Notes From the Last Frontier

Alaskans continue to demonstrate just how much like the rest of the people in the united states they really are.   Despite their reputation as individualist pioneers, they are as supportive of government action and as desirous of government funds as any other americans.  In last year’s election they voted to return Bush and his local allies Lisa Murkowski and Don Young to power, one of the primary justifications for voting for these crooks being that they have proven their ability to bring in more money from the feds than alaskans pay in income taxes.  Without this forcible redistribution of income from the rest of the country to alaska, the economy here would likely be in shambles.

Of course some benefit more than others from this federal largesse, much of which is funneled into the military.  In 2005, the army corps of engineers will spend $682,000,000 across the state, over three times their average annual spending over the last ten years.  There are over 23,000 military personnel stationed here, 10,320 of them on the two military bases in Anchorage.  (Compare this to the 3500 or so employees of Providence Health System Alaska, the largest private employer in the state.)  Spending by military members and their families, civilian employees of the armed forces, and private military contractors are important contributors to a number of local economies and this makes the military popular here, perhaps explaining, at least in part, alaskan voters’ support for the war makers in the last election.  But many alaskans never benefit from this cash (nor do the iraqis and afghans who suffer directly from the training and support provided to american soldiers in this state).

Other recipients of large quantities of money from Washington are the “native” corporations.  Set up by the government years ago in order to settle land claims, these companies claim to serve the needs of indian, aleut, and/or eskimo alaskans.  But, like non-native corporations, these institutions primarily benefit their executives and some of their stockholders, leaving members of the ethnic groups they pretend to represent as the largest category of alaskans living in poverty.  And while they have failed to help most of the people whose resources they purport to steward, some have even been willing to partner with companies like Halliburton, so that these already rich companies can obtain no-bid contracts with the military and other branches of the government.  These partnerships primarily benefit the “non-native” partner, employing few alaskan workers and providing little in dividends to stockholders.

But most alaskans seem to feel that they personally gain in some way from the federal gravy train, so they are content to support the status quo in Washington.  So too on the state and local level.  Last year, a majority voted to keep marijuana illegal, and voters continue to elect politicians who implement policies and supervise bureaucracies that intervene in nearly all aspects of our lives.  While this interference is often justified on the basis of making us safer or healthier, or conserving the natural environment, or improving property values, government action has a lousy record in all these areas, and only seems successful in limiting our freedom and pushing us around.

 Transportation bureaucrats protect our sensibilities by forcing the owners of a small resort to remove roadside signs about which no one ever complained, but which were essential to their ability to make a living; they then make our roads safer by closing an off-ramp essential to the success of a popular coffee shack.  Anchorage politicians protect our neighborhoods by threatening to sabotage funding for Habitat for Humanity because they do not include garages in the homes they build because they see their mission as providing shelter for people, not vehicles.

Officials believe they are conserving natural resources by barring a community center from selling big-game animal mounts they received as gifts.  And they jail someone who kills wild animals in a manner that wildlife cops disapprove of, while other agents organize the slaughter of wolves.  Social workers “help” children by turning them over to the tender care of a foster parent who allows several of them to be bitten by a dog and adoptive parents who systematically abuse a number of others, while imprisoning the biological mother of three other kids after she took them on an unsupervised visit and did them no harm.

 State troopers protect the security of the homeland by arresting peaceable, working immigrants simply because they lack permission slips issued by the feds.  Police here kill “suspects” who pose no threat to them, prosecutors gained a murder indictment (but fortunately failed to get a conviction) in a motor vehicle accident case by failing to present exculpatory evidence to a grand jury, and the superior court has refused to release a prisoner who was exonerated by someone else’s confession.  Meanwhile, local governments put uniformed police in the schools to “protect the children.”

But inept, uncaring, intrusive, and dangerous alaskan government officials and agencies are only following the example of the feds.  Like when land managers started a prescribed burn north of Anchorage this summer, while the city was already suffering from a haze caused by the worst fire season in memory.  Or when they fined someone who used wooden palettes to repair a damaged trail in a national park.  Or when TSA inspectors endanger the people they are supposed to be protecting by confiscating essential equipment like matches and lighters from the luggage of campers, who did not discover they were without the means of starting a fire until they were alone in the wilderness.

And like those at all levels of government, alaska’s state and local politicians do their best to aggrandize the already privileged at the expense of working people who are forced to pay taxes.  This year the state government will give $4,000,000 to the travel industry authority to assist them with marketing projects.  Not to be outdone, the good citizens of Anchorage just authorized the municipality to tax tourists in order to fund the construction of a $93,000,000 convention center downtown.  While those who own and run the tourist industry (and who will be the primary beneficiaries of any money generated by the project) support building this center and claim it is a great investment opportunity, they were unwilling to pay for it themselves.  And why should they, when voters are happy to assist them in robbing visitors to provide the funds?

Even though government at all levels is based on force, theft, hypocrisy, and inefficiency, it is obvious that most people in alaska are more than willing to either support or go along with its dictates and actions.  So it is important to recognize people who have the courage to stand up against an unjust and harmful government policy, as one group did last July.  Although the federal indian health service bars clinics to which they provide funding from providing non-emergency care to people who are not american indian, aleut, or eskimo, the Tanana chiefs conference, which runs 22 rural clinics, decided they will continue to disregard this discriminatory policy and treat all comers for a minimal fee.

In addition, a pissed-off cab driver in Anchorage stood up to the “public safety” bureaucrats and won.  Because he refused to quietly obey, cabbies can no longer be forced to pee in a cup for random drug tests in order to maintain their licenses.  (Of course the state has no business licensing cabs in the first place, but that is a matter for another article.)  Much to the surprise of the politicians, there has been no sudden increase in car accidents or passenger abductions as a result of drunken or drugged drivers.

While most people believe they benefit from having politicians in control of their lives, whatever perks they do receive come at the cost of putting up with constant intrusion, theft, and bullying by agents of the government.  The state, whether in Anchorage, Juneau, or Washington will continue on as it always has until more people, like the Tanana chiefs and the Anchorage cabbie, come to value justice and liberty enough to refuse to obey their elected masters and their cronies.

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