Come to the Muckraker’s Ball!

5 12 2008


If you’re not busy on Saturday night, or even if you are, make plans to attend the 2008 Muckraker’s Ball & Award Ceremony!  No, alas, I had nothing to do with putting together this fabulous event, even though I’d love to take credit, and the name does seem fitting….

Each year Cook Inlet Keeper, an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the Cook Inlet watershed and the life within it, chooses one deserving Alaskan who has spoken truth to power, and works to hold the government and corporations accountable for their actions.  Isn’t that a nice concept?   To this individual Cook Inlet Keeper bestows the honorary title  of “Muckraker of the Year.”  This year, the recipient is the amazing and incomparable Dr. Ricki Ott, “whose groundbreaking work has played a vital role shining a necessary light on the politicians, bureaucrats, and Exxon Corporation executives who have labored to cover up and ignore the devastation of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.”

Believe it or not, we are approaching the 20th anniversary of that event whose after effects are still being felt by residents of the Sound, fisherman, wildlife, and all who hold to that area as a symbol of wildness and beauty.

Dr. Ott will be signing copies of her new book, “Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.”

And who is up to emceeing this festive and auspicious event?  None other than Air American radio personality and Alaska blogger, Shannyn Moore!   It will no doubt be loads of fun, and promotes the good work of one of my most favorite organizations.

And to share a small bit of the spirit of Prince William Sound, the site of the Exxon disaster, I’ve added some pictures to the Flickr stream that you’ll find at the bottom of the sidebar.  Enjoy.


Would You Rather Freeze to Death, or Be a Socialist?

28 11 2008

On Thanksgiving weekend, when Americans are thinking of all they have to be grateful for, many are also burdened with worries about the future. Matters as fundamental as keeping warm are very real for thousands of Alaskans living in rural villages where the price of heating oil hovers around $10/gallon. The costs associated with flying heating oil out to rural communities that are off the road system is astronomical. Many communities are experiencing theft of heating oil by neighbors desperate to keep warm, and others in coastal communities are scouring the shore for driftwood to burn. These things are incomprehensible to most Americans, but are a stark reality in Alaska. Many families are abandoning the native subsistence lifestyle that their families have been living for thousands of years, and moving to Alaska’s urban centers because they feel they have no choice. This is causing a whole host of other challenges for the rural communities that are losing residents, and for the urban centers coping with the influx of rural Alaskans coping with culture shock.

For the past three years, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has been donating free heating oil to Alaska villages, and economically depressed communities in 23 states across the country. This has the effect you might imagine in Alaska. Some are deeply grateful. Those are usually the cold people. Others are furious at the gesture from this unapologetic socialist, and either accept the gift begrudgingly, or have outright refused to take it. Those in the latter category are starting to rethink their position facing the hard reality of the coming winter, and the fact that some rural families will be spending in excess of 40% of their income on heating fuel.

I am unsure if the irony of the socialist free fuel dilemma is lost on Alaskans. While some state leaders are squawking that

a) Chavez is a Socialist

b) Socialists are evil

Therefore we should reject them and all they stand for.

They seem to be OK with the fact that

a) Sarah Palin also gave away money for free fuel to all Alaskans in the form of an energy rebate check.

b) This sounds awfully…..socialist

c) Sarah Palin was openly railing against socialism and all things socialist across the country on the campaign trail.

Many say, “We shall forget this comparison because we don’t like cognitive dissonance and we shall not ever admit that a socialist idea has any merit at all, nor that any Alaskan might think we need to be doing the same thing as Hugo Chavez. Humph.”

The main difference, of course, is that Chavez is providing the fuel to rural communities that have at least a 70% Alaska Native population, and Sarah Palin gave it to everyone, including wealthy Anchorage residents who spent it on…whatever.

Speaking of the $1200 energy rebate check issued by Palin,

Anchorage Rep. Bob Lynn, a Republican, said he doubts the state would cut checks again because oil prices are dropping and the payment was meant to be a one-time measure.

Lynn said it’s not right for Alaska to receive oil from Chavez. “We need to be able to take care of our own. The United States needs to do something about this,” he said.

Still, Lynn added later, “It’s one thing for me to speak philosophical thoughts here in the warmth of my home in Anchorage. It’s another thing to have a wife and kids in danger of freezing to death out there.”

Bingo. It’s time for Alaskans and Americans to stop screaming “Socialist!” like it was a four-letter word and get over the reactionary knee-jerk rejection of an entire political philosophy because of the fear of a label. Fear of freezing should trump fear of a word. We need to address these problems using concepts with long-term solutions, and not be afraid to use what works because of how it sounds. And we need to recognize where the need exists most and focus our efforts there.

It’s going to take some conviction and courage from both sides of the aisle in Alaska to deal with this, especially considering the ironic anti-socialist rhetoric that came from our Governor on the VP campaign trail.


I Want a Franken-Mammoth.

20 11 2008

I’m generally not one who likes tinkering with Mother Nature. But living in Alaska brings with it a sense of adventure, and possibility, and the limitless imagination that comes with vast landscapes at your doorstep. Ever since I came to Alaska, I have had a secret fantasy. I want a mammoth. Not personally, but I want Alaska to have a mammoth, or a whole herd of them. I want Jurassic Park, only with herbivores.

In the spirit of this fantasy, I even purchased a clump of mammoth hair that was excavated from the permafrost up by Nome, Alaska, where the old land bridge used to connect this continent to Russia. If Sarah Palin had lived 12,000 years ago, she could have WALKED to Russia from her house.

I bought the clump of hair not to try to create a franken-mammoth in my basement, but just to hold it, and to marvel how much the soft undercoat felt like the musk-ox wool that, in Alaska, is known as qiviut. These creatures got their outerwear from the same place. And unlike cold, hard dinosaur bones, or fossilized impressions of fish in ancient mud, this was the real thing. You could actually know what a mammoth felt like. You knew what color it was. You could see the guard hairs, all crinkly and thick, and the actual sense of a living mammoth was literally within your grasp.

I’ve toyed with fantasies about giving the endangered Siberian tiger a safe place to live in Alaska, and I’ve wondered what would happen if penguins were transplanted here under cover of night, and if they could survive. But the mammoth dream was so much bigger. It was epic.

So when I saw the article in today’s Anchorage Daily News entitled “Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million”, the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and my first thought was, “I need another Paypal button.”

Scientists are talking for the first time about the old idea of resurrecting extinct species as if this staple of science fiction is a realistic possibility, saying that a living mammoth could perhaps be regenerated for as little as $10 million.

The same technology could be applied to any other extinct species from which one can obtain hair, horn, hooves, fur or feathers, and which went extinct within the last 60,000 years, the effective age limit for DNA.

Though the stuffed animals in natural history museums are not likely to burst into life again, these old collections are full of items that may contain ancient DNA that can be decoded by the new generation of DNA sequencing machines.

If the genome of an extinct species can be reconstructed, biologists can work out the exact DNA differences with the genome of its nearest living relative. There are talks on how to modify the DNA in an elephant’s egg so that after each round of changes it would progressively resemble the DNA in a mammoth egg. The final-stage egg could then be brought to term in an elephant mother, and mammoths might once again roam the Siberian steppes.

Considering the fact that human hunting was a likely factor in the mammoth’s extinction, it can be argued that we owe them. And while we’re at it, we could pay off our karmic debt to the carrier pigeon, the ivory billed woodpecker, the dodo, and the woolly rhinoceras which also once roamed Alaska.

And while this controversial science offers the possibility of reconstructing a Neanderthal, whose extinction we also had a part in, I’m happy to begin small (or big, depending on how you look at it) with a herd of mammoth taking up residence in ANWR. It might be a great way to keep the area “green” while encouraging tourism and making a ton of money from a renewable resource.

This has definite possibilities.

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Energy Emergency in Rural Alaska.

26 10 2008

The Alaska Federation of Natives on Saturday called on the state and federal governments to declare an energy emergency in rural Alaska, and to cap the price of heating oil and gasoline in villages across the state. 

Palin spokesman Bill McAllister said the governor will continue appointing Natives to state posts.

Some village residents pay twice as much as city dwellers for heating oil and gasoline, and rural delegates meeting for their annual convention in Anchorage voted to ask the government to pay the difference.

That should last until low-cost, alternative energy projects are up and running in rural Alaska, said Loretta Bullard, president of Kawerak Inc., a Native nonprofit operating in the Bering Strait region.

AFN delegates also demanded that Gov. Sarah Palin appoint more Natives to influential state posts and commissions, saying Natives have “suffered from inattention.”

“It was an extreme struggle to get an Alaska Native on the Board of Game,” Timothy Andrew, chairman of the Native village corporation in Marshall, told the crowd.

At her recorded announcement to the AFN convention on Thursday, Palin announced that she was creating a new sub-cabinet to deal with energy issues, and the related migration of rural dwellers into Alaska’s urban areas. Energy costs in rural areas can be as much as 40% of a family’s household budget, and many family’s are being forced to reluctantly relocate so they can afford to stay warm.   Heading up this new sub-cabinet will be Attorney General Talis Colberg.  And no, he is not Native.

Talis Colberg, you’ll remember is the Alaska Attorney General who was the subject of a petition submitted to Palin’s office last month, and a whopping giant protest rally – the biggest in state history.  More than 1200 “Alaskans for Truth”  signed a petition demanding the removal of Colberg from office for advising state employees to ignore legislative subpoenas.  What did the governor think of this loud and clear statement from her constituents?  Apparently not much, since Colberg just got this shiny new appointment.  I’m guessing he’s not fearing for his job.  I think Alaskans can confidently say we’ve been roundly ignored.

Back to Native issues.  Try to follow this very Palinesque thread of non-logic.  Natives say she doesn’t appoint Natives.  She says she will continue to appoint Natives.  And then she creates a sub-cabinet to deal with Native issues, headed up by a non-Native.  I have to believe that Alaskans are catching on to this.

So what will Palin do now?  Rural Alaskan families are facing a crisis this winter.  According to Senator Lisa Murkowski, fuel is being rationed, and prices are prohibitive.  Palin has been asked by her constituents to help.  So will she allow families in rural Alaska to go through a life-threatening winter without adequate heat?  Or will she be one of those dreaded socialists that she is constantly vilifying on the campaign trail? 


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Palin’s War on Wildlife Takes to the Sea.

17 10 2008
Beluga whale photo from NOAA

Beluga whale photo from NOAA

Sarah Palin may have a new battle on her hands. With so many endangered animals left to endanger, and so little time, what’s a governor to do?

While Palin’s lawsuit against the Federal Government to keep the polar bear from protection as a threatened species is still pending, another pesky white northern critter has reared its head to plague our governor. The federal government has now placed the population of beluga whales that inhabit Cook Inlet under the protection of the endangered species act.

When I first came to Alaska, I would often visit a beautiful little pull-out on the Seward Highway in a spot known as Beluga Point. Beluga Point is an aptly named, rocky outcropping with windblown, sculpted trees, that looks over the wide expanse of Cook Inlet, the body of water that hugs the coastline around Anchorage and the surrounding area. It used to be fairly common, when looking out over the Inlet to see what at first looked like white-caps, but on closer inspection, turned out to be the bobbing white heads of Cook Inlet’s beluga whale pod. I remember one fourth of July, picnicking on a beach across the Inlet when the pod came by. They swam back and forth, no more than 20 feet away, rubbing their long shiny bodies on the gravel bed along the shore for a good scrub. The babies were plentiful, human-sized and grey. The belugas stayed for almost half an hour, looking at us periodically with large shiny eyes, while we ate sandwiches. This is why I love Alaska.

There is a relationship that people develop with the wild creatures of this land. Those belugas, that one pod, shares our home. You might be alone and contemplative on the shore, or you might be with a group of excited visiting relatives, and it might be different times of the year, but the belugas were the same. They came, they went, they visited, or they didn’t. That community is a community, and it is truly part of the place. They were made for the place; more so than us two-legged interlopers on the shore gawking with binoculars.

But since 1995, the beluga population in Cook Inlet began to take a turn for the worse. There were only about 650 animals at their peak. In the following years, their numbers began to decline noticeably and people started to worry. It became more ane more rare to see the belugas at Beluga Point. Some hunting of the whales had been allowed for traditional subsistence hunters. The practice was halted by Native villages. Laws were enacted to keep boat traffic from “harassing” the whales. The numbers declined. Studies were done. The numbers continued to decline. Questions began to be asked about the effects on the whales of sewage disposal, toxic runoff, and oil and gas exploration in the Inlet.

Uh-oh. As soon as anyone mentions oil and gas, you can bet the hackles of pro-development Alaskans stand straight up, and they start paying attention. This is why Palin is so opposed to saying that the polar bears are anything but healthy. They have the audacity to be living on the North Slope of Alaska, and the oil was there first. If you listen to Palin tell the story, you’d be worried that Alaska’s polar bears are multiplying so fast they’re going to take over the state. The fact that the arctic ice the polar bears need to hunt is melting at an alarming and unprecedented rate, the fact that animals are drowning because the ice is disappearing, the fact that males are attacking denning females and eating young polar bears to survive, is met by Palin’s administration stuffing their fingers in their ears, denying the scientific evidence, and litigation. We’re talking money here, and nobody is getting rich off polar bear powered vehicles. Nobody is heating their homes with polar bears. So, there is only one logical course of action. Sue the government, and deny the facts.

There are now only 375 beluga whales left in Cook Inlet. The whales are not recovering despite protections enacted over the last 10 years. If you plot the line on the beluga population graph, it’s easy to see where it’s going, and why they are now under federal protection.

The listing means any federal agency that funds or authorizes activities that may affect the whales in the area must first consult with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to determine the potential effects on the whales, the agency said. A federal action must not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species.

What impact the ruling may have on oil and gas extraction in Cook Inlet, the proposed Knik Arm bridge or even municipal sewage disposal is still an open question.

Palin, of course, has questioned the scientific evidence that determined the whale population is in decline. She wants no part of giving the whales federal protection, especially at the dawn of the massive oil exploration projects scheduled to begin in Cook Inlet in the next few years. She has gone so far as to urge that the whale not be listed, and not receive federal protection, citing concerns over what this might do to the Cook Inlet economy. The whale has become an inconvenient speed bump in the road.

The listing has the potential to affect major Alaska projects including an expansion of the Port of Anchorage, additional offshore oil and gas drilling, a proposed $600 million bridge connecting Anchorage to Palin’s hometown of Wasilla and a massive coal mine 45 miles south of Anchorage.

The state does have serious concerns about the low population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet and has had those concerns for many years, Palin said in a statement. “However, we believe that this endangered listing is premature,” she said.Palin in April successfully lobbied for a six-month delay in a listing decision until a count of the whales this summer could be included in deliberations. That count showed no increase over 2007 numbers

While polar bears are beloved by all, and their protection has been covered extensively by conservation groups, and to some extent by the mainstream media, Cook Inlet belugas are hardly the animal rock stars of the arctic. However, the national spotlight is now focused on Alaska as never before. Palin’s unlikely Vice Presidential nomination may actually be a blessing in disguise for these animals who otherwise might have declined in obscurity, fighting off a lawsuit that might have gone unnoticed by the humans in the Lower 48.

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What is McCain Thinking? One Alaskan’s Perspective.

29 08 2008

Downtown Wasilla, Alaska

“Is this a joke?”  That seemed to be the question du jour when my phone started ringing off the hook at 6:45am here in Alaska.  I mean, we’re sort of excited that our humble state has gotten some kind of national ‘nod’….but seriously?  Sarah Palin for Vice President?  Yes, she’s a popular governor.  Her all time high approval rating hovered around 90% at one point.  But bear in mind that the 90% approval rating came from one of the most conservative, and reddest-of-the-red states out there.  And that approval rating came before a series of events that have lead many Alaskans to question the governor’s once pristine image.

There is no doubt in my mind that many Alaskans are feeling pretty excited about this.  But we live in our own little bubble up here, and most of the attention we get is because of The Bridge to Nowhere, polar bears, the indictment of Ted Stevens, and the ongoing investigation and conviction of the string of legislators and oil executives who literally called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club”.

So seeing our governor out there in the national spotlight accepting the nomination for Vice Presidential candidate is just downright surreal.  Just months ago, when rumors surfaced that she was on the long version of the short list, she was questioned if she’d be interested in the position.  She said she couldn’t answer,

“until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day. I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we’re trying to accomplish up here….”

There is no doubt that Palin has fierce territorial loyalties.  When elected governor there was much concern because she came right out and said she would favor her own home town of Wasilla (where she was mayor) and its surrounding environs collectively known as “the Valley” while leading the state.  And it’s obvious from her statement that Alaska was on her mind when accepting the VP nod (see my emphasis above).

So what is it that we’re “trying to accomplish up here”?

  • Palin is currently in the middle of a controversial gas pipeline project in Alaska.  She’s favored the ‘Trans Canada’ proposal that will run the pipeline through Canada, in effect shipping US jobs over the border.  Many Alaskans, including former governors, have favored the “All Alaska Route”.
  • She is also suing the federal government over listing the polar bears as a threatened species.  The science was even compelling enough to convince the Secretary of the Interior that the bears needed to be listed.  But acknowledgement of this issue, and the potential disruption to development on Alaska’s oil-rich north slope spurred Palin to attempt to stop the listing.
  • Does she want to open ANWR?  Yes.  Every politician in Alaska wants to open ANWR.  It’s basically a requirement if you ever hope to get elected for anything.  Even Mark Begich, the progressive Democrat running against the indicted Senator and Alaskan institution Ted Stevens, is pro-drilling.  That’s the sea we swim in up here.  There are a few anti-drilling folks, but you have to look hard to find them, and work hard to have them admit it.

Will all this wash with voters in the ‘Lower 48’?  Time will tell.

18 Million Cracks in the Glass Ceiling

It was obvious anyway, but became beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-two-by-four obvious when Palin referenced the ‘glass ceiling’ line, that this choice is a blatant pander to women.  I would like to believe that women will actually feel insulted by this.  Yes, it would have been historic if Hillary had gotten the nomination.  It was historic that she made it as far as she did.  Yes, it would be great to have a woman in the oval office, or in the VP slot if they are the right woman…a woman who got there with her own drive, grit, determination, intelligence, skill and merits.  When you’re hand-picked by a man to win votes simply because you are a woman, that doesn’t count, and it doesn’t break any kind of ceiling.  Would we have had a Stan Palin as our VP pick?  No.  So choosing a woman because you think her gender will get votes is insulting.

Governor “Squeakyclean”….or not.

Another focus of Palin’s introduction today was her reform image.  Listen to John McCain and you’ll hear about a maverick reformer who took on big oil, took on corrupt Alaska politicians, and whose ethics are unquestioned.

Alaskans really want to like Sarah Palin.  In a state where corruption is the rule, and the same faces keep recycling over and over and over again like a bad dream, a new face, with a promise of reform seemed like a breath of fresh air.  Palin defeated incumbent governor Frank Murkowski (father of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski who he appointed to his own Senate seat when he was elected governor) because he was such an obnoxious, bloviating, downright BAD politician.  This staunchly republican state voted with relief, not having to cross over and vote Democratic, but still able to get Murkowski the hell out of office.  In the general election Palin swept into office running against a former Democratic governor, Tony Knowles, who was capable but came with baggage.  And he represented to Alaskans more of the same, tired old-style politics, and special interests that we have come to loathe.

So, if McCain had made his selection six months ago, the squeaky-clean governor meme would have made a little more sense.  But, Sarah Palin is currently under an ethics investigation by the Alaska state legislature.  The details of this investigation read like a trashy novel, and I suspect that the players will soon have new found celebrity on the national stage.  I’ll try to explain for all you non-Alaskans who suddenly have good reason to want to know more about Sarah Palin.  For those of you not interested in trashy novels, feel free to skip ahead.  Here it is…what we in Alaska call “TrooperGate”.

Sarah Palin’s sister Molly married a guy named Mike Wooten who is an Alaska State Trooper.  Mike and Molly had a rocky marriage.  When the marriage broke up, there was a bitter custody fight that is still ongoing.  During the custody investigation, all sorts of things were brought up about Wooten including the fact that he had illegally shot a moose (yes folks this is Alaska), driven drunk, and used a taser (on the test setting, he reminds us) on his 11-year old stepson, who supposedly had asked to see what it felt like.  While Wooten has turned out to be a less than stellar figure, the fact that Palin’s father accompanied him on the infamous moose hunt, and that many of the dozens of charges brought up by the Palin family happened long before they were ever reported smacked of desperate custody fight.  Wooten’s story is that he was basically stalked by the family.

After all this, Wooten was investigated and disciplined on two counts and allowed to kept his position with the troopers.  Enter Walt Monegan, Palin’s appointed new chief of the Department of Public Safety and head of the troopers.  Monegan was beloved by the troopers, did a bang-up job with minimal funding and suddenly got axed.  Palin was out of town and Monegan got “offered another job” (aka fired) with no explanation to Alaskans.  Pressure was put on the governor to give details, because rumors started to swirl around the fact that the highly respected Monegan was fired because he refused to fire the aforementioned Mike Wooten.  Palin vehemently denied ever talking to Monegan or pressuring Monegan in any way to fire Wooten, or that anyone on her staff did.  Over the weeks it has come out that not only was pressure applied, there were literally dozens of conversations in which pressure was applied to fire him.  Monegan has testified to this fact, spurring an ongoing investigation by the Alaska State Legislature.  But, before this investigation got underway, Palin sent the Alaska State Attorney General out to do some investigative work of his own, so she could find out in advance what the real investigation was going to find.  (No, I’m not making this up).  The AG interviewed several people, unbeknownst to the actual appointed investigator or the Legislature! Palin’s investigation of herself uncovered a recorded phone call retained by the Alaska State Troopers from Frank Bailey, a Palin underling, putting pressure on a trooper about the Wooten non-firing.  Todd Palin (governor’s husband) even talked to Monegan himself in Palin’s office while she was away.  Bailey is now on paid administrative leave.

As if this weren’t enough, Monegan’s appointed replacement Chuck Kopp, turns out to have been the center of his own little scandal.  He received a letter of reprimand and was reassigned after sexual harassment allegations by a former coworker who didn’t like all the unwanted kissing and hugging in the office.  Was he vetted?  Obviously not.  When he was questioned about all this, his comment was that no one had asked him and he thought they all knew.  Kopp, defiant, still claimed to have done nothing wrong and said to the press that there was no way he was stepping down from his new position.  Twenty four hours later, he stepped down.  Later it was uncovered that he received a $10,000 severance package for his two weeks on the job from Palin.  Monegan got nothing.

After extensive news coverage about all this nasty behind-the-scenes scandal, which is definitely NOT squeaky clean, Palin’s approval ratings fell to 67%, still high, but a far cry from the 90% number that’s being thrown around so glibly by the Republicans today.  Alaskans are quickly becoming disillusioned once again.

“Executive Experience”

Before her meteoric rise to political success as governor, just two short years ago Sarah Palin was the mayor of Wasilla.  I had a good chuckle at’s claim that she had been the mayor of “Wasilla City”.  It is not a city.  Just Wasilla.  Wasilla is the heart of the Alaska “Bible belt” and Sarah was raised amongst the tribe that believes creationism should be taught in our public schools, homosexuality is a sin, and life begins at conception.  She’s a gun-toting, hang ’em high conservative.  Remember…this is where her approval ratings come from.  There is no doubt that McCain again is making a strategic choice to appeal to a particular demographic – fundamentalist right-wing gun-owning Christians.  And Republican bloggers are already gushing about how she has ‘more executive experience’ than Obama does!  Above is a picture of lovely downtown Wasilla, for those of you unfamiliar with the area.  Behind the Mug-Shot Saloon (the first bar I visited when I moved to Alaska long ago) is a little strip mall.  There are street signs in Wasilla with bullet holes in them.  Wasilla has a population of about 5500 people, and 1979 occupied housing units.  This is where your potential Vice President was two short years ago.  Can you imagine her negotiating a nuclear non-proliferation treaty?  Discussing foreign policy?  Understanding non-Alaskan issues?  Frankly, I don’t even know if she’s ever been out of the country.  She may ‘get’ Alaska, but there are only a half a million people here.  Don’t get me wrong….I love Alaska with all my heart.  I’m just saying.

I, and all Alaskans will be interested to see how this whole process unfolds.  This is definitely a gamble for McCain, and in my humble opinion, a gift to Obama and to Joe Biden who just got thrown a big hunk of red meat for the vice presidential debate.

This is the wedge-issue, desperate ‘Hail Sarah’ pass of the McCain campaign.

Now I’m off to get some Jiffy Pop.

Nuclear BBs.

6 08 2008

It’s Hiroshima Day.

It’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around what happened when the nuclear bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Equally hard to wrap our minds around is the unbelievable nuclear proliferation that has happened since those awful human tragedies.

When I got to college I had never been much of a ‘joiner’, but my freshman year I decided to join the ‘Peace Through Disarmament Club’. It sounds almost quaint now…kinda like the Geneva Conventions. I’ve tried not to lose my idealism on this issue, and to continue to imagine a world where the ability to destroy ourselves as a species doesn’t factor into the equation.

On that note, enjoy the video clip from True Majority. They have a great knack for putting things into perspective.

Why Do Republicans Hate Conservation?

5 08 2008

A few days ago, Barack Obama suggested (gasp) that people inflate their tires to the proper levels to save themselves, and the country up to 4% on oil consumption.  This is true.  It’s just physics and math.

Now, the Republicans are actually handing out little tire gauges, making fun of “Barack Obama’s energy plan”.  HUH?  Mocking conservation efforts….yeah.  Good plan.  For the true political elitists, saving $.12 or $.14 a gallon by being conscientious seems silly.  For normal people, this is a good thing.  It’s common sense.  If I went to fill up and saw the prices had come down 14 cents, I’d be pretty pleased.  Wouldn’t you?

Today, Randi Rhodes had the ultimate tit for tat response.  Last month when John McCain had a patch of skin cancer removed, he urged all Americans to wear sunscreen.  She wanted us to imagine at the Democratic convention if everyone held aloft little bottles of Coppertone, mocking John McCain saying that this was his idea of healthcare.  I know it would never happen, and I know that Democrats for the most part are above sinking into the Republican gutter.  Remember the purple heart bandaids they wore at the Republican convention last time, mocking John Kerry?   But I have to admit…a small part of me thinks that would be great.

But the rest of me would prefer that we keep reacting the way Barack Obama did in this clip.  Speak the truth, point out the rediculousness of the Republicans and hope to God that the majority of people see it for what it is. 

“It’s like these guys take pride in being ignorant.  They think it’s funny that they’re making fun of something that is actually true.”

Pebble Mine 101

3 08 2008

I, like all Alaskans have been inundated with information on Pebble Mine. I get stuff in the mail both for and against. I see ads for and against. I’ve gone and listened to presentations for and against.

I made up my mind long before most of the media maelstrom began. Why? Because I was a Geology minor in college. This goes to show that not only am I NOT an expert, but that you actually don’t need to be and expert to see disaster written all over this little mining experiment. I remember one of my geology classes was entitled “Earth Resources”. I was expecting to learn all about precious metals, gemstones, oil and coal, but ultimately realized that 90% of the class would focus on groundwater. One of the big giveaways was that the title of the textbook for the class was actually…yes… “Groundwater”. Not very exciting, I thought. I stuck it out despite my disappointment, and spent one entire semester immersed (if you will) in all things groundwater – water tables, filtration, wells, direction of flow, topographical maps, and most of all contamination. After the 80th test question that asked: “If Farmer A dumped X amount of chemical Y in his well, according to the topographical map, how long would it take to contaminate Farmer B’s well?”, I realized something. The answer was always, much faster than you think, and with much less than you think.

Not being a Farmer, and having neither a well nor a vengeful nature, I felt certain I would never need or use this information. I was wrong. The fates have delivered me the opportunity to actually utilize my semester’s worth of time, and calculator batteries, to vote a confident YES on Proposition 4.

If you need any further convincing:

The proposed Pebble Mine site is located at the headwaters that flow into the Nushagak River, Lake Iliamna, and Bristol Bay (home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery). You don’t need to be an expert to understand that contaminants, like the water they are in, tend to flow downstream. Oh, yes…and the mine’s giant earthen dam holding all those contaminants in, is also located on a fault line.

According to the EPA, mining has contaminated the headwaters of 40% of watersheds in the Western United States. FORTY percent. Are you willing to risk the Nushagak River, Lake Iliamna and Bristol Bay on those odds? Not me.

What about other similar hard rock mines? Well, a recent study of 25 modern hard rock mines showed that 76% exceeded water quality standards. SEVENTY SIX PERCENT. This is not a pretty picture.

But aren’t the locals clamoring for all those great mining jobs? No. In the only poll taken of Bristol Bay residents, 71% opposed the Pebble Mind Project and only 20% were in support. Why? Because they live there, and because they are apparently astute. Maybe they took a geology course.

I confess I’m still puzzled about those who feel that voting against the Clean Water Initiative is a good idea. Is it the blatant brainwashing from “Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown”? No…remember the cruise ship tax? We figured out then that the side with all the money is usually not the side looking out for the little guy. Mining jobs? Maybe…but there are lots of great jobs on the slope too. My friend has one. He lives in Las Vegas. And when you stack up mining jobs, benefitting from a non-renewable resource against a LOT of fishing jobs, benefitting from a very renewable resource, is there really a question?

And don’t we all think that Alaska fishing families have been screwed enough lately? Not only did the Exxon Valdez disaster wipe out fisheries in Prince William Sound, but lately they’ve been nickel and diming fisherman to death….literally. 20% of the plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez case are no longer living. And now we’ve got a supreme court that has in effect told large corporations that when they destroy an Alaskan fishery, their punitive damages don’t actually have to be punitive. Getting nervous? You should be, because the toxins that will come from Pebble Mine can’t be contained with floating booms.

So let’s see if you’re ready for your Earth Resources quiz. There are 2 questions.

Q #1): If mining conglomerate A, dumps X amount of contaminat Y into the ground, according to the topographical map, how long will it take to contaminate Fishery B and the people who depend on it?

A: Much faster than you think, and with much less than you think.

Q#2): What can you do about it?

A: On August 26th, vote “Yes on 4 and Yes for Fish” (and the people that love them).

Exxcommunicate Exxon – Part II

15 07 2008

Anyone surprised by the latest Exxon headline in the Anchorage Daily News “Exxon Opposes Paying Interest?”   Anyone?  Didn’t think so.  If you are looking forward to a good long rant, I refer you to my previous post “Exxcommunicate Exxon” (part 1).  This will save both repetition and my blood pressure.

Apparently more and more Alaskans are getting on the Exxcommunication bandwagon.  After reading the 85 comments to the ADN article that have been posted so far, I’ve noted the following opinions and their frequency:

We did it to ourselves by voting Republican: 5

Desire to do bodily harm to Exxon executives: 2

Surround Exxon’s Building with pitchforks and torches: 1

Blockade Valdez Narrows: 8  (Although 7 were from the same reeeealy mad guy)

Exxcommunicate Exxon. Kick them out of the state and do not allow them to do business here:  15

Interesting.  The last time we took it on the chin from Exxon a couple weeks ago, I only saw one or two Exxcommunication comments, so perhaps people are getting mad enough to actually start to advocate for this position.  Perhaps karmic balance will come when Exxon and Big Oil in general will so enrage the populace, who will lose every ounce of trust in the oil companies, and therefore put so much pressure on the Governor and the legislature, that we might actually get our own pipeline.  Imagine if you will… (insert harp music here)… The state (that’s us) owns the gas, the state builds the pipeline, the pipeline employs people who live in the state, the pipeline itself is built IN the state, and the people that live in the state get the actual gas.  While we’re at it, let’s get all the Republicans and Democrats to kiss, make up, sing Kumbayah and start working together for the good of all Alaskans.  Don’t wake me up.  I’m going to cling to my reverie for a few more moments…but please feel free to contact Gov. Palin and your legislators and share the dream while I’m away…

Exxcommunicate Exxon.

1 07 2008

I keep thinking that I’ve spent all my vitriol on Exxon, and that there’s nothing left. And I’m continually surprised. The well just never seems to run dry.

We all know the story. Jury awards $5 billion. Exxon appeals and the amount is reduced to 2.5 billion. Exxon appeals again and the Supreme Court reduces it to $507.5 million. Or so we thought. Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers spoke from headquarters in Texas, and reminded us that they “set an upper limit of $507 million”, and when asked whether Exxon would argue for lower damages he said, “We are really going to wait and see what transpires through this process.”  Really.

I don’t know Alan Jeffers, and he may be a stand up guy, but if I were writing a screenplay, he’d be sitting in his big Houston office leaned back with his cowboy boots up on the desk, sucking on a stogie as he drawled, “We’re really gonna wayt’n see whut transpaaaahrs through this process.” He hangs up the phone, blows a smoke ring, and chuckles.

This $507.5 million the Supreme Court bestowed on the plaintiffs is for punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish defendants for reprehensible behavior. Their purpose is to be felt by the guilty party. So how punitive is this $507.5 million that may or may not be challenged by Exxon? Let’s put it into perspective. The median household income in Anchorage is $55,564 per year. That means 1/2 the households make more, half make less. We’ll start there.

Let’s say Mr. and Mrs. Exxon were an average household making $55,564 annually, rather than the largest and most profitable corporation to ever have existed on Earth, with net profits of $40.6 billion last year alone.  And let’s say they did something really bad to you and were ordered by the court to pay punitive damages.  They would have initially been slapped with a $6,839 punitive fine and ordered to pay you. They would have appealed it on the grounds it was excessive, and gotten it reduced to half the original amount –  now they owe you a $3,419 fine.  Still feeling this was way too excessive, they would have appealed it again and gotten it reduced to $694 the rough equivalent of one economic stimulus check…or half a permanent fund check for one of them. Punitive? Hardly. But now, after almost twenty years,  they remind you that $694 is the upper limit, and they’re not sure what they are going to do now. They’re not getting out the checkbook just yet.  They’ll have to see what ‘transpires’.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. and Mrs. Exxon both work for you, and they also rent a big room in your house.  What would you do?  Well, I’d probably start by firing them, and then tossing their stuff out on the street…but that’s me.   Our governor, and our congressional delegation pontificate about being ‘extremely disappointed’ in the Supreme Court, but are noticeably silent when it comes to confronting Exxon itself. 

As far as I can tell Mark Begich is the only one putting any pressure on Exxon to actually sign the checks, and acknowledging the fact that they owe us.  The rest of the pack just keep staring at the floor and being all sad and disappointed. No pink slip, no eviction notice, no nothin.

OK, now I’m really done. 

This time.


Exxon Laughing Their Way to the Bank – Again.

28 06 2008

It always bothered me that the unchecked burning of fossil fuels would some day have  a beneficial effect for oil companies beyond the obvious.  Let me explain.  Oil is burned -> atmosphere is warmed -> ice melts -> shipping lanes in the Arctic open -> ice-free shortcuts and easier transportation for oil companies. 

The thing that adds insult to injury about this whole arrangement is the fact that part of the reason we’ve been slow to act in terms of cutting fossil fuel use, bankrolling alternative energy, and joining the rest of the world in their concern about global warming‘climate change’ is that we keep hearing about how the science is ‘divided’.  Because, after all, there are many scientists who don’t think there’s a problem, and even if there is, it’s certainly nothing WE’ve done….right?  They throw out all kinds of statistics about how there are some places actually getting colder, and weather in the Middle Ages, and this is all part of a natural cycle, bla bla bla. 

“Close your eyes”, they whisper…”It’s OK.  It’s not your fault.  Just keep doing what you’re doing.  You deserve a Hummer.  There, there…don’t let those nasty environmentalists scare you.  Close your eyes…”

Well, of course, these ‘climate experts’ who tell us to ignore our senses and what’s going on in Alaska, and choose the more pleasant scenario…the one that relieves us from culpability, are not just idiots.  They are bankrolled, and they are bankrolled by…you guessed it –  Exxon Mobil.  

Well now we hear some startling new information.  The North Pole may be ice-free this year.  Not by 2030 or 2040 as studies last year indicated.  This year.  What does this mean for corporate oil giants like Exxon?  Ice-free shipping for their tankers over the pole sooner than they dreamed, newly exposed areas for potential drilling, and more corporate allies to help them prop up their little groups of scientists who have sold their souls and their planet for some cold hard cash.

Exxon Mobil is going to be laughing all the way to the bank.  Oh, that’s right…they already are from that whole Supreme Court ruling thing the other day…  Well, as soon as they RETURN from the bank, they’ll laugh themselves right back again.  I hope they don’t get sore from all this laughing and running to the bank.

And any bumps in the road like those pain-in-the-ass polar bears, and Alaska natives will be taken care of by the State of Alaska’s capitulation.  They’ve got Gov. Sarah Palin, the congressional delegation, and half the legislature tucked snug in their corporate pocket.  Will all this change when we flip some of those long held seats and fill them with new more progressive successors?  We can hope so, but we shouldn’t take it for granted.  Oil has permeated more than just the beaches of Prince William Sound in this state, and it’s going to take politicians who are willing to risk (gulp) losing for speaking the truth.  Any takers?

And one final note.  This week the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.  Doesn’t it make you feel all warm and fuzzy just to know they care?