Ah Hawaii. The place where white on the ground means sand, not snow. The place where you can walk outside without fourteen layers of clothes even in the winter. Hawaii… Alaska’s other paradise.
I’m going to Hawaii for my godchild’s college graduation. I’ll be there four days. This information usually causes people to look at me as though I’m slightly deranged, and ask why only four days when I could stay ever so much longer. The truth is that as much as I try otherwise, I simply don’t want to spend any length of time in a warm paradise. Give me my cold paradise every time.
This might have something to do with the fact that I grew up in Atlantic City about two blocks from the beach and ocean. So for me, these elements of nature are simply not as foreign and exotic as they might be to someone who grew up in the mid west or the Alaskan Arctic.
I spent my summers on the beach until I got old enough for my mother to get me a job at Bell Telephone. For all you kids reading this on your iPhones, there was a time when you needed a long distance operator to place anything other than a local call. And you actually spoke to a live person when you dialed information, a person who sat with telephone books in front of her and looked up your number by hand.
This was one of the more popular places to get a summer job to help pay for your winter’s education. Ma Bell offered a variety of shifts to cover their busy periods. One of these was called a split shift. You came in early in the morning and left by noon. Then you returned in the evening for another four hours. This was obviously not a shift that most permanent employees wanted. But for college students in the summer, it was perfect. You worked the morning, went to the beach in the afternoon, and then returned to work in the evening. Being young and energetic, you were able to keep this pace up long after your older colleagues would have collapsed. Sleep was for winter. The beach was for summer.
I never opted for that shift. I did the total opposite. I volunteered for a night shift so that I had an excuse to sleep all day while that pesky hot yellow ball was high in the sky. I got up as it went down. I slept as it went up. For me, it was perfect timing.
To this day I am puzzled by just when the change occurred, when I went from looking forward to the beach to avoiding it at all costs. It might have been when I got too old to haul a bucket and shovel down the beach to build sand castles. It might have been when I grew old enough to be self-conscious about my body. It might stem from the time a boy I was just starting to notice as a boy told me I looked like a boat in my bathing suit. Whatever, the cumulative effect was that I woke up one day and realized that having sand in my shoes and hair was not fun; that salt water made me feel dry and icky; that eating a popsicle on a windy beach made for a very grainy texture and taste; and finally, that I simply was no longer amused by a hot sun burning down on the pages of the book I was trying to read.
So I gave up on sand and ocean unless it was in the Arctic and cold, windy and challenging. But I love my godchild very much. I’m so very, very proud that despite being a military wife and mother of two she has been able to complete her college education that I’m willing to overlook my negative feelings about the joys of sun and surf and head to Hawaii. But only for four days. Any more than that and I start to feel weird in ways I can’t explain but that definitely has something to do with being able to go out with very few clothes on and not risk freezing to death.
Call me crazy. Call me Alaskan. But that’s just not right.
I grew up watching westerns on TV. Maverick. Bonanza. Have Gun Will Travel. Rawhide. Gunsmoke. The Rifleman. They presented Americans with a fantastical view of our past in which the silent stranger with a gun solved all the town’s problems. Shootouts at high noon always ended with the bad guy dead and the good guy walking away – tall, proud, a loner who brought justice to town and then moved on to the next one that needed it.
Then westerns disappeared. You can’t find one on TV now that Deadwood is gone. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to swallow that myth anymore.
The Wild West was not tamed by a lone gunman who rode into town, shot the bad guys and left. And, quite frankly, more than one Native American group would probably be happy to argue that the west was not so wild and untamed given that they’d been living there and surviving off the land for thousands of years before that lone gunman arrived. The Old West storyline simply no longer holds water.
Whether you believe those days ever existed exactly as Hollywood portrayed them, the reality is that they are gone. People no longer stroll through towns on wooden walkways with six guns strapped to their waist or rifles held at the ready. They don’t do this because they no longer need to. Law and order has been established by a civilized society that created rules of conduct and agencies responsible for enforcing those rules. This means that we can unstrap the old six-shooter and enter a bar or grocery store with nothing more than our smiles and credit cards.
I was apparently mistaken in believing that society would continue to move forward in time and not backwards, because suddenly I am again in the land of Bret Maverick and Marshall Dillon. People – ok, mostly men – demand the right to strut through commercial establishments, churches, city halls, schools and every other venue you can imagine with six guns strapped to their sides.
I imagine on some level this makes these men feel like real men, their virility visible to all. Perhaps they are under the impression that women will look at the size of their gun and swoon in anticipation of what it might portend. Maybe without those guns they don’t feel as safe and secure as they do with them. Maybe these men simply don’t trust their ability to care for themselves and their families without an instant means of visiting death on anyone who seems to threaten them.
I feel as though we are backtracking through time with the latest trend of pushing for guns laws that allow everyone to carry a gun everywhere, concealed or not. This tends to make me very nervous, especially now that background checks have been shot down by our frightened little congress. Because the argument that passing laws will not stop people intent on breaking them is so transparently inane as to be almost beyond laughable. Based on that theory, why pass laws that make murder or theft a crime. Murderers are going to murder whether or not there is a law. Thieves intent on stealing will steal no matter how many laws we pass saying its illegal to do so. If we only passed laws that we thought everyone would follow, we’d have precious few laws and general chaos in society.
Background checks will weed out some who should not have guns. It will not weed them all out. Neither will a law against rape stop rapists. But we still find value in that law.
I loved watching those old westerns. I loved the idea of the loner in the white hate who rode into town, cleaned it up and rode out again leaving peace and justice behind him. But that concept has always been a myth. What one person may see as justice, another sees as vigilante action.
I don’t want random individuals with guns strapped to their waist shopping next to me in the grocery store. That does no make me feel safer. It mostly makes me feel as though Pa and Hoss should be one aisle over buying flour for winter.
Surely America can find a way to move forward towards an even more civilized society and not backwards to a world that never was.
Sometimes our world is filled with so much ugliness and pain that it’s hard to remember that the overwhelming majority of people are good. Most go about their daily lives, whether in America, Gabon, Iraq or China, trying to do their best to get through the day and get back to their families at night. We want a secure roof over our heads, safe streets outside our doors and good food and water on our tables. Most of us just want to make it from morning to night in peace.
Unfortunately, there are people who live to create chaos, horror and tragedy. Most of us find it hard to even imagine the dark soul that must exist inside someone who wantonly kills, especially when they do so in the name of their god. Anyone who can twist their beliefs into such a knot and then believe that knot is the truth is beyond my comprehension.
There is little we can really do to stop people for whom causing pain is the ultimate goal. All the police and security in the world can’t stop someone who wants to drop a bag of explosives in the middle of a crowd or open fire with a semi-automatic in a crowded theater. Even living in a police state is no guarantee of safety. Ask the people killed in that movie theater in Russia if a police state saved them. All we can do is get up each morning and go about our business in the belief that no horror will visit us on that particular day.
I work with volunteers at Bird TLC every week. They are the people I need to remember when the news makes me just want to burrow deeper under the covers of my bed. Every week they come in on their day off and wallow in bird poop and debris. They do it with smiles and joy… ok, maybe not always joy on the day that one of the eagles chooses to evacuate all that was ugly inside him in one major moment, but most of the time.
People like this are found all over our community, good people with a passion to help that makes our world a little gentler, a little nicer, a little easier to bear. Some can be found at the Red Cross, some at the blood bank, some at domestic violence shelters, some at animal shelters, some showing us down the aisles at the Pac. They are dotted throughout our town, serving so quietly that often we don’t even realize they’re there. They are the people who restore your faith in humanity each time a backpack explodes.
This past Saturday a golden eagle was set free out on the Palmer Flats. He’d been a guest of Bird TLC all winter because golden eagles migrate out of the state in the fall and, even though he’d healed from his initial injuries, he couldn’t go free until his compatriots had started migrating back. Volunteers spent the winter braving freezing temperatures to clear snow out of his enclosure and feed him regularly while making all kinds of horrible sounds and noises so that he would not view them favorably. His survival in the wild depends on his continued fear of people.
So when I hear about the bombing in Boston and I read about the twisted hatred of the shooter in Colorado or the bizarre logic of the alleged ricin mailer in Mississippi, I can only be thankful that my world is filled with people who will give equal love, care and compassion to a nuthatch and an eagle; people who will get up early on their day off to run screaming through an eagle cage and feel as though they are privileged to be able to do so. They fill my world with joy and laughter.
In Anchorage in the spring we seem to have two things in abundance… mud and charity auctions. This Saturday, Bird TLC will celebrate its 25th anniversary at the Egan Center with its auction. All your favorite birds will be there – eagles, owls, ravens and, of course, Kodi the Cache Crow. Come celebrate twenty-five years of volunteer power. Come meet the people who make our community a better place for their presence. It’s the best way to keep the haters from winning.
One of the reasons given for the switch in popular opinion from negative to positive on the legalization of pot comes from the fact that more and more senior citizens are using it. Now that the kids are grown and (mostly) out of the house, many are reverting to an amusement from our youth that we felt compelled to abandon when the kids were at home.
This change finally answers a question that has longed troubled me. If all the people in my generation who condemned pot and swore they never used it were telling the truth, then who were all those people sitting in smoke filled rooms with me?
Americans can be very hypocritical on issues such as condemning fast foods while voluntarily consuming vast amounts. But the ultimate in hypocrisy has to be our War on Drugs that has cost an untold number of lives and billions of wasted dollars. Quite frankly, I’ve never understood why the Mexican government didn’t just legalize drugs decades ago, tax the product to make up for lost American aid, and enjoy the peace that came when drug lords no longer ruled their land.
I sometimes wonder how long the war on drugs would have lasted had the carnage visited on Mexico happened in America? I’m betting we would have long since decided that a war with so many casualties and so few positive results was hardly worth the billions thrown at it.
I know a lot of people who have used pot their entire adult life while living fully productive and good lives. I know people who have a drink every night but are not considered alcoholics and who, in fact, also live full and productive lives. I’ve know people who have used cocaine and walked away from it totally voluntarily, simply because they no longer wanted to use it.
Conversely, I’ve known people with such pot addictions that they can’t get up in the morning without a puff to get them going. I’ve know people who put a shot of alcohol into their morning coffee and keep it going all day so they never have to be totally sober. And I’ve known people for whom cocaine was the first step on the road to hell.
The common thread here is addiction. And addiction, as sad and destructive as it is, should not be a crime. It is a medical problem. Granted it is a very intractable medical problem that frequently takes multiple attempts to finally put in abeyance, but failing at treatment should not be a crime.
What should be, and is, a crime is driving under the influence of anything that impairs your ability to safely handle a large machine going at a fast rate on a public street. What should be, and is, a crime is giving any intoxicant to a minor. What should be, and is, a crime is trying to use any level of intoxication as an excuse for behavior that should be criminal under all circumstances.
What shouldn’t be a crime, and isn’t, is having a drink with dinner. Or, for that matter, having a drink with breakfast or getting flat out drunk if that’s what you want to do. That behavior is no one’s business but your own unless you negatively affect those around you because of it. If you want to sit in your living room and smoke pot until your lungs burst, you should not have to worry about morality police breaking down your door and making you a criminal. If you want to drink until your liver hoists a white flag of surrender that is no one’s business but yours unless you inflict your behavior on society.
If you’re diabetic and eat sugar every night, you will die sooner rather than later. While friends and family might have the right to tell you that you should stop, whether you do or not is a personal choice. And when you make yourself so sick that you need to go to the hospital to have your legs amputated, a truly compassionate society provides the care you need, not a jail cell and a morality lecture.
A drug, be it alcohol (legal), tobacco (legal), sugar (legal) or pot (illegal) is just a thing. Criminalizing its use is not good public policy.
In the course of the past two weeks a woman was beaten to death in front of her two young children and a homeless teenager was allegedly repeatedly raped in Eagle River. A study was released in that same period showing (surprise! surprise!) that Alaska women still earn learn than men for doing the same job but, I guess to balance the scales, are beaten and raped more than the national average. And if you use statistics only for Alaska Native women, you simply want to bury your head in your arms and sob because they are just that awful.
In response to all this, Senator Lesil McGuire has suggested that the Alaska Women’s Commission be refunded and reconstituted to come up with suggestions for ways to deal with the horrific problems women face daily in this state. Meanwhile, during this same two-week period, Governor Parnell again sponsored marches to bring attention to this problem while also promoting legislation that would impose stiffer penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence.
While I applaud both the governor and senator for wrestling with a problem that seems almost intractable in our state, I find it more interesting that Congressman Don Young can suggest that perhaps one of the solutions is to drink alone if you know that you like to be violent when drunk and that remark generated nothing more than a tiny blip on the media screen. But when Don later called Hispanic workers a name so repulsive I will not repeat it here, that remark went viral and caused so many problems for him that he actually had to apologize. Those of us who have had the privilege of knowing Dandy Don for what seems like forever, know that apologizing is not exactly his strong suit, not something that he does easily or willingly.
It is clear that in this state at least, women are still struggling against a second-class citizenship status and far too many Native women are treated as even less than second-class. They are treated as nothing more than a punching bag to keep around because they are an easy target.
How much therapy do you think it will take for that 9 year old girl to grow up with a strong sense of self-worth and dignity after watching her dad stomp her mom to death and then tell her to leave her alone and let her die? Does anyone really think there is any therapy that will actually work? Or will this little girl grow up knowing her place in life is to be the rag on the floor to be walked over and kicked? And why – for the love of god, why – is there not an outrage growing across the state as each of these stories hits the headlines?
Maybe part of the problem is that this has become so commonplace it is almost background noise in our lives, something always there but something we’re only ever partially aware of. Maybe it’s because this problem has such deep roots and is, in so many ways, a generational problem that it seems almost unfixable. Most of tomorrow’s abusers are in a home today watching a daily real life “how to” class on abuse. Or worse, they are young men being abused who figure when they get big enough, they’ll get their revenge.
Equally, most of tomorrow’s victims are growing up in a home watching the men in their family treat the women like they are less than dirt. Is it any wonder those girls will grow up thinking they deserves nothing more than regular weekend beatings?
A woman’s commission will provide the state with nothing that the state and everyone involved in this epidemic doesn’t already know. We need more police protection in villages. We need more lawyers, judges and courts. We need more social workers intervening in families before the children have learned the horrible lessons troubled families teach them. All these suggestions will be in the forefront of any recommendations because they will work. Unfortunately, we have never seen the legislative follow through that funds the suggestions so that an impact can actually be made.
Wouldn’t it be something if our predominantly male legislature actually gave as much time and attention to this epidemic of horror as they do to passing probably unconstitutional legislation on gun control laws? Imagine.
He stood out. There he was at the Sportsman Show wearing a suit, coifed hair, some strange looking beads and a lovely aftershave that almost, but not quite, overcame the normal smell of most Alaskans – a smell that is a mixture of items probably best left unlisted but that surely includes various motor oils, gunpowder, and smoke.
I was there with Bird TLC. We’d brought some of our feathered education ambassadors to meet and greet people who might normally only see them as faint outlines high in the sky.
What I love about Alaskans is that they can be thoroughly devoted hunters who also appreciate the grandeur of our wildlife. So as they wandered through the Sportsman Show, checking out boats and guns and hunting knives, they stopped by our area and listened respectfully to the story of our birds. Then most reached in their pockets and put some money in the box, money that keeps the owls in frozen rats and mice, buys medicine for sick eagles and mealworms for one loud and charming Northwestern Crow named Kodi.
Explaining a hunting culture to people outside of Alaska is increasingly difficult. As a population, Americans have become so far removed from their food sources that they are unable to make the connection between their steak and a steer with melting brown eyes. They oh and ah over the baby pigs at the State Fair and don’t really get that those cute little babies will one day be their breakfast bacon. People who live in cities and suburbs often think people who hunt for a living are barely one step removed from the Beverly Hillbillies – and not necessarily a step in the right direction.
I used to think that way too. One of my earliest childhood memories involved a little lamb that would appear right before Easter in my friend Grace’s backyard. We lived in the city so by backyard I mean a little cement area with a fence around it and, because we were Italian, a fig tree growing in the middle of it in the one piece of accessible dirt. Each Easter, we would feast on a lamb roast as our traditional Easter dinner, based on the belief that Jesus was the lamb of God. It all sounds a bit cannibalistic when put that way, but honestly, it wasn’t. And each Monday after Easter, Grace and I would go to her yard to say hi to the lamb and it would be gone. And our dads would assure us that the lamb had gone to a nice farm so it could have grass on which to play.
Eventually even Grace and I, the original personification of Catholic School dorks, innocent and gullible, willing to believe anything we were told because our parents, the priests and the nuns would never lie to us, what with them being the ones who told us lies would lead directly to hell – yes, eventually even Grace and I figured out the connection between the lamb in the yard and the lamb in our mouths. After that, our moms would not let our dads bring the lamb home to butcher no matter how fresh and tasty that made it.
So Grace and I retreated to our happy world where meat was the stuff hanging in out dads’ freezers behind their butcher blocks. It was red and white and looked nothing like any animal we’d ever seen. The disconnect between the food on our plate and the animals that provided it remained solid.
I’ve lived in Alaska long enough to know the connection now. If I want a whale steak for dinner, I can’t pretend to not know where it came from. And all those hunters and fishers at the Sportsman Show can both hunt wild game for dinner and appreciate wild animals for what they are. That’s why they all got that childlike look of awe and broke into big grins every they handed Kodi, our Cache Crow, a dollar bill and Kodi politely deposited it in his cache jar.
As for the guy in the suit, who knows why he thought coming to the Alaska Sportsman Show dressed better than most Alaskans dress for their wedding was appropriate. If he hangs around here long enough, he’ll quickly figure out what he’s doing wrong.
Ah compromise. When did you become such a dirty word? Without you, there would be no America. Our Founding Fathers all had to give a little to get a little as they created the world’s first experiment in democracy.
Clearly not all compromises are good. The Missouri Compromise didn’t solve the slavery issue. Cutting Vietnam into a north and south after the fall of Dien Bien Phu may have ended the first Indochina War but it led directly to the disaster we call the Vietnam War. And drawing an artificial line in Korea has led one of the more bizarre ruling families the world has ever known in North Korea.
The real question is why compromise has fallen into such disfavor that Americans seem unwilling to ever tolerate it as a means of governance again. Why have people become so blind and narrow that they cannot see any path forward except their own?
I signed up years ago to a variety of survey companies that operate online. I get surveys a few times a week. I’m always happy to blow a few minutes answering questions about topics I frequently have little to no interest in because I get entered in a sweepstakes or some such prize winning event for every survey I complete. The fact that in over ten years I have never won anything in no way discourages me. Optimism is an unforgiving mistress.
One of the questions routinely asked in these surveys is about the targeting of our interests and whether I think this is a good thing. The survey is referring to the ever expanding practice of collecting all the information possible about you based on your Internet activity and then using that information to target you with specific websites, online stores and news outlets. I always answer that I do not think it’s a good thing. In fact, I think it’s a horrible thing. I think it is contributing to the breakdown of our society as a functional entity.
I don’t agree with every columnist that appears on these pages anymore than everyone agrees with me. But I make a point of trying to read all the opinions from all ends of the political spectrum so that I am not merely re-enforcing what I already believe, but also growing and learning. I am a devoted listener to public broadcasting. Given a choice, I will always listen to NPR first. But I also tune in to Fox occasionally, and CNN and CNBC and any number of other alphabetized groups in order to get all takes on any given issue.
This is called educating yourself. And occasionally, if you are smart enough to know that you don’t know everything, you even get to understand, if not agree with, the other point of view. Being able to understand a different view does two things. One, it enables you to strengthen your arguments. Two, it gives you a basis for give and take when the time for compromise arises. And that time will always arise in a democracy. It’s only in autocracies and theocracies that dissent is neither heard nor tolerated.
In America today we all seem to be retreating to our own corners and refusing to meet anyone in the middle. We listen only to those whose opinions mirror our own and we read only those who write what we already know to be true. There are people who will flatly state that they never listen to anything other than Fox News and others who swear they will never turn that channel on. But if you don’t do these things, then you’ll never really understand what the other person is saying or feeling. And if you don’t understand even that much, what chance do you have of ever coming to an agreement on how to proceed.
In our civic life, this has led to the travesty that is our Congress today. Extremists from both parties have retreated to their corners and refuse to have - and please pardon the pun – congress with the other side. So we see gridlock and deadlock and simple idiocy consuming what had once been viewed as a deliberative body that actually managed to pass budgets and laws that moved our country forward.
I have to wonder if that time is not now gone forever.
Neither Lisa Murkowski nor public safety at any level can impact domestic violence and sexual assault in Bush Alaska as much as the good men of those villages can. The men in those villages need to stand up for their mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces and grandmothers. They must make it clear that anyone who hurts them is no longer a welcomed member of the community.
Currently, men who abuse at night can go out with their hunting partner in the morning and feel no consequences. Nothing is said or done that would make the abuser the slightest bit uncomfortable. Abusers get elected or selected to positions of power on village and tribal councils. So the entire burden of this problem falls on the courts, the police and the women themselves. The men pay only if they are caught and successfully prosecuted. And even then, when their sentence is served, they often return to their village and take up life as though nothing had happened.
Abuse is not only a Native problem. But when you are in an isolated village and dependent on others to survive, the issue of abuse and sexual assault takes on another whole layer of horror. The man beating you tonight is the same one you will depend on tomorrow to bring meat to the table.
I know a lot of Alaska Native men and most are honorable, kind and brave. Look at the story in the paper last week. A young man from Barrow, John Ahkivgak, disarmed a man holding a knife to a boy’s throat. He saw something that had to be done and he did it. That’s the type of Native man I grew to know and admire over my years on the North Slope.
What I simply can’t understand is how those same men cannot find a way to intervene when they see one of their own harming a woman in their village. What I simply can’t understand is how these same men, most of whom treat the women in their lives with loving respect, can go out with a hunting buddy who uses his wife or girlfriend as a punching bag. What I don’t understand is how the Native corporations that are so powerful in so many ways can seem so powerless to stop this epidemic of violence, or even raise a voice against it.
This is not something that can be ignored. It affects not just this generation but future generations. If left unchecked, this violence will destroy Native cultures in this state as much, if not more, than the intrusion of the Western world so many years ago. A young boy who sees his father abuse his mother with no consequences is going to grow up thinking that is the way men of his culture treat their woman. A girl who experiences sexual assault in her home with no consequences to the man abusing her will grow up accepting that her culture condones this since neither her family nor her village protected her.
Do Native men really want their daughters and sisters to grow up thinking they are not worthy of respect because they see men in their village who abuse women continue to be allowed to sit in positions of power? What message do they think this sends to Native women? In a small village, even Native women who have a safe home see the abuse around them. They have to wonder at some point why the men in their village don’t make the abuser an outcast, someone who is no longer welcomed as part of their village unless he completely changes his ways.
All the police presence in the world cannot change the culture of violence towards women that seems to be almost replacing the traditional Native cultures in our villages. And all the women in the world working with all the shelters they can create will not stop the violence until the other 50 % of the community, the men, stand up and make it absolutely clear that they will not accept violence against women as the norm in their village.
This is not just a woman’s problem. It’s a culture’s problem. The biggest void that exists right now in the villages is not the absence of police; it is the silence of good men.
Our legislators clearly feel that the Civil War really didn’t solve the issue of federal versus state law. So they’ve made the bold, albeit somewhat insane, move towards passing a bill that would allow state law enforcement officers to arrest federal law enforcement officers if they attempt to enforce a law that they think is illegal under the Alaska Constitution. When they took that oath of office to uphold the federal constitution – well, they had their fingers crossed so it didn’t count. Because, as all real Alaskans know, we don’t care how they do it in the lower 48. This is Alaska. We’ll do it our way.
Here’s one thing that really has me wondering, though. According to the Alaska Supreme Court, the Alaska Constitution’s privacy guarantees are so strong that they protect individuals possessing two ounces or less of marijuana. Yet the feds can still prosecute Alaskans for that possession. So I’m wondering when the Legislature will be introducing a bill that allows Alaska law officers to arrest any Federal agents who attempt to bust an Alaskan for pot possession?
It looks to me as though our Legislature is again picking and choosing which of our constitutionally protected rights they will stand up for and which they will simply turn their faces from as the Feds run roughshod over us.
Given the recent trial and conviction of Schaeffer Cox and his militia cronies for attempting to extract retribution against judges and law enforcement based on their perception of the wrongs being done to them, and their right to respond to those wrongs with violence, you’d think our legislators might have hesitated a moment before all but declaring war on federal enforcement officials. After all, if the legislature can thumb its nose at the feds, doesn’t that give individuals ample cover to do the same?
I am very confused about how our Legislature has time to pass bills they admit are probably illegal and unenforceable, but don’t have time to really do something about the all too real problems facing Alaska. Maybe I missed it, but where is the urgency of the debate over how to keep the heat on for people in this state as Southcentral runs out of gas and the Interior and Bush villages pay more monthly for heating fuel than most people pay for their mortgage? Where are the debates over how to really deal with the problems caused by alcohol abuse and domestic violence. I know the governor claims he’s made violence against women his priority. But precious little leadership seems to be coming out of Juneau to deal with the problem. And quite honestly, if people don’t feel safe in their own homes, nothing else tends to matter very match. When you are getting beaten up on a regular basis, whether your house is toasty warm, cold or too hot is not a priority.
I understand that gun rights advocates are feeling threatened, are feeling that the government is trying to abridge what they consider a right that cannot in any way at all be limited or controlled. They accept that free speech can be limited so that crying “Fire!” in a full theater not actually on fire is against the law. They accept that a woman and her doctor have no privacy rights when it comes to her reproductive health. They accept that separation of church and state shouldn’t really matter when it comes to providing funds for religious schools. But suggest background checks for all gun purchases and watch their panties twist into a big wad.
It’s interesting to watch how some people can view certain parts of the US Constitution as sacred and other parts as merely strong suggestions. It’s not unlike the way we follow the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill becomes merely a suggestion that can be tabled with a stand your ground law.
So while we face some daunting problems out here in the real world, our legislators pass bills that do nothing and mean nothing except for giving them an empty gesture to bring back to their constituents. And maybe give some extremists the final reason needed to take violent action against law enforcement officers.
Once again we have proof positive that you can’t underestimate the intelligence of the people we elect to serve us.
Lindsay Lohan’s publicists say she is going to set up a youth foundation and give inspirational talks to kids.
Gag me with a spoon and keep her the hell away from children of any age.
If government bureaucrats functioned at the same level of the US Congress, even their unions would not be able to save their jobs. So why are we still paying Congressional salaries?
Unless something intelligent comes out of Congress in the very near future (and seriously, what are the chances of that happening?), a lot of people are going to be out of work or on shortened workweeks. They will suddenly find themselves with a paycheck that doesn’t cover the bills. Welcome to sequestration. Congressmen and women, however, will continue to receive their salaries and platinum plan health benefits. And that’s just wrong.
The idea of less air traffic controllers to keep planes from crashing, less intelligence sources to keep us apprised of future terrorist attacks, and reduced health care for the men and women we sent to those endless and fruitless wars in the Middle East, is not only disheartening but scary. Frankly, if I had to choose, I’d rather give a vet the money needed to replace his blown off leg than use it as salary for some politician who hasn’t done his job.
Washington DC is currently a town of finger pointing. It’s the Republicans’ fault. No, it’s the Democrats. No, it’s the Tea Party. No, it’s the Tories! The Whigs! The nearest we can come to the truth is attributing it to the Know Nothing Party which seemingly covers every party in power in America today.
Middle class Americans have been clinging by their fingertips to the rungs of the upwardly mobile ladder. They lived through a financial crisis caused by Wall Street and bankers’ greed and spent years waiting for even one of the people responsible for the economic collapse to be brought to justice. It hasn’t happened. The rich are even richer and the middle class is immensely poorer. Want to know how rich? According to New York Magazine, in 2012, Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave over $54 million to conservative candidates and super-PACS. On December 18, 2012, he was paid a special dividend by his company of over $1 billion.
But for a brief second there was a glimmer of hope for the middle class. The last financial quarter showed an economy inching back slowly. Maybe you missed that announcement because you were too busy trying to find a second or third job to pay the bills. Not to worry. Wall Street got the message. The Dow Jones is up in heady territory. Stockbrokers, investors and bankers are enjoying work again.
But Congress has snatched even that small economic bump from the Americans they purport to represent by failing in their most fundamental responsibility. If government workers lose their job, the effect will be felt by all of us because there will be less money in the economy, less purchasing, less sales. All of that will equal less need for products to be made, less need for salespeople to sell – well, you get the idea. We are an interconnected economy and if one falters, we all feel the results. Except for Wall Street and its banks and investment groups that are too big to fail because they have all the money the rest of us keep digging in our couch cushions to find.
I would like to think that if we told Congress they would get no pay and no benefits until they actually did their job and passed a budget, it would cause them to rethink their whole position on the matter. But the sad truth is that most of Congress, and almost the entirety of the Senate, are very wealthy people for whom their government paycheck is loose pocket change. If we hold their salaries from them, they can just resign, become lobbyists and never miss a mortgage payment. Or they can dig into their substantial assets, both in American and overseas accounts.
The people who were rich before are still rich now. Their personal finances are well sheltered and well hidden on some beautiful tropical island that Mr. Used To Be Middle Class will never be able to afford to visit. The middle class will see its savings quietly slip away to pay for today’s necessities.
Congress isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit nowadays. They should be paid accordingly.
My grandparents sent their children to public school because they couldn’t afford anything else. As Italian immigrants who were mostly illiterate, they were thrilled that their children were receiving an education. They figured they could handle the religious stuff at home.
Since my late teens, the Democratic Party has been the party of disarray and confusion. It was the party that self-immolated at every turn. It gave new meaning to the phrase, “Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”. So you can imagine how upside down my world seems right now given that the Republican Party has decided to emulate the Democrats and, at the rate they’re going, planning to be the all time champs in the dysfunctional political party world of America.
Think about it. How dysfunctional do you have to be to give more money to the man who lost the last three or four hundred million you gave him for which he assured you he could buy total victory? That victory not only did not occur, but the money would have given them more bang for the buck if they’d invested in pajama jeans instead of politicians. Yet these same people are opening their pocketbooks again and offering Karl Rove untold millions, not for the purpose of defeating Democrats, but for the singular purpose of defeating the wrong kind of Republicans.
Yep, Republicans, welcome to the world that was once solely occupied by Democrats determined to never win a national election again. It’s a heady and elite atmosphere to be in but your brains will eventually get use to the lack of oxygen and then all will seem right again. And defeating fellow Republicans will become the norm.
My first introduction to politics was during the sixties when a group of anti-war hippies absconded with the Democratic Party and refused to return it for the longest time. In the same way that the Tea Party represents the far right of conservative thought, anti-war activists represented the far left of liberal thought. Being part of the revolution was great. I felt like I was helping to change the world. In fact, I was pretty much ensuring that liberals would be eclipsed by Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority.
The Tea Party is definitely taking up where the hippies of the sixties left off in turning a very electable party into an internecine battleground, littered with the blood of those who dare to suggest that most Americans do not live on either extreme but tend to occupy the middle.
Like the activists of the sixties, the Tea Partyers seem more intent on being pure and right than on winning elections. You can imagine how painful this must be for people like Randy Ruedrich. The former head of the GOP here in Alaska, he spent years building a party that won consistently in just about every highly populated area of this state. The only converts he never seemed to be able to make were those stubborn Democrats in the Bush. Given the demographics of this state, that was no hindrance to his steady march for total dominance of one party in Alaska.
Then those pesky Ron Paul people showed up at his convention last year. Between them and the Tea Partyers, he never stood a chance. Party regulars were unprepared for the fight. They were, in fact, stunned by what was happening. I’d seen that look before. It was on Hubert Humphreys’ face every time he looked out the window in Chicago during the convention and wondered what the heck was going on. He never stood a chance once those images hit TV news.
I rather like the idea that the Alaska Republican Party chose to fire their new leader before he was even in office. Democrats would never do something like that. They’d be too fearful of offending someone. They’d sit down and have a talking circle and try to work things out peacefully.
So I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the battle that’s been joined for the heart and soul of the Republican Party here in this state. And I’ll hope and pray that the Democratic Party can figure out a way to take advantage of the confusion to maybe pick up a few more seats. In my heart of hearts I know that probably won’t happen because the Democrats will never forget the first rule of their party.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is a time-honored tradition that you will only ever be able to take from their cold, dead hands.
A commenter on last week’s column asked how I would feel if I found out some of my neighbors were Republicans. I thought to myself, “Are you kidding? I live in Alaska. What’s the chance they’re Democrats?” Then I went to an ACLU brunch on Saturday and found out, much to my surprise, that it was not three people standing around a hotdog stand in midtown. Who knew?
The thing is that labels are very limiting and ultimately ridiculous in that they mean so many different things to so many people. For instance, I know a lot of moderate Republicans who go all red in the face when you suggest that Sarah Palin represents their party. I know Democrats who own and love their guns. I know Republicans who are pro choice and Democrats who think that if waterboarding brought down Osama Bin Laden, then more power to water.
Growing up, I was taught that politics were private. You didn’t judge people based on their party affiliation, should you accidentally find it out. On the other hand, I grew up at a time when you did judge people by their ethnicity and it was considered questionable to intermingle. When my uncle married a woman of Polish descent, eyebrows were raised. If she wasn’t Italian, could we completely trust her?
As it turned out, we not only could trust Aunt Jean but she was a pretty wonderful lady. Maybe she didn’t put out the same holiday meals we did, but what she put out was darn good. So it turned out that stretching a bit and accepting an “other” into our family was a growth experience – and I mean that in every sense of the word since you could easily pack on more than a few pounds eating her Christmas sweets.
Now I’m realizing that we might not have grown as much as I thought. In fact, it seems we have merely substituted politics for ethnicity as a way to define those who stand apart from us and are therefore the subject of our suspicion. We are all at our core human beings with strikingly similar goals in life, even if the paths we choose to get there are very different. You’d think we’d be able to figure out a way to have respectful discussions of our differences without having to demonize the “otherness” of people who believe in different choices. And yes, I even include Glen Beck in that statement assuming he can come up with a legitimate birth certificate that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is, in fact, from the planet earth.
I always assumed that one of the greatest things about being an American was that I was free to choose my path within the parameters of what was necessary to maintain a civil society. I always believed that America was great because we resolved our differences with discussions, not guns, and made laws based on (sometimes) painful compromises and not military coups.
But now it seems as though all civility has been tossed aside and all compromise has become suspect. If I write that my friends and neighbors have become my second family, there is immediate suspicion that I have limited that group to only a certain segment of society while eliminating any who do not believe in everything I believe in, exactly the way I believe it.
What a small, claustrophobic and circumscribed world we would all inhabit if that were how we lived our lives. We might as well be the Taliban if that’s what we do. They admit to no compromise, they associate with only like minds and they have no respect for anyone outside of their unholy little circle. Maybe that’s why they always look so mad.
I have a friends who have assault rifles under their beds and regularly carry concealed weapons. I have friends who would probably shoot their foot off if they tried to handle a gun. I have friends who firmly believe in god and friends who find the concept amusing. The important thing is that they are friends who weren’t chosen based on any given set of beliefs. Hanging around with people who don’t think as you do is a tremendous way to grow.
We should all probably try it more often than we do.
I periodically feel obligated to note that without some pretty amazing friends, I would probably not be able to continue to live in Alaska as I approach the furthest reaches of middle age. Alaska is especially famous, and rightfully so, for friendships that replace the families so many of us left behind. While family still wonders what the possible attraction could be of a state where it’s dark for months on end, temps hover at zero or below for equally as long and bears roam our backyards freely, our friends understand that being an Alaskan is something that simply cannot be explained to someone who is not.
So when I fell on my driveway recently, I knew three things for sure. One, it was my own fault for thinking I could sneak down the edge of my driveway in my slippers and not hit an icy patch under the newly fallen snow. Two, I was going to be in a lot of pain for a long time. And three, I had friends who would help me all they could by doing things like moving my garbage can to the end of the driveway in time for pick up, getting my mail, discussing with me the benefits of actually putting shoes on before walking on an icy, slanted driveway and, perhaps most importantly, re-enforcing the idea of spikes on my shoes. They did all that and more and they did it without making me feel as though I was closing in on my last winter in Alaska.
I used to walk in 20 below weather, thinking it was perfectly normal and ok to do so. Now, despite wearing three layers of clothing, I get cold in my house when the temp outside is anywhere near zero. I have never put my thermostat up to 70 degrees so often in any past winter, and that includes the winters I lived in Barrow. I find myself standing in front of the thermostat and carefully adjusting it to exactly 70 degrees on the theory that as long as it stays below 72, I’m not old.
When I moved here forty years ago, I didn’t plan to make Alaska my home. I was from New Jersey. Chris Christie is still my idea of what most politicians are, or should be. Jersey peaches are still my idea of heaven, despite forty years of exposure to King Crab, salmon and halibut, to say nothing of caribou, moose and goose soup. Real highways have tollbooths and four lanes, with rest stops named after local politicians who managed to strong-arm the state transportation department into putting one in their county.
But a funny thing happened as the years went by. As much as I still say I’m going home when I’m planning a trip east, I only have to be there a short time before I understand that it no longer is. At some point, Alaska became home.
I realized highways should be one lane in either direction with death and destruction looming around every icy curve. There should be no tollbooths but only acres of traffic signs shot up so badly that whatever they originally said has been obliterated. Rest stops become much more frequent when any point on the side of the road with enough tree coverage can be one.
To have once lived with honey-buckets and still be able to wax poetic about this state is a sure sign that I’ve gone completely over the cliff about it. To have slipped down my driveway more often than I would like to recall without wanting to run screaming from an Alaska winter means there is no hope for me. My infatuation with this insane state is total and complete.
As the cold weather continues and the ice builds, we need to keep in mind why we live here and that insanity is not necessarily the main reason. Fur Rondy is just around the bend. The Iditarod will follow. The sun is returning even if it isn’t bringing warmth with it. And all our politicians have been confined to Juneau so the streets are safe for the rest of us.
If there is one thing I could import from New Jersey to Alaska, it would be naming rest stops on the highways after politicians. That just seems appropriate.