Thursday, August 29, 2019

Yay! These Parakeets Were an Epic Fail and Source Number 5,462 of Self-Loathing

The thing is, guys, I’m willing to admit when I make a mistake.

And I’m one hundred percent ready to concede that these parakeets (not the actual parakeets in this picture, but Violet and Steele, my “kids’” parakeets) were a Very Bad Idea.™ And I say this as someone who’s no stranger to bad ideas.

From the woman who brought you other popular bad ideas like “faking throat surgery in kindergarten” (long story),"buying 'shrooms in the projects," and “throwing underwear on stage at a concert in a bar on the Jersey Shore”— comes . . . 


The careful reader will note that I put “kids” in quotes above. That’s because—and I knew this would happen—they became MY parakeets within a few weeks’ time. And that, in turn, is because my good-time Charlie crotch fruit were happy to play with Violet and Steele, but not to actually take care of them. And since I’m not a monster, I don't plan to teach my kids a lesson in “natural consequences” at the expense of these critters’ actual lives.

Which is when I really began to see the error of my ways: because Violet and Steele were now my parakeets, and I had to face reality. I didn’t do my homework, and I bought a couple of parakeets from PetCo without considering their dubious origins, which a visiting teenager from Switzerland rightly pronounced “unethical." My mind began to spin with guilt and skipped from one neurotic parakeet-related musing to the next:

I just took them from one sad cage to another. 
Maybe this cage is better. 
But it has fewer parakeets. 
And I also unwittingly subsidized and supported the unethical parakeet trade. 
At least they aren't male and female and I don't have to worry about parakeet babies. 
But they are both males, I think? 
And they definitely hate each other. 
People told me they were loud. 
I didn't realize they were this loud. 
I had no idea birds could be this loud. 
Maybe I should let them out to fly around. 
But then how will they know to fly back into their cage? 
Millet? Cuttle bones? What's up with cuttle bones, anyway? So random.
They won't fly back because they are dumb--bird-brained, if you will. 
They will probably fly into a window and die. 
Maybe I should "set them free?" 
But that would be insane. 
They are an invasive species. 
They wouldn't make it five minutes. 
An eagle or a cat would eat them before they could freeze to death. 
They are also filthy. 
How do two such tiny creatures create such a mess? 
I wish I loved them. 
Maybe I should find them a new home? 
But that is such a cop-out. 
I made a commitment to these fuckers. 
They are going to live a miserable life for 20 years and so will I.


In the end, my decision to capitulate to my kids' request for parakeets was a bad one, and a metaphor, really, for my multiple life failures. It's also one that I can blog about, much to Isaac's dismay. 

"I know what you're going to write on your blog, MOM," he told me, rolling his eyes and imitating a high-pitched "mom" voice: "The parakeets are loud and gross and your son doesn't take care of them and blah blah blah."

You got that right, you little turd-monster. Also, you forgot to take the blanket off their cage this morning so I had to do it, and they will get depressed without sunlight.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Recall Me Maybe?

Koch threw some cash in the PAC
Don't ask me cuz I’m a hack
I made Alaska so wack
You all are in my way
I'd trade my soul for a dime
Or two minutes of Trump’s time
I might be made out of slime
Alaska’s in my way

Hey your vote was wasted
You got turkey-basted
Hot air, vetoes growin’
I think I might be going, baby

Hey, you just elected me and this is crazy
But $1,600’s my number, so recall me maybe?
It's hard to look any more lazy
But 75K’s number, so recall me maybe?
Hey you just elected me and this is crazy
But $1,600’s my number, so recall me maybe?
And Big Oil’s tryna chase me
But 75Ks my number, so recall me maybe?

You took no time with your rage
I’m kinda lookin my age
I cannot handle this stage
But still you're in my way
I lie and break all the rules
Cuz Clarkson said it was cool
And Tuckerman is a fool
Alaska’s in my way

Arduin was slashin’
Fur tank Zebra fashion
Civic unrest is growin’
I don't know what I'm doin' baby?
Hey, you just elected me and this is crazy
But $1,600’s my number, so recall me maybe?
It's hard to look any more lazy 
But 75K’s number, so recall me maybe?
Hey you just elected me and this is crazy 
But $1,600’s my number, so recall me maybe?
And Big Oil’s tryna chase me
But 75Ks my number, so recall me maybe?

When I came into this job
I did it so bad
I did it so bad
I did it so so bad
When I came into this job
I did it so bad
And you can see that
I did it so so bad

I'm six-foot-nine worth of turkey gravy
$1,600's my number, so recall me maybe?

Hey, you just elected me and this is crazy
But $1,600’s my number, so recall me maybe?
It's hard to look any more lazy 
But 75K’s number, so recall me maybe?
Hey you just elected me and this is crazy 
But $1,600’s my number, so recall me maybe?
And Big Oil’s tryna chase me
But 75Ks my number, so recall me maybe?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Stories We Tell: Guest Post from Ernestine Saankalaxt' Hayes

I am deeply honored to post this previously unpublished piece by Ernestine Saankalaxt’ Hayes, which touches on themes of domestic violence, colonialism, and their stark parallels.

Hayes is the Alaska State Writer Laureate (2017-2018) and the author of Blonde Indian and The Tao of Raven. She was born and raised in Juneau when Alaska was still a territory. After 25 years in California, Hayes returned home where she received her MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Southeast, where she teaches. 

She belongs to the Kaagwaantaan clan of the Eagle side of the Lingit nation. She has four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Thank you, Professor Hayes, for entrusting your work to this space.


From our very first meeting, he courted me like a windstorm. He tickled me with freshly cut blossoms; he sweetened me with candies. His kisses sparkled my lips. He labored to appear generous and charming to my dazzled family. I was captivated. “I will always love you,” he promised. “I’ll be everything to you.” He cuffed me gently on my willing chin. “I am the only friend you’ll ever need.”

From the Peace Treaty with Massasoit 1621

That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of our people. … That if any of our tools were taken away when our people were at work, he should cause them to be restored; and if ours did any harm to any of his, we would do the like to them. If any did unjustly war against him, we would aid him; if any did war against us, he should aid us.
In the initial stage of an abusive relationship, the abuser is on his best behavior.
His first displeasure surprised me; we’d moved in together only the week before. He became impatient when I forgot where I left my keys. It delayed us by no more than a few minutes, but his annoyance unnerved me. After I found my keys where I’d dropped them at the doorstep, he apologized and swore his undying love.
Margin Notes to Delaware Treaty 1778

All offenses mutually forgiven. Peace and friendship perpetual. In case of war, each party to assist the other. … That all offences or acts of hostilities by one, or either of the contracting parties against the other, be mutually forgiven, and buried in the depth of oblivion, never more to be had in remembrance.
I misplaced my keys three more times before he took control of them. Now when I wanted the car, I had to check with him. Usually he told me to wait for him to drive me. Sometimes after questioning me, he retrieved the keys from the top dresser drawer where he kept his folded socks and smooth-flattened jockeys. “You’re lucky I let you drive my car at all,” he'd say with a firm smile. 

I had to agree.

Increasing stress sets in when the abuser begins to feel more confident in the relationship and more secure in his strength. Disagreements occur more frequently. The abuser becomes more demanding, and he emphasizes the appearance of his own generosity. 
Margin Notes to Treaty with Six Nations 1784

Six hostages shall be immediately delivered to the commissioners by the said nations, to remain in possession of the United States, till all the prisoners, white and black, which were taken by the said Senecas, Mohawks, Onondagas and Cayugas, or by any of them, in the late war, from among the people of the United States, shall be delivered up.

The Commissioners of the United States, in consideration of the present circumstances of the Six Nations, and in execution of the humane and liberal views of the United States upon the signing of the above articles, will order goods to be delivered to the said Six Nations for their use and comfort.
I cooked one of his favorite dinners, creamed beef on toast. He liked it, he said, because it reminded him of his days in the navy. I’d used a different brand of chipped beef and didn’t realize I shouldn’t have added salt until he stood suddenly and kicked the chair to the floor. He tossed his meal onto the counter with a loud crack of the plate. “What the hell is this! What the hell is this!” he yelled, and burst out the door. 

When power and control have been achieved and the victim has been rendered subservient, equality has effectively been removed.
From the Quinault Treaty 1856

The said tribes and bands hereby cede, relinquish, and convey to the United States all their right, title, and interest in and to the lands and country occupied by them, bounded and described as follows: Commencing at a point on the Pacific coast, which is the southwest corner of the lands lately ceded by the Makah tribe of Indians to the United States, and running easterly with and along the southern boundary of the said Makah tribe to the middle of the coast range of mountains; thence southerly with said range of mountains to their intersection with the dividing ridge between the Chehalis and Quiniatl Rivers; thence westerly with said ridge to the Pacific coast; thence northerly along said coast to the place of beginning.
We made up. He came home hours later, gripping a supermarket bouquet of day-old flowers and steaming cartons of hot and sour shrimp with three-flavor soup in his virtuous fist. Months later, I supposed that was the night we’d conceived our first baby.

He teased me about my weight and encouraged me to quit my office job to be a stay-at-home mom. “I’ll keep working,” he said. “My paycheck is enough for everything.”

After our second child, he moved us into a lonely caretaker’s residence. “How do you expect me to support us unless I take a second job?” he yelled when I said I’d miss my family and my friends. “What do you do all day anyway? Fat lazy cow.” It was true. I'd gained too much weight with the babies, and I'd never lost those extra pounds. None of my old clothes fit; I wore only loose gray sweatpants and thrift shop housedresses. He compared me to our neighbors, to his mother and his ex-girlfriends. I wished I could be as slim and as smart.

From A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Foreign Children”
Little Indian, Sioux or Crow
Little frosty Eskimo
Little Turk or Japanee
O! don’t you wish that you were me?

You have seen the scarlet trees
And the lions over seas
You have eaten ostrich eggs
And turned the turtles off their legs.

Such a life is very fine
But it’s not so nice as mine
You must often, as you trod
Have wearied, not to be abroad.

You have curious things to eat
I am fed on proper meat
You must dwell beyond the foam
But I am safe and live at home.

Little Indian, Sioux or Crow
Little frosty Eskimo
Little Turk or Japanee
O! don’t you wish that you were me?
I took the kids to Sunday school. It was my only day away from the house. Once in a while he came along. He always approved of the pastor’s message. The words rang from the pulpit: the husband is the head of the family just as Christ is the head of the church.
From Horace Greeley’s Letter 13, Lo, The Poor Indian, Overland Journey, from New York to San Francisco, in the Summer of 1859, 1860

As I passed over those magnificent bottoms of the Kansas which form the reservations of the Delaware, Potawatomies, etc., constituting the very best cornlands on earth, and saw their owners sitting around the doors of their lodges at the height of the planting season and in as good, bright planting weather as sun and soil ever made, I could not help saying, “These people must die out—there is no help for them. God has given this earth to those who will subdue and cultivate it, and it is vain to struggle against His righteous decree.”
He called gas and laundry money my “allowance” and made me ask him for it every week. “One, two, three, four ...” he counted out the dollars while I tried to ignore the image of myself hoping for favor, my hand receiving the worn paper, another baby balanced on my hip.

The abuser claims always to be right and insists on making all important decisions, often asserting that his authority comes from God. The abuser belittles the victim and trivializes her concerns. Treating the victim like a child is basic abusive behavior.

From Horace Greeley’s Letter 13, Lo, The Poor Indian, Overland Journey, from New York to San Francisco, in the Summer of 1859, 1860

But the Indians are children. Their arts, wars, treaties, alliances, habitations, crafts, properties, commerce, comforts, all belong to the very lowest and rudest ages of human existence. … Any band of schoolboys, from ten to fifteen years of age, are quite as capable of ruling their appetites, devising and upholding a public policy, constituting and conducting a state or community, as an average Indian tribe. And, unless they shall be treated as a truly Christian community would treat a band of orphan children providentially thrown on its hands, the aborigines of this country will be practically extinct within the next fifty years.
When the children displeased him, he blamed me. “Can’t you even keep them quiet!” he yelled. He slammed into the living room where I sat nursing the youngest child. “You stupid bitch, you can’t even teach them how to keep their room clean. They’re out there in the mud and you can’t even wash the dishes. This place is a pigsty!”

My palms had begun weeping out of tiny blisters, clear fluid that reminded me of tears. Now the weeping had become cracked and bleeding pus. At its worst, I could only bandage my hands and try to keep them dry.

He threw the window open. “Shut up!” he yelled at the boys playing outside. I could see the muscles on his jaw beginning to flex. I put the baby down and went into the kitchen. I rinsed the dishes and hoped the baby wouldn’t cry. I’d been stupid to hope he might help me so my hands might heal. He followed me into the kitchen, standing close to me while I rinsed the glasses and bowls.

“They’re nothing but a bunch of little shits,” he said with a controlled voice. “They’d be better off if I raised them by myself.”

From Congressional Appropriation Act of March 3, 1893

Hereafter the Secretary of the Interior may in his discretion withhold rations, clothing and other annuities from Indian parents or guardians who refuse or neglect to send and keep their children of proper school age in some school a reasonable portion of each year.
The first time he hit me hard enough so that I had to go to the emergency room, I knew it was my own fault. He’d been quiet all morning. He wouldn’t talk. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Is something wrong?” He refused to answer. “What is it? Did I do something wrong? Tell me,” I insisted.

Ridicule, especially of appearance, beliefs, or mannerisms, together with threats of violence and threats to take the children, are common. Describing the victim as unfit, especially to raise children, are behaviors upon which abusers rely.

I followed him to the front door. “Tell me,” I screamed at the back of his head. “Tell me!” He hit me just as I leaned forward. He broke two of my teeth. My lip was cut through to the other side.

At the emergency room, the nurses raised their eyebrows but said they couldn’t do anything. I would have to go to the dentist. Later that week, I visited the dentist with a story about my own clumsiness. “It’s my own fault,” I said to his white smock. “I know I should be more careful.” A metal butterfly was clipped on my chin. I never raised my voice again.

From “Indian Country,” Peter Matthiessen's 1979 compilation of Indian history

As an Indian who has dedicated his life to what he calls “the Indian rebirth movement,” Craig disliked the sentimental idea that his people drink to blot out the grief, anger, and frustration caused by the loss of Indian country and the death of their culture. “That is also the cop-out of the drunken Indian. The Indian drinks because he likes to drink, and he can’t handle it because all his traditions go the other way.”
The abuser often minimizes conditions, denies responsibility, and blames the victim. It is not uncommon for the victim to participate by assuming a sense of blame.

With the baby, it felt impossible to get my own job. We had never married, so when we bought a house, he put it in his own name, explaining that his veteran’s mortgage allowed him no other choice. At Christmas, I spent the money I’d managed to save out of my weekly money on gifts for the children. Sometimes when he felt generous, or when he was sorry he’d hit me, he'd give me a few extra dollars.

I was always grateful.

Opening Statement of Thomas N. Slonaker, Special Trustee For American Indians before the Subcommittee On Interior And Related Agencies Committee On Appropriations U.S. House Of Representatives, March 21, 2001

Under the Dawes Act, tribal lands were divided into parcels and allotted to individual Indians. The United States was established as the trustee of the allotted lands for individuals, and individual accounts were set up for each Indian with a stake in the allotted lands to be managed for the allottees' benefit.
Economic control is an essential component of domestic abuse. Taking or withholding resources is prevalent among abusers. 

One day I drove more than two hundred miles to visit my mother. I left a note telling him where I went. I thought he’d be angry, but when I called, his voice was calm. “It was a good idea. I’m glad you went. But I miss you,” he said. When I came back home with the kids, he cooked fried chicken and salad. We made love. The next morning, he slid a wet finger near the gas cap of my blue Toyota and examined some tiny white crystals. He tasted it. “It’s sugar,” he said. “Somebody sugared your tank. You’d better not drive it until I get it fixed.” After that, I had to borrow his car for trips to the store and the laundromat.

On Sundays, we walked to church. 
From Andrew Jackson's Second Annual Message to the People of the United States, December 6, 1830

It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.
An important component of domestic abuse is the isolation of the victim. Power is maintained through intimidation: by threats, by use of force, and by physically preventing the victim’s movement. Destruction of the victim’s possessions is common.

I stopped telling the children old stories. I helped them memorize lessons from school and sat with them while they talked. When he came into the room, everyone stiffened. They listened strictly to his words. They followed everything he said.

I supposed this was probably the way it should be.

Act of the Forty-Ninth Congress—Second Session, 1887, 24 Stat., 388

And every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made under the provisions of this act, or under any law or treaty, and every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, [and every Indian in Indian Territory,] is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States.
In the absence of the right to construct their own world views, victims often assume the beliefs of their abuser. 

My daughter was the first to marry. I pretended to believe her when she said her bruises were from a fall. My younger son was the first to abuse alcohol and drugs. He dropped out of school at fifteen and left home at sixteen. He came back once in awhile asking for money, but his father never hit him anymore. He was bigger than his dad now. My youngest daughter had children one right after the other by three different men. They almost never came to visit.

I didn’t know what stories my daughter told to her children.
Remarks of Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, September 8, 2000

This agency forbade the speaking of Indian languages, prohibited the conduct of traditional religious activities, outlawed traditional government, and made Indian people ashamed of who they were. Worst of all, the Bureau of Indian Affairs committed these acts against the children entrusted to its boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. … The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next, and manifests itself in the rampant alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence that plague Indian country. Many of our people live lives of unrelenting tragedy as Indian families suffer the ruin of lives by alcoholism, suicides made of shame and despair, and violent death at the hands of one another.
Children of abuse inevitably exhibit emotional problems which can include weakened self-esteem, poor academic achievement, alcohol and drug abuse, apathy, helplessness, hopelessness, and suicide. 

We never spoke about the baby who died. I spent days sitting alone in my room, telling myself stories he probably thought I had forgotten.

From Leslie Silko's acclaimed novel, “Ceremony”

I will tell you something about stories, [he said] They aren't just for entertainment. Don't be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death. You don't have anything if you don't have the stories. Their evil is mighty but it can't stand up to our stories. So they try to destroy the stories let the stories be confused or forgotten. They would like that. They would be happy. Because we would be defenseless then.
He never admitted he'd done anything wrong.

In the wake of loss, shock is often characterized by emotional numbness. Deep depression occurs when the grief remains unresolved.

Tell this story: when the white man first came here, he was hungry and poor. He brought gifts and hoped for favors. He trembled and asked for friendship.

Tell this story: to those first hungry ones, Indians were not civilized human beings. But in the beginning, the white man kept his attitude well concealed.

Tell this story: after awhile, more and more of them came, and with increasing numbers came their swagger. They began to push and take. Friendship turned to contempt and then to conceit. From that time, Native people walked only on trails of the white man’s design.

Tell this story: the white man preached his own faith, which held above all the concept of his privilege and the superiority of his ways. He assured himself that it was his destiny to rid Native people of their power. He taught Native children that all these things were true.

Tell this story: in the end, the white man took everything that made Native people independent, all the things that had caused them to be proud.

Tell this story: a white man came into another’s home and took everything he wanted. He became a preacher to the world while inside his own house he kept another in broken pain.

He took everything he wanted.
He took everything he wanted.
He took everything he wanted.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Domestic Violence-Cruelty Model of Governing

“Do I regret the angst people have gone through, well, sure. But you could not get to this point, where folks are really talking to us about what really matters in Alaska, what folks really value, if we didn’t go through the process of reductions.”

That's how Governor Dunleavy justified his veto of $444M from the State Operating Budget--an act that has proven not just grossly unpopular, but the catalyst for a recall movement grounded in concrete violations of the law and the constitution (as opposed to the disastrous, sadistic policy choices that many of these vetoes reflect).

But there was something even more sinister in the governor's self-serving back-pedaling— itself transparently driven by his own political panic rather than an actual change of heart or mind. 

It was the tone that he used to deliver this message. It was a tone that many women, at least, have come to dread since Trump was elected. It's a tone in which abusive politics feeds private abuse, and private abuse--along with a culture that promotes and tolerates domestic violence--allows abusive men to assume positions of power. 

This was the language that Dunleavy was speaking--to all the Alaskans who had suffered, brutally and needlessly--under the ink of his imperious "red pen."

As he stood in a Head Start classroom, smugly announcing the restoration of funds for early childhood education—just six weeks after he’d vetoed them and six months after he’d tried to zero out the program entirely—he told us that he had to do it. He had to first threaten the loss of these funds in order to reinstate them.

This is the stock-in-trade language of abusers: "I know I hurt you, but I had to make you understand. You can relax now. You should thank me for stopping. You deserved it."

This is cruelty, full stop. And cruelty is a feature—not a bug—of the Dunleavy administration. 

It's cruel to veto funds for early childhood education and senior citizens, causing lapses in services and elders to write their elected officials, quite literally begging for their lives, while experienced staff leave and look elsewhere for work. It's cruel to intentionally incentivize the decimation of education and research, causing professors to flee the state, critical science to go unstudied, and students to wonder if they will be able to get a college education at home.

It was in this context that the governor stridently assumed the podium to announce that, in his magnanimous generosity, he would not again veto these funds after the legislature had voted to restore them. But make no mistake: the only reason he was standing there at all was because of the strength and persistence of Alaskans and their legislators, and the looming threat of a recall.

It's gaslighting, bullying, and psychological abuse for the governor to claim that we couldn't get to this point if we hadn’t endured his punishing red-pen reductions.

The governor, by executive fiat, hurt, scared, and bullied hundreds of thousands of the Alaskans he is charged with protecting. And then he returned to them their stolen morsels, seeking gratitude for his benevolence and claiming foresight in "starting a conversation" that we simply had to have.

“The idea is not to torture anyone or bother folks,” he said. “We know that that was part of the outcome, but that was not the intent. Again we were hoping this would be done in the springtime.”

This is a classic form of gaslighting: you cannot be offended, because that wasn't the intent, and intention is more important than outcome. Because he didn't "intend" the outcome, we are asked to dismiss our own perceptions, feelings, and consequences of the abusive behavior. Also, it's our fault that the abuse dragged on so long. 

This not only blames the victim, but it states a lie as though it were a fact: It was clearly and absolutely the governor's fault--and his fault alone--that this funding was vetoed in the first place. No one put the "red pen" in his hand. Indeed, he bragged about that red pen in earlier PR stunts. 

Thousands of Alaskans, as well as experts, testified throughout the session that people needed and relied on these programs and benefits. In response to that testimony, the legislature restored them not once, but twice. Yet here’s our governor, obfuscating and denying his role in the process, causing us to doubt our perception of reality. 

And if it's one play that Trump's playbook counsels, it’s that a lie repeated frequently and loudly enough eventually becomes the truth.

This small retreat toward empathy was hard-won and made possible only through the tenacity of Alaskans fighting for their basic dignity and the social contract. It was a step that the governor, justifiably terrified of a recall, was forced to take not out of kindness or deliberation, but out of political expedience. And here he is telling us there was no other way. 

But there is another way.

We can control the public narrative by calling this out for the crisis PR stunt that it is. Dunleavy doesn't get a medal for punching a kid in the face, stealing their lunch money, and then giving some of it back when they beg hard enough or the grownups make him do it. And he doesn't get to turn the tables and play the victim when the public resists his abusive administration, either.

When men in power traffic in these tactics, what emerges most clearly is our lack of safety. We see how thin the veil really is between the personal and the political; how familiar this is to so many Alaskan women, particularly indigenous women.

I was reminded of my trip to D.C.—made on personal time at my own expense, by the way— to beg Senator Murkowski to vote no on appointing a sexual assailant to the United States Supreme Court. Knowing it was futile, we met with Senator Sullivan as well. He brought his Athabaskan wife into the room with him to sit in silent attestation to his “woke” bona fides. He practically tore a rotator cuff patting himself on the back for his role in the vacuous Choose Respect campaign, all while telling a room full of women-- many of whom were themselves sexual assault survivors--that he didn't find Kavanaugh's accusers "credible."

We don't need denials. We need to listen to women. We need to listen to survivors. We need to recognize these abusive tactics in our politicians. Survivors can sense them early on, and it behooves us to capitalize on their wisdom in choosing our elected officials. We need to stop empowering men who abuse their power in this way. And we need to recognize and name this behavior, in whatever form it takes, wherever and whenever it arises.

The ideas expressed and many of the words used in this post are culled, edited, and adapted from an amalgam of recent conversations on social media and elsewhere with numerous survivors of domestic violence and their advocates. None wished to put their name here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Myth and Futility of Being Good

I was never very good at being good, though I tried. 

I worked hard in school. I tried to be a good friend. I aimed to please. I got good grades and excelled at sports. I wanted everyone to like me. I would cry when they didn’t. Sometimes trying to be good worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Most of the time it felt like pushing a boulder up a hill, Sisyphus style.

When I failed at this type of “goodness,” one of two situations was typically present: either the words or actions required for me to succeed were irreconcilable with my values and principles, or I felt defensive about maintaining my own narcissistic self-image of “goodness” at all costs.

Just yesterday, someone corrected my use of a term as offensive to a certain culture. Years ago, I would have bristled at that. I would have rolled my eyes, become defensive, and dismissed the criticism as coming from a “snowflake.” 

But years of these types of interactions, and reactions to my writing, have taught me that actions mean a lot and so do words. How we use words (or don’t use them) matters. So I thanked the person for teaching me something new about words, vowed to use that word differently in the future, and got on with my day.

I rarely get offended anymore, mostly because I am no longer too invested in my own “goodness.” I don’t have an image of myself as “good” that I need to maintain. I recognize that I make mistakes, take risks, act recklessly at times, indulge in narcissism and foolishness, and am subject to justifiable criticism. 

A lot of it.

Rather than denying this, my time feels better spent looking in the mirror and contemplating my own role in damaging systems, rather than expending energy on an all-out campaign of self-defense, self-justification, and self-preservation at all costs.

True snowflakery is the inability or the unwillingness to do the hard work of self-assessment and self-reckoning. It's the inability or unwillingness to accept criticism without bristling in hostility, shutting down, flouncing out, or boomeranging it all back at someone else. It's the inability or unwillingness to step back and think meaningfully about your role in problematic systems, behaviors, and actions. It's the inability or unwillingness to exemplify good character when no one is watching, or do the right thing even when you have to pay a price. I learned all of this the hard way, both through my own words and actions as well as other people’s.

Someone I love sent me a quote this morning from an unknown author that really resonated with me:
The woman you are becoming will cost you people, relationships, spaces, and material things. Choose her over everything.
I made that irreversible choice a long time ago. In retrospect, I was born already having made it. It's living with the consequences that's the hard part.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

State Employees: I Have Your Back

November 16, 2018, 4:45 p.m., the Friday before Thanksgiving. That’s when I knew. That’s the moment I knew that the State of Alaska, its constitution, and its citizens were in trouble. 

Big trouble.

In an unprecedented and vindictive act—which was meant to intimidate and proved to be a canary in the coalmine of governmental malfeasance—Tuckerman Babcock, Governor Dunleavy’s incoming chief-of-staff, demanded resignations from some 1,200 non-politically appointed state employees. 

The entire Department of Law, where I worked, was asked to resign and pledge allegiance and loyalty to the incoming governor or, as Mr. Babcock said in the newspaper, “be terminated.” This despite the fact that the oath lawyers take when we are admitted to the bar requires us to support and uphold the Constitution of the State of Alaska and of the United States—not to bow before a king or a dictator.

I had spent my whole career defending and often winning cases for five consecutive administrations of Alaska Republicans. Never once did I have a problem doing this, or taking professional positions that didn’t comport with my own politics. My job was to call balls and strikes while advancing the policy goals of the administration within the bounds of the constitution, and I did it well enough to get promoted regularly.

It was this last part—the “within the bounds of the constitution” part—that proved, for the first time, to be a problem, just as it was for the Trump administration that Dunleavy and Babcock openly idolized and emulated.

I submitted the loyalty pledge but was fired anyway, along with one other colleague and close friend, Ruth Botstein. Ruth was a prestigious appellate lawyer who just weeks earlier had argued the State’s conservative water rights case in the United States Supreme Court—and won. The two of us were high-performing senior attorneys with no conceivable reason to be singled out and fired.

No conceivable constitutional or legal reason, that is. But both Ruth and I had publicly criticized President Trump. In other words, we had the temerity to use the rights this country gave us, and we had wrongly assumed those rights would be respected.

When superiors with whom I had worked closely, trusted, and admired for over 12 years called to tell me that “unfortunately,” the new administration wanted me gone, the grief and betrayal I felt was indescribable. I packed up my office in three hours and stayed in my pajamas, crying, for weeks. 

But my next call was to the ACLU, because I knew I had been illegally and unconstitutionally fired for expressing my political opinions. And although Alaska is an “at-will” employment state, and anyone can be fired for “any” reason, that reason must still be legal. This was not. So the ACLU sued, along with two API psychiatrists dismissed for refusing to pledge allegiance to Dunleavy and Babcock. 

Eight months later, the worm is starting to turn. I’m awash in paying work. A federal judge has ordered our cases to proceed to discovery. The Governor’s decision to veto $444M from the budget, harming seniors, students, and Medicaid patients, is grossly unpopular. And we still don’t have that $6,700 PFD.

A very serious recall effort is underway, and it’s not some half-cocked stunt being run by hippy crackpots, either. It’s a well-funded, well-organized operation that is being conducted by serious people you would expect to be sympathetic to this governor, like coal executives and former Republican legislators. It collected almost a third of the signatures it needs for the initial phase on the very first day. 

And “unfortunately” for Dunleavy, it just so happens that I wrote the last two Attorney General Opinions on the law of recall in Alaska (Kyle Johansen (2011) and Lindsey Holmes (2013), neither of whom we recommended be recalled). They are right there on the Department of Law website for all to see, next to Kevin Clarkson’s smiling face under “Law Resources.” Each is a multi-page, single-spaced primer on the history and standards of recall, and I would encourage anyone who thinks there are insufficient legal grounds to recall this governor to read those opinions in full.

15,000 state employees saw what happened to me and Ruth—our firings were a warning shot across the bow to others as much as anything else. And so they are naturally afraid to sign the recall application or petition. 

I was proud to be one of those 15,000 employees. I know the vast majority of them work hard and simply want to do a good job and have health insurance for themselves and their families. State employees plow your roads and issue your driver’s license and cut your child support and PFD checks, among countless other tasks that impact your daily lives.

And to those 15,000 state employees, at least those who are not politically-appointed, I am here to tell you that you have a constitutional right under both the State and federal constitutions to sign that recall petition. Alaska can recall this governor without you, but it shouldn’t have to. And so I am also here to tell you that if the State retaliates against you in any way because you signed on to this recall, I will personally represent you, for free, on a First Amendment claim.

This is the beginning of the end for these malfeasant bullies, and the beginning starts now.