Archive for December 2013

Alaska’s Declaration of “Independence”?   Leave a comment

My next several posts are exerpts from Ernest Gruening’s speech at the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention — “Let Us End American Colonialism”.

Gruening was, like many Alaskans, a transplant. He was the appointed governor of the Territory of Alaska under Roosevelt. He served nearly 20 years in that capacity. To his credit, he fell in love with Alaska and spent the rest of his life working in what he felt were our best interests.

I don’t think Gruening was naive. He was a Harvard educated physician and former journalist and he had an extensive history in politics and the federal government before becoming territorial governor. Unlike many others who pursued statehood, he wasn’t operating in ignorance. I think he believed statehood was Alaska’s only option. It’s why he believed it that I don’t get. I have often wondered what secrets he took to his grave. Did he know more about the political mechanizations than anyone else? We’ll never know.

I present this speech because it does a really good job of explaining why Alaskans wanted statehood so badly. I will also present exerpts from Joe Vogler’s never-presented speech before the UN, to show the other side of the story.

This speech has often been called Alaska’s Declaration of Independence, but Gruening was clear that Alaska didn’t want independence. We wanted to break the chains of colonial DEPENDENCE. Unfortunately, we never achieved that.

Ernest Gruening was a great man, but like so many of his generation, he failed to do due diligence and assure that Alaska would become a full state of the union rather than remain a colony.

A Well in Emmaus   Leave a comment

Check out my page “A Well in Emmaus” where the first two chapters are posted. I explore through fiction the themes I blog about — survival, anarchism, societal breakdown, and faith. And keep an eye out for Chapter 3, soon to be posted.

What happens to us when the world as we know it spins out of control?

Emmaus is a typical small town in the center of the very blessed nation of the United States filled with ordinary people who live simple lives in the relative liberty of a prosperous nation. To Shane Delaney, a burned-out mercenary with a troubled past, it’s a safe place to heal his scars and quiet his demons before escaping once more to the real world beyond the corn fields and smiling people who would reject who he has become.

When life as they know it ends abruptly, Emmaus finds itself in a desperate struggle to survive, challenging the town folks to question who they once were and who they must be. With dwindling resources and encroaching winter, questions of value and community, right and wrong, and practicality versus principle all take on new perspectives. The assumptions formed in prosperity and freedom may not hold true in starvation and danger.

We learn who we truly are in times of crisis.

Alaska Statehood Achieved … Officially   Leave a comment

With partisan conflicts toward Alaskan statehood breaking down, Congress reconvened in January 1958 to the sounds of President Eisenhower fully endorsing Alaska statehood for the first time. The story of what swayed President Eisenhower involves publishers Bob Atwood and Bill Snedden, both Republicans, meaning numerous times with a group of GOP politicians, to assure them that Alaska would support the civil rights legislation. This coincided with the Navy’s decision to mothball the Umiat wells in the mistaken belief that Alaska did not have commercially-viable oil reserves. If they’d only looked a little bit harder ….

Bob Bartlett was aware that Alaskans were restless and also aware that another defeat in Congress would have the state’s population looking for another solution. Perhaps he knew that we might take a real look at commonwealth status if we had time to think about it. The Alaska delegation and those who traveled with them were certain that this was a last time shot at statehood, not so much because conditions were right in Congress but because Alaskans might lose interest — or revolt —  if told to wait again. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson assured Bartlett that the southern Senators would not filibuster the Alaska bill. Johnson’s was an important committee, yet Representative Howard W. Smith of Virginia, Chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, stepped in to obstruct the statehood bill. Life Magazine characterized Smith as a “Virginia gentleman whose impeccable manners include little real respect for either free enterprise or democracy.” Representative Thomas Pelly of Washington State demanded the right for his constituents to fish Alaskan waters on the same basis as residents. An amendment was subsequently drafted seeking retention of federal jurisdiction over Alaska’s fish and game resources until the Secretary of the Interior certified to Congress that the state met provisions for their conservation and nonresident access. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner responded to Pelly’s petulance by printing excerpts from Edna Ferber’s impassioned novel Ice Palace. The passages featured the character of Thor Storm, the grizzled Nordic pioneer, informing his granddaughter, Christine, about the legacy of Seattle and San Francisco cannery operators’ unmerciful exploitation of Alaska’s fisheries. Ferber’s book had sold well and widely, with such an educative effect on the nation’s populace that one critic was moved to refer to it as “the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of Alaska Statehood.”

After some maneuvering, the effort to bypass Representative Smith’s Rules Committee succeeded when the Alaska Statehood Bill was brought up on “privileged status” by a roll-call vote of 217-172. The Senate, which had before it both its own version of the statehood bill and the House version, passed the House version at the urging of Delegate Bartlett by a 64-20 margin. The House then passed the bill by a vote of 210-166. New York Representative Leo W. O’ Brien, when asked about the almost miraculous materialization of needed Congressional support for the statehood bill, considered a key factor to be the friendship so many lawmakers felt for Bob Bartlett. According to Bill Snedden and others, the real miracle of passage involved a lot of back room politics and playing both sides against one another.

The Compact passed in July. A month later, Alaskans were presented with a plebescite ballot that gave us only an up-down vote — for statehood or against statehood. There was no discussion that we could become an independent nation and little discussion that we could become a commonwealth-protectorate. In fact, the federal government was adament that we could not become a commonwealth, even thought that was not in the UN Charter. The short time between passage of the Alaska Statehood Act and the election in Alaska meant that few Alaskans had actually read what they were agreeing to.

Furthermore, the military and their voting age dependents made up nearly half the voting population of the state and we now know that military commanders called meetings in the days before the plebescite and told their soldiers that they and their wives were to vote for statehood “or face disciplinary action.” The military in Alaska received extra pay for “overseas” duty, but prior to 1958 that was dependent upon their residence. If they registered to vote in Alaska, they lost their overseas pay. That was changed in 1958 in Alaska. Not in Guam or Puerto Rico. US military personnel there could not register to vote in local elections there and keep their overseas pay. Only in Alaska was the rule changed so that military personnel continued to draw overseas pay while being registered to vote in local elections. At Ft. Wainwright, the Army brought in busses and vans to assist the military and their voting-age dependents in reaching the polls. It is reasonable to assume that a strong plurality of the pro-statehood votes were the military and their dependents who were told how to vote under special circumstances.

It is not usual for an army of occupation to vote in a local election. Think about it as American soldiers voting in the German elections in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Statehood was, by 1958-59, a foregone conclusion. Whether it was good for Alaska or not was never the question. It turned out the Alaska Statehood Act didn’t exactly make us a grown up state, but how were Alaskans to know that when they were not permitted to read it before the election?

Considering Commonwealth   2 comments

History shows that the Eisenhower administration delayed Alaska statehood in an effort to buy time for the Navy to strike commercially-viable oil in the Umiat area. Had that happened, I doubt Alaska would be a state today or we’d be half the size and there’d be a territory appended to us. It was to the United States government’s benefit to have Alaska as a territory when oil became big. But, no matter, Carter figured out how to get around that inconvenience, which is a later subject.

Claus Naske, Alaska’s premier historian, views the proposal to make Alaska and Hawaii commonwealths as another effort to derail statehood. I disagree. I think it was a thoughtful and educated discussion that would have been better for Alaska (and, possibly Hawaii) in the long-run. It was a debate drowned out by the statehood coalition, because it would have greatly benefited us at the expense of the federal government..

As a territory, Alaska wasn’t treated like previous territories. Our governor was appointed, not elected by popular vote. Our legislature was popularly elected, but powerless. It needed to get Congress’ approval for everything and more often than not, Congress said “no.” The federal government could and did dictate the speed limits in Anchorage and prostitution in Fairbanks. As abusive and intrusive as the federal government is in modern-Alaska, I can certainly understand why the former level of control irritated my parents’ generation. Territorial status was worse than statehood … but statehood wasn’t much better.

Commonwealth status would have changed everything and allowed Alaska true home rule. The commonwealth status would have made Alaska into a protectorate of the United States. We would have had full home rule while retaining a relationship with the “mother country.” Our relationship would have been similar to Australia’s with England. We would have retained many trappings of United States citizens, including our citizenship, but we would have gained control of our local politics, resources, waterways, wildlife, markets, etc. We might have had to pay for the military protection and diplomacy, but that wouldn’t have been a problem once we gained control of our resources.

National columnists such as Walter Lippmann and Richard Strout (The New Republic) favored commonwealth status and for a brief moment, Alaskans began talking about it. My mom, reading Strout’s Alaska and Hawaii in the New Republic as she drove north with her first husband and my brother, thought this made perfect sense. Joe Vogler later claimed he also thought it was a good idea at the time. Tom Snedden of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner at first favored this choice.

The federal government quickly fired back that Alaska and Hawaii didn’t have the commonwealth option because they were “organized territories.” Remember the times. Radio, newspapers and magazines were the information sources of the day. Alaska was geographically remote. Alaskans naively believed that the government would tell the truth. It turned out, the federal government lied. Alaska and Hawaii were considered unincorporated territories under the United Nations Charter, which mentions nothing about “organized territories.” The UN Charter says that non-self-governing territories have the right to self-determination (to remain a territory, become an independent nation, a state or a commonwealth/protectorate) and, as we will see later, that the governing nation has an obligation to fully inform the people of said territories of their options. The federal government did not fully inform Alaska of its options and, in fact, deliberately obscured the commonwealth option.

The brief discussion of commonwealth status didn’t sway the Alaska media boosters from their singular obsession with statehood. They were convinced that a vote in Congress was worth far more than control of our resources and full home rule. Those Alaskans favoring commonwealth could not grab a microphone and they didn’t buy ink by the barrel, so they couldn’t be heard over the Anchorage Times promises that Alaska would be admitted to the union as a full state with all the sovereignty enjoyed by any other state.

HAH! What a pretty dream! How is that working out for us? Fifty five years and we have a vote in Congress and two in the Senate, more than 60% of our land is locked up in federal control, we receive no benefit from it, we are increasingly losing control of our resources, our waterways, our wildlife management, etc.

Another series of Congressional hearings about Alaska’s situation instilled in many Alaskans an interest in more aggressive action. Such enthusiasm ultimately brought about the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention, held in the newly appointed “Constitution Hall” on the grounds of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. My dad attended as an assistant to one of the delegates. Senator Ernest Gruening delivered his galvanizing “Let Us End American Colonialism” address there. The convention received phenomenal national exposure and was praised by numerous journalists for its idealistic attention to “the good of Alaska” rather than partisan politics. The convention was an intensely emotional event for all involved, as passions about the future of Alaska ran strong and deep among convention members. In 1956, the resulting Constitution–which the National Municipal League called “one of the best, if not the best, state constitutions ever written” was overwhelmingly accepted by Alaskans. We’ll look at that later.

Another crucial maneuver toward statehood was the adoption of the Tennessee Plan, proposed by ex-Navy commander George H. Lehleitner. The plan, which had been used successfully by Tennessee, Michigan, California, Oregon, Kansas, and Iowa, involved electing a Congressional delegation without waiting for an enabling act from Congress. It was meant to be a show of political maturity. In the spring of 1956, Alaskans elected Ernest Gruening and William Egan as Senators-elect and Ralph J. Rivers (I met both of the last two men as a child and my parents rented Rivers home while he was in DC) as House Representative-elect. With support for statehood firmly established in Alaska, the stage was now set for reinvigorated efforts in the nation’s Congress. Egan, Gruening, and Rivers were received with much fanfare, but were not officially seated or recognized by Congress.

Working together with Delegate Bob Bartlett, the Tennessee Plan delegation lobbied hard in the Senate and the House. At the time, Congress was embroiled in the civil rights movement. All three delegates from Alaska were Democrats, so it was naturally assumed that Alaska would vote with the Democrats if admitted to statehood. Contrary to popular belief, Democrats were opposed to passing the Civil Rights legislation while Republicans were for it. Alaska’s delegation and those who traveled with them began lobbying behind the scenes. C.W. “Bill” Snedden, publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and Bob Atwood, publisher of the Anchorage Times, were Republicans. The Democratic delegates spoke with Democratic Congressmen and hinted that Alaska would vote against civil rights legislation. The Republican advocates spoke with Republican Congressmen and hinted that Alaska would vote FOR the legislation. Bob Bartlett whispered in any ear that got near. Influential House Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas, until the summer of 1957 a foe of Alaska statehood, changed his mind and promised to give the territory a chance to be heard. Rayburn, when asked about his change in view, answered “I can tell you in two words, ‘Bob Bartlett’.” He was referring to Bartlett’s assurances that Alaska would vote with the Democrats against civil rights if we were admitted to the union, but other Republican congressional members also had received similar assurances from Bartlett, Atwood and Snedden that we would vote with the Republicans for civil rights.

I don’t fault these men for their enthusiasm in pursuing what they thought was the answer to Alaska’s colonial servitude. Egan, Bartlett, and Rivers were friends with my Dad. Later, Bill Snedden and Mike Stepovich became family friends too. I know for certain their hearts were in the right place. I do fault them for not researching our options better. I fault them for drowning out a true debate on those options. Bob Atwood and Bill Snedden both had a hand in controlling the debate through their control of the media.

Alaska deserved better and we’re still paying the price.

Posted December 30, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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“A Well in Emmaus”   Leave a comment

Check out my page “A Well in Emmaus” where the first two chapters are posted. I explore through fiction the themes I blog about — survival, anarchism, societal breakdown, and faith.

What happens to us when the world as we know it spins out of control?

Emmaus is a typical small town in the center of the very blessed nation of the United States filled with ordinary people who live simple lives in the relative liberty of a prosperous nation. To Shane Delaney, a burned-out mercenary with a troubled past, it’s a safe place to heal his scars and quiet his demons before escaping once more to the real world beyond the corn fields and smiling people who would reject who he has become.

When life as they know it ends abruptly, Emmaus finds itself in a desperate struggle to survive, challenging the town folks to question who they once were and who they must be. With dwindling resources and encroaching winter, questions of value and community, right and wrong, and practicality versus principle all take on new perspectives. The assumptions formed in prosperity and freedom may not hold true in starvation and danger.

We learn who we truly are in times of crisis.

Posted December 29, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Writing

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Alaska Statehood Buildup   5 comments

Historian Claus Naske divides the statehood movement in Alaska into two phases. I am not a fan, but he wrote the most accessible books on Alaska history. He has the naive notion that the federal government gave Alaska a gift in statehood and refuses to see that many of our current problems grow out of statehood.

First, between 1943 and 1953, Alaska’s governor (Gruening), the delegate to Congress (Bartlett), and a cross-section of the territory’s established business and professional men and women engineered numerous legislative efforts to achieve statehood for Alaska. Without popular support in Alaska, it was not going to happen. Alaskans were, for the most part, fed up with the United States. Gruening — a federal appointee — was frustrated by the fact that after three decades as an actual American territory, Alaska was still without adequate roads, airfields, tuberculosis hospitals, and dependable shipping at reasonable cost. Aboriginal rights issue had not yet been settled Homesteaders were not yet legally able to acquire land from the federal government. Gruening felt that the only tools Alaskans could use to end their plight were two United States senators and a Representative in the House, each with a vote.

Ah, starry-eyed dreamer! Or savvy politician working in the interest of the colonial masters.

The fact that a federal appointee believed that Alaska should become a state suggests to me that there was more at work than just an Alaskan perspective. Gruening’s federal handlers wanted Alaskan statehood … or at least the debate — for some reason and you need look no further than international law in 1946. The United Nations Charter mandated that the unincorporated territories of sovereign nations should be allowed self-determination.

Alaskans were fed up with the United States because of the way we had been treated. My mother lived in the Panhandle at the time and my father lived in Anchorage when he wasn’t in the Merchant Marines. Both said a majority of non-military Alaskans that they knew were so fed up that they referred to the United States as another country and an enemy one at that. We were ripe to choose to take our natural resource wealth and become a country all on our own. By shifting the dialogue to statehood rather than discussing becoming an independent nation or a commonwealth, the federal government obscured the fact that Alaska had choices under international law.

By ginning up that discussion and making it sound like the choice was only between remaining a territory or becoming a state, Gruening and his friends were able to control the debate. A 1946 referendum in favor of statehood led to the formation of the Alaska Statehood Association–an “ad hoc” group of “concerned” citizens — mainly people who were connected to people already waving the statehood banner. Meanwhile, Gruening lobbied hard in Washington with the members of the influential Senate Public Lands Committee, especially Senator Hugh Butler of Nebraska. Delegate Bartlett introduced a statehood bill in April, 1948 which was corralled in the Rules Committee by Senator Butler. It never came up for debate, but many Alaskans had testified to their desire for statehood, which may have actually been the expression of being fed up with being a colonial possession, and the interest of other Alaskans was aroused as the possibility of statehood became more plausible. Alaska voters decided that year to reform the territory’s tax structure to loosen the hold of the special interests. It didn’t work because the federal government didn’t want Alaska to control the special interests. Too many in DC were making too much money to change that system. Oddly, not much has changed.

The Alaska Statehood Committee was formed in 1949 to intensify efforts toward statehood, calling on national and labor organizations (which is how my dad, a union organizer home in Anchorage from the Merchant Marines, got involved in statehood initially), newspaper editors, and state governors to support and publicize Alaska’s situation. Gruening himself compiled a “committee of one-hundred” prominent Americans who supported Alaska’s aspirations, including Eleanor Roosevelt, actor James Cagney, Pearl S. Buck, John Gunther, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. 1949 was a watershed year for the statehood movement, as it received growing attention both in Alaska and in the nation at large. A bill for statehood passed the House by a vote of 186-146 early in 1950, but was killed in the Senate by a coalition of conservative Republicans and southern Democrats, backed tacitly by President Eisenhower. This coalition wanted to preserve the tenuous Republican majority in Congress, and opposed Alaska’s entry into the Union for fear that its congressional voice would be Democratic. The Korean War, which began in June of 1950 and lasted into 1952, effectively put concerns about Alaska statehood on the back burner.

The second, or “populist” phase in Naske’s analysis, involved the efforts of thousands of regular Alaskans to foment popular interest in the statehood drive. This had not been the default position of most Alaskans prior to 1950. It came about as a consequence of the growing media monopolization of the debate. The Anchorage Times and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner could buy ink by the barrel and convince Alaskans, who had no other source of news, that this was the only option. The New York Journal-American put the situation dramatically:

Alaska wants statehood with the fervor men and women give to a transcendent cause. An overwhelming number of men and women voters in the United States want statehood for Alaska. This Nation needs Alaskan statehood to advance her defense, sustain her security, and discharge her deep moral obligation.

Naske might have believed that, but folks like my parents who lived here at the time were not all that convinced. At the federal level, media boostering such as this served as a counterweight to the typical arguments made against Alaska statehood: noncontiguity with the rest of the country, lack of population, inadequate political maturity, and meager financial resources. None of these should have been arguments for or against statehood. A reasonable discussion of all of our options should have informed the public debate.

Senator Butler and five members of the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee decided to hold hearings in Alaska on a statehood bill; they wanted to hear the “reaction of the “little people” of Alaska. The Butler committee heard testimony in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan. The visit of Butler’s committee brought together many Alaskans sympathetic to the statehood cause, and popular publicity movements such as “Operation Statehood” put increased pressure on Congress for Alaska statehood. Women in the committee, for example, made artificial bouquets out of the Forget-me-Not, Alaska’s official flower, and mailed them to members of Congress prior to the consideration of statehood legislation. The citizens of Alaska sent Christmas cards to friends in the contiguous U. S. which urged: “Make [Alaskans] future bright/Ask your Senator for statehood/And start the New Year right.” Members of Congress could no longer invoke “lack of public interest” as an argument against Alaska Statehood.

In the meantime, most people in the Interior of Alaska were not convinced statehood was the answer. The United Nations Charter had given us another option, which had been discovered by the mayor of Anchorage who could assure it made the news. Many of my parents’ generation thought this was the way we should go … well, until Tom Snedden, publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, became convinced for statehood, anyway.

President Eisenhower, in his 1954 State of the Union address, requested the immediate admission of Hawaii into the Union but did not mention Alaska. The editor of the Washington Post wrote of a “murky cloud of politics” surrounding such a position, as it was becoming evident that the Republican administration thought Hawaii would come into the Union as a Republican state, while Alaska would come in favoring the Democrats. Eventually the Senate put together a combination statehood bill, which provided for the admission first of Hawaii and then of Alaska. This bill immediately became the centerpiece of Congressional partisan wrangling. Operation Statehood swamped the White House with telegrams asking for “Statehood Now.” A delegation of Operation Statehood’s members flew to Washington, D. C. to meet with President Eisenhower, and they made a dramatic impression. John Butrovich, a Fairbanks insurance agent and senior Republican in the territorial legislature, told Eisenhower:

We feel that you are a great American. But we are shocked to come down here and find that a bill which concerns the rights of American citizens is bottled up in a committee when you have the power to bring it out on the House floor.

Eisenhower reddened as Butrovich banged his fists on the Chief Executive’s desk to emphasize his dissatisfaction. The President denied that any partisanship played a role in the Alaska statehood issue and assured the members that Alaska statehood posed many problems which needed attention. Naske surmised that Eisenhower was most likely concerned with preserving the narrow Republican margin in Congress, but more recent researchers have claimed that Eisenhower’s real concern was the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA), where the Navy was finding oil, but not enough to declare a third of the state as a federal petroleum reserve. He really wanted to do that and if the test wells near Umiat had produced just a little bit more oil, Alaska never would have become a state. It is known from Eisenhower’s memoirs that he favored an Alaska about half the acreage of what it is today and allowing the State of Alaska to control only a few hundred thousand acres of land. In other words, he favored giving us the title of state while keeping us on a colonial leash — which, hey, is what Carter managed to accomplish through the use of the Antiquities Act 30 years later.

Posted December 29, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Freedom of Speech Should Be Free   Leave a comment

I’m a Duck Dynasty virgin. We don’t have cable, so I’ve never seen the show. I heard about it, but I probably wouldn’t have worked very hard to see it except for the Phil Robertson affair.

Like Mr. Robertson, I believe the Bible is pretty clear that homosexual behavior is a sin. If that offends you, please take it up with God. Somewhat like the law that says we in the United States have to drive on the right-hand side of the road or face manslaughter charges if we hit other cars head on when we drive on the left-hand side of the road – it is governed by forces larger than myself and it is so common-sense that I can’t see a reason to argue about it. God says homosexual behavior is soul-sucking behavior. I see evidence for that. As He is God and I am not, I don’t have a problem with accepting what He says.

This is not to say that gays do not have civil rights in our society. They have the same ones I have. Universal acceptance for their sexual conduct is not a civil right and their demand that it is threatens everyone’s fundamental civil rights. Do we need to list those? Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom from involuntary servitude, the right to vote, the right to equality in public places, the right to due process of law, the right to equal protection under the law. I think that’s pretty much it. Constitutional civil rights are inalienable, God-given, based ultimately on the teachings of the Bible. They are also individual. Groups do not have rights. Go read the constitution and get back with me if you don’t believe me. If you find a reference to groups anywhere there, let me know.

Satisfied? Let’s move on, then.

In a free society, respectful disagreement should be expected and allowed. Society cannot avoid conflict. Homosexual sex directly contradicts the teachings of the Bible. Acknowledging that does not automatically lead to hatred of or violence toward homosexuals because the Bible is more than just a list of sins. The Bible is also a manual for love. All humans are sinners. I may not be violating God’s law by having sex with a woman, but I know I’m violating His law by being 20 pounds overweight. Like homosexuality, overeating is a sin because it treats God’s temple – the Christian’s body – disrespectfully. Hetrosexuals commit sexual sins themselves when they have sex outside of marriage, lust after those who are not their spouses, and divorce and remarry. A lot of Christians need forgiveness in those areas. There are also evangelicals who are themselves homosexuals who are challenged to reconcile their faith with their sexual urges in much the same way that Christians who are alcoholics must reconcile their faith with their addiction. Hatred and violence are also sins, according to the Bible. It’s a good thing the Bible teaches forgiveness and reconciliation, which is not acceptance of sin, but acceptance of the sinner.

I know, that term “sinner” is hurtful and offensive. Truths often are, as every alcoholic who has ever been confronted with the consequence of their drinking can attest. Phil Robertson was honest about what he believes. He probably should have not had his Carrie Prejean moment while under the scrutiny of GQ magazine. Who knows how much editing his comments underwent between when he spoke them and when they were printed. He’s clarified his thinking following the release of the comments. He’s said he’s an imperfect human being, a product of the 60s who sinned plenty before becoming a Christian and he believes in the power of forgiveness, but he’s not going to compromise his faith to salve society’s flavor-of-the-month cause. I agree with him, for the most part. Sin is not a concept the secular world really understands, so it’s not surprising that the discussion has turned toxic.

It might surprise some people that I have several lesbian friends. Well, not if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, because I’ve discussed it before. I used to work for a social service agency and there were a lot of lesbians working there. A couple became actual friends. When the Robertson affair hit the press, one of them and I engaged in a conversation about it. She knows I consider her lifestyle to be a sin. She also knows that I don’t hate her and that I pray for her salvation. She “gets” that I’m upholding Biblical principle both by acknowledging the sin and caring for the sinner.

On the other hand, a friend of my daughter – a public-school educated millennial – insists that evangelicals will just have to change our beliefs because there is absolutely no tolerating differences of opinion on homosexuality. “Homosexual rights are absolute, even if they violate your beliefs,” she wrote. “If you belief homosexuality is a sin, then you have no place in American society.” Because I like to argue, I managed to gin her up to suggesting reeducation camps for Christians and other fun moral-realignment activities.

Because my daughter cares for her as a friend, I chose not to post our dialogue. It would be one thing if the 20-something set were the only ones thinking this way, but they have loads of company.

Liberals ignore the downside to pursuing their idealistic visions. Ideally, everyone would believe as I believe, but that takes away the freedom of atheists. Similarly, homosexual rights cannot be absolute without the country sacrificing freedom of conscience, thought and speech. If Phil Robertson must sit down, shut up and be punished because what he believes constitutes “hate speech”, then we no longer have freedom of conscience or speech in this country. No one should want to nullify those freedoms for any reason, but it is a perfect wedge voting issue for the Democratic Party, which has spent the last 30 years using the public schools to proselytize that the gay agenda is civil rights, when in reality it is political manipulation.

Compromise on the issue would cost the Democrats votes because it would make social conservatives look … well, sane. Compromise in the political arena on this issue is possible. Let’s focus on civil rights as opposed to civil control.

Let’s start by getting government out of the marriage business. Whoa! See how easy that was? Government no longer decides who may and may not marry. Civil unions become a matter of contract the particulars of which may be registered with the state, but not decided by the state. Lawyers work out the details between parties who agree to the terms that are acceptable to them. Churches and civic organizations can, if they choose, perform ritualistic ceremonies that solemnize the contract … or not.

If churches don’t want to perform gay “weddings”, then they shouldn’t have to. Secular organizations could provide whatever ritual is desired by those who cannot solemnize their contract in a church. This leaves the individuals in faith communities free to exercise their beliefs while also allowing gays to contract for domestic partnership. Healthy heterosexual families are protected by contract law and homosexual couples are also. Nobody is treated as legal second-class citizens.
While we’re at it, schools (which are paid for by all of us) should get out of the proselytizing business. The viewpoints of GLAAD should not be promoted in public schools anymore than the viewpoints of the Robertson family.

Adoption is a more troubling and difficult problem, but it might be best for government just got out of the whole family business altogether. Let private adoption rule. Religious adoption centers should not be banned from excluding gay couples while secular adoption centers could accept them. The political line, unsupported by evidence, that children are entirely safe and thrive equally well in gay families should not be taught in public schools and should not be supported by the government.

If we got the government out of the way on this issue, we could then have a civil conversation about right, wrong and the role of morality in our society. Maybe if we listened to one another instead of demonizing the other side for political gamesmanship, we’d learn something.

My lesbian friend noted that she didn’t automatically assume Phil Robertson wants to eliminate gays from society because her friendship with me had taught her that I “believe homosexuality is a sin, but you don’t hate me.” That came from talking to one another in a civil manner, exercising our freedom of speech and allowing each other freedom of conscience and association.

Whoa! What an amazing concept! I think they used to call it liberty.

Pitch for “A Well in Emmaus”   Leave a comment

Check out my page “A Well in Emmaus” where the first two chapters are posted. I explore through fiction the themes I blog about — survival, anarchism, societal breakdown, and faith.

What happens to us when the world as we know it spins out of control?

Emmaus is a typical small town in the center of the very blessed nation of the United States filled with ordinary people who live simple lives in the relative liberty of a prosperous nation. To Shane Delaney, a burned-out mercenary with a troubled past, it’s a safe place to heal his scars and quiet his demons before escaping once more to the real world beyond the corn fields and smiling people who would reject who he has become.

When life as they know it ends abruptly, Emmaus finds itself in a desperate struggle to survive, challenging the town folks to question who they once were and who they must be. With dwindling resources and encroaching winter, questions of value and community, right and wrong, and practicality versus principle all take on new perspectives. The assumptions formed in prosperity and freedom may not hold true in starvation and danger.

We learn who we truly are in times of crisis.

Posted December 28, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Writing

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Colonial Alaska   Leave a comment

Alaska had a population of about 58,000 in 1916 when James Wickersham, former federal judge, then a delegate to Congress, introduced Alaska’s first statehood bill. It failed due to lack of interest on the part of Alaskans. Not even President Harding’s 1923 visit to the Territory could create sustained widespread interest in statehood. Efforts to amend the Second Organic Act, which had not (as advertised) extricated Alaska’s fishing industry from the influences of the “Fish Trust,” took up a great deal of time and energy but ultimately proved fruitless.

Some Congressional legislation was overtly discriminatory to the Territory. The U. S. Maritime Act of 1920 (commonly referred to as the Jones Act, after its sponsor, Senator Wesley Jones of Seattle) stipulated that all commercial ships travelling between American ports had to be American-owned and American-built. That sounds good, right?

Not for Alaska. All merchandise entering or leaving Alaska had to be transported by American carriers, which meant that all shipping had to go through Seattle. The Supreme Court ruled that, because Alaska was not officially a state, the Constitution’s provision that one state should not hold sway over the commerce of another did not protect Alaska. Routing ships through the Canadian ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert would have been much cheaper for Alaskans because under the Court’s ruling, the Jones Act allowed Seattle business interests to charge much higher than average prices for shipping, which raised the cost of living in Alaska and funneled Alaskan dollars out of the Territory and into the pockets of Washington businessmen. I suspect Senator Jones’ pockets were well-lined with the wages of Alaskans just trying to fill their pantries.

Other territories (such as Hawaii) controlled their own fisheries, but the salmon industry was able to prevent this transfer of power to the territory of Alaska in 1912, leaving various federal agencies — Treasury, Commerce and the Interior departments — running the salmon fishery.  They didn’t do a very good job and the fishing cartels were often permitted to trap the entire mouth of salmon rivers for a year or more at a time, thereby threatening the fishery viability in the “distant” future. If salmon cannot make it upstream to spawn, there are no salmon in about seven years. The White Act of 1924 (referred to as the “Magna Carta of fishery conservation” by both federal officials and industry spokesmen) favored the big companies’ fish traps and worked against development of small operators in Alaska because they couldn’t afford to meet the regulatory guidelines. It also prohibited subsistence fishing within commercially-designated streams.

Alaskans themselves played a hand in the confusion. Compounding national discrimination were regional conflicts among the territory’s judicial divisions, which further blurred the focus on statehood. Under the conditions of the Second Organic Act, Alaska had been divided into four divisions, each with a capitol city

  • First Judicial division (southeastern Alaska) at Juneau
  • Second Division (northwestern Alaska) at Nome
  • Third Division (southcentral Alaska) at Valdez, and later at Anchorage
  • Fourth Division (the interior) at Fairbanks

The Southeastern division, or “Panhandle” region, had the largest population of the four regions and began investigate becoming a state separate from the other three less-populated divisions. Government control over Alaska was the primary concern. Over 52 federal agencies had a hand in the daily workings of Alaska! Exasperated, Congressional delegate James Wickersham declared “there actually exists today a congressional government in Alaska more offensively bureaucratic in its basic principles and practices than that which existed here during the seventy years of Russian rule under the Czar.”

Under the Coolidge administration, there were federal attempts to streamline administration, but these couldn’t overcome the unfair Congressional legislation and really had little success in changing the bureaucratic control over Alaska’s development. The exploitative resource industries of the contiguous states still had the power to completely withdraw the sources of livelihood for most Alaskans. They maintained this power through the willing cooperation of corrupt DC politicians and Washington State business interests.

The Depression hit Alaska hard as prices paid for fish and copper, the territory’s two chief commodities, declined. In an attempt to manipulate the gold standard, Roosevelt also shut down gold mining in Alaska and made it illegal to own gold privately. Miners couldn’t buy food because their gold essentially became worthless. Between 1929 and 1932, the work force in Alaska decreased by more than half, and wages dropped. Help came from New Deal programs such as the National Reforestation Act of 1933 (which brought my brother’s father to Alaska, which would lead to the family relocation here after the War) and various Public Works Administration construction efforts.

Most famous of the government efforts in Alaska during the Depression is the 1935 Matanuska Valley colonization scheme. President Franklin D. Roosevelt imagined that Americans from depressed agricultural areas could be transplanted to Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna region and given a fresh chance at agricultural self-sustainment. Around 1,000 colonists were selected from some 15,000 applicants — largely from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (which is what gave Alaska a strong Midwestern influence, hence Sarah Palin’s accent) on the assumption that the similar climate of these areas to Alaska would best prepare settlers for life in the North.

While the New Deal aided Alaska, it took an event of much greater scale and purpose to truly bring the Territory onto the national stage. As early as 1933, Delegate Anthony J. Dimond had recognized Japan as a threat to America’s security and asked Congress for military airfields and planes, a highway to link the territory with the United States, and army garrisons. Telling his colleagues in the House of Representatives that Japanese fishermen off Alaska’s coast were actually disguised military personnel scouting out information on Alaska’s harbors, Dimond pleaded that Alaska was as much a key to the Pacific as Hawaii and must be defended. Nobody listened to him until just before the outbreak of open hostilities. In 1940, Congress appropriated money for military installations, but it took the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the 1942 occupation by Japan of Attu and Kiska islands on the Aleutian Chain for military mobilization to begin in earnest. Billions of dollars in defense spending came into the territory with the construction of the Alaska Highway, the recapture and eventual fortification of the Aleutian islands, and the construction of military bases throughout the state. Often military bases were placed with little or no regard to existing homesteads. Unable to demand recompense via imminent domain, Alaskans were sometimes impoverished by these takings.

The Alaska Highway stretches 1,500 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska to Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The construction took only eight months and twelve days! To the right is a good example of what it looked like in 1943.

In 1940, about 1,000 of Alaska’s 75,000 residents were military. By 1943, 152,000 out of 233,000 belonged to the armed forces stationed in Alaska. There was a post-war drop in population to about 99,000 in 1946, but Cold War military expenditures pushed it back up to around 138,000 by 1950. The war years irrevocably changed Alaska and, many believe, influenced the debate for statehood.

Attention in the national press increasingly raised awareness about Alaska’s situation. Richard L. Neuberger described the territory in Newsweek as a “feudal barony” where the absentee-owned mining and fishing corporations took out millions in natural resources and left next to nothing behind in the form of social and economic benefits. Alaska was a “looted land.” It became increasingly obvious that keeping territorial government and tax structures to a minimum benefitted Seattle-area interests such as the Alaska Steamship Company and the Northland Transportation Company, who enjoyed an effective monopoly on steamship travel and shipping and charged unusually high rates.

To be sure, some Alaskans benefitted from the situation too. Alaskan businessmen, such as Austin E. “Cap” Lathrop, a quintessential “capitalist” who owned the Suntrana Coal Mine in Healy and several businesses in Fairbanks, were able to benefit greatly from the minimal taxes and argued against statehood for fear that its’ stricter tax laws might diminish their position. Territorial status was not working for Alaska, but many Alaskans weren’t convinced statehood would fix anything. The anti-statehood faction had a powerful hold in the Territory, and might have quelled the issue were it not for two especially vigorous pro-statehood advocates, Ernest Gruening and E. L. “Bob” Bartlett.

Ernest Gruening, an Easterner with a history of progressive politics, had served as publicity director for Senator Robert M. LaFollette’s presidential candidacy in 1924 when LaFollette polled five million votes but lost the race. Gruening traveled and worked in Mexico and Europe before serving as editor of The Nation until he was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 to run the fledgling Division of Territories and Island Possessions. In 1939, FDR appointed Gruening to the territorial governorship of Alaska.

Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett, with whom Gruening was to work closely for the next quarter-century, had served as secretary to Congressional delegate Anthony J. Dimond, remaining in Washington until 1934. Bartlett operated a placer gold mine for a while before President Roosevelt appointed him territorial secretary of Alaska in January 1939. In 1944, Bartlett ran for and won the position which Wickersham and Dimond had held–Territorial Delegate to Congress. Beginning in 1945, Delegate Bartlett acted as Alaska’s only representative in the halls of Congress.

These two men, their friendship and their association with progressives in Washington DC were what would propel Alaska toward statehood in the 1950s.

Posted December 28, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Achieving Territorial Status – Kinda   5 comments

The Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98 was the first event to garner significant exposure for the great, white North. From 1890 to1900, more than 30, 000 people surged into the Yukon Territory and Alaska when gold was discovered in places like Dawson, Central and Nome. In 1902, there were additional discoveries in Fairbanks, and Ester. Mining, fishing, trapping, and mineral production flourished and a true “colonial economy” developed, in which outside interests exploited the material resources of Alaska and took the profits elsewhere. Journalist David S. Jordan declared in an article for the Atlantic Monthly called “Colonial Lessons of Alaska,” that the disarray in Alaska could be attributed to four sources:

  • “lack of centralization of power and authority
  • lack of scientific knowledge
  • lack of personal and public interest
  • the use of offices as political patronage

Jordan demanded to know if the U. S. could, in good conscience, hoist its flag over a colony if it was not prepared to care for it.

I have to point out that his “problems” don’t all look like problems to me. A lack of centralization of power and authority would be a good thing, in my opinion. In fact, as the Alaska colonial period wore on, we found that many of our problems were caused by the centralization of authority in Washington DC and Juneau.

President McKinley acknowledged the urgent need for further civil organization in Alaska and called for legislative relief which would address Alaska’s bulky backlog of civil and criminal cases. In 1900 Congress passed an official code of civil and criminal procedure, appointed more judges, and put in place a system of taxation. A duty-free exchange of goods with Canada was established and construction was approved for a railroad between the port city of Seward and the city of Fairbanks, in the Interior, to aid in the distribution of goods … and the extraction of gold.

Efforts toward self-government were complicated by the influence in Washingon of the “Alaska Syndicate,” formed in 1906 by J. P. Morgan and the Guggenheim brothers under the persuasion of mining engineer Stephen Birch, who operated the Alaska Steamship Company and had large holdings in Alaska canneries, gold mines and gold dredges. The Syndicate had purchased the huge Kennicott-Bonanza copper mine, controlled much of Alaskan steamship and rail transportation and owned/controlled a major part of the salmon canning industry. The Syndicate lobby in Washingon had successfully opposed any further extension of Alaskan home rule.

James Wickersham, who had been appointed to an Alaskan judgeship in 1900 by President McKinley, became alarmed by the potential influence of incorporated interests in the territory and took up the struggle for Alaskan self-government. Wickersham argued that Alaska’s resources should be used for the good of the entire country rather than exploited by a select group of large, absentee-controlled interests. Home rule, he claimed, would assure a more just utilization of the territory’s natural wealth.

The 1910 Ballinger-Pinchot affair, which involved the illegal distribution of 33 federal Alaska coal land leases to the Guggenheim interests, culminated in a Congressional investigation and brought Alaska squarely into the national headlines. Wickersham, surveying the fallout of the affair, determined that it:

  • destroyed the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and President Taft
  • split the Republican party into two great factions
  • defeated President Taft for re-election in 1912
  • elected Woodrow Wilson President of the United States
  • changed the course of history of our country

A chastened lame-duck President Taft, in a special message to Congress on February 2, 1912, urged the enactment of legislation which would help Alaska develop its resources along the lines that Wickersham had urged.

Wickersham may well have been right about it changing the course of national history. Although there were certainly progressive voices operating in the United States prior to the 1912 election, Theodore Roosevelt was America’s first progressive president. If he had not won … who knows the course the country might have taken.

The Second Organic Act, passed by the U. S. Congress in April 1912, conferred official territorial status upon Alaska and provided for an elected legislature of eight senators and 16 house members. After 45 years as a non-entity, Alaska was finally a territory. Sounds good, right? Not really! Congress refused to give significant power to the territorial legislature or make the position of governor of the Territory a popularly elected one. Everything the local legislature did was subject to the (dis)approval of Congress. The federal government retained the power to regulate the territory’s fish, game, and fur resources. So?

No organized territory had ever been denied that authority before. These restrictions would chafe Alaskans and eventually lead to efforts to amend and change the Second Organic Act. For the most part, this official act of incorporation as a territory by Congress did little more than bind the region more firmly to the United States. We moved from being an economic possession to being an official colony.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had provided the framework for the territorial system and had, for over a century, well served the purposes of expansion. The last two contiguous U. S. territories, New Mexico and Arizona, had become states in 1912. But Alaska (like Hawaii and Puerto Rico) is non-contiguous and was sparsely populated. Fully one-half of Alaska’s population at the time were indigenous, non-white Aleuts, Indians, and Eskimos and Congress really wasn’t sure what they wanted or should do about them. Bigotry and logistics admittedly complicated Alaska statehood.

It’s important to recognize that political considerations often took part in statehood determinations. It’s easy for us – so far in the future — to skip over that, but Nevada only had 20,000 people when it was elevated from a territory to a state in 1864. Alaska had three times that population during most of our territory era, but half of them were Natives which the United States really didn’t want, and those 20,000 Nevadan voters gave Abraham Lincoln a narrow re-election and helped ratify the 13th Amendment. What might Alaska have done for some population? Well, in the 1950s, we were courted on both sides of the civil rights fight in Congress.

The United States government should perhaps apologize to Nevada for some of its dealings with that worthy state, but it owes Alaska a great deal more explanation for its refusal to treat us in a similar manner.

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