Friday, November 30, 2007

Jeremy Lansman - Part I

I first encountered Jeremy Lansman in 1961. I first spoke with him yesterday evening.

In the intervening 46 years, Lansman has become a legendary hero, a creator of urban legends, iconoclast extraordinaire, and an historic figure in Alaska broadcasting. He created the first digital broadcasting outlet in Alaska with second-hand equipment bought on e-Bay. He runs what is as close as it comes to actual FM-band alternative radio in Alaska, with his KWMD-KABN digital radio network. Although KYES Channel 5 television in Anchorage, doesn't exactly qualify as alternative media, it was the first broadcast outlet in Alaska to carry Democracy Now, the most courageous radio-television news program in he United States.

My first encounter with Lansman was probably when he was at KRAB-FM radio in Seattle, shortly after he had been in on the ground floor of the station with Lorenzo Milam and Gary Margeson. I was a sophomore in high school. Lansman, not much older, had, with his two partners, created the model for
community-supported alternative radio media in the Pacific Northwest. For Christmas during my freshman year in high school, I had gotten a Hitachi AM-FM radio. I mostly listened to the two Classical music radio stations on Seattle FM - KING and KISW. One day, I discovered Classical music at the very top of the FM dial, where there hadn't been anything the week before. A few days later, I tuned back to the new station. They were playing music that sounded so strange, I stopped what I was doing, wondering "Is this real?" KRAB-FM was playing through all the Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, by John Cage.

I don't know if Lansman was the announcer, but I began listening to KRAB-FM a lot. Not only did they play avant garde music, they played anything but what you heard elsewhere: folk music, Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, country blues, old timey, and a fair amount of jazz. Even more important, though my interest wasn't in this at all, they covered community affairs events in Seattle.

In early 1970, I began hosting KRAB's Morning Show. It was mostly Baroque music when I took it over.
I gradually brought in more Renaissance music. The second year, I began playing more and more music from around the world. The third year, after the station bought a huge collection of Native American music, I played that too.

Lansman had since moved on. While I worked at KRAB, he was the dynamic figure behind KDNA-FM in St. Louis, a hybrid commercial/community-supported, alternative station. In between, he'd started KBOO-FM in Portland, Oregon, and had helped Lorenzo Milam start up KTAO-FM in Los Gatos, California. The four stations - KRAB, KBOO, KDNA and KTAO - were what was called the KRAB Nebula. Lansman battled all sorts of government and religious opponents during his tenure at KDNA. Eventually, looking for new frontiers, he came to Alaska.

Back in 2004, Scott Christianson, from the Anchorage Press, wrote a great cover story about Jeremy's odyssey. There's also a great tribute to Lansman's early days, written by the God of alternative radio, Lorenzo Milam,

Steve Aufrecht at What Do I Know? suggested to me that I contact Lansman. Steve's just the latest person to suggest that. A couple of years ago, then-Anchorage Assemblyman Pamela Jennings suggested I get in touch with Jeremy. Jennings worked as Program Director for KRAB-FM back in the early 1970s. Before that, in 2002, Joan Rabinowitz, the Executive Director at Jack Straw Productions in Seattle - the successor organization of KRAB-FM, asked me why I had never sought out Jeremy. I told her "I really don't know."

I still don't know, but Jeremy and I talked for a long time on the phone yesterday. Some of it was about the old days. Lorenzo Milam told this story about Jeremy in the old days.

Jeremy had an old Hallicrafters Short Wave receiver, and told me we could listen to some of the repeater stations of Radio Moscow from the eastern part of Russia. However, to do so, he said, we had to match the ground conditions of the transmitting antenna. He did this by the simple expedient of placing the Hallicrafter's antenna in the freezer compartment of our refrigerator, and running a wire to the receiver.

Some of the stuff Jeremy and I talked about was our hope for the future of broadcasting in Alaska. I hope to meet him soon and help him create that future.

Thanks, Steve.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Comparing U.S. House polls? Where's Don's?

The only way Democrats are going to win the U.S. House seat now occupied by Rep. Don Young (R - Abramoff), is for the Party to use the opportunity of three viable, liberal, primary candidates vying for the opportunity to challenge Young, to build that Party anew.

When I was involved in helping create the DropDon web site last spring, in my talks in Sitka with Jake Metcalfe, and at the Anchorage Step It Up! Conference with Ethan Berkowitz, I've stressed to all that this primary race is an opportunity to show potential voters that a new, dynamic Democratic Party is in town.

This long, serious primary race is unprecedented in Alaska history. I challenge the Democratic Party and other organizations where candidates appear, to set up opportunities for voters to come, ask questions of, listen to, and compare these three fine Alaskans in debate formats.

I know from the research I've done for candidate Diane Benson in 2006 and 2007, that these three all have articulate stands on most issues important to Alaskans, and that those stands differ on some issues.

I agree with pollster Ivan Moore that the winner of this primary race will most likely NOT be facing Don Young in November. Moore is a Berkowitz volunteer. I've been volunteering for Benson since the summer of 2006. I'm sure another thing Moore and I would agree upon is the need to build this Party. A third thing Ivan Moore and I probably agree on is that smarmy questions about candidate loyalty to the Party and to Big Oil development narratives ( a la Shannyn Moore - on both issues) reek of McCarthyism and simplistic thinking.
The higher the road this campaign takes, the bigger, newer and more open the Democratic Party will be come the first day of September, 2008.

There will be more polls. We're all waiting on Jake Metcalfe's. I'm sure he's beating Don too.

The only poll out so far on Don Young was taken by his K Street attorneys. 100% of them hope he pays all his bills before his campaign chest dries up. No margin for error, Don.....

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stop the Presses!

I don't know how many old movies had some guy run from the editor's office through the news room, down a couple flights of stairs, through a big factory type door, and into the loud, chaotic, dirty, busy printing shop of the paper, to shout at the top of his lungs, "STOP THE PRESSES!"

Then you'd hear all these noises slowly respond, one at a time, to the order. Eventually there'd be silence, as some grizzled guy in a halibut cap and greasy coveralls, holding a big crescent wrench, would walk up to the well-dressed junior cub reporter, and say "This better be good, kid." Or something like that.

Sometime in the summer of 2006, when Ann Coulter was shopping her book, Godless - The Church of Liberalism, around the country, the Anchorage Daily News gave this prominent racist space on the lower fold of page A1. I was disturbed enough to write a letter to the editor, complaining about this lapse of good taste. Many, more important stories, had been delegated to pages A2 through A7.

I sent the letter by e-mail. Two days later, getting home late from work, there was a message from the letter person at the ADN on my answering service. I called back the next morning. The ADN editors objected to my letter's categorization of Coulter as a "slut." The letter editor agreed that the term might be accurate, but was name-calling, and requested that I edit the term out. I thanked her, said I'd get back with a revision, and consulted with my friends at firedoglake.

We discussed the letter there. Among the suggested substitutes for "slut" were liar, cheesy-headed, fact-challenged, un-American, piece of excrement, Ho for the Administration, Rove mouthpiece, poster girl for hate and racial slurs, unpatriotic rabble-rouser, harpy, whore,
merchant of hate, scrofulous narcissist - I liked that one for pure accuracy, Nazi bitch, and on and on...

I settled on "meretricious purveyor of calumny," and e-mailed the new letter to the ADN. Just over two weeks after I submitted the initial letter, the final version was printed.

Since that time, the ADN has moved right along. Over the past five months or so, they've added blogs, the Daily Newsreader, and comment sections at the end of locally-produced articles. Additionally, and this is very important to the future of the ADN, a culture of responsibility and information sharing seems to be growing in their blogs' comment communities.

The best example of that I've seen so far are the comments provided to Kyle Hopkins' pre-Thanksgiving blog entry about a Washington Post story that, in Kyle's words, was "about a court ruling that Justice Department says could cripple their investigations of members of Congress." The discussion of the implications of the court ruling and the Washington Post article in the blog comments was much more informative than the WaPo article itself. This is an example of how blogging by mature people with knowledge about and interest in a subject is becoming a very viable form of communication.

But, just as the communities of commenters at the Daily News and at other traditional media outlets are growing - and growing up - on the web, so too are blogs with no affiliation to the old-school forms. There are many examples every day. When Don Young's communication director calls me, it isn't because I'm discussing something I'm writing about that I discovered at the ADN's site. It is because I've published new information, or done that BEFORE it was reported elsewhere.

Yesterday's most interesting local example of how blogs lead the news more and more was the spread of information of the demise of Anchorage Assemblyman Paul Bauer's pro-hate ordinance. At 8:49 a.m. Independent Alaskan published the headline Public testimony postponed until next year. That was followed by the statement "[m]y sources indicate that public testimony on the anti-sanctuary ordinance in Anchorage will be postponed until January 22, 2008."

I picked up the story and linked the Independent Alaskan article at 4:26 p.m. At 11:48 p.m. Kyle Hopkins posted an entry at the ADN Alaska Politics blog, in which he stated "In a surprise move Tuesday night, the Assembly voted 8-3 to postpone indefinitely a proposal from Assemblyman Paul Bauer that would let police ask you for proof of U.S. citizenship." [my emphasis added]

At 1:10 a.m. today, Steve Aufrecht had an excellent article up on the Assembly meeting at What Do I know? By the time I read today's ADN, the story of the demise of Bauer's racist legislation had been out in the community for over 24 hours. But the Wednesday print edition of the ADN fails to mention this important story, with the Alaska section's Hopkins article concentrating on the ongoing budget battle in the assembly.

I find this utterly fascinating.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Random Notes

From Cordova fisher and Exxon Valdez class action lawsuit plaintiff Bill Black, it appears that the State of Washington is backing off their earlier interest in joining the State of Alaska in our "friend of the court" brief. More as this develops.

Both the Anchorage Daily News and What Do I Know? have articles up on the sentencing in Federal Court this morning of ex-lobbyist Bill Bobrick. The ADN's Lisa Demer writes, regarding startling news about State Senator Lesil McGuire, that "Early in 2007, McGuire called both Bobrick and his wife, Jessica Bury, who was in medical school in Minnesota, Pope said. She said that she was hearing Bury might have a hard time being licensed to practice medicine in Alaska.

"Bobrick understood the call to be a threat that if he testified favorably for the government, Lesil McGuire would take steps to see that Jessica did not obtain her medical license," Pope told Sedwick in court.

"Pope told reporters after the hearing that he considered the calls to be witness tampering."

It appears from Steve Aufrecht's extensive notes taken at the sentencing, that Bobrick's continuing cooperation with the Federal investigation after he and his wife had received McGuire's threats, helped reduce Bobrick's sentence.

I called State Senator Lyda Green's office this afternoon, asking whether or not the Senate President was aware of the news. Her office verified that Green is in district now, but wasn't in the office this afternoon. I requested that Senator Green call me tomorrow about this. As a constituent, I feel she should make a statement about whether or not this news about her colleague is of concern to Sen. Green, and if Green intends to find out whether there are steps she now needs to take as Senate President.

You can reach Sen. Green's Wasilla office at 376-3370.

Independent Alaskan
reports on Anchorage Assembly inaction on nutcase Assemblyman Bauer's hate ordinance:

My sources indicate that public testimony on the anti-sanctuary ordinance in Anchorage will be postponed until January 22, 2008. The assembly will also have a work session on Friday, January 18, but members of the public will not be allowed to speak. I wonder if they are trying to fix it...

swans rising from Neklason Lake

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Challenge to KUDO or Any Other Anchorage Radio Station

Today on Anchorage's liberal/progressive KUDO radio - this is second-hand info from three sources who heard a segment I was unable to get - a fair amount of time was spent talking about Democratic Party candidates running against Don Young, and on their positions on the opening of the coastal strip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production. It is an important issue to the future of Alaskans, and to the future of the USA and the world. It is part of the set of issues confronting our state and the world about resource development here and elsewhere.

Apparently, the KUDO host characterized one of those candidate's positions as being totally hostile to oil production in ANWR in a way that was perceived to be dismissive of the candidate's knowledge of the issue's importance to the future of Alaska. The host's and guest's comments about the candidate were remarkably uninformed.

I'm not the only person who would like to see a serious dialogue on alternative energy development in Alaska start to get legs. All three of these US House candidates have positive visions about the development of renewable energy resources in Alaska. Why bring lack of loyalty to big oil's vision for our future up now in such a way? I'm trying to figure it out.

But - since I didn't hear Shannyn's remarks -
I'll stop until I can hear her version of this. It would be really nice to see KUDO's hosts bring more people on the air who have a rational vision for developing our renewable energy resources, which are dimensions beyond ample, to the fore.

bananas in Iceland

And I believe some of the hosts know this.
I'll offer some suggestions:

1. Invite Wally on for a weekly spot.

2. Develop a programming niche about renewable resources in Alaska.

3. Interview articulate people around the world involved in how renewable energy programs work in our environment.

4. Maybe sponsor a multi-station online forum on this.

5. Start using your imaginations, instead of diddling around like an imitation of Cicily Alaska's progressive station.

banana greenhouses in Iceland

photos in Iceland by Libby Casey

More on Don Young Coming Soon

I'm putting this image of Don Young back up in higher resolution to announce that I'm getting help from a couple of accountants on a high resolution look at how he deals with leftover campaign funds, and how money from campaign accounts has to move from place to place as he uses the money to pay for attorney fees.

To quote one of Don's heroes, "It's hard work."

image by Darkblack

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Don Young Bipolar Disorder at the ADN

I suppose one might call it Bi-coastal Disorder too. Yesterday's ADN carried a fluff piece by Erika Bolstad about Congressman Young, called Don Young phones home for town hall meetings. Bolstad explains how it happens: Here's how the town halls work: Autodialing computer programs call up to 50,000 people at once, to alert them to the town hall. They can either stay on the line, or choose to hang up. And if no one is home, they'll be left a sorry-we-missed-you message. Sort of like an interactive robocall. Bolstad quotes Young's Communication Director (an oxymoron if there ever was one), Meredith Kenny, "He loves them!"

Kenny helps the piece's fluff tone considerably with this one - "He's very engaging," Kenny said. "We have the option of dropping callers, but we don't do that with him. He likes the back and forth."

Yep, that's the Don Young we all know and love.

Bolstad explains that Alaska's congressman takes the call and makes the most of it, Kenny said. He did two town halls late this summer and early fall, and was so enamored with the process that he hopes to make them regular events. But Bolstad cites no dates or subject matter covered in these past Town Halls. Nor does Kenny offer any useful information about when Young might charge the U.S. taxpayers $8,500 for his next Town Hall event. It doesn't appear that Bolstad thought of asking.

To be fair to Bolstad, her article does an excellent job of pointing out how distinct an advantage is given the incumbent with technology like this.

Today, the ADN was back on the other end of the bipolar disorder cycle, with a scathing article by Wesley Loy on earmarks in the Bering Sea King crab fishery that give distinct advantages to three companies which have donated to Young's campaigns, and penalizes companies that have not donated. The article shows how similar this scheme was to Young's earlier misdirection of $20,000,000 to a road project in Florida that would have benefitted a wealthy developer who had made large contributions to Young's campaigns.

Disclosure: I am a volunteer for Diane Benson for Congress 2008. Many who read here already know that. I also have deep respect for former Representative Berkowitz, and a certain amount of respect for Jake Metcalfe. I campaigned for Don Young in 1978 and 1980, and have donated to campaigns of all four of these people.

image by Darkblack

Dan Fagan's Meretricious Bubble

Reading wingnut welfare recipent Dan Fagan's latest inelegant, falsehood-strewn screed this morning reminded me of two people - former privatized corrections industry mogul Bill Weimar, and Time Magazine's Joe Klein. For several reasons. Both Weimar and Klein were fairly liberal in their younger years; both turned far more conservative as they aged. Weimar was and Klein is challenged by those pesky little things called "facts." And both are lousy writers.

When I was Program Director at Anchorage's Cordova Center, back in the early 1990s, I was also editor of the Allvest Newsletter. Bill Weimer, Allvest's President, submitted articles and columns for each issue. Later on, as Bill's Executive Assistant, I edited a lot of his correspondence and position statements. He was the only person for whom I've edited who consistently felt each of his sentences worthy of its own paragraph.

I first read Dan Fagan's column in today's
ADN, Do the math: Oil tax hike a tax grab, on the web. As I scanned it, I thought "he really isn't doing that, is he?" Sentence after sentence was incoherently placed in an entirely new paragraph. I thought that maybe the web version of the op-ed had been hastily entered in by copy editors too busy to correct some sort of margining error. But when my wife brought the print edition up from the paper box at the bottom of the driveway, I looked up the column, and - Yep! The style of his opinion piece is anti-literary, and very poor editorial writing, to boot. Maybe it is an inevitable stylistic trait from Fagan's radio style, which is also fairly disjunct. And fairly fact-free.

Fagan devotes four sentences, uh - three paragraphs - to this:

Out of every dollar the oil companies earn in our state at the current price of oil, the government now lets them keep a meager 30 cents of it.

Seventy percent goes to the government. The oil industry, which invests billions in capital, takes all the risk, does all the work gets 30 percent.

Would you work under a 70 percent tax burden?

First, it is not the oil companys' oil. It is ours. If somebody comes onto my property and wants to remove gravel or trees or green beans to sell somewhere else, I want as much money for my stuff as I can get. And the guy buying it isn't being taxed, he's paying for access to my stuff and for the stuff itself.

Second, I work for an organization that pays me about $8,000 for every $75,000 I make for them. Unlike Fagan, I'm not going to bother whining about the facts of life. But, using Fagan's "logic," the oil companies are getting more than three times as good a deal as I am.

Fagan goes on:

Liberal bias lives in the mainstream media because most who work in it lean left.

Media bias is not calculated, designed or premeditated.

Most journalists I know pride themselves on being fair.

But liberals see the world through a different prism than conservatives.

And one of the trademarks of a liberal is they don't know they are liberal. And those who do realize it, rename themselves progressive.

So you can understand why those in the media would deny a liberal bias.

Unfortunately the only people denying a liberal bias in the media are those working in the media.

Several studies, even a recent one by Harvard, document a strong left-leaning media bias.

Where to start? How about with the recent Harvard study Fagan cites? It concentrates on recent coverage of the 2008 presidential races. Although the study's methodology came up with a liberal bias in the coverage of all candidates of both major parties put together in a mix, it noted:

Most of that difference in tone, however, can be attributed to the friendly coverage of Obama (47% positive) and the critical coverage of McCain (just 12% positive.) When those two candidates are removed from the field, the tone of coverage for the two parties is virtually identical.

As far as Fagan's statement,
"Liberal bias lives in the mainstream media because most who work in it lean left" goes, I've never seen a credible study of political or ideological affiliation or affinity of journalists and editors working in Alaska that would back Fagan's contention. As most of what Fagan brings up is about local issues, I don't see him bringing any proof whatsoever to the table.

Last year, in the wake of ABC’s notoriously inaccurate “Path to 9-11,” Fagan erroneously claimed that in the aftermath of the Battle of Mogadishu, the subject of the movie “Blackhawk Down,” President Clinton had “cut and run” from Somalia. A caller disputed Fagan, saying that Clinton had wanted to stay the course, but the GOP-dominated US Congress had demanded a quick exit strategy. Fagan told the caller that he was wrong. I called, with a list of quotes by prominent Republicans demanding then that Clinton immediately withdraw US forces from Somalia. Fagan refused to allow me to read any of the short statements, hanging up on me in mid-sentence. Dan “cut and ran.”

On an earlier show Fagan had challenged a caller who asserted that during the Reagan administration, the US had actively supported Saddam’s chemical warfare programs. Fagan hung up on the guy, saying his claim was “nuts, just totally nuts!” When I called supporting the earlier caller, including the facts behind President Reagan’s veto of a 1984 Congressional Resolution condemning Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, Fagan hung up on me too, calling my claim “a wacko’s view,” after he had denied me a forum from which I might retort.

At the start of Vic Kohring's trial, Fagan erroneously asserted that Kohring had gotten his wife in Russia. When I called to correct him, he stated "That's not true," or words to that effect, and hung up on me. Later, when I wrote about this, he commented on my trial blog, saying I had misquoted him in my article. I offered him a chance to prove I was wrong, by quoting our conversation verbatim from an aircheck transcription. He has declined.

Fagan is also what some might term a homophobe. Most humorously, he related how bothered he was that one of his card-playing partners had seen the movie “Brokeback Mountain.” He kept on asking Sharon Leyhow “How can I even sit next to this guy after he’s seen that movie?” Sadly, Fagan was dead serious. I have also accused Fagan of racism for his claim that only Blacks use the "race card."

Fagan loosely and inaccurately uses the terms socialist and communist on his radio show. Time and again. I've yet to hear him use the terms accurately. Using his vague definition of socialism, the commentator in today's ADN occupying the space above Fagan, Governor Walter J. Hickel
, is a rabid socialist for his concepts of the owner state and writings on the subject of the commons.

Why did I mention Joe Klein, past similarities to Bill Weimar? Two reasons.

Recently, when inaccuracies in a Time Magazine article Klein had written were pounded into the comment section of the article, Klein admitted, “Clearly, I didn’t do sufficient vetting of the facts." I doubt we'll ever see that sort of an acknowledgement on inaccuracies from Fagan. The second reason I brought Klein into this is that I think Joe Klein's web nickname might fit Fagan too - Joke Line...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Journey on the Wild Coast

erin and hig

Barb Johnson reminded Judy and me of the blog Journey on the Wild Coast last night, as we drove back from moonlight skiing in Archangel Valley. Barb's husband Steve told me about the blog five weeks ago, and I'd neglected to look it up. I found it this evening at Muskegger.

Wow! A Seattle couple with a keen sense of Alaska's future are around halfway through a journey from Seattle to Unimak Island. By packraft, skis and foot. They're near St. Elias Island now. When they get to Seward - or maybe Day Harbor - they'll switch to skis, coming up the Kenai Penninsula and western ridges of the Chugach Mountains. They'll then follow the Iditarod Trail until they turn left to go down the northern slopes of the Aleutian Range.

Then, they'll head to the Pebble Mine site. That is part of the spiritual underpinning of the trip. And that's the main reason I'm categorizing their blog as an Alaskan Progressive Blog.

I've been looking at a few Alaska trek blogs lately. This one is almost on another level, way above most in its overall impact. The combination of the photography, and essays, along with the narrative power of the package is unique. They prepared for this trip on a Himalayan expedition level.

As Midwinter Approaches, We Ponder our Future...

I wrote this article for Howie Klein at Down With Tyranny, where it appeared yesterday:

Women have a saying up here--
Alaska, where the odds are good, but the goods are odd. For men, at least-- the odds keep getting better. For women, unfortunately, the goods couldn't get much more odd. Which might be part of the reason Alaska, the land of faux macho men, is also the 12th most populous state per capita for lesbians. Loneliness for the wives of imprisoned prominent GOP political and industrial figures may soon influence both of those demographics in the 2010 census.

However you look at it, Alaska is the most in-flux political climate in the USA right now. The changes have more to do with local than national politics, but reflect the national trend of voter aspirations welcoming articulate and aggressive progressive candidates for local and national office. People are sick and tired of the rank hypocrisy of the far right. They should be, and the recent Alaska political scandals are a case in point.

We’re also paying close scrutiny here to the inexperience of the Democratic Party machine, as it struggles to take advantage of a political gusher bigger for them than was Prudhoe Bay for big oil. The Dems have been so out of power for so long, many newcomers voting-- or running, for that matter, were kids when the Dems last controlled local politics. Most voters in the next election lived in another state or were unborn when Senator Ted Stevens took office in 1972. That was 13 years after statehood and eight years after the Great Alaska Earthquake.

The GOP has controlled Alaska for a long time. The Houston crew that came with the big Prudhoe drillers brought their culture to the Arctic. Such as it is. Unfortunately for Alaska, it became the paradigm. The combination of increasingly open corruption by the oil industry through the enormous clout of providing 85% or more of the state's revenues, and the strict party discipline enforced by a machine overloaded with cynical oilmen and a
fundamentalist televangelist or two, stifled all else.

But a change began to surface long before the FBI began raiding the offices of state GOP legislators at the end of August 2006. As early as 2002, former Wasilla Mayor,
Sarah Palin, began building a maverick GOP political machine independent of state GOP Chairman Randy Reudrich’s organization. Palin narrowly lost a 2002 GOP lieutenant governor primary. When the 2002 gubernatorial victor, Frank Murkowski came into office in December 2002, he appointed Palin to run the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Another commission member then was state GOP party chair, Reudrich. Palin complained to the governor about Reudrich’s penchant for doing party business while collecting a state paycheck. She also was instrumental in bringing to light other ethical lapses by members of Murkowski’s administration. In January 2004, Palin resigned from the commission, and began rebuilding her organization.

Meanwhile, in 2004, Ray Metcalfe, a former GOP state representative, began investigating Ben Stevens, the son of Ted Stevens, the patron saint of Alaska. Metcalfe was already incensed at the corruption of the legislative process he had encountered as a congressman, but was even more irritated at what the unquestioned lobbying mastery here by big oil and its surrogates means for the future of Alaskans. He had already started his own party,
the Republican Moderate Party, which sought to bring a higher percentage of oil wealth being extracted in Alaska into state coffers, rather than into out-of-state or out-of-country corporate profits. By mid-2004, Metcalfe was receiving tips on GOP corruption from many whistleblowers. He went to the state to complain, getting a feeble response. The media treated him as a dilettante or worse. Some now believe he then went to the FBI.

One of Frank Murkowski’s first acts as governor had been to
appoint his daughter Lisa to his former U.S. Senate seat. From there, it was downhill for the next four years of his administration. He was a hapless public speaker, unable to change from the haughty tone of a D.C. Senator to that of governor of a state whose population perceives itself as friendly and approachable. His long fight to purchase an executive jet that could only land on Alaska’s few large, paved airports had already made him the butt of many jokes, when the FBI’s raids of the offices of several prominent GOP legislators and power brokers, brought his party’s corruption to national attention.

As Murkowski tried through a number of special sessions of the state legislature to pass a combination of incentives and fee adjustments that would force big oil to develop natural gas resources, but also lock up the long-term resource extraction fee structure, on the North Slope of Alaska to the advantage of big oil, the FBI was secretly video- and audio-taping hundreds of hours of conversations between Alaska politicians and oil industry lobbyists. The FBI brought in special investigators from all over the country, preferring to keep the Anchorage FBI office as far out of the loop as possible.

The FBI stings have so far brought five known convictions, either from pleas or from criminal trials. One more trial, of former State Representative Bruce Weyrauch, is scheduled for 2008.
Testimony in the trials of former legislators Tim Anderson, Pete Kott, and Vic Kohring has revealed that ex-Veco executives Rick Smith and Bill Allen, plead to bribing former State Senator Ben Stevens (son of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, current State Senator John Cowdery, and Senator Stevens himself. Rumors that other legislators, political appointees of former governor Murkowski, and oil industry lobbyists will be indicted, are rampant.

Senator Stevens and U.S. Representative Don Young have both issued statements to the effect that they are under Federal investigation. And, they’re both up for re-election in 2008 Young has attracted challengers, where-– so far, at least-– Sen. Stevens has not.

2006 was a watershed year for change in Alaska politics. At the same time the FBI was taping legislators and lobbyists exchanging bribes for votes in the special sessions, Governor Frank Murkowski was conducting a GOP primary campaign that has gone down in Alaska political annals as the most inept on record. That took some doing. He came in third, just above the write-ins for Hugo Chavez and Homer Simpson.

Sarah Palin’s populist organization brought together her old base in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, expanded on that in Southcentral and Interior Alaska, and tapped into resentments about Juneau-based politics, and a need to clean house. Her November challenger, former Democratic Party Governor, Tony Knowles, had only his undistinguished eight years in Juneau, from 1994 to 2002, to run on.

Palin beat Knowles handily in a three-way race. Having narrowly lost a 2004 bid to unseat U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Knowles’ political career is largely seen here as over. For instance, Knowles, who spent $1.1 million to Sarah Palin’s $880,000 in the gubernatorial general campaign, garnered just over 97,000 votes. Diane Benson, running against Don Young for Alaska’s sole U.S. House seat, received about 94,000 votes statewide, while spending $192,000 to Young’s $2 million in the campaign.

Benson was initially impelled to run for the seat Young has held since 1972 in early 2006, after Alaska Democratic Party chairman Jake Metcalfe had been unsuccessful in persuading any of Alaska’s leading Democrats to file for the race. Benson’s son, Latseen, an airborne infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division, had been severely injured near Kirkuk in November 2005, during his third tour. Young’s refusal to visit her son or other wounded Alaskan soldiers while hospitalized at Washington D.C.’s Walter Reed Hospital was the last straw.

Since the 2006 race, Benson has extended her contacts with the Wounded Warrior network, with Veterans groups, with military families, and with
Native American organizations in Alaska, and nationwide. She has also remained highly critical of Don Young's conduct in the U.S. House, calling for an ethics investigation by that legislative body, of his conduct during the passage of the 2005 U.S. transportation bill. She knew, before deciding to run again in 2008, that she would face serious primary challengers.

Two other challengers have entered the Democratic primary race for Young’s seat. Former State Democratic Party chair Jake Metcalfe whose support for Diane Benson in 2006 was tepid, filed from Washington, D.C. the first week of August. Former State House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, who, like Benson, has been highly critical of the ethical lapses of Alaska politicians, filed on October 1. Both Berkowitz's and Benson's campaigns have recently released polls showing their candidates beating Young in a general election. Berkowitz’s poll, especially its claim that Berkowitz would soundly beat Benson in the primary, is tainted by the unabashed direct links between pollster and candidate.

A three-way Democratic primary race for Young’s seat by a group of credible, fairly liberal candidates is unprecedented in Alaska. The primary isn’t until late August, but it is likely that the winner will emerge as Alaska’s next member of the U.S. House, as Young seems determined to try to hold on until the FBI frog-marches him out of his
animal head-adorned DC lair Besides, indications are that he's spending more money on attorneys than his campaign is taking in. If things don’t improve for the out-of-power, increasingly discredited, foul-mouthed relic from his own largely mythical past, he’ll be out of money by mid-July.

Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, who visited Washington D.C. last January at the behest of organizations interested in his candidacy for Young's seat, passed on running against Young. Many observers here are wondering why Begich is waiting so long to declare his candidacy for Ted Stevens’ seat. I've speculated that Begich's hesitancy is based on a genuine fear that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will declare her candidacy against Stevens. But I'm beginning to doubt that she will do that. As a friend told me last night, "She's having
way too much fun right now as Gov." But if Mark Begich waits until after the inevitable indictment of Ben Stevens by the Feds, he'll appear to be a shameless opportunist.

It has been interesting watching Alaska’s mainstream media trying to cover the corruption trial of GOP ex-state legislator Vic Kohring in Anchorage, as Sarah Palin also convened her first-ever special session of the legislature in Juneau. Journalistic resources were sorely stretched.

The session was to rewrite the corruption-tainted oil extraction fee legislation from August 2006. Even though lobbyists from the most thoroughly despised big oil company in Alaska,
Exxon, openly sought to change legislation in congressional offices, they failed to have an impact on the governor’s relentless, behind-the-scenes pressure on what is likely to be a new legislative coalition when the state house and senate convene in January. The session ended up in the most remarkable victory by an Alaska politician in the state’s history, with the enactment of the highest extraction fee for petroleum products from State land, in our history. The new fee schedule will bring in billions of dollars. It was Palin's triumph. She was already the most popular governor in the USA.

Local elections in 2006 and 2007 have indicated a growing distrust of vacuous promises by wingnut candidates, or for wingnut-sponsored initiatives. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough and its rapidly growing suburban areas around and between Palmer and Wasilla, one of the most conservative regions in Alaska, has seen a succession of liberal and moderate victories at school board, borough assembly and city council levels. Most recently, the Mat-Su Valley electrical co-op, Matanuska Electrical Association, withdrew plans to erect a huge coal-fired power plant south of Palmer. It would have been the first man-made object people would see as they crossed one of the most scenic and inspiring river valleys in the world. Attempts by the utility to sell the idea of the plant and its projected pollution as clean coal failed to resonate as local activists joined to educate the public.

Soon after the 2008 Alaska legislative session opens, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the class-action lawsuit filed against Exxon in the wake of the
Exxon Valdez oil spill. It has been wending its way through the courts since my son, who is now in college, was a toddler. Over a thousand plaintiffs have died, some by their own hands, waiting for this settlement.

When the Supreme Court decided to take the case, Governor Palin called the news “a kick to the guts” of all Alaskans. Last week the three Democratic party candidates for Don Young’s U.S. House seat
provided statements to me regarding their support of the governor’s statement, and of the state’s notice it will be filing an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs, and against Exxon’s position.

Diane Benson, supporting the governor, noted “Governor Palin has called this case “a kick in the guts” to Alaskans. She almost got it right. What Exxon did to us, to our fishers and coastal residents, rhymes with “a kick in the guts,” but was an even lower blow. To use a maritime law term-- we’ve been
Shanghaied. "

Ethan Berkowitz stated “It’s too bad that we’re no longer surprised when Exxon has the audacity to lobby our legislators in Juneau for tax fairness, stall in the D.C. courts and leave Alaska twisting in the tide. The Palin Administration did the right thing filing a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the state and making sure Alaska stands up to Exxon.”

Jake Metcalfe, in spite of my request that he specifically endorse the governor’s position, failed to mention Palin, who is unpopular in Southeast Alaska, Metcalfe’s bastion. He said “Exxon should do the right thing and pay the plaintiffs now. That said, I'm confident the judicial branch of our government will do the right thing in the end.”

Benson isn’t so sure about this Supreme Court, commenting, “for the focus of this case to now shift, at the Supreme Court level, to an archaic maritime law case, that of the privateer
Scourge, in the aftermath of the War of 1812, is almost beyond words. I’m concerned about this intersection of Exxon’s cynical defense and George Bush’s corporation-friendly Court.”

One thing is sure for 2008 in Alaska. It will be the most important election here since 1994, when-- like many other parts of he USA-- the selfish, consciously deceitful Gingrich agenda was foisted on us, and true conservatism, moderation, and liberalism were all subordinated to a mean-spirited
me first modality.

Exxon Shipping Co. V. Baker - Three Questions Presented

On November 20, the Supreme Court of the United States published a grant of a petition for a writ of Certiorari in the class action suit against Exxon. Here it is:


An Alaska federal jury awarded $5 billion in punitive damages against Exxon under federal maritime law for the accidental grounding of the tanker Exxon Valdez and the resulting oil spill. The award did not punish for harm to the environment, which other proceedings had fully redressed, but only for lost income and similar economic harm to commercial fishermen and other private parties. Applying the Due Process Clause, the Ninth Circuit reduced the award to $2.5 billion—still 123 times the compensatory damages awarded and five times what the court found was the total, fully compensated loss to all private economic interests.

The questions presented are:

1. May punitive damages be imposed under maritime law against a shipowner (as the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits) for the conduct of a ship’s master at sea, absent a finding that the owner directed, countenanced, or participated in that conduct, and even when the conduct was contrary to policies established and enforced by the owner?

2. When Congress has specified the criminal and civil penalties for maritime conduct in a controlling statute, here the Clean Water Act, but has not provided for punitive damages, may judge-made federal maritime law (as the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Circuits) expand the penalties Congress provided by adding a punitive damages remedy?

3. Is this $2.5 billion punitive damages award, which is larger than the total of all punitive damages awards affirmed by all federal appellate courts in our history, within the limits allowed by (1) federal maritime law or (2) if maritime law could permit such an award, constitutional due process?

CERT. GRANTED 10/29/2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

Howie Klein

Howie Klein has been an active and vital force in progressive Democratic Party politics - the Democratic Party wing of the Democratic Party, for the past four years or so. He is the main person behind the organizational victories of several Blue America candidates in the 2006 congressional elections.

He just posted an essay I wrote for him, at his blog, Down With Tyranny, while my wife, our son and I were out moonlight Nordic skiing in Archangel Valley up at Hatcher Pass. Check it out.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Animals and Thanksgiving

I love the way our animals react to Thanksgiving. Our dog, Strider, is a bit spoiled. Although he doesn't come to the kitchen to beg, he gets irritated when Mooch the cat jumps up on kitchen counters and sticks his nose or paws on food. When we "shoo"Mooch off the counter, Strider is there to nudge Mooch away, with the look of a stern big brother. If Mooch persists, Strider will nudge harder, even giving a muffled growling sound to the curious cat.

Our traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals excite Mooch. But what really sets him off almost uncontrollably are two things we do with seafood - King Crab cooking and sushi making.

My friend Fred is over for Thanksgiving, along with our son, Alex. Fred works on a tug boat, and the crew members share videos on their laptops to while away the long hours away from port.

Fred shared this cat video with me. Maybe you've seen it, maybe not. It is one of the most hilarious commercials I've ever seen, and every cat lover will appreciate it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dnaghelt'ana Qut'ana K'eli Ahdelyax

That is Dena'ina for They Sing the Songs of Many Peoples. It is the title of a book with CD, written by Craig Coray, a colleague at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The package is a collection of local Alaska Native songs recorded in the Lake Clark area by Craig's father, John Coray, in 1954. Craig's wife, Gale, gave my wife a copy of the package. A few nights ago, we listened to the songs and read the book. From cover to cover. I'm listening to the songs for the fourth time as I write. It is a wonderful tribute and labor of love.

Craig is perhaps the most authentic classical Alaskan composer. His craftsmanship is on a level far above mine, and above that of any of the rest of us up here. That level of attention also shows in every aspect of the book.

Craig's father, John, disappeared in his plane while crossing Cook Inlet, when Craig was a young child. For the last 20 years, as Coray has matured as a composer, he has infused his music with a deep and enduring love for the songs he has heard in the heart of Alaska since he was very young.

Here's an excerpt from a well-written review, done for UAA, by Ann Marie Wawersik, Jessica D. Hamlin:

John Coray died only a few years after making the tape and never realized its importance. It has since been identified as the first recording ever made of Dena’ina song and speech. It includes some very rare songs associated with old rituals and features five languages: Dena’ina, Yup’ik, Inupiaq, Slavonic Russian, and a rare dialect of Upper Kuskokwim Deg Hit’an spoken only by a few people in the Stony River area. The title of the book is “Dnaghelt’ana Qut’ana K’eli Ahdelyax:¬ ‘They Sing the Songs of Many Peoples.’” With the aid of linguist James Kari and several native elders, nearly all the songs have been translated. Coray has annotated the songs and written several musical transcriptions. The book also features historic photographs of the singers along with a map and list of place names. The book is not for sale but will be distributed in inland Dena’ina communities where hopefully it will help revive the language and the song/dance tradition. Along with a linguist and two anthropologists from the Lake Clark National Park cultural resources staff (one of whom is Dena’ina), Coray recently toured the communities of Lime Village, Pedro Bay, Newhalen, and Port Alsworth, where he gave presentations and distributed the book, urging these communities to maintain their song traditions. There was a final presentation and celebratory feast at Nondalton on September 28.

Coray's wonderful book has been printed in only 1,000 copies. It is being distributed primarily in Dena'ina communities. After the Thanksgiving holiday, I'll talk to Craig about how these unique songs might be available to more people on the web.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Ted Stevens has the web nickname of "Hulk" from a well-known picture of him wearing a tie with the image of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. As the ADN's Liz Ruskin observed back on June 22, 2003, "Around the Capitol, Sen. Ted Stevens is known as a man with a temper, a reputation he fuels by donning his Incredible Hulk tie for political battle. "When I see the Hulk tie on Ted Stevens, I know he's pumped up," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who described the Alaska Republican as "tenacious, pugnacious and ferocious."

As the pressure mounts on both Senator Stevens and his wayward son, Ben, the Hulk seems to be teetering from one rage to another. This past week had at least two tantrums. He raged against the Daily News, vaguely threatening something on the verge of blackmail, when Stevens whined, like some sort of enfeebled Godfather, "I believe there should be a law, a federal law, that requires truthful disclosure of circulation, and we intend to pursue that," as he tried to tie the Anchorage paper to a lawsuit in Minnesota against the McClatchy-owned Minneapolis Star Tribune.

On the one hand, there's the manic-depressive Stevens. On the other, the bipolar Anchorage Daily News. Since more revelations have come out about the elder Stevens' ties to the now-extinct oil service giant, Veco, the Daily News has reported on
what others have reported on Stevens far more than the paper itself has actually investigated the legislator.

Every once in a while, as if to calm a petulant child who refuses to accept a "time out," the ADN will print a vacuous fluff piece about St. Ted,
like this one from June 4, 2007: "Museum organizers apparently have a special interest in aviation and have a special surprise on hand for visitors: Two dozen photos from Sen. Ted Stevens' World War II years flying in Asia. The collection includes a charming photo of young Sen. Stevens, an Army Air Force officer, strumming a guitar."

Special surprise? Charming? Good friggin' grief! So I'm going to go down to Whittier to see a picture of St. Ted strumming a guitar sixty years ago? Yeah, right.

There are other examples of Ted Stevens bipolar disorder at the Daily News. For instance,
today's ADN carries another editorial chastising Stevens. But the News apparently failed to send a reporter yesterday afternoon down to Dimond Center to cover the fundraiser-"press conference"-protest being held there. KTUU was there, with video of the peckish toddler-oldster. Other media was involved too. KUDO's Shannyn Moore urged listeners to go to the shopping mall to protest Stevens's fundraiser.

Both Stevens and Representative Don Young seem to be
greeted everywhere they go these days by protesters. Both have poll numbers from which you'd have to swim upstream to get to the toilet. Young has attracted three opponents from the Democrats. The Diane Benson campaign is about to release polling numbers that show her beating Don Young by a little under ten points. Unlike earlier, similar numbers released by candidate Ethan Berkowitz, Benson's polling is not tainted by a direct connection between her campaign and the pollster.

Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, who visited Washington D.C. last January at the behest of organizations interested in his candidacy for Young's seat, passed on that. Many observers here are wondering why Begich is waiting so long to declare his candidacy for Ted's seat. I've speculated that Begich's hesitancy is based on a genuine fear that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will declare her candidacy against Stevens.

But I'm beginning to doubt that she will do that. As a friend told me last night, "She's having way too much fun right now as Gov."
But if Mark Begich waits until after the inevitable indictment of Ben Stevens by the Feds, he'll appear to be a shameless opportunist.

(quote at top - Kuparuk at TPM; photo one from WaPo; photo two from the Whittier Museum; photo three from Alaska Report)

Updates - Thursday: KTVA highlighted the video they took of Ted's Dimond Center tantrum late Tuesday. But they've since removed direct links to this video from their main web page. Interesting. They've got older links up on far less important stuff. Even more interesting is Ishmael's take on the picture I posted of Ted and his Air Corps buddy having a good time in WWII. Flying the Hump?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Shards II for SFC Scheibner

We played this in Haines, Alaska on September 1, in memory of Sgt. 1st Class Daniel E. Scheibner, 40, of Muskegon, Michigan. A story about his life is here.

Crude Treatment?

I've been told it isn't. The Exxon Valdez guest host segment I had hoped to do on behalf of plaintiffs in the class action suit, up to be heard late this winter by the U.S. Supreme Court, on Anchorage's KUDO radio Monday afternoon, has been cancelled. Again. I've been assured the cancellations were both unavoidable. I'll leave it to the host you hear tomorrow to explain. Meanwhile, I have a lot of calls and e-mails to make and write.

I'll keep using this blog to add information to the public domain about the upcoming trial. Thanks to everyone who had been helping prepare this twice-cancelled segment.

Update - November 18: These are statements from the three candidates in the Democratic Primary for our state's sole U.S. House seat, I had solicited for tomorrow's KUDO show. They are genuine, and deserve to be heard - in alphabetical order, of course:

Diane Benson on the Exxon Valdez:
Twenty years ago, Exxon had an employee assistance program in place which assured that whenever a tanker skipper had a drinking problem, the skipper would get professional help and would be required to follow guidelines recommended by alcohol treatment professionals. That program mandated that a skipper could be visited by a counselor at any port Exxon visited, at any time. Nineteen years ago, Exxon ended that program to save a few hundred thousand dollars per year.

Eighteen and a half years ago, the Exxon Valdez ran across Bligh Reef because Exxon, not a ship’s crew, had ended an effective monitoring program, allowing Joe Hazelwood to drink and then return to duty.
, not a ship’s crew, set up heavy work schedules for tanker crews while berthed at the Alyeska terminal - schedules which exhausted crews.
, not a ship’s crew, allowed this combination of inebriated, exhausted mariners to navigate their cargo across the pristine waters of Prince William Sound.
, not a ship’s crew, lobbied and pressured the U.S. Coast Guard to allow their tankers to leave the Prince William Sound tanker navigation lanes during icy conditions, rather than just slow down.

For the focus of this case to now shift, at the Supreme Court level, to an archaic privateering maritime law case, that of the privateer Scourge, in the aftermath of the War of 1812, is almost beyond words. I’m concerned about this intersection of Exxon’s cynical defense and George Bush’s corporation-friendly Court.

Governor Palin has called this case “a kick in the guts” to Alaskans. She almost got it right. What Exxon did to us, to our fishers and coastal residents, rhymes with “a kick in the guts,” but was an even lower blow. To use another maritime law term - we’ve been Shanghaied.

Diane Benson for Congress


November 16, 2007
Exxon’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is just another example of the company’s repeated failure to treat Alaska like a respected partner. Thousands of Alaskans are still waiting for the money they are owed. All this in spite of the billions and billions of dollars in profit Exxon has taken off the North Slope. It’s too bad that we’re no longer surprised when Exxon has the audacity to lobby our legislators in Juneau for tax fairness, stall in the D.C. courts and leave Alaska twisting in the tide. The Palin Administration did the right thing filing a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the state and making sure Alaska stands up to Exxon.

Ethan Berkowitz for Congress


Jake Metcalfe on the Exxon Valdez Lawsuit:

It is tragic Exxon chooses to fight the battle over punitive damages for the terrible 1989 Exxon Valdez spill it is responsible for causing. I lived in Alaska when the spill took place. I know the damage it caused our people, our resources and our environment. Exxon should do the right thing and pay the plaintiffs now.

That said, I'm confident the judicial branch of our government will do the right thing in the end. It is unfortunate that Exxon has delayed payment so long, but in the end my hope is the Court will make Exxon pay interest and costs on the award as it stands now, and that the plaintiffs will get their fair share quickly.

Jake Metcalfe for Congress


I'll post Representative Young's statement as soon as it arrives.....

Update - Monday afternoon: I apologize to anyone who had arranged their schedule or travel to participate in this cancelled show. I failed to communicate the change to Frank Mullen and to CDFU. Both Frank and CDFU went to a lot of trouble to help. I'm truly sorry.

I feel uncomfortable with the way KUDO and Aaron Selbig dealt with me and with you folks in the cancellations. Aaron says the cancellations were ordered by Vince Beltrani of the IBEW so that Beltrani could "deliver an important message." I'm waiting to hear it. A notice by KUDO to listeners about the change would have been appropriate at the beginning of either cancelled segment. If a notice was given, I somehow missed it. Selbig says he wants to do a segment on this issue on his program in the near future. I'm willing to help on this, as soon as he makes a firm commitment.