Wolf Song of Alaska News

Ted Stevens Cries Wolf, But We'll Soon be Howling

Comments / Geo Beach / February 25, 2006

Alaska is way out, not quite Outer Mongolia, but outer space to the rest of America. We are attached to the rest of the country by a thin lifeline, materially and metaphorically.

We're out here at the end of a long, tenuous tether -- the open North Pacific, the Inside Passage, the northwest air corridors, the Alcan. Those sea, air and land routes are generally politically stable, though our Canadian relations have grown more formal these past few years.

The ways to Alaska are treacherous, though, by force of nature. No place else in this country is exposed to such a broad array of hazards.

And, with the exception of Hawaii, no other state is as isolated.

But earth science and advanced technology -- meteorology and the Internet -- have put Alaska in the middle of the action rather than off the margins. Just ask FedEx, which sites its largest domestic facility in Anchorage.

But now our connection to America is endangered.

Look at the news. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- the federal agency that gives pilots reliable weather reports, that manages Alaska's No. 2 industry, fisheries, and that warns citizens against the devastation of tsunamis -- is slated to have its Alaska budget cut by 50 percent. That's right -- in half.

Why? The services of an agency like NOAA represent the basic essentials of a national government. They should be easy for a state like Alaska to obtain.

But they are at risk because of political arrogance.

Anchorage's airport is named for the still-sitting senator. Anchorage's bridge-to-be is to be named for the still-sitting representative. The federal transportation bill is named for the representative's wife, for Lu's sake.

In politics you're known by the company you keep electing, and Alaska keeps electing braggarts and bullies. Now the pigs are flying home to roost. Alaska's getting snookered.

Historically, the Senate exists in order that the urbanized East Coast share some power with less populous, newer Western states. Ted Stevens doesn't need to feel bashful requesting monies to help a plane land safely or to manage fisheries wisely.

Problem is, Alaska's congressional delegation has unabashedly been taking money for other things -- like Sunday school, movies and flying fish. That's right, while regular Alaskans worry about blizzards and tsunamis, your elected representatives have been busy wheedling a million dollars for a 40-person "college" that was really a seminary, half a million to paint an airplane to look like a salmon, and another $3 million to play Hollywood for a "documentary about infrastructure."

Hold the popcorn, please.

This sort of malarkey, not some plot against Alaska, is the problem. The problem is surely not liberals against Alaska. The idea to gut NOAA didn't come from a Democrat -- it's the proposal of President Bush's Republican administration.

Bush may be trying to cut NOAA, but Alaska's not off the radar yet. Just ask the Wall Street Journal, which has this state dead in its sights.

It recently reported that Murkowski family members may benefit from the Gravina Island Bridge, that Young family members may benefit from the Knik Arm Crossing, and that Stevens family members may benefit from lobbying arrangements.

Now, when you're a Republican congressional delegation and you manage to get roundly scolded by the country's leading conservative newspaper and then have your state's funding for the most essential services cut in half by the Republican president, you're doing something wrong.

The House of Representatives has long been rough-and-tumble, and Don Young surely plays along. The Senate, though, has a history of gentlemanly decorum, which Ted Stevens laments has disappeared, whenever he loses a fight.

But it's Ted who sticks his neck out wearing silly neckwear, promising to act like a wounded bull, threatening his colleagues in public, saying he'll quit if he doesn't get his way. He's the one who's become crass.

Ted has turned into the boy crying wolf, just like the animal activists who use Alaska wolves for their own fancy fundraising. Sure it's important to be tough -- when it's important. But playing tough all the time isn't smart politics.

Now Ted wants to bring high-speed Internet to the Bush. Like NOAA, that's a crucial service for Alaskans. But will Ted Stevens be able to get the money to make that rural connectivity happen?

Or will Alaskans be cut adrift from the rest of the country, howling at the moon -- and our politicians?

Independent journalist Geo Beach can be reached at geobeach@columnist.com.

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