Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Cast My Matanuska Electrical Association Ballot

Back when Judy and I were having our first house built, over on the west end of Fairview Loop Road, Matanuska Electrical Association had me come in and sign on for the new meter. At the time I filled out the form, I was still recovering from an injury to my left hand. It had been crushed when a salvage operation in the Whittier Harbor went terribly awry, and I had to smash a big glass door with my left hand to get a kid out of a sinking boat.

I'm left-handed, so my already awful handwriting was looking worse than that of a busy doctor filling out his hundredth prescription of the morning.

Yesterday morning, I decided to go into the MEA headquarters in Palmer, and take a look at my signature card. When one votes in an MEA election, the person voting has to sign the outside of the ballot envelope, which has to be mailed to MEA from the post office.

I'm glad I went in. As you can see, my signature now -- the lower one -- is very different from my 1985 one.

The customer service representative helping me look at the signature card, and filling out a new one, Suzie Deuser, did just that - helped. I told her, "I'm not concerned about you and the people down here deal with my card, but I don't trust the jerks upstairs. At all."

She sort of smiled, saying, "do you want to come back and see how we keep the 'jerks upstairs' out of it?"

I took up Suzie's offer. She brought me back to the two rooms and a closet where about eight people were going through incoming ballots, comparing each against the cards. About 700 were being dealt with Wednesday. Most people were paid employees of MEA, but the three who dealt with questioned signatures were volunteers from the community.

I asked the volunteers how many of the 700 had been questioned so far on Wednesday. I was told that five had been. As we talked, a sixth one was brought over. They asked me if I wanted to judge the issue along with them. I did.

The signature on the envelope was certainly far different from the one on the signature card. We discussed the "capital "C" and "D's." The ballot was rejected. I concurred.

Thanks for the tour, Suzie Deuser. I'm reasonably satisfied that what I saw was being responsibly handled. I was told be a couple of people that balloting is happening on about a normal level for an MEA election.

On the way to more errands over in Wasilla, I stopped by Enstar. On the way out, I took pictures of one of the signs Dewey and Judy made in our shop last week.

My next stop was at the Wasilla post office, where I got my mail and mailed my MEA ballot, casting for Kinkaid, Burchell, the bylaw change, and weighed in on the silly advisory votes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

For William F. Buckley

A true conservative.

Begich to Announce Run Against St. Ted This Morning

"Anchorage mayor Mark Begich will announce he's taking on Ted "Tubes" Stevens for his state's U.S. Senate seat at 11:30 a.m. PT." - kos

PA's Down With Tyranny Post, or - All Roads for Don Young Lead to Nowhere

What follows is the article for national audiences on Don Young's recent trip to Alaska I wrote for Howie Klein at Down With Tyranny! - where it was posted last Sunday:

Don Young, February 20, 2008: "I'm stronger than anybody running against me. I've got a better mind than anybody running against me."

Don Young, October 31, 2006:
"I'm predicting we're not going to lose any seats. My prediction is as good as anybody else's. The day after the election, we'll see who was right."

Don Young now: "We have to make sure that the public is aware that this is a battle about foreign-owned newspapers, anybody in the lower 48, trying to convey a misrepresentation of somebody who has served this state for 35 years. It's nothing new. They did the same thing to Richard Pombo, and we can track the same groups, including the supposedly newspaper chain, so we have to make sure we don't get caught like Richard did, and that there was an organized effort through groups like the Defenders of Wildlife to try to replace a seated member of a committee that effects the outcome of the State of Alaska."

Don Young, November 4, 2008: "Alaskans have turned against the only true friend they had in Washington, D.C. I'm not going to take this victory by my granola-eating, volvo-driving, latte-sipping opponent lightly. Bite, me, Alaskans!"

The first three of those quotes are real. The fourth, I made up, but is inevitable. It has been obvious to some Alaskans for years, decades --- hell! - for over a generation for some of us, that Young is seriously out of touch when it comes to being able to make predictions. Accurate ones, at least.

Alaska's lone member of the U.S. Congress has by now probably spent a million dollars on attorneys over the past 14 months. He reported $854,035 in legal fees in his 2007 campaign reports. This information came out in early February, although the amount was expected to quite high, based on his earlier 2007 filings.

In the fourth quarter of 2007, Young spent almost 10 times what he took in, mostly on those pesky fees. If you subtract the interest his already bagged money brought in during the fourth quarter - $14,611 - and PAC contributions - $15,000 - he bagged $28,350. Here's a comparison among Young and his four 2008 challengers for the last three months of 2007:

Berkowitz (D) - $124,201
LeDoux (R) - $110,000
Benson (D) - $52,230
J. Metcalfe (D) - $31,000
Don Young (R) - $28,350

Last week, while in Alaska on the congressional recess, Young met with the dwindling ranks of his supporters here. At meetings in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Wasilla, there were more empty contribution envelopes left on tables at meeting ends than soiled napkins.

Young has steadfastly refused to answer questions about why his legal fees were so high. His encounters with the local press, historically testy, boiled over this Friday morning in Wasilla, where he cancelled a press conference because the press showed up. The headline of an editorial at the conservative Matanuska-Susitna Valley Frontiersman called it The Press Conference to Nowhere. The Anchorage Daily News' Political Blog's story on this has elicited more comments in the blog's history than any entry not about Gov. Sarah Palin.

Earlier in the week, at an Anchorage press conference, he railed at reporters over their questions about details of his legal troubles, which could be coming from a number of cases, convictions or investigations, saying, "I have a right to spend my money as I wish to spend it and we are going to continue to do what I think we have to do to get this issue behind us."

Young avoided one question after another - the video is available here - and concluded, saying to the press, "I hope you all have egg on your face, which I believe. And then I'm going to ask you, 'Where did you come off asking these questions.' "

Earlier in the week, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said Young "owes the public some answers for his campaign spending more than $850,000 on legal fees last year. Palin has been the sole GOP figure in Alaska critical of Young, though national GOP figures seem to be more concerned. A February 10 syndicated column by conservative pundit George Will painting Young as a poster boy for the current demise of the Republican Party nationwide, even got the Anchorage Daily News to its senses regarding the unconstitutional Coconut Road earmark changes Young had forced upon the 2005 Congressional Omnibus Transportation Bill.

Will, titling his essay The Road To a GOP Minority, was close to scathing in his criticism of Young:

"Who surreptitiously perverted the will of Congress? And why is Congress not angry and eager to identify the culprit? It seems reasonable to suspect that the answer to the first question is: Young or an agent of his."

In Alaska, one of Young's three Democratic Party opponents, brought this up. back in 2007. Diane Benson, who ran an insurgent race against Young in 2006 with wan party support, stated late last summer, “Why has it taken Congress two years to begin investigating this affront to our Constitution? Not only is what Don Young done yet another example of his questionable ethics, but it is a potential violation of our U.S. Constitution.” That same day she filed a request for the members of the office of the Congressional Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate the language substitution of the transportation bill.

At the time - late September - the Anchorage Daily News didn't even bother to send a reporter to Benson's press conference, attended by other local media. Nor had they, when, in mid-December, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a staunch critic of earmark processes proposed a select committee to investigate Young, kept track of the growth of concern over Young's misconduct.

But after Wills' column, the Anchorage Daily News editors finally got on Young's case, with an editorial citing Wills' concern:

"When an Alaska politician draws that kind of fire from the dean of conservative columnists, Alaskans should think twice about the national image we create with our choice of elected officials.

"BOTTOM LINE: Don Young is the Exhibit A of how congressional earmarking got out of hand."

The GOP challenger to Young's seat, Kodiak State Representative Gabrielle LeDoux, has had to suspend campaign fundraising during the ongoing 90-day legislative session, thanks to the efforts of big oil-owned legislators looking out for Don. One of them, Republican Kevin Meyer, an employee of oil giant Conoco-Phillips in his off-legislative time, filed a bill requiring legislators running for Federal office to suspend campaign fundraising and activities while the session is ongoing.

The three Democratic challengers are starting to attend forums where people can compare their views on important issues. Alaskans are fortunate to have Diane Benson, Ethan Berkowitz and Jake Metcalfe in this race. Incredibly heavy, record-shattering attendance at Democratic Party caucuses throughout the state surprised everyone. Attendance at candidate forums is breaking records, too.

The first forum at which all five will be in attendance, will be in Kodiak in late March, at a convention of Alaska commercial fishermen. ComFish Alaska used to be fairly friendly territory for Young, but that has undoubtedly changed. Last August, when Sen. Ted Stevens was in Kodiak, he was met by protesters everywhere he went. Probably the most important Democratic candidate forum will be that at the Alaska Democratic Party Convention, to be held at the state fairgrounds in Palmer, over Memorial Day weekend.

The money Young's attorneys are spending - four or five times the amount Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has spent - could be going to any number of ongoing investigations: Abramoff, Veco, Coconut Road, fisheries favors, and on and on.

Alaska muckraker of the year, Ray Metcalfe, is looking for key names to pop up when the inevitable next round of Alaska GOP corruption indictments surface. Metcalfe and I are both surmising that the information gleaned from people who have been cooperating with the Feds, either known or unknown figures, have given so much information on long-standing scams, that the only thing slowing them down at this juncture is whether or not to go RICO.

I'm hoping Young will hang in there until they pry his cold, pork-fed hands off his congressional office door. He's one of the best candidates the Democrats have this year.

image by Blue in Alaska

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Tribute to Aaron Selbig and KUDO

Alaska Report carried this image Tuesday evening. Myrl Thompson and Aaron Selbig in the KUDO-AM Progressive Talk Radio station studio. Apparently, they were playing the tape which came into their hands of a couple of Anchorage Assembly members breaking the law.

Local media resources, already sorely stretched as the legislative session draws toward denouement, jumped on this as best they could. The Alaska Report is going to interview Selbig. The Anchorage Daily News has now posted an article about it on their blog, but not as a "real" news item. Yet. KTUU-TV gave it prominence this evening:

The Alaska Public Offices Commission is launching an investigation into the actions of two Anchorage Assembly members.

The campaign watchdog agency says it's basing its probe on a recording aired by radio station KUDO Tuesday afternoon.

In the recording, Assembly Chair Dan Coffey and Assemblyman Bill Starr allegedly talk about handing out cash for other Assembly candidates.

Starr and Traini are backpedalling better than Mark Begich confronting Ray Metcalfe. They've now registered as deputy treasurers for the campaigns concerned, and probably expect that their knowledge of how deep in doo-doo the rest of the assembly and city administration are will keep the retributive forces from winding down their self-serving political aspirations soon.

And the doo-doo is indeed deep, folks.

Progressive Alaska is paying tribute to Aaron here for having the courage to bring this up immediately - and forcefully.

The corruption in the MOA structure is deep and long-seated. I'll pay another tribute to Aaron, Shannyn and CC if they'll go out - while on the air - with Ray Metcalfe, and take the tour of Anchorage real estate deals prominent Alaska politicians have brokered for their buddies and themselves, that Ray provided for Patti Higgins and Kay Brown a few weeks ago.

Update - Wednesday 7:00 a.m: Linda Kellen Biegel has analyzed the tape at her blog, Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis. I find her analysis to be more accurate and authoritative than the mish-mash touted as "transcript," now posted as a web-based article at the Anchorage Daily News. I've also added Linda's blog to the Progressive Alaska Blogs category here.

Images From Our Insurgency

Five images, taken recently.

1). tw3k at firedoglake came up with John McCain as a cow, grazing among the lobbyists. I've placed him atop part of Hugh's scroll, where McCow has plenty upon which to graze.

A pdf you can download (drag to your desktop) so you can make a McCain cow.

Dewey King-Taylor making signs to remind Matanuska-Susitna Electrical Association owner/members to vote this coming Saturday, to overcome a sick, trogdylitic board and management team that styles itself after Brezhnev era apparatchiks.

My laptop in the shop on a cold night - minus 23F - with my fingerless gloves handy.

Sushi at dinner last Saturday, before we went to the Anchorage Symphony Concert, where I booed the event's sponsor, Exxon.

The old Motorola "brick" cell phone that served me well for fifteen years, with its replacement, an iPhone, with which I took these pictures.

On the Eve of the Supreme Court Hearing - How We've All Aged

A photo of my longtime friend Steve Smith by Al Grillo of the Associated Press says a lot. Steve, now 69, was 49 when Exxon's ship, the Exxon Valdez, spilled its cargo - its GUTS - out all over the most beautiful place God ever created.

In the 19 years since the spill, Cordova has aged more than any other place devastated by Exxon's negligence. The town that had fought against construction of the pipeline, had predicted the spill, has suffered the most.

I lived in Cordova for almost four years, on Prince William Sound for almost eleven, from early 1973 to late 1983, when Judy and I moved to the Mat-Su Valley to start a family.

My son, born while the spill was spreading, is in college now. His entire life, this gem of gems, Prince William Sound, and this gem of communities, Cordova, have been less than they could have been, because of the spill's devastation.

In May, 1977, I attended a conference in Anchorage. At the time, I was Whittier Harbormaster. One of the panels at the conference was on the proposed tanker vessel traffic separation zones. I was on the panel, along with one of Steve Smith's closest friends, Pete Isleib, Cordova and Bristol Bay fisherman, and Southcentral Alaska's leading ornithologist.

Pete, when asked to comment on the separation zones, said simply and calmly, "Ultimately, these won't matter. Within ten years of the opening of the pipeline, a tanker will fetch up, and spill its oil. It will be Seal Rocks, or Johnstone Point, or Bligh Reef or Potato Point. Most likely, Bligh Reef. That's where it always happens."

Pete's was such an interesting statement, I wrote it down as closely as I could in my conference notes. Just short of twelve years later, as the Exxon Valdez was headed down Valdez Arm in search of its fate, oceanographer Rikki Ott stated at a public meeting in Cordova, "it's not a matter of if, but of when."

Pete is one of the litigants who have passed on. Steve Smith is in Washington, DC right now, along with several other Cordovans and our governor, watching this case unfold. It begins in one day.

Monday, February 25, 2008

John Henry Browne's Response

In a stunning move, high-profile Seattle attorney John Henry Browne has filed a response to the US Department of Justice's response to his petition for a new trial for his client, former Alaska state legislator Vic Kohring. In a brief press release on the filing, Browne states:

We have information that Judge Sedwick's wife, Deborah, is a longtime sleeper agent for Al Qaeda. Her secret middle name is Hussein. This information was revealed to my client, Vic Kohring, when he was abducted by aliens while recently driving to Portland, Oregon. In light of what my client learned during his abduction, we request the trial be moved to Mars.

Just kidding, gang. But - with JHB, you never can tell.

The only real news on the DOJ response to Browne, in my book, is that the Anchorage Press managed to beat the Anchorage Daily News to this story by almost three hours.

Down With Tyranny does Progressive Alaska - Again

Howie Klein, one of the geniuses behind the upsurge in progressive candidates making it to office in the U.S. House, has just posted my national update on Don Young at his blog, Down With Tyranny!

Maybe too early, as I'm going to be talking with a new source in Washington D.C. tomorrow morning on just what Don's attorneys are taking their money for. It appears that Jack Abramoff is spilling a lot of beans, and Don's far more involved with Jack than he's been willing to tell us. Surprised? You shouldn't be.

Progressive Alaska was the first site to attempt to find out how Don's campaign was shuffling money around from account to account last year, as he started to drain campaign coffers to pay his Gucci-wearing attorneys. We're still working on that one.

remembrance of animals

"remembrance of animals" is one movement from a six-movement background for an installation by Seattle bronze sculptor Peter Bevis. The poem, commissioned by me and derived from statements made by principals involved in the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, is by Ann Chandonnet.

The vocalist is Thomasa Eckhart, in a live performance at the Jack Straw Studios in Seattle, on August 15, 2002.

Listen to it here.

Sphinx Island Elegy

"Chugach" Symphony, Op. 14 - 3rd movement: "Sphinx Island Elegy" was written during the weeks after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe.

Sphinx Island, on Prince William Sound, was in the path of the spill. I imagine a wise, living entity, the Sphinx of Sphinx Island. She observes the spill, the progress of the oil, the ineffectual efforts at cleaning up the mess. She sadly adjusts to her new asphalt girdle, watching the humans squabble as they leave. She muses "If they handle all their problems this way, they won't be around for long."

The work is performed here by the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, directed by Stephen Stein, in a performance on October 8, 1989.

I wrote this over the summer of 1989, as the spill was being dealt with so ineptly and expensively.

Listen to it here

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Final Days

This coming Wednesday, at 10:00 a.m. EST, the U.S. Supreme Court will change the lives of over 30,000 Alaskans hurt by Exxon's negligence in failing to monitor the job performance of a relapsed alcoholic on a par with the maritime industry at that time.

In 1988, Exxon had in place an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, designed similarly to that of Crowley Maritime's. Crowley's was and is regarded as the gold standard of the industry. Essentially, any employee who had an identified substance abuse problem was expected to comply to strict abstinence rules at all times. To assure compliance, Crowley - and Exxon, until 1988 - could send an employee of their EAP, trained as a substance abuse counselor, to any port on the planet, at any time to see "how the subject employee is doing."

Exxon ended that program in 1988. Between the termination of the comprehensive EAP and skipper Joe Hazelwood's relapse which led to the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, Hazelwood knew he would only be monitored when his ship tied up at Alameda or Long Beach, California. This was because Exxon preferred saving a few hundred thousand dollars to having a program that worked. It was one of the dumbest corporate decisions in recent history.

I could have been a plaintiff in this class-action suit, but chose not to be. One of my rules is that a day spent worrying about lawyers is a day erased from the book of life. When the class-action suit began, there were over 36,000 plaintiffs. Since then around 6,000 have died, some taking their own lives. Erased from the book of life.

Last night, in spite of my efforts last week on behalf of friends who are plaintiffs in the suit, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra's Bob Arms - a longtime friend of mine too - asked about 2,000 people to applaud Exxon for contributing $10,000 toward the event's production costs. Most applauded. Some, like my wife and a few friends, kept their hands folded across their laps. I booed, probably alone.

I don't blame the Anchorage Symphony for how or why this went down so close to the Supreme Court hearing. But people need to realize how cheaply Exxon has bought a piece of the ensemble's soul over the years since the spill. In those 19 years, Exxon has contributed $190,000 toward concerts, perhaps more. Each DAY since the Exxon Valdez tragedy, the plaintiffs have lost $360,490.

At the time of the spill, people were concerned about the incredible losses in the oil stream to wildlife and fish. Millions of creatures died. But in the generation since, those of us who live or have lived in the effected zone have seen the human costs mount, one casualty or death at a time.

Update - 4:45 p.m. Sunday: Steve Aufrecht at What Do I Know? writes from Thailand about my letter to the ASO and their reaction. My favorite thought from Steve's essay:

Now Exxon's 2007 after tax profits were about $40 Billion. Let's say they kicked in $40,000 (I'm guessing it might not be that much, but it's easier to calculate. Someone making $100,000 before taxes, if I calculated this right, would have to donate 10 cents to donate an equivalent percent of their income. [We're working with a lot of zeros here and it's late, so someone check the math.]

Do we applaud those who worked hard last year and gave ten cents to the Orchestra, the same percentage of his net profit that Exxon gave?

image by Bob Martinson of the shame totem pole created by Mike Webber for Bob Henrichs

Friday, February 22, 2008

Don Young, Spineless Corrupt Bastard

Wednesday, Rep. Don Young (R - Coconut Road, FL) announced in mid-week that he was going to hold a press conference today at 10:30 a.m. at the Mat-Su Valley Legislative Information office. According to Sean Cockerham from the Anchorage Daily News,

"Richard [Mauer] and I showed up a few minutes early, before Young arrived, and were told by delegation staff we had to leave. No one else was asked to leave.

"Delegation staff said the press conference was only for Mat-Su media. We pointed out that the Daily News is the largest circulation newspaper in the Mat-Su, and that our Mat-Su bureau had been invited to attend."

Cockerham's article names no ADN Valley Bureau staff as having been at the conference. A call from Progressive Alaska to the ADN Valley Bureau's Joe Ditzler, in an attempt to find out who from the ADN Valley Bureau was there resulted in Joe's refusal to provide me any information. He told me I would have to clear this with his "boss," Bill White, the ADN's Deputy City Editor.

Calls to the Frontiersman yielded no information indicating anyone was sent to the press conference. According to KMBQ-AM radio's Ed Russell, Young's office sent out notices on the conference sometime last week.

Russell succeeded in getting a solo interview with Young at the KMBQ studio. although Young had advised not to ask questions about legal matters, Ed did manage to ask young about Gov. Sarah Palin's statement yesterday indicating Young owes Alaskans a better explanation on what legal matters are costing him so much. Russell's interviews will air on KMBQ today at 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Ed stated that Lori Tipton from KTUU-TV was writing a story on the whole affair for this evening's news.

image by blue-in-AK

What If Bill O'Reilly Had Said This?

Dave Neiwert, a Washington state resident who blogs at Orcinus and elsewhere, is one of the USA's top writers on racism, militias, anti-Semitism and eliminationism. His book, Strawberry Days, about the growth of the pre-World War II Japanese-American community east of Lake Washington near Seattle,their internment during World War II, and postwar struggles to regain their livelihoods and sense of community, is the best book I've read about the experience of Japanese-Americans in the mid-20th century.

Yesterday, Dave posted an essay on the subject of KFQD-AM's second most insidious radio commentator. This Tuesday, on KFQD, O'Reilly stated, "I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels."

O'Reilly's producer, David Tabakoff, lamely defended O'Reilly, stating, "What Bill said was an obvious repudiation of anyone attacking Michelle Obama. As he has said more than ten times, he is giving her the benefit of the doubt."

Yesterday evening, on his FAUX news TV program, O'Reilly, even more lamely, pretended to apologize, saying, "I'm sorry if my statement offended anybody. That, of course, was not the intention. Context is everything." He then went on to explain how his use of the term "I don't want to go on a lynching party," was actually in Defense of Michelle Obama. That is pure bullshit.

Dave Neiwert's essay on this gets to the heart of how insidious racism against African-Americans all too often is in American broadcasting. One point he brings up is this:

Suppose, back in 2000, that Joe Lieberman were reported to have said something that right-wingers immediately cast as being anti-American. And in discussing it, someone -- oh, say, Bill O'Reilly -- went on the air and semi-defended him thus:

I don't think we ought to send Joe Lieberman to the gas chambers unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the man really feels. If that's how he really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down.

Do you think anyone would have found that acceptable? Do you think he'd have been able to get away with a refusal to apologize for the inappropriateness of the remark?

Because he did essentially the same thing this week in discussing allegedly anti-American remarks made by Michelle Obama.

Rightwing radio commentators seem to be able to smear African-Americans, Latinos and Arab- or Muslim-Americans with ease. Every once in a while, one is punished for this, but all too often, nothing is done. My reaction to statements by these people is to boycott their sponsors.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Don Provides His Own Caption

"I have a right to spend my money as I wish to spend it."

That was Don Young this afternoon, at his press conference in Anchorage. The ADN coverage of the conference, by Sean Cockerham, is pretty sketchy. Maybe KTUU will have something more illuminating on their 10:00 p.m. news.

I know, I know, I've used this picture a lot. Twice in a row, now.

Update - 9:20 p.m: Sean Cockerham has posted a much more detailed version of his earlier article at the ADN website.

image by Darkblack

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Throwing Rocks at an Obvious Target?

At Tuesday's 15th-annual Ecotourism Conference of the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, Ethan Berkowitz surprised many by stating that mining has a greater potential for Alaska's future than ecotourism. Or all types of tourism, for that matter. His statement surprised both Jake Metcalfe and Diane Benson, and a number of people in the audience. The three Democratic Party candidates for Alaska's sole seat in the U.S. House were presenting ideas and answering questions on a number of issues important to the association in a panel discussion format.

Things went downhill from then on for Ethan.

When asked by moderator John Tracy about the current legal troubles of Rep. Don Young, the office-holder the panelists hope to replace appears to be embroiled in, Berkowitz turned on Tracy, stating, "If we're going to change the kind of politics that we're engaged in, we're going to have to lift ourselves up.

"And throwing rocks at an obvious target doesn't elevate the conversation."

People in the audience turned toward each other, wondering. Before the panel began, they might have been in Berkowitz's palm. They were giving each other "WTF?" looks.

Jake Metcalfe was the first to respond, saying, in part, that,
"If you're spending $850,000 on legal fees and you're a public servant and you're not telling people what it's for," he said. "How do we know you're doing your job?"

Benson, who has been fighting Young now for two years, and was David to Young's Goliath in 2006, added, "
I think that we do need to hold individuals accountable. Sometimes it takes someone strong enough to stand up and say something.

"We've seen this as well with whistleblowers and problems within the oil industry that have not been addressed until a strong individual came forward and did something and said something."

My take, after talking to Benson and Berkowitz supporters afterward, is that Ethan, in spite of his wan wish for "lifting ourselves up," continues to understand what that term means to Alaska voters this cycle less than do Jake and Diane.

image of Don Young by Darkblack
images from the forum by KTUU

Monday, February 18, 2008

An Open Letter to the Anchorage Symphony Board of Directors, or Fanfare for the Common Corrupt Bastard

James Torgerson, President
Board of Directors
Anchorage Symphony Orchestra

Dear Mr. Torgerson,

It is my understanding that the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra intends to preface this coming Saturday's concert with a request for the audience to applaud Exxon for their generous contribution toward production costs of the event. I have asked your orchestra's Executive Director to have you consider other options at your Wednesday meeting.

Plaintiffs in the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case, Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker (07-219), knowing my long and honorable relationship with the ensemble, have asked me to convey that you consider either not audibly acknowledging Exxon's support for this important event, or to have a representative of Exxon ask the audience to request a moment of silence for the over four thousand plaintiffs who have passed away, waiting for their share of a settlement. Or for the hundreds whose lives have been continuously devastated by the aftermath of Exxon's negligence in March of 1989. Or for the dozens who took their own lives in the grief over their inability to deal with losses caused by this tragedy.

Saturday evening, at the Atwood Concert Hall, there will be about three thousand people. A third less people than have expired while Exxon failed to, as Don Cornett, your predecessor as President of this board once promised them, "If you can show that you have a loss as a result of this spill, we will compensate it. . . . We will consider whatever it takes to make you whole."

Scores of thousands of plaintiffs, most ex-governors of Alaska, our National Legislative delegation, our sitting State Legislature, and current Governor have already shown themselves to be friends of the plaintiffs through their various friend of the court briefs.

It would be an indelible stain on the honor of the members of the orchestra, the 30,000 Alaska plaintiffs, and all concerned Alaskans to applaud Exxon exactly three days and twelve hours before the most important litigation ever against that corporation is argued by our highest court.

I would be happy to attend your Wednesday evening board meeting to answer any questions on this matter.


Philip Munger

Update - Wednesday noon: The Alaska Report has front paged this letter. Thanks, Dennis! I'm getting a lot of e-mails of support from artists and composers who DO NOT want their names made public in concern for retribution against them in the future.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ray Metcalfe's Tony Knowles Blockbuster

Ray Metcalfe has posted an article at the Alaska Report with an accompanying PDF file that asserts Tony Knowles created a Tom DeLayesque fund while governor, through which some large contributions from big oil were eventually funneled directly to Knowles. The amounts given by the oil companies were far larger than they could have contributed directly to Knowles, but Metcalfe indicates that there was an understanding that Knowles could tap these funds from beginning to end of the series of contributions.

The Anchorage Daily News covered some of what Metcalfe has uncovered back when Knowles was in his first term, but Ray's assertions are rather sweeping. As are his conclusions. About four weeks ago, when I shared some of the names I've heard as possible targets for the next level of FBI warrants with Metcalfe, one name I mentioned, that of former State Senator Rick Halford, got Ray's attention. His next word was, "RICO..."

Image Seen on Milk Carton:


Saturday, February 16, 2008


State Senator Kim Elton has a newsletter. In Friday's edition, he pegged the dismal coverage of the present legislative session being given by the Anchorage Daily News, which seems to rely more and more on cutting and pasting reports emanating from outside the McClatchy stable:

MIA--The state's largest newspaper is often missing in action as the legislature quickly settles into the process of spending and saving billions of general fund dollars. The Anchorage Daily News isn't fulltime on-the-ground in the Capitol during the session, which means they're not matching the stories filed by other reporters from other news outlets (broadcast and print) who have reporters in the capital day-after-day. These other reporters gain a better understanding of the nuances of personalities, policies, and politics that ultimately shape the budgets and the laws that guide our collective future. Guess the opinion page editorialists are depending more and more on NBC-TV news, ABC-TV news, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner'sJuneau Empire stories from the capitol, the AP filed stories, or public radio's APRN to help craft their editorials about state policies now being shaped by the legislature and the governor. The Anchorage Daily News staff adds a tagline "Bottom Line" to the end of their editorials that summarizes the points they are trying to make. I'll borrow their approach. Bottom Line: The state's largest newspaper needs to have boots (and ears) on the ground in the Capitol like the other, smaller purveyors of state news.

hat tip - Robert Dillon

Out With the Old....

My old, old, bulky Motorola MicroTac 650 has taken a lot of calls since I got it long ago. But it is analog, and will do better as a doorstop than as a phone at the beginning of next week. I wrote about my dilemma in figuring out what to get to replace it back in December.

Judy and I got each other iPhones for Valentines' Day. We're going to be spending several hours tomorrow on the tutorial. Even being able to do the stuff we can already, we both feel they're worth it, and powerful tools we'll both be able to use in our work.

Speaking of out with the old, both the Alaska Report and An Alaskan Abroad are saying Monday just might be the day. If the ear picks it up tomorrow, well, well - who knows...?

Update: Sheila didn't say it'll happen, so it obviously won't. Or will.

New PA Poll - How Should We Give Exxon a Hand for Sponsoring the Upcoming Achorage Symphony Concert?

Each Anchorage Symphony Orchestra concert has a corporate sponsor. The January concert was sponsored by Conoco-Phillips, whose presence in ads, goodwill-creating event underwriting and such is very high profile. The February concert will be underwritten by Exxon-Mobil, a company known for its generally low profile in recent years. The concert will be Saturday, February 23, three and a half days before the U.S. Supreme Court hears opening arguments in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker (07-219), better known in Alaska as the class action lawsuit over the Exxon Valdez oilspill and aftermath.

At each of these concerts, a spokesperson for the orchestra announces the current evening's underwriter to the audience, and asks for the audience to thank the sponsor for such generosity. Last season, when we were asked to thank Exxon, many in the audience sat with their hands folded, while most others clapped - some loudly. I heard a little bit of hissing, and I booed Exxon loudly.

Progressive Alaska's new poll asks questions about what one should do next Saturday, when the audience is asked to applaud a company many Alaskans continue to believe to be a corporate monster. I have many friends who have not been compensated justly for their material losses from the destruction caused by the spill, let alone the other hardships they and their families have endured.

The concert will feature the Alaska premiere of a new work, Piano Concerto No. 3, by Lowell Liebermann. Eighteen orchestras, including the Anchorage Symphony, have teamed up to commission and perform the concerto, written for pianist Jeffrey Biegel. Tom Strini, music critic of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, wrote of Liebermann's premiere there, "The big crowd...cheered the world premiere of Lowell Liebermann's striking Piano Concerto No. 3...the orchestra played this challenging new scored with the conviction it deserves...Arresting effects abound...They work within a large alternation of ferocity and tenderness that grows more and more affecting as the music unfolds."

The last new piano concerto commissioned and premiered by the Anchorage Symphony was my own, back in March, 2004. The orchestra has greatly honored me with their renditions of three orchestral and five chamber works of mine at their concerts over the past 18 years, more than by any other living composer. Randall Craig Fleischer, the ASO Music Director, is the most enthusiastic supporter of new music in the history of this ensemble. Randy's own new work, Triumph, was just that - a triumph - at its premiere here 13 months ago.

The orchestra will also give the Anchorage premiere of what many believe to be the greatest symphony written by a native-born American in the 20th Century, the Third Symphony of Aaron Copland. It has long been my favorite American symphony. The finale of the work begins with a rendition of Copland's most famous utterance, the Fanfare for the Common Man:

Copland wrote the Fanfare during World War II. He began writing the 3rd Symphony late in the war, finishing it shortly afterward. During the 1930s, Copland was heavily involved with many left-wing causes. In the McCarthy era, Copland ran afoul of McCarthy and the House of UnAmerican Activities. Here's how it went, when Copland was called to the stand:

McCarthy sought to discover why the composer was hired to give US embassy-sponsored lectures on music in Latin America and Italy.

McCarthy asked: "If you were a member of the Communist Party, let's assume you were, and you were selected to lecture you would be bound to try wherever you could to sell the communist idea, wouldn't you?"

"No doubt," Copland replied. A moment later he turned the tables, declaring: "I had no fear of sitting down at a table with a known communist because I was so sure of my position as a loyal American."

The senator pounced: "With what known communists have you sat down at a table?"

Well, replied Copland, there were the Soviet composers he had met during his international musical career. "I assume they are communists," he said.

Copland was not asked to return for public hearings.

How would Copland have dealt with an Exxon-sponsored event in which his fanfare for people like the common fishermen and fisherwomen of Cordova, Tatitlik, Valdez, Seward, Seldovia, Homer, Kodiak and a host of other communities is being played?

I'm planning on crying "SHAME!!!" when Exxon is named. What do you think? And, go ahead and take the poll if you wish.

image of oiled hand - ADN
Aaron Copland by candlelight, studio in the Berkshires, September, 1946
, Mrs. Victor Kraft - Library of Congress

Friday, February 15, 2008

Matanuska-Susitna Area Democrats Organize

The Mat-Su Democrats held our annual organizing meeting this evening at the Grandview Hotel, where we were ejected eleven days ago by the fire marshall, when over a thousand people showed up for our Presidential Caucus.

We had a good crowd for the meeting, too. Our group is responsible for hosting and producing this year's Democratic Party Convention, probably the most important event for our party in Alaska history.

Like other such meetings of Democrats around the state,. we held elections for office and for people to be part of committees at the convention. Our new leadership is Kevin Brown, president; Gil Lucero, vice president; Philip Munger, secretary; and Carolyn Covington; treasurer. I was also elected secretary of my legislative district committee.

A lot of work ahead, and not just organizing for the convention. I'm especially excited about Kevin Brown. He's very motivated, and has been instrumental in progressive victories in the Valley against Proposition 1, and in the efforts to keep MEA from building a huge coal-powered powerplant in the Palmer metropolitan area. Kevin is also young - he's under 30 - and his election is a sign that this party is going to grow rapidly in an area dominated by some of the most reactionary and corrupt GOP figures in the state.

Katie Hurley, Gil, Kevin, Carolyn, me

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Seriousness of the Sea Life Center Investigation(s)

Steve Aufrecht at What Do I Know? has posted a long, detailed look at Anchorage Daily News investigative reporter Richard Mauer's detailed article published last Sunday, on a highly questionable land deal associated with the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward. Mauer wrote the story with Tom Kizzia, but Aufrecht analyzes background on the ADN article from his knowledge of what Mauer was doing while investigating last year. Aufrecht, a semi-retired University of Alaska professor, also was a teacher at the college of Tylan Schrock, the center's administrator when the land deal went down. Aufrecht offers insight into Schrock's personality in his post.

I got to know Steve when we were both blogging the Vic Kohring Alaska legislative corruption trial last year. Near the conclusion of that trial, Aufrecht's humanity toward Kohring and others convicted in the same investigation was questioned by some, who thought him too kind and forgiving toward the convicted. My defense of Aufrecht's viewpoint was the first Progressive Alaska essay. Since then, Steve's valuable help with my writing and viewpoints at this site has been stimulating, helping me to understand aspects of my public responsibilities as a blogger.

Last Sunday, writing about Kizzia and Mauer's article, I observed:

One of the things that Mauer's narrative clearly shows is how, when Sen. Stevens insinuates himself into a public process, people caught in the crossfire feel uncomfortable. People who feel like they might have to become unwilling accessories to the way the Federal earmarks get processed into projects favorable to one friend of Ted or another, often are put into a position of believing that if they don't enable Ted or Friends of Ted, their career, their business or their position in their community will be slimed.

Steve's post goes beyond that in its nuanced considerations of how peoples' lives were adversely effected by this remarkably questionable earmark fund use. And, even more of interest, is the growing intersection in how Kizzia and Mauer's article plays out in the public sphere, with the writings of various local bloggers, and in the information that can be gleaned by comments attached to those articles. The effect is mostly cumulative, or additive as a process. This is far better than the old-school approach, where the
ADN, for instance, publishes an article, and a week or two later, a couple of letters to the editor surface.

But the attention drawn to earmark acceptance syndrome by the combination of news articles, TV reports, blog entries and written comments may be multiple rather than additive in its effect on Alaskans' growing awareness that there is a price to accepting our Federal legislators' funds for giant projects. Alaskans, even though the Feds are keeping very tight-lipped about what they might do next, are increasingly becoming aware of the seriousness of the untidy, unethical and unhealthy state of the political environment here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MD-04 - Donna Edwards - The Most Important Potomac Primary Victory for Alaska Politics

I'm particularly happy about Donna Edwards' crushing primary victory in Maryland's 4th District for three reasons. The first is personal: Ms. Edwards is the only out-of-state candidate we've ever donated to more than once.

The second reason might not have much resonance in Alaska, but it is hard to tell yet: There are growing signs that Democrats nationwide want more change in their party than the Party leadership seems to be able to digest. We went through that in Alaska in 2006 with Sarah Palin's crushing primary defeat of incumbent Frank Murkowski in the gubernatorial primary. Palin was heavily outspent - just as Edwards was by the incumbent Democratic Representative Albert Wynn. In the 2006 GOP Alaska Primary, voters rejected the anointed one of their party establishment for somebody without ties to discredited modalities of doing politics as usual.

But that was Alaska Republican politics, a populist revolt against an increasingly obvious dysfunctional corrupt party, that has dominated our state's agenda for 14 years. Donna Edwards challenged a leading statewide figure in the Democratic Party.

Here in Alaska, the Democratic Party has been out of power long enough that I have to explain to my 21-year-old daughter what it was like, for her to envision Democrats influencing our state's policies, either in Juneau, or in Washington, DC.

Which brings me to reason three. As I've written here before, I've been volunteering for Diane Benson since the summer of 2006. Although I respect Jake Metcalfe and have a lot of respect for Ethan Berkowitz, I don't see them as agents of change for our future to the degree Benson could be. For several reasons - most of them outside the details of these three fine Alaskans' platforms.

People of color, women of color, are being treated with far more respect this cycle nationwide by voters than they are by the establishment press. Here in Alaska, Benson has been largely ignored by the Anchorage Daily News, especially in terms of her strong record over many years as an advocate for civil rights, womens' rights and protection for victims of sexual abuse.

When, last fall, her campaign gave the
ADN over three days notice on her press conference announcing her request for a U.S. House ethics investigation into the probably unconstitutional conduct of Rep. Don Young in inserting a highly questionable earmark into the 2005 omnibus transportation bill after House passage, the ADN sent nobody to cover the story. Their excuses then were totally lame.

They've since written about the seriousness of Young's misconduct more than once, but contrary to their e-mails to the Benson campaign last fall on their lack of coverage of Benson's ethics investigation request, they've studiously avoided mentioning her role in the outrage over this issue.

I'm on the verge of saying the ADN and other Alaska media outlets have treated Benson with less respect because she's a woman of color. But that wouldn't be fair. They've avoided her because they follow the money, just as Veco and Conoco-Phillips and Exxon and a host of other monied interests who buy lots of ads in their space or time have trained them to. The fact that Benson is a woman of color is only a very small part of why she isn't considered to be somebody on the par of her two primary opponents. As Al Wynn just learned, to his surprise, we're entering a new age in terms of voter outrage.

All this being said, the Alaska Democratic Party needs to deal with the bullshit of having the Congressional Primary in late August. Whoever wins the battle to contest Don or his GOP successor this coming November, needs more than the ten weeks she or he will have to put a viable campaign together.

Donna Edwards has just been given eight months. Our next check to her campaign goes out the day after payday.

Update - Wednesday: Case in point - today's ADN carries an editorial about George Wills' anti-Don Young op-ed, referenced at PA last weekend. Again, the ADN fails to mention Diane Benson's important role in questioning Young's earmark rewrite. Why is it this out-of-touch Neanderthal wonk from inside the Beltway has more resonance with the ADN editors than this courageous Alaska Native woman?