Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What do Kp numbers mean? Supposed To Be 5 Tonight

First I got this Tweet from AuroraNotify
But I really didn't know what Kp 5 meant.  So I googled and got to Aurora Service:
The Kp number is a system of measuring aurora strength. It goes from 0 to 9 (0 being very weak, 9 being a major geomagnetic storm with strong auroras visible). So when your looking at the aurora forecast page, you want to see high Kp numbers. The higher the better. Anything above (and including) Kp5 is classed as a geomagnetic storm.
I haven't gone outside yet to check the clouds.  The last few times there were aurora notices, it was cloudy.  But it was pretty clear out late this afternoon.  So I'm going out to check.

I did go out and check about an hour ago.  It was dark enough to see a few stars, so it's clear enough.  But no lights.  Then I finished kneading a bread, made some phone calls, went through some old paperwork (AHRGGGGGGG!!), and now I'm back.

Here's a screenshot of the current map on Aurora Services.

From Aurora Services
So it should be a Kp 5 in (now) less than 18 minutes.  I'll go check again.

There are stars out.  I haven't been out looking at stars for a while now.  It's still not dark dark, and I didn't see any northern lights.  I'll post this now and update it later if I see anything.  It didn't feel cold at all without a coat, but when I checked it was 42˚F (5.5˚C), but there's absolutely no wind.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Understanding Trump Voters: Look At Advice On Why Women Choose Bad Boys

For some Trump supporters (as it was with some Obama supporters) this is more like a romance than an election.  So I thought it might be helpful to go to some advice on relationships for help understanding at least a portion of the Trump supporters.  

Financial Samurai had a post on "Why Do Women Go Out With Deadbeat Losers?"
My theory is that in the beginning, most women don’t know the guy is a deadbeat loser. He probably is reasonably attractive and tells a good story about his current situation and his ambitions. Obviously, he will be on his best behavior during the wooing process. It might take one week, or it might take many months, but until a consummation is made, guys can be very charming! By the time a woman hooks up with the guy, only afterward will she see his true colors. 
Quora had a forum that asked: "Why is it that girls often choose the wrong guy as their boyfriend, although the right person always stood by her?"  I'd note that many assumed the question was from the 'right person' and challenged his perception of who was the right guy.  But there were others who assumed girls do often pick the wrong guy. Here are a few excerpts from some of the responses:

From Luis Garcia on Quora:
  • When they are teens, girls aren't mature enough to make good choices, so they get impressed by superficial things, like a car or an expensive date. 
  •  Teens are much more affected than mature women by hormones. So they go for the wrong guy just because they're more physically attracted to him. 
  •  Teens are rebellious, and girls might go out with the wrong guy precisely because they're parents told them that he is the wrong guy.  [I think this may explain a lot of Trump supporters]
  •  Teens are subject to peer pressure, so they might go out with the wrong guy just to be seen as "cool" by their peers.

From Anonymous on Quora:
"Humans tend to be attracted to status, which has to do with hierarchy and not morals.  Although we should base our choice of mates on their ability to do right by us,  most people cannot help but be swayed by public opinion or social status.  Maybe it is ego and maybe it is an instinctual search for a stronger gene pool.
Here are the high-status indicators that will trump good morals almost every time:
  • Acting like you are good at doing things.
  • Acting like you know what you are doing.
  • Acting like you are not afraid.
  • Acting like you know important stuff.
  • Acting like you have or will have money.
  • Good social skills.
None of these indicators in any way relate to being a good romantic partner, but these are the standards which many people use.  The real question may be:  Why would a person imagine they could achieve happiness with someone who chooses status over substance?"

Peter Kemau on Quora:   (He even takes the dynamic to the political realm.)
I'm going to assume that the wrong guy here is the infamous  "bad boy" character. If you really think about it, it has to do with instinct. For women with no experience of a bad relationship, the allure and charm of the bad boy is irresistible. There is something about someone who has confidence, arrogance and an outgoing attitude. Most politicians do, that's why they are able to mass-seduce,  spiritual/religious leaders too. They can make most people believe in them even though their intentions are not particularly honest. 
 Aysha Griffen on Quora offers a different insight:
Often, we are attracted to those who can help us heal a deep childhood wound by letting us play out a similar dynamic, in the hope of redeeming it. This is all unconscious, and usually ends in us rewounding ourself because no one can give us the love or make up for the wounding, except our own conscious self-love. 

Wintery Knight takes what he calls a Christian look at why women choose weak men.  Good Christian men, he posits, will require more from their mates.
"Sometimes a really good man places moral and spiritual obligations on a Christian woman that require her to improve and grow, in order to help him with his life plan. Also, men flourish when a woman encourages him, recognizes him, supports him in his male roles. A good man who has definite ideas on what counts as good behavior may expect more from a woman, and those moral obligations can get in the way of her selfish pursuit of happiness."
So the women fear they won't live up to his expectations, according to Wintery Knight, and they'll be abandoned.  Thus weak men are a safer choice because they are easier to blame and control.
"Let me explain some other reasons why a Christian woman might prefer to have a weaker, non-Christian man: 
  1. A woman may prefer to blame a man in order to rationalize her selfish actions, and an immoral man is easier to blame. 
  2. A woman may prefer to blame a man in order to punish him for some real or imagined crime, and an immoral man is easier to blame. 
  3. A woman may want to avoid moral obligations to a man, and a weaker man is easier for her to control. (e.g. – using pre-marital sex in order to avoid having to love a man self-sacrificially) 
  4. A woman may need to avoid being judged or led morally by a man, so she prefers a man who is weak at morality and moral reasoning. 
  5. A woman may need to avoid being judged or led spiritually by a man, so she prefers a man who is weak at theology and apologetics. 
So, it’s not that the poor, sweet, innocent women are helpless victims of nasty, evil, brutish man-beasts, at all. Far from it. Some of them DELIBERATELY CHOOSE to pass up the best Biblical Christian men, because they fear rejection or moral judgment or loss of control, and/or they want to avoid moral obligations to men that may interfere with their selfishness."
We've all known people who hooked up with the wrong romantic partner despite all the warnings from their best friends.  It sort of feels like that with Trump supporters.  The more you point out his flaws, the stronger they defend him.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Extrovert Advantage For Presidential Candidates, Introvert Advantages For President

Lots of factors that affect who gets elected president in the United States.  One, that seems to have a disproportionate impact, is the introversion/extroversion factor.  It's no surprise to anyone if I say that Hillary Clinton is much more introverted than Donald Trump.

And it's an issue important enough that a Rasmussen Reports survey actually asks people which candidate they'd rather have a beer with.  And it's not surprising that Trump comes out ahead.  (The large lead with men overcomes the small lead Clinton has with women on this question.)

Reading below, keep in mind that all bifurcations can grossly oversimplify and that people fall somewhere on a continuum from very introverted to very extroverted.  And I've just picked a list of characteristics I found online that seemed consistent with other things I've read on this.  The list was aimed at introversion and extroversion advantages at work.

As you go through the list, you'll probably quibble about the description as it applies to either Trump or Clinton.  For instance, in the Extroverts column, "have excellent communication and verbal skills.' I would say that Trump is very fluid and quick on his feet when talking, though I'm not sure that always translates to 'excellent communication.'

Basically, the extrovert sounds more comfortable speaking to strangers and crowds.  And for many, that translates into more honest, more genuine.  They are more comfortable coming up to strangers and talking because they can talk at that superficial level that one uses until you get a better comfort level with someone.  Introverts tend to hate 'small-talk."  They want to talk about serious stuff.  And, at least theoretically, people think more of people who think deeply.  I get lots of hits still on a 2011 post about the Eleanor Roosevelt quote "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people."

For the extrovert, talking is about connecting with other people more than about the content.

For the introvert, talking is about the content more than connecting with other people.  

So here's the list I got from My Star Job:

Introverts Extroverts
  • Care about their job and their organisation 
  • Concentrate well in quiet atmospheres 
  • May know more than they reveal 
  • Have very good attention to details 
  • Love to handle long and complex problems 
  • May seem aloof and quiet 
  • Dislike interruptions and intrusions 
  • Work well with little supervision 
  • Always think and reflect before taking action 
  • Do not like to attract attention to themselves
  • Always keep abreast of what is happening at work 
  • Formulate good ideas through discussions and interactions 
  • Socialise and network well 
  • Have excellent communication and verbal skills 
  • Love to be a part of everything 
  • Get bored and impatient when work gets slow and repetitive
  • Are fantastic at marketing themselves and their organisation 
  • Thrive on attention · Are good at multi-tasking 
  • Respond quickly to requests and always aim to find quick solutions

I think the best candidate AND the best president is balanced enough to be able to at least act as an extrovert and as an introvert as the occasion warrants.  But I also think most people are more comfortable with extroverts than with introverts.  And that seems to be the consensus.

Susan Cain's book Quiet:The Power of Introverts, reports her research on the topic.  Cain identifies many ways that our society encourages extroversion over introversion.  One example she gives is being pressured to put away her book and join the group activities at summer camp.  Our society is biased to favor extroverts.  From Ted Talks blog:
"That bias, she claims, is everyone’s loss. While the world certainly need extroverts, it also needs introverts doing what they do best. It’s a bias that has no name. To understand it, we need to understand that introversion isn’t about not being social, it’s not being shy, it’s about how someone responds to stimulation. While extroverts crave social interaction, introverts are much more alive while they’re alone. Cain brings in her thesis with the insight that, 'The key to maximizing talents is to put yourself into the zone of stimulation that’s right for you.'”
When we consider our current presidential campaign and the debates, I'd suggest we include in our discussions of the candidates, this factor of introversion and extroversion.

Clearly Trump is a raging extrovert - so much so that it's something of a problem.  But Clinton is definitely an introvert who, as a candidate, is forced to act in an extrovert role.  That's why she doesn't seem genuine, because she can't be her natural self while campaigning.  And all the time in front of crowds of people surely is taking its toll on her energy level.  As an introvert, she needs quiet alone time to recharge.  So our American bias against introverts hurts people's perception of Clinton.  It's even worse than it was for someone like Romney (also an introvert) because women are expected to be extroverts more than men are.

For those struggling to understand how Trump is still statistically in the presidential race, this is clearly a factor, and one we should be talking about.

(Though the years of right wing media attacks and congressional hearings on Benghazi and on emails have also had their effect in making people feel Clinton is more dishonest than past candidates for president. )

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Oil Pro: "The oil industry is in a horrible dilemma."

This blog is, at its core, about how we know what we know.  We all know that different people see the world differently than we do.  We have lots of sayings, like, "Where you stand, depends on where you sit" that express this notion.

The problem is that while people know there are other points of view, too many assume that their own view is THE correct one.  And there are lots of positions one can take that are 'right' from one angle, but wrong from another.  It may be 'right' for you and your cronies, but wrong for the vast majority of people.   It may be right in the short run, but wrong in the long run.  Or it may have been right for a time, but the times have changed.

We are closing in on the time when oil stops being the right decision.  Where big oil can put their pipelines wherever they please, the people whose land they take to do it, be damned.   It's already the wrong decision when it comes to climate change.  Massively wrong.  And before long, all the subsidies and political and military assistance that have favored big oil will be tilting toward other energy sources.

That's the essence of this article from OilPro - a website that appears to be aimed at people working in the oil industry.
"The oil industry is in a horrible dilemma. New developments simply do not have enough time to play out. Oil sector developmental activity will disappear for around two decades. The disruption crash is inevitable - it will stifle new projects. It compromises recovery of initial CAPEX outlay. New projects, if they were to commence today, will barely start production before the disruption black hole opens up and swallows them. Projects simply will not happen. This new situation all but wipes out cost recovery opportunity. 
Supply side capacity constraints are unlikely to occur. Existing players have a brief period to produce while demand persists, accrue cash, and use that cash to diversify out of oil. This is the Saudi strategy. It is now perfectly clear what they are up to. They are out to aggressively realise what they can now, while prices are elevated(!), and use that cash strategically to develop other sectors in their economy for the longer term. Oil's heyday is over. Hydrocarbons are in decline. COP 21 dealt the killer blow. The Saudis know it. Oil companies that want to survive will copy them - the race to diversify out of oil has started. It is now a matter of survival. Recent sector history is littered with half-hearted efforts in this regard. A sense of urgency might finally produce a different result. Dividends are going to have to stop. It is madness to continue to pay them when your very existence is at stake.  
The economics of projects currently underway - such as Statoil's Johan Sverdrup - will undoubtedly undergo intense review in the light of this revelation. Most projects currently on the slate will be shelved indefinitely. The same goes for a number of projects already underway. This will be painful for those involved."
Alaska legislators need to upgrade their mental, energy software.

Thanks to Jeremy for this article.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Termination Dust

It rained yesterday.  It was into the 40s in town.  And when the clouds cleared today we had our first glimpse of snow on the mountains for the season.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Committing Acts of Journalism" And Other Interesting Ideas From Online Class - Journalism Skills For Engaged Citizens

Somehow I got a notice of a course called Journalism Skills For Engaged Citizens, being taught online from the Melbourne University via something called Coursera.  It's taught by two journalist/academics Drs. Denis Muller and Margaret Simons.  It costs $49 for a certificate or without it's free.  So I thought I'd see what I could learn;  Things to improve how I blog, but also to see what a worldwide internet class is like.

One of the reasons for the class, according to one of the Dr. Simons was that:
"journalism is, without a doubt, probably the fastest changing profession on the planet."  
She also caught my attention with this phrase:
"citizens, increasingly armed with mobile phones and other communication tools, are committing acts of journalism."

Week 1 has been about defining journalism and what a journalist is and a bit on good writing.  Dr. Muller highlighted some tips from one of my own favorites - Strunk and White's Elements of Style. 

We had an interesting discussion question:  Which of the following four do you consider journalists:  Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Jon Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey.

The lectures - they were broken down into four lectures of 2 to 12 minutes - surveyed some definitions and characteristics of journalists.

These were collected, as I understood it, from different sources, and they offer a blogger some things to think about.

  • "respect for truth and the public's right to information."
  • "public actually have a right to information."
  • " Journalists describe society to itself"
  • "Journalists convey information, ideas, and opinions. "
  • "a privileged role."
  • "Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, suggest, and remember."
  • "Journalists inform citizens and animate democracy."
  • "main duty is to the public,"
  • " journalists scrutinise power but also exercise power."
  • "Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover and, indeed, from their employers."
  • "being impartial or neutral was not necessarily a core principle of journalism. It was the method that was objective, not the journalist."
  • "respecting truth begins with the idea of assembling and verifying facts"

Nothing really new, but certainly worth reviewing all together now and then.

What have I learned so far?

1.  To be more persistent when things don't seem the way they should be.  The computer boxes we were supposed to put our assignment in, didn't quite fit the instructions.  It turned out there were two different boxes (only one short assignment) and I should have looked harder.  But, the assignment said no more than 30 words.  The box said no more than 140 characters.  So I had to pare my 'lead sentence' down, which made it more succinct.  But this first week it was only a practice assignment, I'm sure intended to help us figure this sort of thing out before we get the 'real' assignments.

2.  I'm going to learn some Australian.  There's a fictional town - Newstown - with its own website with lots of information that we'll be covering.  It turns out that a crèche in British and Australian is a preschool.  Allotments in a new housing development are what I'd call just 'lots.'  And they use Cr. before council members' names.

3.  I'm going to be doing some thinking about differences between traditional news stories for a newspaper and blog stories.  Some things will probably improve how I write posts.  Others I can ignore because we're doing somewhat different things.  I'm particularly thinking about a recommended structure for a news story and the lead sentence assignment we had where you're supposed to get all the key points covered.  For some posts that's probably a good idea - and I've done summaries or overviews on some long complicated posts.  But for other posts I'm ok with meandering a bit.  And I can always work on getting my prose as clean and lyrical as possible.

4.  Distance learning technology has come a long way from when I first had a student calling in to class from Kodiak in the early 80s.  Of course, I knew that.  Blackboard had already added a lot by the time I retired.  And I watched my daughter preparing for her distance class last spring.  But I haven't been on the student end.  I did keep getting lost, trying to find different parts of the course and going through the wrong doors at first.  I still haven't figured out a simple way to do a one-on-one message to another student.  We do have people from all over - Aussies of course, but also Ukrainians, a Brazilian, and people from Canada, New Zealand, a Tibetan living in Bangalore, and more.  There are supposed to be thousands of students taking the course, but only a tiny fraction have introduced themselves online.  More have participated in the discussions.

Here's a link to the course. And perhaps more importantly for many, to Coursera where you can find a lot more courses in different subjects.  I'll add more about class if there are particularly interesting ideas that come up.

There were a lot of different opinions on who was a journalist.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Degeneration, First Blood, Loving God's Wildness, Ket'aq, Show Time, Thermal Physics, and Digital Storytelling

Some books I saw on the new books shelf at UAA library yesterday.

My Degeneration

I was delighted to see local blogger Peter Dunlap-Shoal's graphic story of living with Parkinson's had made its way into the library.  This is an incredible book that only Peter, as a cartoonist with an  impish curiosity could pull off so well.

He treats his current life like an epic heroic adventure against a relentless adversary. The comments on his blog show that it brings comfort to others with the disease and it's incredibly valuable for people who are around them.

  Schroeder's Thermal Physics

This was originally published (with the same cover) in 1999. From Good Reads:

"This might be my favorite physics text book ever (on any subject). It's very readable - strikes a balance between big picture concepts and calculations. I also love how the book explains the connections between the microscopic description of statistical physics and macroscopic thermodynamics. (I wish I knew of a quantum mechanics text book that did this as well.) I used this book intensively while struggling through my graduate Stat Mech class (in retrospect, my undergraduate engineering oriented class on thermodynamics was not adequate preparation), and I'm not sure I would have made it through pancreas...? pathogen...? oh, Pathria... (whatever -- at the time I'm pretty sure it made me feel sick in various vital organs) without it. Although I haven't taught an entire class on thermal physics I have drawn on it heavily when teaching units on entropy and heat engines. In all honesty, I'm not sure how much my students appreciate this, but I at least still appreciate the insights I get! (If only I had found Schroeder's book on Quantum Field Theory as illuminating!) This book is geared towards advanced undergraduate physics majors, but like the Feynmen lectures, there are nuggets here that transcend the intended audience. Unlike the Feynmen lectures, this text is also helpful for solving actual problems. Highly recommended!"

Most of the comments there are in the same vein, but there is also this:
"I found this textbook very frustrating. Not nearly enough theory."

First Blood and The Blockade

From Wikipedia:

The Civil War book series (OCLC 20080930) chronicles in great detail the American Civil War. Published by Time Life the series was simultaneously released in the USA and Canada between 1983 and 1987, with subsequent identical reprints in the late 1980s - early 1990s following suit for foreign, though untranslated, dissemination as well. Some titles focused on a specific topic, such as the blockade, and spies, but most volumes concentrated on the battles and campaigns, presented in chronological order. Each volume in the series was 176 pages in length, heavily illustrated and with pictorial essays on specific topics within each volume and came standard without a dust jacket. Executed in hardcover, each volume was bound in silvery-gray leatherette, the cover endowed with in deep blue printed text imprints, and heavily embossed with Civil War symbology with an oval shaped illustration glued on. There are 28 volumes in the series

So, if you're thinking like I am - that these seem to not be 'new books,' - you'd call the reference desk and ask about them. And librarian Ralph Courtney said that the Civil War books and probably the Physics text are gifts that have been donated to the library. And that a lot of the new books to the library right now would fit in that category.

 Ket'aq and Mingqutem Iinga

I couldn't find anything on either of these books - and when I thumbed through them in the library I didn't see anything written in English.  But my google search did land me on an article about St. Lawrence Island by Sarah Garland,   "In remote Alaskan villages, teachers struggle to make school meaningful" that also appeared in The Atlantic.

It had this memorable phrase:
"Despite the near-fatal brush with Western culture, the Yupiks rebounded. . ."
 In any case, these appear to be Yupik language children's books.

Loving God's Wildness: The Christian Roots of Ecological Ethics in American Literature;

From a Project Muse review of Jeffrey Bibro's book:
"When the Puritans arrived in the New World to carry out the colonization they saw as divinely mandated, they were confronted by the American wilderness. Part of their theology led them to view the natural environment as “a temple of God” in which they should glorify and serve its creator. The larger prevailing theological view, however, saw this vast continent as “the Devil’s Territories” needing to be conquered and cultivated for God’s Kingdom. These contradictory designations gave rise to an ambivalence regarding the character of this land and humanity’s proper relation to it. 
Loving God’s Wildness rediscovers the environmental roots of America’s Puritan heritage. In tracing this history, Jeffrey Bilbro demonstrates how the dualistic Christianity that the Puritans brought to America led them to see the land as an empty wilderness that God would turn into a productive source of marketable commodities. Bilbro carefully explores the effect of this dichotomy in the nature writings of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Willa Cather, and Wendell Berry. 
Thoreau, Muir, Cather, and Berry imaginatively developed the Puritan theological tradition to propose practical, physical means by which humans should live and worship within the natural temple of God’s creation. They reshaped Puritan dualism, each according to the particular needs of his or her own ecological and cultural contexts, into a theology that demands care for the entire created community. While differing in their approaches and respective ecological ethics, the four authors Bilbro examines all share the conviction that God remains active in creation and that humans ought to relinquish their selfish ends to participate in his wild ecology. . ."

The Tax Aspects of Acquiring a Business

I tried to find a review of W. Eugene Seago's book, but could only find book selling websites.  This blurb comes from Readara:

"The decisions about whether to purchase a business and the price to pay is usually a matter of determining the present values of future cash flows and the availability of funds to acquire the business. Generally, each dollar of cash flow has an associated tax effect and therefore the numbers are meaningless if taxes are omitted from the calculations. Each dollar paid for the business will eventually become a tax deduction, either as an expense or recovery of capital investment. The present value of the benefit of the deductions or cost recovery depend upon when the tax benefit will be realized, the marginal tax bracket of the entity receiving the deduction and the discount rate assigned to the benefit. This book is intended to provide the tools to take into account the tax consequences of how the acquisition is structured. The acquisition may be a purchase of business assets, partners interests, or stock of a corporation, and may be undertaken by an individual, an existing business organization, or a newly formed entity. The consideration may be all cash, cash and debt, or equity interests. The tax consequences of the structure of the acquisition can vary widely, depending upon the form of the transaction. This book will provide a framework for analyzing the forms the transaction can take and the resulting tax consequences. As will be seen in this book, the old adage of substance over form often loses its significance in business acquisitions: Form matters. The audience for this book is graduate business students."

 Show Time:  The 50 Most Influential Exhibitions of Contemporary Art
We Make Money Not Art gives a long and detailed review of the book. Here's a short excerpt:
"Show Time examines the most game-changing and risk-taking exhibitions of the past 30-ish years. The survey begins in the late 1980s when the Cold War ends and globalization takes off. The book surprised me. I knew i’d find beautiful images, compelling ideas and elegant texts in there and i haven’t been disappointed. But i also thought that Show Time would provide me with a clear confirmation that contemporary art is far too busy contemplating its own navel to question its relevance in today’s society and to engage with a public whose idea of a wise investment does not involve shelling out 32 pounds to enter the immaculate tents of the Frieze art fair. But i was wrong (up to a certain extent) as many of the innovative exhibitions the author selected not only show the evolution of the profession but also a clearer desire to go and meet the public whoever and wherever it may be. Another fairly recent trend in curatorial practice is to cross boundaries, to explore and communicate with other practices such as theater, architecture, literature, science (though i didn’t find any convincing example of art&science exhibition in the book), etc. The book explores nine themes in contemporary curating"
It then goes on to discuss each of those themes.  Go to the link to find them.

Digital Storytelling

From the author Carolyn Handler Miller's website:
"The new edition contains up-to-date material about hot areas like tablet computers and how to create content for them; the latest developments in gamification, mobile apps and second screen TV, and an updated chapter on transmedia storytelling, with new case studies. It also contains a brand new chapter on harnessing social media for storytelling purposes. In short, the entire book is revised and updated. Meanwhile, the second edition of my book continues to be the only book on the market to cover the entire arena of content creation for digital media. It is still completely relevant and contains timeless information about character development, structure, and the development process. It also covers transmedia storytelling, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), virtual worlds and serious games. In addition, it contains an entire multi-chapter section on using digital storytelling techniques for information, education, training, promotion and marketing."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Permanent Fund Dividend Is The Speed Bump For Legislative Spending

This hit me as I was reading a letter to the editor today that said the PFD is a 'gift.'  After reading Hammond's autobiography, it's clear he conceived of it differently.  Hammond tells us the Alaska constitution says the resources belong to the state and the people are the state, not the government.  So instead of a private developer getting the money, it's divided among all the population.

I think we can argue over that in a lot of ways.  Why not just give all the money away to the people?  Hammond does respond that it's for future generations, not just the one that exploited the resources.  And I'm of the opinion that the Fund earnings would make a great trust from which the state could pay for a significant part government.

But Hammond argues that the dividend is much more equitable - the poor get the same as the rich.  In fact, the dividend has a much greater positive impact on the poorer folks than on the richer.  While a progressive  income tax would take more from those who can afford to pay more.  And it would also catch folks who work in Alaska but live Outside.

Hammond also felt that the dividend gave the public an incentive to pay attention to the state budget.

And that's the part that made me think about a speed bump.

People drive faster than they should.  To slow them down, we build speed bumps.  Most people can't stand the bumps.  They are a pain to drive over, even slowly.  And they cost money to build and maintain.  BUT without speed bumps, people drive too fast.  We simply won't voluntarily drive slowly.  So, speed bumps are there to stop us from doing what we shouldn't do, since we can't seem to stop ourselves from doing the right thing.

I see the dividend - even if you disagree with most of Hammond's points - acts like a speed bump on governmental spending.  The public pays attention when their dividend is going to be cut because the legislature needs their money to pay for government.  Legislators just can't help themselves from spending more money than we have.  The dividend is a speed bump to slow down the spending.

It's not a perfect metaphor, but it helps frame one aspect of the dividend clearly.

Early Fall Bike Ride - Old UAA Trail Reopened

Got in a bike ride yesterday afternoon while the sun was out.  We're clearly moving into fall as the leaves change.

A week or so ago when the temps dropped and it rained, I expected there to be termination dust* on the mountains when the clouds cleared.  But there wasn't any I could see.  And as you can see, it's still that way.

And here's a view from the trail that connects the east and west sides of the UAA campus - north of the student center and sports center.  The trail was blocked at the east end for two years because the put up a new parking garage at that end.

Imagine shutting down a well used street for that long.  Well, bikes and pedestrians don't matter.  They just have to live with it.

But it's open again, though instead of woods, there's a parking garage.  The gate was closed so I don't think the garage is open yet.  But from what I could see, they haven't really thought out very clearly how the bikes and cars are supposed to interact at that point.  Maybe they'll paint some lines, we'll see.  The windows in the picture are on a pedestrian bridge from the parking garage to the building that used to be the engineering building.
[UPDATE Sept 20, 2016:  I was wrong. Went by again today and they do have lines and a lane for bikes to avoid the cars.]

*termination dust is an Anchorage term for the first snow on the mountains signaling the end of summer

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hammond On Income Tax Repeal: "Once repealed, we'll never get it back until we've raided all other revenue sources, and/or traumatically cut even crucial state programs."

Charles Wohlforth's column in the Alaska Dispatch News today is headlined,
"Permanent Fund hard-liners play chicken with Alaska's finances"
I realize that he probably didn't write the headline, but it does seem to reflect his point of view.  The third paragraph
"Our question is whether it is wise to pay out a dividend of more than $2,000 per person when our state government is going down the tubes. And a deeper question: Is paying dividends the only purpose of the Permanent Fund?"
But I'm also doing some marathon reading of Jay Hammond's Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor
for Monday night's book club meeting.  (Yesterday's post looked at his take on how the all-Alaska pipeline instead of a Canadian line has cost the state billions.)

And I've just read the chapter (28) that focuses directly on the reasoning behind the Permanent Fund, the dividend, and the great mistake of repealing the income tax.

Really, if people want to get a sense of who has it right and whose policy stances are clouded by ideology or personal gain, it helps to look at what people said in the past and what they are saying now.  Of course, some folks today didn't say much in the past, but we can look at the people they hang with.

And we can reassess whether Wohlforth's article should be naming the Permanent Fund supporters as playing chicken OR the people who have consistently stopped the reinstatement of an income tax.  I'd also note that one of the three who filed suit, Clem Tillion, was a close ally of Jay Hammond during the Permanent Fund dividend battles.  He knows the history and I'm sure he knows Hammond's predictions.

The book was published in 1994 - so that's 22 years ago.  But in the context, it appears that these were his positions at the time - in the early 1980s, probably with some editing as the future got clearer.

The Permanent Fund dividend had been enacted.  But at the same time there was a push to eliminate the state income tax.  Hammond strongly opposed this.  He at least wanted it to stay on the books, even if it was greatly reduced, even to zero.
"I thought repeal was stupid.  Worse, I imprudently said so.  'Reduce it if you will;  suspend it if you must.  But for heaven's sake, don't repeal it or you'll cut the one string connecting the citizen's pocketbook to the government purse, and see state spending soar.  If people no longer feel it's their tax dollars 'those idiots in Juneau are spending,' a major restraint on government growth and spending will be lost.  Once repealed, we'll never get it back until we've raided all other revenue sources, and/or traumatically cut even crucial state programs.'" (pp. 264-65)
His income tax stance was opposed by many, including business leaders.
"I tried to convince these opponents how money paid out in dividends would glean far more collective benefits for Alaska businesses than would the same amount of money they'd save through tax repeal.
To make my case, I pointed out that, in the late 1970s, the income tax brought in about $200 million annually.  With repeal that $200 million benefit would not only go mostly to those who least needed it, but to nearly one quarter of Alaska's work force who were non-residents.  By contrast, $200 million in dividend payments would enrich each of our 500,000 residents - and only Alaskans - by $400 each.
One would think that Alaska business, as the prime beneficiaries of dividend spending would be the first to register preference for the dividend program over tax repeal.  Instead, they scoffed at the former while salivating over the latter.  Of course, the degree of enthusiasm for tax repeal was directly proportionate to one's income level." (p. 265)

And he has a lot to say about why the Permanent Fund wasn't welfare.

Why it isn't welfare?
"'First,' I responded [to an NPR reporter who asked if Alaskans weren't embarrassed by free money from this 'oddball' program while gas prices were so high for others] 'you should know under Alaska's Constitution, that money and the resources it comes from, belong to all Alaskans, not to government nor to a few 'J.R.Ewings' who, in states like Texas, own almost all the oil.  Alaska's founding fathers wanted every citizen to have a piece of the action." (p. 256)
His second point, not related to the welfare question, was that the way gas at the pump is priced meant that even if Alaska gave away its oil, the people of the rest of the US would still pay the same prices, thus the PFD had no effect on the price of oil Outside of Alaska.
"'Third, Alaskans should be no more ashamed to accept a direct payment from their one-time oil wealth in the form of a check, than folks elsewhere should be ashamed of accepting lower tax rates or greater services than other states can provide." (p. 256)
Wouldn't the money be better spent on crucial government programs?  {And this is the question I would ask, because some things can only be done collectively, like public transportation (including roads).
"I went on to explain how dividend dollars are not 'lost' for funding crucial government programs.  Rather, they increase the tax base of every community and have created a very healthy condition." (p. 256)
He tells the reporter he'd like to use the Fund to further cut public spending by listing on the ballot programs not based on need or constitutional mandate and letting the public decide.  For programs they cut, half the savings would increase the dividend check.  At first the reporter thinks this is a good idea.  But then asks, "You wouldn't put public radio on that list would you?"  "Of course I would," responds Hammond.  Then the reporter voices an attitude that seriously disturbs Hammond:
"There are some programs the government knows are best for the people, even if the people themselves don't realize it."  (p. 256)
Isn't this socialism?  
"We could have underwritten coverage for all Alaskans who had no health insurance; wiped out our local taxes, funded scholarships or granted folks no interest loans, and we would have been lauded.  While the above would have been far more socialistic, inequitable and reeking with 'Big Brotherism,' all of which the dividend program is not." (p. 255)
I think fear of the label socialism is overblown.  His point, for those who see socialism as an evil, is that with the dividend, people themselves, not the government, make decisions on how to use the money.
"Moreover, the dividend is capitalism that works for Alaska.  In a state where locals traditionally watch in frustration as most resource wealth goes Outside, the dividend's grassroots 'trickle up' distribution now accounts for the largest new capital infusion into Alaska's local economies each year." (p. 254)
There's a lot more detail in the book, but Hammond gives solid reasons for keeping the income tax AND the full dividend.  Some we hear today from those opposing the cuts to the dividend - that cutting the dividend hurts the poor much more than the rich while the income tax is fairer to all because it is progressive.  Except from those among the wealthy who believe that their wealth is solely due to their personal ability, hard work, and initiative and has nothing to do with conditions in their lives (whether family or other important people who influenced them, innate interests and abilities or physical characteristics, laws or other structural conditions that favored some over others, etc.)

I'm not saying that what was right in 1980 is necessarily right in 2016, but a lot of people in the current debates were on the wrong side of history in 1980 or they weren't even in Alaska and know none of this background.  Hammond's prediction of where we would be if the income tax was repealed, exactly describes our situation today.  His narrative of the world seems a lot more accurate than those who opposed the income tax then and still do today.

And as I'm writing this, I began to think about the current play about Jay Hammond and Wally Hickel that's having its world premier run at Cyrano's right now and how if many people went, it might cause them to reflect more on this issue.  It's similar to the release of the movie Snowden which will, I'm sure, add a lot of nuance to people's thinking about whether Snowden is a traitor or a hero or something in between.  The main difference is that movies get a much wider audience than plays.

I do hope people get copies of Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor, whether from the library, which has many copies, including digital, from Title Wave or other bookstores.  The first half is Alaska adventure stories, the second half fills in a lot of political history around the pipeline and the Permanent Fund, plus a lot of issues I'd forgotten about - like D2 and Alpetco.  There's also  interesting brief mentions of people who are key players today - like Kent Dawson, one of the best paid lobbyists in Alaska today.  (See bottom of page 219)