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Meet Senator Mark Begich   Leave a comment

When Mark Begich first announced his candidacy to represent Alaska in the US Senate, I was mildly interested. Although I’m a conservative and he was the Democratic mayor of Anchorage, I am a non-partisan and have voted for Democrats on occasion. I admit, I didn’t know much about Mark. His father, Nick, had been Alaska’s representative until he died in a plane crash in 1972. My father, an old-style Democrat, knew and liked Nick a lot and my mother, another conservative non-partisan, also thought he was a fine representative for Alaska. In fact, she had been lobbying Nick to run against Senator Mike Gravel when Nick died.

So, I checked out Mark Begich.

He was born in Anchorage, he lost his father when he was 10 and was raised by his mother. He attended Stellar Secondary School , an alternative “charter-type” school that allows the student to direct his own education. That could be part of the problem. Although he has taken continuing education classes at University of Alaska-Anchorage, he is the only current Senator who lacks a college degree. This is not a huge issue for me … my favorite Alaska governor Walter Hickel had to quit school after the 8th grade because of the Depression and he did fine without it — made a lot of money, was Secretary of the Interior, and governor of the State of Alaska twice. A college degree is not a necessity … but it may explain some of Mark’s collusion with his fellow Democrats. He may feel inadequate.

Given who is father was, he has political connections in a small-population state like Alaska. He was elected to the Anchorage (Borough – like a county)Assembly in 1988, at age 26, and served until 1998, including three years as chairman and two as vice chairman. In 1989, Begich led the opposition to the sale of the municipally-owned Anchorage Telephone Utility (ATU) to private interests. ATU was eventually sold in 1999 (after Begich had left the Assembly). Begich was also one of the chief sponsors of the introduction of photo radar, against the overwhelming opposition of the public (a red flag in a populist state) and, eventually, the State Supreme Court (which takes issues like privacy very seriously).

Surpringly, given his lack of former education, Begich served for a number of years on the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, including as its chair. In 2001, Governor Tony Knowles appointed Begich to the University of Alaska Board of Regents, but the Legislature did not confirm the appointment. Good for the Legislature. He doesn’t seem qualified.

Begich ran two unsuccessful campaigns for mayor in 1994 and 2000 before being elected in 2003, winning by eleven votes.

He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1994 against Rick Mystrom, and in 2000 against then-Assemblyman George Wuerch. In the 2003 mayoral race he narrowly defeated both Mystrom and Wuerch, earning only 11 votes over the number needed to win, due to a simultaneously approved law increasing the threshold needed to avoid a runoff election from 40 to 45 percent. He was re-elected in April 2006, winning against local advertising and radio personality Jack Frost. Though the office is officially nonpartisan, Begich was the first Democrat to be elected Mayor of the Municipality of Anchorage since Tony Knowles, who was later elected to two terms as Governor of Alaska.

One reason for this is that Tony Knowles was hands-down a horrible mayor who inherited a city with a healthy budget surplus and ran it deeply into debt. The voters of Anchorage were understandably nervous of Democrats following that.

On February 27, 2008, Begich announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to run for the United States Senate.  After winning the Democratic nomination, he went on to face Republican incumbent Ted Stevens in the general election. The polls showed the race to be leaning for Begich due to Stevens’ indictment and felony conviction, both of which were thrown out due to prosecutor misconduct which included hiding evidence and suppressing witnesses which would have cleared Senator Stevens.  On November 18, 2008, the Associated Press called the election for Begich, who was leading and likely to win by more than the 0.5% margin needed to trigger an automatic recount, with the remainder of uncounted ballots originating from the Anchorage area. Stevens conceded the race the next day.

The story here is not that Mark Begich won the election. It’s that Mark Begich won the election by ½% of the vote against a man who had been convicted in federal court. Just stop and think about that. Reread the sentence. One-half of one percent of an election against a man who had been convicted in federal court just eight days before.

Begich’s victory over Stevens in the 2008 Senate elections made him the first Democrat to represent Alaska in either chamber of the United States Congress since Mike Gravel, who was defeated in the Democratic primary in 1980 and left the Senate in 1981 upon the expiration of his term. Begich’s father, Nick Begich, was the last Democrat to represent Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives, which he did until he was declared legally dead at the end of 1972.

Stevens’s conviction was later set aside due to prosecutorial misconduct. Alaska Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich issued a call for Begich to resign so a special election could be held. Ruedrich argued that Begich’s win was illegitimate because of “improper influence from the ‘corrupt’ Department of Justice.” The same day Governor Sarah Palin seconded Ruedrich’s call. Begich said in a statement that he intended to serve his full six-year term. Alaskans set about to find a way to recall Begich, but that’s one progressive policy that has not been instituted.

Begich is a former member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition. His split from the mayor’s group was well-publicized.

Nationally, Begich is considered a moderate, but in a very conservative state, he’s a raving liberal. He’s pro-choice (which sort of negates his Catholicism, I think). He publicly supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and gun rights (I think he’s serious about that one). He also supported benefits for same-sex couples when he’s the senator from a state that overwhelmingly voted in a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He voted against reauthorizing the Patriot Act. Begich became the Chairman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee in 2011, which is basically just an extension of the Democratic Party — the Senate doing the party’s job for it.

More importantly, there is not a single vote where Mark broke with the party leadership, even when Alaskans were lobbying heavily for him to do so. He voted for TARP 2, the stimulus, cash-for-clunkers, and the Affordable Care Act — which won by just ONE vote because of the required threshhold of a reconciliation bill. In other words, Mark made ObamaCare the law of the land.

So, I don’t care for Mark Begich. I consider him a member of the ruling class. I promised him in 2009 that I’d be keeping an eye on him and would let people know how well he’s done so that he can’t easily lie to get re-elected.

Don Young Is Not A Racist!   Leave a comment

First, let me preface this by saying I’ve met the man several times and spent an entire day with him back when I was in college. So this is not just a distant observation. Politics in Alaska is closer than it is in almost any other state.

Don Young made an unfortunate comment that is “so Don”. He’s a free-speaking, off-the-cuff, doesn’t-care-if-he-offends Alaskan. This is what Alaskans love about Don. He’s one of us! You Lower 48ers can keep your suave, not-exactly-sure-where-they-stand Congresspeople. We’re hoping to replace Don with someone more conservative/libertarian and just as Alaskan.

His wife of several decades, Lulu, was a Gwich’in Athabaskan (Alaskan Indian). His daughters are also Indians. He and Lulu were completely devoted to one another. His early career was as mayor of Ft. Yukon, a Native village. He still has a home there and still goes back there during vacations and people there say he’s “just folks”. He’s not a racist.

What he said was inappropriate, although if you enter the country illegally, you are a criminal, so you really shouldn’t get up in arms when a citizen calls you a derogatory name. It might have been more appropriate to just say “illegal immigrant”, but the man’s getting old and maybe he’s tired of being politically correct when – like most of the state he represents – he isn’t.

Don has had a long and distinguished career. He chaired the House Transportation Committee for six years and the House Resources Committee for six years. He is currently the second-highest ranking Republican on both committees. He would be chairman of one of them if he hadn’t refused to sign the “no earmarks” pledge. His voting record is moderate, mostly because he has a very pro-labor record. That’s not surprising considering that almost 25% of the workers in Alaska are represented by labor unions.  He’s also anti-abortion, anti-gun control and anti-federal land control. He is one of far-too-few Republicans who voted against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. From a purely Alaskan standpoint, he has been very good to Alaska – steering a lot of federal dollars our way. As an Alaskan, I see that as a drop in the bucket to what Alaska’s resources pay to the federal government and what economic opportunities Alaskans have missed because of the federal stranglehold on our land, our resources and our environment. I used to say “Release the land hostage and Alaska will take no more federal pork.” These days, I see the federal government is in so much trouble financially from all the spending and I advocate for our delegation to cut pork wherever it can – but I still think the feds ought to release the land hostage. Don also is a big promoter of the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which is still on the table – languishing in the Senate.

So, Don is a mixed bag as a representative. I don’t think he’s any more corrupt than any of his colleagues. I like him personally. He’s very Alaskan. And, he is definitely not a racist.

This is not to say that I am not working toward the goal of replacing Don in the House. Sean Parnell nearly won against him in the 2008 primary and he’s already announced he won’t be running for a second (and a half) gubernatorial term in 2014, so chances are good, Don will be retiring. I personally hope that Don chooses to step down gracefully and allow Sean Parnell (or some other equal candidate) to take his place as the nominee. I’d really like to see an Alaskan Independent Party candidate go to DC. Don’’s done well by Alaska, but the times have changed. We need legislators who are willing to cut the pork and the regulation while still fighting for Alaska’s equal treatment among the 50 states.  Don needs to let younger folks take up that challenge.

Let’s Join PETA   Leave a comment

Posted March 26, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Seward’s Day   2 comments

Seward’s Day is a holiday in Alaska to commemorate the US purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. This state holiday is annually held on the last Monday of March. It should not be confused with Alaska Day.

It’s a good day to have off work, but it’s also a good day to think about what it means to an Alaskan who is also be an American. Folks thought Seward was an idiot for buying Alaska, but think about all the wealth that has flowed from this state into the federal coffers. Most of it leaves Alaska without every touching the folks here. What would happen if Alaska actually controlled her own resources instead of having to beg to Congress for this or that?

What if Alaska were treated like an honest-to-goodness state of the United instead of as a frozen banana republic? Would we be happier with the United States then?

I suspect we might, but … well, that’ll never happen.

Posted March 25, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska, alaskana, Secessation

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Aurora Watcher   7 comments

My screen name, Aurora Watcher, was given to me by Syun Akasofu, former head of the International Arctic Research Center, a foremost expert on the aurora. More than 30 years ago, I interviewed him when he was a professor at the Alaska Geophysical Institute and as we were winding up the interview, I mentioned having heard the aurora. He dismissed my claim, saying that there was no way to hear sounds from the ionosphere because it was so far from the biosphere. I was a journalism major and not qualified to argue with this great scientist, but I did point out to him that I had heard something on multiple occasions, sometimes with other people, and once my dog had heard it too. He kindly held fast to his science. We agreed to disagree.

Years after I graduated, I met Dr. Akasofu again. He immediately recognized me as “the aurora watcher”. Apparently, he’d had an experience when he had heard the aurora himself and he now believed that it could be heard, but he had not yet proven it scientifically. As far as I know, he hasn’t yet proven it, but the Geophysicaly Institute’s webpage no longer categorically denies that the aurora is audible.

I have a faith point here. There’s a lot in this world we do not understand and there are times when we want to dismiss what we don’t understand as not actually valid. I had heard the aurora, Dr. Akasofu had not. He said it wasn’t possible scientifically … until he experienced it for himself and then it didn’t matter that science still says it’s not audible.

In a similar fashion, God doesn’t make sense to us until we’ve experienced Him for ourselves. He doesn’t fit in our test tube. He won’t lay down on the examining table and let us dissect him. He doesn’t exist scientifically … or, more probably, our science is inadequate to explain Him.

I use the screen name to remind myself that not everything in this universe is immediately explanatory based on hard evidence. Sometimes, you just have to go with your experience and trust it will be explained later. Maybe. In God’s good time.

What the Quack?   3 comments

Believe it or not, the most successful wildlife conservation programs have been conducted by non-governmental agencies and private-public partnerships.

The success of the Wetlands Reserve program, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) demonstrates that this approach works well. These programs take advantage of the economic and social value people place on the presence of wetlands. Under the NAWMP, the federal government offers grants and matching funds to local and regional groups to purchase conservation easements on privately-owned wetlands, restore drained former wetlands, and enhance existing wetlands.

This type of system does not discourage landowners from having wetlands on their property; it encourages them to maintain them.

“Not only do nonregulatory programs produce real results where regulatory programs fail, they are also more cost effective. Under the Wetland Reserve Program and the North American Waterfowl Management Program, the federal government spends less than $1,000 per acre restoring wetlands. Yet [Clean Water Act] Section 404 mitigation costs the federal government nearly $4,000 per acre.” (Jonathan Adler, Director of Environmental Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute)

A program that is voluntary and non-regulatory could promote the same type of success story for endangered species … if it existed.

Again, Congress has power to make changes in this area. They delegated their authority to the Department of the Interior when they wrote the Endangered Species Act. They also control the purse strings for funding the US Fish and Wildlife Service. There are some common sense approaches that Congress could take to rein in this agency to its constitutional limits.

Demand that Department of Interior agencies employ sound, objective and unbiased science in the determination of harm to a species and in which species are placed on the list. Insist upon a recognition that there are economic consequences to their decision-making process and the actions it engenders. While it may be desirable to recover every endangered species to population levels they had on some point in history, it is really not possible. Realistically, not every single member of an endangered species can be saved, but ESA protects rare subspecies of abundant species as well as rare species. They even include distinct geographical populations. This broad definition makes it possible for government agencies and their employees to identify any creature as a species, subspecies, or geographical population if it suits their purposes for listing it as “endangered” or “threatened.” Of course this has devastating consequences for affected humans.

We also have to be honest here. Instead of using limited financial resources to protect the most valuable and biologically diverse species, the federal government wastes funds to protect species that have the support of special interest groups or political favor. The gray wolf is one example. They’ve never been endangered in Alaska. In fact, they almost crashed the population of moose in Interior Alaska in the 1990s, but the State of Alaska had to fight a lengthy court battle to gain the right to trap and hunt wolves to reduce the population and protect another species. The status of the gray wolf in Alaska was never in question. There were too many in some areas. The issue revolved around the vocal opposition of certain environmental (not conservation) groups to the State of Alaska permitting a small culling of wolf numbers. Congress and the federal government should prioritize the risks that face American species and focus the limited resources on the greatest risks of extinction first, rather than respond to politics.

According to the ESA, the Department of the Interior’s decisions on listings and delistings supposedly are made on the “best available scientific and commercial data.” But more often, these decisions are made on questionable scientific data that have had no independent peer review. Reform of the ESA should include the requirement that all listings, delistings, and evaluations of conservation plans be based on the most sound, objective, and peer-reviewed scientific information available. Those scientific findings should be open to public scrutiny. A framework should separate scientific fact-finding aspects from decision-making aspects; otherwise, the science on which federal policy makers rely to make their decisions will continue to be driven by the balance of power among special interests or political motives. A rational examination of the total costs and benefits of protecting one particular endangered species versus another, and of instituting various recovery plans, must be performed to ensure that Americans get the most significant environmental benefit from the resources invested.

By the way, these recommendations are all processes already at work in state wildlife management and in non-government wildlife protection agencies such as Ducks Unlimited.

Why not use procedures that are already working?

Priscilla Feral Is Not Going to Be Happy With Me   3 comments

Let’s get something out of the way at the outset – the gray wolf is a species that comes in many colors of fur from black to white and every shade of gray and tan. In some parts of the country, they’re called timber wolves. They are second only to humans in adapting to climate extremes and once ranged from coast to coast and from Alaska to Mexico in North America, except in the Southeast, where the red wolf predominated and in the large deserts of the Southwest. Although pack alphas mate for life, younger wolves of both sexes may disperse from the pack to find a mate and form their own pack and they are not necessarily monogamous prior to that bonding.

Your family pet canine is 99.8% gray wolf and can, if a comparable size, mate with their wild siblings. Think about that the next time you sit down to eat a steak in front of Fido.

Gray wolves are rebounding in the Lower 48 after being listed on the Endangered Species List, but they have never been endangered in Alaska. They occasionally hunt humans during times of scarcity. They do not actually act like the wolves in “The Gray”, but they do attack humans occasionally.

When I was in junior high (early 1970s), we had a high snow year and wolves, finding it difficult to hunt game in the deep snow, came into the outskirts of Fairbanks and took several pets. They also stalked a friend and her brother as they were walking home. Their family dog – a wolf-hybrid – defended them and died of his injuries.

It’s happened enough in Alaska that we don’t think wolves are good neighbors.

Another village caught a wolf on video tape a number of years ago trying to carry off a child who was rescued without serious injury. And, attacks on dogs – especially when chained – is common.

When the wolf is available for examination, they are often found to be quite healthy, with good fat stores.

So when environmental groups wail over Alaska’s predator control program, Alaskans are less than interested in hearing it. When wolves overhunt their own resources, they start hunting us or our pets and that makes us, like every other prey in the world, less than warm and fuzzy toward them.

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