Monday, June 30, 2008

One Wonderful, Weird Month

Our June began near Sacramento, watching our daughter and her team mates from Western Washington University totally blow away their opponents, to become NCAA Division Two Champions for the fourth season in a row. She and three other Alaska women were an important part of that effort.

We then drove a small RV around parts of rural and small town California and Oregon for two weeks, sampling locally grown vegetables, fruit and wine. We sampled local cheeses and breads, visited a couple of long lost friends.

As we travelled through these areas and others, it was easy to witness how close to many breaking points this country is getting.

Driving north out of the northeastern Sacramento suburbs, it seemed like the subdivisions might never end. We were two tihrds of the way to Marysville, hoping it was over, when the framework of another Home Depot started looming over the horizon in the western foothills of the Sierras.

We passed one evangelical mega-church that looked like the box the Anchorage Baptist Temple, the Anchorage Christian School and every other fundamentalist edifice in Alaska had come in. Its parking lot sported at least a dozen chromed-out Humvees.

In the countryside, everyone I asked noticed that the climate is changing. Fast...

It blew a lot everywhere we went. Near the coast, where salmon fishing might now be closed forever, it was windy, and colder than in years.

Back in Alaska, it is more or less the same. Here, people are saying "things are coming late." Birds, ice thaws, potato planting, salmon runs - everything is coming late.

Smoked Copper River Sockeye - Batch Two

I'm Buried Too

Award-winning journalist and photographer Robert Dillon from the blog An Alaskan Abroad may have started a new theme. He photographed a pile of unread books he's trying to find time to devour, writing, "I normally read one book at a time, but at the moment I seem to be buried beneath a bunch of books that I am part of the way though.

"And let's not talk about the pile of uncracked New Yorker magazines or this Sunday's untouched New York Times that hang over my head."

Robert goes on to explain why each book is there.

Here's my explanation:

I normally read at least two books simultaneously, or, more accurately, in alternation. But I usually don't count professional books I'm reading or reading, and reference books. But I will this time:

Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell - I love Cornwell's lowbrow versions of British history during the Napoleonic War period.

As You Like It by William Shakespeare - I'm reading and re-reading sections of it, as I start writing incidental music for a fall UAA production.

The Oxford Book of English Madrigals - some of the madrigals and texts date from the time of As You Like It, and are inspiring me.

Basic Atonal Theory by John Rahn - the classic on set theory in musical analysis and composition. A re-read for another piece I'm working on.

Disturbing the Peace by Vaclav Havel - a re-read as I'm reading and watching Diane Benson's plays. It is Havel's explanation of his life as an artist in Czechoslovakia, among other topics, mostly evolutionary politics in the midst of authoritarianism.

Sharing Our Stories of Survival - stories of women who have conquered incidents or lives of abuse, with a chapter by Diane Benson.

American Indian Quarterly - Winter/Spring 2003 - This issue contains Diane Benson's side of the Indian Girls controversy.

American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips - almost done with this excellent analysis of immensely hypocritical dysfunctional politics and government. Although it rarely mentions Alaska, it is a very important text for Alaskans!

Broken Government by John Dean - I've read much of the material in slightly different form in Dean's columns at Findlaw, but am trying to find essays I haven't read before within it.

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1924 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer - This came out last year in paperback, and I finally picked up a copy at Sea-Tac Airport. It is not thorough, but contains some great sketches of historical figures and thumbnails of cities and countries at important points of the crisis.

The New Cambridge Modern History Atlas - for reference in the Phillips and Meyer books.

We keep our New Yorkers in the bathroom, so they do get read. At least the cartoons...

I Chickened Out!

Vic Kohring envisions himself as some kind of martyr. A martyr for what he and some of his few remaining ardent adherents still believe to be his "cause." Or "mission," if you prefer.

I missed going out to the Eklutna overpass this morning. Our own Siberian irises are in bloom anyway, so why go there but to be with and speak with Kohring, and to observe his last stand at a place I have seen him many times before.

During six legislative campaigns Vic was out there in all kinds of autumn weather, waving in a down vest under rain gear, or coveralls or even a snowmobile suit, depending upon the weather. Although I never voted for Vic, I did stop and offer him coffee and donuts more than once.

Standing there with him for a few minutes, one could get a sense of the depth of popularity he felt from passing motorists. Almost ten years ago, in 1998, as I stood with Vic for about fifteen minutes, sometime between 7:00 and 7:15 a.m, hundreds of motorists honked as they drove by in a pelting, chilly October rain. Almost every oversized Dodge diesel pickup truck honked and honked as they passed, seeing Vic's proud, almost haughty waving stance outside their vehicle as a reflection of their self-perceived superiority over people around them, from within their toasty, cushy, yet rugged trucks.

When I visited him there in October, 1998, it wasn't to talk about the campaign. He was running against a good friend to whom I had donated - Wasilla educator and community activist, Lucy Hope. Vic and I talked about John Philip Sousa, band music, my band at Mat-Su College, and Vic's high school band teacher, Jim Parcell. After we ate the donuts, I continued on in to Anchorage, for an early morning meeting.

A few nights later, on KAKM's "Running" debates, I watched Vic degrade himself by purposefully tripping Lucy Hope up, with an inaccurate reference to another Wasilla activist, Karl Schleich, the man behind the Wasilla Wonderland project. I thought, "Vic is turning into just another political opportunist by being this dishonest in such a coldly calculating way."

The next day, driving by Vic, on an early November day that almost promised warmth, thinking of his debate with Lucy, I was tempted to flip him off, but just waved, and drove by, choosing not to confront him yet about his conduct on "Running." (I did bring it up with him that following winter, at a constituent meeting at the Wasilla LIO).

I was going to go out and talk to Vic this morning. I wanted to compare his reception today by drivers to the ones I had seen and heard before. I chickened out. I had some chores to do, but I could have done them later - like now. But I just couldn't go there.

I'm not quite sure why - I'm sure he'd have looked me in the eye, returning my deep, inquisitive look, as he always has, showing a broad grin.. He'd have told me how glad he was to see me.

We might have talked about the fishing he hasn't been able to do because of his back problems. I'd have asked if there's anything he might need in prison - vitamins, writing stuff? He would have probably expressed his confidence that he'll win his appeal against his conviction, once he's outside of what he genuinely believes to be the nefarious control of Judge Sedwick.

It's 11:00 a.m. now. Vic has surrendered his freedom to the Federal authorities.

I have no idea whether or not he will modify his thinking on what he is going through, once he is behind bars. His belief system is rather inflexible. And he still has, as I mentioned, a few friends who strongly believe he was framed. I guess that is a big part of why I couldn't go out to see him this morning. I didn't want to hear "his side of the story" again, like we have been hearing since the beginning of the post-trial period.

Sometimes, Alaskans Can Be More Loathsome Than Other Times

The news this morning that a young bicycle racer had been mauled by a Brown bear in Bicentennial Park kept me looking back for good news on her status through the day. The base article in the Anchorage Daily News was modified a couple of times in the morning, so I hoped to hear that she was improving. Our family joined hers and many others in prayer on Sunday.

I was totally appalled by some reader comments to the article. I won't quote any of the appalling ones. But, later in the day Sunday, a friend of the cyclist's family posted this:

On behalf of the family of the girl involved I would like to thank those of you who have posted sincere and compassionate messages wishing her and her family well. It is wonderful people like you who have made Anchorage an incredible place to grow up. As a lifelong Alaskan, the girl's father is keenly aware of Anchorage's proximity to Alaska, the wildlife that one is likely to encounter and the inherent risks of recreation and travel in our "urban wilderness." The family wishes to thank the EMT personnel and first-responders on the scene who acted quickly to get her to the hospital.

As a family friend and mentor to this exceptionally kind hearted teenager, I am appalled by the Sunday quarterbacking of many of the posters on this forum. Have you no decency??? Have you no heart??? Lawsuits??? Blame??? Fingerpointing. You are the vocal minority of Anchorage that disgusts me. It's easy for you to hide behind aliases to fire pot-shots at this family, the sport and organization that they support 100%. With a few "facts" you have seen fit to run your imaginations right off the cliff. Like lemmings straight into the abyss--which is likely where you came from--which is ultimately where you belong.

Decency! That is what the family asks for at this time. Your hopes, prayers, positive thoughts, well-wishes, and above all, decency to be compassionate at this very difficult time.

The family holds no blame for anyone involved. They fully knew the risks and chose to support their daughter who has participated in this event some 4 years of her young life which thankfully is still intact.

Please. Behave. Do your Sunday quarterbacking in private and show a little respect. At a minimum, have the guts to give your real names.

Janice Tower

Good for you, Janice!

Over the past four summers, my two kids, either Julia or Alex, or both, have worked as counselors at the Alaska Center for the Environment's Trailside Discovery Summer Camp. It is adjacent to the area where this girl was attacked. Both of my kids, while leading groups of very young kids around the camp's activity area near Campbell Creek, have had Brown bear and Black bear encounters. Alex once had two in a single day. They had been well trained in how to best deal with this.

I spoke with them after their day's work was done, and they had returned home to the Valley. What they described was the complex reality of working with little kids in situations where these very large, unpredictable animals might not react by anybody's book. Their descriptions of their efforts to shield the little kids and to clear the area of any other groups that they found nearby filled me with admiration.

This afternoon, Alex, along with two friends, went plummeting down the 16-mile ski run at Hatchers Pass on their mountain bikes. In my mind, it was far, far more dangerous than the race this young woman was in.

We live in Alaska. Bears do too. I've encountered many, lost a friend directly, and another - Ron Cole - indirectly, to bear attacks. There are almost as many bears in Alaska as there are people in the Mat-Su Borough. Every day in the summer, there is some group of Cub Scouts, church club youth, maybe even a quilting club, out there in an area where bears can just show up.

The middle of the night here in summer isn't like the middle of the night elsewhere. This bike race is a fairly longstanding event, and the young woman was doing what she and her family hoped would help her develop into a better person.

Let us hope she will continue to be able to do just that.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mudflats Added to Progressive Alaskan Blog Roll

Progressive Alaska has added the blog Mudflats to the Progressive Alaska Blog blog roll. Go check out the site's clip from today's Fox News Sunday - they watched it so we don't have to. It features neocon idiot William Kristol touting Sarah Palin as McStrange's running mate.

The site started last month. It is sort of a cross between The Immoral Minority and this place. So far....

Welcome, Mudflats!

38 Progressive Alaskan blogs, folks. Is there any kind of site that tries to catalog Regressive Republican and conservative Alaska blogs?

June 29th PA Arts Sunday -- The Fine Art of Erin McKittrick

Part of our whole “ground truth trekking” idea is that we don’t want to just read about the issues and places we’re interested in. We want to tromp around in them. We make observations while we’re there, and take photographs of course… But it’s more than that. In a way that’s hard to explain, being literally surrounded by an issue, moving through it at a couple miles an hour, sounds and smells and intimate views, gives me something different. A visceral feel for a place, to add to the facts, maps, and diagrams. --- Erin McKittrick

I've written a few times here of my high opinion of Erin McKittrick's prose and photography. I've commented on the satisfaction I've gotten seeing her narrative gift grow as she and Bretwood Higman journeyed without any motorized assistance from Seattle to Unimak Pass.

When erin and hig neared Anchorage last January, I met them, and we planned an Anchorage presentation, to be held at UAA's Fine Arts Building recital hall. When I approached the visual arts department with a request that they sponsor the talk/slide show, I didn't feel I was stretching the point. And, after looking at the content on erin and hig's blog, Mariano Gonzales, chair of the art department, agreed that erin is a true artist.

Even with her masters degree in microbiology, erin is also a jewelry maker. "We make glass jewelry using solar energy, concentrating sunlight with a giant fresnel magnifying lens," she has written.

The image at left is of a turquoise "tropical waters" chime belly ring she made before she and hig started their epic trek.

By using the description "fine" art to wrap a term around what erin is accomplishing, I'm stretching the Aristotelian origin of the term. But the definition is constantly evolving, and some have argued for quite a while that creative writing, is also, in many senses, fine art.

The combination of so many elements into what erin's art has become during this recently concluded journey is unique. Each of the artistic disciplines put together by erin - photography, videography, descriptive essays, use of artful images and words to further a sociopolitical goal, inspiration that causes other art to be created by observers of erin and hig's acts, and the communicative art of blogging - has existed before. But the total package, especially when added to the astounding physical feat erin and hig accomplished, is entirely unprecedented.

Two recent men who wrote about experiences in the Alaska wild have been treated - at least by some - as artists too: wanderer Christopher McCandless, and videographer Timothy Treadwell. The American literary affectation with using nature as a backdrop about life's meaning goes back at least as far as Henry David Thoreau's Walden. The nature photography of Ansel Adams has long been regarded as some of the world's finest art. The Banff Mountain Film Festival often contains, along with its less serious offerings, films and photographs that are certainly fine art in a moving sense.

The high level of attention given to the cases of McCandless and Treadwell is, by and large, a fetish. I wasn't surprised to see so much attention given to these two. But I am surprised at the low level of attention given to McKittrick and Higman. I first heard about them from packrafter Steve Johnson back in early October. Steve is on the Colville River right now, with his wife Barb, and daughter Erin (another Erin), packrafting for three weeks. I started paying attention to their journey in November, and as I did that, I looked to see how long it would take for the uniqueness of this journey to catch on in the local, national and world media.

It never did. The finest article, of the few written about the couple's trip, was written by Anchorage Daily News outdoors editor, Craig Medred, back in early February. It certainly didn't address erin's art past Craig commenting on erin's "amazing photographs." And in the comments to Medred's articles, readers showed a bit more about why, perhaps, these two are fundamentally underestimated:

I rank these fools right up there with the Grizzly Man,Tim Treadwell-Dead and the guy who walked into the wilderness and died at an abandoned bus a week later. I can't wait when everybody is shocked when these two go missing, Idiots....


I agree with interloper and its_a_nut
What are they doing for the enviroment besides putting more human waste out there and trying to make $$ selling books. What kind of kickback do they give you craig? or are they just more of your idiot heros like the others quoted?....


These two fell right off the turnip truck I tell ya. And I'll bet they'll cost us our hard-earned tax dollars when the Coasties and the National Guard go out to rescue them.

Now you make sure and put the Iron Dog on the front page of both the Sports section AND the Outdoors section next Sunday! This is Alaska, Craig!....


Not impressed. Somebody wake me up after they've circumnavigated a Public Housing complex in Chicago in the middle of summertime.....


Now that erin and hig have concluded their journey - I hear they will be in Seldovia where hig grew up, for the 4th of July - I'm sure more attention will be brought to the physical aspects of their trip. erin has written recently that she has found more questions than answers on this journey. I'm sure, though, that she and hig will keep asking them, hoping for new answers to old problems, and reminding us of old answers to new dilemmas.

Here's one of my favorite essays, or at least part of it, by erin:

There’s a lot of wilderness. A lot of space for folks like us to wander. But it’s nowhere near infinite, and nowhere near indestructible. Talking to people who’ve seen these places decades before we got there - it’s amazing how quickly wilderness can be lost.

Environmental Lessons:

We left Seattle last June with the idea that in the course of walking 4000 miles we would learn something. That we might see what was really going on with some of the big environmental issues in this region, and could share that with the world. It was what we told everyone: potential sponsors, reporters, friends and family. Privately we wondered - was it really going to work? With such a broad scope, we couldn’t focus on a single issue, couldn’t give an easy answer, couldn’t make an easy sound bite. The sheer length of the trip forced us out of the usual wilderness-lover’s mantra of “save my favorite place” into thornier questions of balance, sustainability, and priorities.

After 2700 miles, have we learned anything?

Everyone’s fighting over the same few places:

Much of the area we’ve walked through, no one wants. Harsh terrain, harsh weather, rocks and ice… A lot of it’s beautiful, but it doesn’t matter if it’s protected or not. Most of the wildlife, the salmon, and the merchantable timber are concentrated in the same few places. A place like the Tongass may seem big on the map, but numbers of acres don’t mean much. Many of these crucial places have already been logged, and environmental groups and logging interests are fighting over the last few scraps.

Logging in Alaska doesn’t make sense. Fishing does:

Most of our journey so far has been through the temperate rainforest zone. And as we’ve thrashed through the brush beneath the trees, we’ve watched the forests change. Douglas firs disappeared first, followed by red cedars, then yellow cedars, until we were left with spruce and hemlock. We walked north, and ever thinner growth rings showed how the trees grow more slowly. Sparser. More spindly. The second and third growth “plantation forests” are nowhere to be seen in Alaska. Up here, logging is mining.

A one-time deal in the time frame of any company. It usually takes taxpayer subsidies to even be profitable. For small-scale local use, it can make sense. For large-scale commercial operations, we should take lumber from the places where trees grow faster (we don’t harvest oranges in Alaska either).

But as the big forests have become sparser, the wildlife has become more abundant. Particularly the salmon. Listening to a lecture by Dave Montgomery (author of King of Fish), I was struck by these numbers: Washington state only has 2% of its historic salmon runs left. BC has 36%. Averaged across the state, Alaska has 100%. As we traveled, we watched dams and salmon farms give way to free-flowing streams and commercial fishing boats, and listened to folks in the south wistfully reminisce about the fish that used to be. If it’s sustainably managed, the wild salmon fishery is an industry that depends on a healthy ecosystem to survive - working to keep it alive for hungry bears and wilderness-loving packrafters.

And so tasty!

images by erin

Who Contributed the Most to the Development of Alaska?

Love him or hate him, it is undeniable Ted Stevens has done more than anyone in history to contribute to the development of Alaska.

That's what Dan Fagan, one of Alaska's worst historians, had to say in this morning's Anchorage Daily News, in an opinion piece he penned about what appears to be a pretty lousy history book, commemorating fifty years of Alaska statehood. After reading Fagan's Gail Phillips-fueled anti-Sarah Palin diatribe, I wasn't about to go out and buy this book, which I hadn't heard about yet. Reading through the comments, though, it appears I may be able to pick up a copy for free.

I neither love nor hate Senator Ted Stevens. He has certainly been useful to Alaskans - to some, far more than for others. I called his office last week, urging him to vote on Sen. Russ Feingold's amendment to the FISA legislation being considered. The last time he wrote back was the time before I urged him to retire at the end of this term, with dignity - about three years ago.

But is Sen. Stevens undeniably the person who has done the most for Alaska since statehood? I can certainly think of others who had roles at least as important as any Stevens has had. Fagan's contention that Sen. Stevens was once "the third most powerful man in the country," is almost correct technically, but quite false in real terms.

Sen. Stevens' chief claim to fame is probably that he has had such influence over such a long span, and that, at times, he was able to see beyond the sort of snide, ill-informed partisanship Fagan snidely wallows in, to create meaningful legislation. Like many important Alaskan historical figures, Stevens was there when an important issue came up, or a decision had to be made.

But we'll never know that if, somehow Jay Hammond or Chancy Croft or Giorgiana Lincoln had become our U.S. Senator for life, things would have worked out better for Alaskans over a similar time span.

Perhaps the three single most important decisions made in Alaska since statehood had nothing to do with Sen. Ted Stevens. They were the 1959-60 stopping of Project Chariot, the 1964 state selection of Prudhoe Bay, and the creation of the Permanent Fund. Although the first of these three events was certainly a complex collaboration, the second and third are attributed, respectively to Democratic Governor Bill Egan, and to Republican Governor Jay Hammond.

As more information comes out about Project Chariot, it becomes more obvious that we came very, very close to having five thermonuclear explosions happen within a few miles of one of the most important settlements in North America, Point Hope.

Point Hope has been continuously inhabited since before the Battle of Thermopylae. It was over 200 years old when Alexander the Great founded new cities in the mountains of Afghanistan. It was over 500 years old when Jesus fought against conservatives until they killed him. It was 1,000 years old when the Western Roman Empire fell. It was over 1,600 years old when the Magna Carta was signed, 2,000 years old when Columbus discovered the West Indies, and 2,300 years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Point Hope was over 2,500 years old when the United Sates military and Atomic Energy Commission began forcibly removing Pacific Islanders from their ancestral homes so that atomic and hydrogen bombs could be tested in the atmosphere. When, in 1958, the Atomic Energy Commission's Department of Nuclear Excavation sought to remove the Inupiat people from around Point Hope, the modern American environmental movement began. The successful fight had more than a little to do with the empowerment of Alaska Natives, and helped fuel their hopes for meaningful political and economic power in the state's development.

These peoples' fight to keep their homes, to keep their lands from being irradiated, and to end the madness of atmospheric testing, is to me, one of the greatest of all Alaska stories. And how different would the history of Alaska be had this increasingly important part of Alaska been toxified for twenty times longer than Point Hope has existed, merely to demonstrate to the nearby soviet Union - which no longer exists - that, when it came to atmospheric testing, the USA, as Dan Fagan might put it, wasn't about to "cut and run," or to "surrender?"

Had the five bombs been detonated, Point Hope, Kivalina, Noatak, Kiana, Noorvik, Selawik, Point Lay and many other villages and towns would have had to have been evacuated. For generations, if not longer. All the caribou in northern Alaska and Canada would have developed even higher levels of Strontium 90 than they did during the few years of atmospheric testing, making them unusable as game, and most likely decimating many herds. The incredibly beautiful Kobuk River basin would have become an environmental basket case.

Bill Egan's decision to select Prudhoe Bay was done, most certainly, with the help of knowledgeable staff. Hammond's bold decision to create the Permanent Fund, was likewise informed by many experts. But in the sense of being collective decisions, or decisions that couldn't have happened without tremendous input from a wide array of individuals and groups, the thwarting of Chariot is also in a league of its own.

So often, when I see praise of St. Ted and his "earmarks," or scan the list of projects his office wants to give him sole credit for, I just have to shake my head. Like when his office credits him not just for the F-22s coming to Elmendorf, but for the hangers they have to build or modify to service the fighter jets. As if the Pentagon, as dysfunctional as it sometimes is, is going to keep these $140 million dollar aircraft out in the weather 24/7? This is just one of many examples of how Stevens is given credit for something that would happen no matter who our U.S. Senator is.

images - Bill Egan on Cat; Project Chariot blast plot; hunter at sunset near Point Hope; St. Ted

Saturday, June 28, 2008

erin and hig did it....

Unimak Island is the outer limit of the bear’s range, the outer limit of the caribou’s range, and the outer limit of the packrafter’s range. Twelve treacherous miles of Unimak Pass, with strong currents and the Aleutians’ ever-present winds, stood between us and the next island’s shore.

It was beyond the reach of our tiny yellow packrafts.

That's how erin sums up the outer end
of their non-motorized journey from Seattle to the western tip of Unimak Island, the first island of the Aleutian Chain. I sense they would have gone on and on, could they have. But their superb sense of what people can or cannot do has been at least a step beyond uncanny.

erin promises a book. And a movie, too.
After such an important journey as theirs, a book and movie are almost inevitable.

But, along with having performed a physical feat nobody alive can think of as anything less than spectacular, they also showed that the ability to communicate to the entire world, free of having to rely on regular print and broadcast media, can be taken to new levels, as they updated us from isolated settlements, villages, towns and lodges.

They were finally attacked by a bear on Unimak. Or at least their gear was. They ended up repairing most of it with dental floss, over the course of a long, watchful, wet night.

I'm going to once again spend part of Sunday's arts article, sharing some of erin's most magnificent photos and writing with any of you who might not have yet had the opportunity to appreciate the quality and high level of inspiration that is the work of Erin McKittrick.

images by erin

Smoked Copper River Sockeye - Batch One

Saturday Progressive Blog Roundup - June 28, 2006

Award winning Anchorage writer and UAA educator Amanda Coyne has begun writing for the Huffington Post blog. She created two articles this week - one on our lousy not very nice summer, and one on Barack Obama coming to Alaska before the November election.

Coyne's first essay takes a look at the state of politics in Alaska, penned for the eyes of outsiders who might not be up-to-date on us. Here's one example:

Two Dems, Ethan Berkowitz and Diane Benson, are vying for Young's seat. Berkowitz, a long-time former state legislator, is wicked smart, quick witted, and preppin' for a fight. Diane Benson is Alaska Native, a mother of a wounded Iraq war veteran, has little party but wide grassroots support. She took Young on in 2006 and shocked the state by winning more than 40 percent of the vote.

Stevens will likely be facing popular two-term Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who is one of those rare breads of getter-done Democrats, and who has political pedigree in Alaska. (His father, Nick Begich, was a Democratic U.S. Legislator, who, along with U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Bogs, died in a plane crashed in 1972 less than one month before he was to face off against challenger Don Young. Begich won the race posthumously.)

Senator John McCain's opposition to opening ANWR to oil exploration (exploration that most Alaskans support), his tiffs with Stevens about earmarks, and the fact that he isn't quite Republican enough to psych them up or Libertarian enough to psych them up, has resulted in putting Senator Obama in play here, and a picnic filled with Alaskans of all colors (yes, we've got color) sporting Obama T-shirts.

Howie Klein's national progressive blog Down With Tyranny featured an Alaska Update that I wrote for him, this past Monday. Like Amanda's essay, mine was written for outsiders who want to know more about Alaska.

Howie was on National Public Radio's All Things Considered on Thursday, talking about how telecom companies have been making large donations this month to politicians whose votes they hope to influence in the retroactive immunity aspects of he renewal and changes in the FISA statutes. We'll see next month how Don Young, Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski sold their votes fared in this.

Deirdre Helfferich at the Ester Republic, comments on how Don Young sold his vote on this bill.

Howie Klein also hosts firedoglake's Blue America session, every Saturday, from noon to 2:00 p.m, Alaska time. He will be hosting Anchorage Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Begich on Saturday, July 12, from noon to 2, with internet phenom and Begich blogger Mark Browner Hamlin helping at the controls. I hope to be there, observing. Matt's most recent entry, from today, announces General Wesley Clark's endorsement of Mark.

I'm impressed with the quality of the Anchorage Daily News Newsreader, since Kathleen McCoy has taken it over. It seems to be posted earlier than before, with more incisive commentary by McCoy, and she is seeking out wider sources for her posts.

Late yesterday, ADN Editorial Page Editor, David Hulen posted a request at the ADN Political Blog for people to come up with questions for a candidate questionnaire to be directed at the candidates for U.S. Senate and U.S. House. You can participate in this!

Robert Dillon, at an Alaskan Abroad, is more knowledgeable about natural gas and oil issues than any other Alaska reporter. This past week has made interesting reading there, when I've been able to find the time. He wrote a primer on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that is a must read for anyone who wants to go from uninformed to wonk in one big step.

This week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that reduced the punitive award in the Exxon Valdez case to over 30,000 people, to an amount equivalent to the retirement bonus of ex-Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, was touched upon by many progressive Alaska blogs:

Steve at What Do I Know? posted the Court's syllabus on the case - very through and interesting in a retrospective way.

Wesley Loy, from the ADN's Highliner blog, was in Cordova at the time the decision was announced. He blogged about that community's reaction in the midst of a not very productive fishing summer. He notes that no nonsense Cordovans aren't lingering in bitterness. They're too busy working for that.

Green Mountain Boy at Alaska Chinook, posted an anti-Lisa Murkowski rant, also pillorying the class action lawsuit's attorneys and the whole approach to trying to settle with Exxon through class action litigation. At times, he makes a lot of sense. Like me, he could have been a plaintiff, but chose not to be.

Kathleen McCoy, writing for the ADN Alaska Newsreader blog, did the best roundup of out-of-state and in-state coverage of the decision there is. At the bottom of her post, she does a roundup of Alaska bloggers' reactions.

I've written a lot on this case, dating back to November. When the decision was announced, I was dipnetting for Copper River Sockeye and Chinook, deep in Wood Canyon. Cordova fishers, among those - along with the Prince William Sound communities of Tatitlik and Chenega - most damaged by Exxon's and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company's negligence, are not fans of the Chitina dipnet fishery, so when I heard of the decision on NPR, driving through that very non-NPR town of Glennallen, I felt a small twang of guilt.

Ishmael Melville at Kodiak Konfidential posted a number of items about the spill judgement, and various reactions to it. His is by far the best set of looks at how real Alaskans reacted to the announcement, and his insights, as usual, are seriously thoughtful, even when humorous.

Celtic Diva posted four articles about aspects of the spill at Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis. Each is a further example of how quickly she has developed into one of the most important writers on Alaska and how what happens here relates to events in other parts of the country and vice versa.

Her first essay was in reaction to the ADN's story on the judgement comments. I believe the 455 or more comments to the story may be a record for the paper's comments section. Even Sarah Palin has never gotten that many. CD then wrote about some of the reactions of various local politicians and Cordova progressive Rikki Ott, to the spill.

She wrote two brilliant pieces on how the litigation's effect might play out on John McCain's presidential campaign, here and elsewhere.

Vic Kohring's Federal hearing happened while we were limiting out, dipnetting on the Copper River, so I missed that. It was the first event in his trial and post trial proceedings I've missed. Steve at What Do I Know? was there. Steve wrote an informative essay on what Vic will be getting into, prison-wise, and posted video he took after the hearing.

I hope to be with Vic Kohring for part of his "farewell" to supporters and the rest of us, on Monday morning.

images: Amanda Coyne speaking to the Alaska Professional Communicators, Howie Klein speaking to People for the American Way, Exxon Valdez spill map, Mat-Su Valley sign

Friday, June 27, 2008

June 27th Odds & Ends

I hope to be out on the Glenn Highway with Vic Kohring for at least part of the time, as he waves "goodbye" to folks for three hours on Monday morning, just before he goes in to Anchorage and surrenders to Federal authorities, to be transported off to prison. It will be a quintessential Vic moment.

An editor told me earlier this evening, "it's sad, isn't it?"

I replied that it isn't. I worked in public safety for almost 13 years, and in corrections for almost seven. I sent hundreds of people back to prison when I worked for Allvest, a company that owned and operated the Cordova Center back in the 80s and 90s. The correctional systems, whether local, state or Federal, are machines. What they do to people in this country is quite complex. Vic's experience will not be sad compared to what one often sees happen. And Vic himself is possibly capable of learning from this phase of his life and using it to become a more useful, more multi-dimensional person.

He still hopes to prevail too. In an article in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman today, Kohring said, "greeting the morning commuters is my way of expressing appreciation to the many people who have supported me over the years. I wish to say thank you and goodbye, but only for now, as I anticipate success with my appeal and returning for a new trial.”

The Federal government wasn't sterling clear in quantifying how much Vic received from Veco. It is hard sometimes to put the price on what a late night cheeseburger with Bill meant at the Juneau McDonalds during the closing days of a legislative session. But one thing that was clear in the Kohring trial was that Veco didn't just hand their money out through some sort of a philanthropic program. They clearly saw something in Kohring's makeup and his position in the legislature that got them to fork over money in ways Kohring grew to anticipate.

Sterling clear.

Less clear is the relationship with Veco during his legislative tenure of current U.S. AK-AL House candidate Ethan Berkowitz. After former Alaska governor Tony Knowles, Berkowitz was the biggest recipient of campaign contributions from Veco on the Democratic Party side of the aisle in Juneau. But how much that was is hard to find. APOC records only go back so far on their web site. And I'm unfamiliar with all the names of the Veco employees who were reimbursed for their personal contributions to politicians by the company.

As an example of how confusing other information - not from APOC - can be, I'll cite an experience I had today. The Anchorage Daily News has a story up about the Diane Benson campaign's recent endorsement by 21st Century Democrats, a progressive organization helping Democrats they feel fit their agenda. In the comments, I cited a figure for Berkowitz's Veco contributions in 2000. Somebody from the Berkowitz campaign called the ADN, claiming my figure was erroneous.

The Berkowitz campaign person was correct. I was off by $2,000. I claimed $10,000, rather than the $8,000 cited in an Associated Press article carried in the Juneau Empire back in September 2006.

The ADN got hold of me, saying my comment was being removed at the request of the Berkowitz campaign. This within minutes of my posting of the comment. Later, I spoke with the editor, telling him I had been wrong, but had posted a subsequent comment, citing the article directly. I didn't dispute the removal.

Interestingly, the ADN editor cited to me an article at odds with the Empire article. Here's what the ADN editor sent me, under the byline of Matt Volz, from the Associated Press:

Former Gov. Tony Knowles, who is the Democratic nominee again this year, is one of the few Democrats who has received contributions from VECO, and only when he was running for re-election in 1998. Knowles received $10,975 from company executives that year, according to his campaign. His running mate, House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, also received $3,000 from VECO officials in 1998 and 2000, according to APOC records. Neither plans to return the money from those past campaigns, spokeswoman Patty Ginsburg said.

Here's the relevant section of the Juneau Empire article from the next day, that I used for the $8,000 figure:

Former Gov. Tony Knowles, who is the Democratic nominee again this year, is one of the few Democrats who has received contributions from VECO, and only when he was running for re-election in 1998. Knowles received $10,975 from company executives that year, according to his campaign. His running mate, House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, received $8,000 from VECO officials in 2000. Neither plans to return the money from those past campaigns, spokeswoman Patty Ginsburg said.

I'm known for being highly critical of Ethan Berkowitz's campaign funding in this cycle. I've only brought up his past support from Veco recently. The Benson campaign, hoping to keep to the high road, has sought to talk me out of bringing this up. Their position on criticism of Berkowitz has been to stay away from anything that could hurt the party's chances from taking the AK-AL seat in November.

But this is an important issue. Let's get back to these two versions of what appears to be the same Matt Volz article. The $5,000 discrepancy could be an error, or it could be creative editing. The meat is in the difference between the ADN's version:

Berkowitz, also received $3,000 from VECO officials in 1998 and 2000, according to APOC records...

and the Empire version:

Berkowitz, received $8,000 from VECO officials in 2000...

Could they both somehow be correct? I doubt it. Where's the error?

Progressive Alaska would like to take this opportunity to invite Ethan Berkowitz or a spokesperson from the Berkowitz for U.S. Congress campaign to write a guest post at Progressive Alaska, clearing up this and other campaign finance issues.

If you have a question on campaign financing you would like Ethan's campaign to address, you can post a comment, or e-mail me at mungerniklake at gmail dot com.

Update - Saturday at 10:00 a.m: From information I'm getting at the e-mail address I posted above, it appears that the amount of $8,000.00 to Berkowitz by Veco in 2000, as published in September, 2006, may be an error. Possibly a typo, but I'm not sure yet. No e-mails or comments yet from anyone currently working on Ethan's campaign. One person did send in some of the data on Ethan's acceptance of lots of money from the cruise ship industry in the 2006 races. More on that later.

Update - Monday at 11:30 a.m: Looking through APOC figures for 2000, it appears that the Juneau Empire version of the Septmber 5-6, 2000 AP story by Matt Volz is in error. Berkowitz took less from Veco in 2000 than it alleges. I have used that figure erroneously here and at the ADN politics blog. The fact remains, though, that Berkowitz was viewed by Bill Allen and Veco in 2000 as a very useful Democrat to them in Alaska, and that when Berkowitz was questioned later about the campaign contribution, he refused to return the money.

Back From Fishing the Copper River

Tuesday evening my friend Freddie, son Alex, daughter Julia (the NCAA rowing champ) and I packed up the dip nets and other gear, loaded up on sandwiches, coffee, water and ice, and headed up the Glenn Highway toward Chitina.

Although most fishing reports from the Copper River during the week leading up to our trip had been dismal, with high water and few fish, we had to go then to fit the schedules of all four of us. We didn't have high expectations, but felt immediately rewarded by the beautiful, long sunset, driving through the upper Matanuska canyons and into the high country near Gunsite Mountain.

We all managed to get at least an hour of sleep between arriving at O'Brien Creek, and lining up with other dippers along the bank of the Copper River, to await the charter boat skippers' arrival at about 5:00 a.m. It was cold - 39 degrees - and windy. At just before 4:50 a.m, the sun came up, promising warmth in a few hours. We managed to get on the second load of fishers, with longtime friend Mark Hem at the helm of one of the most banged up, yet skillfully worked jet boats in Alaska.

The ride down the Copper River into Wood Canyon, where the multi-braided river becomes one constricted channel, never ceases to amaze me, even after fifteen years of taking the trip. The surging, downward flow of the river, forcing its way through the coastal Chugach Mountains, to reach the sea, is inexorably powerful. We rode all the way down the main throat of the canyon, and were set ashore at a feature sometimes called "Ship Rock."

Ship Rock is a very exposed outcropping, with a couple of back eddies that are among the most productive fishing spots in the areas open to dip netting. It is also very dangerous, and roping up and movement discipline are musts for fishers. We set up for three to fish, and one to deal with the catch, from up on a ledge above the water, out of the dipping zone.

Alex and I have fished here before, so we got right into the routine. I love to catch fish, but last year, as I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery, and didn't want to work my arms too hard, we found out that by having one person handle all the fish away from where they are being caught isn't just the safest way to fish the place, it is the most productive. A couple of the four nets we brought have gill net web in them, and the fish can get rather tangled. My seven years experience as a Copper River gillnetter back in the 1970s gives me an edge on how to unravel fish in the gill net web, so I cleared the fish, clipped their tail fins, strung them up, and did the paper work. Then I'd sit on my perch fifteen feet above the river, cheer leading the other three.

"King, King, King!" I'd shout. It worked twice. Both Julia and Alex had really big Kings in their nets that they couldn't manage to bag, but Julia and Freddie both caught nice 30-pounders. I did go down and catch a few while others took my spot on the ledge for a break from routine. But no Kings for me.

The early afternoon sunshine was wonderful, but I then had to keep bringing water up from a nook behind the rock, and dump the cold water onto the burlap and grass cuttings covering the fish, so they wouldn't start to spoil.

We limited out in just under seven hours, and were picked up a few minutes later. As the last of us stepped into the boat's cabin and sat her tired butt down onto the bench seat, I said a quiet prayer of thanks for our catch and for our safety.

We heard about the Exxon Valdez settlement on our way back through Glennallen. Both Freddie and I could have been plaintiffs in the suit, but chose not to participate. My theory is that a day of worrying about what one's attorneys are doing or thinking, is a day erased from the book of life.

Within 22 hours of leaving Palmer, we were back home, getting ready to brine or vacuum seal this year's Copper River bounty. As I write, the smokehouse is about to disgorge its first of three loads. My King salmon ceviche, made from the scraps left on the carcasses of the two Kings, after they had been filleted, should be ready any minute now. I think I'll steal a taste.....


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vic Kohring's Wednesday Morning Hearing

Wednesday morning at 11:00 a.m. ex-Rep. Vic Kohring will be standing in front of Federal Judge John Sedwick, asking for more time before he has to report to prison.

According to Vic's and my longtime friend, Fred James, Kohring will present documents from physicians stating that he has been unable to schedule important surgery in the time granted between his sentencing and the present. Fred says that the physicians will report that after the surgery Kohring will need at least six weeks of physical therapy as part of the recovery process, before reporting.

According to Fred, Vic's public defender has advised him not to expect an extension for the surgery. I told Fred that unless the Federal attorneys can present evidence that Kohring does not need the surgery, or that it can be preformed while Kohring is incarcerated, Sedwick may have to grant the extension.

Steve at What Do I Know? has already written about the hearing, and I believe he will be covering it tomorrow, along with the Alaska Report and the Anchorage Daily News.

I hope to be a little downriver from Chitina.....

Monday, June 23, 2008

MSNBC Continues the Kos Meme on Berkowitz vs. Young

MSNBC did an Ethan Berkowitz the musher story today. It was called Way Up North....

About a musher who doesn't actually exist.

It described two races - not dogsled races - that also don't exist. The Ethan Berkowitz-Don Young race, or - if something the article can't describe happens - the Ethan Berkowitz Sean Parnell race.

Berkowitz has worked with dog teams here and there over the years, from Antarctica to Spenard. But his mushing creds run rather short. Don Young has taken numerous photo ops over the years on dogsleds, with mushers, giving out awards to teams at the ends of races. I'm not aware of any mushing pictures of Sean Parnell out there, but there have to be some, eh?

The MSNBC article, by L. D. Kirshenbaum, fails to mention that Ethan Berkowitz isn't running his dogs against Young or Parnell. He may not get to.

To its credit, the Berkowitz campaign web page hasn't yet linked to Kirshenbaum's piece of failed journalism. Instead, they put up a header on their press page today describing his Sunday debate in Fairbanks with the musher he's got to beat, Diane Benson. The header says:

Democrats Benson, Berkowitz agree on energy, attack Young

It is the first time either campaign has acknowledged their opponent in a campaign page header. Hats off to Ethan's new campaign team. They probably found some new found respect for Benson in the Sunday debate in Fairbanks, hosted by the Fairbanks Democrats.

When I first started volunteering for Diane Benson, two years ago, she described something quite moving. When she got back to Chugiak from attending to her son and other wounded warriors in early 2006, she saw hers and her son's dogs were restless from inattention, lack of exercise. She checked them out, gave them lots of pats and hugs and soft words.

Diane and Latseen didn't have a lot of dogs by serious mushing standards, but she got a good team together, mixing her son's dogs with her own.

She ran them hard. For several days. The dogs loved it!

She cried a lot.

Soon afterward, Diane Benson began her race to truly represent us.

I doubt the Berkowitz campaign has anything to do with the false meme portrayed by Markos Moulitsas at DailyKos and by MNBC's article today, that Benson's campaign doesn't exist. I over-reacted back in early May, blaming part of this myth's advancement on Jake Metcalfe and Ethan, after seeing continuing neglect of Benson's fight, in an injudicious way. I'm learning.

But two things strike me as important, as the MSNBC article continues this false narrative. The first is that Alaskans resent it when outsiders like Moulitsas and MSNBC totally misunderstand what is happening in Alaska. The second is that the Berkowitz campaign may or may not wish to continue taking advantage of this myth, as they did to raise money based on Kos's articles.

We'll see...

Update - Tuesday, 11:00a.m: Steve at What Do I Know? is also piqued by the MSNBC article's errors of omission.

A commenter notes that since PA posted this essay, the Berkowitz campaign has linked to the egregious MSNBC story.

PA's Down With Tyranny Alaska Update

Howie Klein's blog Down With Tyranny posted this essay today. He wanted an Alaska political races update:


by Phil Munger

The Alaska primaries will occur on August 26, the same day the Democratic National Convention opens in Denver. Since my last update for Down With Tyranny on the two important statewide races, those for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Ted Stevens, and for the U.S. House seat currently held by Don Young, a lot has happened. And the Alaska Democratic Party, hoping to ride a wave of voter dissatisfaction over the combination of corruption and ineptitude exemplified by Alaska's GOP party and legislative leadership, is working hard to at least take control of the State Senate, if not the lower chamber.

The U.S. Senate Republican primary will pit Ted Stevens against former state legislator, banker and B-grade movie producer, David Cuddy. Cuddy spent a million dollars in his unsuccessful 1996 bid, challenging Stevens in the primary. Cuddy pulled in 27% of he vote for his efforts.

His platform is far more conservative than that of Stevens. Ted Stevens, for all his support for Bush's tax proposals, war funding, and deconstruction of Federal oversight, is more liberal than the average Alaska Republican. Stevens is pro-choice, has saved both the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts more than once, and has been known to make his share of bipartisan deals over the decades. The Ted Stevens platform doesn't bring any of that up, though. His platform is simple in its elegance - "Elect me and the pork will keep coming, throw me out and it will stop colder and quicker than a door slamming in an Arctic gale."

Cuddy's platform calls for national school vouchers, making the Bush tax cuts permanent, term limits, a ban on abortion, and an ending of citizenship rights for the children of aliens born in the USA. He also calls for the end of the Patriot Act, and is against real ID. His health care plan is to tweak the system to make it more efficient, more affordable.

On the Democratic side of the U.S. Senate primary contest, popular current Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is running against ex-state representative Ray Metcalfe. Ray Metcalfe has been lauded in Alaska since May, 2006, as one of the people responsible for the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice coming down like a hammer on several key GOP legislative leaders, and on oil company service giant, Veco (better known as the Corrupt Bastards Club), for a series of searches, arrest, trails and convictions that have made state history, and left the GOP power structure quite shaken. One Federal marshall told me last year, "this wouldn't have happened without Ray."

But Ray Metcalfe's campaign hasn't gained traction. Although he's presented sensible, fairly progressive stances on most issues at his campaign site, the party machinery is irritated by his accusations of corruption against former Alaska governor, Tony Knowles, and his primary opponent, Begich. And his campaign organization is minimalist at best.

Mark Begich has assembled the most impressive campaign machine I recall ever seeing organized in Alaska by a Democrat. They actually have a two-story headquarters at the edge of the Spenard district in Anchorage, with several volunteers or staff in the place 18/7. Begich's internet presence goes far beyond that of any candidate in Alaska history from either party.

Begich has a reputation, going back to when he was on the Anchorage Assembly, of calling in to the local right-wing AM-Radio talk programs if a host or caller begins to complain about a government program run by or touted by Begich. In those situations, he can be very disarming, and does well. Begich's internet appearances, most notably one at the blog firedoglake on May 29, have been less sure-footed. Montana Senator Jon Tester was in Alaska with Begich, and the two commented at a Blue America session, hosted by Jane Hamsher. Tester became used to these appearances and the firedoglake ambience during his 2006 campaign. Begich, in his comments, didn't show the flair he's exhibited on Anchorage talk radio, or in his comments at the Anchorage Daily News's political blogs.

The most likely outcome of the senatorial primaries will give victories to Stevens and Begich. Pollsters all around the country are interested in this contest, as a Begich victory over Alaska's patron saint would be an almost seismic shift in Alaska and presumed Red State politics. This past week, two polls came out, one or the other showing each of the two in the lead - if the election were held "today." It is quite close, and Stevens is putting in more visits to tiny villages, and giving more speeches on "important" legislation he is backing, in the past month, than he usually pulls off in a good year.

The GOP AK-AL U.S. House race primary has Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, and Kodiak Representative Gabrielle LeDoux against Representative Don Young. Parnell announced his candidacy during the raucous first morning of the Alaska GOP convention last winter. Young, who was already losing a fundraising battle to LeDoux at the time of the announcement, jumped up for glee when Parnell declared his candidacy.

He's not nearly so happy now, as conservative groups, newspapers, magazines and blogs have come out in support of Parnell. The Club for Growth, the Wall Street Journal, National Review and their web-based NRO, are just a few of the Parnell supporters who have gotten so upset with Young, they're willing to paint a fake portrait of Parnell as some sort of conservative intellectual giant that appears quite ridiculous to Alaskans right and left, who know Sean better. But that isn't keeping conservatives from donating to Parnell.

And for Young, at least, the fundraising battle has been more of a fundraiding battle. Young's published reports from 2007 and 2008 show him spending over $1,000,000 on legal fees attendant to his being investigated for corrupt practices by various Federal agencies, including the FBI. In the last quarter of 2007, here's how the candidates' fundraising went:

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

For Young, the first quarter of 2008 went better - $164,000. But he continued to have to pay substantial sums to attorneys. He's probably pushing $1.2 million in legal fees for 2007 and 2008 by now.

Polls consistently show Parnell beating Young in August. And the two Democrats running in August, have published polls beating Young. The only poll throwing Parnell in against one of the two Democrats, shows Parnell narrowly beating Ethan Berkowitz in November.

The potential Parnell-Berkowitz matchup seems to worry top Alaska Democrats less than it should, for two reasons: First, during the time both Berkowitz and Parnell served in the Alaska legislature - Berkowitz in the House from 1996 to 2006 (Minority Leader 1999-2006), Parnell in the House from 1992 to 1996, and the Senate from 1996 until he was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2006, Berkowitz and his fellow Democrats were up against one of the most tightly disciplined GOP machines in the USA. Parnell, as unimaginative as he is, was a part of that.

Secondly, in the 2006 gubernatorial race, Berkowitz was the junior partner in Tony Knowles' failed bid to once again be Alaska's governor. In a three-way race against Republican Sarah Palin, and ex-GOP state legislator Andrew Halcro, Knowles and Berkowitz lost to Palin and Parnell, despite outspending Palin's campaign by nearly $500,000, which is a lot of money in Alaska politics. During the same 2006 campaign, Diane Benson, Berkowitz's opponent in the 2008 Democratic primary, spending less than 20% of what the Knowles/Berkowitz ticket spent, pulled in almost 94,000 votes statewide, compared to Knowles' 97,000-plus.

Parnell will beat Young in August, unless Young can somehow pull a rabbit, or maybe a Polar bear, out of his hat. If I were Young, I'd be afraid to even reach into that hat. He's more likely to pull out Jack Abramoff's ghost than a rabbit.

The Alaska primary system is almost archaic, and as many polls that have been made over hypothetical matchups here, none quite seems to grasp what the reality might be on the ground on August 26. The most recent figures on statewide voter registration - from last month, show the following:

Alaska Independence Party -- 13,338
Democratic Party -- 71,832
Libertarian Party -- 7,401
Republican Party -- 119,031
Non-Partisan -- 72,871
Undeclared -- 178,325
Green Party -- 3,050
Other -- 6,508

One way to look at this is to match it up thusly:

Democrats -- 71,832
GOP -- 119,031
The rest -- 281,493

Unaligned and small party Alaska voters outnumber Democrats and Republicans combined by almost 150%! In the primary, there will be three ballots. Voters can vote on ballot measures only. Anyone can vote on the Democratic Party ballot (which includes the ballot measures). Only GOP, non-partisans and undeclared voters may vote on the GOP ballot (which also includes the ballot measures).

There will be four ballot initiatives, on establishing a gaming commission (Alaska is not very developed, gambling-wise), on amending same-day airborne hunting of wolves and Grizzly bears, on providing for public funding in campaigns, and one on regulation of water quality in the mining industry. None of these is likely to draw a huge crowd of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, as some measures have in the past. It is likely that the ballot measures will draw potential voters fairly evenly from across the spectrum.

Back to the Democrats running in the AK-AL primary. At the beginning of 2008, there were three viable candidates registered for this race:

Diane Benson had challenged Don Young in 2006, after beating Ray Metcalfe in the primary. She received almost 41% of the vote in a race in which she was out-spent by over 5 to 1. It was the closest any candidate had gotten to Young since the early 1990s, and all this - in 2006 - before the seriousness of the liabilities facing Don Young had become at all clear to the average Alaska voter. She expected major challengers to notice her 2006 race's result, and to step up for the 2008 primary campaign.

In August 2007, Jake Metcalfe (no relationship to Ray Metcalfe, the U.S. Senate challenger), stepped down as chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, and announced - from Washington, DC - that he was filing for the AK-AL primary. His campaign failed to gain much traction. Even Diane Benson's grassroots campaign was pulling in more money and a much larger donor list than was Metcalfe's.

In early May, the Fairbanks News-Miner ran a story linking a Jake Metcalfe campaign worker to a scheme, whereby when one clicked on a web address that appeared to be connected to Ethan Berkowitz's campaign, one was redirected to one of two sites, one a LGBT site in San Francisco, another with baubles for rich kids. In the weeks before the News-Miner article, many of us had received e-mails that solicited us to check the sites.

It was a sad, almost silly way for Metcalfe's campaign to end. His campaign worker resigned, without admitting involvement in the scheme, and within five days of that, Metcalfe announced a suspension of his campaign.

At around the same time this happened, candidate Diane Benson was involved in one of many conferences she has participated in, during which Alaska Native or Native American women who have been victims of sex crimes speak out in order to help other victims, or to enlighten government functionaries on aspects of this awful problem. Up until May 1, Benson's participation in scores of these meetings, seminars and conferences in Alaska and other states had been kept confidential. But at an April 30 seminar in Anchorage, held by the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Commission, one of the organizers invited Anchorage Daily News reporter Lisa Demer to attend, without - as is almost always the case at these non-public meetings about abuse - letting the women who were testifying know that there was reporter present.

Demer's story featured some of Benson's testimony
. The attention subsequently drawn to Benson in this regard helped her redirect part of her campaign platform toward the problems of sexual abuse in Alaska in general, and toward Alaska Native women in particular. Her campaign has received endorsements from several women's groups, including the Alaska Women's Political Caucus, The National Women's Political Caucus, and the National Organization for Women.

At the Alaska Democratic Party's state convention, held at the Alaska State Fair grounds over Memorial Day weekend, Democrats from across Alaska - hundreds of delegates and almost 1,000 participants in all - got a chance to compare Benson and Berkowitz. The two had appeared earlier at candidate forums that included AK-AL candidates from both parties. In March, Young, LaDoux, Benson, Berkowitz and J. Metcalfe attended a forum on Alaska fisheries issues in Kodiak. In mid-May, LaDoux, Parnell, Benson and Berkowitz attended a forum held by the Hispanic Affairs Council of Alaska.

At the convention, Benson and Berowitz didn't debate, but were given two opportunities each to give speeches to the delegates. Both gave excellent accounts of themselves and what they view their campaigns to be about.

Since the convention, the Ethan Berkowitz campaign has received a couple of important endorsements. In mid-June, the moderately Blue Dog DCCC committee, Red to Blue, announced support for Berkowitz. Last week, the head of Alaska's AFL-CIO, Vince Beltrami, announced that organization's support for Berkowitz. Benson has received an important endorsement by 21st Century Democrats, a progressive PAC.

On many issues Benson and Berkowitz see eye-to-eye, particularly on the Iraq War, education, and the need for more investment around Alaska, the country and the world in renewable resource use infrastructure and delivery. Both support "responsible development" of ANWR for oil production. The most stark contrasts between the two candidates are in the realms of health care reform and in approaches to fundraising.

Benson supports major health care reforms, hoping for a strong push in the direction of a single-payer system that covers everyone. Berkowitz is more of what I call a "tweaker" on health care. His solutions to this crisis are quite similar to those of GOP candidate Sean Parnell:


Expanding medical record-keeping technology to reduce administrative costs and improve safety through information sharing.

Promote preventative care and healthy living choices.

Expanding the federal SCHIP program to cover a wider range of children
Allow for small business insurance pooling.


Prevention is the best way to avoid continually escalating health care costs.

Next, early recognition and effective treatment are necessary to limit disease’s impact on the individual and on the community at large.

States need local flexibility.

Both of those primary race candidates - in separate races - are very health care industry-friendly in their approaches to the problem, and a scanning of both candidates' contributors will reinforce that fact.

Regarding the differences between Benson's funding approach and Berkowitz's, much of these differences are basically reflective of their political backgrounds and connections.

Benson is, as in her 2006 contest against Don Young, running a grassroots campaign. With a longer list of donors than Berkowitz, she is pulling in less money. She is relying on a lot of small in-state donations, money from Alaska Native and Native American groups, and out-of-state ActBlue donations from progressives.

Berkowitz is highly reliant on larger donations, many from people in the health care industry, attorneys, and longtime well-heeled in-state Democrats. He has been able to take advantage of the perception held by many old-school Democrats and independents that Benson is too liberal, and not well enough connected to existing political machinery, to carry the state against Parnell or Young.

At a debate held Sunday in Fairbanks by the Fairbanks Area Democrats, both candidates seemed to reinforce the growing perception that - even with his greater financial support - Berkowitz is in a real contest for the nomination.

There has been talk in Alaska and elsewhere of the possibility of Barack Obama carrying Alaska in November. Obama's campaign started running TV ads here over the weekend. Two of his top advisors have Alaska connections, and have all but promised that Obama will campaign here. The last Democrat to win Alaska was LBJ, the last candidate to campaign here, Richard Nixon. I've yet to see a John McCain sign in Alaska, but Obama signs - both official and home-made - abound. Here were the February 4th numbers, consolidating the Democratic Party caucus numbers with those of the GOP "voter preference" poll numbers:

Barack Obama --- 6,471
Mitt Romney --- 5,177
Mike Huckaby --- 2,596
Hillary Clinton --- 2,138
Ron Paul --- 2,004
John McCain --- 1,837

I heard several reports on February 5 and 6 by Ron Paul supporters, that the Romney people worked hard to disenfranchise Paul votes in the polling places, so McCain probably did even worse than that. McCain's flip-flops last week on opening ANWR to oil development - he was against it before he was for it - may have more than a little bit to do with concerns about our puny three electoral votes.

There is also a fair chance that Democrats will end up controlling the Alaska legislature in November. The current legislature has nine Democrats and eleven GOP in the Senate, 17 Democrats and 23 GOP in the House. The earlier 24th legislature had an 8-12/26-14 makeup. Since the 2006 election, severl GOP figures have gone to jail. Others are awaiting sentencing. Just last week, the current Senate President, Wasilla's Lyda Green, announced she will not be running again for the seat she has handily held since 1994.

There will be more such announcements soon after the next round of FBI indictments comes down.

Trust me.