Steve Haycox

Dan Sullivan was sworn in as Alaska’s junior U.S. senator last Tuesday, and there’s an unprecedented aspect to his upcoming service: A direct connection to the 1 percent who run the country. It comes through the remarkable fortune of his family business, RPM International. RPM’s annual net sales top $11 billion; its net income is over $101 million. Sullivan’s grandfather started the company; its current chair and chief executive officer is his brother. RPM owns companies that make and market coatings, sealants and building materials; think RustOleum and DAP, but the industrial manufacturing sector is where the real money is. RPM is an elite investment: for over 40 years it has paid shareholders an increased dividend, something matched by only one-half of one percent of publicly traded U.S...Steve Haycox
The Christmas holiday is mostly over, and with it the persistent refrain of “Jingle Bells,” the overeating of irresistible cookies and treats, the patience of department-store Santa Clauses and the orgy we call Christmas shopping. The usual complaints about the “commercialization” of Christmas have again fallen on the closed ears of the American consumer, especially those with children, for whom this holiday seems especially designed. Christmas is a secular celebration, like it or not; it’s a cultural and commercial icon that a great many Americans would have trouble relating somehow to the birth of the baby Jesus. The buying bacchanalia may represent a corruption of the meaning of the season but it’s hard to fault a society that spends such a big chunk of its annual gross domestic...Steve Haycox
“The times they are a changin’,” and you can feel the wind without a weatherman. If ever Bob Dylan’s lyrics were apropos, they surely are now. But some folks can’t resist resisting the sweep of history. Respect for cultural differences notwithstanding, history is sweeping new definitions of family and women deep into mainstream culture. It’s six weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court denied Alaska’s request for a stay of court actions that allow same sex marriage in the state. The state has said it will continue to appeal the court decisions that allow such unions, though the new administration has yet to weigh in. And it is not clear whether the Supreme Court will take up a Michigan case that challenges the only circuit court decision in the country that bans the unions. But at this point,...Steve Haycox
Standing with tens of thousands of others on Bernauer Strasse in Berlin last Sunday evening, as 7,000 large, illuminated, helium-filled balloons were set free into the dark sky and the crowds cheered and clapped for joy, one could be pardoned for being overwhelmed. News outlets reported that a million people were out in Berlin that night, taking part in what Berliners called “25th Mauerfall,” the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. The balloons were spaced about 10 feet apart all along the 14-kilometer path of the wall through central Berlin; people had been walking the route all weekend, and various displays recounted the sad history of the DDR, the East German state, and the euphoria of Nov. 9, 1989, when one of every four East Germans crossed into the West. It took an hour...Steve Haycox
We have a problem with education today, and it’s not that our students don’t score high enough on standardized tests. Rather, it’s that beyond the lower grades, we don’t know its purpose. Once children can read and do simple math and are reasonably socialized, i.e., know the behaviors society expects of them, all bets are off. Is the purpose of high school to develop independent thinkers, to make good citizens, prepare for college, or to get kids ready for reliable employment? All of these, naturally, but where’s the emphasis? As a nation we were clearer about this in the past. In 1917, in the Smith-Hughes Act, Congress, recognizing that kids come with a variety of life destinies and natural affinities, mandated funding to the states for secondary vocational training, leading to the...Steve Haycox
Speaking in an interview recently, the brilliant conservative essayist and novelist Marilynne Robinson, nominated this week for a national book award, lamented that fear has become the default posture of human beings in today’s culture. “What it comes down to — and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently — is that fear is an excuse: ‘I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn’t.’ ” Fear is a negative power that eliminates options. It’s a habit that colors and constrains. And it’s not just an individual phenomenon; it’s often collective, for individuals mimic the ideas and behaviors they see around them. Fear stalks the land in Alaska, most of it generated by anxiety over job security. That’s because it’s the job that brings most non-Natives to Alaska,...Steve Haycox
In the small town of Bradner, Ohio, some months before World War II, enraged citizens gathered in the town square for a book burning. The target of their fury was an American history text, "Man and His Changing Society," used in the town’s schools. It’s author, Harold Rugg, a professor of social studies at Columbia University Teachers College, championed progressive education, the notion that education should be seen as an agent of social change, awakening students to the complexities of society and the forces responsible for its character. It was the end of the Great Depression, and progressive curricula explored such topics as the locus of economic and political power in society, and democratic access for people of differing financial and social circumstances. While extolling democracy...Steve Haycox
Ken Burns’ documentary "The Roosevelts," showing now on PBS television, conveys a powerful lesson on the critical role of leadership in formulating and achieving policy, particularly policy that works for the majority of Americans rather than a minority. Born patrician, Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt each dedicated their lives to public service that would empower and protect the mass of ordinary people -- in Burns’ telling, not for glory, but for good, because it is right. The list of contributions to the quality, and equality, of American life made by the three is not just impressive; it’s a catalog of public morality. Under Theodore, pure food and drug legislation, using the power of the presidency to force corporate owners to negotiate with labor, using courts to break up...Steve Haycox
Lincoln Steffens, Ida M. Tarbell and Jacob Riis are not well-known names today, but there was a time when they had household familiarity, along with Upton Sinclair and Ambrose Bierce. They were all Progressive Era muckrakers, reform-minded investigative journalists at the turn of the 20th century who exposed corruption in politics, industry and the financial world. Though Theodore Roosevelt criticized them for their preoccupation with dirt and for being short on solutions to the problems they examined, historians credit them with having helped shape reform policies that curtailed graft and boodle, and restored democratic aspects of American politics. One of the major reform campaigns of that era aimed to stop corporate and fat cat money from corrupting the U.S. Senate. As originally...Steve Haycox
One of the most persistent choruses heard in the debate over the repeal of SB 21, Ballot Measure 1 on the primary ballot, is that if the repeal passes, the oil industry will cease its investments in the North Slope, undertake no new exploration or development, and but for routine maintenance, leave Alaska. As a result, there will be no new oil for the pipeline, Alaska’s economy will go quickly into deep deficit and soon fail, and as jobs evaporate, people will have to pull up stakes and leave Alaska. This is a principal reason many people offer to explain their intention to vote “No.” Some people in real estate, particularly, express great fear that if the repeal passes, home values will drop precipitously, and we’ll see a general economic calamity. This is an unreasonable fear. As...Steve Haycox