Steve Haycox

A dangerous divide has been developing for some years in America, between those who are comfortable negotiating the wide array of knowledge and information sources now available, and those who are not. It is in many aspects a class divide, one side characterized by wealth, professional degrees, security and complacency, the other by shrinking incomes and high credit card debt, anxiety about the future, and anger at those in power. One U.S. Senator, Jim Webb of Virginia, recently called this America's greatest present danger, more potent than our international entanglements, the financial crisis, health care, energy or environment. The "tea party" protests over health care and immigration policy are one manifestation of that divide. Another, related, is the current response to Sarah Palin...Steve Haycox
It's been a great tradition in the economic development of the American West, including Alaska, to depend on the federal government for substantial financial support, but to reject any constraints or advice that come with the money. A cartoon reflecting that tradition might have a figure representing the West, or Alaska, with one hand holding out a tin cup while the other displays a raised palm, the universal sign for "stop!" In the West, the federal government mapped the land and laid out the trails, built forts to protect travelers and settlers and implemented the policy to defeat and contain the Indians, then paid for the transcontinental railroads that moved goods to market, subsidized the telegraph which kept agents in touch with investors, and built the high dams that facilitated...Steve Haycox
History is tricky business. We'd like it to give us the true story of the past. But along with the other liberal arts -- literature and philosophy -- whose domain it shares, history doesn't produce certitude about much of anything. Even when one has the salient facts right, there's the challenge offered by the theory that there are an infinite number of explanations for any one event. There's also "hindsight bias," the tendency to regard actual historical outcomes as more probable than alternatives that seemed real at the time. Historians complicate understanding the true complexity of past human events, which were just as complicated and uncertain as current human events, by inventing labels for various historical periods. Like all labels, they oversimplify, and in that way do violence...Steve Haycox
Sunday is Alaska Day, commemorating the transfer of Russian America to the United States in 1867. One of the more fun accounts of that early time in Alaska was discovered some years ago in the Newberry Library in Chicago by the late Alaska historian Morgan Sherwood. It was written by Mariette Davis, the wife of the U.S. Army general who commanded a contingent of troops sent to oversee the ceremony, and afterward take control of the territory. He was Jefferson C. Davis, not the Davis of Confederate fame, but one of Lincoln's generals. Mrs. Davis wrote letters from Sitka to her sister back in Indianapolis. Contrary to common opinion, the purchase of Alaska was not unpopular. When the Senate voted on the treaty presented to it by Secretary of State William Seward, the tally was 37-2 in favor...Steve Haycox
Next Thursday, October 8, is the anniversary of the birth of William A. Egan, Alaska's first state governor, president of the constitutional convention in 1955-56, and Tennessee Plan Senator (1956). The only governor so far to serve three terms (1959-62, 1962-66, 1970-74), Egan has been well-recognized during the 50th anniversary of statehood. Most attention has been directed to his role in the convention, appropriately, for many delegates testified to his fairness and insistence on inclusion, an account of which has been written by historian Betsy Tower. The three Tennessee delegates, named so because Tennessee was the first territory to use the tactic, were elected as two U.S. "Senators" and one "Congressman" to travel to Washington, D.C., before Congress actually voted for Alaska...Steve Haycox
The anniversary of the birth of H.L. Mencken passed quietly last week, on Sept. 12. Known as the "Sage of Baltimore," Mencken wrote for the Baltimore Sun newspaper for most of his career, achieving national fame in the 1920s and 1930s for his insightful but biting commentary on social and political affairs. One of his frequent targets was American democracy, about which he said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." On politics he noted that "under democracy, one party always devotes its energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule -- and both commonly succeed, and are right." Mencken may be apropos of the circus of discourse now dominating the national media, particularly the blogosphere. He surely would be amused at the...Steve Haycox
An anniversary noteworthy for Alaskans passed unremarked last week: the discovery of the first American oil well that produced significant investment, in Titusville, Pennsylvania, on August 27, 1859. It's noteworthy for Alaskans because without oil Alaska would be a much different place than it is, and we would have very different public policy choices than we do. Oil wasn't new in 1859; it had been used mostly as brine for salt production, and in fact, other shallow wells had been drilled in America's Appalachian region to extract oil for that purpose. That was the intention of the Titusville well, drilled by Col. Edwin Drake, a former railroad conductor. The significance of his well was its quantity -- 60 barrels a day at 70 feet using mechanical pumps, sufficient to sustain a...Steve Haycox
Mayor Sullivan's veto of the human rights ordinance proposed by Patrick Flynn and approved by seven members of the Assembly manifests again the somewhat ironic phenomenon that liberals trust government more than conservatives, a historic if paradoxical phenomenon. It was liberals, after all, who in 1787 refused to support ratification of the U.S. Constitution until its conservative drafters agreed to include a bill of rights, most especially freedom of expression. And it was liberals whose attacks on the president and Congress over the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, which authorized imprisonment of critics of the government, thoroughly discredited such official examples of fear of the people. When liberals have gained control of government, they have often attempted to expand rights for...Steve Haycox
Outgoing U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter addressed a meeting of the American Bar Association in Chicago last weekend on a threat to American democracy. The timing and the subject of his remarks were chosen quite deliberately, just as the full Senate readied to take up its advise and consent to the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Court. But as he intended, Justice Souter's message has very long-term implications. Citing the findings of a study done a few years ago, Souter began his talk noting that two-thirds of Americans today cannot identify the three branches of the American government. This, he said, is astonishing. When he was a youngster there was hardly anyone who did not know the three branches. He said growing up in New Hampshire, most of what he learned about...Steve Haycox
The unfolding Sarah Palin story, perhaps the most interesting political saga in Alaska's young history, has been difficult to understand and place in context because it is so unprecedented. We use history to orient ourselves to reality, and Palin is, as she has said, mavericky; there's nothing like her in our Alaskan past. There have been outspoken and powerful women who became national celebrities and who bear some resemblance to Palin. One was Mary Elizabeth Lease, the Kansas populist orator of the 1890s who helped popularize the Populist Party. Lease was a fiery speaker who worked for women's suffrage, temperance, and farmers and workers' rights. With the rise of industrialization, Lease charged, America no longer was a democracy, but an oligarchy controlled by Wall Street monopolies...Steve Haycox