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?

Posted by: shannynmoore | March 23, 2014

Can anyone spare a clue for Sen. Pete Kelly?

Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

I had a plan to write a column that was going to make the Anchorage municipal elections coming up to be the sexiest most riveting thing you’ve ever read. Then someone did something stupid in Juneau, so you’ll have to wait a week while I sort this doofus out.

First, the reporting on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders from Kyle Hopkins and Marc Lester for the Anchorage Daily News has been incredible. Disturbing, and incredibly needed. Two percent of children born in Alaska have FASD. We need solutions and education. Sadly, we have a “think tank” formed by Sen. Pete Kelly that is sitting on empty.

Read More…

Posted by: shannynmoore | March 19, 2014

Sen. Giessel strikes a blow for DMV merchants

PaybackShannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

I’m still getting used to seeing the Walter J. Hickel Expressway signs. I still think Wally’s Way would have been better, but it gives me a chance to remember to read “Who Owns America” again. My copy has a brown signature inside. A treasure.

So, as I pull onto Wally’s Way, heading south, the voice of Lori Townsend making me feel better about the news on my radio. Seriously. If there’s a meteor bearing down on Earth and we’re all gonna die, she should be the one announcing it-she makes even Alaska news sound better.

Read More…

Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

“WHY do YOU have to argue with the professor EVERY class?! Can’t you just let him talk so I can write this stuff down, take a test, graduate and get a job?!”

Oh, that was a weekly conversation with some of my UAF classmates. (You’re shocked, I know.)

I sat enraptured by Terrence Cole’s take on history. He was right, the historical truth was often most boldly told in political cartoons rather than in textbooks. I listened in Dr. Pierce’s class. He was quite old, with even older maps. I told him once the continents had moved since his maps were made. He smiled.

I behaved for the most part until I was in Dr. Claus Naske’s class. I took every course he taught. He was assigned to be my advisor. Read More…

Posted by: shannynmoore | March 1, 2014

Republicans try their own court-stacking scheme

afig1Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

When you can’t win, change the rules.

I’ve wondered why our legislators have spent the better part of their time on bills likely to struck down as unconstitutional. They are trying to rewrite our constitution to hand public money to schools, deny women reproductive justice and deny citizens the right to weigh in on resource development.

Lawmakers will vote on bills that they know will end up in court. That takes money that they don’t have to pay for on either side. Maybe we need an amendment that requires those who vote for bills deemed unconstitutional have to pay the legal costs, not the state of Alaska.

I have been disappointed by some decisions by Alaskan judges, but I’ve had to shrug and know it’s our law. Oh, and there’s that handy appeals process.

It’s starting to make sense why the Republican super majority in Juneau feels so free to just make up stuff and stick it on a bill.

How our judges get selected is specific to Alaska. We have the Alaska Judicial Council, made up of three appointments from the Alaska Bar Association, three governor’s choice citizens and a chief justice. Senator Pete Kelly from Fairbanks is pushing for a change. He wants to double the number of the governor’s appointment.

Why? Because several judges have been turned away by the Council in the past several years. The are the sort of judges who could have been under the “activist judge” banner — and not in a good way. There was some mumbling from bill supporters that this was to give rural Alaskans more representation. If anyone is buying that, look at what they do and how they vote, not what they say

This idea to stack courts isn’t new. In Alaska, it would help get judges friendly to the administration on benches. That’s because the governor’s appointed citizens would outweigh the votes of the Bar Association members and judge. It’s a bit of a no brainer.

In 1935, the Supreme Court struck down multiple provisions of the New Deal. After a landslide victory in 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided he’d take that as a mandate and went after the court. He proposed that he’d get to add a justice for every justice that sat on the bench that was 70 years old or older. That would have given him six appointments!

Can you imagine? See, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says the Court has to have nine judges. The first court had six judges.

Can you imagine if after the Citizens United case, or parts of the Affordable Care Act, or the most recent decision saying police don’t necessarily need a warrant to enter your home, or the Voting Rights Act decision — all terrible decisions by the Supreme Court — Obama decided to just add two more justices to the court?

Oh, lookie! Now you have to get gay married in a socialist school while eating government-funded birth control pills like they’re TicTacs while petting a spotted owl and not wearing a flag lapel pin!

Relax. Obama is the worst socialist ever and isn’t coming for your guns or expanding the Court.

As much as I’d like to see the Supreme Court loaded up with people who aren’t fascists, and as much as I’d like to see the Alaska courts continue with the process that is not broken, it’s the sore loser problem that bugs me most.

The Republicans have had a few of their pet projects thrown out of our courts. Their solution? Change the way we pick judges.

If they were a sporting team would they change the way they pick referees to just people from their hometowns?

How did it work out for FDR and his plan? His own vice-president held his nose and gave a thumbs down. Folks who supported his New Deal and were disappointed in the elements struck down by the highest court didn’t support his plan to take it over. He did make three appointments to the court, one being Justice Robert Jackson who eventually oversaw the Nuremberg Trials.

Justice Jackson said, “It is not the function of the government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”

So, there it is, citizens of Alaska. I guess it’s up to us to keep our lawmakers from the error of stacking courts through the Judicial Council expansion.

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

Posted by: shannynmoore | February 21, 2014

Alaska’s oil oligarchy is cloaked in corruption

oil-oligarchyShannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

The muck-raking writer Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

He wrote that after running for governor in 1934. It would seem the business of politics was even more messy than the meat packing industry he exposed.

I’d go a bit further than Sinclair. It’s difficult for someone to continue getting a salary if he does understand some things and still acts on them.

It’s a bit of a long story, but I’ll give you the skinny. Most of us are familiar with the little green postcard that comes in the mail with property tax assessments. The companies that own the pipeline stretching from top to bottom of this great state are no different. They pay borough taxes to the North Slope, Fairbanks and Valdez, as well as to the state of Alaska.

To help figure out the value of that pipeline, there’s a volunteer board made up of gubernatorial appointees. It’s called the State Assessment Review Board (SARB). Oh, I’m sure folks who volunteer for this position are loads of fun at parties, but I can’t imagine trying to figure out the assessed value of the pipeline. Math boggles me at times, and the industry pressure cooker would be enough to can salmon tight enough to last until the Rapture.

One such man stepped into the cooker during Murkowski’s last year in office (a year that seemed particularly long for some reason). Let’s just call him Marty McGee, because that’s his name. By all accounts that aren’t the governor’s, Mr. McGee is the most competent person to lead Alaska’s oil property assessment.

Sorry, I get ahead of myself. The pipeline folks wanted to fill in the boxes for their own little green postcard. They said the pipeline was worth $850 million. In 2006, the Department of Revenue said the pipeline was worth $3.6 billion. The SARB said it was worth $4.3 billion. The TAPS owners went to court.

This brings us up to 2010, when a Superior Court looked at the evidence and said, you’re all wrong, the pipeline is worth $9.98 billion.

In fact, the court said there is so much valuable oil left on the North Slope that if there were no oil pipeline, the oil companies would spend tens of billions to build one.

Surprise! Pachow! That means millions more in duly owed taxes for municipalities, boroughs and the state. Relief for property owners? God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Hold the phone, cowboy.

Marty McGee was “fired” from the board by the Parnell administration. According to McGee, Gov. Parnell is trying to stack the board with oil company people, to keep the assessments low so the companies will pay less and Alaskans will get the shaft — once again.

The board, according to the state, meets once a year for a two- to three-day “meeting/hearing.” Members get standard travel and per diem. Not exactly a position that jumps you into a higher tax bracket.

Who did Parnell replace McGee with? Two oil company advocates, one of them from Salinas, Calif. Nothing like having a career oil man from another state to protect the interests of Alaskans. Who would agree to this position unless . . . well, think about it.

McGee knew the taxes paid on TAPS were low, although even he way underestimated them. The Parnell administration made up some cockamamie story about a “conflict of interest” because someone had been paid $2,100 for advisory work on another issue involving the gas company Enstar.

I was shocked to discover that “conflicts of interest” were ever a concern in this administration.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski has introduced a bill regarding such things. Alaska is late to join other states that prohibit lawmakers from voting on bills they have a clear conflict on. When voting on issues that would benefit their bosses, oil company senators just “declare” a conflict, have it “excused” and vote anyway.

Last year, SB21, the governor’s oil tax giveaway bill, was passed with deciding votes from such senators.

I’m not sure Sen. Peter Micciche appreciates the irony of his protest against a Wielechowski bill trying to stop the practice. Micciche called it a “very expensive waste of taxpayer time and money.” I guess if you aren’t building a funnel to pour money on the oil companies, Mr. Micciche thinks you’re wasting your time. How is it a waste of time to keep trying to clean up the system that incubated the Corrupt Bastard’s Club?

When Micciche first ran for office, he said he worked for ConocoPhillips running the LNG plant in Nikiski and making between $100,000 and $200,000. Two years later, he lists the same job at the now “mothballed” plant, working three-quarters time and making between $200,000 and $500,000. Anyone else have a job where they work 25 percent less for a business that has been “mothballed” and doubled their salary?

If the governor will fire a state assessor trying to administer the law as the Alaska Supreme Court sees it over a $2,100 conflict of interest, when billions of dollars are at stake, then surely he will back SB 172 and SCR 15 to bring Alaska into line with most other states by not letting legislators vote on bills where they have a substantial personal financial stake, or their employers’ have one, or their spouses have one.

Things really haven’t changed much since Mr. Sinclair observed, “One of the necessary accompaniments of capitalism in a democracy is political corruption.”

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

Posted by: shannynmoore | February 15, 2014

State political priorities need major makeover

capitol copyShannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

I enjoy painting. Really. Maybe it’s because my grandfather was a painter and I really liked him, but for whatever reason I don’t mind being on a ladder with a brush for hours at a time. Oh, did you think I meant painting bowls of fruit? No. I like painting houses.

But the best part is when you’re done. You stand back and see the transformation to a new look that was long overdue. From the first drop of color on the wall to the trim caulking. There’s a start and an end.

Painting is satisfying. (I realize some people have gotten divorced over paint jobs gone sideways and not everyone feels the same, but it’s my column.)

When I started a radio show more than eight years ago, there was an opening line that introduced me every day. “Painting a red state blue, one stroke at a time…”

This week I found myself listening to the news on the radio and hanging off a ladder with brush in my hand, which made me a captive audience. “Are you kidding me?!” I kept saying to no one.

Listening to the nonsense spawned by our elected nutjobs and trying to figure out what the ham and cheese they could possibly be thinking finally drove me to crank up the new Springsteen album.

The news was ruining my “Wow! This room looks fantastic! I barely recognize it!” Maybe you recognize this feeling: Just turn off the news and try to focus on changing and improving what’s right in front of you.

(Maybe you also have wondered what kind of freak they keep in a basement naming paint colors. The “Celery Bisque” really ought to be called “Chicken Poop Green.”)

OK, so if I’m wanting to dial out of the insanity — given that I live and breathe politics — I understand why people with much more interesting hobbies and busy lives tune out.

What got me to this point? Remember last year when I was writing week after week about the doom and gloom that would come to our state if SB21 — the governor’s oil tax giveaway — passed? Oh, sweet Pete, did I not stack my soapboxes up for that one. The math?! The math! I didn’t think it would work. There I was painting away, AND I WANTED TO BE WRONG. I did. Because if I were right, Alaska was sure to suffer for it.

But the governor got his way. He promised a million barrels of new production and the Legislature fell in line. They gobbled up the governor’s fantasy like hungry chickens in a yard full of corn.

The latest estimates of new oil production aren’t even close to a million. To be precise, they are 28.6 percent of a million by 2024. (I know that sounds like a long time away, but it’s only 10 years. And in the meantime, we’ll give the producers billions.)

Then my head exploded over an amendment vote. The Special Committee on Military and Veterans’ Affairs was considering relieving temporary military spouses (not temporary spouses, but temporary to Alaska) of the duty to get a state driver’s license. When Rep. Max Gruenberg sought to include same-sex military couples in the exemption, Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux, Shelley Hughes and Pete Higgins decided they couldn’t support the gay troops.

Really? Here’s a news flash: Being gay doesn’t make someone bulletproof while he’s fighting overseas for the freedom of Alaska lawmakers to institutionalize his second-class citizenship. (Even if it’s over something as petty as a trip to the DMV.)

But, to be fair, I’m sure it isn’t just the gay soldiers and airmen they don’t support. I expect they’re also wondering: How can we disrespect the Muslim, atheist and immigrant servicemen and women? Perhaps I’m naive to think “supporting the troops” means a lot more than sticking a Chinese-made magnet on your tailgate.

Oh, and if I get one more email from ayatollah Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council begging for money so he can continue the fight against women’s right to control their bodies, I may lose it.

Really, buddy? If you don’t like abortion, take Step One: Get the vasectomy. Step Two: Teach men and boys where babies come from and how to get a grip on their hormones. Step Three: Make sure contraception is available to everyone who might slip up and have sex.

And finally, Mullah Minnery, the day you start fighting for nutrition programs, child support and health care for children and pregnant women is the day you can call yourself “pro-life.” Until then you’re just Alaska’s leading advocate of forced birth by poor women.

Alaska is a big place. It’s in need of a very big paint job. Big enough to get us back to some semblance of sanity. Yes, I realize paying attention to politics and politicians is not quite as much fun as watching paint dry, but as the late Pete Seeger said, “Participation — that’s what’s gonna save the human race.”

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

Posted by: shannynmoore | February 7, 2014

Candidates mute on Koch money polluting Alaska election

Charles_David_KochShannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

It was probably five years ago when the Koch Brothers hit my radar. I was at a conference of grassroots community folks and one guy in particular was describing these eccentric brothers, born into wealth, who were hell-bent on remaking America.

Their predatory libertarian hybrid philosophy wasn’t new to me. I grew up around cranky old men who lived in cabins and argued with each other around the big table at the Anchor River Inn. Oh, they’d all come to Alaska to get away from America. The difference between their rants and the Koch Brothers? They were poor. All they could do was pound their fists and have their coffee refilled. The Koch Brothers are worth $36 billion each. Yes. Combined, they are worth $20 billion more than the Permanent Fund.

In campaigns during 2012, 17 groups enjoying tax-exempt status with ties to the billionaire brothers spent $407 million. That’s a lot of money to push your ideology. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s craptastic 5-4 decision that check-writing is free speech, this is now our norm. Before you holler that unions can do the same, the Kochs’ contribution was higher than all union spending on campaigns in federal, state and local races combined.

So far in this election cycle, $1.1 million of Koch money has been spent on Alaska television ads. (I realize the stations like this, but they don’t require integrity. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case this year being argued by a Republican outfit that says they have the right to lie in advertising.)

The Koch Brothers have also been active in shaping the politics of Alaska through their funding of the American Legislative Exchange Council. That organization’s attacks on voting rights, public schools, health insurance policy and reproductive fairness for poor women are all underwritten with Koch Bucks.

The Koch brothers have other interests in Alaska. They’ve done business here for years. This week, while buying more than $100,000 in attack ads opposing health care, they announced plans to close the Flint Hills refinery in Fairbanks. This has huge effect on not just the city of Fairbanks’ tax rolls, and 80 employees’ jobs, but it may put cargo planes in a pinch without jet fuel. And what will the railroad do with nothing to fill all those tank cars? This is far-reaching and we’re going to feel it (although it won’t amount to a pimple on a pea under the mattresses of the Koch brothers).

Our Washington, D.C., delegation and the governor all made sure to let Alaskans know they thought this closure was a bad idea. Funny that some candidates for U.S. Senate, namely Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell, are seemingly mute. They want Koch money to run ads on their behalf during the general election.

Koch got your tongue, fellas?

As bad as closing the refinery will be for our fellow Alaskans in the Interior, what the Koch brothers are doing to our state through other means is actually much more damaging. They inherited more than money from their father, who built 15 oil refineries for Stalin before moving to America. Daddy was an active opponent of Social Security and the New Deal.

The Koch’s disdain for public education, voting rights and (other people’s) personal property (they’re happy to use eminent domain to snatch rights-of-way for their pipelines) are percolating in our co-opted state legislature. (See, if you don’t vote the way that benefits them, they run someone against you.)

Charles Koch ran an opinion column a few years ago that bashed the government for picking and choosing winners. “There are now businesses and entire industries that exist solely as a result of federal patronage. Profiting from government instead of earning profits in the economy, such businesses can continue to succeed even if they are squandering resources and making products that people wouldn’t ordinarily buy.”

Really? This right after they landed an $85 billion contract with the federal government and raking in billions in federal ethanol subsidies.

Unfortunately, the Koch Brothers aren’t leaving Alaska. They’ll be here telling you who to vote for, what schools to pay for, who should have voting rights and whether to provide health care for poor people.

Lucky us.

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


Posted by: shannynmoore | February 1, 2014

Court rules for sense on Arctic Ocean oil leases

energy-kulluk-oil-rig-runs-aground-alaska-wreck_62757_600x450Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

I’m not sure what’s important to you when you buy a car but safety is high on my list. (I’m on a 20-year Subaru streak — it’s about love.) I watch the commercials with crash test dummies because I want some idea how safe I’ll be in a crash.

Now imagine if you found out that the crashes that got tested were only 5 miles an hour. (They aren’t but pretend with me for a second, folks.)

A five-star rating in a 5 mph crash wouldn’t mean much.

That’s basically what happened when oil leases off Alaska’s northern coast were put up for sale in 2008. The environmental impact statement by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was based on a hypothetical level of oil development arbitrarily set by a BOEM analyst. Oh, how about a nice round number of 1 billion barrels?

Fine. Except it is way low. Exactly 12 times too low, according to development projections the BOEM made in 2006. About like the difference between a 5 mph crash and a 60 mph crash.

The people of the village of Point Hope had some concerns about offshore oil development. They get their living from the waters the oil companies were circling. Environmental groups signed on to their concerns. Some people want to save whales and seals so Alaskans on the North Slope can eat as they have for the last 10,000 years. So they sued the federal government.

Radical, I know.

The oil companies and the state of Alaska went to court to support the feds. The state wasn’t there to protect the Alaskans or safeguard our coastal waters. Prospective oil royalties from development weren’t going to go to the state; those go to the federal government. No, the state of Alaska was there to justify 5 mph crash safety tests. Despite the David-and-Goliath matchup, the court ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs and the notion that impact studies need to be based on likely impacts.

That led, at least in part, to the announcement this week that Shell won’t resume exploratory drilling in the Arctic this coming summer.

To you politicians — damn near all of you in Alaska: Will you stop acting like anyone who wants reality-based environmental standards in resource development is some patchouli-soaked, bike-riding, waffle-stomping, granola-crunching hippie radical anti-capitalist? If someone wants a car with safety standards based on 60 mph instead of 5 mph, they aren’t “anti-car-travel.”

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich sounded exactly like all the Republicans running against him:

“It is simply unacceptable that judicial overreach is getting in the way of letting Alaskans develop our own natural resources. Development in the Arctic has already been subjected to unprecedented safety standards — far more than domestic production anywhere else. I’ve worked for years to get all the federal agencies working together to permit Arctic projects, now we need to tackle the all too common legal stonewalling by outside groups. That’s why I am re-introducing my legislation to ensure there is a judicial endgame for Arctic developers when they have invested billions of dollars in developing our resources.”

Um, Point Hope villagers seem less like “outside groups” than some others (for example, Royal DUTCH Shell).

Stonewalling? Is brushing your teeth stonewalling cavities? What’s that line about “an ounce of prevention … ?”

We all had front-row seats to Shell not getting its act together in the Arctic. The company is pulling in its oars because, as it announced, its fourth-quarter net profit was down 74 percent. (Not to worry, it was still a hefty $1.78 billion.)

Theirs was a long list of missteps. Other companies interested in the offshore Arctic should be mad at Shell, not the drilling skeptics. Why aren’t Begich and the rest decrying Shell’s hubris and incompetence rather than “judicial overreach?”

Shell ran its rig aground not once but twice. Last year its crews pulled out of Dutch Harbor into a 100-year storm with inadequate towing gear just to avoid a tax bill.

The Deadliest Catch fishermen were still at the dock but Shell let some bean counter send its rigs into the Gulf of Alaska for an oil company’s version of pocket change? They’re lucky no one got killed.

Heck, their spill-response barge was fined for spilling fluids in a Washington harbor. Laugh or cry, your choice.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals isn’t to blame because the BOEM used “5 mph” for its crash test. Shell has more than demonstrated the need for federal regulators to require realistic crash tests, just as they do for cars.

The profits from this development don’t belong to all of us — but the risk certainly does.

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

Posted by: shannynmoore | January 25, 2014

State constitution is clear about public schools

55_delegate_picShannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News

Our governor gave his State of the Colony speech this week. In it, he tied “school reform” (by which he apparently means amending the Alaska Constitution to allow spending public money on private and religious schools) to raising the state’s contribution to each student’s education.

I guess taking hostages is now Standard Operating Procedure for Republican elected officials. And even if those of us who like our constitution just the way it is were to acquiesce, Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed “increase” in education funding wouldn’t come close to replacing what schools have lost to inflation in just the last three years.

Almost as soon as Alaskans started to howl about his blackmail attempt, Parnell threw that baby in reverse and backed away. “Oh, noooo, I’d never say what I just said before I found out I wasn’t king! Sheesh! What do you take me for? Hurumpf. Wait, was that on tape?”

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that artfully married lobbyists, big corporations and conservative legislators from across the nation, has pushed privatization of schools across the country. It’s still their agenda, though it has been a disaster for teachers, students and the public.

For example, in Milwaukee, the base student allocation is $6,442 a year. (In Alaska, it’s less than $5,700.) Under their “Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” a private school called LifeSkills Academy took more than $2 million from the Department of Public Instruction before moving out of its rented space in the night and disappearing.

The LifeSkills students then had to squeeze into other schools that didn’t get the money that should have come with them — straining teachers, classrooms and diverting precious resources from other students.

And the LifeSkills kids needed all the help they could get. According to the local paper, “No students attending LifeSkills were proficient in reading or math in 2012-’13, except for a single fourth-grade student, according to the most recent state achievement results.”

When was the last time you heard about a public school taking the state’s money and skipping out for a beach in Mexico.

LifeSkills Academy? Is that a solution to the problems of educating Alaska children?

I haven’t taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the state of Alaska, but I know a guy who helped write it, and English is my first language.

Here’s what it says about education:

“The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control.

“No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

“Free from sectarian control” seems pretty clear to me. Alaska’s founders weren’t inventing the wheel, they were expanding the Territorial Organic Act of 1912, which required the separation of church and state schools.

Exactly how much will Parnell’s “privatizing” of Alaska schools cost? Sen. Berta Gardner produced a nonpartisan legislative study that showed it would run about $100 million a year to add a for-profit system. That seems like real money when you see 159 teachers lose their jobs to offset part of a $23 million budget shortfall in Anchorage.

Our public education system can, of course, use improvement. But at this week’s Anchorage School Board meeting some wonderful achievements were recognized. Graduation rates are up significantly, juvenile crime rates in Anchorage are down significantly, and more children are participating in vocational education programs.

For the past few years, the Legislature and governor have demanded “improvements” before increasing school funding. In fact, Parnell famously called education “the ultimate giveaway.” That’s either ironic or psychotic.

That attitude is the polar opposite of the one he took with the oil companies. He didn’t even require them to make commitments to produce more oil before he gave them tax breaks, much less make them produce more first. But that wasn’t a “giveaway.”

But schools? With them he’s Mr. Tough Guy: “You’ll get no more money until I see ‘improvement’ and ‘reform’! ”

Part of the success we’ve seen in our schools in recent years is attributable to programs that were cut just last spring because of lack of money. Graduation coaches and regular counselors, security personnel and career guides are no longer there to help students who need help to make it. Nothing says, “Good job! Way to go!” like a pink slip.

I agree with radio storyteller Garrison Keillor: “When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.”

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

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