Midday Scan: Wednesday's top stories around the region

In the news: Alaska pays those brave enough to live there; Cantwell's impressive Wall Street reform chops; why environmentalists are opposing WA mine toxic clean-up; more damn dam removal; and George Nethercutt displays his political sensitivities with an attack on gay history.

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Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher release the amount of the 2011 Permanent Fund Dividend.

In the news: Alaska pays those brave enough to live there; Cantwell's impressive Wall Street reform chops; why environmentalists are opposing WA mine toxic clean-up; more damn dam removal; and George Nethercutt displays his political sensitivities with an attack on gay history.

Alaska is another country. It was imperial Russia until U.S. Secretary of State William Seward finessed the 1867 purchase for a then-eye-smarting $7.2 million (a decision given the derisive moniker, "Seward's Folly)." What a difference 144 years make. On Tuesday, Becky Boher reports, Alaska governor Sean Parnell announced the Alaska Permanent Fund's per-person dividend: $1,174. Yep, $1,174 to every Alaskan for just being an Alaskan (it's also the lowest amount since 2006). The political stagecraft included an ebullient Parnell brandishing a gold-colored envelope (inspired by Roald Dahl's golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)? 

Boher provides the context: "Voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1976 to establish the Permanent Fund as a way to stretch out the state's oil wealth for future generations. At the time, Alaska had just experienced a construction boom spurred by a $900 million bonus payment from energy companies for oil discoveries." By any measure, the Alaska Permanent Fund is a gross expression of petroleum socialism, the kind of mindless hemorrhaging of resources that makes all of us closet socialists.

Joel Connelly of the Seattlepi.com has already consumed Ron Suskind's Confidence Men, the controversial new tome that skewers President Obama's disconnected leadership and coterie of self-lacerating economic advisers (either that or Joel read it "Midday-Scan style:" eying the index for familiar names). Connelly reports that one headstrong figure emerges as a Wall Street reform hero: Sen. Maria Cantwell. "The book describes Cantwell as a canny, tireless force for Wall Street reform. She takes on such big boys as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and presses Commodities Futures Trading Commission Chair Gary Gensler to take a tough line overseeing the financial industry," Connelly writes.

The motif of Cantwell-as-populist-gadfly should resonate with Washington voters, but how does the senator elevate that message without lending credence to Suskind's thesis? "Read these three pages and disregard the rest?" Connelly captures the political question: "Obama will be on the 2012 ballot, which makes the White House anxious to discredit Suskind’s book. But two of Suskind’s heroes are also likely to face voters. Cantwell is running for reelection in Washington. Elizabeth Warren is the likely Democratic nominee to face Massachusetts’ GOP Sen. Scott Brown."

Some environmental battles are so illustrative of the new West that they become case studes for how interest groups interact (or fight, or sue, or otherwise slam each other). Gale Fiege's excellent piece in the Everett Herald documents the effort to clean up the old Monte Cristo mine of arsenic, mercury, and other toxic tailings. Who, perchance, is opposed? A corporate behemoth angling to avoid liability?

No, the mine was shuttered in 1907 and the land is currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Fiege writes, "with funding in hand and the clean-up project planning in the final stages, Forest Service officials are hearing from environmentalists protesting the project." Ironically, the blowback comes five years after the Washington Environmental Council sued the U.S. Forest Service for heel dragging. The current concern among some enviros is the possible razing of an old-hemlock forest to accommodate a new road to Monte Cristo designed to facilitate the clean-up. The calculus creates a Hobson's choice: human health (so far unaffected) or a hemlock forest? From a raw PR perspective, clean-up opponents appear to be drinking the hemlock for now.  

"Last dam summer." The expression was featured on buttons celebrating the removal of the Elwha dams on the Olympic Peninsula. Dam removal ephemera, like dam removal itself, could become the rage. As Scott Learn of the Oregonian notes, the PacifiCorps dams along the Klamath River are set for 2020 with a lower-than-anticipated price tag of $290 million, according to Interior Secretay Ken Salazar. "The good news on costs should boost the huge dam removal project, designed to benefit fishermen, tribes, and threatened fish. But it won't reduce the tab for PacifiCorp's Oregon customers, who are contributing $180 million of dam removal costs through a 2 percent surcharge that's already in effect," Learn writes. 

Finally, George Nethercutt has been pretty quiet since losing to incumbent Sen. Patty Murray seven years ago. However, he piped up recently in an essay for Real Clear Politics lamenting how we teach U.S. history. "Given the seriousness of the problem, one might expect that politicians are rushing before the cameras with solutions. Well, they are, but not the solutions American schoolchildren need right now. Instead, state governments are too busy legislating political correctness rather than confronting the dangerous ignorance pervading our public schools," Nethercutt writes. The former congressman then blasts gay and environmental history for coming at the expense of the core essentials. It's good to see that Nethercutt has finally gotten politics out of his system.       

Link summary 

Anchorage Daiy News, "Alaska Permanent Fund dividend: $1,174: Permanent Dividend Fund"

Seattepi.com, "Cantwell: Hero in book on Obama heavies"

Everett Herald, "Project to clean up old Monte Cristo mine draws criticism"

Oregonian, "Cost for taking down PacificCorp's Klamath River dams lower than expected, Interior Secretary says"

Real Clear Politics, "Back to school, back to U.S. History basics"


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson