Tuesday, July 31, 2007

We Need to Know More About Bob Penney

In an earlier post I discussed Lisa Murkowski's selling back the land she bought cheap next to real estate developer Bob Penney's house on the Kenai River. (For the non-Alaskans, that's KEY-nai, emphasis on the KEY.)

But I suspect the really interesting character in this story is Bob Penney. His name has been in and out of the news since we arrived in Alaska 30 years ago. He's been a big proponent of sports fishing. We really need to learn more about all the things he's been involved with. The quote below and then the video deal with Penney's knowledge of the value of the land.

From a Richard Mauer and Brandon Loomis Anchorage Daily News piece on July 25, 2007,

“The denial of knowledge of the value of a prime piece of real estate by a multimillionaire developer who lived next to the property and an attorney/real estate investor turned U.S. Senator took on comic opera overtones when Penney told the press: ‘Word of honor, I did not know what the assessed value was … I thought it was still $120,000,’” Boehm wrote.
“It doesn’t pass the straight-face test or the laugh test,” Boehm said in an interview. “On what planet is that an excuse?”

To add to Boehm's point, here's a video from Veracifier at Youtube in which

Real Estate developer Bob Penney testifies at a hearing on the "Ecocomics of Sports Fishing," April 24, 2007

By the way, I still haven't heard back on the email I sent Penney's company on the 27th offering to buy the land he'd just gotten back.

[More on Penney here and here.]

Mom and Daughter Fly to LA

My daughter has been visiting for the whole month of July. My mother came about two weeks ago. The logistics were a little tricky since we had our trip to the village of Wales (don't know why everyone thinks we went to UK when I say we went to Wales) came the day after my mom arrived. Anyway, getting my mom on a non-stop flight was a high priority and there are about two a day from Anchorage, one a red-eye, one at 3:15pm. And then getting my daughter on the same flight.

I've never seen the Alaska Airlines check-in so crowded in Anchorage. It looked more like LA. Let's start here at the check in counter. Only half the stations are open. Doesn't look bad.

But here's the beginning of the line, these folks are almost at the counter. It goes all the way back and around to the windows.

This is maybe 3/4 of the way, looking back toward the counter. The line winds to the right and then around way back to the far wall. The machines at left are the e-ticket baggage checkin lines.

And here I'm at the end of the line. Now this may be common other places, but I've never seen it this jammed in Anchorage except on the first day of Christmas vacation.

The E-ticket baggage check-in was also crowded, but it only took about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, security was almost completely empty.

Then I decided to pay for the parking at the relatively new machine in the terminal. Actually, we were pretty close to 30 minutes so I thought we might still be in the free category. But the machine got stuck. Pushing the cancel button did nothing, running my credit card through did nothing, and the machine had my parking ticket. We pushed the 'call for help' button and got a recording saying to leave a message.

We tried again a few minutes later and they sent someone to fix the machine. But by then we owed $2. Oh well, if we'd have paid after we got the car, it surely would have been $2 anyway.

When we got home after running errands, we found out their 3:15pm flight didn't leave until almost 7:30pm. Bummer. At least they were together and my mom didn't have to do all that alone.

What's With All the Phone Books?

It used to be that the phone company dropped one copy of the white pages and one copy of the yellow pages on our doorstep once a year. Now it seems we get new sets of phone books every couple of weeks. Another one was there this morning. Who are all these people publishing phone books? It's not from our phone company. I called and asked them to please come and take it away, but she said they couldn't. Is it worth checking the anti-litter laws? She did tell me it was recyclable. Great use of trees. There's got to be a way to stop this proliferation of phone books.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bird Houses and Chinese Dinner

We did some of the Anchorage Garden Tour yesterday. It was disappointing. We saw nice gardens, but nothing that was terribly exciting. Perhaps I've been on too many of these tours, but it sure seems like there was more variety in past tours. The most interesting thing I saw was this wall of bird houses. This is perhaps just a half or a third of the wall.

Later we had dinner at the home of friends. Xiwei and Wang Yen had prepared a wonderful dinner and the company was good too.

Wales 7 - Writing Workshop

The ostensible purpose of the trip to Wales was the Writing Workshop. I'd never been to one before and didn't know what to expect. We had a bona fide writer leading the workshop. Actually, someone who has extensive experience in teaching writing - Kim Stafford director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College..

I was pleasantly surprised. Starting in Nome, where we spent the first night because Wales was fogged in, we regularly did little writing exercises. Our first exercise was to "take a line for a walk." After about five minutes or writing we stopped, volunteers read what they wrote, then we were supposed to pick a line we really liked in what we wrote, and start from there.

We got another assignment to just write a run-on sentence - we weren't to worry about proper grammar or anything like that, just keep writig your thought.

Saturday, in Wales, when we had all the participants, we did an assignment on "What makes me want to live?" I'm attaching a page Kim printed out with one or two lines from most of the participants. These are pretty short and anonymous and they've been printed and passed around so I don't think I'm betraying any confidences by posting this here. I'd love to put up a couple of the pieces that were printed in the booklet at the end of the workshop. Even though people picked what they wanted in there, and it is pretty public by virtue of being in the booklet, I don't have anyone's permission to put their stuff up here, so I'll pass on that.

I've never really written in a group before, where we shared our writing with others as we wrote and it was an interesting and useful experience. I explored ideas I wouldn't have come up with on my own. I also got a better focus on things I sort of knew. Since this was my first and only such workshop, I don't have much experience to base recommendations for such things on. Things I know contributed were: 1) an experienced, articulate, thoughtful facilitator, 2) interesting and diverse participants who brought a lot of different perspectives and ideas to the table, and 3) being in a pretty isolated place. There was only nature and nice people to distract us pretty much.

Oh yes, I would also add that many of the people in the group identify themselves as artists rather than writers, so some of the participants led art exercises. We did watercolors one afternoon and made little books out of beautiful pieces of paper. All - the writing, the watercolors, the bookmaking - were incorporated in the booklets Kim had published on his new printer that he'd carefully carried all the way to Wales.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dan Fagan is Now Selling Happiness

Today's Fagan column ends with:

Happiness is like the flu. It spreads. It has a domino effect. And that's a good thing.

Next, he's going to change his radio show theme song to John Lennon's "Love, Love, Love"

But for all his ranting against materialism -
I say the following with an unblemished record of being a staunch lifelong capitalist. I fear we are in the grip of materialism
- he hasn't come completely over to the dark side. He doesn't mention capitalism or even corporations as a cause for our materialism. He doesn't 'bellyache' about CEO's getting paid $50 million when their companies lose money, or corporate America's search to cover the last empty space with advertising to create all these wants in people who have to max their credit cards at 20% and higher interest rates to pay for it. He doesn't say corporations are the problem. Instead, Fagan says
government is not helping with the wants verses [sic] needs problems.
It's all the money government gives to welfare recipients to meet their wants, not their needs. Things like cell phones and Big Bird. Again, there's no mention of how much cellphones and Big Bird cost, compared to, say, for starters, what Haliburton has gotten from the government in shoddy, or uncompleted, contract work in Iraq.

But let's give Dan some credit here. He even recognizes some subtleties - that some people are unhappy because of chemical imbalances or real tragedies. Dan's taken some big steps in his articles. And in today's he tells us that spreading happiness is much more important than 'bellyaching.'

Dan, are you going to follow your advice and spread happiness on the air, or are you going to keep bellyaching?

[Dan, a note on your metaphors and similes. You're trying to create a postive image here. Yes, the flu spreads quickly, but it isn't something that people want. And what exactly is 'a domino effect"? One thing knocking down another and then another and then another? Again, not exactly a positive image. I know, I'm having trouble too coming up with images of things spreading quickly that are happy. A beautiful song? What about peanut butter on bread? These don't quite catch the spreading image of the flu, but they are a lot more positive. So a good writer here, if she couldn't come up with a positive metaphor, would try to find a totally different way of making the point instead of using problematic metaphors.]

I'd link this to his Comment piece, but I'm having trouble getting to it tonight. If I can, I'll add the link in later. [Fixed - link at top]

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Good-Bye Toni Pounds

I shouldn't have been surprised at how many people I know from totally different parts of my life who were at Toni's memorial this afternoon at the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I knew Toni from Healing Racism Anchorage. Such a smart woman with such a wicked sense of humor. And so dedicated to fighting racism. She's been on dialysis for years, but she kept leading discussion groups and training workshops. She didn't make it to our last meeting - July 17 - and Shirley invited us to go back to the hospital with her after the meeting. Toni was clearly in pain and not at all happy, but she was still making snappy comments.

Today, despite the reason we were there, there was much laughter as friends and relatives told tales about the Toni they knew. I'm sure Toni was watching from somewhere, free of the physical ailments that burdened her here on earth, and smiling along with all of us.

The details were in official ADN announcement:

Anchorage resident Toni Pounds, 59, died July 20, 2007, at Providence Alaska Medical Center after a long illness. A memorial service to honor and celebrate her life will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 3201 Turnagain St.
Toni was born Oct. 7, 1947, to Gloria and Russell Pounds, at Fort Riley, Kan. Her father was in the military and Toni traveled and lived all over the world during her childhood. After earning a bachelor's degree in cultural anthropology from Iowa State University, she received a master's degree in public administration from Drake University. Toni moved to Anchorage in 1990 with her daughter, Elizabeth Gloria Pounds. She worked for the Municipality of Anchorage in the Department of Health and Human Services until illness forced her retirement.
Her family wrote: "Toni was an incredible and multi-faceted woman in many ways. She loved life and after retirement, forged ahead continuing to work on projects of importance to her, in spite of chronic kidney disease. Her spirit continues to enrich our lives with the memories we hold of her, and she is deeply mourned by the many people whose lives she touched."
Pounds was instrumental in establishing the Alaska Chapter of the American Association of Kidney Patients and was the chapter-founding president. She represented the state at several national AAKP conferences.
She was a dedicated member of Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, serving on the board of directors, many committees, and overseeing large groups of Unitarians who traveled through Anchorage each summer as part of the WhaleCoast program. She was a much-loved, active and pivotal member of the church community.
Pounds was a dedicated co-founder, guiding force, steering committee member, and workshop facilitator for the nonprofit organization Healing Racism in Anchorage. She also had an enormous love of literature, participating in several book clubs. She was a member of several writing groups and was a regularly published author.
She is survived by her daughter, Elizabeth; and two brothers, Michael and Russell, all of Anchorage; as well her aunts, Gladys, Lillian and Grace; and cousins, Jackie, Jewel, Cheryl and Eileen.
Published in the Anchorage Daily News on 7/26/2007.

Wales 6

I'm still trying to catch up with the reports of the Wales/Nome trip. Last Saturday, while we were walking, Tony went out and caught a salmon for dinner.

Here's the group filling their plates. Catherine had shipped in a lot of food and we had a nice mix of local and outside food for our meals.

Then the drumming practice began. The Kinggikmiut Festival will bring drummers from different villages to Wales later this year. Writing workshop participants were proud of the young drummers and dancers who were maintaining the local traditions.

One former Wales resident, who is now an engineer in New York State, was visiting and getting video of the drumming and dancing.

They told us the drummers could make the sun shine, and the only time we saw the sun in Wales was that evening toward the end of the drumming.

And I couldn't help notice the back of this sweatshirt from one of Wales' residents who had on a World Eskimo - Indian Olympics sweatshirt.

Wales 5

Joan and I took a walk on Saturday afternoon along the beach to see the sculpture on the hill. There were several nets drying on the beach.

Here I'm starting up the hill at the end of the beach looking north, we can see the south end of Wales.

The hillside is lushly covered with green stuff.

Here, again, looking north from the hillside we can see the village of Wales from the south. The sculpture was created by Joe Senungetuk, the organizer of the workshop, in memory of his brother Skip. He worked on this with sculptor David Barr from Michigan. Barr's website has a little more on the sculpture:

Arctic Arc consists of two sculpture installations at sites on the Bering Sea (Naukan, East Russia and Wales, Alaska) which are sites of the first human migrations into North America. The sculptures are a peaceful symbol for a border of international tension.

This is the inscription.

A tractor slowly disappearing on the beach.

On the way back we saw a snow bunting, a bird I hadn't ever seen before.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lisa Returns Property

The ADN headline today is "Murkowski returns disputed land." At least Lisa M. recognizes that some people could see this as a conflict. But apparently she still doesn't completely get it.

Murkowski said it was a heart-wrenching decision because she, her husband and their two sons -- all avid fishermen -- have long sought a place on the Kenai River.

And how is it that Bob Penney made the offer to her and not to me? Is it possible that one factor is that I'm not a US Senator who'd make a nice, useful neighbor? It's the same reason Tom Anderson got all those jobs where he didn't have to do too much.

Selling back the land was a good step. But it doesn't absolve her of any wrong doing. After all, if I rob a bank, and then when the cops appear to be closing in on me, I get remorseful and return the money, they aren't likely to dismiss the charges. It may affect the sentencing though.

On the other hand, I must say in Lisa's and other politicians' defense, people can get pretty ugly venting their anger. I'm sure much of the worst invective comes from people transferring their own self loathing. After all, if the ADN report is accurate, Lisa got bad advice from the Ethics Committee staff.

"Senate ethics says that if the properties are used for personal use, you don't disclose it," she said. She said she disclosed the mortgage for the property but not the transfer, based on advice from Ethics Committee staff.

Murkowski dismissed criticism that she used a Ketchikan bank with close family ties -- she once sat on the board, and her sister is a current shareholder and director. She and her husband received a two-year balloon mortgage known as an "equity lot loan" that can be rolled into a construction loan to build on raw property.

I think we all go to friends we know 'in the business' who we trust and think will give us a good deal. In the case of the bank, I suspect she would have gotten a special deal just because of her family connections to the bank, even if she weren't a prominent politician. Yet this form of 'privilege' where you get deals that aren't available to the average person, is the kind of thing that blinds the privileged to the realities of life of the rest of us who don't have that sort of connection. While I think it is relevant to investigate, I think the personal invective reflects more on those invecting than on Murkowski.

One danger is that people like Cheney and Bush who stonewall every step of the way, who attempt to destroy those who oppose them (ie outing Plame) get off through their bluffing, whereas people who step forward and try to make things right get punished. Though there is nothing in the ADN article that suggests Murkowski thinks she did anything improper. The only thing she seems to be concerned about is the public trust (translation: her electability).

"While Verne and I intended to make this our family home and we paid a fair price for this land, no property is worth compromising the trust of the Alaska people," Murkowski said in a written statement.

And she does fall into blaming her accusers:

"There are those who will do anything to bring down the strength of the Alaska delegation. I think that is a reality. I think what I do is to get up every morning and do the best job I can representing Alaskans. That's what I was elected to do."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wales 3

On Friday afternoon (still our first day in Wales) we did some writing exercises. Then we broke for dinner. Tony and his wife Joanne prepared reindeer in the kitchen. I'm not going to talk a lot about our Wales hosts and the other workshop participants because in the writing workshop they talked about themselves and the village of Wales, and while they didn't say anything terribly sensitive, there was an agreement that things we talked about are confidential, and it's hard for me to separate out what they might not want shared from what they wouldn't care about. However, we did 'publish' a small book with highlights of what people wrote and that I can share as i go along.

In addition to the reindeer meat, we got to taste walrus flippers cooked in seal oil and locally picked greens also preserved in seal oil While the reindeer was definitely a more familiar type food, the walrus and greens weren't bad.

Here's everythig ready to eat.

Joan and I both enjoyed being right on the beach. I think this was an after dinner walk.

There are no trees anywhere around, but there is lots of firewood in the form of driftwood on the beach (see Wales 1 pix) and lots of interesting other things like these dead starfish.

That evening the community center was busy with bingo. There is electricity, though the experimental windmills weren't on while we were there. They are made, I was told, in Kotzebue, a little further north, and when they first tried them the wind was so strong it broke the windmill. There are very harsh winds here.

This picture was from the plane when we flew in.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Congress can enforce its own orders against recalcitrant witnesses

It's amazing what all you can find out reading The Next Hurrah comments. Here Frank Askin, professor at Rutgers School of Law, and director of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, writing in the Washington Post, suggests:

So long as Congress is investigating issues over which it has the power to legislate, it can compel witnesses to appear and respond to questions. That power has been affirmed over and over in prosecutions for contempt.

In modern times, this congressional power has been enforced by referring contempt cases to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for indictment and prosecution. That, of course, is the rub. It allows the president to exercise his plenary power under the Constitution to issue pardons "for offenses against the United States."

But no law says that indictment and prosecution by the Justice Department is the exclusive means to enforce congressional prerogative.

Thus, the congressional alternative. Instead of referring a contempt citation to the U.S. attorney, a house of Congress can order the sergeant-at-arms to take recalcitrant witnesses into custody and have them held until they agree to cooperate -- i.e., an order of civil contempt. Technically, the witness could be imprisoned somewhere in the bowels of the Capitol, but historically the sergeant-at-arms has turned defendants over to the custody of the warden of the D.C. jail.

For the complete piece click here.

I'm sorry, I can't help it, he's so egregious

From Scott Horton, Harper's Magazine.
For those of you who missed the testimony of Alberto Gonzales before the Judiciary Committee, I’d recommend making the effort to catch it on a CSPAN rebroadcast. There’s simply no way to adequately describe the whole scene: that creepy, evasive visage, calmly churning out falsehood after falsehood. You have to keep reminding yourself—this man is the attorney general of the United States. He is the physical embodiment of an idea. At this point no one, Democrat or Republican, would argue that he is highly qualified to hold the position he now occupies, that he is the obvious choice among America’s legions of lawyers to be the attorney general. He was chosen and installed as the exaltation of personal loyalty and fidelity over all other traits, especially intelligence, honesty, loyalty to the law and especially the Constitution. Gonzales stands for the willingness to lie and dissemble in order to protect his patron; he is the ultimate and absolute politicization of high office. His selection and installation reflect the values of a tyranny, not a democracy...

Robert Conquest wrote that the Soviet Union was the only nation with a completely unpredictable past. But meet Alberto Gonzales. He was extremely busy rewriting history today, and it now appears that when he raises his hand and swears an oath, there’s no telling which version of the past will appear next. First, he tells us that the trip to see Ashcroft in the hospital has to do with something entirely different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program about which his former Deputy James Comey testified. In doing this, he contradicts his own prior testimony, and he contradicts Comey. At least one person is lying. And indeed, that person has to be Gonzales. The only issue is which of his diametrically opposed statements is the lie...

Tuesday, July 24. All in another day’s testimony for Alberto Gonzales, the worst attorney general in the history of the United States, the man who has come to embody the lawlessness and immorality of the Bush Administration.

For the rest of the list of Gonzales' lies and a few capital offenses according to Horton, click here.

Has Gonzales No Shame?

How did we get here? How is it that Gonzales is still the attorney general? What will the history books say about this administration? Has Gonzales no shame? Has Bush no shame? I recognize that TPM has edited the testimony, but all the various reports on his testimony suggest it is one of the low points of the history of US Attorney General's Office.

Wales 2

That first day in Wales - Friday - after helping Alice get her tent up, we had a late lunch. Here you can see Winton (from Wales) and Eli (from Anchorage.) Eli was the pool manager at the University for years and is originally from Germany. She is now a sculptor and has an outdoor 'studio' along the beach somewhere in Anchorage where she builds natural, temporary sculpture in the manner somewhat of Andy Goldsworthy. And just a part of Barbara's face. She's a writer from New Jersey who has been a museum curator and has done extensive work with Alaska Native art and has spent a great deal of time in Alaska. There were so many interesting people.

And here Joe's wife Catherine is talking to Lena. Both Lena and Winton were important participants in the writing workshop. Both have lived in Wales their whole lives and know so much about the history, the natural world, and the social world of Wales.

There was a picture earlier of Marie on her four wheeler going out to get water. Well, in Wales they still use honey buckets. There's a white bucket with a plastic garbage back in the 'toilet' on the right. When this gets filled, someone has to take it out and dump it.

There are little honey bucket stations all around town. Here is someone coming back from dumping. Think about it. Alaska has a Permanent Fund of savings from oil income (and more recently investments on that income) of $40 billion. This fund pays annual dividends to all the citizens of Alaska. Last year it was around $1000 per person. And yet we have people living in villages that still don't have running water and decent sewage systems.

I'll try to get a little more up each day. My mom and daughter are both here visiting. Yesterday we had a triple birthday party - my daughter, me, and a friend, Alex - and we've got lots to do so I can't do too much at once.

Most of the pictures can be enlarged somewhat by clicking on them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wales - 1

Tryying to figure out how to post about Wales, I've decided to let my pictures structure the story and go in chronological order. There are lots of overlapping stories here, but rather than isolate them out, I'll let them unfold (or not) as I experienced them. For the beginning of this Wales trip including maps go to July 18, 2007.

We got the flight go-ahead at 11am on Friday and flew into the Wales airport on a new Beechcraft. Here we are at the airstrip in Wales with our luggage out. Four-wheelers were out at the airport to pick up luggage and we walked the ten minutes to the community center, passing grassy marsh land.

We had to decide where to stay. People had sleeping bags to put in offices in the Community Center, several of us brought tents. Alice, who's from Bethel, wanted to sleep out on the beach, so I went along to see if that would work for Joan too.

On the way we passed Marie who was going a little out of town to a large pond to fill up on water. Wales doesn't have running water. People said they did, but it was chlorinated and the State health people said that wasn't safe. So now they get the same unsafe water, but they have to get it in buckets. Or so that is what I was told.

Alice gave a warm hello to everyone we passed and the warmth was returned by all. A group of kids followed us to the beach. Shawna, the one in the hooded sweatshirt, became a buddy She's also the daughter of Joanne and Tony who were both participants in the writing workshop. Alice got her tent up on the beach, despite warnings by locals that it would get extremely windy and blow away. She piled rocks on all the stakes and in the tent.

Walking back through town to the Community Center after Alice's tent was up. In the end, Tony convinced me to put our tent just behind the community center so we wouldn't have to walk so far.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Back from Wales in Sunny Nome

We spent Thursday night in Nome because Wales was fogged in. There were six residents of Wales who joined the ten of us (plus our workshop facilitator Kim) who came from outside. With Alice (from Bethel) and Joe (from Wales) we had more Alaska Native participants than non-Native.

The people of Wales were incredibly hospitible and we share a lot. I'll blog more and post lots of pictures when we get back to Anchorage, but I'm just taking a moment in the Nome library to get back on. The sun is shining here in Nome. (We only had about an hour of sun in 3.5 days in Wales, that was after the drummers had been practicing for two hours one evening.) It was warm enough that I put on my shorts at the beach and tested the waters of the Bering Sea.

We have a few hours to wander the beaches of Nome and see if we can find a few birds that normally we can't see.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nome Detour

Flying into Nome - Bering Strait [Norton Sound on the Bering Sea] in the background.

Kim, the workshop facilitator, has a brand new Mac Book so I can keep blogging as long as we have internet connections. Here he is as our luggage gets moved to the Bering Air office.

We checked in, got all our luggage weighed, sat and talked, before finding out that it was foggy in Wales and that we couldn't take off.

Bering Air's bus took us to the Airport Cafe in town which looks like hip coffee shop anywhere for lunch.

Downtown Nome sits right on the Bering Strait.

Then we walked into town to visit Faith's library. Faith is one of the group members who works for the Reindeer Bridge Project, to draw the connections among the Arctic Indiginous peoples who herd reindeer.

Every hour Catherine calls the Bering Air office to see if we can fly.

Right now we're in the visitors center and Catherine is calling places to stay. The weather is lifting somewhat here in Nome. Four o'clock call was a no-go. If we can't fly out at 5pm, we spend the night in Nome.