Alaska Notes

 Smoking ban in Anchorage

 Come next summer it will be illegal to smoke tobacco in any bar in Anchorage.  The prohibitionists claim that banning smoking is necessary to protect the health of workers and patrons in these businesses.  They fail to acknowledge there is a much simpler, and entirely voluntary, method of avoiding the risks, both real and perceived, of inhaling smoke from others’ cigarettes.  That is staying out of bars, bingo halls, and the small number of other places where people are still allowed to smoke. Continue reading

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.

Alaska, the Welfare State

In 2002, for every $1 paid by residents of alaska to the united states government in the form of taxes, $1.91 in federal funds was sent back to the state, more money per person than anywhere else in the country. Of course, little of this money, $11,540 per capita, was refunded directly to the individuals from whom it was confiscated. Of the $7,400,000,000 in federal expenditures in the state, $3,100,000,000 took the form of grants to state and local governments, and $1,400,000,000 went to the military, while only $1,000,000,000 or so went to social security, veterans benefits and federal pensions. With all this federal money floating around, it is no surprise that, of approximately 300,700 non-farm alaska jobs as of May 2003, 84,000 positions were in one branch or another of government: 16,900 federal (excluding uniformed military); 24,800 state; and 42,300 local (including 3400 “tribal”). Government programs of various kinds play a huge role in the state economy, with non-military “public” sector jobs comprising 27% of the workforce. In Anchorage, the air force is the largest employer, while 50% of employed people in the state’s second largest city, Fairbanks, work for some branch of government (military included).

And what do we get for all this federal largesse? An army that controls huge tracts of land in the city of Anchorage, which it now plans to fence off so it can more safely practice killing people. A deputy attorney-general who has denied DNA testing that might exculpate a prisoner, because she believes “the legal system needs finality.” An Anchorage assembly that has nothing better to do than restrict the ability of panhandlers to take donations from drivers, while firefighters are allowed to tie up traffic at intersections while collecting money from drivers for some officially sanctioned charity. A state development agency that spent $100,000 a month to keep a failing “private” Anchorage seafood business afloat. A public school system in Anchorage run by bureaucrats who believe failure is success, poverty is wealth, and segregation is diversity. Another school system in Fairbanks where a student whose eyes are red from studying can be expelled for refusing a piss test for drugs. Handouts to property developers in Anchorage who pay only 15% of the cost to prepare lots for building, the rest of the funds coming from those who pay property taxes. And a federal forest “service” that spent $34,800,000,000 to generate revenue of $1,200,000,000, subsidizing the profits of wealthy industrialists

Much of the government operations in this state are dedicated to “managing” wildlife and government-owned park lands, and, as in most areas, the bureaucrats do an abysmal job. The federal occupation of the Pribilof Islands, for instance, has resulted in so much environmental damage, that it will cost $100,000,000 to remove the blight caused by various federal agencies which managed the fur seal trade. Regulators presume to grant monopoly rights to favored seafood processors, and prevent fishers from selling their harvest to the buyer of their choice. Biologists “manage” the fisheries by over-producing salmon which are then stripped of their eggs, ground-up, and disposed of in the ocean. Our parks and recreation areas are plagued with uniformed bullies who believe they know better than the rest of us how to care for and enjoy the land and animals around us and torment so-called inholders who wish to continue living on property the government wants to take. “Experts” drug, tag, collar, monitor, harass, and kill whatever animals they choose, “for their own good,” of course, but then presume to regulate everyone else’s encounters with other species. Government oversight of animals plants, and land has led to environmental destruction, waste and abuse of animals, good salaries for interventionist busybodies and paper-pushers, increased profits for favored corporations, and harassment of people who dare to defend their freedom to live and enjoy nature in ways of which our masters disapprove.

Another product of government action, and one unique to alaska are the so-called “native” corporations, which were formed years ago as part of a settlement of land claims by eskimo, indian, and aleut alaskans. While many individual share-holders in these businesses receive regular dividends, they have served primarily to aggrandize the people who run and control these operations, as well as their business associates and partners, many of whom are not alaskan, “native” or otherwise. Just as in any other corporate enterprise, the directors and officers receive inflated salaries, while regular workers are laid off when it pleases the managers. Besides owing their very existence to government decree, these corporations exploit the preferences they are granted by discriminatory federal laws to win lucrative federal contracts, and reward their “private” sector partners with generous portions of the take. Although they purport to enrich and empower people whose lives and livelihoods were wrecked by both government and private theft and abuse, “native“ corporations have been no more beneficial to their customers or caring to their employees than any other government-business partnership.

While oil production, mining, fisheries, and tourism produce much real wealth, and there is a strong service sector in the alaskan economy, without federal money, and the huge military presence in the state, alaska could not exist in the form it does today. An alaska without government would mean no military, no park rangers, no government schools, and no handouts to corporations. It would also mean no permanent fund dividend and no tax-supported road building. People would be really free to live, work, and play as they choose, but they would not be able to send someone else the bill. Individual liberty requires individual responsibility. Until people decide to declare their independence from government and coercion, alaska will continue to be not a haven of freedom, but a welfare state where the limited freedoms we enjoy are not ours for the taking, but are granted to us by people and institutions that can later turn around and restrict or abolish them if they so desire.

The State of the State in Alaska

Alaska is tightly wrapped in the tentacles of government, authoritarianism, and intolerance. The state is dependent on huge quantities of federal money, corporate welfare is the order of the day, police agencies of various sorts acquire more and more power, and many who live here not only accept the situation but strive to increase the government’s power to interfere in the lives of peaceful residents. While many government entities meddle in the business of alaskans, by far the biggest player is the united states government. In 2001 alone, the feds spent $6,000,000,000 here, $1,500,000,000 of which was a subsidy to the state government.

Alaska’s dependence on government doesn’t end with the armed forces, though. Non-military united states government agencies here employ 17,139 people, the state of alaska has 16,066 people on its payroll, and the University of Alaska, the Anchorage school district, municipality of Anchorage and the Fairbanks north star school district together employ another 16,843. These government agencies, all funded entirely with money extorted from working people, comprise seven of the top ten employers in alaska, with a total of 71,240 workers between them. The federal government alone accounts for around 10% of all jobs here.Another $1,000,000,000 or so goes to the various military forces based in the state, making them a major force in the economy As the Anchorage and Fairbanks chambers of commerce boasted in a May 2002 brochure, Advantage to Alaskans, there are 17,497 active military and 3695 national guard personnel in the state, as well as 36,605 family members of military personnel. Retirees and their families account for another 44,620 people. That means that 102,417 people, or 16% of the state’s population are at least partially on the payroll of the military. The department of “defense” is the largest employer in alaska with 21,192 employees.

As is the case elsewhere, the politicians who run alaska, on both federal and state levels, are always looking for more power, and have used the supposed “war on terror” to expand their empires. The military plans to place 16 missiles at Fort Greeley and alaska now has its very own office of homeland security. In addition, a new force of “sea marshals” has taken to harassing shipping along the coast, having boarded over 70 vessels, from cruise ships full of tourists to oil tankers, in their first year of operation. And, naturally, alaskans are forced to put up with the same harassment by federal inspectors every other united states resident now faces when travelling by air. Already over $53,000,000 has been spent on “upgrading” the state’s “security” capabilities.

These new measures come on top of the pre-existing policing that people have become all too used to. Here are some examples from the last six months: Anchorage police attacked a 13 year old in September, and beat up and gassed a large number of other young people after a dance just this month. A state trooper notorious for using violence against anyone who does not immediately follow his every order killed a disabled driver on the Sterling highway in January. Police will now be stationed in Anchorage high schools and the superintendent boasts about a 23% increase in suspensions of students, many for non-violent transgressions including “willful disobedience” to their keepers. The state office of public advocacy has withheld the funds of a client the management of whose money they were charged with. An innocent man was arrested in Anchorage and had his name trumpeted all over the media before DNA testing cleared him of charges of rape. People are arrested for bringing alcohol into villages where the guardians of public morality have declared it unlawful, cops are now using a drug-sniffing dog to keep “dangerous” marijuana out of Fort Yukon, a Fairbanks judge recently forced a person convicted of no crime into mandatory “treatment” because he drinks, and Anchorage police have demonstrated their concern for the public health by raiding a local head shop. Anchorage drivers can now be fined if their insurance papers are not produced at the command of a cop, even if they have adequate insurance coverage. But perhaps most absurd, the state highway department has banned the roadside memorials some people place at accident scenes to remember their loved ones, in the interests of public safety, of course. And if one seeks proof that the state applies its myriad of laws, rules, and regulations fairly, one need only consider the fact that 37% of the people in prison are eskimo, aleut or american indian men, while this is true of only 8% of the state’s general population.

Many, perhaps most, alaskans support or are oblivious to such abuses, at least until they are directly affected. In fact, regular people are often advocates for increased state oversight of others, like the busybodies in Fairbanks who advocate that even more drinkers be given involuntary “treatment.” In another case, some Anchorage property owners have become advocates of greater government oversight of residential building since a few Habitat for Humanity houses in Mountain View and an affordable housing development called Strawberry Village have failed to live up to their standards of what makes an attractive home. But they fail to realize that such meddling in other people’s business may come back to bite them in years to come. Wealthy homeowners who have heretofore monopolized exclusive coastal properties in south Anchorage are now upset that the government is planning to exert its “right” of eminent domain to build a coastal trail near or on “their” property, allowing the great unwashed into the neighborhood.

When they are not busy further militarizing the state and pestering the populace, the pols and bureaucrats find time to redistribute the wealth they have taken from productive people and pass it on to their corporate allies and benefactors. The alaska industrial development and export agency specializes in investing state funds in failing businesses and losing millions of dollars. The state continues to invest in new roads to facilitate agricultural schemes despite a history of costly failures. Ketchikan politicians poured $17,000,000 into a paper plant whose owners and investors took the cash and ran. The state has prevailed on the united states department of agriculture to buy $71,000,000 worth of “surplus” salmon over the last seven years and asked them to buy $30,000,000 more last November. Meanwhile, the state outright owns a slaughterhouse run with prison labor in order to subsidize the livestock industry, which then sells much of the meat to the prison system.

The corporations created and funded by the alaska native claims settlement act regularly line up at the government trough, as well. Chenega Corporation has a $300,000,000 contract with the feds and Chugach Alaska, which went bankrupt from bad investments in 2000, will make $1,000,000,000 or so from a “defense” contract. Not to be left out, the alaska travel industry association has asked the state legislature for $14,000,000 to market tourism, while Alaska Airlines, which already received a payoff from the government after the September 2001 attacks, will receive an annual subsidy of $1,650,000 to provide air service to Adak in the aleutian islands. And businesspeople in Anchorage want the city to increase the hotel tax in order to raise the money to build them a convention center.

While none of this in unique to Alaska, it does fly in the face of the independent image many residents here like to maintain. What it means is that the task of anarchists, who hope to convince others of the merits of a stateless society, will be as difficult to accomplish here as it is elsewhere.

Great Land of Government

There is a perception both here in Alaska and elsewhere in the united states and the rest of the world that this state is some sort of last frontier, peopled by independent sorts who prefer to fend for themselves and live in a less encumbered relationship with nature, the land, and each other. The local press refers to the rest of the country as the “Outside,” as though conditions here are somehow uniquely different from those in the lower 48. This impression is largely inaccurate, a romantic myth not unlike others which enable americans in general to see themselves as different from, and better than, people elsewhere in the world. Just as it is mistaken to portray the united states as a land of freedom populated by rugged individualists, Alaska is no model of free and unmediated interaction with the natural world and the people and other creatures within it.

While the eskimo, aleut, and indian societies that existed before the arrival of the russian and other european explorers, traders, and settlers were more egalitarian in many ways than those of the newer arrivals, alaska was never any sort of libertarian paradise. These earlier communities were all more or less authoritarian and riddled with social and work roles based on a person’s sex, and violence between different groups was not uncommon. The first human occupants of alaska may well have done without a state, but they were certainly not lacking in arbitrary, inequitable, and sometimes brutal social relationships.

The later settlers from europe and the united states introduced the institutions of the political state to the “Great Land.” These various governments, with their laws and the weapons to enforce them, protected the newer arrivals in their economic exploitation and abuse of the residents and resources of the area, granted titles to land to those they favored, and arrogated to themselves the power to regulate the affairs of those they claimed to represent. The story of modern alaska is the story of ever-growing, ever more powerful governmental institutions ordering people around and protecting the interests of the political and economic elites.

Alaska takes up around 365,500,000 acres, 235,100,000 of which are owned by the federal government and 90,300,000 by the state. Of the 40,100,000 acres in the “private” sector, 37,400,000 are owned by corporations to whom this land was granted by the federal government in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. Just like all the other corporations in the state which own or lease land or other property through the good graces of various government agencies, these businesses would not exist without government largesse and protection, and serve primarily the interests of those who own them at the expense of those who work for them. All other non-governmental lands taken together make up merely 2,700,000 acres, or just over 7% of the total area of alaska.

Much of this government-owned real estate is considered “public” land, but average people are not really free to use and enjoy it as they wish. One cannot enter a federal building, including the social security offices and the public lands building, without producing identification and passing through a metal detector. People are hemmed in by regulations when they want to camp, hunt, fish, or otherwise utilize the various “wilderness” areas around the state. Representatives of a plethora of government agencies patrol and police these “public” lands, telling people how, when, and where they may go about their business when traveling or staying in these areas. And when they wish to spend their money elsewhere, those who run these parks simply close them to the “public” who are the purported owners. Despite the abysmal record of government “management” of wilderness and wildlife, most recently demonstrated by this year’s devastating fires in the southwest, as well as one costing $3,000,000 that was set by state biologists in alaska, the bureaucrats and politicians persist in monopolizing the ownership and running of vast areas of land here and elsewhere.

Besides possessing most of the land in this state, governments also presume to dictate how we behave even when we are not on “their” property. Like their counterparts elsewhere, government officials, regulatory bodies, and police interfere constantly in the lives and business of us all, regulating our conduct in matters from the most important to the most trivial. Bureaucrats dictate how many fish can be caught in the open ocean and to whom fishers can sell them; whether art galleries can serve wine at openings; who can and can’t cut and style your hair; how and where you can build a home; what drugs, whether therapeutic or recreational, you can consume; and who can provide you with health care. The Division of Family and Youth Services steals people’s children, while police, like cops everywhere, routinely abuse peaceable people and invade their homes in their prosecution of the drug war, and are free to lock people up to coerce them into cooperating with the courts. In addition, people whose buildings are on land owned by the state risk being forced to vacate and burn their property at the whim of bureaucrats. Alaska is hardly a land where people can live and let live.

Unfortunately, this situation does not trouble many individual alaskans, who, like others all over the united states, are more than willing to use the government as their private bully when they want to push other people around or protect their own privileges. Whether it is those who want to prevent others from living in their neighborhood by claiming bogus public health hazards from new construction, busybodies who wish to keep others from purchasing sex or drugs, newly-arrived suburbanites who want to drive out a long-standing rural drug rehab center, or coastal property owners who want to maintain their monopoly over access to the Cook Inlet shoreline, residents of this state are just as likely to call on the government to back them up in disputes with their neighbors as people anywhere.

Naturally, all this intervention, supervision, and policing is paid for precisely by the people who are victimized by the rules, regulations, and laws enacted by various levels of government. While alaska has no income tax, there are local sales taxes and various other “tourist” taxes which state residents end up paying as well. There are also taxes on phone service and utilities such as water, sewer, gas, and electricity, as well as garbage collection. The state also taxes corporations, but these taxes are ultimately a tax on the people who work for these companies and the people who buy their products, since this is where these business’ wealth comes from. And all these taxes are in addition to those levied by the federal government which alaskans, like all other americans, are compelled to pay.

Government is alive and well in alaska, where the state spends more money per capita than any other in the united states, and government is a major, and sometimes the biggest, employer in many communities. While there are a lot of wonderful things about living here, like the mountains, rivers, wildlife, and coastlines, government institutions do their best to ruin the experience. The authorities, from Anchorage, to Juneau, to Washington, all think they know better than us how we should lead our lives and arrange our affairs, and have made it their business to force us to conform to their vision of how the world should operate. Only when enough people come to oppose this state of affairs and refuse to obey and cooperate any longer, will we have any chance of living in a really great land, a land free of government and the social and economic servitude it breeds.