Sunday, January 31, 2010

Alaska House Dems Want More Info On Pricewaterhouse Data Breach

All of the House Democrats* have written a letter questioning the Department of Law on the State's handling of the PricewaterhouseCoopers  breach of the TRS** and PERS** data bases.  They wrote (in part): 
 Under AS 45.48 the Personal Information Protection Act, PricewaterhouseCoopers is required to immediately notify every person who may be affected by the security breach by a written document mailed to the most current address or by electronic means.  We have the following questions:
  • Is PricewaterhouseCoopers fully complying with the law?
  • Has the state waived any requirements under AS 45.48 for PricewaterhouseCoopers?
  • What does PricewaterhouseCoopers need to do to comply in full with AS 45.48?
  • When did PricewaterhouseCoopers lose the data and when did it know of the loss?
  • When and how did the state learn about the lost data?
  • What are the details of this settlement?  Will the settlement document be made public?

A not-so-subtle point in all this is the difference between 'agreed to' and 'are required by law to'.   One paints the company as volunteering to do all these things out of the goodness of their corporate hearts (since corporations are constitutionally people, I guess they have hearts too right?).  The other shows the company doing what they are required by law (and... no more?  no less?)  

According to Dermot Cole's Fairbanks NewsMiner piece, the most complete media coverage I can find on the breach,
" In early December, PricewaterhouseCoopers discovered that the information was missing."
I looked up AS 45.48 and searched for the word 'immediately.'  It only showed up once:

Sec. 45.48.070. Treatment of certain breaches.
(a) If a breach of the security of the information system containing personal information on a state resident that is maintained by an information recipient occurs, the information recipient is not required to comply with AS 45.48.010 - 45.48.030. However, immediately after the information recipient discovers the breach, the information recipient shall notify the information distributor who owns the personal information or who licensed the use of the personal information to the information recipient about the breach and cooperate with the information distributor as necessary to allow the information distributor to comply with (b) of this section. In this subsection, "cooperate" means sharing with the information distributor information relevant to the breach, except for confidential business information or trade secrets. (emphasis added)

This has too much jargon for me to jump to any conclusions on a Sunday afternoon when I can't get an attorney to help me interpret this.  But assuming that PricewaterhouseCoopers is indeed an 'information recipient,' I would be concerned about their interpretation of 'immediately' given they are reported to have discovered the breach in 'early December' 2009 and notified the State of Alaska in late January 2010.

Were they spending all that time trying to decide how much they wanted to cooperate?

Another wrinkle in all this is the fact that PricewaterhouseCoopers had the data because they were analyzing it as part of the state’s lawsuit against Mercer. From the  New York Times:
The lawsuit says that Mercer’s mistakes hindered the ability of Alaska’s retirement system to meet its obligations to former public employees. . .
That Mercer erred in its calculations is bad enough — getting such details right, after all, is what the firm advertises as its stock in trade.
But an even bigger grenade dropped earlier this year when the Alaska board, citing depositions of Mercer employees, contended that company executives had known about the actuaries’ errors and covered them up.
If Alaska prevails in court, it could entitle the retirement system to punitive as well as treble damages.
Mercer, with 4,000 employees in 150 offices around the world, concedes that the Alaska case is a threat. In its usual corporate filings, a brief discussion of the case heads a list of risks facing Marsh. It also notes that it has “limited” insurance to cover the costs of an adverse outcome.

 Given that the PricewaterhouseCoopers is working with the State in the lawsuit, perhaps the State worded the document because
  • they have developed a close relationship with their consultants and felt that PW was well intentioned and/or 
  • they want to make sure that they continue to be a good partner as the case progresses through the court system.
Of course, because I can only come up, quickly, with two logical options doesn't mean there aren't others.  I haven’t spoken to the anyone from the state so this is all simply speculation. 

*  There are a couple more (rural) Democrats who have joined the Republican majority, presumably because they feel they can secure more resources for their constituents that way.

**Teachers Retirement System and Personnel Retirement System

Juneau Symphony Performs Co-Sponsored Clarinet Concerto

I’m in no way a music critic.  I know if I liked it or didn’t and can only tell you why in the most general way.  So I’m just reporting that we went to hear the Juneau Symphony.  For the record, one of the tickets we had was a freebie given to a legislator who gave it to me.  I’m not making an editorial comment here.  I did use the ticket so I obviously don’t think it’s unethical, though I do wonder what the cumulative impact is.  Still pondering this.  But as a new comer here, I’m reporting things I think are interesting.   My wife, who’s been taking the bus to get places outside the downtown area, thinks the Juneau transit should give free bus passes to legislators so they can see a different side of Juneau and talk to people they don’t usually talk to.  We paid the full $22 for the second ticket. 

The concert was in Juneau Douglas High School’s auditorium. It was a busy night at the high school, with two basketball games and then the homecoming dance. The Symphony cut the intermission short in hopes of getting the concert done before the music of the dance seeped into the concert hall.  And, for the record, we didn’t hear any dance music until the last notes of Dvorák were over. 

What made the concert particularly interesting was the Alaska premiere of Lowell Liebermann’s Clarinet Concerto with guest clarinet soloist Jon  Manasse, who spoke about the piece with conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett before the performance.  There’s a snippet of the conversation on the video.

The program note on the Clarinet Concerto, written by the composer says:

The Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op.110  was written for clarinetist Jon Manasse, and commissioned by a consortium of orchestras, and organizations composed of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Bozeman, Juneau, Las Cruces, North State (CA), and Roanoke symphony orchestras, Erie and Evansville philharmonic orchestras, The Chappaqua Orchestra, Hanson Institute for American Music at the Eastman School of Music, Buffet Crampon USA, Vandoren Paris, River Concert SEries at ST. Mary’s College of Maryland & The Chesapeake Orchestra and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The model of a number of small groups and communities grouping together to do something that none of them could do alone is one that probably could well be used for a lot of other projects. 

It was a good evening, I enjoyed the music, and there were parts of the new piece that particularly appealed.  I had a sense of water in many spots and I liked the way the orchestra and the soloist were so closely connected.  But a friend with us talked about how beautifully the piccolo dueted with the clarinet and how good the first french horn was, but that was way beyond my abilities to discern the subtleties.   (The symphony picture was while they were tuning up.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Juneau Douglas City Musuem

 I stopped in the City Museum last week and wanted to share a little peek. 

The museum is between the Capitol (the big brick building on the right) and the State Office Building (where I took the picture from.)  It's that yellowish building. 

The current exhibit had the kind of work I tend to like, though I got the sense that the volunteer who showed me around was less enthusiastic.  Bright colors, whimsical messing around with reality.  Challenging how people think about things.  By local artist Dan DeRoux.  


The upcoming exhibit is called 12X12 and anyone can enter.  But whatever you do has to be the dimensions of 12 inches X 12 inches.  You can even add a third dimension, but it has to be 12 inches too.

And as this was being explained, local artist Dianne Anderson (I think that's right, but I may have gotten it wrong) was registering - entry fee is $12.12 - and dropping off her entry. 

There was also this big picture by the door and Dianne explained to me it had been in the Holy Trinity Church, which burned down in 2006 and has been rebuilt and is ready for opening soon.  This picture (and a couple of others) had been sent Outside for cleaning and so were saved from the fire.  They are resting in the museum until the church opens.  I'd like to tell you that I did the reflection for effect - except the effect is terrible.  But you can get a sense of the picture.  There was no place I could stand without getting lots of reflection.  And my powershot doesn't have a polarizing  filter. 

We met a friend at the museum today and then went to lunch.  But while we were there I saw this picture of Joseph Juneau, Juneau's namesake.  So I thought it worthy of posting.  The Joseph Juneau link is to, and it says he's in the Evergreen Cemetery here, so you can expect to see a picture of his grave if I find it.  

There's also historic stuff in the museum and a giant topographical model of the Juneau area created in 1967.  Expect more some other time. 

Reps. Tuck and Gara Talk Strategy

There was a surprise birthday party for one of Rep. Chris Tuck's (D-Anchorage) staffers late Friday afternoon.  That's her leaning out of the doorway on the left.   Speaking of staffers, there is one known for his bow-tie wearing and practical jokes.  When I poked my head into my old office to say hi, he was blacking out a small piece of scotch tape.  I had no idea what he was up to, but later I saw Ted on the floor under the desk checking the connections on his computer.  Turns out PJ (Practical Joker) had put the tape over the sensor on Ted's mouse so it wasn't working.  I mention this just to let you know that while the staff do work hard, they also can be silly.  But I won't talk about these practical jokes any more because I don't want to encourage him in any way.  Some people get their kicks by making others' lives more difficult.  We need more people who get their kicks by making other people's lives easier.

Anyway, while people were eating birthday cake, I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Rep. Tuck and explain my new role.  I've been doing that a lot in the last couple of days - talking to folks I first met as Rep. G's staffer and letting them know that my new  role is as a blogger.

 Rep. Tuck had seen me introduced, but we'd never actually talked.  He invited me into his office and were talking about my blog and about his projects when Rep. Les Gara (D - Anchorage) walked in to talk to Rep. Tuck.  I got up to leave, but Rep. Gara said I could stay.  So I did. And took pictures. 

When they were done I said, "OK, I'm still working out my role here, what can I blog and what not?" 

So, I can tell you that they talked about the budget, they talked about primary education,  about UAA, local Anchorage projects, and Vocational Technical education among other things.

In my short career as a staffer I worked for a Democrat and the House Democrats pretty much know who I am.  I did get to meet some of the Republicans in their offices when Rep. G took me with him to talk about legislation that was coming before the State Affairs Committee.  I don't intend this to be a Democrats only blog.  I'm expecting to show you Republicans as well.

 Speaking of Democrats,
The Alaska Democratic Party Executive and Central Committee meet in Juneau January 29th and 30th. A reception will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, January 29th at the Baranof Hotel, Gastineau Suite.
I did stop by at the reception where I got this picture of two people who grew up in Juneau - Katie Hurley, (who has done many things including being a State Legislator and Chair of the Alaska Commission on the Status of Women and "was the secretary to territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening and chief clerk to the Alaska Constitutional Convention") and Dennis Harris, who's a local writer, musician, activist, and walking encyclopedia of all things Juneau.

Eurydice at Perseverance Theater

This dark stage served as the underground in Perseverance Theater's production of Eurydice Wednesday night.  J and I had planned to go Friday last week until we found out it was in Douglas, 3.5 miles away according to Google Maps. And then I found out all legislators and staff had been invited to a special showing Wednesday. (I was transitioning from staff to blogger that evening.)  And we were able to get a ride over there.  

We'd heard great things about Preservation Theater and ultimately those expectations were fulfilled.  But I have to say the story itself was more like the story in an opera - an excuse for the music and the visual spectacle on stage. 

I like what most consider bizarre electronic music in which the pauses can be as important as the sounds.  The instruments in this play leaned heavily Asian.  The three stones - a sort of zombie-clown costumed chorus - undulated across the stage individually and then collapsed into an intertwined lump as the scene progressed.  They were wonderful.

Two of the stones are on the left of the picture and the third is on the right. 

I was completely absorbed when the father created a room in the underground by wrapping white string around the black frame in the pictures.  It went on for a long time and had a lyrical beauty.  

If a strong narrative is your thing, then you might react like one of the people near me who said, "There were two tragedies tonight, one on the stage and the other was that I had to be there."  But I walked out exhilarated  by the beauty of the visuals and the audios. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Receptions and Lobbyists

One thing I'd heard about Juneau was that there were receptions every night.  After all, I'd been to the Kohring Trial where people talked about him living off of receptions, even taking food home.  But I still wasn't prepared for the reality. Sitting in the office as a staffer, I saw a regular flow of people, from day one, coming by the office to drop off an invitation or information. People from the State Library offered us a folder full of brochures with all the information available for legislators. Non-profit groups left packets. Everyone seems to want to make the legislature aware of their issue.

Staff are generally invited to receptions as well.

One of the biggest receptions is put on by the City of Juneau in Centennial Hall.  It's in a huge room and I think the whole city is invited to this one.  I ran into people from the visitors industry, from the University, and, of course, lots of legislators and their staff and spouses.

The AFL-CIO representing a wide array of unions had its reception at the Baranof Hotel. Democrats and Republicans alike were there grazing the Hors D'oeuvres and taking advantage of the open bar. I talked to one of the union reps about the purpose of spending all this money. I was told, this is a chance for them to talk to politicians who aren't necessarily their supporters.  It's a time  to get into informal conversations, perhaps a little looser because of the booze.  It's a chance for people to get to know each other across party lines.  

Clearly that was happening for me. I bumped into people I knew who introduced me to people I didn't know. Such as Vince Beltrami, the executive president of the Alaska AFL-CIO and the nominal host of the event.

And I got to talk to House Minority leader Beth Kerttula and her husband as well as a lot of other people I probably wouldn't have met without this social gathering.  This was true at other events as well where I got to talk to staffers in much more depth than I'd had a chance during work hours.

And then there was the lunch reception at the Conoco-Phillips office.  The president of Conoco-Phillips Alaska was supposed to be there, but his plane got diverted to Sitka because of poor weather in Juneau. But I got to talk to several of the legislators and staffers. 

Even non-profits put on fancy receptions. Juneau's highly regarded Perseverance Theater invited legislators and their staff to a reception followed by a performance of Eurydice, their current production. (I'll try to post on that soon too.) This was underwritten by ATT Alaska if I understood it right. So, it was a double lobbying reception - for both Perseverance Theater and for ATT whose Alaska President (I think that's who he was) was there.

And lest your image of lobbyists is either sleazy wheeler/dealers or well dressed, liberal spending legislative seducers, I have to say the halls of the Capitol are filled with lobbyists of all sorts. This was the youngest set of lobbyists I saw. They were leaving materials in legislators' offices in support of schools.

I'm not making judgments at this point.  I'm just taking things in and trying to report what I see.  I was a staffer for just about a week and I only went to a few of the many events offered and I didn't think to take pictures at them all. 

Is this basically a good thing that gets people together, builds connections, enables people of different perspectives to talk across the ideological divide, and allows legislators and their staffers to get some quick food in the rush of their work?  Or is this a way people who can afford to put on a bash for the legislature get to impress the people who make the laws at a level beyond what those with smaller bank accounts can do? 

If these social events are important to the legislative process because they stimulate communication, perhaps the State should sponsor them and everyone would have a chance to get in and talk to their elected officials.  (I would say though, that no one at any of these events checked whether I belonged there.  Maybe if I weren't an older white male I wouldn't have been as unchallenged.) 

But why not let private parties who are willing,  pay for these events?  There could be a legislative reception fund that pays for twice-weely receptions. The donors names could be publicly listed.  (The Juneau Douglas City Museum has free admission and each month, a different sponsor's name is posted.)   Somehow I don't think the present party hosts would be that excited about this idea.  And maybe it isn't necessary.  I know I didn't feel personally swayed about anything because someone was feeding me.  I sort of felt, "Well, if they want to do it, I can go see, get some food, and that's that."  But is it that innocent?  Is there some subtle obligation to return the favor hanging out there?   I just don't know.

I suspect I'll touch on this topic again in the next couple of months. 

Fairbanks Legislator's Concerns About Potential Alyeska Move and Some Blogging Guidelines

Walking around the Capitol, stories fly at you from every direction.  The temptation is to just post the easy ones - those that come to you pretty much packaged.

Here's one like that I got from  Rep. Guttenberg (D - Fairbanks) yesterday.  He is concerned about Alyeska’s plans for “consolidation of facilities in Fairbanks with certain jobs possibly being relocated to Anchorage.”  The Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce had a meeting about this to discuss “what this community can do to be more competitive in retaining jobs and attracting future investment from Alyeska.”

[I’m writing this from a couple of pages of email Rep. Guttenberg gave me.  And I asked what I could post and he said it is all public.] In an email the Rep sent out today, he wrote in part (I haven’t edited the message):
“I just wanted to keep in touch regarding the Alyeska move.  It just keeps getting more bizarre every time I hear something.

The information I have gathered from a variety of places reveal that there is no justifiable reason for the move, not financial, safety or logistical.  The internal work Alyeska did for themselves says doesn’t justify it, there is no return on the dollars spent and it will make it harder to respond to situations.  They don’t seem to remember that the pipeline doesn’t run through downtown Anchorage.  An internal email dated November 17, 2009 demands a predetermined outcome:  “The bias needs to be in favor of them working in Anchorage unless there is a compelling business case to the contrary.”  You could give them whatever they wanted and it wouldn’t matter.  From what I understand there has been internal dissent on the move, but it keeps getting overridden at the highest level.”

[Note:  my academic training tells me that I should put [sic] after each typo or grammatical error in a quotation to let the reader know it was in the original and not in my sloppy copying.  But I also know when I read non-academic stuff full of [sic]s that it looks like the writer is being very snooty and pointing out all the mistakes and saying, "But I know better."  That's just how I feel. But I'm also avoiding the temptation to just correct the typos.  But there will be times when the typos may be relevant to judging the source. So I haven't sicked the above email, nor have I corrected the typos.  I'm not sure that's the right decision and I'm not sure it should apply to more formal material (like proposed legislation or documents that go to many people).  So if readers have any strong feelings on this let me know in the comments or email me. ]

Okay. This is where I’m getting on thin ice.  I haven't quite figured out my role - I'm part journalist, part reporter, part diarist, part guide, part royal fool, using the platform of a blog.  I'm not sure where this legislative blogging is going.   I have a general idea that I want to give Alaskans (first, and then others) a sense of what happens here in Juneau when the legislature is in session.  The goal is to make the news reports you hear about the legislature more real because you've seen pictures and videos about the people and places, because you know a little more than their formal facades that show up on the nightly news, because you get a bit deeper into specific bills or specific committees.   And while I will try to be as objective as possible, I'm a person who has a world view, and what I see and hear and write will inevitably be shaped by that world view.  Much of that view is amply displayed in other parts of this blog.  If I'm aware that it's particularly affecting what I'm writing, I'll try to tell you that.

If I leave things out it will be because I've learned something in confidence or because I think my reporting it may have negative political consequences for  someone or something, and/or it might negatively affect my ability to get access to useful information in the future.  (I think that last one means, I may have a good story, but if I post it, it could be my last good story.  So I'd have a short term gain, but a long term big loss.)  I'm discovering the rules as I go along.

But I will follow some basic blogging guidelines:

  1. I will be as objective as possible, attempting to verify important facts.  (In this post, the story itself is Rep. Guttenberg's concern about the Alyeska move.  That's verified.  The information about the details of the move isn't. See number 2.)
  2. I will not feel compelled to always get "the other side of the story."  First, because sometimes there just isn't time and getting the story out is enough to alert others who can track down the rest.  Or I might do it in a later post.   Or the story isn't all that important, it just provides flavor or feel to this experience.  Second, because sometimes there isn't a valid other side.  Sometimes one side is right and the other is wrong and giving them equal time falsely suggests their positions have equal weight.
  3. I will treat people I write about with respect.  If I have a problem with the logic, the assumptions, or the facts of what they say, I should address those specifically, and not make comments about the people themselves.  If I get a strong feeling about someone that seems very relevant, I may consider mentioning it. 
  4. I will avoid gossip about people's private lives.  However, if their personal behavior affects their work as legislators, or is inconsistent with their speech or action as legislators (or staffers), then I may consider it if the story is important or if it helps readers understand the context of what is happening.
  5. I will be reasonably transparent  and reveal relationships I have with people I write about or my (or lack of) experience or knowledge about my subjects so that readers can better judge what I write. 
  6. I will expand this list or amend it as I deal with new and/or unexpected situations.  

[Jay (who asked about my ethical standards covering the legislature in a comment), is this what you had in mind?]

So, readers be warned.  I’m being used here by a legislator to get his issue out in the world.  This is just one piece of information about an issue that ‘s out there.  Minimally, you are now aware that Alyeska is thinking (planning?) to consolidate facilities in Fairbanks and at least one Fairbanks legislator isn’t happy about it.

UPDATE 1pm:  I forgot to put in the picture and the link to Rep. Guttenberg's profile.  They're in now.  All the Reps and Senators have profiles.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sun Still Showing Its Face and Other Bits and Pieces

 When I got up this morning, I was thinking
Sunshine on a cloudy day

 I had a meeting at Rep. Cissna's office.  In the interest
of openness and transparency, I should say that sometime
after she was elected, she decided to take graduate 
public administration classes and was in some of the
classes I taught at UAA.  Here she's talking to staffer
Mike Coumbe.

I stopped in to see a couple more people and then 
headed to the State Office Building (affectionately? 
known as the SOB).  But I decided to stop in the Juneau 
Douglas City Museum which sits between the Capitol 
and the SOB.  I'd passed it a number of times and 
thought I should take a peek.

It's not a big museum, but it has good stuff and I'll
post more about what I saw inside.  Plus I want to
go back. 

 This building sits on the edge of a hill.  On this side
I walk up the steps from the street and enter on the
seventh or eighth floor.

 In the SOB is the State Library where I can sit in peace
and quiet, plug in my macbook, and use their wifi. 

Yesterday (Wednesday) I got a library card and 
immediately  recognized the similarity of the scene  
with a picture I took Sunday. I guess this is 
one of the iconic Juneau images. 

 I got up the previous post (security breach) and was 
working on a security alert for my accounts when the 
power went out in the building.  My backup battery was 
fine,  but the wifi quit.  Some back up lights were on. 
(I heard later that electric companytree trimmers 
dropped a  tree on a power line and blacked out the 
whole city and borough.)  I did discover that the self 
flushing urinals work  in a black out. Must be on the 
generators.   So after an hour I headed home.  But I also 
noted that the gloomy grey from this morning had 
evaporated and that the sun was shining high up on 
Mt. Roberts. From the SOB.  If you look
closely, you can see the tram high up the mountain.

 And as I got home, the snowy peak of Mt. Roberts, seen 
from a different angle, was aglow in sunlight.

A Juneau reader had invited me to a Mudstock, a 
gathering of Mudpuppies - loyal readers and commenters
at the popular Alaska blog Mudflats. So I headed down
to the Silverbow.  They all brought  their little mooses
with them.  They allowed the picture on the condition that
no one was identifiable.  This was at the Silverbow.
I met some interesting folks.

Alaska State Retirement Data Security Breach

Bear with me folks as I figure out how I do this.  I've got a big backlog of things to write about, but slow and deliberate does not reflect the pace in the Capitol Building.  Should I do one long rambling post with lots of stuff?  Or should I do shorter posts which focus on just one topic.  The first, again, reflects how things feel in the Capitol.

In any case, here's something  that came up while I was talking to folks today.  (double click to enlarge)
This memo went out to all State workers.  The Teachers Retirement System and the Personnel Retirement System data bases have been compromised.  Since I'm in the TRS system there's a personal connection for me.  Here's the link to the Price Waterhouse fact sheet.  (It's a pdf file)  If you are in the affected group you should do go to the file right away.  I guess the thing to do is call the three credit reporting agencies.  The information on who to call and what to do are below.  I better go do this myself.  Here are some excerpts from the fact sheet (it's five pages):


Who is affected by the breach?
Participants in the Public Employees’ Retirement System and the Teachers’ Retirement System, who were active or inactive employees, including retirees, in 2003 and 2004. If you are affected by this breach, you will be mailed a notice shortly with more detailed information about the breach, and instructions on how to sign up for free services pursuant to the settlement reached with PwC.
What information was lost?
The lost information contains names, social security numbers and dates of birth.
What should I do now?
You will receive a notice in the next few weeks that describes the protections PwC has agreed to provide to affected Alaskans. This will include free credit monitoring and identity theft protection, or placing a security freeze on your credit report. Details about what these protections entail and how you can sign up for them will be explained in the notice. The notice will also explain how you can make a claim for any damages you may incur if you become an identity theft victim.
In the meantime, there are other steps you can take to protect yourself against identity theft:
1.    You can place a fraud alert on your credit report, even if you have credit monitoring in place. You can contact the three main credit reporting agencies below to place a fraud alert:
Equifax 1-888-766-0008
Experian 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion 1-800-680-7289

A fraud alert will not prevent access to your credit report, but it will alert the reporting agency, and businesses checking on your credit, that your information has been compromised. If you have already placed a security freeze on your credit report, a fraud alert is not necessary.

What are some of the things someone can do with my personal information?
Identity theft occurs in many forms. Here are some of the common ways identity thieves can misuse your information:
New account fraud:    This happens when an identity thief uses your personal information to open up new accounts in your name, but will use a different address. Thus, you may not discover the new account for some time.
Existing account fraud: This occurs when an imposter uses your current account information to commit fraud. You can learn of this kind of fraud by reviewing your monthly account statements.
Debit or check card fraud: This occurs when a thief uses your debit or check card to remove money from your bank account. This is sometimes prevented if your accounts can only be accessed with a PIN, but there are ways to avoid this by making “off line” transactions.
Social Security number fraud: This happens when an imposter uses your SSN to gain employment, for tax reporting purposes, or other illegal transactions.
Criminal Identity Theft: This occurs when a criminal gives another person’s name and personal information during an arrest. If the imposter then fails to appear in court, an arrest warrant can be issued with your name on it!
You can get information about these kinds of identity theft from several online resources, including the FTC’s web site,

Using BASIS: Slow-Moving Vehicle Bill First to Pass 2010 Session

[This post is long and technical.  Think of it as a puzzle to solve.  Or, if you just want to know about the bill skip down to the bottom of the post where you can find the text of the bill and my explanation of what it means.]

BASIS is the Bill Tracking website for the Alaska Legislature.  Like any rich tool, it takes some playing around with to figure out. 

As you can see there's a lot of information available there.  (Click the link above or the picture itself to go there.)

I went to BASIS to get the bill that was first to pass the House on Monday (and then the Senate on Wednesday.)  It was actually introduced last year and is about changing the speed limits for slow moving vehicles and allowing them to cross roads that have a higher speed limit.

I wasn't sure what the bill number was, but I knew it was sponsored by Sen. Stedman in the Senate and Rep. Peggy Wilson (there are two Wilsons now because Tina Wilson was appointed to replace Rep. John Coghill when he moved over to the Senate in October 2009 to replace Sen. Gene Therriault "who become the Parnell administration’s senior policy advisor for Alaska energy.")

So, on the page pictured above, right column, I clicked on "sponsor summary." [Actually I tried a lot of things before I found one that got me where I wanted to go.]  Sponsor Summary gets you to a page that has a list of House and Senate Members.  Stedman is on the right under Senate Members. 

Sponsor Summary - 26th Legislature

House Members

Senate Members


Clicking on Stedman gets you to a page which includes this list of bills on which he was the prime sponsor.  (A Sponsor, according to the legislative glossary (pdf) is:
An individual, individuals, or committee who authors or agrees to introduce a measure.
A prime sponsor is not listed in the glossary, but what I've picked up this week, it's really the person who introduces the bill.  So there can be a Prime Sponsor, whose name is in all caps on the bill, Co-Prime Sponsors (also all caps), and co-sponsors (lower case) who are asked (or who ask) to join in sponsoring a bill. Here's part of that page you get (before I got distracted with defining a prime sponsor) by clicking on Stedman:

Bills Spon/Co-Spon by SMN   [SMN is code for Stedman]

SB 24
SB 25
SB 59
SB 132
SB 164

And there is SB 59 Low-speed Motor Vehicles.  If you click on SB 59 you get a page which includes the following information: 

PASSED Y39 A1 [Passed in the House 39 yes and one abstention]

CROSS SPONSOR(S): P.WILSON[Rep. Wilson sponsored the House version of the bill]

TRANSMITTED TO (S) AS AMENDED [It was sent to the Senate]

VERSION: HCS CSSB 59(TRA) [I think this means: House Committee Substitute, Committee Substitute Senate Bill 59 - in committee after discussion they made changes and replaced the original bills with substitute bills]



CONCUR AM OF (H) Y19 N- E1 [ 19 yes, and I'm not sure about the E, perhaps it means excused absence, but I'll check]


AWAITING TRANSMITTAL TO GOV [Now it's off to the Governor for his signature]

Below is the top of the page you get if you click on HB 59:

If you click on "full text," you get a list of different versions of the bill.

Full Text of SB 59


Amended Name





SB 59
Full Text PDF of bill SB0059A

Full Text PDF of bill SB0059B

CSSB 59(TRA) am
Full Text PDF of bill SB0059C

Full Text PDF of bill SB0059D

  • The first is the original Senate Bill (SB).
  • The second is the Committee Substitute of the original Senate Bill (CSSB). TRA refers to the Transportation committee where this bill was heard.
  • The third is the amended (am) version of CSSB (I'm not spelling this out since I just explained it above.  If you don't remember, go up three lines and look.)  This means the Senate bill came to the House transportation committee (TRA) and they made some changes and so they substituted their new version which in legislative code becomes HCS CSSB 59 (TRA).
  • The fourth is House Committee Substitute (HCS) of the CCSB.

[Note, I think I've got this right, but I've only been studying this political dialect for a week, so I could be missing something.  Trust me, this is much easier than Thai or Chinese. Think of this as a puzzle to solve, like a crossword puzzle or a Suduko.]

So, now, if you click on the last one - which is the final version because it's dated 4/15/09 which was at the end of the 2009 legislative session (the Twenty-Sixth legislature spans two years, 2009 and 2010, so bills introduced last year are still in play this year) and it also has the dates 1/25/10 and 1/27/10.  One of the previous pages - Bills Spon/Co-Spon by SMN -  listed the actions on the bill.  And the last two were in the House and Senate this week when the bill was passed - on 1/25/10 in the House and 1/27/10 in the Senate.   So, we want to click on the last version then, which is the one that was passed on the floors of the House and Senate.

If you click on HCS CSSB 59(TRA)  [Remember?  That's House Committee Substitute of the Committee Substitute of Senate Bill 59 from the Transportation Committee] you'll get a  the wording of the bill.  [You can double click on the bill to enlarge it.  It's in two separate image files, so click them both to enlarge them both.]

 You may be wondering what this is all about and that wouldn't be unreasonable.  If I hadn't sat in Rep. Wilson's office the other day and listened to her explain it, I wouldn't have a clue.  Even so, I took the opportunity today at a reception at lunch to ask her again to explain some of the reasoning behind this.

Someone in Sitka, I believe, bought an electric car in Washington State and brought it home.  Other people in Petersburg got similar cars.  They go up to about 35 miles per hour.  But the Sitka owner had his car souped up a bit so it could go 45 mph.  But the Department of Transportation said the statues prohibit slow-moving vehicles from operating on roads with speed limits over 35 mph.  [The regular type in the bill is the old language and the bold and underline type is the new language.]

So this bill, first, makes it so he can drive his car on roads with a 45 mph speed limit.  But the Department of Transportation, if I remember this right, was opposed to this in the more congested areas of the state where they think it will be more dangerous.  So a lot of that language is to restrict this to smaller communities.  While the people that wanted this were in Petersburg and I think Sitka, where they have some of these vehicles, it would also apply to places like Bethel that is not connected to Anchorage or Fairbanks by the road system.  [I'm not sure why they needed to include both Anchorage AND Fairbanks since they are connected to each other by the road system and thus one or the other would do.]  The 35,000 population is in there to allow this to apply to Juneau.   And finally this only applies where the local government has approved of this. 

Section 2, about the intersection, is in this because in Petersburg, in order to get (I forget exactly where, but someplace they want to go regularly, like the market) they have to cross a highway where the speed limit is 65.  But slow-moving vehicles are not allowed on such roads.  So this bill doesn't let them drive on such roads, but does let them cross them at intersections.

So, that's a primer on using BASIS to track down and read the first bill to pass in the second session (2010) of the Twenty-sixth Alaska Legislature, plus some background on why they used the language they used.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Legislative Blogging Ban Is Over

I'm not sure if that is the best headline, but it's the most positive for this story.  I came to Juneau two weeks ago to be a volunteer staffer in Rep. Max Gruenberg's office.  When I got here I went to two days of staff training.  Then the legislature officially opened the next Tuesday.  It was during training that I learned that there was a problem with my approval as a volunteer.  But at Rep. G's encouragement I started working as a staffer.  People have been extremely welcoming and helpful.  I've been to meetings with my boss in various legislators' offices to discuss pending legislation.  I've also worked hard getting up to speed on bills I was to follow and the State Affairs Committee.  I've been learning how bills get packaged and delivered so they can be discussed in committee and also what the Legislative Research and the Legal Research offices do.  And I've been to a couple of receptions for legislators and staffers after hours.  A lot has happened since we arrived January 13.   

But there was also some significant conflict over the appointment.  The Rules Chair must approve all staff and volunteers and interns. I learned that the Chair had a problem with full time volunteers shortly after I got to Juneau.  Blogging was going to be tricky while working for a legislator in any case, but given the conflict I backed off of legislative blogging altogether until that was settled.  I knew that my position might not last.  Yesterday (Tuesday) I learned about the decision and the reason for the opposition. There was concern about fairness and liability. I was assured it wasn't about me personally.  The Rules Chair and I talked Tuesday afternoon.  It was cordial.  I understand the decision.  She has also suggested a committee that would include herself, Rep. G., and the House Minority Leader, and possibly others, and she invited me to sit on it, as a public member, to develop new policy on the use of volunteers in the House.

We also discussed that I'd planned to stay here for the session, that we've got an apartment for three months.  Since I won't be able to staff in Rep. G's office, I said I wanted to blog the legislature.  She said that would be no problem and I should feel free to do so. 

So it looks like I'm back to blogging and I hope I can give an interesting and informative peek into what it's like in Juneau during the legislative session.  Don't expect personal gossip.  I'll try to be as objective as possible reporting what's happening in and around the Capitol.  I'll write about legislation, procedures, about what legislators, staff, and the people around them do.  I'll try to post a picture of life in Juneau while the session is on.  I'm only one person, so this will just be the small portion I can cover.  But I'll do my best.

While I'm still transitioning from one identity to another, I want to thank everyone who was so nice and patient with me as I tried figure out what I was doing.  You were all so very understanding and kind.  And I want to thank Rep. Gruenberg for inviting me to Juneau in the first place.  Today I went in to hand off my projects to the other two staffers in the office.  And now I'm transforming into a legislative blogger.

Meanwhile, my wife is already busy volunteering as an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor, getting involved with an after school homework club program, and taking Tai Chi class. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cottonwood Request

Since not too many of you are going to go back and read the old post on possible uses for cottonwood cotton, I'm posting the comment that was put on that post today by Tobin.

Does anyone have any cottonwood cotton saved up for some reason or another? I'm looking to use it in a study to protect cooling equipment from contamination via cotton.

Contact me at tomck at

If this works, Alaska  would have another renewable harvestable resource.   Tobin, if you don't get what you need now, come next summer you can get more than you need just from my backyard.  

[UPDATE:  Tobin emailed me and I misread the intent of his research.  It won't use cottonwood, it's to prevent contamination from cottonwood.  So we're still lookiing for people to find a use for all the cottonwood cotton.]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pocketmod - Cool, Clever Pocket Notepad

Pam at Grass Roots Science sent me a link to pocketmod a long time ago, and as we were getting ready for Juneau, I decided it was just what I needed.

Rather than write things down on a piece of scratch paper, I prefer to have a little notebook in my pocket and just keep everything in the same place.  And everyting stays in chronological order.  And I try to date things.  "Hmmm, I met him at the film festival, that was in December, so it should be"

Pocketmod offers a tiny, but very handy way to make a little notebook out of one piece of paper.  It has a template and you can make different types of pages - lined, a calendar by week, by day, a to do list, etc.  You can even stick in a Sudoku.

It prints out on one page, and then you cut it - following their instructions (upper middle left) and then fold it into a little book.  I was even able to put a jpeg form map of Juneau on the back page.   And presto, you have a notebook for a week.

To see how easy it is to make your own customized pocket notebook click the link.

And since it only uses one side of the paper, it's a great way to use the back side of a paper you don't need.  And I would imagine that kids would love this too.