on new standardized test," the Alaska Dispatch News said. While the largest school districts did record somewhat higher scores than the statewide averages, some readers may get the the mistaken idea the numbers tell a story of stellar performance. From 55 percent to 67 percent of the students in the large districts failed to meet all the new state standards in English and math. In many rural districts, 70 percent to 90 percent...Dermot Cole
A year and a half ago the University of Alaska Board of Regents voted to require all UA campuses to adopt the same schedule and to align basic course requirements. Both directives led to moaning and groaning from faculty members and administrators who did not see a need to change the way they do business. Five months after the regents acted, the president of the University of Alaska Anchorage faculty group reported that the “regents expressed anger at UA faculty for not moving forward quickly enough on implementation of the common calendar.” As well they should. The move to a common calendar should have been made years ago, but instead of making a decision in 2014, former UA President Pat Gamble took the task force route. The 11 members agreed that it was really hard to get everyone to...Dermot Cole
It’s time to take stock of state finances and recognize what needs to take place in 2016 -- nothing short of a complete overhaul will set things right. But I don’t think the message of our precarious financial position is sinking in just yet. Instead, we have people offering the usual suspect arguments as miracle cures. Cut the budget. Raise oil taxes. Raise mining taxes. Don’t touch my dividend. Tax somebody else. Bring back the income tax. Start a lottery. Stop the programs I don't like. Trouble is, the numbers are so overwhelming that the meaning of the math gets lost in the mix. The simple solutions would all help, but they won't solve the problem or head off a severe recession. If, in its wisdom, the Legislature agreed on the odd combination of doubling oil taxes and cutting...Dermot Cole
Brian O’Donoghue, a veteran journalist and professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, found himself in the uncomfortable position of answering questions instead of asking them in a confrontational session in Fairbanks Superior Court Tuesday. The questions and answers reflect a larger pattern of contradictory claims and points of view that have highlighted an unusual five-week hearing over whether the Fairbanks Four should be exonerated. The four men, convicted in the 1997 beating death of John Hartman, are asking Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle for a declaration of “actual innocence.” The hearing may wrap up this week, but the judge won't rule until he reviews the case record in detail, a massive undertaking. Three of the men listen daily by phone from jail, while one of them, Marvin...Dermot Cole
Generations of political leaders in Alaska have gone to their golden years declaring that a gas pipeline is “closer than ever before.” And it’s always been true. We don’t have a gas pipeline, so the construction of one must be closer today than yesterday. One added sign that we’re getting even closer comes from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which has at long last set a date -- 2025 -- at which the gas reserves at Prudhoe Bay can start to be sold and shipped south by pipeline. That lines up with the schedule for the latest pipeline plan, the Alaska LNG line from the North Slope to Nikiski. As in comedy, the gas pipeline is all about timing. Remove large amounts of gas too soon and you reduce the amount of oil that can be pumped from the ground. Wait too long and the...Dermot Cole
The center of the legal effort to exonerate the men known as the Fairbanks Four rests on the claim that two of the “real killers” of young John Hartman have confessed. One of the men is William Holmes, 35, a former drug dealer now serving a double life sentence in California for murder. The other man is Jason Wallace, 34, serving 70 years in the Spring Creek jail for killing a 25-year-old woman with a hammer, and other crimes. As teenagers in Fairbanks, they were friends. As young men in their early 20s, they committed murder. It was part of a scheme to eliminate rivals and gain more control over the cocaine trade. Wallace later become the star witness against Holmes, so they don't have much good to say about each other. Both men are locked up and neither one is on trial in the landmark...Dermot Cole
In the early days of the Alaska oil boom, as the late Rep. Hugh Malone of Kenai once said, Alaska legislators found it easy to agree on appropriations. ''There was a sense that there was enough money to do everything,'' said Malone, an early champion of the Permanent Fund who later served as revenue commissioner. ''You didn't have to fight with anybody -- you just said yes." Malone knew there would never be enough money to do everything, though that illusion has been a recurrent theme in Alaska politics every time that oil prices have spiked, only to be followed by a fall. This time the cycle looks different. Oil production is down by 50 percent over the last 15 years, while oil production taxes are down by 95 percent since 2012, mainly because of the oil-price collapse. Alaska can either...Dermot Cole