Sunday, September 30, 2012

How To Live Your Life And Blog Too

I early on learned that if I blogged what I was doing, I could find time to do all the things I want to do and keep the blog alive.  Writing about things forced me to think about them more, do some research about them, and generally learn a lot more.  And all that helped me remember things.

But blogging seems to be taking a lot more time away these days.  Partly my standards for myself have gotten higher and I spend more time documenting and cleaning up.  Partly, though, I'm involved in more things, plus things show up to interrupt me - lots of things around the house that need attention, etc.

Some things I'm reluctant to burden you with, but we are taking a Chinese class through the UAA Confucius Institute and if I'm going to keep up, I'm going to have to do some sharing here.

I've studied Chinese on and off since about 1989 when I taught in Hong Kong for a year and we took a once a week Cantonese class so we could talk to the vendors in the markets  and things like that.  Then I got involved with a research project in Beijing and decided I needed to study Mandarin just to get a little more sense of what was going on around me.  (Having spent a year as an undergraduate in Germany, I was able to get my German good enough to keep up with my classes and to discover how liberating it was to be able to escape my native language.  Nothing wrong with English, but your language limits you in subtle and not so subtle ways.  [Go here for a post on color in different languages and a link to a post on whether language affects how you think.]

There were a couple of years of serious study.  Then I was distracted by other things for about ten years before getting serious again.  And that lapsed and I spent time in Thailand reviving my old Peace Corps Thai and seemingly painting over the brain cells that stored Chinese words.

I came to believe, through my experiences, that if you ever get to the point where you can speak a language pretty fluently, without thinking about translating from your own language at all, but actually thinking and even dreaming in the other language, then you basically have it for life.  You'll lose a lot of vocabulary if you stop, but most of the stuff you really knew is buried in there and will come back.  Often when you speak, words just pop out of your mouth, that you couldn't have retrieved if you'd have been asked, say,  "What's the Thai word for butterfly?"    That's been the case for German and for Thai for me.  They're there and I just need to get my brain to shift to them and those brain cells slowly start to warm up and get where I can communicate - not like a native - but effectively enough.

But I never got to that point in Chinese.  And so my return visits have been painful exercises of trying to revive weak braincells and creating new ones to replace the ones that have simply died.  Chinese is also harder than German or Thai.

I thought German was hard after junior high Spanish.  The grammar has all sorts of twists and turns to trip you up, but it does use a Latin based alphabet, and there is an enormous overlap between English and German words - swim and schwimmem, house and haus, speak and sprechen, etc.

Thai added a totally new alphabet, few shared words (ie Pepsi) and, even more daunting, tones.  We have tones in English - but they are related to whole sentences, such as questions ending higher pitched than statements.  In Thai, the tones go with the individual syllables and it's better to get the sounds of the consonants and vowels a little off than to mess up the tones if you want someone to understand you.

Chinese has tones like Thai, though slightly different ones, but the killer part of Chinese is that there's no alphabet.  With a phonetic alphabet, you can figure out words you've never seen before.  But not with characters.  Each character represents a word.  Yes, they have created a Western style alphabet - pinyin - but that's to help people struggling to learn the characters.  And yes, the characters aren't all completely unique.  They share different elements that are in other characters, but you do have to remember each character   individually.  And that's been my biggest problem - keeping the characters straight.  Writing them without checking is, for the most part, a futile exercise if you don't do it for several years. 

But it's coming back easier this time.  In part because I went further along in the past and we are going back to almost beginning.  I recognize more characters and after being like the deer in the headlights the first night, my Chinese brain cells are coming back to life.

And the teachers at the Confucius Institute are terrific.  That's partly because they use what I think is the right method for teaching a foreign language, very similar to how the Peace Corps taught us Thai and taught us how to teach English.  Lots of oral repetition and good progression in a class session from the sounds to the vocabulary to the sentences each building on the other.  Here's an example of some of the vocabulary I'm carrying around.  These are from lesson 6 - there were 31 characters in one list, 12 in a second one, and 22 supplementary words.

Character English pinyin
to; for gěi
打电话   to make a phone call  dǎ diàn huà
 speech; talk words huà
   (on phone) Hello, Hey  wèi;wéi
 which
上午  morning shàngwǔ

I've got to run.  I've got a book club meeting tonight and some errands to run and maybe I can get a little time at Powerline Pass before the book club which is meeting on the hillside.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Winter Preview

It looked like this when I got up this morning. Light snow was still falling.



But by the afternoon it was back to fall. Our first snowfall in Anchorage 35 years ago was on September 29. I remember it because it's my father's birthday. He'd be 101 today. Happy Birthday Dad.

I remember back then getting in the car and deciding to test the brakes while I was going slow. We'd moved up from LA and I only remember driving on snow once - in Yosemite with chains on. So I pushed down on the brake hard to test them - I wasn't going more than 4 or 5 mph - and the back end went in one direction and the front in the other. I was ready to drive down to Western Airlines and get tickets back to California right then. I didn't realize I wasn't supposed to push down so hard on the brakes. That first year we soon had studded tires on the van and learned to go with the snow. Eventually driving in snow and anticipating which way the car would skid became fun. And then came ABS (anti-lock breaking system) which changed everything.

Be Careful Texting While Smoking Near a Cliff - And How To Waste Time Blogging

The Anchorage Daily News had a short piece in the paper Thursday: 
"The home of the woman . . . sits on the cliff. While texting on Sept. 17, she walked close to the edge to discard a cigarette butt. She slipped on wet grass and fell. . ."
She went, it says, sixty feet down into rocks with the tide coming in. 
"She was in the rocks between the boulders and she was calling for help," Burke said. "She was screaming in agony."
Bayside Fire Department received the first call for help. Chief Bob Himes said the Kodiak Fire Department was quickly summoned for its expertise in rope rescues.
The online report has more details.   This happened almost two weeks ago and it reports she's recovering in an Anchorage hospital.   I wish her a speedy recovery.


I admit the snark section of my brain lit up first when I read the headline.  After all, we have a law against texting while driving.  Do we need one about texting while walking?   And if you've ever picked up litter, you know that the most common single item of city litter is the cigarette butt.  (There was no mention of the person she was texting or even what happened to the phone.)

But the punishment here is a little severe.  It is a reminder that most dangers lurk, not in the exotic situation, but right near home.  And we've all done dumb things that could have gotten us seriously injured or killed, but we were lucky.  Rather than smirk, we should reflect.

Then I tried to find a source for the 'injuries happening near home' thought.  Ah, the curse of verification and why many (most?) bloggers skip it.  There were a lot of posts repeating the meme from those internet  "Ask" sites like WikiAnswer:
"More than half of the crashes that cause injury or death happen at speeds less than 40 MPH and within 25 miles from home."
But without a reference.  And you find it in the many self-appointed internet expert essays used as website filler such as this one from Living With My Home

"Preventing the Top 5 Most Fatal Home Accidents

We like to think of our "home sweet home" as our haven of safety and security. However, home accidents are responsible for more fatal injuries than any other cause except motor vehicle accidents. Although home accidents are often caused by human error and typically can be prevented, they amount to 18,000 deaths and nearly 13 million injuries a year.

The 5 leading causes of death from home accidents are:

  • Falls
  • Poisonings
  • Fires
  • Suffocation and choking
  • Drowning"
This one even referenced a source from which the whole essay (there's a lot more) was taken, but gives no sources for the data.  The data is so precise that one is tempted to assume it was lifted from somewhere legit.  The author is listed:
Courtney Kreuzwiesner has 11 years' experience working in the public relations and communications fields.
Googling "The five leading causes . . ." brings up a whole slew of websites that have the list.  Including "Safe Haven" a report from the Home Safety Council which says this comes from one of their studies, The State of Home Safety in America™, which I decided not to spend time looking for after the first couple of pages of Google.  But I did find out why the website - http://www.homesafetycouncil.org/ - says "Save Kids, USA" when you get to the site.  They merged.

In any case, here's what they say about falls around the house:
Every year, nearly 5.1 million people in America are injured by falls occurring in and around the home.  As the leading cause of home injury,  falls account for one-third of all unintended home injury deaths, and more than 40 percent of all nonfatal home injuries.

While the circumstances surrounding the majority of falls in the home are unknown, research indicates that falls from stairs and steps are responsible for almost 20 percent of fatal falls.1 The survey found that only about half of adults have taken any of the recommended actions to help prevent falls on the stairs in their own homes. Half of the adults surveyed indicated that they clear clutter from stairs; a little less than half indicated having lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs (48 percent); and less than one quarter have handrails on both sides of the stairs (22 percent).
But none of their recommendations would have prevented this fall.  In fact the woman seems to be following one of their fire prevention recommendations:
If you smoke, smoke outside. 

The Center for Disease Control  (CDC) wants to change how people even think about accidents, by saying they are NOT accidents.
Injuries at home and at play are not accidents. They can be prevented. CDC focuses on the science behind making people safe – working to prevent leading causes of injuries, including drowning, falls, fires, and poisoning. Home and recreation-related injuries affect people of all ages, from infants to older adults, and account for about a third of all injury-related emergency department visits. CDC works to ensure that all people have safe and healthy homes and places to play. Preventing unintentional injuries is a step toward ensuring that all Americans live to their full potential.
My son pointed this out to me years ago.  He would talk about crashes because he thought 'accidents' made it sound like they were unpreventable.

I never did find the source of "unintentional injuries mostly occurring within 25 miles of home," though I did see a lot of websites saying something like that.  It does, of course, make sense, because I would guess that we spend most of our time within 25 miles of home.

I left this wandering post like this to reflect my writing path, so you can see how I bounce from site to site trying to write these blog posts.  Usually, I throw out most of what I find, (and most sites I visited are not mentioned here either)  but I thought I'd leave some of this up because it's useful to look behind the scenes now and then and because I don't want to lose any readers, so I want them all to avoid any injuries if at all possible. 

Save Kids USA has a bunch of reports on Kids Safety you can find here.







Friday, September 28, 2012

Denali Exhibits At The Museum

All the pictures get bigger and clearer if you click 'em










I dropped by the museum last week to see what was there and found myself looking at a model of the mountain showing climbing routes. 










Next to it was a video explaining the whole process of getting up the mountain - gear, routes, acclimatizing to the altitude, storms, sanitation, etc.  I got pulled into and wondered why I'd never wanted to climb the mountain.  But only briefly.






Then displays of gear.

I started thinking about the days hanging out at the Air and Space Museum 
in DC with my son looking at the gear astronauts took into space.
















































And some old photos - here's Bradford Washburn, legendary Denali photographer, doing a movie about scientific research on the mountain in 1951.

The exhibit was interesting, but not as eye-catching as the Tim Remick exhibit of stunning giant photographs of climbers' faces as they get down the mountain that was up last March.  There was also an exhibit then of George Browne paintings with a picture of Browne painting on Denali taken by Washburn.  Both exhibits are highlighted here.








Here's a photo of Dr. Peter Hackett who set up a high altitude medical research program on the mountain in the 1980s and also treated climbers while he was there.





And two Denali paintings in the permanent collection.


Somehow, Sydney Laurance doesn't excite me all that much.  It's nice, but it doesn't tell me anything about the mountain that I don't get more of from looking at it directly.  It's more like a souvenir so you can remember the mountain when it's not around.   


You can read more about all this in Mike Dunham's ADN piece last May.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tigers, Human/Nature Relationship, Free Enterprise, Romney

The tigers are coming, but hold on for some context.

Contrasting world views is an important underlying factor in the sharp political divisions in the US today.  Republicans call this "the culture wars."  There are lots of factors to consider, but let's look narrowly at one very important one:  differences in people's idea of the relationship between humans and nature.

John Vaillant, in his book Tiger:  True Story of Vengeance and Survival (here's a previous post on that book), looks at how differing world views clash in the frontiers of the Russian Far East. His book focuses on the survival of wild tigers, but the process is repeated all over the world with different species and different indigenous peoples.

The modern world came about when humans began to apply science to most human activities including the economy.  With science, it was believed,  humans were no longer at the mercy of nature.  Using science, humans could now control, even conquer nature.

Science has enabled humans to create what in previous times would have been considered miracles.  Free enterprise enabled us to make and sell the amazing feats of science.  We became gods who could rearrange nature to suit us.  But there have been terrible side effects.  So let's go to Vaillant's Russian Far East - near Kharbarovsk - to see the contrasting views on nature and humans.

"Prior to the arrival of Chinese gold miners and Russian settlers, there appeared to be minimum conflict between humans and tigers in what is now Primorye.  Game was abundant, human populations were relatively small, and there was plenty of room for all in the vast temperate jungles of coastal Manchuria.  Furthermore, the Manchus, Udeghe, Nania, and Orochi, all of whom are Tunguisic peoples long habituated to living with tigers, knew their place;  they were animists who held tigers in the highest regard and did their best to stay out of their way.  But when Russian colonists began arriving in the seventeenth century, these carefully managed agreements began to break down.  People in Krasny Yar still tell stories about the first time their grandparents saw Russians: huge creatures covered in red hair with blue eyes and skin as pale as a dead man’s." (141)

Earlier in the book he wrote about how the indigenous populations in other parts of the world - like the Bushmen in the Kalahari desert - who had similar relationships with lions.   He also makes comparisons between the Russian Far East and the conquest of North America. 
"Some of these newcomers were Orthodox missionaries and though they were unarmed, their rigid convictions took a serious toll on native society.  The word “shaman” is a Tungusic word, and in the Far East in the mid-nineteenth century, shamanism had reached a highly evolved state.  For shamans and their followers who truly believed in the gods they served and in the powers they wielded, to have them disdained by missionaries and swept into irrelevance by foreign governments and technology was psychically devastating - a catastrophic loss of power and status comparable to that experience by the Russian nobility when the Bolsheviks came to power.  (141-142)
Anyone familiar with Alaska Native history is familiar with stories of Native drumming and dancing being banned and  kids having their mouths washed out with soap for speaking their own languages at school. And I can't help think that part of today's cultural wars are due to the same sense of loss of power and sense of entitlement by those Americans who are threatened by the rapid changes in the world today. 
In Primorye, this traumatic process continued into the 1950s.  The Udeghe author Alexander Konchuga is descended from a line of shamans and shamankas, and he grew up in their company.  “Local authorities did not prohibit it,”  he explained.  “The attitude was, if you’re drumming at night, that’s your business.  But the officials in the regional centers were against it and, in 1955, when I was still a student, some militia came to my cousin’s grandmother.  Someone must have snitched on her and told them she was a shamanka because they took away her drums and burned them  She couldn’t take it and she hanged herself.”  The drum is the membrane through which the shaman communicates with, and travels to, the spirit world.  For the shaman, the drum is a vital organ and life is inconceivable without it. 
Along with spiritual and social disruption came dramatic changes in the environment.  One Nanai story collected around 1915 begins, “Once upon a time, before the Russians burned the forests down . . .” (142)
It wasn't until the arrival of foreign settlers with livestock that tiger problems arose.  Vaillant met and interviewed Valery Yankovsky and writes about the history of settlement with a focuses on the Yankovsky family. 

“. . . the Yankovsky family hadn’t lived in their new home a year before they registered their first losses.  Between 1889 and 1920, tigers killed scores of the Yankovskys’ animals - everything from dogs to cattle.  Once a tiger dragged one of their hired men from his horse.

In the eyes of the Russian settlers, tigers were simply four-legged bandits, and the Yankovskys retaliated accordingly.  Unlike the animist Udeghe who were native to the region, or the Chinese and Korean Buddhists who pioneered there, the Christian Russians behaved like owners as opposed to inhabiters.  As with lion-human relations in the Kalahari, the breakdown began in earnest with the introduction of domestic animals.  But it wasn’t just the animals, it was the attitude that went with them.  These newcomers arrived as entitled conquerors with no understanding of, or particular interest in, the local culture - human or otherwise.  Like their New World counterparts across the Pacific, theirs, too, was a manifest destiny:  they had a mandate, in many cases from the czar himself, and they took an Orthodox, Old Testament approach to both property and predators.  (148) (emphasis added)
So similar to whites moving into Indian country in North American, and Westerners colonizing much of the world.  There was a sense of their superiority.  Manifest destiny.  They had better weapons, better ships, and better science created technology, not to mention religion.  Many truly believed they were entitled to take over, because of their perceived superiority, and some - particularly the missionaries - believed their presence would "help the natives."

Vaillant compares Yankovsky world view to that of an indigenous inhabitant of the region.
“. . .Even a hundred years later, Ivan Dunkai’s son Vasily’s description of his relationship to the local tigers stands in stark contrast to a Russian settler’s.  “You know, there are two hunters in the taiga:  a man and a tiger,”  he explained in March 2007.  “As professional hunters, we respect each other:  he chooses his path and I choose mine.  Sometimes our paths intersect, but we do not intrude on each other in any way.  The taiga is his home;  he is the master.  I am also a master in my own home, but he lives in the taiga all the time;  I don’t.” 
This disparity between the Yankovskys and the Dunkais is traceable to a fundamental conflict - not just between Russians and indigenous peoples, but with tigers - around the role of human beings in the natural world.  In Primorye, ambitious Russian homesteaders operated under the assumption that they had been granted dominion over the land - just as God had granted it to Noah, the original homesteader:

1.   Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth
2.  And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth

Implicit in these lines from Genesis 9 is the belief that there is no room for two on the forest throne.  And yet, in a different context, these words could apply as easily to tigers as they do to humans.  In so many words, God puts the earth and all its creatures at their disposal:

3.  Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you;  even as the green herb have I given you all things.  (150)
. . .It is only in the past two hundred years - out of two million - that humans have seriously contested the tiger’s claim to the forest and all it contains.  As adaptable as tigers are, they have not evolved to accommodate this latest change in their environment, and this lack of flexibility, when combined with armed, entitled humans and domestic animals, is a recipe for disaster.  (151)

The past two hundred years.  The onset of the modern world in which science was applied to human enterprise and the market system, articulated by Adam Smith in 1776, began to  develop into the industrial revolution.

 Mitt Romney seems clearly entrenched in the modern ideal of science  helping humans conquer nature, which has led to globe threatening development.  Romney referred to this period this week in his talk at the Clinton Global Initiative:
The best example of the good free enterprise can do for the developing world is the example of the developed world itself. My friend Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out that before the year 1800, living standards in the West were appalling. A person born in the eighteenth century lived essentially as his great-great-grandfather had. Life was filled with disease and danger.
But starting in 1800, the West began two centuries of free enterprise and trade. Living standards rose. Literacy spread. Health improved. In our own country, between 1820 and 1998, real per capita GDP increased twenty-two-fold.  (emphasis added)
While modern medicine and agriculture have improved the lives of many, and living conditions of Europe and the United States improved greatly, those European nations had colonies around the world that gave them cheap resources and labor.  The US, itself a colony before it broke off from England, took advantage of the enormous wealth of North America by displacing the indigenous populations and exploiting the resources, with slave labor, with waves and waves of immigrant labor, and with imported, cheap Asian labor.

Also, the world population has increased from a billion in 1804 to over 7 billion in 2012.  Yet despite the improvements Romney cites the World Food Programme reports that:
10.9 million children under five die in developing countries each year. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths;
Actually another of their statistics shows that the number of hungry people in the world today is almost as high as the total world population in 1804.  So, there is probably much more suffering in the world today than 200 years ago.
  • 925 million people do not have enough to eat  and 98 percent of them live in developing countries. (Source: FAO news release, 14 September 2010)

And during that period, to achieve the physical standard of living that the most 'developed' countries have,  humans have had to destroy the world's forests and oceans and sky, so that most indigenous populations have been either physically or culturally annihilated, and untold numbers of animal, bird, and plant species have gone extinct and more are threatened with extinction at an even faster rate today.  See Global Issues, library index, Forest Transitions, or the Sustainable Scale Project for details.

Vaillant's The Tiger details some of that change from living in harmony with nature to the sense of entitlement and dominance over nature in one small part of the world. 

Mitt Romney would continue this trend by expanding US businesses into every possible country where they can continue to exploit the resources to the detriment of the inhabitants.  Romney, like the Russian Czars and the Soviet bosses, sees this as humans' natural dominance over nature and doesn't seem to consider the possibility that Western colonization and exploitation of African and Asian nations (where most of today's world poverty exists) might have something to do with the poverty in those continents today.  To him it's simply the lack of free enterprise, not because they were the victims of free enterprise.

Conditions among indigenous peoples around the world may have been primitive compared to modern Western standards, but most of those cultures had survived intact over the millennia and now many, if not most, have been destroyed or are endangered - usually because their habitats have been devastated by deforestation or other resource extraction by Western business interests. Romney goes on:
"As the most prosperous nation in history, it is our duty to keep the engine of prosperity running—to open markets across the globe and to spread prosperity to all corners of the earth. We should do it because it’s the right moral course to help others." (emphasis added)
We are, he tells us, the most prosperous nation in history.  And so we have a duty to spread the free market system:
To foster work and enterprise in the Middle East and in other developing countries, I will initiate “Prosperity Pacts.” Working with the private sector, the program will identify the barriers to investment, trade, and entrepreneurialism in developing nations. In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights. (emphasis added)
Let's see, in order for us to help you, we, the most prosperous nation in history, require you to open your markets to our powerful corporations to take your raw materials (forests, oil, minerals, etc.) with no pesky environmental protections, use your cheaper labor,  and sell our products to your citizens.

Explain to me how the new businesses in these most undeveloped countries are going to compete with the businesses in the most prosperous nation in history.  Tell me how Romney will keep foreign business interests from bribing the local politicians even more blatantly than they do our politicians.  How he will keep them from spoiling their environments and setting up horrible working conditions like in the factory in China Romney bought.

I want to be clear here.  I believe that the free market does unleash human energy and creativity and allows the growth of wealth.  But it's not a panacea.  It comes at a cost.  Economists have noted externalities as a failure of free enterprise.  These are things like pollution and other side effects businesses do NOT pay for when manufacturing their products, but end up as costs to the society as a whole.  As pollution clean up, as health problems, as destroyed forests and cultures. 

These externalities are destroying our planet.  Free enterprise, without government controls to make corporations assume the costs of those externalities, destroys our natural world and those cultures that don't embrace our economic system.

Romney appears to be the bearer of the philosophy that destroyed the forests in the Russian Far East.  It's not the philosophy of free enterprise, because the Soviets destroyed the Russian Far East with the help of the Chinese.  Rather it is the philosophy that man can conquer nature rather than man must live in harmony with nature.  I'm not excusing Obama in this either, though he does, at least, talk about the need to stop global climate change and protect the environment.  But you can't raise enough money to run for national office without the help of all those corporations that want access to foreign markets and easing of government oversight.  But Romney seems to believe all this stuff about the great effects of the unbridled market place. Of conquering nature through science.  Has he been to Russia lately?  Has he inspected the oil fields of the Amazon?  Or in Nigeria? 

One value of Vaillant's book is to show us up close this clash of values in one location in the world.  There are many other books that show how it happened in other locations.  In Alaska we see how Russian fur traders did the same thing to indigenous peoples of our coastal areas as they almost brought extinction to the sea otter population.  And American whaling ships almost wiped out the whales that summer in Alaska waters.  Elsewhere we see it in the depletion of various Atlantic fish species.  And the near extinction of wild tigers.

The free enterprise system has to be restrained so that its profit doesn't come from the depletion of the earth's resources.  We need world views that understand that for humans and other living things, to survive, we must live in harmony with nature. 


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Borage







 As most leaves turn orange, yellow, and red, the borage flower is still out and its leaves are green.



From Botanical.com:

 "The whole plant is rough with white, stiff, prickly hairs. The round stems, about 1 1/2 feet high, are branched, hollow and succulent; the leaves alternate, large, wrinkled, deep green, oval and pointed, 3
inches long or more, and about 1 1/2 inch broad, the lower ones stalked, with stiff, one celled hairs on the upper surfaces and on the veins below, the margins entire, but wavy. The flowers, which terminate the cells, are bright blue and star-shaped, distinguished from those of every plant in this order by their prominent black anthers, which form a cone in the centre and have been described as their beauty spot. The fruit consists of four brownish-black nutlets.








 From Honest Food


"Even the question is a little ridiculous: What do you do with too much borage? Most people barely even know that borage exists, let alone that a) it is edible and b) what you might do to highlight its flavor. Borage arrived in my garden five years ago when I planted it not to eat, but as a bee attractant: The more bees in your garden, the better they pollinate its other plants.
Once you plant borage, you have it forever. It so readily seeds itself I get volunteers sprouting all year long; sometimes those seedlings get, well, a little aggressive."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Alaska Senator The Oil Companies Most Hate

 "This election will present two very clear choices for the people of Alaska:  Do we want to be an owner state or do we want to be an owned state?
Do we want to go back to the failed policies of 30 years that have left us with little to show or do we want a new direction, a new vision where we follow our constitution and get the maximum benefit for our resources?

[Note:  I always try to be objective and even-handed in my blog posts, but sometimes, there is only one right choice.  This really is about the richest companies in the world trying to snatch back $2 billion in taxes a year from the people of Alaska.  They're trying to get back to where things were before the FBI stepped in to expose the corruption in Juneau over oil taxes.  They've waited a few years and now they're back at it, buying legislators to pass their tax cut.  Those opposed to the tax in the Senate were both Republicans and Democrats. Watch the video.]




 This is the video tape that every Alaskan voter should see before the election.  Senator Bill Weilechowki lays out the argument against the Governor's plan to cut the oil companies' taxes by $2 Billion (yes with a B) per year.


For 30 years we had a policy of low or no taxes on the North Slope.  The philosophy was, low taxes will lead to more investment, low taxes will lead to more jobs, low taxes will lead to more oil.  [Thus ?] we have a 30 year experiment.  How did it work?

It failed.
  For 30 years we peaked at 2.1 million barrels a day of oil.  30 years later in 2006 with a zero percent tax rate on 15 out of 19 fields we had 740,000 barrels flowing down the pipeline.  The policy failed. Jobs declined. Investment declined.  Production declined.  Do we want to go back to that failed policy?  Are you willing to work to insure that we don’t go back to that failed policy?


They hate him because he has fought hard against the Governor's bill and because he's able to articulate clearly and passionately why it's all wrong.  There's no vague ideology and empty promises of more jobs.  It's full of facts that show that there is no good reason for Alaskans to give any money to the oil companies and plenty of reasons not to.  Most of his short speech is quoted here.  It's heavy with facts. 

We have a new policy in place.  It’s called ACES.  It’s working and there are two people I need to pay homage to . . . two of the legislators who stood up and said enough is enough and filed the first oil tax bill are with us today.  It is Senator Hollis French and Representative Les Gara.   
So how has that new policy worked?
Since we passed ACES, we’ve had all time highs in jobs every year since the bill passed.  We’ve had all time highs in investment every year since the bill passed.  We’ve had all time highs in the number of companies doing business in Alaska every year since the bill passed.   
We have more people working on the North Slope today than ever in the history of the state.  We have more  invested in the North Slope than ever in the history of the state.  We have a 253 percent increase in the number of companies doing business in Alaska in the oil patch.  I’d say it’s working pretty well, wouldn’t you?
I remember I was running six years ago and people were saying, “Are you going to raid the Permanent Fund?   Are you going to have an income tax?  Or a sales tax? Because the failed policies left us with nothing.  

Norway came to Alaska and studied our Permanent Fund.  
They started their Permanent Fund 19 years after ours.  They did it with less oil than ours.  Our Permanent Fund is worth 42 billion dollars.  Norway’s permanent fund is worth 600 billion dollars.  We have lost hundreds of billions of dollars because of the failed policies of 30 years.  We’re not going back to that are we?

But I recommend you listen to the video.  Weilechowski isn't some party hack.  He's a regular guy, a Mr. Smith Goes to Juneau, who looked around and saw how bad it was and got angry.  He's taken a stand that makes him a prime target for the oil companies who are taking advantage of Citizens United to get their $2 billion gift from their delivery boy in the Governor's Mansion in Juneau.  If they spent $100 million and succeeded in getting a Senate that supports their $2 billion a year tax cut, it would be the best investment in Alaska history.

Watch the video and see why oil company execs hate him so much.  See how clearly and well he exposes the fraud the Governor is trying to commit against the people of Alaska.


We have villages in Alaska without running water or sewage systems, but our Governor, a former ConocoPhillips lobbyist, wants to give back $2 billion a year to some of the richest companies in the world.  The governor is supposed to represent all the people of Alaska.  We've had governors like Hickel and Hammond, even Palin,  who have stood up to the oil companies.  But he wants to give them this money and in return we get vague mantras, but no promises, about jobs, jobs, jobs. 

The video was made Saturday, September 22, 2012 at a gathering of people in support of Save Our Oil and supported by a resurrected Alaska Backbone - the bi-partisan group that formed when ConocoPhilips bought ARCO.  Backbone demanded the state and feds hold out for better conditions before the deal was approved.

The key to preventing this giveaway is to elect enough coalition friendly senators to continue to block the oil companies' assault on the people of Alaska.


Who are the Senators in the Bi-Partisan Working Group?  From the Backbone website:
Senator Bill Wielechowski • Senator Bert Stedman • Senator Joe Thomas • Senator Joe Paskvan • Senator Linda Menard • Senator Lesil McGuire • Senator Johnny Ellis • Senator Gary Stevens • Senator Kevin Meyer • Senator Don Olson • Senator Hollis French • Senator Bettye Davis • Senator Tom Wagoner • Senator Lyman Hoffman • Senator Dennis Egan • Senator Al Kookesh

The Alaska Redistricting Board whittled away at the districts as much as the Supreme Court would let them.

Coalition Incumbents running against each other:

  • Senators Kookesh (Southeast) and Stedman (Southeast) are running against each other in Southeast, so one of them will be gone.  
  • Senator Joe Thomas (Fairbanks) was redistricted so that he is facing Senator John Coghill (Fairbanks).  


Coalition Incumbents lost in the primaries to anti-coalition Republicans:
  • Senators Linda Menard (Palmer)  
  • Tom Wagoner (Kenai).  

Redistricted into more conservative districts:
  • Senator Joe Paskvan (Fairbanks).
  • Senator Bettye Davis (Anchorage).  
  • Senator Bill Wielechowski (Anchorage).
  • Senator Hollis French (Anchorage).

New District with no Senate Incumbent (Anchorage)
  • Senate District H: Democratic Representative Berta Gardner v. Republican Don Smith
Here's the list of Senate Candidates adapted from the Division of Elections.


Sen
Seat
Republican Democrat (unafilliated for Seat N)
A John B. Coghill Jr. (Republican)
P.O. Box 58003
Fairbanks, AK 99711
Phone: (907) 488-7886
Candidate's web site: http://www.johncoghill.com
Joe J. Thomas (Democrat)*
879 Vide Way
Fairbanks, AK 99712
Phone: (907) 457-6710
Candidate's web site: http://www.alaskansforjoethomas.com
B Pete Kelly (Republican)
511 East Slater Drive
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Candidate's web site: http://www.petekellyforsenate.co
Joe Paskvan (Democrat)*
3275 Riverview Drive
Fairbanks, AK 99709
Phone: (907) 474-0551
C Click Bishop (Republican)**(see comments)
3365 Sandvik Rd.
Fairbanks, AK 99709
Phone: (907) 479-3969 e-mail: click@clickbishop.com
Candidate's web site: http://www.clickbishop.com
Anne Sudkamp (Democrat)**
P.O. Box 83304
Fairbanks, AK 99708
Phone: (907) 479-5192
e-mail: anne.sudkamp@gmail.com
Candidate's web site: www.annesudkamp.com
D Mike J. Dunleavy (Republican)
1830 E Parks Hwy, Ste A-113, PMB #550
Wasilla, AK 99654
Phone: (907) 841-0399

E Charles R. "Charlie" Huggins (Republican)
3375 N Edgewater Drive
Wasilla, AK 99623
Phone: (907) 373-6419
e-mail: reelectcharliehuggins@gmail.com
Candidate's web site: www.charliehuggins.com
Susan M. Parsons Herman (Democrat)**
3101 E. Palmdale Dr.
Wasilla, AK 99654
Phone: (907) 376-8281


F Fred J. Dyson (Republican)
12239 Lugene Lane
Eagle River, AK 99577
Phone: (907) 694-3744
Martin J. Lindeke (Democrat)**
16111 Cline Street
Eagle River, AK 99577
Phone: (907) 354-4402
G Bob Roses (Republican)
8200 E. 2nd Avenue
Anchorage, AK 99504
Phone: (907) 350-0684
Candidate's web site: http://www.bobroses.com
Bill Wielechowski (Democrat)*
1300 Farrow Circle
Anchorage, AK 99504
Phone: (907) 242-1558
e-mail: wielechowskiforsenate@gmail.com
Candidate's web site: www.wielechowski.org
H Don Smith (Republican)
2121 Tudor Hills Court
Anchorage, AK 99507
Phone: (907) 529-6170
Berta Gardner (Democrat)**
1405 Matterhorn Way
Anchorage, AK 99508
Phone: (907) 274-1334
I Paul D. Kendall (Republican)
1342 Hyder Street
Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: (907) 222-7882
e-mail: pauldkendall@yahoo.co
Johnny Ellis (Democrat)*
1231 W. Northern Lights #533
Anchorage, AK 99503
Phone: (907) 223-7724
J Bob Bell (Republican)
P.O. Box 92520
Anchorage, AK 99509-2520
Phone: (907) 272-5160

Hollis S. French II (Democrat)*
2640 Telequana Drive
Anchorage, AK 99517
Phone: (907) 244-7135
e-mail: info@frenchforstatesenate.com
Candidate's web site: www.Frenchforstatesenate.com
K Lesil L. McGuire (Republican)*
2022 Kimberly Lynn Cir
Anchorage, AK 99515
Candidate's web site: http://www.lesilmcguire.com/
Roselynn Cacy (Democrat)**
11930 Johns Road
Anchorage, AK 99515
Phone: (907) 344-1261
L Kevin Meyer (Republican)*
4020 Winchester Loop
Anchorage, AK 99507
Phone: (907) 349-6511
Candidate's web site: http://www.senatormeyer.com
Jacob O. "Jake" Hale (Democrat)**
3561 Hollyberry Cir
Anchorage, AK 99507
Phone: (907) 351-6762
M Anna I. Fairclough (Republican)
P.O. Box 771112
Eagle River, AK 99577
Phone: (907) 694-7090
Candidate's web site: http://www.annafairclough.com
Bettye Davis (Democrat)*
2240 Foxhall Drive
Anchorage, AK 99504
Phone: (907) 337-2034
N Catherine A. "Cathy" Giessel (Republican)
12701 Ridgewood Road
Anchorage, AK 99516
Phone: (907) 345-5470
e-mail: Cathy@Giessel.org
Candidate's web site: www.CathyGiessel.com
Ron Devon (Non-Affiliated)**
Nominating Petition Candidate
6520 Italy Circle
Anchorage, AK 99516
Phone: (907) 301-1601
O Peter A. Micciche (Republican)
P.O. Box 1544
Soldotna, AK 99669
Phone: (907) 262-6165

P


Sen. Egan* is the only legislator not up for election this year.

Q Bert K. Stedman (Republican)*
118 American St.
Sitka, AK 99835
Phone: (907) 821-2378
e-mail: bertstedman@yahoo.com
Candidate's web site: www.stedmanforsenate.com
Albert M. Kookesh (Democrat)*
P.O. Box 91
Angoon, AK 99820
Phone: (907) 788-3615
e-mail: amkookesh@gmail.com
R Gary L. Stevens (Republican)*
P.O. Box 201
Kodiak, AK 99615
Phone: (907) 486-4205
Robert J. Henrichs (Democrat)**
P.O. Box 1000
Cordova, AK 99574
Phone: (907) 424-7783
S
Lyman F. Hoffman (Democrat)*
P.O. Box 763
Bethel, AK 99559
Phone: (907) 543-3583
T Allen Minish (Republican)
P.O. Box 118
Chitina, AK 99566
Phone: (907) 823-2280

Donald C. "Donny" Olson (Democrat)*
P.O. Box 241248
Anchorage, AK 99524
Phone: (907) 240-3795
*Were Coalition Members in last Legislative Session, but if Republicans gain majority, not guaranteed next time
**Likely Coalition Members in future Legislsative Session

Actually, Bill Wielechowki is a pretty nice guy, and maybe the oil company people actually like him personally and hate someone else more. But they sure don't like his strong stand against changing the taxes and would love to see his opponent win.

[UPDATE 9/26/12:  Someone emailed me this link to Alaskans United to Stop Our Oil Wealth Giveaway (that's a mouthful)  for more information.

Monday, September 24, 2012

You Can't Have Another Planet Until You Take Care Of Your Own

"In 1925, Nikolai Baikov calculated that roughly a hundred tigers were being taken out of greater Manchuria annually . . . virtually all of them bound for the Chinese market. . . Between trophy hunters, tiger catchers, gun traps, pit traps, snares, and bait laced with strychnine and bite-sensitive bombs, these animals were being besieged from all sides.  Even as Baikov's monograph was going to press, his "Manchurian tiger" was in imminent danger of joining the woolly mammoth and the cave bear in the past tense.  Midway through the 1930's, a handful of men saw this coming, and began to wonder just what it was they stood to lose." [From The Tiger, p. 96]
Image from Time
 Another side effect of the market system* is the extinction of species.  Will the market for tiger parts in Asia, for land in tiger country. and the lack of protection of habitat for wild tigers, doom the tiger?

I remember reading pessimistic stories about the ultimate demise of wild tigers back in the 1990's like this 1994 Time Magazine  cover story.

It seems people just gave up.  Accepted that it was inevitable!

The same people who could fly to the moon and Mars, couldn't save their own planet from being plundered.  If there were a god, I think it would say, with an eye to the Mars rover, "You can't have another planet until you take care of your own."


I'm reading The Tiger: True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant for next Sunday's book club meeting.

I thought I'd share some excerpts.
During the winters of 1939 and 1940, [Lev Kaplanov] logged close to a thousand miles crisscrossing the Sikhote-Alin range as he tracked tigers through blizzards and paralyzing cold, sleeping rough, and feeding himself from tiger kills.  His findings were alarming:  along with two forest guards who helped him with tracking, estimates and interviews with hunters across Primorye, Kaplanov concluded that no more than thirty Amur tigers remained in Russian Manchuria.  In the Bikin valley, he found no tigers at all. With barely a dozen breeding females left in Russia, the subspecies now known as Panthera tigris altaica  was a handful of bullets and a few hard winters away from extinction.
Despite the fact that local opinion and state ideology were weighted heavily against tigers at the time, these men understood that tigers were an integral part of the taiga picture, regardless of whether Marxists saw a role for them in the transformation of society.  Given the mood of the time, this was an almost treasonous line of thinking, and it is what makes this collaborative effort so remarkable:  as dangerous as it was to be a tiger, it had become just as dangerous to be a Russian.  [pp. 98-99]
. . . In 1943, at the age of thirty-three, Lev Kaplanov was murdered by poachers in southern Primorye where he had recently been promoted to director of the small but important Lazovski Zapovednik. [p. 102]
 Primorye is where The Tiger is focused.  It starts on December 5, 1997 with an unusual, almost murder, of a hunter named Markov, by a huge tiger. I say murder, because this cat seems to have taken vengeance on this particular man.  It was not a simple case of opportunistic hunting by a starving tiger.   The book follows Yuri Trush, a member of a government team of game wardens - The Tigers - that protects tigers in the Primorye.
Primorye  . . . is about the size of Washington state.  Tucked into the southeast corner of Russia by the Sea of Japan, it is a thickly forested and mountainous region that combines the backwoods claustrophobia of Appalachia with the frontier roughness of the Yukon.  Industry here is of the crudest kind:  logging, mining, fishing, and hunting, all of which are complicated by poor wages, corrupt offiials, thriving black markets - and some of the world's largest cats. [p. 8]
Vaillant uses this death to explore Primorye (an incredible biologically unique piece of geography where subarctic and tropic flora and fauna mix), the history of tigers protection in Russia, the relationships between indigenous peoples living in big cat country and their big cat neighbors, and the possibility of saving wild tigers.  I like the combination of murder mystery and tiger history, though Vaillant has a chamber of commerce way of  making descriptions into dramatic declaratory statements.
Trush's physicality is intense and often barely suppressed.  He is a grabber, a hugger, and a roughhouser, but the hands initiating - and controlling - these games are thinly disguised weapons.  His fists are knuckled mallets, and he can break bricks with them.  
This reminds me of all the New Yorkers I've met who only went to the best doctor in the city, sent their kids to the best schools, and shopped at the best market in Manhattan.  I was impressed at first, but then it seemed everyone I met did the same thing.  I don't doubt  that Trush is an amazing man, but he almost sounds like a comic book character in descriptions like this.  


But that's a minor criticism.  And I'm only a third of the way through the book.  Here's a bit more on Russia's contradictory place in world animal conservation.
There is a famous quote:  "You can't understand Russia with your mind," and the zapovednik is a case in point.  In spite of the contemptuous attitude the Soviets had toward nature, they also allowed for some of the most stringent conservation practices in the world.  A zapovednik is a wildlife refuge into which no one but guards and scientists are allowed - period.  The only exceptions are guests - typically fellow scientists - with written permission from the zapovednik's director.  There are scores of these reserves scattered across Russia, ranging in size from more than sixteen thousand square miles down to a dozen square miles.  The Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik was established in 1935 to promote the restoration of the sable population, which had nearly been wiped out in the Kremlin's eagerness to capitalize on the formerly booming U.S. market.  Since then, the role of this and other zapovedniks has expanded to include the preservation of noncommercial animals and plants.

This holistic approach to conservation has coexisted in the Russian scientific consciousness alongside more utilitarian views of nature since it was first imported from the West in the 1860's.  At its root is a deceptively simple idea:  don't just preserve the species, preserve the entire system in which the species occurs, and do so by sealing it off from human interference and allowing nature to do its work.  It is, essentially, a federal policy of enforced non-management directly contradicting the communist notion that nature is an outmoded machine in neeed of a total overhaul.  Paradoxically, the idea not only survived but, in some cases, flourished under the Soviets:  by the late 1970's, nearly 80 percent of the zapovednik sites originally recommended by the Russian Geographical Society's permanent conservation commission in 1917 had been protected (though many have been redued in size over the years.) [pp. 97-98]


If it were merely hunting and habitat destruction that threatened the tiger and the polar bear and the rhinoceros and the countless other smaller species, I would say that it was possible for humans to save them.  Possible, but not necessarily likely.  But given the  global climate change, another collective by product of how humans treat their planet, I have grave doubts.  But we shouldn't give up.

Today, "The Tiger in the Sikhote-Alin" [Nikolai Baikov's 1925 monograph] remains a milestone in the field of tiger researh, and was a first step in the pivotal transformation of the Amur tiger - and the species as a whole - from trophy-vermin to celebrated icon.  In 1947, Russia became the first country in the world to recognize the tiger as a protected species.  However, active protection was sporadic at best and poaching and live capture continued.  In spite of this, the Amur tiger population has rebounded to a sustainable level over the past sixty years, a recovery unmatched by any other subspecies of tiger.  Even with the upsurge in poaching over the past fifteen years, the Amur tiger has, for now, been able to hold its own. 
A telling side-effect of the crash prior to this recovery, one caused in part by trophy hunters, is that today's Amur tiger is not as big as the older ones were.  With a lesson that Alaskans should pay attention to, Vaillant writes:
It wouldn't be the first time this kind of anthropogenic selection has occurred:  the moose of eastern North America went through a similar process of "trophy engineering" at roughly the same time.  Sport hunters wanted bull moose with big antlers, and local guides were eager to accommodate them.  Thus, the moose with the biggest racks were systematically removed from the gene pool while the smaller-antlered bulls were left to pass on their more modest genes, year after year.

Humans, when they believe something is unfair and wrong, can do amazing things.  The fact that there are still Siberian tigers, and that their population is healthier than it was, is an example.  Those who know, now need to convince those who still doubt, and we can save many of the species otherwise destined for extinction.

There are many, many people working to save the tiger and other species.  We aren't helpless.  You aren't powerless.  You can help save endangered species.  For inspiration and ways you can help, check out



And here's a video from the World Wildlife Foundation:





*The market is an important and valuable part of human economy, but it isn't the panacea for all problems some proclaim.  (The world is too complex for panaceas.)  Milton Friedman himself listed market failures that need to be regulated by government.  One, he called "neighborhood effects" and others renamed 'externalities.'  These are the costs to society that the producer doesn't pay - the pollution and other environmental damage for example that isn't factored into the price of the product because the manufacturer doesn't have to pay for it.  Destruction of habitat to the extent that species are endangered is another externality as is the extinction caused by over hunting - as nearly happened to sea otters and sable and whales.  Government regulation is necessary to counteract market failures.  (I know, there are those who say the regulations are worse than the problem, but killing off the remaining big (and small animals) is not the price we should have to pay to let entrepreneurs make money. Plus, such an externality isn't an efficient use of our resources which it is why market economists label externalities market failures.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Working Rich and And Chinese Factory Girls From Romney's 47% Speech

As I wrote the title of this post, I realized "the 47% speech" might be as linked in history to Romney as Gettysburg address and Lincoln are linked.  But that's not what this post is about.

Jamie left a comment on my post that raised questions about whether Romney had Asperger Syndrome symptoms.  In the comments other readers declared Romney a sociopath.  Jamie wrote (in part):
What I find more disconcerting is how Romney represents to so many The Real American®™ by exhibiting said traits that also define a sociopath, in other words, he exemplifies the model businessman.
Case in point is the hand-waving over that “47%” secret recording of the talk he gave to wealthy elite donors. But what’s most disgusting of all (and a most telling symptom that reveals more of our own culture) is how virtually nobody is focusing on his off-the-cuff recounting during that speech of his visit to the Chinese factory. This where the women workers were corralled and treated like cattle, even kept from escaping their barracks by barbed wire and guards.
Romney never morally flinched, didn’t even think of them (or for that matter anybody poor today) as actual, live human beings, they were just assets, cogs in the machine he was buying. Ethically no different than the one-time revered pillars of society that upheld everything from the days of the robber barons to the horrors of institutionalized slavery in our own not-too distant national history.

Jamie raises a whole slew of issues.  But my first reaction was, "What Chinese factory comments?"  I'm afraid the 47% part was significant enough and I confess I didn't go looking for the rest of the speech.  Well, it's up and probably worth listening to.  Mother Jones has highlighted some parts they thought significant.

But I had to read the text to find the Chinese factory part Jamie referred to.  Jamie's point was that (I'm taking some liberties here, but you can see Jamie's words above)  the Romney model of a capitalist businessman (yes, man), is quite a bit like the heroes of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.   They apply principles of efficiency and no other values need be considered.  They work hard and deserve the wealth that inevitably comes from it.

In fact here's a comment from an audience member at the infamous speech:
Romney: Yeah, yeah.
Audience member: My question to you is, Why don't you stick up for yourself? To me, you should be so proud of your wealth. That's what we all aspire to be—we kill ourselves, we don't work a nine to five. We're away from our families five days a week. I'm away from my four girls five days a week and my wife. Why not stick up for yourself and say, "Why is it bad to be, to aspire to be wealthy and successful? You know, why is it bad to kill yourself? And why is it bad to cut 30 jobs that protect 300?" And, when people talk about you cutting jobs, you save companies that were failing...[unintelligible]. So my question is, when does that stand up…[unintelligible].

Let's see.  The important things in life are:
  • being wealthy and 'successful' 
  • killing yourself working
  • not seeing your kids and wife five days a week?
Actually, this is vaguely the American ideal.  To work hard and 'succeed' by getting rich. In some families this macho capitalism, demonstrated by millions of dollars, and mansions and yachts, is the definition of success.  We can see it in HBO's Mad Men and many other portrayals.  This was the ethics-free creed that caused people in the home financing business to make loans that they knew could not be repaid, because they got their hefty cut upfront.  That creates multi-million bonuses for bankers while people are losing their houses because of those bankers.

Our military are away from their families for months at a time, shouldn't they have a cool million on separation from the military?  Instead those millions go to oil companies to pay for fuel, food suppliers, the weapons manufacturers, and a whole host of contracted companies that in turn pay hefty salaries to contract workers from first world countries (if you're from Bangladesh, your contract pay only looks good to your family back home who compare it to local salaries.) And our soldiers fight with the VA to get help with the war souvenirs in their heads.

And there are lots of poor folks whose work life is killing them with long days too, but it's not by choice.  They get up early to feed the kids and take long bus rides across town to clean the houses of better off folks.  They work as service people in various retail establishments often without health insurance or much hope of increasing their salaries. 

I was lucky to have a family that modeled being a good human being over being a rich human being and gave me the opportunities to choose a career that added value to human beings and our society and gave me a comfortable, but by no means luxurious, life.  And gave me time to spend with my family every day.  Some of that came from choices we made such as living a five minute walk from my work so I didn't spend my time or money on transportation to and from work.  Some of it was the luck of coming into the job market at a favorable time.   Some was not coveting more than I could afford.  My point here is that being wealthy, in and of itself, is not, in my mind, a noble life goal.

But let's look at the Chinese factory part of Romney's talk that Jamie cited:
And I remember going to—sorry just to bore you with stories—but I was, when I was back in my private equity days, we went to China to buy a factory there, employed about 20,000 people, and they were almost all young women between the ages of about 18 and 22 or 23. They were saving for potentially becoming married, and they worked in these huge factories, they made various small appliances, and as we were walking through this facility, seeing them work, the number of hours they worked per day, the pittance they earned, living in dormitories with little bathrooms at the end with maybe ten rooms. And the rooms, they had 12 girls per room, three bunk beds on top of each other. You've seen them.
Audience member: Oh, yeah.
Romney: And around this factory was a fence, a huge fence with barbed wire, and guard towers. And we said, "Gosh, I can't believe that you, you know, you keep these girls in." They said, "No, no, no—this is to keep other people from coming in. Because people want so badly to come work in this factory that we have to keep them out, or they'll just come in here and start working and try and get compensated. So, we—this is to keep people out." And they said, "Actually, Chinese New Year, is the girls go home, sometimes they decide they've saved enough money and they don't come back to the factory." And he said, "And so on the weekend after Chinese New Year, there'll be a line of people hundreds long outside the factory, hoping that some girls haven't come back and they can come to the factory. And so, as we were experiencing this for the first time, for me to see a factory like this in China some years ago, the Bain partner I was with turned to me and said, "You know, 95 percent of life is settled if you're born in America." This is an amazing land. And what we have is unique, and fortunately it is so special we're sharing it with the world.
Jamie's point, as I understand it, is that Romney looks at these terrible conditions and is easily persuaded that these conditions are so good that people have to be fenced out.  And he's more than happy to have work done for 'a pittance' in China under terrible conditions, because it will improve his bottom line, because he will make millions from the labor of these young Chinese women.  And he's actually doing them a favor because they'll earn enough money to get married.  And Americans are sharing our amazingly blessed life with these people by giving them a chance to work in these wretched factories.  While American factories are shut down and Americans lose their jobs and saw their American dream disappear.  But these, for Romney, are all problems caused by Obama's oppressive regulations on business.

This is the model of the American businessman that Jamie is disgusted with and I can't say I disagree with him.  If you watch the videos, you wonder what the waiters who walk back and forth in front of the camera were thinking.  To the wealthy, these servers are invisible, and they can comfortably talk about the problems of being misunderstood because of their wealth in front of them without considering their lives or what they are thinking.

Here are some links to see or read more of what was said at this event:

Mother Jones piece with highlight clips from the talk, including:
  • Mitt Romney on Obama voters
  • Mitt Romney on treating Obama gingerly
  • Mitt Romney on his consultants
  • Mitt Romney on what wins an election (money from his listeners)
  • Mitt Romney on the economy
Mother Jones second piece with highlight clips including:
  • Mitt Romney on the Mideast Conflict
  • Mitt Romney on Iran's Nuclear Program
  • Mitt Romney on Obama's Foreign Policy
Mother Jones complete transcript of the speech.


Romney might even be right on some of the topics.  But it's his certainty that he is right about everything that is so distressing.  These are not things that anyone can be certain about.  And one might be skeptical that this is, in fact, what Romney really thinks, since he seems to tailor his comments to his audiences.  Except this seems to be an audience of his economic peers, so he may think that what they want to hear is what he truly believes.

Another interesting exchange began with a question about whether there might be an opportunity like Reagan had with the Iran hostage situation that faced Jimmy Carter. (Reagan is alleged to have worked out a secret agreement with the Iranians to keep the hostages through the election and as it happened, the hostages were freed immediately after Reagan's inauguration.)

Audience member: If you get the call as president, and you had hostages…Ronald Reagan was able to make a statement, even before he became, was actually sworn in—
Romney: Yeah—
Audience member: the hostages were released—
Romney: on the day of his inauguration, yeah.
Audience member: So my question is, really, how can you sort of duplicate that scenario?
Romney: Ohhhh. [A few chuckles in audience.] I'm gonna ask you, how do I duplicate that scenario.
Audience member: I think that had to do with the fact that the Iranians perceived Reagan would do something to really get them out. In other words [unintelligible]…and that's why I'm suggesting that something that you say over the next few months gets the Iranians to understand that their pursuit of the bomb is something that you would predict and I think that's something that could possibly resonate very well with American Republican voters.
Romney: I appreciate the idea. I can't—one of the other things that's frustrating to me is that at a typical day like this, when I do three or four events like this, the number of foreign policy questions that I get are between zero and one. And the American people are not concentrated at all on China, on Russia, Iran, Iraq. This president's failure to put in place a status forces agreement allowing 10-20,000 troops to stay in Iraq? Unthinkable! And yet, in that election, in the Jimmy Carter election, the fact that we have hostages in Iran, I mean, that was all we talked about. And we had the two helicopters crash in the desert, I mean that's—that was—that was the focus, and so him solving that made all the difference in the world. I'm afraid today if you said, "We got Iran to agree to stand down a nuclear weapon," they'd go hold on. It's really a, but…by the way, if something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.
Is this why Romney jumped to condemn Obama when he first learned about the Egyptians attacking the US embassy in Cairo?  So many things to think about.