Thursday, July 31, 2008

Denali National Park, Post 3: Denali Road Closings and Openings

We went with Doug to the bus stop at Teklanika in hopes that not all eleven would make it for the hike. When the Discovery Hike bus came, we learned that no one had canceled, but we could hitch a ride on the bus. As we went the driver told us that night rains had been particularly heavy and that there’d been land slides at Polychrome Pass and the crews were working to open the roads. The rivers were fuller and browner than the day before. Buses were delayed and reportedly stacking up.

The Discovery Hike had been moved because the original site had too much water. After Doug got off with the hike group, J and I went on to Toklat, a few miles past the hike drop off point. It was raining and we got into the tent Quonset hut (you can see it in the middle far left of the picture) that served as a book store in this remote spot. The ranger there suggested two hiking options. We took the one across the road from the book store up a drainage from the mountain there. Basically it was a wide rocky area going up the mountain with a very fast, brown creek, rushing full and white down the mountain. We went up about an hour. The rain had stopped.and by the time we got back to the bookstore, it was raining slightly again. We got onto the bus waiting in the parking lot heading back to Riley Creek.

There were a lot of Indians on the bus and I learned from the two men sitting behind us this was one family, mostly from New York and New Jersey, 28 people total, traveling together, half on this bus. The other group - the under 40 group - were off on more rigorous activities. It was not a good day for busing in Denali. The bus windows were pretty muddy because the road was so wet. We had to wait a couple of times for rocks to be cleared from the road. But we did get to see a bear in the gully below. Here's a pond off the road near the Teklanika campground.

Although we had a three day pass, Doug’s sleeping back had gotten wet in all the rain and we decided to head home. We stopped to walk the trail along Savage River.

Here's the van after 18 miles of very wet dirt road at the Savage River trailhead. Then off to Talkeetna for dinner at Cafe Michele, which Doug had found in his Rough Guide: Alaska. I’m afraid we’d been depriving him with our camp food. He politely said it was good, but cooking over a campfire takes a while and using the coals has uneven results. Worst of all for Doug, we’d somehow left the salt at home. Not a problem for us, but a serious one for Doug. So here is Doug's dessert at Michele's. [What's wrong with this Cheesecake picture? Well, by size and color, the cheesecake should be the main focus of this picture. But the line of the plate and the lip of the creamer and both point toward the huge cup of coffee pushing the eye in that direction. So the eye is bouncing between the cup and the cheesecake. At least that's how I see it.]

Now J is driving and I’ve pulled out the laptop for the first time on the trip to get this done as we drive into Wasilla and on to Anchorage. It’s just past midnight and pretty much dark. There’s a little patch of sunset to the north where there’s a break in the clouds.

[I'm posting this Thursday morning after having breakfast on the deck. Sleeping bags and tent parts enjoying drying out in the warm Anchorage sunshine. I still am partly in Denali, especially when picking photos for the blog. These mountains and valleys took hundreds of millions of years to come about. What is happening to Ted Stevens seems much less important in that context.]

Denali National Park, Post 2 : Late Sun, Mountain Views

By the time we got our dishes washed and were getting ready for bed, late night sun turned on the green glow on a mountain top above us. The rain seemed over. We made it through the night with no rain and there even appeared to be some clear sky to the west. J got off the bus at Polychrome Pass - all the colors glowing in sunlight - where she bonded with a caribou that walked right up next to her.

Doug and I went on. We rounded a bend - I forget which pass - and there were both peaks of Denali in front of us. By the time we’d gotten to Eilson, there were some little clouds passing by, but the Mountain was mostly visible. [on the way in - the best pics are in the Pentax still]

This next picture is when we got back to Eilson from Wonder Lake. No more Mountain.

And we’d seen caribou, moose, bear, and sheep. Nothing real close to the road, but close enough to see well through the binoculars. As we got closer to Wonder Lake, the Mountain, in her modesty, added more and more clouds to cover up. By the time we got back to Eilson it was as though there was no mountain there. We’d added beaver, fox, common goldeneye, and white fronted goose to our sightings. And nearing Igloo campground we watched as a nearby golden eagle repeatedly dove after snowshoe hares that scattered below.We also saw a grizzly digging after ground squirrels. One ran off without the bear seeing. The bear's head is in the hole he'd just dug.

By the time we got dinner dishes washed, it was starting to drizzle. During the night the rain was a steady rhythm. Doug knocked on the camper about 7:15 am when the rain had stopped. Whoops, my alarm hadn’t gone off.

Denali National Park, Post 1: Aramark and the Park Service

It's 1:45am on Thursday. We've been home long enough to get most stuff out of the van. I was in the back seat from Talkeetna to Anchorage and after a nap I pulled out the computer and began notes for the Denali trip.

I'm not sure how much of this I'll get written in the end. Probably just short notes in passing.
  • There was the big rain last night at Denali that caused a number of rock slides and slowdown of the buses, but things were cleared up pretty quickly.
  • There's the finicky weather and the luck of the draw as we drove up in rain on Monday afternoon, had some beautiful clear views of the Mountain yesterday when our Wonder Lake bus ride was scheduled, and then it rained again last night and was cloudy and rainy much of our time in the park. Enough so that we came home early because Doug's sleeping back was wet and the forecast was for more rain.
  • And then there's the sense I felt here and there of the lack of communication and coordination between Aramark and the Park Service.
  • And finally, the bus drivers are frustrated and hopeful that Aramark will settle in their favor and they won't have to go out on strike. It's got to happen while the tourists are still here if will have any impact.

But before posting I looked at my email where I get copies of the comments that people posted on the blog. So, Steve Heimel, it was your comment that alerted me to the fact that while I was doing important things at Denali, and consumed by weather and mountains, animals and bus schedules, cooking over coals, and doing lots of catching up with Doug, you all had such mundane things as political indictments. It all seems so boring in comparison. So, here's the first post.

Note: The photos in the next posts will be from my Canon. I grabbed my old Pentax for the trip because I wasn't sure where my battery charger was and my battery was low. It turned up in the car. A major reason why I've become addicted to the digital camera: I still have pictures to take on the roll in my camera, but the digital pics are already on the computer and ready to go. BTW, there are outlets at Eilson where one can stick a battery charger between buses.

We got out of the house before 9am Monday. It was cloudy and cool. The view from mile 135 was of clouds obscuring even the foot hills. You could see the river. Within an hour it was raining hard. Aramark employee at the WAC (Wilderness Access Center) gave us a handwritten note to put on our dashboard to show we had reservations at Teklanika (and so could drive to the campground) and a printed paper to put up at the campground.

Reservations for Discovery Hikes had to be made at the Visitors’ Center (Park Service, not contract Aramark employees.) There was only one place left on the Wednesday hike (Tuesday we were scheduled on the Wonder Lake bus) so we signed up Doug. We were given a paper that confirmed the booking and were told we had to go back to the WAC to pay. What? After some questioning back and forth, the young man serving us asked someone else, who quickly ascertained that we already had TEK passes and didn’t need to do anything more.

If you camp at Teklanika Campground (mile 30 of the road in the park) you have to reserve for three nights. You can get a one day bus pass for the park with a reservation for a specific bus on your first full day. After that you can use the pass on a space available basis anywhere after mile 30. They call this special bus pass a Tek pass. When we made the reservation, I understood the person to say it was good for the next two days. But when we got there our campground host said, no, only for the second day. Since we left on the second day, we didn't test it. The drivers really didn't ask to see the passes inside the park.

At mile 12 at the end of the paved road at Savage River. you get to the stop where you can’t go any further in a car unless you have a campground reservation at Teklanika. The ranger there looked at the handwritten note in our windshield and asked if we had a green card. No, that was what they gave us. Do you have the campground paper? That we had, so the ranger took the windshiled note into the little booth and soon came back with a green printed card to put into our windshield with our dates. The Aramark employees at the WAC were supposed to give us the green card.

This was our first sign of conflict between the contractors - Aramark and Doyon - and the Park Service employees. When we left today, a day early, I told the campground hosts we were leaving early so they could notify the reservations people that there would be an extra campground available at Teklanika. When we got to the ranger at Savage River where you exit the permit needed area, the ranger there said we should stop at the WAC and let them know. I said I told the campground hosts. The answer: Yes, but they are Park Service and reservations is Aramark. I'm supposed to go the short road to the WAC, park the car, walk to the building, wait in line because the Park Service and the private contractor can't communicate? Some people want to help out by notifying Park people that they are leaving early, but when they have to give up precious vacation time to do, I suspect most people won't.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Long Life Noodles

Doug biked along for my run this morning and we found a moose with two calves on the Campbell Creek bike trail between the Alaskan Native Medical Center and Lake Otis. We also found some spawning salmon in the creek. We did a little part of the garden tour that had six houses on one street on the hillside then made it to X & WY's for dinner. There were several other folks with China experience and as good Chinese food as you're going get in Anchorage.

And long life noodles for Alex and my belated birthdays. Here's Alex's dad making the noodles. He prepared most of the food. He learned to cook during during the Cultural Revolution when he was sent to Inner Mongolia and was assigned to cook.

Tomorrow morning we head out for Denali. Back on Thursday night, so I expect the blog to be pretty quiet. We had a little sunshine today and are hoping to see a certain mountain tomorrow as we drive north.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Conversation Picks Up 38 Years Later if it were just a couple of days ago. Due to modern technology I was able to see the Anchorage airport arrival schedule on my laptop at home and see that Doug's plane was several hours late. And I could check the Frankfurt airport's departure schedule to see exactly when it left. If anyone wants to practice their German in Anchorage, just go to North terminal when a Condor flight is due. Most of the tour people waiting were speaking German as were most of the arriving passengers. We waited with them for people to come out from Customs through that door on the left of the stairs, or down the stairs.

Doug's napping now and a little disappointed about the rain after I reported the sun out yesterday. And he's been correcting my version of events that he's been reading on the blog. In his version of things, we met at the youth hostel in Amsterdam, not the Heineken brewery, where he says he's never been. And I didn't stay at his flat in London, but rather in the flat of friends of his, since he didn't have a flat in London.

He gave me a copy of Private Eye which bills itself as

Private Eye is the UK's number 1 best-selling news and current affairs magazine edited by Ian Hislop.

It offers a unique blend of humour, social and political observations and investigative journalism.

before heading for bed. I can't imagine a magazine like that selling in the US. It's all words with a few cartoons. I guess they still read in England. The content is a blend of a blog, newspaper, news of the weird, Saturday Night Live.

It's hard to tell from this picture, but it's the size of a normal magazine, but in newsprint. You can double click anyone of these images to enlarge them.

Pebble Mine Goes Digital

Sitemeter is a program that monitors hits to websites. As I was checking last night, I noticed, blinking on the top of the page was an Anti Prop 4 ad. The
Anchorage Daily News just reported

The huge amount of advertising on the proposed law, set for statewide vote on Aug. 26, is creating one of the state's costliest political battles in years.

Preliminary disclosures to the Alaska Public Offices Commission show that supporters and foes of Measure 4 have raised at least $3.6 million so far for their ad campaigns.

And as I went to the ADN site to get the quote I noticed that the same ad is running there. This is one issue that Alaskan voters will need to study.

My initial knee jerk reaction was that we shouldn't trust any company that calls itself "Northern Dynasty." What kind of people call themselves 'dynasty'? But we need to look into what the proposition says. Here's a link to the state election site's version of the Proposition 4.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Salmon and Placinta

We had a great dinner with I, his parents, and grandmothers tonight. Unfortunately, I
is teething so there were a lot of tears interspersed with smiles and showing off his new vocabulary, all in Romanian. Being bi-lingual is a great advantage and they know he's going to be immersed in English soon, so his mom speaks to him just in her mother tongue as does the Grandma visiting now from Moldova.

But Mom's teeth must have been fine as you can see her smiling beautifully through the wine glass.

Grandma N made this placinta - it's filled with cheese and potatoes and kept calling me back.

And when we got home there was an email from Doug - it sounded like his flight to Frankfurt was ok.

Yak and Yeti and Habitat for Humanity

After Potter Marsh yesterday, we had dinner at Yak and Yeti last night. I usually stick pretty close to vegie and fish, but I couldn't resist the lamb curry - and on special occasions I've wandered off the diet. And it was delicious, but my stomach let me know it isn't used to meat afterward. They were very sparing with raita that comes with the curry and rice. The samples at Costco are bigger.

But this is a great addition to the Anchorage restaurant scene. It wasn't as crowded as the last time we were there (that was a winter Saturday night) and so it was much more relaxed.

After we took a walk to work off some of the dinner. We see these interesting new buildings. Obviously apartments or condos.

Then we saw they were Habitat for Humanity homes. Wow! They have a hip urban look. And then I realized that I had seen these when they were first getting built. Sky's dad had brought some young folks up from Juneau to work on them and I had been at the site a couple of times. These look pretty impressive, just off Spenard.

"Each day is like a work of art to him."

This was in a Fresh Air piece this morning. The girlfriend of Philippe Petit was quoted as saying this about the man who tight rope walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The piece was about a new movie - Man on Wire - that is coming out about Petit.

Think about it. Each day is like a work of art. What if we all approached each day thinking of time as a canvas? Each day is ours to make into a work of art. Living as a work of art. Communications with others as a work of art. Walking as a work of art. Simply making creative use of the time, place,and energy we have each day. Changes in weather, health , and the world around us are simply different media with which to experiment and gain new insights about life.

What would your life be like if each morning you lived artistically in whatever you did - cleaning the house, attending a meeting, biking to work, shopping, visiting the dentist, relaxing, talking to friends? How can you do these things in ways that are beautiful, create new meaning, cause others to see or feel things they didn't see or feel before?

I think children do this naturally. Why do we lose this?

[See my review and clip from the film.]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Patronizing Businesses With Political Posters

So, what do you think? If you see a business that has a poster for a candidate that you are opposed to, does it cause you to go to another store or do you just go in and shop anyway? What if it is a candidate you favor? Do you buy more? Would you go to a new store because they support your candidate?

Ideally, we should be able to treat our fellow citizens the same no matter which candidate they favor. But when the political divide gets wider and wider, and rhetoric gets hotter and hotter, I can't help but wonder whether the money I would spend in the store might not end up supporting candidates I oppose.

Would it be better if they left the sign off? Then they still might use my payments to support candidates I oppose, but I wouldn't know. (Well I could look at the APOC reports.) Does posting a sign on your business constitute an in-kind donation? What if Conoco-Phillips put a huge banner down the side of their building?

I remember once asking the owner of an ethnic restaurant about the large poster of a candidate in the window. "The candidate eats here often and asked to put it up. We couldn't say no." Notice how skillfully the owner did not tell me if they supported the candidate or not.

Do such posters help a candidate? Do yard signs help a candidate? I would gess they do help persuade the undecideds. If you see lots of signs, especially if you know and respect the people whose yards they are in, you get a feeling that this person has widespread support. Especially if you want to fit in, be like everyone else. But some people may be turned off by the signs, especially if they are put up illegally.* (See below) I tried finding some articles on this, but didn't come up with anything recent. I guess people just assume it works.

For people who feel strongly against a candidate, seeing that candidate's poster in the window of a store they are about to enter, surely has to cause them to pause. Do you tell the owner why or just leave quietly?

The owner has the right to express his or her opinion. Is not shopping at a store that posts a sign for the candidate you dislike a political boycott? I think that going seeking the information about which candidates which business owners support and then telling people to avoid those businesses moves more into the boycott territory. Customers have a right to shop there or not. Business owners can support candidates many ways. If they want to post signs at their business, they have to consider the possible impact on their business.

But I do think the restaurant owner I mentioned above could have declined, saying that they didn't want to offend potential customers by having any political signs. They could then offer to have a sign at their house if they did support the candidate. Or, conversely, they could also allow the opponent to post a sign, though the opponent would probably assume they support the other candidate and wouldn't ask.

*While trying to get some information for this post I did find this about putting signs on roadways from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities:

1. Campaign signs placed within the State’s road and highway rights-of-way are deemed unauthorized encroachments under AS 19.25.200 – 19.25.250 and will be removed by DOT crews without notification. Vehicles parked in rights-of-way that are used to display political advertisements are also prohibited and subject to removal. Political campaign signs are considered outdoor advertising.

2. AS 19.25.105(a) states, “Outdoor advertising may not be erected or maintained within 660 feet of the nearest edge of the right-of-way…” This section deals with advertising outside the corridor, but also addresses advertising that maybe placed within the corridor on bus benches or trash receptacles. If the sign is on private property, DOT must provide a 30-day written notice of removal to the sign owner and property owner.

Potter Marsh New Boardwalk

We kidnapped a friend from his office today and took him with us to check out the new Potter Marsh Boardwalk. When you go to the boardwalk from the parking lot, you turn left (right to the old boardwalk) and you walk further into the marsh and away from the highway.

The boardwalk is much higher above the marsh than the old one and shakes with relatively little motion. At one point about seven people were standing at the end of the new boardwalk, none walking, no one near us walking, and the boardwalk swayed.

We didn't see a lot of bird life. We were there about 3pm. We saw a couple of grebes, a whole family of Canada geese, and lots of swallows.

But there were salmon coming through the large pipes under the highway. Without a polarizing filter it was hard to see them through the camera, but if you look really carefully you can see one or two.

Lufthansa Strke - Turning the Unexpected Obstacle into an Adventure

Our visitor is due Saturday at 11:30am on the Condor flight from Frankfurt. The idea of a non-stop flight from Europe to Anchorage sounded great back when he was booking. But today he forwarded the following email he just got:

> Sehr geehrte Gaeste,
> bei einem eventuellen Streik des Lufthansa Bodenpersonals empfehlen wir
> Condor Gaesten, die einen innerdeutschen Lufthansa Zubringerflug nach/von
> Frankfurt gebucht haben, die Bahn-Anreise nach/ab Frankfurt. Der
> Flugschein nach/ab Frankfurt kann als Zug - Fahrschein genutzt werden.
> Wir bedauern eventuelle Unannehmlichkeiten.
> Ihr Condor Team
> Dear Passengers,
> Due to a possible strike of Lufthansa airport personnel, it is
> recommended
> that Condor passengers with a booked Lufthansa connecting Flight within
> Germany to/from Frankfurt, take the train to/from Frankfurt.
> The flight coupon will be honored as a train ticket.
> We apologize for any inconveniences.
> Your Condor Team.

He also wrote that the trains from London to Frankfurt are full until July 31.

Meanwhile the bus drivers in Denali have also voted to authorize a strike.

One way or the other this will work out. We used to tell our son, the year we lived in Washington DC and we went on weekend trips to see the sights and he said he didn't want to go: "You're only seven. We can't leave you home alone. You have to go. So, you can choose to have a terrible time or you can choose to have a good time. It's up to you. But, if you choose to be miserable, you may NOT make the trip miserable for the rest of us." He usually ended up having a good time.

So Doug can fret each step of his trip, or he can let it all go, and do what he needs to do and then observe the whole thing like he might a tv show about an airline strike and how everyone copes. I hope he can do the latter. This is a vacation, he isn't being airlifted out to have a premature baby like Sky's mom. It'll be ok. And maybe the rain will be gone when he finally gets here.

Easy for me to say, I just have to sit and wait for him to arrive.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Happy Birthday Moni, Ropi, and Alex

Today's a big day for birthdays. My daughter's, Hungarian blogger Ropi's, and family friend's Alex.

In addition I want to thank my wife for the greatest birthday present I ever got, my daughter.

Things People Search

Here's my latest of collection of search terms that got people to this blog:

  • turning wife over to sexual demonic powers (Columbus Georgia)
    No comment - I think this got to the post on Eliot Spitzer
  • i know my first name is steven (from, a Norwegian search engine)
    This turned out to be the title of a movie about a seven year old boy who was kidnapped, but it has a lot of words in common with What Do I know?
  • how to tell if people dont like you (san diego)
  • what do birds have in common
    With what? This got to post on ten common birds of Chiang Mai
  • how to get ready for a dentist appointment in 1 day (Tennessee)
  • western union, little india
    Sometimes people get exactly what (it would appear) they want.
    This got to this picture of the Western Union shop in Little India, Singapore
  • interesting cow parsnip facts
    And they got to a long post with pictures and links on cow parsnips
  • motor vehicle called hummer (from Malawi using Eng us)
    They got a picture of Senator Lyman Hoffman's Hummer
  • charity ceo "reporting unethical behavior" (Chicago)
    doesn't sound good
  • instructions for life
    That's a pretty ambitious request. They got Victor Lebow, then went on to Buddhism
  • what do you do when the company act unethical
    another person with a real problem
  • land hidden above alaska
    let me know if you find it
  • preparation for porn
    I'm embarrassed to say What Do I Know showed up as #1 out of about 14 million hits for this one. They got something on Anchorage's Soapscum porn - theater production. I guess there aren't many posts that have "porn" and "preparation" in them together. By the way, that post has what used to be the most popular picture that people got through Google Images.
  • how do they get you brain out when your dead
    This got them to the post on Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. BTW, I was getting enough queries for a while about how the name came about, I added a bit at the top of the post guiding people to Siberart's comment explaining it.
  • "[Alaska Politician Name]" "[relative]" gay
    I hope this was a gay rights group just trying to make a connection, but rather doubt it
  • unethical to take lower bids (Commonwealth of Kentucky Dept. of Information Syst)
    It's usually unethical to take higher bids. They got to the post on whether it was ethical for legislators to get discounts at the Baranof Hotel
  • names of people for unclaimed money from chugach electric for year 1988
    My post on the Chugach list had links to get all the names. I hope they got some money. There were a few that were looking for that list.
  • people that are not famous and born on december 10 200
    The post on famous people born in 1908 is one of the most popular (after Victor Lebow), and people get there looking for all sorts of dates, but this is the first one looking for people who were NOT famous.
  • victor tile shop in jaipur
    Well, I have a post on Victor Lebow and another one about a shop in Jaipur (India). I think these folks got the shop, but not a tile shop.
  • what's the difference between english and french weather (London)
    The first four words got them to the post on the difference between a hurricanes, cyclone, typhoon, and tornado?.
  • palin's new ethics commissioner is a fraud
    Do we have an ethics commissioner?
  • i now how to do chinse staircase but i do not now how to start it
    I had to look this up. It appears that a Chinese staircase is a stitch for what I would have called a lanyard. At you can see one.
  • soap petrol tank
    This was a story about what I thought was a pretty obscure solution to a leaky gas tank. It never occurred to me that I'd have three or four people searching using these words.
And for those wondering what picture gets the most hits now, it's the Burmese dragon tattoo.

Falling Rain

The summer's most eagerly awaited sequel is now here. The end of the epic trilogy that began with Falling Leaves, then Falling Snow, is now at hand with the climactic Falling Rain.

I guess Doug, we won't be able to say, "Gee the weather was great until you got here." Actually, I'm working on squeezing out the last drops before you get here.

Palin and Monegan - What’s it all mean?

I don’t have any more facts than the rest of you who read the newspaper. Well, maybe a few insights from people who know the players, but not much. But I do know something about administration and human resources. The ADN's editorial this morning (there were also not one, but two different front page stories on the topic) called for an investigation of the Monegan firing:

The big question is whether Monegan was fired for not doing the Palins' bidding and firing Trooper Wooten. If so, that would be an abuse of office.

I'd argue that we need to separate the issues better. There are, it seems to me, two key issues.

1. The firing. This happened. Everyone agrees. It is important to remember that a Commissioner serves at the pleasure of the Governor. The Governor need not give any reason for the firing. Commissioners are not regular civil service positions that have protections against arbitrary terminations. These kinds of protections for career civil servants are there so public administrators are protected from arbitrary termination without cause. Ideally, this allows public administrators to do the right thing despite pressure to do some shady deal for a boss.

But the higher ranks are exempt from those protections. These are known as political appointees. The rationale for these folks is that a new politician needs to have people loyal to her vision of how things should be, to the platform she was voted in to carry out. But if a governor (or mayor or president) no longer trusts or is comfortable with a political appointee, there are no legal impediments to instant termination. There may be political consequences, but there are no legal violations.

To call for an investigation of the firing of Monegan is a waste of time and money. What she did was legal and was her right. What can the result of the investigation be? Nothing.

2. Pressuring the Commissioner to fire someone for personal reasons.

On this the facts are in dispute. We don't know exactly what happened and the players disagree. In a previous post on whether it was ok for legislators to get discounts from the Baranof Hotel during the special session. I raised two key ethical problems for public officials - undue gain and improper influence. Improper influence occurs when someone takes criteria into consideration that are outside the normal process for making a consideration. The Department of Public Safety has a union contract with its troopers that spells out the steps for terminating a trooper.
When it becomes necessary for the Employer to initiate disciplinary actions against any member for just cause, such actions shall be administered in a fair and impartial
manner, with due regard for the circumstances of the individual case. (p. 19)
If attempts were made to cause the Governor's ex-brother-in-law to be terminated that were outside of this process, then we could be getting into improper influence issues.

Undue gain happens when someone gets, through use of their position, something that they are not qualified to get. In many ethics laws, this usually means something of value was exchanged. Doing harm to an enemy fits into this, certainly in the public's mind.

But let's look at some of the possibilities:
  • What can a sitting governor say or not say to her commissioners?
    • If a Governor hears of a wrong doing by a state trooper that was not a relation, would anyone complain if she mentioned it to the Commissioner and asked that he look into it? I think not.
    • If the Governor herself feels harassed or sees questionable behavior by a trooper and mentions this to the Commissioner, would that be a problem? Again, I think not.
      Both of these situations would involve the Commissioner, rather than the Governor reporting to the individual trooper's supervisor. But we expect the Commissioner to be aware of what is happening in the organization and he could pass the tip on to the supervisor.
    • If a member of the Governor's family is a trooper and the Governor has issues with his behavior, can she mention it to the Commissioner? She could be accused of covering it up if she didn't.
    • And finally, the case at hand, if the ex-husband of the Governor's sister is a trooper and the Governor thinks his behavior raises questions about his fitness as a trooper, can she mention this to the Commissioner?
It is clear, that if the Governor lied to get the trooper fired from his job hoping this would jeopardize her ex-brother-in-law's custody of her sister's children, that this would be a problem. But, if she really believed that he was unfit to be a trooper because of behavior she witnessed or heard about, is telling the Commissioner about it improper influence? In the context of what is done all the time, I would say no. In terms of a perfect world where no one ever was in a gray area, it would be a problem. One also has to wonder why someone would want to jeopardize child support payments by getting him fired. But it does appear that the Heath family thought this trooper was not fit to be a trooper.

But we don't know the facts - whether her concern about his fitness was genuine or whether this was an emotional reaction against the man who she perceives as doing her sister wrong. And from what we're learning about the trooper, he's no gem either.

  • Is the Governor responsible for what her relatives say to the Commissioner?
    • If she told them to go tell him and this can be proven, then yes.
    • If she said something like, "Do what you want, but don't involve me" probably yes.
    • If she said , "Don't do it," but they did it anyway, probably no.
  • Is the Governor responsible for what her subordinates say to the Commissioner?
    • If they say it on her behalf, at her behest? Yes.
    • If they say it without telling her and she notifies the Commissioner as soon as she finds out, I think not.
  • What does pressure mean?
    • The Governor says she never pressured the Commissioner. The Commissioner says she did. "Pressure" I would argue here is in the eye of the beholder. But like all things, the word "pressure" means different things to different people. There's probably a continuum from "offhand comment" to "threaten with a gun". I suspect that the Governor and the Commissioner would mark the spot where 'pressure' sits on that continuum in different places. She may think she just mentioned it to him. He may think that when the Governor mentions something, it is always more than idle chit chat.
    • Again, we don't know what she said. If we had a tape, we could play it and let people vote whether it fits their idea of pressure. We know she didn't say anything like, "You fire that guy or else" or anything even remotely close to that. If she had, then Monegan wouldn't have been so surprised when he was fired.
  • What might be the outcome of an investigation?
    • The investigators find clear proof that the Governor used her position to pressure Monegan to fire the brother-in-law.
    • They don't find clear proof.
  • If they find clear proof, what can they do?
    • This hardly seems something that we would impeach a Governor over, especially when her popularity ratings are much higher than the legislators' ratings. If Bush can authorize torture, manufacture excuses to get into Iraq, and on and on without there being impeachment proceedings, then this option is going nowhere.
    • There could be a vote of censure
    • They could end up doing nothing
  • Who wins and who loses here?
    • Winners
      • people who don't like the governor - they get the satisfaction of seeing her embarrassed and her golden glow tarnished a bit
      • people who might benefit from the Governor being weakened
        • The Oil Producers - AGIA passed last night in the House, but as John Coghill said when urging people to vote for the bill, there are no winners yet, we're just a little closer and we have a little more information. There is still a lot of negotiation to do. This still has the Senate vote and a weaker Governor can't negotiate as hard
        • Sean Parnell's political opponents - He's been closely linked to Palin. If damage to her rubs off on him, then that helps Don Young in the primary. If Parnell beats Young in the primary, it helps Berkowitz or Benson, whoever wins the Democratic nomination. If this causes Parnell to lose to Young, this would also help the Democrats who believe they have a better chance against Young than Parnell.
      • the legislature - they've been unable to stand up against Palin's popularity; if that lessens, then they gain
    • Who loses?
      • The Governor
      • The Lt. Gov and US house candidate Sean Parnell
      • The people of Alaska
        • The time and money spent on this by whoever investigates
        • The spiritual loss when people find out she's not superwoman
      • The National Republican Party as they watch what they've billed as a rising political star
I'm sure others can add more people I've forgotten

Ultimately, as I think the chess pieces several moves ahead to see where this might go, I see much ado about nothing. This wouldn't have been a blip on the Alaska political scene five years ago, but then neither was buying votes outright. But unless there's evidence she strong armed Monegan, it is highly unlikely anything will come from this investigation beyond "he said, she said." In the end I think it will be the difference between their interpretations of "pressure."

This did not cause the Governor to lose the AGIA vote, but the timing of this was terrible. Her opposition didn't make up this issue just before the AGIA vote. She created it by firing Monegan. If she thought she'd done anything wrong, surely she would have waited until after the AGIA vote to fire him . But given we've seen several politicians sent to prison for things they think were ok, that isn't a foolproof argument either. Or maybe she's lived in such a positive publicity bubble for so long that she thinks she can't do wrong.

Part of me would like to see the ethical bar raised a little further. So an investigation would cause people to think more carefully about all their conversations. Another part of me thinks that we have to let governors and legislators have a sense of freedom of thought and speech that doesn't cause them to say nothing for fear of violating something.

One way out of this would be for the Governor to acknowledge that ex parte communications with a Commissioner for personal family gain is totally inappropriate and that she knows that and wouldn't do that. However, she has come to realize from this whole discussion that as Governor, perhaps people weigh her words much more heavily than they did when she was just Sarah Palin from Wasilla. So, what she thought was merely casual communication may have been interpreted as pressure by the Commissioner.

Now, let's get back to work solving the trooper shortage, alcohol problems, finding more and diverse energy sources, and on and on.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

24 yeas - 16 Neas - AGIA Passes

AGIA yes.

There was a call for reconsideration and the vote changed to 28 yeas 12 nays.

AGIA Hearings On-Line Now

You can listen to the legislator is debating AGIA still now this evening. You can watch or listen here:

click on watch or listen. You can use windows media player.

They should be voting before they go home tonight, unless the anti folks stall this long enough to prevent a vote.

7:09 - Recessed until 8:15pm

8:20 - People are back in the chambers, but the sound is background music. They aren't back in session yet

8:26pm - they are back on - Rep. Samuels

8:33pm - Rep.Ralph Samuels has gone through all the failed business projects that the State of Alaska has invested in. Now he's saying that Trans Canada's interests are only to take care of their shareholders. They have no interest in our State Interests. Trans Canada needs the gas in their hub. We're going to guarantee them a price in their hub instead of negotiating them on the cost of the gas.

It would be interesting to make a list of the predictions these legislators are making so we could see who was right down the line.

Samuels: The oil companies are making business decisions and we're making a political decision. Time is on our side now. We can wait. No customers, No Credit, No pipeline.

Gardner: I want to clarify. Eagle River rep said TC will go to the FERC and try to get the highest price they can, but so will all the others.

Seaton: Some are forgetting why we're in this position we're in now. We could see declining oil production that would lead to huge budget gap in a few years. We have money now because of high oil prices. The probability is that oil prices will fall back down and before we get a project going we'll be looking at budget deficits. So were here. Stranded Gas Act problem was that we had to prove it was stranded. The process we're in got us around that big hurdle. We now have a licensee who guarantees...??? ...we don't have to prove anything.
What is the difference between AGIA application and DEnali? The must haves: Denali people didn't like the must haves. They put them in their powerpoint, but when we asked them here, if they would commit to expand if there was nominated gas, etc. He said no we can't do that - goes back to owners - Conoco and BP. That's the point that makes the most difference to us. Why would C and BP say they want to spend all this money to ship someone else's gas? They wouldn't. Of all we talked about the only thing that was different - they didn't want an open pipeline and rolled in rates. These companies are shipping every day in Canada that have rolled in rates. What's the difference between ehre and Canda? Ak has the upstream. We'd be left with a monopoly pipeline producer group. That's why we're here - the must haves.

Cissna: I wasn't going to talk, but I've had so much time I wrote a long speech. One of my early Alaska jobs was working for an independent oil company and got to learn about oil companies very well. What I learned - saw the huge power of people who came to the state. These huge multinational corporations saw us as tiny weak player. That was 40 years ago. That power was nothing then. Also, see how Alaskans have grown more and more dependent on oil and federal money and separation of government and the people. We've become like dependent people do. We don't see the choices we could make, we got locked into how things are. What I see with AGIA - we have many issues going down hill as we focus on one thing - our relationship with these multinational corps. AGIA brings a card into the picture. It makes a statement about our being sovereign. ARe there problems? I gotta tell you. We have huge problems no matter because Alaska is very small. AGIA gives us one card that we can play here. We have a chance to really take some control. I think this is the chance to do something really good for the state.

Coghill wrap up.

Vote coming up 8:49pm

Rep. Coghill - let me tell you why I'm going against some of my friends and for AGIA. Over the years we've had oils. We've given out leases. Those who got the leases were the winners. Our life has been prosperous because of those leases. We picked some winners to do those leases and we began.
Here we find ourselves again with those leases not being produced. Timing and econonocs paly a big role.
When we put out the rfa based on conditions we set up. If nobody showed up - I would have said, a competitive process, we asked too much. But Trans Canada showed up. We picked the winner based on the application process we put forward. Is that picking a winner? As far as TC and their credibility? Yes. But getting it all done? No, because no gas going to market. We're picking someone who will work with us to get us to market. We have to pick a partner. we're defining who's at the table and what they look like. Aligns 1) what we think the state should have getting the oil to market. 2) gets us lined up with a pipeline dealer who knows how to do this.
Some people called this buying something. It has costs and rewards. Rewards for us, knowing what it will cost to get our gas to market at reasonable terms. Negotiating complete? No. STill have to find alignment. I think our case stronger knowing who the pipeline builder is and how they get to their costs. Or we could wait for the producers who have their leasers - owners of lease, of oil, of pipe - going before FERC. Who are we then? We aren't surrendering our ability to tax etc. - we know at least one part of what's going to hapen is agreed upon. That's good. ARe we getting at tax deal right away? I don't think so. Still under negotation. If you go in under position of strength, you have a little more....
Some people spoke elequently about why we shouldn't own it - and some spoke eloquently against owning. This just gives us a good partner that helps us understand things we don't know. This forces information out into the open. Should they walk out because it wouldn't work with us, we get the work project so we can see all the costs. It might be worth it for us to walk out sometime. But not looking for way out. How do we get the parties lined up to get Alaska guys sold for value beneficual to us, the oil companies, the pipeline, and the customers. There may be better ways to do this, but this is the best we have available.
Through a competitive process we got ourselves a good partner who can help us get that alignment we need to be successful. I hope you join me in granting this license so we can go together in a certain timeline with a certain product for the benefit of Alaska.

Voting now

Sky's Family Flies Home to Juneau

Sky's little sister got the ok to leave the hospital today. Everyone was happy. Here Dad shows her off after having fed the baby while Mom is packing her stuff.

After finishing the bottle, she looks pretty contented.

And after getting outside for the first time in her life, she also had her first car ride. First to our house, then a second ride to the airport and home to Juneau.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Short Hatcher Pass Walk Before Blogger Fundraiser

There was a party in Wasilla to help raise money to send the official Alaska blogger representative to the Democratic Party - Linda at Celtic Diva who invited Alaska Real to join her. Since we were going to drive all the way out to the Valley, we decided to go a little early and get some quality nature time in Hatcher Pass, one of my faorite spots.

Naturally we left much later than we planned, but we got a little time lazing on the rocks at the main river and then went for a short hike.

There were lots of flowers out, including this monks hood.

Everything was so lush and green. Who could landscape something this amazing?

Labrador tea.

Blue bells

Near the top we found flowering skunk cabbage.

Looking back down and across the valley.

We crossed a short bridge.

Cow Parsnips

Wild delphiniums

Green, lush, thick green, wherever you looked.

Except for the dots of color of the flowers - wild roses here.

A fiddlehead fern just budding - ready for picking and eating.

By the time we got to the fundraiser, I had used up my need to take pictures. I figure there were enough other bloggers there to document the event. But there were many luscious looking cakes for auction. This is the least ymmy looking, but I couldn't resist the interesting color coordination.

And when we made it back to Anchorage, I couldn't resist this shot of the rainbow welcoming us home.