29 December 2006

Giving credit where it's due

A little while ago I wrote this:

If it's really true that the King Air can land on some runways that the jet cannot, I'm really looking forward to seeing Governor Palin visit the remote, subsistence villages that are equally a part of the state but are so frequently overlooked by road-system politicians. That would be the only saving grace of this impending sale.
So let me congratulate Governor Palin for this bit of news:
Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday will visit New Stuyahok, in part to find out why the Yup'ik village of 450 residents has experienced at least five alcohol-related deaths this year.
As long as this isn't some stunt, I'm genuinely impressed that she's going to be in a remote village in the first month of her term in office.

Now if only she'd visit a village in our listening area and let me come along on the trip...

"Protracted Litigation"

I'd like to dispute a causal link implied by Exxon Mobil:

Stripping Exxon Mobil of its leases, set off what the Irving, Texas, company says could be "protracted" litigation and detrimental to any agreement for an Alaska natural gas pipeline.
Actually, no - it's not the decision to strip Exxon of the leases that is leading to the litigation. It's Exxon's failure to comply with the terms of the leases, failure to accept the state's regulatory process, and decision to challenge the decision in court that has sparked the litigation. That litigation will only be as "protracted" as Exxon chooses to make it. And they look like they've dug in their heels.

But the duration of this litigation is entirely in the hands of Exxon - don't pin this on the state Department of Natural Resources.

Given Exxon's behaviour in another case, I'd expect this to be a fairly lengthy process.

28 December 2006

Going once, going twice...?

The bidding on Governor Murkowski's jet has closed on eBay... and no one bid the 2-point-5 million dollars the state was asking.

If the state had sold had 1-point-9 million dollars (the high bid) would it have been better to get rid of the jet and be 600-thousand in the red? Or would it be better to keep the jet if it can't be sold? Is either political palatable for the Palin administration?

So what now for the state? Re-bid with a lower reserve? Find another way of selling it? Keep it?

Don't look at us!

Conoco Phillips apparently doesn't know what to think about the decision to list polar bears as threatened:

Conoco Phillips spokeswoman Natalie Knox said it's too early to know what the proposal could mean.
Actually, no, it's not too early. Listing a species as "threatened" means that the government is barred from doing anything to jeopardize the animal's existence or its habitat. That, I gather, is fairly clear from the Endangered Species Act.

For Governor Palin, the implications are clear:
It is highly probable that among them will be third-party law suits, from litigants with a variety of motivations, to list large portions of Alaska's North Slope as Critical Habitat or to limit the emission of greenhouse gases throughout the United States.
In other words, "I just got elected promising the people of Alaska a natural gas pipeline and my budget depends on oil revenues from the North Slope and I'm not going to let some two-bit environmental organization or native group stand in my way!"

This paragraph follows the remarkable sentence, "In fact, there has been no decline in polar bear numbers," which I think is flat-out not true. Even if it is true, it skirts the equally important issue of the relative health of the polar bear population, particularly their weight, longevity, and reproductive ability, all of which will likely lead to further declines in the polar bear population.


NPR calls Sarah Palin "a moose-burger-eating, snow-mobile-riding maverick."

So... in other words, she's Alaskan. The only notable part of that phrase is "maverick." It's kind of like describing the governor of Iowa as "corn-on-the-cob-eating and tractor-driving." It doesn't tell us anything particularly helpful or distinctive.


I'm not quite sure how this qualifies as "news" but the Associated Press has apparently just realized that life in rural Alaska is pretty tough:

This is the story of one village among scores left reeling from eroding budgets. It's a dilemma worsened by the termination of the state's revenue-sharing and municipal-assistance programs three years ago. Bandage fixes have since been employed to partially fill the gap, but at least in Point Hope, the money is quickly absorbed by such necessities as salaries, accrued debts and skyrocketing fuel bills, according to local officials.
On the one hand, I want to be offended and outraged that it's taken so long for something like this to deserve the in-depth look it's getting right now. Struggling local governments are nothing new and therefore not, in a literal sense, newsworthy. I haven't been in Alaska tremendously long and already I've written a number of stories on various aspects of this story.

On the other hand, any coverage - particularly by a statewide organization like the AP and played heavily in the ADN - brings more attention to what is easily one of the most important issues (on a long list) confronting the residents of remote Alaska. And the more attention there is on issues like these, perhaps the more likely it is that the legislature, state government, and other actors might lend a hand.

But I wouldn't count on it.

The latest in cyanide news

Not that this is a surprise or anything but a community in Romania is having a similar debate to one in Nome:

It is a classic tale of the developing world: a rich North American company discovers gold under pristine land and encourages the villagers to leave, offering money, homes in the city, soft-focus TV ads that tout the benefits of the project, and some tough talk.

International environmental groups — complete with celebrities like Vanessa Redgrave — descend on the town to support the locals, claiming that the mine is illegal and polluting.

"I believe if I fight for my rights within the EU, they will be respected," said Eugen David, 41, a farmer who is leading some of the villagers in refusing to leave their properties. "There are laws that forbid involuntary movement of people, there are regulations about testing of underground water and clear standards for environmental impact. I want to keep my life here."

Catalin Hosu, a communications manager for the company, said: "People get emotional when you talk about foreigners, cyanide, gold, destroying churches and cemeteries. But this is really a model of environmentally conscious development."

Yeah, I think I'd get emotional if people started talking about "destroying" my church and the burial place of my ancestors. Don't you think she could have said "relocation"?

In other news, the FDA has approved a new treatment for cyanide poisoning.

Drug safety officials in the USA have approved an emergency treatment used in France for cyanide poisoning.

Beginning next month, a kit called Cyanokit can be used by U.S. paramedics to treat cyanide poisoning, which poses a terrorist threat and could play a role in thousands of deaths each year from smoke inhalation.

Now Nome's emergency responders have to figure out how to use the stuff.

27 December 2006

No Thank You

These figures are a bit late, but still rather arresting:

In November's election:

  • 3 of 1,004 total votes in Nome were cast on the touchscreen voting machines that have been installed across the state;
  • In our house district 39, 75 of more than 4,000 votes were cast on the machines;
  • In no district in western Alaska did more than 2 percent of voters use the new machines.
The machines, as you might recall, are mandated by the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act and 2006 was the first year they had to be in every precinct across the nation. When the precincts are as remote and spread out as they are in western Alaska, it must have been a considerable bill for some entity somewhere along the line to get those machines installed. Some models of the machines have been criticized for the ease with which the results can be manipulated.

I guess Western Alaskans looked at the machines, said, "No thanks, we don't need help voting," and opted for the fill-in-the-oval paper ballot. That's what I did.

22 December 2006

Cutting back

So as I understand it, you can employ a guy who gets drunk while driving a huge oil tanker, who then crashes it in one of the most beautiful parts of the one of the most beautiful states in the country, do tremendous damage to industries on which thousands of people depend, soil the reputation of the state's most important industry, be found guilty in court, get assessed punitive damages, drag your feet on paying the damages, get harassed by senators about your delay in paying those damages, go on to set records for quarterly profits... and still think that three consecutive cuts in your punitive damages by federal courts is insufficient.

This, more than anything else, I think, says so much about where power is concentrated in our democracy... and it's not with the demos.

For Exxon to say it shouldn't have to pay more than 25 million dollars takes chutzpah to a new a level. "Gall" is not a strong enough word. In fact, I don't think there is a strong enough word to describe this. It's simply unbelievable.

"Is it morning or afternoon?"

At the radio station, we frequently receive calls from folks in various states of sobriety and clear-headedness who say something to the effect of, "I have just one question for you: is it morning or afternoon?" With the long periods of dark and light that we get up here, it makes sense that some people might be confused but it's still fun to tell family and friends about these folks and gently poke fun at them.

Then, this morning, after 30+ hours of travel through a half dozen airports across two days with minimal sleep, my Alaska Airlines jet touched down on a cold, dark, Nome December morning. I jerked awake and heard the flight attendant say, "Welcome to Nome. It's 9 o'clock" and I immediately thought, "Oh good. I can get off the plane, get my luggage, and it'll be time for bed." Then I jerked again, realized she meant "9 AM," and I still had a full day of work ahead of me.

I think I'll be a bit more vigilant in the future about adding the AM or PM to time announcements when I am on air.

20 December 2006

The Expanding Coalition

Lesil McGuire is now part of the senate bipartisan coalition, a move that makes me wonder when it all will end. If everyone just keeps joining the thing, is it really a majority or is it just everybody sitting together and making decisions jointly? And isn't that the point of the senate anyway? And if these disaffected Republicans keep joining the majority, doesn't at some point it make sense for the Republicans to get together, keep Lyda Green as president, and just run a Republican majority? Would Lyda even allow for that or is she too interested in punishing Gary Wilkin and Gene Therriault?

And, it looks like McGuire is going to take the chairmanship of state affairs away from our very own Donny Olson.

UPDATE: The story actually gets better, if you read the News-Miner:

Before McGuire’s announcement Tuesday, Therriault said he was concerned the new coalition would give the minority only one spot on the finance committee and not let it choose which minority member would get it. In a letter to the new Senate president, Republican Sen. Lyda Green of Wasilla, Therriault, who was chosen as Senate minority leader, noted the legislative rule that entitled a six-member minority to two seats on a seven-member committee.

Therriault said he sent the letter electronically on Friday and that McGuire helped him draft it.

Wilken said he was surprised by McGuire’s decision, and he claimed she had been consistent in her support of Therriault, who was competing with Green to be Senate president.

Not only is McGuire involved in the drama of her husband facing a corruption trial, she's now involved in a backstabbing drama of her own in the senate. Her life just keeps getting more and more interesting! What's next? A Lifetime movie?

Jet 4 Sale

The Westwind II is online at eBay and bids are not yet even approaching the 2-point-5 million mark. Is it a good idea or a bad idea to sell something like this right around the Christmas season? And couldn't they have done a better job in their written language to describe the thing and pump it up?

Looking at the pictures, I can see why Governor Murkowski might have found it uncomfortable and a bit small. In fact, I flew to Hooper Bay in August on a state DPS plane (the King Air, I believe) and the Westwind II doesn't look much different - same plush seats, just a few more of them but still not a lot of leg room or head room.

15 December 2006

Budget Timeline

You sure don't get a break when you become governor of Alaska. First, you have to win the primary, then the election, then appoint a staff and a cabinet, then make your first few days look productive, and, within two weeks, you have to figure out how to spend a couple billion dollars.

Governor Palin unveiled her plan today and it reminds me of her campaign - sounds good but kind of vague. "Funding to help local governments"? How will it be distributed? Is it permanent? Where is the money coming from? Is it shared per capita or weighted? "Cut a $150 million"? What programs are going to be cut to make that happen.

But leaving the actual budget aside (for now - things only start to matter when the lawmakers get their hands on it), doesn't the timeline strike you as a bit rushed? What's the hurry to put a budget out so quickly, when lawmakers aren't in session and the entire cabinet and staff isn't even appointed yet? Does the Palin administration even have a director of the office of management and budget yet? Does the Palin administration even know the workings of the government well enough yet to decide what to cut, what to add, and what to leave untouched?

Seems to me the process here might be undercutting the product.

Keep the Jet

It's too late, of course, but I'd like to be contrary-minded for just a minute - the Palin administration should keep the jet.

I don't deny for a minute that it is a symbol of the arrogance of power and out-of-touchedness of the Murkowski administration. Particularly given the way he used it, on private business apparently and to campaign, makes it an even greater symbol of what is wrong with politics.

But... Alaska is a huge state and its chief executive should be familiar with as many parts of it as possible. The jet provides fast(er) and greater access to the many remote parts of the state than any other means of transportation. If Sarah Palin insists on flying commercial or using the King Air, rural Alaska is just going to see less of her and she's going to know less about the many important issues rural Alaska faces. Nobody wins from that situation.

On the other hand, if it's really true that the King Air can land on some runways that the jet cannot, I'm really looking forward to seeing Governor Palin visit the remote, subsistence villages that are equally a part of the state but are so frequently overlooked by road-system politicians. That would be the only saving grace of this impending sale.

11 December 2006

In the public glare

I'm not a lawyer and I don't have any inner knowledge of the workings of the Tom Anderson case but I was just thinking it would be ideal if the case went to trial early next year so that it can be front-and-center during the legislative session.

Not only would that provide some added pressure for a serious look at ethics reform and the role of money in government, it would hopefully bring added scrutiny to the legislative session. And all the lawmakers would be available for comment on the matter so that their constituents know just where they stand. I often find that once a legislative session ends, the lawmakers scatter back to their respective constituencies and are very difficult to get a hold of unless you happen to have their cell phone or home phone number. But when they're locked into Juneau doing the people's business, they can't escape the inquiring gaze of the media.

Here's hoping Anderson does not waive his right to a speedy trial.

Taking public input

Arliss Sturgulewski writes Sarah Palin a letter of advice in the ADN and includes this head-scratcher of a sentence:

You displayed excellent communication skills during the campaign.

Well, sort of, I mean, I guess so. But what do you call it when you tell audiences what they want to hear and not what you believe? Or when you dodge questions in debates? Or can't provide decent answers in candidates' forums?

I was impressed by the Palin campaign but not by its communication skills. I was impressed that they were able to seize on an anti-incumbent, throw-the-bums-out mentality, even though Palin is a hard and fast Republican who was a part (sort of) of the incumbent's administration.

I noticed when I interacted with Sarah during the campaign that she can be long on image and short on actual specifics. I would hope she doesn't let this bit about "Alaska - the coldest state with the hottest governor" go to her head and start telling us about policy details.

09 December 2006

Stand by your man

I don't mean to nitpick with a woman whose husband has just been arrested, particularly a woman who finds herself in the same line of work that got her husband arrested but...

Consider this:

"The allegations against Tom involve alleged conduct that occurred before we were married. I am not and have not been a target of any investigation and I maintain a firm belief in my husband's innocence and request that the public withhold judgment until the judicial process has run its course."

First of all, as has been oft noted, it is at the very least entertaining (and also revealing) that Lesil McGuire decides to spend one of three paragraphs of her statement exculpating herself.

But secondly, as a bit of a writer myself, could someone please tell her that using the words "allegations" and "alleged" in the same sentence just doesn't make sense and smacks of hurried and unthinking writing. How about, "The charges against Tom involve alleged conduct..." It's an easy switch and makes it a lot easier on the ears and eyes.

How about this for a turnaround - on election day, McGuire was all set to join a Republican majority, no doubt with her eye on some sort of plum post, with a husband ready to support her at home. In just a month, she's become a member of the majority and had her husband indicted. But my guess is that she'll stay in the senate and will not resign. She's young enough to be able to sit in the corner and lick her wounds now and re-emerge triumphant in a few years.

08 December 2006


I don't feel qualified to write much about Tom Anderson's arrest but it sure is a fascinating story.

The arrest leaves me wondering two things:

First, what will be the impact on Anderson's wife, soon-to-be senator McGuire? And, if the rumour that Ben Stevens is next is true, what will be the impact on Senator Ted Stevens?

Second, will this actually lead to legitimate ethics reform and will anybody use this as a starting point for a serious conversation on the corrosive effect of money on our political system? Or will lawmakers rush through ethics reform to show they're getting something done and not actually talk about the root of these problems, which is the role of private money in the public sphere?


Frustratingly, I find myself out of state at the moment of an intriguing development in the story that has dominated my life in Nome.

The Army Corps of Engineers suspended its permits for the Rock Creek mine, a surprising - I think - development in a story that has pretty well dominated my life in Nome. The Corps is trying to play this off as a "temporary" decision so it can further review the permits but it's odd that the decision comes right after a lawsuit challenging the Corps' review process. I will say that in my conversations with Corps people they have been fairly curt and business-like when I asked them questions about the validity of their process, basically saying they know what they're doing and they've done the right thing.

I wonder now, though, if someone upstairs at the Corps has looked at this lawsuit, checked with the folks who issued this permit, realized the lawsuit has merit and the permitting process was not adequate, and is now desperately trying to cover the Corps' back by stopping the construction and essentially starting the process again. I will not be surprised if this permit suspension takes a long time.

This also takes the debate in Nome to the next level, so to speak. I think before this people were content to agree to disagree because the mine proponents were getting what they wanted (construction) even as the mine opponents were making a big stink. Now the mine opponents have actually had a tremendous impact and as people start getting laid off, I wonder if this confrontation won't become a little more open and a little more bitter. I hope not.

07 December 2006

"No More Politics As Usual"

Here's a question: how do you know if a politician has fulfilled a campaign promise when the promise is as nebulous as "no more politics as usual," a phrase used repeatedly by the Palin campaign in the recently-concluded election?

On the one hand, the appointment of what appear to be relatively non-partisan and competent commissioners is one step in that direction. On the other hand, closed-door meetings with oil industry executives might not be. Then again, it's likely that the closed-door meetings improve the efficiency and productivity of the meetings, too attributes generally not associated with "politics as usual." And meeting with so many energy representatives about the natural gas pipeline is definitely a step away from the politics practiced by the previous administration.

The problem is that with a campaign promise like "more money for education" or "I'll get a gas pipeline contract," there are clear markers for success or failure in meeting that goal. But when you promise to change the process or ethos underlying a system, it's a lot harder to see if you've been successful.

The answer, I think, is to not judge the results all that quickly. Perhaps in a few months or years, we'll have a better sense of the broader picture of the Palin administration and can more accurately gauge how well it has fulfilled at least this one campaign promise.

And don't even get me started on measuring "positive change," another trope from the campaign trail.

05 December 2006

Transition? What Transition?

I was excited the other week to read that Nome mayor Denise Michels is Sarah Palin's transition team leader for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. I was wondering if this was the first indication that Denise was headed for a position in the Palin administration and I even started thinking about who would run to replace Denise if Nome had to have an election fill the vacancy, potentially opening up a Rock Creek election that I think we missed out on in October.

But then I read that Gen. Campbell is staying on as commissioner of DMVA. So what exactly is Denise doing? Briefing Gen. Campbell on how to do the job he's already been doing?

Maybe Sarah is taking it easy on Denise in preparation for some super-tough job in the administration. But I doubt it.

"Acting" at DNR

It occurs to me, as I read about the first days of the Palin administration and the initial negotiations, that it might not have been the wisest move to make the DNR commissioner an "acting" position.

The natural gas pipeline was the central issue of the campaign and getting one of them built was a central promise of the Palin campaign. In any such process, the DNR commissioner is going to be kind of important. And the Palin administration is taking the right first steps (at least optically) and meeting with all the "major players."

So imagine one of those meetings: "Hi, I'm Sarah, this is Sean, and this is our acting DNR Commissioner Marty." Are those energy producers going to take one of the central figures very seriously if they're not sure how long that central figure is going to be around? I'd say no.

I realize the transition period is relatively short in Alaska but she couldn't have made finding a permanent solution for this very important position a top priority?