Following Up and Following Down: February 2015

Yes, it’s true. To paraphrase the boys at Car Talk, you’ve wasted another perfectly good month reading Wickersham’s Conscience. It’s already time for another quick recap, a smirking wink at Real Journalism, as WC revisits earlier posts and omitted stories.

Sometime this month, the National and Alaska media woke up and discovered that – gasp – Alaskans had legalized marijuana back in November. A few elected officials noticed the media story and a kind of low-level panic ensued. Reefer madness, indeed. The on-line comments to media articles might make more sense if you read them stoned. The reactions of elected officials fall in to two groups: (1) those who should consider a Little Something in an effort to calm down, and (2) those who have  apparently already indulged. Oh, wow.

The U.S. Army visited Anchorage and Fairbanks and, with polite smiles on their faces, listened to well-reasoned, slightly panic-tinged presentations from Alaska leaders on why massive troop reductions at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Fort Wainwright were bad ideas. As the Army brass sat there listening, WC couldn’t help but think that their Alaska appearances were window dressing, irrelevant to a decision that is already made. WC sincerely hopes that municipal governments in Anchorage and Fairbanks are working on Plan B.

The Army told Governor Walker that the troop draw down is a consequence of the sequester. You remember the sequester, the “poison pill” that was so awful that Congress would reach a budget compromise rather than face the drastic cuts that would be imposed in the absence of compromise. Except there was no compromise and the across-the-board cuts imposed on, among other federal agencies, the  Department of Defense, went into effect. Congress might yet reach a compromise among themselves and then the Obama Administration to end the sequester. But the only difference between the Old Congress and the New Congress is the Republicans can’t blame a Democratically-controlled Senate any more. So this better not be Plan B, because it’s not going to happen.

Speaking of dubious competence, the Alaska Legislature after about two months of work – for a given definition of “work” – has accomplished . . . nothing. They haven’t really proceeded beyond trial balloons on budget cuts, each of which has been greeted with outrage by the impacted constituents. Wouldn’t it be neat if the legislative leaders would sit down with Governor Walker and work out a list of priorities: a list of programs all agree can be reduced with the least harm to the fewest people? Or maybe . . . gasp . . . even a statewide income tax to help make up the shortfall? But that’s not going to happen. Instead, we’ll see a series of trial balloons until the Reverse Squeaky Wheel Effect is established. The Reverse Squeaky Wheel means the biggest cuts go where there’s the least complaints. That’s usually the poor, the voiceless and the disabled. Mark WC’s words.

And speaking of our elected representatives in Juneau, in a scene that might be from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Alaska Legislature decided that while every other branch of state government might face 10-25% budget cuts, the Alaska Legislature wouldn’t get a cut at all. You see, all animals may be equal but some are more equal than others.

Speaking of betrayals, it’s been appalling the last few months watching Senator Lisa Murkowski transform herself into a kind of bug-eyed, shrill Joe Miller. Just two months into 2015, she has attempted to demonize the Federal government, environmentalists, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service rangers. The Senator is worried about polling numbers like these:

Public Policy Polling Results, November2014

Public Policy Polling Results, November 2014

Hey Senator, it’s not a Limbo dance tournament. It’s not “How Low can You Go”? Nor is that why you were elected by a bunch of folks who were repulsed by Joe Miller. WC suggests that getting down and rolling in Miller Mud might not be the best strategy.

There’s been yet another large oil spill along the Dalton Highway. WC has argued before that it is long past time to better regulate the Ice Road Truckers. Among other issues, better designed tank trucks that can take a bit more of a beating, weather restrictions and emergency cleanup camps would mitigate the harm being done in the pipeline corridor. Given the terrain, the cargo and the climate, trucks wrecks aren’t going to be eliminated. But the number of wrecks, the size of the spills and the delay before cleanup begins could all be addressed.

February in Alaska is the month we wait: wait for the sunlight to come back, wait for temperatures to warm, wait for spring in general and, of course, wait for the Alaska Legislature to do something. It’s been a perfectly normal February.1

Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.

  1. There was another Icepocalypse, of course, but that’s the new normal. Rainstorms, transformed to glare ice when liquid water hits the frozen ground, used to be an extremely unusual event in Interior Alaska. Now it’s an annual thing. So last week’s Icepocalypse is relegated to a footnote. Besides, Senator Sullivan denies global warming is happening. He hasn’t lived in Alaska enough to care, anyway.