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Where the Goods Are Odd

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Juneau, AK -- Politics in this state is almost as out-of-kilter as the climate is. As the Arctic ice-cap shrinks, so does Alaska. Melting permafrost, bigger waves and a higher sea level are all eating away at the Arctic coastline, from Nome to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The village of Shismaref is vanishing into the sea, and the estimated cost of relocation is $180 million.

In response to this reality, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens in February, changed course by declaring that global warming was a real problem and helped get the Senate to pass the first improvement in fuel efficiency standards since the 1970's. But that was then. Now Stevens has unburdened himself of the view that while, yes, there is a human contribution to warming, the largest force was a 700-900 year natural warming cycle which he's confident is coming to an end. Since by his own description there is a 200-year variance in how long the cycle lasts, it's a little hard to fathom why Stevens is confident that things will turn around in the lifetime of his current constituents, much less his own.

But Stevens can, perhaps, be pardoned for whistling past the graveyard. In recent weeks, allegations that Bill Allen -- the head of VECO, an oil services company which had benefited from many of Stevens's legislative activities -- also illegally paid for the renovations of Stevens House, and that his company used corporate employees to raise campaign contributions, have dominated the news in Alaska. Allen, it appears, has been cooperating with the FBI. His conversations with Stevens were taped by the Bureau. Construction workers have confirmed that they worked on Stevens's fund-raisers while being paid by VECO. On September 19, Alaska Republican Governor Sarah Palin asked Stevens's son, Ben, a former state senator also under investigation for his ties to VECO, to resign from the Republican National Committee slot he holds. Two days later, Palin called on Ted Stevens to explain to the people of Alaska what was going on. "Not hearing anything in terms of information that can be shared regarding the senator's innocence is kind of frustrating for Alaskans," Palin said. "Alaskans are getting more anxious to hear any information that he can provide regarding his innocence."

Meanwhile Don Young, Alaska's Congressman, amended his campaign reports to reflect $38,000 in back payments, because VECO employees told the government they had also worked on Young's fund-raisers while being paid by their company. Whether this "Whoops, I made a mistake" tactic will protect Young is up to the prosecutors.

Palin, elected in 2006 on an anti-corruption platform, is clearly trying to clean up the mess she inherited. Last week she also announced the death of Young and Stevens' infamous "bridge to nowhere" -- an enormous boondoggle first highlighted by the Sierra Club back in 2005. Palin told officials to find a "fiscally responsible alternative" for connecting Ketchikan to its airport. "Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," Palin said.

On America's last frontier, where there are far more men than women, there is an old saying that goes: "Alaska, where the odds are good, but the goods are odd." Governor Palin must recall that aphorism often these days as she cleans up after the state's alpha-male politicians and business leaders. Meanwhile, Nome and Shishmaref slip into the sea.