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
It’s remarkable that though the oil industry is out-spending supporters of Ballot Measure 1 on the August primary ballot 100 to 1, the polls are showing support for the repeal three points up. It appears we are experiencing a backlash, directed against an industry that seems willing to bully and bludgeon Alaskans into accepting their agenda which is, mostly, lower taxes, which means more industry profit, and less revenue for the state. Alaska has been subjected to such bullying before, in the era before statehood when the canned salmon industry controlled the primary revenue-generator for the territory, commercial fishing, and by lobbying Congress and co-opting the territorial Legislature through campaign contributions, kept their taxes low and the revenue stream to the territory meager...Steve Haycox
The American government may be in some serious trouble. A Gallup poll released last week finds that confidence in all three of the branches, the Presidency, the Supreme Court and especially Congress, is at historic lows. Dissatisfaction with government performance is widespread; many people feel their leaders neither share nor protect their interests. Moreover, the intense polarization our politics developed over the last decade and a half has caused many thoughtful writers to question whether the Constitution should be fundamentally revised. The dysfunction has moved some analysts to question whether liberal democracy itself can survive. The journalist Edmund Fawcett, who writes for the New York Times, the Guardian and the New Statesman, quotes the brilliant British Marxist historian...Steve Haycox
It's rather inconsistent that so many Anchorage leaders point with pride to the diversity we now see in Anchorage's schools, yet lend their support to a voucher program that would vitiate the city's, and the state's, public schools. A widely reported recent study done by UAA sociology professor Chad Farrell and colleagues found that Mountain View is the most diverse census tract in the United States. Correspondingly, East Anchorage is the most diverse high school in the nation, followed by Bartlett and West Anchorage as No. 2 and No. 3. It's important to understand that diversity doesn't mean just that there's a large population of non-whites; diversity includes whites as well as others. That being said, white people are now a minority in Anchorage's schools overall -- 44 percent. That's...Steve Haycox
Jack Johnson was a larger than life figure, a true Alaskan character. Born in 1926, raised on Kodiak Island, he went to sea at the age of 13. At various times he served in the U.S. Merchant Marine, in the Scottish Guards, in the Russian Army, in the French Foreign Legion, and in the Israeli Army. He ended his career as a ship's pilot in southcentral Alaskan waters. Retiring at 80, he died earlier this year. In 1947 Johnson was in France and a bit at loose ends. He was recruited by Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization in British Palestine which at the time was outfitting ships to carry Jews from Europe, illegally, to settle in Palestine. In the Russian Army Johnson had helped liberate one of the death camps in 1945, an experience that seared his conscience. The ship he helped sail...Steve Haycox
Correction: Upon first publication, the following commentary stated that Riversdale Resources is partly owned by the mining company Rio Tinto, but that is incorrect. The text below has been corrected. Matanuska Valley residents have witnessed an environmental drama over coal development during the last several years that raises important questions about the direction of Alaska’s energy policy. Riversdale Alaska, a subsidiary of Riversdale Resources, an Australian company, has a 10-year lease on about 10,000 acres of Alaska Mental Health Trust lands around the Native village of Chickaloon, at the east end of the eight-mile long Wishbone Hill coal complex, east of Palmer. Riverside plans both underground and strip mining of the remaining deposit. At the same time, Usibelli Coal has leased...Steve Haycox