Walker or Begich? The Moderate’s Dilemma.

Alaska voters, we need to have a conversation. And I know this may hurt a little. It’s about Bill Walker and Mark Begich, the two “moderates” in the 3-way race for Alaska governor – the first, a former Republican and incumbent, the second, a Democrat and former US Senator. The third player in our little melodrama is Mike Dunleavy, a former Republican right-wing conservative state senator from Wasilla who quit in the middle of his term. In the end, your vote is your choice and yours alone, but I can’t let you step behind the red, white, and blue curtain and fill in the oval without speaking my piece. If Dunleavy is truly the guy for you, then you can punch out and go home now. It’s the others I need to talk to.

First, I want you to think back to The Unity Ticket of 2014 – an Independent ticket with a Republican for Governor and a Democrat for Lt. Governor. It made us feel pretty awesome, and kind of mavericky. It felt right for Alaska, and we wanted that feeling to go on. I know I did.

But then something happened. Lots of somethings happened.

  • The governor who said he was going to be tough on oil not only refused to even entertain the notion of restructuring oil taxes back to their historic rates (which would all but wipe out our huge budget deficit), he fought to bond for $1 billion to bail out a bunch of Texas billionaires who got mad they weren’t getting their oil tax credits paid back fast enough.
  • Instead, the governor who said he would protect and defend the PFD decided to unilaterally cut that money that goes right into the pocket of every Alaskan, the great economic equalizer that keeps more than 20,000 Alaskans out of poverty every year. Almost a billion dollars a year never made it into the Alaskan economy. And he also opposed inflation-proofing the fund. But don’t worry, Conoco-Phillips is fine.
  • The governor swore he’d keep his extreme social conservatism out of the state’s politics. Then Alaska joined a brief to uphold bans on same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court. The brief said that same-sex marriage would “cause incalculable damage to our civic life.” Thankfully we lost that effort, but not without a public shaming reminder from the governor that “marriage is between a man and a woman.”  With the US Supreme Court now in transition, and Roe v. Wade potentially on thin ice with decisions left to the states, will Walker’s extreme anti-choice beliefs come into play? They very well might.
  • Candidate Walker said he was a friend to fish. “Fish first,” he said. Since then, his administration has authorized more than 80 bore/test holes for the disastrous Pebble mine project, and just a few days ago his administration killed the Chuitna Citizens Coalition’s 9-year fight to preserve waters for salmon instead of giant coal strip mining projects right across Cook Inlet fromAnchorage. “In my 23 years working on salmon habitat permitting issues in Alaska, I have never seen an abuse of power like this,” said Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson. “Today’s decision means that Alaskans have no more pro-active tools to protect salmon streams.” Fish first, indeed…
  • Candidate Walker, when negotiations were being made, said he was only interested in one term.
  • But wait, there’s more. Millions in education money vetoes, appointing pro-voucher candidates to the State Board of Education, policies that weaken national parks, and put Denali wildlife in jeapordy… I could go on for a long time.

The right likes to pound the table and say that Walker is a Democrat, but I’m here to tell you that after two years working in the Capitol in Juneau, he is no Democrat. I worked for Democrats; I know what they look like. Democrats in 2014 removed their own candidates, made one Lt. Governor under Walker, and threw the other under the bus. Actually, Hollis French, volunteered to jump under the bus for what he believed was the good of the state. Walker, by the way, was perfectly happy to let Democrats step aside for him – promising all sorts of things, including that laundry list above, in order to win.

The Democratic Party even fought a lawsuit to allow Independent candidates to appear on the Democratic primary ballot this time. But this time we didn’t have to settle. We had a Democratic candidate running who could win. And Walker knew this as well as anyone. So, when Mark Begich got on his party’s OWN primary ballot to run a fair fight against Walker for the Democratic nomination – guess what? Walker changed plans and jumped ship. Why? Because he knew he would lose. Simple as that. Now, after deserting that hard-won space on the primary ballot, he will slip right on to the general election ballot and turn it into a 3-way race.

Moderates are now apoplectic. A 3-way race will divide their vote and assure a Dunleavy victory, they say. Surely, Bill Walker knows this risk. He’s not stupid. He’s crunched the numbers. So why did he put his foot on the scale for Dunleavy and turn it into a 3-way race?

Two reasons:

  1. He’s counting on Democrats to turn on their own. Why shouldn’t he? We’ve done it before, right? Remember when Democrats and Independents bypassed US Senate candidate Scott McAdams (D) to write in Republican Lisa Murkowski (R) so the extreme right-wing candidate Joe Miller would lose? Remember that? Yeah, D’s and I’s voted for a Republican and got what we voted for. And Walker’s first term was the same. We tossed our own candidates to get a Republican in the Governor’s office… because he was a less awful Republican than the one we had. And now, that less-awful Republican wants us to YET AGAIN throw a Democrat under the bus to keep himself in office.

Well, I’m not sure about you, but I’ve had about enough of that. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. And for those of you who are about to get fooled a THIRD time? Consider yourself smacked in the face with a nice fresh salmon. While we still have them.

2. He’d rather have Mike Dunleavy as Governor than Mark Begich. Walker donated the maximum allowable amount of money to Dunleavy’s Senate campaign at a time when far right-wing Republicans were pushing to break up the Alaska Senate bipartisan coalition.  So, we can safely assume if Dunleavy wins, Walker will be sleeping better at night than you will.

And is Walker “nice?” Sure he is. Dunleavy’s “nice” too, as a matter of fact. They are both soft-spoken and personable, folksy and occasionally even charming. I’ve had lovely conversations with them. THAT DOESN’T MATTER. Policies matter. Promises matter. Governance matters. So get your heads out of wherever they are (for the sake of decorum, let’s just call it “the clouds”), splash some cold water on your faces and wake the hell up. I’m sorry to be brusque with you. It’s not normally my way, but it has to be done.

And finally, the numbers. Walker’s approval ratings hover around or below 30%. In political speak, this means he’s pretty much unelectable. And just like he knew he couldn’t beat Begich, he knows he can’t win a 3-way race. So he has “encouraged” Democrats to sign an actual petition asking Mark Begich to step aside – asking the most hyper-qualified Democrat in the state to quit his own primary so the less-awful Republican who doesn’t keep promises can have the supposed win. Again. That takes some nerve, I’ll give him that.

I know you want to fight against Mike Dunleavy. I get it. But ask yourself, what are you fighting FOR? If Dunleavy does win, he’ll win because people whose values align with Begich got scared and panicked and voted for a non-viable candidate they didn’t really want.

There’s an old Turkish proverb that goes, “However far you travel down the wrong road, turn back.”

It’s ok to change your mind, and it’s ok to be wrong! I was! I not only supported Walker personally, and gave him my vote, I urged others to do so, and The Mudflats endorsed his candidacy. There’s no shame in believing someone, there’s only shame in believing them twice after they show you who they are.

Democrats and Independents brought Walker to the dance, and then for four years we watched him slow dance with every Republican in the room while we drank our punch awkwardly in the corner. Now the phone is ringing again, and we’re being asked on a second date, and can we drive? I don’t know about you, but I have other plans.

There’s a viable candidate on the ballot who mostly matches up with my values. And I’m going to donate to him, and vote for him. It’s how Democracy is supposed to work. One person, one conscience, one vote.

Photo by Zach D. Roberts

 

 

 

Primary Night at Election Central

Election Central is one of those weird Alaska traditions that make this state and it’s political life all the more interesting. It’s a spot where candidates can come talk to the local media, and where regular folks and politics wonks and candidates and staff can watch the returns pour in on all the races. And where there’s booze. Frankly, every state should have one, and much praise to The Anchorage Daily News and the Alaska Landmine for making it happen. This year, the festivities occurred at the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage.

There was some very strict totally-volunteer security happening at the entrance. Luckily I passed so I didn’t have to frisk myself, which might have been awkward.

Generally speaking, when an individual campaign is doing well, the candidate and his/her revelers and supporters will march to Election Central with signs and balloons and do a victory lap. Which is exactly what made last night so strange as you’ll see.

The hottest races in Alaska this year will be the three-way race for Governor, and another attempt to unseat Don Young in Congress.

GOVERNOR:

Bill Walker, the Independent incumbent (who had the backing of the Democratic Party last year) earned the right to be on the primary ballot after a lawsuit to allow Independent candidates to appear alongside Democrats. So there he was, ready to go. And then an actual Democrat got in the race – former Assemblyman, Mayor of Anchorage, and US Senator Mark Begich – a powerhouse of an opponent. The winner, Walker or Begich stood to face Mike Dunleavy, a staunch conservative Republican, in November.

Then (stick with me) Walker, whose popularity is NOT what it used to be, was pretty sure he’d lose to Begich in a fair fight on the Democrtic ballot so instead of sticking it out, he decided to jump ship. He’d relinquish that hard-fought spot and simply appear on the November ballot without benefit of a primary contest at all. This has created havoc and bad feelings among Democrats. A few still like Walker and have asked the most hyper-qualified Democrat in the state to “step down” from the actual Democratic ballot because he, the Democrat, is being a “spoiler” running AS A DEMOCRAT. Alaska politics. What can I say?

So, some time around 9:00pm, we hear whooping and hollering in the hallway of the Dena’ina Center. This means only one thing – a candidate approaches! And this time the candidate was none other than Governor Walker, and Lt. Governor Mallott who entered the room flanked by dozens of supporters all waving signs.

Mood of the room:

For someone who dropped his primary contest and the entire concept OF the primary like a bag of dirt, there was the Walker campaign waving signs, and carrying banners, and sucking the oxygen and media attention in a room of people who were there for… the primaries.

I won’t go so far as to use the “skunk at a garden party” analogy, but let’s just say it was a little awkward.

It looks like we’re seeing you… NOW.

The amusing moment came when someone called out, “Hey, are you guys winning your primary?” Civilized political heckling. >clinks glass<

The majority of the posse stayed only long enough for the Governor to do interviews with the local TV station, and the panel. Then off they went.

CONGRESS:

In the race for US Congress, Alyse Galvin won the day. She is also an Independent, but decided to keep her name on the primary and have a fair fight for the hearts and minds of the non-Republican voters to see who would go on to tackle fossilized Congressman Don Young in the general election. What a concept – allowing the process to work. And it paid off.

She beat Democratic candidate Dimitri Shein handily. Galvin has a proven track record of activism and has spent years developing positive relationships in Juneau. She headed up the group Great Alaska Schools and somehow kept emerging from the Juneau tank o’ sharks with a smile and renewed energy to keep going. It served her well. And I’m not saying the current year in this state is a bad year to be a Russian immigrant running on “far-left” issues, but … I might be saying that. Dimitri Shein seems to be well-liked among progressives, and it might pay for him to start running for local seats and prove his mettle.

Whatever the reason in the mind of the voters, both candidates ran a fair race, and the vibe of the Democrats is to unite behind the chosen candidate and go full-bore against Don Young who has been firmly planted in his chair since the Nixon administration, embarrassing his home state whenever given the opportunity. Will this year be the magic charm? The polling organization 538 says Galvin has a 25% chance of unseating Young. That may be the biggest threat he’s faced in decades.

Dishonorable mention goes to someone named Carol Hafner who got 15% of the vote. This may sound like a typical losing score for those of you playing at home, but there’s just one problem. Carol Hafner does not live in Alaska. Nor has she ever been to Alaska. Nor did she campaign. The rules state that you have to be 35 and live in the state once elected, so technically she’s eligible.

Of course, since the Democratic ballot is open, and the Republican ballot is closed, results can sometimes be a little off. But this turnout for a non-candidate was big enough that there probably needs to be some kind of examination of how exactly that happened.

Overseeing elections is the job of Lt. Governor Byron Mallott. Actually, other than polishing the state seal, it’s his ONLY job. My sound medical advice to you is not to hold your breath.

 

The “Ballot Bot” needs to hit the pavement and try to get more than an 18% voter turnout. We need a “ShameBot”

STATE LEGISLATURE:

There were some surprises, and a couple not surprising upsets for Republican incumbents.

Peter Micchiche (R-Kenai) may have fallen prey to “Save the PFD” activists who lean more Tea Party than Oil Company on the Kenai Peninsula who have been gunning for the man who currently holds the seat of Senate Majority Leader. Micchiche, who spends a good deal of effort telling people how well-liked he is, trying to be well-liked, and campaigning on being well-liked is apparently not as well-liked as he would like. His rival, Ron Gillham of Soldotna currently has a 12 vote lead, and the outcome will be determined by absentee ballots. Never let anyone tell you your vote doesn’t count, especially in Alaska. The current Speaker of the House, Bryce Edgmon, won a past tied election with a coin toss on a beaver pelt. So, there’s that.

Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage), the current House Rules Chair, is currently behind in her race which is even closer – just THREE votes. A campaign by the Republican Party which attacks her for caucusing with Democrats in the bipartisan House majority has been actively seeking her replacement. She is not Republicany enough, they say. And anyone who talks to or works with Democrats must go. Cooperation is a dirty word for the party, and “the base” tends to be the group who actually shows up to vote on primary day. If LeDoux falls, it could throw the barely-held-together bipartisan majority in the House into chaos. This one’s a big deal.

Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage) has been both the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader in the State House. She barely hung on by her fingernails last go-around, and this time she took a dive. A veteran and political newcomer, Josh Revak seems to be well liked, and more than a little overwhelmed by his crushing 10-point victory.  “I just hope I can live up to the standards my neighbors in Abbott Loop have set out for me as voters,” Revak said. So do we.

This guy was very happy about Revak.

George Rauscher (R) will hold on to his seat in District 9 which spreads from Valdez to Delta Junction. A very conservative district, this contest shaped up into a gloves-off fight about … reproductive rights. All the candidates fall where you might think, but apparently Rauscher angered the powers that be at Alaska Right to Life by not being extreme enough. The “life begins when you think about having sex” crowd withdrew their endorsement from him, and also didn’t endorse Jim Colver who had held the seat previously and got ousted by Rauscher because HE wasn’t extreme enough, which left former Constitution Party candidate Pam Goode with the endorsement.

 

But apparently, not even this weird and disturbing mailer was enough to convince the masses to ditch Rauscher and he held the seat with a majority of votes in a three-way race. An interesting development, proving that the support from Alaska Right to Life is far less influential than it used to be.

The House District 26 race in which Joe Riggs (former Mad Myrna’s bartender) sent out a hit piece on his rival Albert Fogle for being … GAY (!!!) had an interesting outcome.

Riggs lost. So did Fogle. The one who got the least attention, Laddie Shaw, walked away with the victory. As long as Riggs lost, we’re cool.

The full results of the primaries can be found HERE.

Now that the primaries are a wrap (mostly), candidates will get down to the business of campaigning for victory in the general. Buckle your seat belts because as always, in Alaska, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The Election Central panel

Obama Comes to Alaska: We Have to Break the Ice, so We Can Save It.

As I drove, I imagined having to explain to a Secret Service agent that the reason my boots set off the sniffer dog is because the last two places I wore them were a pig farm and a gun show respectively. So, there was a perfectly good explanation why I smelled of gunpowder, and fertilizer. “No really! I swear! I still have the pictures on my phone!” I was glad I had allowed extra time.

I had allowed so much extra time, it turns out, that I was the first member of the press at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) and waited in my car for over an hour to be escorted in to see the landing of Air Force One. Eventually news vans, and cars filled with journalists and photographers pulled in and congregated in a huddle behind my car. I got out and received my White House press pool pass, but missed out on the cool Air Force lanyards which were all gone. The early bird got a stupid safety pin.

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Seriously. What kind of badge attachment device is that?

The convoy left at about 11:30 following a pilot car to a holding area filled with people in fatigues waiting to catch planes. We left our camera bags as instructed, to be sniffed by dogs as we ran everything else through the x-ray machine. My boots had made it through… at least so far. I helped myself to a pair of souvenir earplugs from the earplug dispenser on the wall to make up for my juvenile and crushing disappointment about the lanyard.

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Earplug dispenser, complete with convenient and inexplicable slotted tray.

The bus that would take us to the tarmac approached, and I ran to grab my camera gear.

“Ma’am! Is this yours?” someone asked.

There were three men standing around my gear with their arms crossed and wires in various places.

“Oh crap,” said my inner voice, which immediately tried to think about what I might have done. Did I forget to take that baggie with the random ammo I found in my junk drawer out of my bag? Was there some kind of pocket knife, or lighter, or screwdriver? Or maybe something fell in my open backpack that wasn’t even mine! What if THAT happened? Or what if someone put something in there? What if I had set my bag down in a public place that had meth residue on it or something? Maybe the dog was just having a bad day? This is why they tell you to keep your things in sight at all times.

If I were a cartoon, you would have seen wiggly lines around my head, and a dozen thought bubbles of panic.

“Yes, those are mine. Is everything ok?”

“You need to turn on your laptop and cameras for us, ma’am.” My blood pressure began to sink back to a non life-threatening level.

I turned my devices on, and they did not explode, and I was on my way to the bus.

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The bus.

We unloaded on the tarmac by a large riser covered in sticky creosote. There was much consternation. Nobody liked that. The wind began to pick up, and there was a distinct arctic bite, despite the fact it was still August. Some people had brought hand warmers, and commented frequently how glad they were that they had brought hand warmers, and how good those hand warmers felt, and how they couldn’t imagine how much it would suck without hand warmers. I was not one of those people.

We had about an hour to wait, and I imagined some climate change denier in congress citing my numb fingers as proof that it’s all a hoax foisted on the American people by out-of-touch elitists who took chemistry in college.

(time passes)

Buses begin to arrive, spilling people on to the tarmac. They lined up behind barriers. Presumably those in the front row would get to shake hands with the President.

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Then this thing drove by!

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Two F-22s (I think that’s what they were) took off, one after the other, and made a dramatic steep turn, with their jets firing orange in the back. We all assumed they were leaving to escort Air Force One for the approach.

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A black helicopter containing people with firearms did a couple laps around the airfield a few minutes later. A photographer with a bigger lens than me said he spotted snipers on buildings. Secret Service was everywhere. And then, we spotted it.

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It was a beautiful day, and several journalists on the platform said they were glad Alaska was showing itself off for this historic visit. Because Alaskans likes good weather when visitors come.

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Cheers erupted from the crowd as the wheels touched down. It was a nice landing, which you would expect I suppose, considering that there was probably a pretty good pilot operating that thing.

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(Left) Brigadier Gen. Laurel J. Hummel, Adjutant General and Commissioner, Alaska Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs.

(Center) Maj. Gen. Bryan R. Owens, Commanding General, U.S. Army Alaska/Deputy Commander, U.S. Alaskan Command, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

(Right) Lt. Gen. Russell J. Handy, Commander, Alaskan Command, U.S. Northern Command; Commander, Eleventh Air Force, Pacific Air Forces; and Commander, Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Region, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

These people must have the biggest business cards ever.

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Alaska Governor Bill Walker, and President Obama exit the aircraft.

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The presidential limo awaits. I wonder how they got that thing up here.

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I think I ended up with the best spot on the platform.

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Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, First Lady Donna Walker, and Governor Bill Walker watch as the President greets the VIPs.

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And after a few minutes of handshakes, the departure.

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Do not, I repeat, do NOT screw with the motorcade.

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Twenty-three vehicles took of for the Dena’ina Center where the President would deliver the closing remarks at the GLACIER conference.

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Rebecca Palsha from KTUU Channel 2 interviewed Senator Dan Sullivan, who was wearing boots. Cowboy boots. Brown cowboy boots with a black suit.

Another bus ride, and I was back at my car heading for the conference. There had been rumors there was going to be some kind of Tea Partyish protest telling the President to go home to Kenya, or that humans didn’t cause climate change so it wasn’t up to us to fix it, or why haven’t you done anything about the ISIS training camp in Unalakleet, or something. But I saw no signs of it – only a group of revelers on the Park Strip protesting Shell’s drilling in the arctic (which the President supports), and this crowd with a giant Save the Arctic sign.

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I had time to visit a press briefing on Arctic Ocean stewardship with Ambassador David Balton, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State.  I learned a few fun facts.

If you define the arctic to mean north of the Bering Strait, the United States has limited capaciety currently to do any type of fisheries enforcement, but there is no commercial fishing we know of now in the high seas area north of the Bering Strait, anyway. That may change as sea ice melts and there is more open water and other countries see economic opportunity. Also, species that have never been in those waters may move north as waters warm. Even now, there are king crab washing up on the shores of Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost community.  This has never happened in the memory of Barrow residents. We can also assume that cod, char, and salmon may start to appear in areas they have never been seen before.

Balton says that the US is going to have to join law of the sea treaty. As a non-party to the treaty, we are at a disadvantage. In order to have other countries recognize the outer limit of our continental shelf, the best way is to join the treaty. Our continental shelf area is 3-4 times the size of California. “That’s a lot of sea floor,” and a lot of oil. He also noted that our strained relationship with Russia does not extend to the sea and fisheries, and that we are able to work well with them despite tensions in other areas.

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Who’s a good boy?

The whole time he was talking, the sniffer dog outside was going crazy. Either there was an entire Columbian drug cartel storming the conference center, or someone needed a walk and a treat.

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Lisa Murkowski talks to Gov. Walker. There seems to be a praying Swede. I don’t know why.

And now, time for closing remarks by the President. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has publicly wrung her hands saying that Obama is just “using Alaska” as a backdrop for the administration’s “climate agenda” was front and center, flanked by Governor Walker and Lt. Gov. Mallott. Senator Dan Sullivan was also in the house, but way back in the cheap seats. I could not see his footwear.

Secretary of State John Kerry introduced the President. The conclusion of his prepared remarks are below, with my highlights.

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“So let me sum up. We know that human activity is changing the climate. That is beyond dispute. Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change. We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science. We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue. That is not deniable. And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime. We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow.

“But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively. People will suffer. Economies will suffer. Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems. More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.

“That’s one path we can take. The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it. This is within our power. This is a solvable problem if we start now.

“And we’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will — finally — to get moving.

So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. The time to plead ignorance is surely past. Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island. 

[applause]

“And let’s remember, even beyond the climate benefits of pursuing cleaner energy sources and more resilient, energy-efficient ways of living, the byproduct of it is, is that we also make our air cleaner and safer for our children to breathe. We’re also making our economies more resilient to energy shocks on global markets. We’re also making our countries less reliant on unstable parts of the world. We are gradually powering a planet on its way to 9 billion humans in a more sustainable way.
These are good things. This is not simply a danger to be avoided; this is an opportunity to be seized. But we have to keep going. We’re making a difference, but we have to keep going. We are not moving fast enough.

“If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.

“That’s not a future of strong economic growth. That is not a future where freedom and human rights are on the move. Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that — any so-called “leader” who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke — is not fit to lead.

“On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we have to convey to our people — tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year. It will not be easy. There are hard questions to answer. I am not trying to suggest that there are not going to be difficult transitions that we all have to make. But if we unite our highest aspirations, if we make our best efforts to protect this planet for future generations, we can solve this problem.

“And when you leave this conference center, I hope you look around. I hope you have the chance to visit a glacier. Or just look out your airplane window as you depart, and take in the God-given majesty of this place. For those of you flying to other parts of the world, do it again when you’re flying over your home countries. Remind yourself that there will come a time when your grandkids — and mine, if I’m lucky enough to have some — they’ll want to see this. They’ll want to experience it, just as we’ve gotten to do in our own lives. They deserve to live lives free from fear, and want, and peril. And ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to protect it. Are we doing everything we can to make their lives safer, and more secure, and more prosperous?

“Let’s prove that we care about them and their long-term futures, not just short-term political expediency.

“I had a chance to meet with some Native peoples before I came in here, and they described for me villages that are slipping into the sea, and the changes that are taking place — changing migratory patterns; the changing fauna so that what used to feed the animals that they, in turn, would hunt or fish beginning to vanish. It’s urgent for them today. But that is the future for all of us if we don’t take care.

“Your presence here today indicates your recognition of that. But it’s not enough just to have conferences. It’s not enough just to talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.

“So, thank you. And may God bless all of you, and your countries. And thank you, Alaska, for your wonderful hospitality. Thank you.”

And with that, and a round of applause, the conference ended. The President said he’d be making some announcements while he was here, about tangible things he wants to do. His travels include Seward to look at Exit Glacier, Dillingham (site of the proposed Pebble Mine) to meet fisherfolk, and he’ll be in Kotzebue to talk to locals there about coastal erosion, and changes in the arctic. I feel hopeful, as much as is possible for anyone who’s been paying attention to politics for very long. In a perfect world, climate change shouldn’t be about politics. It should be about science, and responsibility to our planet and its inhabitants, our children, and the future of our lives as we know them. It might mean, God forbid, that we have to do without some things, make some concessions, work together. This is nothing Americans want to hear. But, still… maybe we are moving closer.

As I walked to my car, I passed a man on a ladder, nailing a banner to the store front of a local business. A boy was with him. I recognized the two as former Senator Mark Begich and his son Jacob. I smiled. I love my little town, and my great big state.

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The speech had been a good one, I thought. It didn’t really tell Alaskans what we don’t already know. We have eyes, and memories. I’ve lived in Anchorage for 25 years now, and I’ve seen changes. An 80 degree day used to be almost non-existent. This summer we had plenty of them. Record snows, record heat, record everything it seems. Coastal and interior areas show the changes too. Plants where they never used to be, animals where they never used to be, permafrost and glaciers disappearing. Walruses being forced to haul out on dry land, and polar bears drowning due to lack of sea ice. But that speech was not for the benefit of Alaskans. Alaska is the bellwether, the canary in the proverbial coal mine. This conference was to send a message to everyone else. This is what is coming.

Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in the 70s; Reagan took them down in the 80s. Obama put them back, finally, in 2014. We take a step forward, and a step back. The forward thinkers battle those who can’t see past the big moneyed interests. Even Sarah Palin, to her credit as governor, formed a special “Climate Change Subcabinet” in 2007. Her successor, Sean Parnell, a former oil company lobbyist and attorney, dismantled it. Parnell also found himself way too busy to travel six miles to greet the President on his last stop here. But now we have a new governor, an independent, who just traveled across the continent with the President on Air Force One, who is reasonable, and who is not bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry.

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Former Governor Palin creating a Climate Change sub-cabinet in 2007.

I hate hoping, but sometimes I do anyway.

Then yesterday over coffee I read that the President made an announcement. The United States will be building or buying a fleet of ice breakers. (Insert sound of needle being dragged over vinyl record here)

Ice. Breakers.

The arctic is changing, as we know, and Russia has 40 ice breakers with 11 more on the way. And we only have two, and one is just for science. We have to catch up.

“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” came the statement from the White House.

Read that again. We need “stewardship” to “maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce…” Gotta keep those seas open. Commerce and all that. Ice is the problem.

Remember those word problems you hated in elementary school math?  This is like that, only worse.

Question:

If Russia has 40 ice breakers and 11 on the way, and the U.S. has 2, and it takes 8 years and $1 billion to build one, and we only have the facilities to build 2 at a time, and an ice breaker only lasts 25 years, and the arctic is predicted to be ice free by 2030, how long does it take to catch up to Russia?

Extra credit: How much money will we have wasted breaking something that is disappearing anyway, and how many college educations, cancer treatments, roads and bridges could you have bought?

Take your time and show all your work.

Welcome to the Icy Cold War to nowhere, where everyone loses except the defense contractors that build the icebreakers, and those who will benefit for a couple years from the shipping routes.

It reminds me of the famous quote from a US major during the Viet Nam War, “We had to destroy the town to save it.”

We have to break the ice to save it. Or save the ice so we can break it…

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It’s hard to blame corporate interests for being excited about economic growth opportunities, and finally getting that elusive northern shipping route that has been dreamed about since the days of the early explorers. Making money is what they do. We don’t get mad at polar bears for being polar bears, or sharks for being sharks. If it moves, they eat it. Nothing personal.

But we are allowed to be disheartened when we hear the President and others treat melting arctic ice as a predictor of disaster, and a symbol for irreversible environmental destruction, while simultaneously waving the flag and demanding that we “maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce.” It hurts our brains, and it should.

We cannot simultaneously decry the vanishing sea ice which leaves coastal villages in Alaska vulnerable to erosion and flooding, and also herald the awesome new shipping opportunities over the pole now that that pesky ice is going away. We can’t say we have to join the law of the sea treaty to claim our continental shelf for oil development that will dump more carbon in the atmosphere and spill into our oceans, and also complain that we’re not developing solar, wind, and tidal energy fast enough because we must get off fossil fuels. We can’t do these things and be intellectually honest.

But that’s what money and politics isn’t – intellectually honest. And until we get moneyed interests out of the political landscape, this is what we get – politicians who make concessions. And this is how the climate change sausage is made.

During the conference, there was  a lot said about how the arctic presents “opportunities and challenges.” What we don’t hear anyone admit is that the challenges (warming) have caused the opportunities (shipping), and how the opportunities (offshore drilling for fossil fuels) are making the challenges worse (increasing the carbon load of atmosphere and oceans). We’ve gotten ourselves into quite a pickle.

I still hope that something good comes out of the President’s visit – that maybe people who have never thought about Alaska and what it has to teach will listen, and learn. Maybe people will be willing to give something up, to abandon a convenience or two to preserve our planet as we know it. Maybe when the President is in Dillingham he will invoke the Clean Water Act and stop once and for all the Pebble mine that threatens 40% of the nation’s seafood and 17,000 commercial fishing jobs. Maybe when he’s in the northern coastal town of Kotzebue he will rethink those ice breakers. And if he looks west across an iceless ocean, he’ll almost be able to see Russia, where Vladimir Putin is rattling his saber, and breaking ice with his mighty nuclear fleet.

The Russian nuclear ice-breaker, Yamal. This is seriously a nuclear ice breaker, I'm not kidding.

The Russian nuclear ice-breaker, Yamal. This is seriously a nuclear ice breaker, I’m not kidding.

The weird dueling agendas of the military industrial complex, the oil industry, and environmental stewardship are going to have to duke it out to see which one defines Obama’s legacy here. And until we rid ourselves of the other dueling agenda of corporate interest, and the interest of the people, we’re going to have to learn to juggle our intellectual inconsistencies.

Obama Comes to Alaska: We Have to Save the Ice so We Can Break It

As I drove, I imagined having to explain to a Secret Service agent that the reason my boots set off the sniffer dog is because the last two places I wore them were a pig farm and a gun show respectively. So, there was a perfectly good explanation why I smelled of gunpowder, and fertilizer. “No really! I swear! I still have the pictures on my phone!” I was glad I had allowed extra time.

I had allowed so much extra time, it turns out, that I was the first member of the press at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) and waited in my car for over an hour to be escorted in to see the landing of Air Force One. Eventually news vans, and cars filled with journalists and photographers pulled in and congregated in a huddle behind my car. I got out and received my White House press pool pass, but missed out on the cool Air Force lanyards which were all gone. The early bird got a stupid safety pin.

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Seriously. What kind of badge attachment device is that?

The convoy left at about 11:30 following a pilot car to a holding area filled with people in fatigues waiting to catch planes. We left our camera bags as instructed, to be sniffed by dogs as we ran everything else through the x-ray machine. My boots had made it through… at least so far. I helped myself to a pair of souvenir earplugs from the earplug dispenser on the wall to make up for my juvenile and crushing disappointment about the lanyard.

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Earplug dispenser, complete with convenient and inexplicable slotted tray.

The bus that would take us to the tarmac approached, and I ran to grab my camera gear.

“Ma’am! Is this yours?” someone asked.

There were three men standing around my gear with their arms crossed and wires in various places.

“Oh crap,” said my inner voice, which immediately tried to think about what I might have done. Did I forget to take that baggie with the random ammo I found in my junk drawer out of my bag? Was there some kind of pocket knife, or lighter, or screwdriver? Or maybe something fell in my open backpack that wasn’t even mine! What if THAT happened? Or what if someone put something in there? What if I had set my bag down in a public place that had meth residue on it or something? Maybe the dog was just having a bad day? This is why they tell you to keep your things in sight at all times.

If I were a cartoon, you would have seen wiggly lines around my head, and a dozen thought bubbles of panic.

“Yes, those are mine. Is everything ok?”

“You need to turn on your laptop and cameras for us, ma’am.” My blood pressure began to sink back to a non life-threatening level.

I turned my devices on, and they did not explode, and I was on my way to the bus.

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The bus.

We unloaded on the tarmac by a large riser covered in sticky creosote. There was much consternation. Nobody liked that. The wind began to pick up, and there was a distinct arctic bite, despite the fact it was still August. Some people had brought hand warmers, and commented frequently how glad they were that they had brought hand warmers, and how good those hand warmers felt, and how they couldn’t imagine how much it would suck without hand warmers. I was not one of those people.

We had about an hour to wait, and I imagined some climate change denier in congress citing my numb fingers as proof that it’s all a hoax foisted on the American people by out-of-touch elitists who took chemistry in college.

(time passes)

Buses begin to arrive, spilling people on to the tarmac. They lined up behind barriers. Presumably those in the front row would get to shake hands with the President.

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Then this thing drove by!

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Two F-22s (I think that’s what they were) took off, one after the other, and made a dramatic steep turn, with their jets firing orange in the back. We all assumed they were leaving to escort Air Force One for the approach.

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A black helicopter containing people with firearms did a couple laps around the airfield a few minutes later. A photographer with a bigger lens than me said he spotted snipers on buildings. Secret Service was everywhere. And then, we spotted it.

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It was a beautiful day, and several journalists on the platform said they were glad Alaska was showing itself off for this historic visit. Because Alaskans likes good weather when visitors come.

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Cheers erupted from the crowd as the wheels touched down. It was a nice landing, which you would expect I suppose, considering that there was probably a pretty good pilot operating that thing.

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(Left) Brigadier Gen. Laurel J. Hummel, Adjutant General and Commissioner, Alaska Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs.

(Center) Maj. Gen. Bryan R. Owens, Commanding General, U.S. Army Alaska/Deputy Commander, U.S. Alaskan Command, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

(Right) Lt. Gen. Russell J. Handy, Commander, Alaskan Command, U.S. Northern Command; Commander, Eleventh Air Force, Pacific Air Forces; and Commander, Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Region, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

These people must have the biggest business cards ever.

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Alaska Governor Bill Walker, and President Obama exit the aircraft.

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The presidential limo awaits. I wonder how they got that thing up here.

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I think I ended up with the best spot on the platform.

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Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, First Lady Donna Walker, and Governor Bill Walker watch as the President greets the VIPs.

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And after a few minutes of handshakes, the departure.

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Do not, I repeat, do NOT screw with the motorcade.

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Twenty-three vehicles took of for the Dena’ina Center where the President would deliver the closing remarks at the GLACIER conference.

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Rebecca Palsha from KTUU Channel 2 interviewed Senator Dan Sullivan, who was wearing boots. Cowboy boots. Brown cowboy boots with a black suit.

Another bus ride, and I was back at my car heading for the conference. There had been rumors there was going to be some kind of Tea Partyish protest telling the President to go home to Kenya, or that humans didn’t cause climate change so it wasn’t up to us to fix it, or why haven’t you done anything about the ISIS training camp in Unalakleet, or something. But I saw no signs of it – only a group of revelers on the Park Strip protesting Shell’s drilling in the arctic (which the President supports), and this crowd with a giant Save the Arctic sign.

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I had time to visit a press briefing on Arctic Ocean stewardship with Ambassador David Balton, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State.  I learned a few fun facts.

If you define the arctic to mean north of the Bering Strait, the United States has limited capaciety currently to do any type of fisheries enforcement, but there is no commercial fishing we know of now in the high seas area north of the Bering Strait, anyway. That may change as sea ice melts and there is more open water and other countries see economic opportunity. Also, species that have never been in those waters may move north as waters warm. Even now, there are king crab washing up on the shores of Barrow, Alaska’s northernmost community.  This has never happened in the memory of Barrow residents. We can also assume that cod, char, and salmon may start to appear in areas they have never been seen before.

Balton says that the US is going to have to join law of the sea treaty. As a non-party to the treaty, we are at a disadvantage. In order to have other countries recognize the outer limit of our continental shelf, the best way is to join the treaty. Our continental shelf area is 3-4 times the size of California. “That’s a lot of sea floor,” and a lot of oil. He also noted that our strained relationship with Russia does not extend to the sea and fisheries, and that we are able to work well with them despite tensions in other areas.

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Who’s a good boy?

The whole time he was talking, the sniffer dog outside was going crazy. Either there was an entire Columbian drug cartel storming the conference center, or someone needed a walk and a treat.

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Lisa Murkowski talks to Gov. Walker. There seems to be a praying Swede. I don’t know why.

And now, time for closing remarks by the President. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has publicly wrung her hands saying that Obama is just “using Alaska” as a backdrop for the administration’s “climate agenda” was front and center, flanked by Governor Walker and Lt. Gov. Mallott. Senator Dan Sullivan was also in the house, but way back in the cheap seats. I could not see his footwear.

Secretary of State John Kerry introduced the President. The conclusion of his prepared remarks are below, with my highlights.

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“So let me sum up. We know that human activity is changing the climate. That is beyond dispute. Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change. We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science. We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue. That is not deniable. And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime. We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow.

“But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively. People will suffer. Economies will suffer. Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems. More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.

“That’s one path we can take. The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it. This is within our power. This is a solvable problem if we start now.

“And we’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will — finally — to get moving.

So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. The time to plead ignorance is surely past. Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island. 

[applause]

“And let’s remember, even beyond the climate benefits of pursuing cleaner energy sources and more resilient, energy-efficient ways of living, the byproduct of it is, is that we also make our air cleaner and safer for our children to breathe. We’re also making our economies more resilient to energy shocks on global markets. We’re also making our countries less reliant on unstable parts of the world. We are gradually powering a planet on its way to 9 billion humans in a more sustainable way.
These are good things. This is not simply a danger to be avoided; this is an opportunity to be seized. But we have to keep going. We’re making a difference, but we have to keep going. We are not moving fast enough.

“If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.

“That’s not a future of strong economic growth. That is not a future where freedom and human rights are on the move. Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that — any so-called “leader” who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke — is not fit to lead.

“On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we have to convey to our people — tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year. It will not be easy. There are hard questions to answer. I am not trying to suggest that there are not going to be difficult transitions that we all have to make. But if we unite our highest aspirations, if we make our best efforts to protect this planet for future generations, we can solve this problem.

“And when you leave this conference center, I hope you look around. I hope you have the chance to visit a glacier. Or just look out your airplane window as you depart, and take in the God-given majesty of this place. For those of you flying to other parts of the world, do it again when you’re flying over your home countries. Remind yourself that there will come a time when your grandkids — and mine, if I’m lucky enough to have some — they’ll want to see this. They’ll want to experience it, just as we’ve gotten to do in our own lives. They deserve to live lives free from fear, and want, and peril. And ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to protect it. Are we doing everything we can to make their lives safer, and more secure, and more prosperous?

“Let’s prove that we care about them and their long-term futures, not just short-term political expediency.

“I had a chance to meet with some Native peoples before I came in here, and they described for me villages that are slipping into the sea, and the changes that are taking place — changing migratory patterns; the changing fauna so that what used to feed the animals that they, in turn, would hunt or fish beginning to vanish. It’s urgent for them today. But that is the future for all of us if we don’t take care.

“Your presence here today indicates your recognition of that. But it’s not enough just to have conferences. It’s not enough just to talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.

“So, thank you. And may God bless all of you, and your countries. And thank you, Alaska, for your wonderful hospitality. Thank you.”

And with that, and a round of applause, the conference ended. The President said he’d be making some announcements while he was here, about tangible things he wants to do. His travels include Seward to look at Exit Glacier, Dillingham (site of the proposed Pebble Mine) to meet fisherfolk, and he’ll be in Kotzebue to talk to locals there about coastal erosion, and changes in the arctic. I feel hopeful, as much as is possible for anyone who’s been paying attention to politics for very long. In a perfect world, climate change shouldn’t be about politics. It should be about science, and responsibility to our planet and its inhabitants, our children, and the future of our lives as we know them. It might mean, God forbid, that we have to do without some things, make some concessions, work together. This is nothing Americans want to hear. But, still… maybe we are moving closer.

As I walked to my car, I passed a man on a ladder, nailing a banner to the store front of a local business. A boy was with him. I recognized the two as former Senator Mark Begich and his son Jacob. I smiled. I love my little town, and my great big state.

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The speech had been a good one, I thought. It didn’t really tell Alaskans what we don’t already know. We have eyes, and memories. I’ve lived in Anchorage for 25 years now, and I’ve seen changes. An 80 degree day used to be almost non-existent. This summer we had plenty of them. Record snows, record heat, record everything it seems. Coastal and interior areas show the changes too. Plants where they never used to be, animals where they never used to be, permafrost and glaciers disappearing. Walruses being forced to haul out on dry land, and polar bears drowning due to lack of sea ice. But that speech was not for the benefit of Alaskans. Alaska is the bellwether, the canary in the proverbial coal mine. This conference was to send a message to everyone else. This is what is coming.

Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in the 70s; Reagan took them down in the 80s. Obama put them back, finally, in 2014. We take a step forward, and a step back. The forward thinkers battle those who can’t see past the big moneyed interests. Even Sarah Palin, to her credit as governor, formed a special “Climate Change Subcabinet” in 2007. Her successor, Sean Parnell, a former oil company lobbyist and attorney, dismantled it. Parnell also found himself way too busy to travel six miles to greet the President on his last stop here. But now we have a new governor, an independent, who just traveled across the continent with the President on Air Force One, who is reasonable, and who is not bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry.

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Former Governor Palin creating a Climate Change sub-cabinet in 2007.

I hate hoping, but sometimes I do anyway.

Then yesterday over coffee I read that the President made an announcement. The United States will be building or buying a fleet of ice breakers. (Insert sound of needle being dragged over vinyl record here)

Ice. Breakers.

The arctic is changing, as we know, and Russia has 40 ice breakers with 11 more on the way. And we only have two, and one is just for science. We have to catch up.

“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” came the statement from the White House.

Read that again. We need “stewardship” to “maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce…” Gotta keep those seas open. Commerce and all that. Ice is the problem.

Remember those word problems you hated in elementary school math?  This is like that, only worse.

Question:

If Russia has 40 ice breakers and 11 on the way, and the U.S. has 2, and it takes 8 years and $1 billion to build one, and we only have the facilities to build 2 at a time, and an ice breaker only lasts 25 years, and the arctic is predicted to be ice free by 2030, how long does it take to catch up to Russia?

Extra credit: How much money will we have wasted breaking something that is disappearing anyway, and how many college educations, cancer treatments, roads and bridges could you have bought?

Take your time and show all your work.

Welcome to the Icy Cold War to nowhere, where everyone loses except the defense contractors that build the icebreakers, and those who will benefit for a couple years from the shipping routes.

It reminds me of the famous quote from a US major during the Viet Nam War, “We had to destroy the town to save it.”

We have to break the ice to save it. Or save the ice so we can break it…

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It’s hard to blame corporate interests for being excited about economic growth opportunities, and finally getting that elusive northern shipping route that has been dreamed about since the days of the early explorers. Making money is what they do. We don’t get mad at polar bears for being polar bears, or sharks for being sharks. If it moves, they eat it. Nothing personal.

But we are allowed to be disheartened when we hear the President and others treat melting arctic ice as a predictor of disaster, and a symbol for irreversible environmental destruction, while simultaneously waving the flag and demanding that we “maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce.” It hurts our brains, and it should.

We cannot simultaneously decry the vanishing sea ice which leaves coastal villages in Alaska vulnerable to erosion and flooding, and also herald the awesome new shipping opportunities over the pole now that that pesky ice is going away. We can’t say we have to join the law of the sea treaty to claim our continental shelf for oil development that will dump more carbon in the atmosphere and spill into our oceans, and also complain that we’re not developing solar, wind, and tidal energy fast enough because we must get off fossil fuels. We can’t do these things and be intellectually honest.

But that’s what money and politics isn’t – intellectually honest. And until we get moneyed interests out of the political landscape, this is what we get – politicians who make concessions. And this is how the climate change sausage is made.

During the conference, there was  a lot said about how the arctic presents “opportunities and challenges.” What we don’t hear anyone admit is that the challenges (warming) have caused the opportunities (shipping), and how the opportunities (offshore drilling for fossil fuels) are making the challenges worse (increasing the carbon load of atmosphere and oceans). We’ve gotten ourselves into quite a pickle.

I still hope that something good comes out of the President’s visit – that maybe people who have never thought about Alaska and what it has to teach will listen, and learn. Maybe people will be willing to give something up, to abandon a convenience or two to preserve our planet as we know it. Maybe when the President is in Dillingham he will invoke the Clean Water Act and stop once and for all the Pebble mine that threatens 40% of the nation’s seafood and 17,000 commercial fishing jobs. Maybe when he’s in the northern coastal town of Kotzebue he will rethink those ice breakers. And if he looks west across an iceless ocean, he’ll almost be able to see Russia, where Vladimir Putin is rattling his saber, and breaking ice with his mighty nuclear fleet.

The Russian nuclear ice-breaker, Yamal. This is seriously a nuclear ice breaker, I'm not kidding.

The Russian nuclear ice-breaker, Yamal. This is seriously a nuclear ice breaker, I’m not kidding.

The weird dueling agendas of the military industrial complex, the oil industry, and environmental stewardship are going to have to duke it out to see which one defines Obama’s legacy here. And until we rid ourselves of the other dueling agenda of corporate interest, and the interest of the people, we’re going to have to learn to juggle our intellectual inconsistencies.

Send in the GOP Clowns

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It’s politics as usual in Juneau. As Alaska burns, Alaska Republicans bloviate.

We’re staring down the barrel of multibillion-dollar state budget deficits as far into the future as we can see. Are the Republicans majorities in the Legislature acknowledging that their misguided spending and tax policies got us into this fix? Are they prepared to set a new course?

Not bloody likely. Rather than rolling up their sleeves, trying to come up with constructive solutions, they’re trotting out the usual gimmicks to divert public attention from their failures. So, by the lights of legislative leaders, what’s the big problem in Alaska?

President Barack Obama and “federal overreach.”

Why, you might ask, has “federal overreach” become such a crisis in just the last year? For the previous five years – since the inauguration of President Obama — we’ve actually seen unprecedented progress in oil development in the Arctic. For the first time in our history, exploration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas actually got underway – until Shell Oil ran aground.

Also for the first time, we’re seeing progress in developing the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

But something happened in November. Something like an election, where we tossed out Sen. Mark Begich – the guy who did more to advance oil development on Alaska’s federal lands and waters than the combination of every Murkowski you can name. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski just had to have a partner who could match her ineffectiveness, so we obliged by putting Capt. Zero’s first lieutenant, Dan Sullivan, into the U.S. Senate. Sullivan campaigned on a platform of “government is bad,” and by golly, he’s doing everything he can to prove he was right.

Back to the “overreach” crisis. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has never been open for development. It’s unlikely that it ever will be open for development. Republicans say this is the fault of Democrats, apparently forgetting that when the U.S. House and Senate had solid Republican majorities, which included the late Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, and a Republican former oil man named George W. Bush in the White House, they didn’t open ANWR.

I’m sure you recall that Sen. John McCain, Obama’s opponent, opposed opening ANWR.

So was Obama’s recent statement that ANWR should remain a refuge a big shock to Alaska? No. Apparently it just offers the perfect grandstanding opportunity for every Republican without a real idea.

And when they aren’t rewriting Dr. Seuss or butchering “The Cremation of Sam McGee” on the state Senate floor, our legislative geniuses are demonstrating their vision for Alaska’s future by calling for the state to illegally bulldoze a road through a federal wildlife refuge. Now there’s an idea that will put a dent on our state’s biggest challenges.

Need another example of Republican cluelessness in this Legislature? Sen. Charlie Huggins has been complaining about Gov. Bill Walker’s appointment of Bob Doehl as deputy commissioner of the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs. Col. Doehl is a decorated National Guardsman who served for more than 30 years, rising to vice commander of the Air National Guard’s 176th Wing — until he was driven out of the guard for challenging the corruption under Gen. Tom Katkus and went on to work on veteran’s issues for Sen. Begich.

Huggins has been publicly wringing his hands that Doehl is a “political operative” whose appointment involves “politics.”

Let’s take a moment to note that Huggins couldn’t have been more silent if he’d been dead all during the time the guard was turning sexual assault into an intramural sport. Nor did Huggins express any concern about Doehl’s predecessor, McHugh Pierre, a pure political hack (former spokesman for the Alaska Republican Party) with zero military experience.

Fellow, Alaskans, we’re in deep doo-doo and we’ve put control of the Legislature in the hands of people who can’t spell statesmanship, much less practice it. Godspeed, Gov. Walker, you’re gonna need it.

Cross-posted from ADN.com