Columns 2007

Twenty years later

A friend visiting from New Jersey was here for the latest headlines in our ongoing “Catch-a-Thieving Politician” game.  I turned to her at one point and jokingly noted that New Jersey was soon going to be forced to concede its “Most Corrupt State in the Union” title to Alaska. She suggested the title transfer already happened.

She pointed out that every day she was here, there was another headline about corrupt politicians and their cronies being investigated, being charged, being tried, being sentenced, appealing sentences, etc. etc. To update that old saying that if you cut Alaska in half, Texas would become the third largest state in the union, she suggested if you cut Alaska in half, New Jersey would become the third most corrupt state in the union. Ouch!

I have another friend coming up this week. But since she works in Washington D.C., I have to believe she won’t be taken aback by our state of affairs. After all, she comes from the city that perfected the nod and the wink, the tit for tat, the “rub my back and I’ll rub yours” methods of doing the people’s business.

She’ll be here August 23 when Bird TLC celebrates its 20th anniversary with a big shindig at their property on Old Seward where the Rabbit Hutch used to be.  This is a happy day for the volunteers and supporters of the center. After all, they can proudly point to many successes in rehabilitating injured wild birds and returning them to their natural habitats.  But it’s a bittersweet event if you consider that the impetus that led to TLC’s founding was the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Twenty years later, they are saying good-by to One Wing, an eagle damaged by that spill that died this spring.

One Wing will be given the send off he deserves and the closure the volunteers deserve who have mourned his passing so deeply. This is more than the people of Prince William Sound seem to be getting from Exxon.  In the span of time in which One Wing lived and died, the people of the Sound have sought in vain for their own healing from the grievous wounds inflicted by an oil tanker driven aground by a captain who has long since moved on with his own life.  I fear that many of the people still trying to put the pieces of their lives and livelihood back together will see this battle for fair relief passed on to their children and possibly grandchildren. After all, Exxon’s in no hurry. They have all the money and lawyers needed to dodge a settlement pretty much forever.

I daresay the this lawsuit is in danger of becoming a modern day Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, the lawsuit created by Dickens in Bleak House that financially and morally bankrupted all who participated in its endless execution.

Bird TLC will also say good-by to its migrating friends at the event as they always do in late summer. Being apparently smarter than the average Alaskan, these birds leave the state before the snow falls so that they are somewhere warm and sunny when it does.  Next year they will return again when the short Alaskan summer provides them with nesting grounds and food for their young.

I wonder how many more times they will make this roundtrip before the Exxon Valdez lawsuit is finally settled? And when it is, will Alaskans feel as thoroughly ripped off by Exxon as they feel ripped off by the politicians they elected to carry out the people’s business with honor? Will Alaskans ever trust industry or politicians again?  And am I the only one finding it difficult to buy the commercials saying to vote no on the clean water initiative based on trusting that the mining industry will treat our state better than the oil industry did when the unthinkable happened?

My friend will go to the Bye Bye Birdie event with me and see our education birds, watch an eagle being released and help us say good-by to One Wing, who has been freed by death from the grip of infirmities inflicted on him by the spill.  I pray that our friends in Prince William Sound don’t have to wait for death for their own release from that grip.