Out There

one economist’s perspective

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on September 30, 2009

“In Galena and the six related villages the annual average suicide rate was 141 per 100,000 over the period 1979-1989. In Nome and the 15 related villages it was 89 per 100,000. In Bethel and the 48 villages of the Yukon-Kuskokwim region it was 56 per 100,000. Galena was awash in booze, with a store in Galena, one in Ruby, in, and one on the Yukon near another village. The Nome villages were dry, on paper. But residents brought booze in from the liquor store in Nome and arrived home drunk from its bars. But the Y-K region had no liquor stores or bars, except for the store in Red Devil, 150 miles up the Kuskokwim from Bethel. The three studies, which included accidental deaths as well as suicides, showed alcohol was involved in over two-thirds of all the deaths they reported.  What else should these suicide rates be compared with, besides each other? The annual average suicide rate in the U.S. has been around 12 per 100,000 since 1900. It fluctuates a little, but not much, through two world wars, the Depression, the entry of many more women into the labor force during and after World War II, increasing drug use, race riots, anti-war protests, a huge influx of immigrants, and other major social changes nationally.”

Here is the link to the full article.

alcohol issue (local option) coverage from ADN

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on September 20, 2009

Hey, the ADN has a big spread on the current movement in Bethel to do away with local option. This would essentially remove the monthly alcohol importation limit (It would not, as I understand it, necessarily mean that alcohol could start being sold legally in Bethel). OOPS!  Quoting from the article:  “If the vote passes, Bethel would be eligible for two bars and two liquor stores based on its population, according to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board that awards the licenses.” As I’ve pointed out previously in this space, the monthly “limit” is absurdly high.

Here are the ADN pieces: article, audio slide show, and short video. Good stuff, hopefully Bethel voters see it and do the right thing.

Just had to add this from the article:  “”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.”  Yeah Tom, it is BRUTAL being limited to 20 drinks a day (not an exaggeration, that is the current limit if you do the math).  I feel so flogged.  This is the sort of person I was referring to when I wrote:  “If your desire to cling to your “right” to import ludicrous amounts of booze every month is so much stronger than your compassion at the state of your fellow man (even if they have made many crappy choices), then you have a serious problem.”

Or how about this guy:  “Meet 33-year-old Jeremy Westlake, a mechanic and pilot who by his estimate handles at least 70 percent of the legal alcohol that arrives in Bethel through a contract with ACE Air Cargo.  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.””  HMMM, no conflict of interest there.

“If the liquor vote passes, authorities will lose control over how much booze arrives in Bethel, [trooper] Evan said. “I can imagine we’re going to see a lot more problems out in the villages.””


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

alcohol in bush Alaska

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

Or “An open letter to Bethel drinkers.”  Booze are obviously a big problem in this part of the world, as they are in many other first nations communities.  Below is something I wrote back in the fall of ’07 and somehow never posted until now.  It came up for me again because of the news that the governor is trying to push through a bill that would reduce the monthly amounts each resident can legally import into a damp community.  I know Gov Palin is a lightning rod these days, but I’m behind her all the way on this issue.  If you disagree with me (and I know many do), leave a meaningful comment.  Dialogue, not “you ——.”

Thoughts on alcohol, rights, and responsibility


The state of Alaska has “local option laws” that allow communities to decide if they want to allow alcohol to be sold locally (wet), only imported with monthly limits (damp), or not imported/possessed at all (dry).  Most (or maybe all?) villages in the YK Delta area where I live voted to go dry.  Bethel, the only major city in the area and hub community for all 56 delta villages, is damp.

Alaska law allows people in “damp” communities to import up to:

10.5* liters of Distilled Spirits (vodka, gin, whisky, etc, max would be 14 fifths (750 ml bottle) per month); and

24 liters of wine (usually 750 ml or 1.5 L, max would be 32 fifths per month); and

12 gallons of malt beverages (beer, wine coolers, zima, etc, sold in 12, 16, 20, 40 oz, and gallons & kegs.  Max would be about 127 12-oz cans.)

So that is a max of 14 fifths of hard alcohol, 32 fifths of wine, and 127 cans of beer, every month.  What the heck are we thinking?  So I could have a fifth of wine, a half of a fifth of hard booze, and 4 cans of beer every day, and still have some left over at the end of every month!  And this is per person, not household, so my wife and other adults in my home could all do the same.  RIDICULOUS!!!

The pivotal issue of course is that drinking is viewed as a right.  The argument is “It’s not my problem if that guy can’t handle it or if that other guy is selling it illegally, I have a right to drink and I haven’t done anything wrong.”  Ahhhh yes, your rights.  I was listening to Bethel radio station KYUK broadcasting the city council meeting where the council members were blasting a representative from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (Doug Griffin) because of the new law that sets up a database to track people’s monthly imports so they don’t go over the “limit” by ordering the max from multiple vendors each month.  One guy complained that they were cutting this and cutting that, basically saying the limits were coming down too low (although the limits to my knowledge haven’t changed one iota). Another said the law will likely be overturned by litigation because it is too intrusive.  Never mind that this poor sap was just charged with enforcing the law, and didn’t create it himself.

As I listened to their arguments, I got upset (I mean, more than the usual anger I feel when I listen to those meetings—the Bethel City Council generally behaves like children in need of spankings).  Why?  The alcohol is destroying lives out here right and left, and all you can see is your RIGHTS.  Yes, it’s your legal right.  I don’t deny that.  But why is it so hard to surrender that right to make such an enormous difference in other people’s lives?  I can only think of two reasons.  Logically, you must be either (1) so addicted or (2) so selfish that you don’t care what the consequences to your neighbors are.  Am I making you mad now?  GOOD!  Join the club!  Feel free to respond and let me know how I’m wrong!  You can make all kinds of arguments and attempts at justification and talk about how you can’t control other’s actions, they’d get it from somewhere anyway, they need to be responsible for what they do, etc etc but at the core of it, you are supporting something that allows terrible things to happen out here, over and over.  Period.  The stats (from other village case studies) say if Bethel went dry, or even just got an alcohol delivery site, the crime and heartache would go down, and you are resisting.  How do you justify that? You’re resisting even being limited to the absurd amounts listed above!  Remember in the movie Braveheart how that king “Longshanks” had the right to take daughters of Scotland away with him for sex, and then discard them?  Having a legal “right” does not make you RIGHT.

Imagine I moved to a foreign land where the majority of the populace struggled with obesity, compulsively binging and putting themselves at huge risk of heart attack (or wait, that’s the U.S.).  In passing it should be noted that these people used to only eat healthily until ancestors from my race introduced chocolate to them, which they have a hard time resisting.  Suppose I insisted on my right, and everyone else’s right who lives there, to order 200 snickers, 500 twix, and 1,200 bags of M&M’s from my homeland every month.  I’m a skinny guy, its not my problem they can’t handle it, they’re weak, etc etc.  So I fight any attempt to lower those limits, even though tons of people are eating themselves to death on candy, and slimebags next door are selling the stuff to them at every opportunity for a 1000% profit.  How can you come to any conclusion but that person is selfish, even if they are within their rights?  And/or they’re addicted themselves.  So that was a clumsy analogy – you know what I mean.

I’m all for personal responsibility.  We all make choices, and we have to live with the consequences of those actions.  I’m also not very into legislating morality.  People need to do the right thing out of the strength of their character, not because they’re being forced to. And there are lots of people in this area making lots of crappy choices with respect to alcohol (and other stuff, which is why we lead the world in horrendous statistics).  I don’t deny it.

However, since moving here and seeing nothing from alcohol but pain and suffering, it’s moved me to consider more drastic measures.  There are statistics from nearly every village that goes from wet to damp, or damp to dry, that show a reduction in drinking and all of the crime that goes with it.  There are no stats for “heartache” but you can bet that goes down with the crime.  Similarly, when a village goes from dry to damp, or damp to wet, the trouble shoots up.  This is not open to debate, it’s the Truth.

If your desire to cling to your “right” to import ludicrous amounts of booze every month is so much stronger than your compassion at the state of your fellow man (even if they have made many crappy choices), then you have a serious problem.  The villages have spoken, and they want to be alcohol free, but it keeps pouring into the damp towns, and from there to the dry villages.

Your neighbors have a drinking problem.  Your problem is worse. You’ve chosen a beverage over people – your neighbors and maybe even your own family.  I invite you to change your way of thinking.