Posted by: shannynmoore | June 2, 2014

Repeal SB 21 and stand up for Alaska

Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

I read an op-ed in this paper by a gentleman named Jack Gerard with the American Petroleum Institute. He’s here from Washington, D.C., making speeches and honking his hooter. His message? Alaska needs to stand up to the federal government by endorsing tax cuts for oil companies in Alaska. We need to vote against our own interests in the August referendum.

It’s the economic equivalent of the Vietnam War strategy of destroying the village to save it.

Dear Mr. Gerard, if I wanted the opinion of an outsider from Washington, I’d call U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, thank you very much.

Jack’s job seems to be going from state to state telling folks if they don’t buy the flowers, wine and dinner then the oil companies won’t date them anymore. (It’s actually more than dating.)

Right. They’re going to break up with Alaska, pay to dismantle the pipeline and move to North Dakota. Well, my friends, here’s the reality: If they lose their massive tax cut, the oil companies aren’t even going to unfriend us on Facebook.

There’s money to be made here and they’ll stay as long as that’s the case. (And they’ll be gone five minutes after it’s not.) And as long as they’re here, they’re going to whine about taxes and threaten to leave. Their job is to make every nickel they can. And they make a lot of nickels by punching holes in the tundra, but they make a bunch more by duping or buying legislators and governors. They can’t help it. That’s just their mandate.

As Alaskans, citizens of the Owner State, we have greater obligations than just getting some money for our oil. We have the duty to protect, educate, build infrastructure and ensure that future generations aren’t crippled by our choices, and that means standing up for ourselves now.

Kind of a daunting task when you think about it.

Maybe that’s why Bob Bartlett titled his keynote address at the Constitutional Convention on Nov. 8, 1955, “Meeting the Challenge.” He said, “Many states have included in their constitutions statements that the natural resources of the state should be ‘developed for the benefit of the people’ of the state. Such pious generalities, without further concrete policy statements, have proved wholly inadequate as effective barriers against dissipation of resources, fraud and corruption. Alaskans will not want, and above all else do not need, a resources policy which will prevent orderly development of the great treasures which will be theirs. But they will want, and demand, effective safeguards against the exploitation of the heritage by persons and corporations whose only aim is to skim the gravy and get out, leaving nothing that is permanent to the new state except, perhaps, a few scars in the earth which can never be healed.”

Barlett’s speech reminds me of President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell warning, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Sadly the warnings against the military industrial complex went unheeded. And we’re about to do the same for the resource extraction complex.

Alaskans, under Article 8 of the constitution, are charged with using our natural resources for the “maximum benefit” of our people. This makes the state similar to a corporation, beholden to its shareholders, which would be you and me. The recent decision of the Legislature and governor to give away billions in revenue in exchange for an unenforceable promise of oil industry good intentions is a dereliction of their fiduciary duties. Remember, the standard is “maximum benefit” not “some benefit.”

I’m still waiting to hear from someone how giving away roughly $1 billion a year — according to the Parnell Administration’s own fiscal analysis — for nothing in return is securing the “maximum benefit” for Alaskans. In fact, according to the administration’s own projections, oil production is going to plunge 45 percent under Senate Bill 21, the governor’s oil tax giveaway law. That’s a greater decline than was projected under the previous law, called ACES.

By not collecting necessary taxes, the Legislature is not only making it harder to fund operating budgets, but it is institutionalizing deficit spending. This is exactly what the U.S. Congress did to institutionalize huge federal budget deficits.

Do we really want to guarantee that the state will have to search for other sources of revenue to fund itself in the future? That puts a bulls-eye on the back of the Alaska Permanent Fund, but then what? Why would we shortchange our children tomorrow so Exxon, Conoco and BP stockholders can have bigger dividends today? Really?

Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster. You can hear her show, “The Last Word,” Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on KOAN 95.5 FM and 1080 AM and 1480 We Act Radio in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.


Posted by: shannynmoore | May 10, 2014

Women who reported assaults got no response from the govern

Read last weeks breaking story on Governor Waits Years to Act on Sexual Assault Cases

Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

Oct. 27, 2013, was a very important date to several people.

One of them was Melissa Jones. Her name had been in the newspaper that morning. She had been identified as a victim of sexual assault while serving in the Alaska National Guard. Melissa thought surely someone in authority would call her to talk about what had happened to her.

Read More…

Posted by: shannynmoore | May 3, 2014

Gov. Parnell waits 4 years to Act on Sex Crime Cases

parnellOn Feb. 28, 2014, our governor, Sean Parnell, wrote a letter asking the Department of Defense to investigate “reports of sexual assaults and other behavior creating a hostile environment and culture within portions of the Alaska National Guard.”

He explained that he was compelled to request the investigation by “information I recently learned.”

That was not true. In fact, it was very far from the truth.

Military officers had risked their careers to tell the governor personally that female soldiers had been sexually assaulted by other Guard members and that those assaults were not only not investigated, they were covered up by senior officers.

And when did the governor really learn about this misconduct?

In 2010, four years before he finally decided somebody needed to do something about the pirate ship that was his National Guard.

Here’s some of what happened, taken from the accounts of people directly involved:

In 2010, several of the victims of sexual assault and misconduct were distraught and frustrated by the Guard leadership’s unwillingness to investigate their complaints and protect them from retribution by victimizers. Eventually, in desperation, they took their stories to their military chaplains. Three chaplains, convinced that they could not trust senior officers of the Guard to respond appropriately, selflessly decided to take their concerns over the heads of those officers directly to the governor.

The chaplains were able to connect with the governor because, in addition to his military duties, one of them had also worked in administration for the Grace Christian Church school, which Parnell’s daughters had attended. Using that connection, he was able to arrange a phone appointment with Parnell.

On Nov. 18, 2010, the chaplains — a major and two lieutenant colonels — gathered in a church office for their telephone conference with the governor. The chaplains, all feeling personally uncomfortable and professionally at risk for going outside the chain of command, told Parnell, their commander in chief, what they thought he needed to know about the widespread lack of trust in senior Guard leadership, the mishandling of sexual assault complaints and the misuse of Guard funds and resources. The call lasted 20 minutes.

Parnell thanked them for their courage.

Less than two weeks later, on Nov. 30, 2010, several Air National Guardsmen sent a complaint to the governor asking him to “accept the resignation of Major Gen. Thomas Katkus because of ‘multiple acts of moral turpitude’ he had allowed to run rampant, including drug trafficking, sexual assaults/rape, illegal use of aircraft.”

Katkus, who has since been promoted by Parnell to adjutant general of the Alaska Guard, is a member of the governor’s Cabinet.

Col. Robert Doehl, a former vice commander of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th wing, now works for Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, as a special assistant for military and veterans’ affairs.

On Dec. 3, 2010, Doehl wrote a seven-page letter to the governor. He thanked Parnell for a meeting they’d had that same day.

Doehl went on to repeat and document allegations about the Guard that he had shared with Parnell in their meeting. The allegations included abuse of authority, safety shortcuts that had resulted in loss of life and aircraft, cover-ups, cronyism and retaliation against whistleblowers. He named names, specifically accusing Lt. Gen. Craig Campbell (he became lieutenant governor in August 2009) and then-Maj. Gen. Katkus of failing to stop the misconduct.

That meeting also included the chaplains, the major and the lieutenant colonels, along with several other officers. By that time, several female soldier rape victims had submitted written statements to the Governor’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, Katie Tepas, according to one of the chaplains. Your office already has those statements, the officers told Parnell. Tepas had also met with some of the victims, who told her their stories in person, according to two officers who heard it from the victims directly.

Karl Hansen, a former special agent with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division and a former member of security details for Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, is now the medical ombudsman at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. In that role, he has dealt extensively with the Guard sexual assault victims. Hansen said one of the victims told him that Tepas had asked why she, the victim, didn’t like Katkus and what she thought of the governor. The meeting led nowhere. There was no investigation.

During my conversation with him, I asked Hansen what he thought of Parnell’s “Choose Respect” campaign against sexual and domestic violence. He said, “The victims I’ve talked to feel it’s just lip service. I’m dealing with women who are suicidal because of what has happened to them — some attempting multiple times.”

On Dec. 29, 2011, the lieutenant colonels spoke by phone with Parnell’s chief of staff, Mike Nizich. Nizich had been present for other discussions and was the designated contact person for the chaplains. Nizich said he would convey their concerns to the governor. The chaplains stayed in touch with Nizich — through Nizich’s personal email, not his state email — over the following months.

By early fall of 2013, state Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, had been briefed on the allegations about the Guard. He knew one of the chaplains through their service together on a community board. Dyson said he went to the governor with information about the pervasive climate of “boys will be boys” and the “circling of the wagons” around alleged perpetrators in the Guard.

“It appeared to me that the governor was not giving enough credibility to the information the chaplains were giving him,” Dyson told me.

In October 2013, reporter Sean Cockerham wrote a story about the sexual assault allegations for the Daily News. Cockerham reported that Lt. Col. Jane Wawersik, a member of the Guard and a former Anchorage police officer, had been appointed to investigate the charges of sexual misconduct. (I’m told she was appointed by Brig. Gen. Catherine Jorgensen.)

The chaplains were asking why it had taken so long. It had been three years since they first told the governor what had happened to some women in the Guard.

After the Cockerham story appeared, Dyson went to the governor a second time, encouraging him to take an active role in addressing the chaplains’ concerns. “The question of the propriety of the chaplains in speaking to the media came up,” Dyson said. He meant the governor didn’t like the fact they had talked to a reporter.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Parnell’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, McHugh Pierre, summoned Lt. Col. Wawersik, the sexual assault investigator, to his office on JBER. He wanted to know if she had been giving information to Dyson. Wawersik told him she had not.

On Dec. 9, Pierre called two of the chaplains to his office. After asking which lawmakers they had talked to, Pierre asked them to sign a letter stating that they would not talk to legislators. Both declined, saying they would first have to consult an attorney. They were not allowed to take a copy of Pierre’s letter with them.

The next day, their attorney, Wayne Anthony Ross of Anchorage, wrote to Pierre asking for a copy of the document. He also asked Pierre to explain the “established guidelines” he had referenced in his discussion with the two chaplains.

As of Friday, almost five months after he wrote Pierre, Ross had not received a reply, he told me.

In February 2014, Dyson contacted the governor a third time and again strongly encouraged him to act. Two weeks later the governor requested a federal investigation.

When I asked Dyson why he thought it had taken so long for the governor to do something, he said, “He was too loyal to his people” and he “lacked a healthy skepticism.”

I think that’s a charitable analysis. I’ll just say it doesn’t suggest the governor had an excess of concern for sexual assault victims, or the need for a functional National Guard.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, has been asking some of the same questions I have about these events. This past Friday, when I emailed the governor’s office asking to talk to Parnell about the Guard, his spokeswoman sent me a copy of a letter the governor had just sent to French.

In the letter, Parnell suggested it wasn’t possible for him to have followed up on the chaplains’ sexual assault information. He posed this question to French:

“Did the chaplains also tell you they were unable to state case-specific detail with our office to substantiate their concerns because of their duty of confidentiality to the individuals they counseled?”

The governor conveniently overlooks the fact that the sexual assaults had been reported earlier within the chain of command. Presumably all Parnell would have had to do was ask the nearest general to get him the names and allegations of all the Guard soldiers who had reported being raped in the last few years. And if that didn’t work, his office already had the victims’ statements, and someone there had talked to victims.

Parnell’s letter continued: “Even without detail specific enough to pinpoint a victim willing to report, nor a perpetrator, we made sure through the Adjutant General that Guard members had a safe route to report sexual misconduct, and that their allegations would be taken seriously and investigated to conclusion, including any appropriate penalties. Where criminal conduct was alleged, we directed referral to the appropriate law enforcement agency.”

And who was the Adjutant General who would ensure the safety and proper treatment of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators?

Thomas Katkus, of course.

Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, responded relatively quickly to the public allegations. Sean Parnell, the commander in chief of the Alaska Guard, waited nearly four years.

In the meantime, the victims suffered and the pirate ship sailed on.

Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.


Posted by: shannynmoore | April 20, 2014

Reaction to Easter may be genetic

Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

I could write about last week’s Juneau dysfunction but at this point it would be like publishing a headline saying, “BREAKING NEWS! Gravity is sucking us onto the surface of the Earth and there’s no sign of it stopping.”

This is a holy week to many. Recent events have made places sacred and reminded me that friends are the family we choose.

Happy Easter.

I grew up with Easters. The full-meal deals. Flowered hats and new dresses; I remember a particular gray gingham with lace. It was a bit “Little House on the Prairie” but I kind of liked that. The Little House on the Muskeg was where I lived. Easter basket grass is useless in any other capacity than as fluff around chocolate eggs and the marshmallow chicks covered in colored sugar. (BTW, those make for interesting s’mores.)

I don’t remember the first time I heard the story of Easter. Truly. I just seemed to always know the violent details too well after having the story explained in such great detail. I wasn’t raised with a television and the graphic nature of the crucifixion was always shocking. To be fair to myself, I think it is a good thing I was horrified to the bone by the story. Apparently, it is genetic.

My daughter was 3, almost 4, when we were visiting my folks in Homer. I didn’t think much about going to Easter Sunday service with Mom and Pop. I’d grown up with sunrise service and breakfast in the church basement with the congregation. There were pots of lilies in the sanctuary and people with allergies noticed them first.

During the service I sat with my folks and sang the hymns and knew the steps of the service. Years of ritual are so easy to call back. It felt like home.

Javin was in Sunday school downstairs. We’d bought the appropriate sherbet-colored dress and hat; she’d had an Easter basket when she woke up — brought by the Easter Santa, a giant bunny.

As the pastor spoke, my thoughts wandered. I wondered why what was so regimented and habituated from my childhood seemed less important now. The meaning had changed for me. You know that sort of stream of thought where it would take crashing cymbals or your own child screaming to break in? It was like that.

I heard something.

“Mommmm!” Was it her? I turned my head toward the double doors closed at the back to the auditorium.

Seconds later the doors were parted like the Red Sea when my daughter threw herself through them. She was sobbing — that kind of shaking crying, deep gasps between words.

Wild-eyed, she was looking for me in the Easter Sunday crowded church.

I stood up.

She came up the aisle as the pastor went silent.

Arms in the air, the wettest tears falling, she said, “Mom, they killed Jesus!”

I’d taught her the song “Jesus Loves Me” and I’d just never got around to the horrific story of sacrifice. You know, because she was a child. It was a surprise to her.

“They killed him! Mom, they killed him!” As far as she knew, I didn’t know.

I made my way down the pew row and to the aisle.

She ran to me and I picked her sobbing body up in my arms.

As I walked out of the church I heard the pastor say,

“Isn’t that how we all should feel?”



Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.


Posted by: shannynmoore | April 12, 2014

Republicans’ budget shows their values

Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News 

Show me a political flyer in Alaska and I’ll show you a candidate whose only reason for living is supporting the Permanent Fund and education, and fighting “government waste.”

There’s an old saying, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” This week we got to see what the Republican majority in the Alaska Senate values. Rest assured, their budget, written by Sen. Pete Kelly, does not value birth control for irresponsible women.

In fact, amendments to accept millions in federal funds for family planning — to actually reduce abortions — were voted down by our “pro-family” Republicans. As far as they’re concerned, as soon as you have that kid, you’re on your own.

Amendments to invest in our children’s futures through pre-kindergarten education? No way. Kids, schmids. (Note to Republicans: those fetuses for which you can’t do enough eventually turn into actual children, for whom you can’t do too little. Remember that whole sanctity-of-life thingy? It should include education.)

Money to stem the tide of teacher layoffs? Try us next year.

Additional money for substance abuse for the state with the worst substance-abuse problems in America? Bor-ing.

Millions for new tennis courts in West Anchorage? We’re all over that, preserving the people’s right to wield rackets.

The budget is huge. In spite of all the for-the-cameras hand-wringing about “fiscal responsibility,” the Republican-controlled Legislature is about to pass one of the biggest budgets in state history, accompanied by a $2 billion deficit. But that’s not a problem for our legislators because they made sure the CEOs of Exxon, BP and ConocoPhillips get their full MBOs this year.

But I digress.

The Republicans rejected attempts to put $1 billion into the Permanent Fund to offset some of the revenues kissed off by Gov. Giveaway. Get used to budget deficits, my fellow Alaskans. Watch as legislators slowly drain the Permanent Fund: this year they took $1.3 million from it — instead of collecting oil taxes — to pay for more government services.

With the state headed toward bankruptcy, driven by multibillion-dollar annual deficits, retirees are calling for a cash infusion to protect their retirement accounts. The Legislature’s answer: Let ‘em eat cat food.

Legislators need that money for the “Taj MaHawker,” the better-than-new Legislative Office Building, with its glass elevators, maple walls and heated parking ramp.

You know, the deal Diamond Mike Hawker shrewdly negotiated with a well-connected GOP campaign contributor. Diamond Mike was able to arm-twist the owners into settling for not a penny more than quintuple the Legislature’s current rent. It will cost all of us an extra $50 million over the next 10 years.

Imagine this: The deal is so glaringly stupid that even the Senate majority was too embarrassed to defend it in public. That didn’t, however, stop the majority from blocking attempts to scuttle the deal.

And then there was the little matter of a $100,000 contract to another big GOP campaign contributor to pick out furniture for the Taj MaHawker. A sensible proposal to let staff choose the legislative love seats at no additional cost was rejected without debate.

Tell you what, I’ll equip the lounge lizards myself. Shopping for old white men will be my public service.

This legislative session has been so ugly — and the worst is yet to come — it makes me want to go into the wild to contemplate the idea of an Alaska without legislators. But I better hurry. Rep. Mia Costello has had the brilliant idea that we increase state park fees. How about $1 million a day per vehicle, Mia? We could use the money to cut oil taxes, to put more oil in the pipeline — yeah, that’s the ticket!

So, money for kids and retirees — bad. More money in the Permanent Fund — really bad. Raiding the Permanent Fund instead of collecting oil taxes to pay for more government — good. Public money for legislators’ campaign contributors — really good.

Will Alaskans remember all the Mike Hawkers come November and give them their walking papers? Not bloody likely.

And why is that? I’ll be damned if I can figure it out.

Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.

Posted by: shannynmoore | April 6, 2014

Court hands keys to corporations, democracy be damned

800px-American_Corporate_Flag.svgShannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

Please support Shannyn’s work, by donating here.

This week I listened to one of the right-wing sock puppets yammer on about what a victory for freedom the most recent campaign finance court decision was. Honestly. The guy was more about “free and dumb” than freedom.

The court, in yet another 5-4 decision, basically created eBay for elections. What we didn’t need was more stinking money in our election process but the five say otherwise. Freedom of speech is now equated with how much money you have and are willing to spend. Of course, the reverse doesn’t work. You can’t walk into a store and purchase items with your words. It’s insane. If money is speech, most of us are mute.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent said, “If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate.”

Oh, great.

My dear Alaskans, it’s going to get much worse. Read More…

Posted by: shannynmoore | April 3, 2014

Send me to Juneau!

I’m heading to Juneau to report for the ADN, TheMudflats and of course The Shannyn Moore Show.
If you could kick in the price of a cup of coffee, I’d be grateful. If you can afford more – it won’t be wasted.
You can paypal me at or click the donate button above and enter your info there.
Please share. Together we can expose the big money that owns Juneau.
love you, mean it!


Posted by: shannynmoore | March 30, 2014

Don’t miss the change to vote Tuesday

Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News


Potholes and school repairs aren’t nearly as sexy as presidential elections. I mean, really, there are no catchy campaign tunes (except for that Mike Gutierrez song that stuck in my head for two years). Too many of us ignore the elections that affect our day-to-day lives the most.

People fought, went to prison, starved themselves and died so you can ignore your right to vote. That seems a bit ungrateful, to put it mildly. Democracy freeloaders. I’m betting more folks in Anchorage filled out a Sweet 16 bracket than will vote in the April 1 election. (One, sorry if you picked Duke; secondly, yes, our election is on April Fools’ Day; this is not a joke.)

I’d stop with that and call this the shortest column ever, but I know what some of you are saying over your good morning paper: “Sounds great. More coffee.” Admit it, at least one of you just said that. More of you probably thought, “I’d vote if there were someone worth voting for.”

From your lips to God’s ears.

I wonder what would happen if an oath to truth was sworn by candidates — like they had to tell the truth.

Case in point, the East Anchorage Assembly race. Incumbent Adam Trombley is being challenged by former state Rep. Pete Petersen.

This race has a lot of money being bet on both sides. Trombley, a consistent rubber stamp for the mayor until five minutes ago, has worked remarkably hard for a few builders in the city. Revised rules allow “independent engineers” — instead of municipal employees — to approve new construction. What could go wrong? It’ll take weeks off the process. Nothing like a cut corner to make a few more bucks. And the only risk is to the health and safety of our friends and neighbors.

It was funny when Chuck Spinelli, head of a building company, told the paper, “We didn’t go to Adam Trombley and ask him to do anything for home builders, but he started doing things that home builders really appreciated.”

Really? You never asked him? He just figured out what you’d been wanting for years and made it his mission on the Assembly? In an invitation to Chuck Spinelli’s fundraiser for Trombley, there was no mention of the assemblyman’s psychic ability to help builders. Nope, instead it said Adam had “done more for the local home builders in the last two years than any elected official in the last two decades, maybe EVER.”

It went on to explain how Trombley revolutionized the process: “For the first time in 40 years builders can bypass city plan review!” Now you have a choice of “your own engineer for plan review.” It may as well have said, “Your own brother-in-law can check your work! Wahoo! Free at last!”

So even if Trombley doesn’t know who he’s working hardest for, the check-wielding home builders do.

So I complain about the lack of “truthiness” in campaigns, and then one day there it is …

A candidate starts telling the truth. He tosses the “socially acceptable” filter between his thoughts and his mouth and says what he thinks out loud. Oh, I’m not talking about “gotcha” phone-video recordings, I’m talking about public television, where the candidate knows the cameras are on and capturing every word.

Don Smith, I appreciate your honesty this week in regard to your bid for school board. It’s good that you explained and re-explained your racist views in a clear and concise manner. Not voting for you is my choice because I don’t believe the good old days were when Anchorage schools were “98 percent white” and teachers didn’t have to deal with “immigrants” or “special needs students.”

I couldn’t make this guy up. “Today we’re 48 percent white and 52 percent other and that clearly is causing problems,” he said. The presence of nonwhites is causing our school funding problems? This us-vs.-them racist crap should be, if not extinct, at least closeted by now.

So here we are, batters up to the ballots. Sometimes you have to vote against crazy. A few times I’ve been able to vote for someone I believed would represent us fairly. (A rare and beautiful thing.) But I never miss a chance to vote. Do it while you still can.

Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.


Posted by: shannynmoore | March 26, 2014

On the Thom Hartmann Show – 25 Years of Tears

Thom Hartmann had me on his show to discuss the 25 year anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill and my article, 25 years of Tears. I’m on the final segment, about 2 hours and 22 mins in.

Posted by: shannynmoore | March 23, 2014

Exxon Spill – 25 Years of Tears

Prince William Sound, 2010

Prince William Sound, 2010

Time has a strange affect on events in our lives. I feel I’m looking through a glass of water when I look back 25 years to this day, March 24, 1989.

I’d left Seattle University and the Ballard Lochs on the M/V Westward heading north through the Inside Passage of British Columbia for the sac roe herring fishery in Sitka. No time in my life is etched as clearly as that spring. There is a certain magic about following Spring to Alaska. Per my not so scientific study, I’ve determined Spring moves at about 9 nautical miles an hour, about the same as the hundred foot boat I worked on. The inside passage is glorious. The bow of the boat pushes Technicolor into black and white. Winter gives up her fight to the brilliance of the whippersnapper called Spring. The smell is of thawing earth. Porpoises danced in the white froth of the bow wake. Pods of whales travelled with us, heading North with their calves to feed on the sweet herring we competed with them for.

Dull voices are a constant on the marine radio. When I lost a cribbage game I’d sit on wheel watch at night and listen to fishermen call home to see if the baby was walking yet or if their dad’s diagnosis had come back. I followed their stories from night to night like the school secretary taped soap operas.

Clearly we were pre-cell phones or Tivo.

The smell was a mix of diesel, salt and cigarette smoke, coffee and Pilot Bread with peanut butter. The roar of Cummings engines wasn’t even heard anymore. The Deutz generator just a hum in my ears. You only heard them when they weren’t working properly. There was a stack of these new things called “CDs”. Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, The Ramones (that one was mine). I had a bootleg tape of a band I’d heard called Nirvana. No one else on the boat liked them but me.

The engineer on the boat had seven identical sets of clothing. I thought he just wore the same thing every day. He told me it was an act of “energy conservation” that he didn’t have to decide what to wear. He took “safety naps”. We sank targets with pistols off the stern of the boat when all our duties were done. He believed in four food groups — “Steak, Potatoes, Miller (beer) and Pussy.”

He shocked me a lot. Most things don’t now.

The deckhand was young and had the energy of a squirrel who’d washed down an Adderall with a double espresso and a Red Bull back. The engineer offered to kill him on a regular basis.

I was on deck as much as possible. My eyes pushed out tears when they got so full of the beauty of the waking up world. When we crossed out of Canadian waters into Alaska, I stood on deck. Yes. That was it. Home. My Alaska.

Looking back through the glass of water, I see myself through time in the way I imagine my mother in the days before President Kennedy’s assassination. Pure. Pulling in life and innocent to the blow to come.

The herring fishery in Sitka is like a derby-superbowl-landing on the moon for fishermen. It’s fast and frantic and money is made fast and lost quicker. Airplanes accompany the fleet when they flood past the safe harbor walls to spot the thick harvest. The race so fierce planes crash into each other while looking for fish.

That year we waited more than a week to fish. Fish and Game kept testing the herring to see if they were ripe yet. “Standby to standby” became the joke. There’s something about waiting for fish to get horny enough to spawn (and you have to catch them before they do that) which makes for a loaded atmosphere.

But did we catch them. Hundreds of thousands of tons. Prices high and spirits higher.

A redheaded fisherman named Rex boarded our boat in the Sitka harbor after midnight. He was undone. We thought he was drunk. When we realized he wasn’t — we wished we all were.

The Exxon Valdez had “fetched up” and was spilling oil in our next herring fishing grounds.

The grassy knoll.

At the time I didn’t know that the Raycus Radar hadn’t been repaired and that was part of the off coarse problem. I also didn’t know that the only emergency clean up crew had been laid off and the barge with all the clean up equipment was iced into dry dock in Valdez and had been sitting there for almost two years. None of us did.

We all crowded in the wheelhouse and listened to the marine radio.

They have to burn it now. They need to ignite it with a bomb – there are fighters sitting at Elmendorf. What is the hold up? Burn it already!

Then the weather forecast.

A North Eastern storm was blowing in.

“Jesus, it’s going to blow it all the way to Kodiak…that’s more than three hundred miles.”

A not so perfect storm.

The man that said that was a highliner – one of the top fishermen in the fleet for decades. He put his hands over his face and walked over to look out of the porthole.

He was right. Thirteen hundred miles of coastline was hit by the spill.

It took twenty years in court to get a settlement from Exxon. Did that feel like a win? Opening your mailbox to an Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Settlement check is like getting a royalty payment for the snuff film your kid brother was in. Hey, you’re getting paid…but he’s still dead…and you got to watch it.

Sorry, I jumped ahead of myself.

An Exxon hack showed up and told us we were lucky that it was his company that had messed up because they did business right and would make us whole.

I think he meant “hole” because we got screwed.

His name is Don Cornett. He stood in the Cordova high school and promised we’d be fine. Don sells real estate in Houston Texas and seems to be whole enough.

Bobby Van Brocklin was the mayor of Cordova. Four years later, on a Thursday, May 20th, 1993 he blew his brains out and left a note naming Exxon the reason.

“The stress from Exxon which brought about my financial stress, was too much to deal with alone. The end should be good and maybe my spirit will live. I have a lot of fear right now, but faith is all that is left. I wish I could have done more good for others but I guess my time is up.”

That is not “whole”. There’s a hole. A hole in a head. Because “whole” didn’t happen.

You see, being a fisherman isn’t what you do; it’s who you are. Having that taken away left shells of humans all over Alaska.

A few friends and I made a list of all the suicides that happened as a result of the spill. It didn’t happen for about four years. If the same percentage of people in the Gulf who are affected by the BP spill kill themselves as the Exxon Valdez – you’re looking at 45,000 dead bodies. We took it hard.

The average life expectancy of an Exxon Valdez cleanup worker? Fifty One.

Guys would come back to the boat complaining their urine smelled like diesel. No respirators. C-130s spraying the beaches…with what? Corexit.

Exxon still doesn’t have marked offices in Alaska. In 25 years, the State and Exxon have not reconciled. The Federal Government and the State of Alaska were complicit in the spill and the cover-up. Precautions, provisions, and preventative measures had all been made law. It seemed that wasn’t the issue…the problem was finding a government agency to enforce those laws. Exxon’s cost cutting measures insured a disaster; laid off spill
responders; not fixing the disabled Raycas radar; the containment boom barge iced into dry-dock. All those profit enhancements were to be expected of a company that answered only to it’s shareholders. The government agencies that looked away from negligence and their responsibility have never been held accountable.

Our delegation to Washington DC could have introduced a law over the last 25 years to force Exxon to pick up their bar tab and pay for their crime. They were woefully silent. Instead, they debated things like gay marriage, vaginal rights, Bill Clinton’s impeachment over extra-presidential activities, steroids in baseball, and Terry Schiavo. Meanwhile, dozens of Alaskans, displaced from their identity, committed suicide while waiting for justice.

You know why? Oil rules. It’s bigger than governments. For all the nut-jobs hoarding Mormon food and bullets talking about the “New World Order”? It’s here. It’s called Big Oil. It’s why countries are invaded, wars are waged and media pretends it isn’t happening.

When Sarah Palin was asked by Katie Couric what Supreme Court decisions other than Roe v Wade she disagreed with, she couldn’t think of one. NOT ONE! She was a moose caught in the headlights. That didn’t work out too well for the moose or the vehicle. The Alaska fisherman lost their voice once again. Thanks, but no thanks, Sarah. Her siding with Pebble Mine was enough…the icing on the cake was the wasted chance….a chance to tell America our story…an Alaskan story…thousands sick from clean up…tens of thousands bankrupt from a dead fishery. Sarah Palin is to Alaska what Velveeta is to cheese; sadly unsatisfying and empty of nutrition. She had the national stage to plead Alaska’s case to citizens who had long forgotten the images of a once pristine Prince William Sound turned into a thick, black, rolling sea; the oiled sea otters and birds, unrecognizable seals and whales; an initially deformed and diseased herring run that became extinct-costing Cordova $100 million a year. Exxon exploited Alaska and turned our pain into their profit.

After the BP spill I was hired by the BBC to go back to Prince William Sound to report on the shape it was in. There were no birds. We skiffed for hours to an outer beach, one pounded by waves for more than two decades. I walked across the salt marsh, shovel in hand. I didn’t need a shovel. My boot prints had already filled with oil slick.

It was so close to the surface, and so was all my pain. The lies. The memories of dead birds, otters, seals, deer, bears, fish, and water. Dead Water. Dead Friends.

Oil sheen on Knight Island in Prince William Sound , 2010

Oil sheen on Knight Island in Prince William Sound , 2010

Alaska isn’t a sovereign state any longer. Once we were the Last Frontier and independent. Hell, you have to drive through a foreign country for days to get here. Right?

We are oil colony. It wasn’t that long ago that 10% of our legislature was indicted for taking bribes from oil companies.

A few weeks ago our governor appointed an oil man from California to serve on a board that accesses the tax burden for the Trans Alaska Pipeline. It’s a big deal to the municipalities the pipeline runs through. When things got hot the appointee pulled his own name out of the running.

Three days before the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez running aground, Governor Parnell has appointed an executive of said company from Houston, Texas to the board that decides the value of the pipeline for tax purposes. Mr. Richard Rabinow has worked for Exxon for 24 years, doesn’t live here, but is sure to give Alaska the best bang for their buck.

Is the governor fresh out of “*#^@ YOU!” cards?

The state’s willingness to do business with Exxon was like having your parents rent the basement to the guy who date raped you on prom night. Am I clear? The fact Governor Parnell wants to give them positions of power is like having said rapist adopt you. I suppose there should be no surprise. The governor was lobbyist and lawyer for big oil…I use the term “was” lightly.

Twenty Five years after the fact, Exxon has yet to pay Alaska the $92 million owed for damages. They privatized their profits and socialized the risk.

Last time I went to Prince William Sound I met a deckhand. She was asking me about how many birds there used to be. I looked at her puzzled. She was born after the Spill. Alaska is divided generationally by epic disasters. Fifty years ago was the 1964 Earthquake – a 9.2 – the largest recorded for North America. Twenty five years ago a new defining moment for our state. For those of us who had our lives changed forever, we have to remember what we lost, and tell the next gen. We say things like “Never Again”, then see drilling in our Arctic permitted. In 1989 I had a Mac Plus computer – it weighed 15 pounds and had a screen the size of a greeting card. Now I have an iPad that works wonders. The technology for computers has changed, but not for oil spill clean up. Same diapers, booms and chemical sprays. The truth is, they don’t clean up oil spills. They pay fines that have already been calculated in as the cost of doing business.

No. Exxon doesn’t do business right. They don’t make you whole. Exxon loves and takes care of Exxon, as does our governor. Who is going to love and take care of Alaska?

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