Alaska, corruption, crime, influence, money, politics

Alaska, Re-factored

12.30 in the afternoon, North Pole, Alaska, Dec 2004
When Ted Stevens was found guilty of all seven charges of failing to report gifts last week, the conventional wisdom, at least in the Lower 48, was that the Republicans had lost another Senate seat.

I’m inclined to agree. But with reservations. Because if there’s any place that will surprise you politically (other than Minnesota, maybe), it would be Alaska.

Alaska politics seems to have a special knack for getting muddy, if not outright weird. Take the ongoing saga of Stevens’s trial, where the weirdness seems to have spread: a juror took a break from deliberations because her father died, except that he didn’t actually die, and she was not answering her phone because she had, in fact, left D.C. for a horse race in California. As the AP notes:

She apologized for lying, and then started a long rambling story about horses, which included references to horse breeding, the Breeders’ Cup, drugs, President Ford’s son Steven and her condo in Florida being bugged.

Fair enough, I suppose. This after Stevens himself gave some head-scratching testimony, such as calling a massage chair from a supporter that sat in his Washington residence for the last seven years a “loan.” (In a kind of contrapuntal twist, Stevens was questioned by a Justice Department prosecutor; fifty years ago, he was himself a U.S. attorney for the Justice Department.) As the Anchorage Daily News reported:

In fact, Stevens said, he planned to ship the chair back to Persons in Alaska with other furniture from Washington to use in [Stevens’s] Girdwood house, but there wasn’t any room in the “chalet” – the place was filled with Allen’s stuff, he said.

Where was his original furniture?

“Bill Allen stole our furniture and put his in our chalet,” Stevens said.

“Why didn’t you call the police?” Morris asked.

“It never crossed my mind to call the police at that time,” Stevens said. “I might now.”

I kind of wish Jay Hammond were around to paddle up in his canoe and tell us what he thought about all this.

Today, the state personnel board cleared Governor Palin of any wrongdoing in Troopergate, meaning both sides get a report stating what they want to hear, and neither will ever be satisfied. But whether Palin becomes vice president or not, Alaska will soon be pried from its cozy niche in the American political system. And that is why I’m writing about Stevens. 

Because Stevens’s era, and possibly Don Young’s, is over, or almost. (And it seems to me that Palin can’t go back to her governorship and expect to accomplish much meaningful, having burned so many bridges in this campaign.) That Alaskans would take a gamble and reinstall a convicted felon as senator in the hopes that he will continue to bring home the bacon would not be a shock. But the gamble comes in what the Senate does with Stevens if he gets another term. Alaska is a state normally ignored when it comes to national politics, which helped during earmark time. This year, it’s at the center of the storm with the problems that Stevens, Young, and Palin are having. It’s a make-or-break year for Alaska, in terms of the Washington influence it has quietly built up over decades. They’ve got to go all in.

The Times recently wrote:

Some state Republican Party leaders have countered this concern [over Stevens’s convictions] by urging people to vote for Mr. Stevens as a tactical move. They say re-electing him will allow for a special election to replace him should he later resign or be expelled. Otherwise, Republicans would be ceding the race to Mr. Begich [the Democrat].

A tactical move. Politicians like Young and Stevens seem to have stayed in power because of a go-along-to-get-along mentality. There is no great orator or charmer between those two. But with so much seniority, and with Republicans previously in the majority–or at least not marginalized–during their careers, these politicians were not so much inspirations as investments when it came time to cast a vote.

This was an argument I often heard for voting for the incumbents; they have influence built up (meaning: they can keep the federal funds flowing north). Alaska’s political power in Washington has long rested in its Congressional delegation; Palin is an outlier. But now? If Young and Stevens were to win, they’d be shunted to the sidelines in a Democratic Congress. Young has become an object of national ridicule and derision from all sides–this because of Palin and McCain and his Bridges to Nowhere. Stevens will be roundly considered a disgrace for his convictions. And if Palin should become VP, she shouldn’t expect any favors from the new Congress if she tries to send a few more federal dollars to Alaska. Attempting to do so would run counter to one of her ticket’s primary messages, anyway.

But all may not be lost. FiveThirtyEight lists Stevens’s seat as “safely Dem;” RealClearPolitics notes that Young’s House seat “leans Dem.” Maybe Alaskans will come to believe that “investing” votes in a Democrat or two could bring many rewards to the state as a Democratic White House or Congress or both shower the new guys, and thus Alaska, with influential committee spots and other goodies that will help in 2010 and 2014. Tactical moves all over the place from everybody.

And even if they’re Democrats, they’ll still push to open ANWR.


Stevens is reportedly airing a two-minute commercial explaining his vision for Alaska (or, I suppose, after 40 years, reiterating that vision), among other things, during the six o’clock news across the state. It’s not online yet, and I’m not sure through which of the internet tubes it will hurtle. I’m sure it will be on the YouTube. But it’s not there yet. In the meantime, here’s thirty-one-second commercial, “Sticking with Stevens.”

New Order fans will recognize the opening strains of “Ceremony” playing in the background. Not sure that Senator Stevens is a fan of the post-punk, New Wave genre. But I love it. New Order also has songs called “Temptation,” “Regret,” and “Times Change.”

influence, lost, television

Nickelodeon Encomium

What happens when people my age (28) or younger start to feel nostalgic? Some turn to the common cultural thread of television. I’ve found a handful of YouTube tributes to the cable channel Nickelodeon, which, according to a couple of these videos, enjoyed a golden era from about 1990 to 2004.

The kids born in 1990 will be starting college this year, so I’d guess some of these are a product of that cohort more than my own. Still, there are some good shows in there, and a few nods to the 1980s–which I still remember, anyway. After all, that was a decade that Nickelodeon carried shows like Mr. Wizard, Double Dare, Danger Mouse, Belle and Sebastian, The Little Prince, and You Can’t Do That on Television. (And at least one musician my age got a name out of this list.)

I think there’s one feature common to several shows that Nickelodeon broadcast that makes them worthwhile. Think of the earliest in that list: You Can’t Do That on Television. The element (and value) in subversion was a feature of these shows more than the average television fare available to young people. The existential frustration of Ren and Stimpy, the striving defiance and ingenuity in The Adventures of Pete and Pete, and the quotidian repression (and weird sexuality) of Rocko’s Modern Life–all these things were tossed into the cultural stew of the 80s and 90s and helped prepare those kids who listened for John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Arrested Development, Napoleon Dynamite, and the sensibility referred to, sometimes derisively, and, I think, not always accurately, as “quirk.”

influence, international, journalism

Uranium, Philanthropy, Fast Cash, Kazakhstan, Clinton

Jo Becker and Don Van Natta detail the philanthropic and financial ties between Bill Clinton and a mining magnate named Frank Giustra in today’s Times. It’s an engaging feat of investigative journalism and well worth reading. At least if, like me, you’re interested in mining, money, influence, Central Asia, and calling people out.

It comes a few days after the columnist Frank Rich described the secrecy with which the Clintons are treating donors to the Clinton Library:

Just before the holidays, investigative reporters at both The Washington Post and The New York Times tried to find out why [the donor list remains secret], with no help from the Clintons. The Post uncovered a plethora of foreign contributors, led by Saudi Arabia. The Times found an overlap between library benefactors and Hillary Clinton campaign donors, some of whom might have an agenda with a new Clinton administration. (Much as one early library supporter, Marc Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, had an agenda with the last one.) “The vast scale of these secret fund-raising operations presents enormous opportunities for abuse,” said Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat whose legislation to force disclosure passed overwhelmingly in the House but remains stalled in the Senate.

The Post and Times reporters couldn’t unlock all the secrets. The unanswered questions could keep them and their competitors busy until Nov. 4. Mr. Clinton’s increased centrality to the campaign will also give The Wall Street Journal a greater news peg to continue its reportorial forays into the unraveling financial partnership between Mr. Clinton and the swashbuckling billionaire Ron Burkle.

articles, development, environment, influence, international, money, politics

What’s Doing in the Mato Grosso

Google Map of South America

My friend and former colleague Pat Joseph has an article in the latest Virginia Quarterly Review. It’s about the boom (and recent bust) in soy farming in the interior of Brazil.

Well written, all round, but one section I especially liked was about the Brazilian sense that the Americans need not tell them how to live, they can take care of themselves just fine, thank you. Classic case of the You did it, so can we philosophy of resource development running up against the Don’t make the mistakes I did when I was your age philosophy. Classic.

ideas, influence, politics

Read the Times, Save Dartmouth

Ran across an interesting ad on the New York Times‘s home page today:

Save Dartmouth Ad

(Note, the image is a composite of two screenshots as my screen is quite small.)

So. Save Dartmouth.

I must have misunderstood that the ruckus over Dartmouth’s alumni constitution and its system of having alumni vote for half the Board of Trustees was over with the last election. It can’t be cheap to purchase ad space as large as the main photo on the home page of the New York Times.

It’s hard to tell who’s behind this. They ponied up the extra money to keep their domain registration private. There is only one name listed with the organization: “Comments and questions can be directed to our unofficial leader, Mr. Andres Morton Zimmerman, at”

East Wheelock Cluster

Interesting to note that during my freshman year I lived in Andres Hall (back left), and my sophomore year in Zimmerman (back right). Of the three residence halls that made up the early incarnation of the East Wheelock Cluster when I was at Dartmouth, I did not live in Morton Hall, which you can see in the foreground on the right. As I recall, there was a fair amount of criticism of the East Wheelock Cluster (once called the New Dorms) because they were an attempt to establish a residential college of the sort overseen by the late former Dean of First Year Students Peter Goldsmith when he was at Mathey College at Princeton. A very un-Dartmouth kind of program tutted the traditionalists. And so perhaps an odd choice of name for the unofficial leader of Save Dartmouth. Only Mr. Andres Morton Zimmerman really knows.

Alaska, influence, politics

Alaska’s Congressman Still Has Clout (…?)

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner wrote a post-election story examining the political fortunes of its lone U.S. representative–and, to a large degree, the political fortunes of the state.

Entitled “Alaska’s congressman still has clout,” the article emphasizes how powerful Young had become during Republican domination of Congress. While senior members of the minority party still have great influence (though mainly within the party), the guarantees that Young might have made to Alaska–such as, most famously, the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” but also drilling in ANWR–will be even harder to follow through on. As reporter Sam Bishop wrote:

During the past month, Young repeatedly stated that the House would stay under Republican control. He said the incessant media speculation about a Democratic takeover was generated by wishful thinking.

Speaking with Alaska reporters in Washington, D.C., before Congress recessed in early October, Young was upbeat about his future options.

“I am in the catbird’s seat when it comes right down to it,” he said.

With the exception of Tony Knowles’s eight years as governor from 1994 to 2002, and Wally Hickel’s Alaska Independence Party governorship (though the first time Hickel was governor, he was a Republican), Alaska has been dominated by Republicans at the state and federal level for the last couple of decades. It is a routine argument told to Alaskan voters that they should keep voting for Republicans if only for strategic reasons: with Republican dominance, why offend national Republicans or risk losing federal dollars by electing a Democratic senator or representative? Essentially, go along to get along.

For more than a decade, Alaska has received the most per capita federal funding of any state. Last year, it was $985 per capita–an amount that fell to $489 this year when Sen. Ted Stevens was rotated out of the Appropriations chairmanship. But that still made Alaska number one. With the new incoming Congress, will Alaska remain on top?

influence, technology

Meet TED

A couple of years ago, a friend told me about the Technology, Entertainment, and Design Conference, which both of us still can’t afford to go to. Would we even get through the application process? Luckily, Tom Abate (whom I once met and found to be a really nice guy) alerted readers of The Tech Chronicles blog that some of the TED presentations are available online (thanks to BMW).

Great! So, do I watch these online before, after, or during all the Frontlines I’ve missed and that new Moyers series?

education, influence, journalism, photography, San Francisco

All Apologies: On Being a Bad Blogger

Dear Reader, I am sorry that I have not posted here for weeks–weeks! It’s not been for lack of content or interest, but merely lack of time and energy.

I have been trying to sort out the tangled decision about where to go in the next stage of life. I have made a handful of visits to Berkeley and its Graduate School of Journalism. I recently returned from New York City and its Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. I have sought counsel from a long list of luminaries, including Adam Hochschild, Barry Bearak, Bill Drummond, John Lyons-Gould, Rod Mackenzie, Alisa Dichter, Vera Petkova, Gary Lenhart, Andrew Revkin, Tom Valtin, Nanette Asimov, Rebecca Solnit, Cynthia Gorney, my mother, Soon Hyouk Lee, William Pallister, Rob Gunnison, Jeremy Rue, Daniel Porter, David Perlman, Peter Alsop, Brian Chang, Adrian Cotter, Pat Joseph, Joan Hamilton, Ethan Klein, Mike Papciak, Jon Mooallem, and many, many others, and I appreciate very much their thoughts. I had an opportunity to ask Jon Stewart, but then his son began to cry. I think it is foolish to turn too inward when making a decision like this–I’ve been exposed to all kinds of perspectives and angles that did not initially occur to me. I’ve discovered extra information; for example, I scooped the San Francisco Chronicle by about two weeks on Orville Schell’s stepping down as dean at Berkeley, but had nowhere to publish it (except, I suppose, here). But I do risk the Clintonian trap of too much information, with its built-in delays and eventual paralysis by analysis.

It is, apparently, important to point out that these programs both are graduate schools, because they are the only two in the country. Nick Lemann, the New Yorker staff writer and Columbia dean, was careful to emphasize this. (City University of New York will be inaugurating a third graduate school this fall.) The rest are open to, and presumably overwhelmed by, the undergraduate mob.

But as for you, Reader, as a sign of my affection I include this photograph. A friend noted that it “looks like it’s leaning over to give the pole a kiss.” That is just adorable.