Alaska Corruption Finally Seeing Daylight

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like corruption issues tend to be the largest in places with vast amounts of natural resources. Government’s role in allocating land, mining, forestry or fishing rights, eminent domain, etc. leads to plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurial politicians.

With that in mind, take a look at Alaska. A state with a ton of oil, gold, forests, and fishing. In a situation like that, the opportunities for corruption are astronomical. And now it’s finally being uncovered:

The Alaska political corruption investigation

A broad federal investigation of public corruption has been under way in Alaska for more than three years, although it didn’t become widely known until Aug. 30, 2006.

That’s when teams of federal agents executed search warrants at the offices of six state legislators and elsewhere around the state. The government has since brought indictments and won a jury verdict and several guilty pleas.

via ewj on Twitter

Which and Who?

This headline from the Star Tribune cracked me up:

Ex-congressional aide pleads guilty in scandal

Which scandal? And who’s congressional aide? Throw me a bone here, Star Tribune.

Keeping up with DC scandals is getting tougher than keeping up with Paris and Brittany.

Ex-congressional aide pleads guilty in scandal

Mark Zachares, the 11th person to be convicted in the Justice Department inquiry, admitted engaging in official acts on Abramoff’s behalf while working for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who chaired the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Abramoff assisted Zachares in obtaining his committee post. Zachares left Young’s staff in 2005. Young’s office declined to comment Tuesday.

“Guilty, your honor,” Zachares told U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, who had asked what plea he would enter to a single count of conspiracy. He faces a maximum of five years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines will probably face two years or less.

Alaska ranks up there with Texas when it comes to dirty politics. They reps from up there have simply been in Washington for way too long, which leads to way too many shady deals. Don’t forget that it’s also home to Sen. Ted “Series of Tubes” Stevens who also likes pork barrel building bridges to nowhere.

Wiping out the Alaska Permanent Fund Account

I missed this one last week while traveling, but I’m glad I finally caught it:

Oops! Technician’s error wipes out data for state fund – CNN.com

Perhaps you’ve experienced that sinking feeling when a single keystroke accidentally destroys hours of work. Now imagine wiping out a disk drive containing an account worth $38 billion.

That’s what happened to a computer technician reformatting a disk drive at the Alaska Department of Revenue. While doing routine maintenance work, the technician accidentally deleted applicant information for an oil-funded account — one of Alaska residents’ biggest perks — and mistakenly reformatted the backup drive, as well.

There was still hope, until the department discovered its third line of defense had failed: backup tapes were unreadable.

People LIVE for the checks they receive from the state every fall.

Another good reason to have paper backups. I wonder if any lessons can be learned here that are relevant to, say, voting?

Alaska Letters to the Editor

One of my favorite things to do when I lived in Alaska was to read the letters to the editor in the local newspapers. Being the Last Frontier, the people living there tend to be out on the fringes a bit more than you’d find in Minneapolis. For example, here are two letters published recently in Alaska. The first comes from Soldotna, a small community South of Anchorage:

Reader Voices Strong Opinion on Atheists

It’s time to stomp out atheists in America. The majority of Americans would love to see atheists kicked out of America. If you don’t believe in God, then get out of this country.

The United States is based on having freedom of religion, speech, etc., which means you can believe in God any way you want (Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, etc.), but you must believe.

I don’t recall freedom of religion meaning no religion. Our currency even says, “In God We Trust.” So, to all the atheists in America: Get off of our country.

Atheists have caused the ruin of this great nation by taking prayer out of our school and being able to practice what can only be called evil. I don’t care if they have never committed a crime, atheists are the reason crime is rampant.

Alice Shannon
Soldotna

And this one comes from Fairbanks:

Same sex benefits

March 2, 2007

To the editor:

A widespread misconception exists that any two human beings who choose to become roommates are eligible for and can receive domestic partner benefits. Not true.

Government entities and private companies who offer domestic partner benefits have created both personal and financial enrollment criteria. As an example, I am highlighting a few of the 13 to 16 required criteria for domestic partner benefits at the university and the state of Alaska:

1. In an exclusive personal relationship and have resided together for the last 12 months and intend to continue indefinitely;

2. Responsibility for each other’s health care costs;

3. Joint purchase or lease of real property;

4. Partner is primary beneficiary for the TRS/PERS and the University’s Pension Plan;

5. Partner is primary beneficiary in employee’s will;

6. Partner has a power of attorney over employee’s property;

7. Partner has written power to make decisions about the employee’s health if the employee is unable to do so.

The complete forms are at here and here.

Contrast this with a heterosexual couple who can marry almost the first day they meet, never live together, but can immediately get benefits. The argument can be made that same-sex partners have to reflect upon their commitment and responsibilities in much more detail than many heterosexual couples do.

Finally emotionally healthy children are routinely raised to become productive adults in same-sex households. Denial of benefits to an employee’s partner would create a special burden. The children of the employee would have full benefits; the children of their partner would have none. Any couple in a blended family faces a special challenge creating an atmosphere of family unity. Any circumstance which suggests that one partner’s children are less than the other partner’s damages this. Thus perhaps the best argument for providing benefits to committed same-sex partners is for the support of the children in these families.

Support equal pay and benefits for equal work. Support the children of same-sex couples. Vote no on the April 3 advisory vote.

Straight but not narrow,

Joanne Groves

Fairbanks

Clearly, the two writers probably don’t have much in common.

A state full on miners and environmentalists, vegetarians and hunters, Native Alaskans and developers is bound to have divisive politics. Good times.