Out There

Another twist in Bethel’s history with alcohol

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on March 30, 2015

Remember in 2009 when Bethel voted to go from damp to wet, ostensibly because they were upset that Sarah Palin had pushed to cut the monthly importation limits (20 drinks per day) allowed per person in damp villages in half, among other things?

“Hawkins gathered names from friends at his backyard steam house. To him, the vote to go wet is about more than the failed attempt to tighten liquor limits. The problem, he thinks, is that lawmakers in Juneau have imposed restrictions on the city for more than 20 years, making them slap “ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE” labels on their luggage, putting their names in a database of booze buyers and trying to chop liquor limits without asking voters.

Quote is from this article from September 2009, and that article was originally in the ADN but can’t find it now, but prompted this post.  A similar quote from that post, about the same Bethelite (Tom Hawkins) is this one:
“We want the citizens of Bethel to be able to choose what they want or don’t want on these alcohol issues. We don’t want the state to continue to flog us with these rules,” said Tom Hawkins, 60.”
Also in the article was the widely-circulated argument by the wet-vote proponents that there would never be legal alcohol sales in Bethel.  That the move to go wet was just about the airline sticker, and keeping government out of our business, etc etc.  I remember several of the organizers going on record that they would be the first in line to oppose anyone who attempted to get a liquor license to sell booze in Bethel.  They stressed that this wasn’t a vote about whether alcohol should be able to be sold in Bethel, just about whether we should allow the government to require the sticker on our checked boxes of booze on Alaska Air, and whether we should allow them to monitor how many bottles we were ordering from Anchorage each month.  See this quote from the same article as the first quote:

“Hawkins says he and other petitioners would be the strongest opponents if the city tried to start selling booze.”


“Opening a liquor store is a “no-no in my” book, Trantham said. He said he’d fight it.”


“The ballot proposition would wipe away the shipping restrictions altogether. Westlake, one of the petitioners who put the question to a vote, says it’s a smaller-government thing. “I don’t want the state involved in our day-to-day life.”  The state’s push to halve limits fueled the backlash, he said.”

So now we get…the rest of the story.  Bethel Native Corporation lost it’s anchor tenant at their gigantic, beautiful building across the street from the hospital when Swanson’s mysteriously and without warning went out of business (which could probably be the subject of a very long series of posts in and of itself – crazy dysfunction on many levels, it appears).  BNC is clearly desperate to collect rent from someone, anyone, and in order to best serve their shareholders…they are pursuing opening a liquor store.  Meetings before city council have begun, and AC is planning on opening their own store too.  But I haven’t heard anything from Hawkins or Trantham or any of the people from 2009 who said they would be the “strongest opponents” on the issue.  When I heard about the liquor store opening, I immediately recalled those promises and had to google it to find what was reported at the time.  And maybe they have spoken up recently in opposition to the liquor store, I really don’t know, but if they have it hasn’t gotten coverage.  I think I’m going to give them a phone call and see what they have to say, 6 years later.  Might have to record it.  : – )

OK, so where do I stand?
I have written a lot of posts over the years on this issue – a byproduct of having strong feelings about it, which is a byproduct of working with FAS kids, comforting freaked out kids in our home village who have fled their house, and other alcohol-fueled heartache.  I get that you can’t stop people from doing what they want to do.  But actually, what the majority of people here in Kasigluk want to do, is have no alcohol available.  They voted.  As did almost all of the 52 villages for which Bethel is the hub.  Think about it – if Bethel was DRY, where would the booze come from?  (newbies remember Bethel and all of western AK is not on the road system)  Suitcases and the mail.  And homebrew.  And the price would skyrocket.  Which means less people drinking.  That’s a fact.  Just as higher cigarette taxes result in fewer people trying smoking.  If the price of illegal booze triples, there is simply less to go around.  So there is some frustration on my end that Bethel voters (mostly out-of-towners) continually give folks in the villages the finger, so to speak, in regard to this issue.
The only other option I could maybe get behind is the “package store” concept the troopers were promoting many years ago.  Basically it would be a large liquor store in Bethel, and it would be the ONLY alcohol option.  No more flying it in and picking it up at ACE air cargo.  And the package store requires picture ID, and tracks your purchases, and obviously won’t sell if your ID indicates you are from an outlying village.  This doesn’t solve everything either, but would at least make it a little tougher on the bootleggers.  Leave a comment if you like – but note that I screen them and it needs to be constructive and not abusive in order to get published.

Kindergarten Truancy

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 18, 2015

This is meant as an open letter to the Alaska legislature, Governor Walker, parents, and educational leaders across the state.  Alaska law currently makes school attendance mandatory for kids between the ages of 7 and 16.

Here is the statute:

(a) Every child between seven and 16 years of age shall attend school at the public school in the district in which the child resides during each school term. Every parent, guardian or other person having the responsibility for or control of a child between seven and 16 years of age shall maintain the child in attendance at a public school in the district in which the child resides during the entire school term, except as provided in (b) of this section.

I’ve come to think this is a problem.

All too often I see kids who are enrolled in kindergarten who attend extremely sporadically and are then retained.  Today in one of the rural school districts I work in I was asking the kindergarten teacher about one of the students on my caseload, trying to get a feel for the student’s standing relative to their classmates, their progress this year, and any teacher concerns.  The teacher reported that the child can perform about as well as their classmates when they are paying attention and physically in school.  She mentioned that three kids were retained from last year’s kindergarten class (including my student), and she wants to retain 4 more from this year’s class, and she believes the reason for why all those kids are behind is truancy, with some of her kids attending about 2/3 of the time (40 absences by mid Feb).  I asked if the school has filed truancy reports or anything and she reminded me that until the child is 7 there is nothing the teacher or school can do.  I’ve been involved in education in the bush for over 10 years and I’ve seen this happen with kindergartners time after time.  But today it just struck me as illogical and silly that we go after parents who let their 4th grader or 8th grader stay home, but we allow it with kindergartners.  Truancy is a huge, chronic issue in the bush.  If we allow it to be a habitual thing for the first 2 years of school with no penalty, should we be surprised that it remains an issue for the rest of that child’s life in school?

I believe the intent of the law is to allow parents to decide when their child is ready to start kindergarten, so the state isn’t forcing 5 year-olds to begin school.  I don’t take issue with that.  However, I do take issue when the parents decide it IS time to start school, but then the child shows up half the time.  If it is obvious that it isn’t working for whatever reason, the parents should withdraw the child and try again the following year.  Or at least have a conversation with the teacher where it is acknowledged that they aren’t really trying to go to first grade in the next year and that the school shouldn’t be trying to move heaven and earth to get the child the extra help required to make it happen.

The law in section (b) makes exceptions to mandatory attendance, for things like illness, private school, living far from the nearest school, etc.  Then way at the end there is this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is six years of age in first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is six years of age and is enrolled in first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

I think it should be changed to this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is FIVE OR six years of age in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is FIVE OR six years of age and is enrolled in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

This is a small change but would help to combat runaway truancy, while not taking away from the spirit of the law which allows parents the freedom to determine when their child begins kindergarten.

alaska teacher blogs

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on September 4, 2012

Stumbled on a couple of good teacher blogs and wanted to pass them along.  This post has some good advice for those considering teaching in bush Alaska.  I’ve met this teacher in Chevak during my travels as an SLP.  The blog is worth exploring beyond this one post.

Here is a humorous but oh so true list of “You know you’re a teacher in the bush Alaska when…”  I especially like #3, which I’ve seen happen a few times, like when I found a giant (seriously, ginormous) swan hanging by the neck outside our friend Deanna’s door.

And here is an old blog that is apparently no longer being updated, but the photos are great and make me want to visit the area around the tiny village of Perryville.


Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on March 12, 2012

Came upon this short but really well-written testimony of one Alaskan’s path to sobriety and peace.  I wanted to link here and not FB so I could easily find it again later.

more alcohol

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on April 9, 2009

So on Tuesday I addressed the Bethel City council.  I urged them to officially support SB 85, the measure to cut the importation limits in half for damp communities.  I explained how this would mean people would be “limited” to only 10 drinks per day every day, or 70 drinks on the weekends if you prefer to binge.  Here is the math:

Current Limits on hard alcohol are 10.5L or 14 fifths, 24 L/32 fifths of wine, and 12 gallons/127 cans of beer.  Using the guidelines from these guys, 1 serving of alcohol is 1.25 oz of 80-proof liquor, 4 oz of wine, or 1 can (12 oz) of beer.  A fifth is 25.6 oz, so 14 fifths of hard alcohol is roughly 358 oz or so of hard liquor, which divided by 1.25 oz comes to around 286 servings.  Per month.  Add on to that your 32 fifths of wine, which = 819 oz, divided by 4 oz = about 205 servings.  Per month.  Add on to that 127 cans of beer, and you have a total of…618 servings?  Per month.  So basically 20 drinks per day, or 140 on the weekend binge.  Using that same link,  you can see that 10 drinks is enough to get anyone drunk, or even fatally poison a smaller person (once your BAC is that high you’re at huge risk).  So obviously, 20 drinks every day is beyond excessive.

SB 85 would cut it all in half, limiting you to an average of 10 legal drinks per day, or just over 300 per month.  I told the council the only reason you should oppose this measure is if you really think you need that 11th, 15th, and 20th drink.  Every day.  Or that 71st, 120th, 140th drink on the weekend binge.  I also reminded them of the March 10 meeting when a representative from the ABC spoke with them about the possible implications of the bill.  The council wanted to know about possible tax revenue if they go wet (there is currently an initiative to go wet circulating in Bethel, apparently in response to this onerous, egregious intrusion on our personal liberties).  We learned that the amount of additional tax revenue would come to roughly…diddly squat.  The revenue would be limited to what could be raised through a sales tax.  I believe the exception to this would be if the city were to use the “alcohol delivery site” model where one building controls the flow of alcohol for the whole region (the city could help run it and have a special tax on it), but the pro-alcohol side didn’t go for that in a recent election.

I went on to mention the proven trend in Alaska that when a community moves from dry to damp or damp to wet, crime shoots up (this is common knowledge here).  I also pointed out that since every village in the entire area is dry, going wet and/or opposing this measure is really offensive to the region.  Bethel has very low voter turnout, and the election is swung by those who do come out, which is a lot of people from outside who don’t grasp the impact of bootlegged alcohol on the dry villages.  But if they try and go wet I don’t think it would pass.  That’s when people pour into the polls to vote who don’t normally show up, and they vote it down.  Anyway, I summed it up by saying that if you oppose this measure, you’re saying you need that 11th to 20th drink per day, and if you want to go wet, you’re saying 20 every day isn’t enough for you, and the city won’t get hardly any additional revenue, but lots more arrests and prosecutions required, not to mention the heartache and violence from house to house.  To me it’s a slam dunk.  A no-brainer.  I ended by saying I have no problem with people drinking responsibly, that I follow Jesus, who seemed to drink on a regular basis, but I think we should respect the villages’ stated desire to make alcohol as expensive and hard to come by as possible.  The truth is that this measure only impinges on 3 things:  bootleggers, people who don’t want to have to fax in their order twice as often to the Anchorage liquor stores, and people’s sense of independence – government stay the heck out of our lives, which is a proud and powerful Alaska tradition.  But as I mentioned to the council, occasionally government has a good idea, and this is one of them.

So I was done.  And then they tell me that they already officially voted at a previous meeting to oppose the measure.  And the senate stopped taking public input on the issue, though the house still has it in committee.  Which is why I should have written this 2 months ago, when I wrote most of it in my head.  I’m a busy guy, it’s after 1 am and I have to work tomorrow morning but I figured now or never, and maybe just maybe some good could come out of this.  Oh, by the way, I emailed several council members and asked them what their rationale was for opposing it.  I’ve only gotten one reply so far, which said that they opposed it because it is a “hot button issue” and councilmembers will lose their positions if they are on the wrong side.  Hmmm.   I don’t know what the vote was (7-0?).  Sad.

***Update – I forgot to address some stuff from the paper.  Our Juneau representative wrote in the Delta Discovery (scroll down to 2/11/09) that he had multiple problems with the bill and that it was a “drastic reduction.”  He also said he fears it will push damp communities to go wet (which makes no sense – as I stated above – 10 drinks every day isn’t enough for you?), and cause the price of bootlegged alcohol to rise “exponentially.”  If it went up exponentially, then after a little while Bill Gates couldn’t buy a drink.  But I know what he meant.  And I think if a fifth of vodka goes from $100+ where it is now to $200 or whatever, what is wrong with that?  Great!  The more it costs, the less people can buy it, and the less likely that kids will get as much to try.  Studies show that when cigarettes are taxed, kids are less likely to spend the money to get them (through someone else).  Wouldn’t the same thing apply here?  I know I’m on a big soapbox here, but every reason I can think of for opposing SB85 is a bad one.  Selfishness, greed, lack of compassion, disrespect toward tribal sovereignty, etc.

Peter Twitchell also wrote about the issue in the same paper, scroll down to 2/12/09.  In general I like both of these guys and what they write and contribute to the delta.  I won’t rake Peter over the coals here, not now anyway.  Of course SB85 won’t magically fix anything.  Nothing will.  But that isn’t an excuse to do nothing!  To quibble over this bill that has zero affect on a responsible drinker, while communities are drowning in the pain and misery of alcoholism (and quite often literally drowning, or killing themselves, or beating up their families, or…), gets me riled up enough that I would do something dumb like stay up to 2 am to write this post.

alcohol postscript

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on February 6, 2009

An added note, the following is an email exchange between myself and the head of the state alcohol beverage control board on the subject, back when I wrote that piece on alcohol. I’m only putting a snippet of it in here.   I tried to leave it as a comment on the last post, but wordpress was being moody.

From: Peter Schneidler [mailto:schneidler@yahoo.com]

Sent: Monday, October 01, 2007 2:00 PM


Subject: questions for the ABC

I heard you on KYUK radio from when you had a representative speak before the Bethel City Council about the new law that creates a database to track what people order into damp communities. They were blasting you and generally behaving like selfish 7 year olds, as usual. I wanted to express my support of you all and your ongoing effort to support those villages that have decided on their own to try and regulate or stamp out alcohol from their community. Thank you for what you do, please keep it up, and bust those bootleggers who bring so much pain and trouble to the villages!!!! Peter Schneidler Kasigluk, AK


I appreciate your support regarding my performance before the Bethel City Council. I understand where the City Council is coming from; their constituents are Bethel residents, many of whom feel put upon by all of the hassles and intrusions government imposes on them. The focus of the Commission on Rural Justice and Law Enforcement and the new state legislation is on trying to protect the villages that are trying to help themselves by adopting local options to control access to alcohol. This involves coming up with a regional approach which involves addressing a major “hole in the dike”, the written order process of getting alcohol through Bethel . The whole effort to deal with alcohol abuse in rural Alaska is frustrating. I believe in personal responsibility, but the problem is so great we are placed in the position of protecting people from themselves. We also must, of course, protect the children who are the innocent victims of alcohol abuse and the next in line to suffer the cycle of misery brought on by this social epidemic of addiction. Along the way the people who obtain and use alcohol responsibly are forced to jump through hoops that they feel are unfair. What is the alternative? I hope this information helps and thank you for your interest in your village and dedication as an educator. – Doug Griffin, Director, ABC Board

cell phones in the bush

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on December 6, 2008

The times they are a channnnngin’.  Did you know we have cell phone service now??!!??  Crazy!  I heard that my village was signing up more people than any other village on the delta.  People are signing up in droves, almost all of them getting the $54.99 unlimited plan and not cancelling their regular land line.  No idea where all that $$ is coming from.  I think its a little nuts because the $30.00 plan would probably do it just fine.  Oh well.  I’d like to sign up and cancel our land line (horrrrible service,  but won’t go into that now), but I’m holding out for now, hoping for a pay as you go thing.  The current plans don’t work for us because of the $.15 per minute to call outside of alaska.  But its perfect for my neighbors.  Although now that I look at it…nationwide 500 minutes for $40 isn’t too bad…hmm…  The idea of a cell phone for possible use while out in a boat or snowgo between Kasigluk and Atmau or Napakiak or whatever is verrrry appealing.  It is not intended to work between villages, but because the tundra around KUK is flat as a pancake it does work for several miles, so I’ve heard.   Pretty cool.