Friday, July 25, 2008

The Great Land

Mt. McKinley (photo: Matt Abe)We just got back from a two-week family vacation to Alaska. Alaska is unique among these United States for many reasons. Alaska is a huge state: it has over twice the area of Texas and has more land than all but 18 of the Earth's sovereign nations. Alaska remained a territory for over 90 years (it celebrates its 50th anniversary of statehood next year), during which time Congress used Alaska's lack of representation in that body to its extreme advantage (to put it politely).

(For more on Alaska's fight for statehood, I highly recommend reading "Let us end American colonialism," former Alaskan territorial governor Ernest Gruening's cogent 1955 speech to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, which was recently published by the Anchorage Press, an alternative newspaper similar to City Pages but not as caustically liberal.)

Thanks to a lack of federal funding while the continental U.S. was being criss-crossed with railroads, Interstate Highways, seaports, and airports, most of the highways that exist in Alaska today are two-lane highways, and many areas (including the state capital at Juneau) are accessible only by air or water. Some roads are closed entirely during the winter.

A fortunate unintended consequence of constricting settlement and commerce in Alaska before statehood in 1959 is that to this day, Alaska remains largely undeveloped and untamed, a rustic and often spectacular living postcard at every turn for residents and tourists to enjoy. The state population is only 670,053 (2006), and only a handful of towns have over 10,000 population. Only 1% of the land in Alaska is privately owned (an area that is a little larger than the state of Connecticut). The rest is managed by the Federal and state governments, and Native groups.

Homer, AK (photo: Matt Abe)Outside of Anchorage or Fairbanks, you won't find many big box retailers or franchises, light rail or stadiums, or even too many gas stations — just small towns, small businesses, campgrounds, fishing charters and guide services, glaciers, tiny espresso drive-thrus, a few volcanoes, and friendly people.

Most Alaskans like it that way. On a flightseeing trip over Mount McKinley (see photo), we saw many lake homes that are accessible only by seaplane, and perhaps by snowmobile or dog sled in the winter. Before statehood, white settlers and adventurers learned the art of dog sledding and pioneered bush aviation into remote areas. Native Alaskans (please don't call them "eskimos") still practice subsistence hunting and traditional ways of thriving in the land in which they feel chosen to live, while selectively adopting Western ways to preserve their way of life.

Alaska is derived from a native Aleut word, Alyeska, meaning "The Great Land." It's a remarkable and uniquely American place with a politics all its own, which I will discuss in my next post.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All of the above

Oil, natural gas, and wind energy baron T. Boone Pickens testified today to the U.S. Senate on moving from foreign sources of oil to, well, natural gas and wind energy. We are certainly too dependent on oil from unfriendly nations, and renewable energy should be pursued and used where it makes sense, but some of Pickens' testimony caused me to pause.

"I have to think in 10 years, the demand for oil — because the price now is going up — in 10 years, you're going to have $300 oil. Maybe higher, I don't know," said Pickens, as quoted by Fox News.

Unless the law of supply and demand is repealed (which the government regularly attempts to do with taxes and subsidies), isn't there a point at which the demand for oil will eventually hit a peak and decline, stabilizing the price of oil? Of course, with the government and environmental groups restricting the oil supply with a moratorium on both oil exploration and construction of refineries and pipelines, I suppose that the market price for oil could settle at $300 a barrel, even with reduced demand. And with mandates for seasonal, "boutique" blends of gasoline, corn ethanol subsidies, and ever-higher gas taxes, government is exacerbating the rising prices at the retail level.

Either way, at this point government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem. As Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (MN-6) suggested on her recent trip to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, America needs an "all of the above" approach to solving its energy challenges: environmentally-responsible domestic exploration and production of fossil fuels, nuclear power, conservation, and research into renewable energy. The quickest way toward energy independence is for government to get out of the way and let private industry and free markets work.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I have been granted "special press" credentials to cover the 2008 Republican National Convention on North Star Liberty. This will get me into the Xcel Energy Center, just not on the delegate floor. How many days I will actually be in on scene in Saint Paul will depend on my schedule at work. I would love to interview you if you are Minnesota delegate, and I would love to hear your story ideas.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The nanny party in Denver

If you really want to know the difference between how Democrats and Republicans govern, all you need to do is take a look at some of the machinations underway for the Democratic National Convention. They can't even trust their own delegates to make politically-correct choices about what to eat during the convention. As reported in the June 25 Wall Street Journal:
But Matt Burns, a spokesman for the Republican convention, looks on with undisguised glee at some of the Democrats' efforts -- such as the "lean 'n' green" catering guidelines.

Among them: No fried food. And, on the theory that nutritious food is more vibrant, each meal should include "at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white." (Garnishes don't count.) At least 70% of ingredients should be organic or grown locally, to minimize emissions from fuel burned during transportation. "One would think," says Mr. Burns, "that the Democrats in Denver have bigger fish to bake -- they have ruled out frying already -- than mandating color-coordinated pretzel platters."

Laura Hylton, general manager of Biscuits & Berries catering, agrees in principle. But she has been testing her recipes using local ingredients for weeks and still can't get the green peppercorn sauce right when she uses white Colorado wine. The state's high-altitude wine industry took off in the early 1990s and produces some award-winning labels, but Ms. Hylton says diplomatically, "It's a little...lacking. Our wineries out here aren't what you'd see in California or France."

Joanne Katz, who runs the Denver caterer Three Tomatoes, will take one for the green team by removing her fried goat-cheese won tons with chipotle pepper caramel sauce from the menu. But she questions whether some of the guidelines will have the desired earth-saving effects.

According to at least one Democrat blogger, this sort of kooky puritanism is leaving centrist Dems squirming under nanny-state correctness:

…this is EXACTLY why my beloved Democratic Party loses elections. The various factions that make up our party spend so much time trying to ensure that each one of their core principles is thrust upon Americans with little or no choice. After all ‘we’ know ‘better.’ … this information only adds to the perception that Democrats care more about engineering society in a politically correct fashion, than we do about helping working families put food on the table.