Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cordova Sampler - Bear, Bridge, Ice, Wedding

This is just a sneak preview.  We spent a spectacular two days at the Child's Glacier then got back into town today for the wedding of Joe Senungetuk and Martha Hoover.  More on all this later, but here's an appetizer.

Child's Glacier

Million Dollar Bridge

Friday, July 29, 2011

About the Mendacity of the Press Then [and now] from Zola

Another quote - much shorter - from The Lacuna.

"But newspapers have a duty to truth," Van said.
Lev clucked his tongue.  "They tell the truth only as the exception.  Zola wrote that the mendacity of the press could be divided into two groups:  the yellow press lies every day without hesitating.  But others, like the Times, speak the truth on all inconsequential occasions, so they can deceive the public with the requisite authority when it becomes necessary."  

[Pre-posted in advance.We should be out of contact when this goes up.]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Historical Antecedents to Mayor Sullivan’s “Safe Mayor” Ordinance

Anchorage's Mayor Sullivan proposed a "Safe Sidewalk" ordinance, but I think it's more aptly titled a "Safe Mayor" ordinance.  It appears to be aimed at stopping one man from protesting the Mayor's anti-homeless crusade. [Looks like it didn't pass for now.]

 First he cleared out the homeless camps in the greenbelts.  More recently he’s asked the Assembly to pass a law banning sitting or lying on the sidewalk downtown, very clearly in response to a homeless man who has been doing that in protest of the Mayor.  He called it, I believe, “Safe Sidewalks” ordinance.  I'm calling it the Safe Mayor ordinance.

Kingsolver tells us of another time when the poor - veterans of WW I who hadn’t gotten their war bonus - sat in protest in Washington DC.  Sullivan, when asked if he would meet with the protester,  said something like, “No.  If this guy wants to talk to me, he can clean up and dress decent and make an appointment like everyone else.”

Knowing history helps put today into context.  While technology has changed greatly, individual human behavior hasn’t.  I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna while we’re here in Cordova.   Much of it takes place in the 1930s, in Mexico and the US.  She weaves in the current history of the day.  The incident below brings to mind Mayor Sullivan’s recent crusdade against the poor in Anchorage.  But there’s more that resonates with today.  Depression.  Congress turning down bills to help the poor.  It’s all happened before.

My posts are more complicated than some people think they should be.  I make them so, because life is complicated.  Things need to be put into context.  And what I write has much less context than they need, but more than one usually gets in mainstream media.  So bear with me here as I put this in context.  And note, by some coincidence, part of the events take place on July 28, 1932 and the date of this post is July 28, 2011.  Given the number of google hits with, “If I were born in 1908, how old would I be today?” I know that not everyone who gets to this blog can figure out that (1932) was 80 years ago.  That’s just a lucky bonus.

The main character of The Lacuna is Harrison Shephard, the son of an American bureaucrat and a Mexican mother, who returned to Mexico with Harrison when he was very young.  He’s now 15 and Mom’s sent him back to his dad to go to school in Washington DC.  It’s 1932.

Kingsolver throws in lots of little details, but they all seem to be there for a reason.  They set us up for little comments later in the story.  Here’s one that’s relevant to the quotes later.

[p. 86]“President Hoover is the greatest man ever lived,”  [Father] said, overly loud.  People looked.  “They’ve just had a telephone put in on his desk, for calling his chief of staff.  He can get MacArthur quick as snapping his fingers.  You think your president of Mexico has a telephone on his desk?”
  Mexico will be held as a grudge, then.  Probably for reasons to do with Mother.  Ortíz Rubio [President of Mexico] does have a telephone;  the newspapers say he can’t make a move without ringing up Calles first, at this house on the Street of Forty Thieves in Cuernavaca.  But Father didn’t want to hear about that.  People ask without wanting to know. . . [Yes, this kid is wise beyond his years.]
[pp. 96-7] May 5, [1932]

“A woman in a headscarf held up a naked baby toward our trolley.  The baby waved its arms.  A hobo jungle is unlike other jungles, where monkeys howl through the leafy air.  “What do they all want?”
“What does anybhody want?  Something for nothing acourse.” . . .
“But why so many of them?  And all the flags?”
“They’re war vetarans.  Or so they say, because vets are entitled to a soldier’s bonus .  they want their bonus.”  
Ragged men stood at military attention every few meters, like fence posts all along the edge of the camp facing the street.  Veteran soldiers, you could tell it from the placment of feet and shoulders.  But their eyes searched the passing trolley with a terrifying hunger.  “They’ve been here all week?  What do the families live on?”
“Shoe leather soup, I’d say.”
“Those men fought in France, with mustard gas and everything?”
Father Nodded. . .
So, can’t they get their money now, if they fought in the war?”
“I’d have  been there too in the Argonne,:  he said suddenly turning pinkish, “if I could have been.  Did your mother tell you I wouldn’t fight in the war?”
A subject to steer around.  “What’s the soldier’s bonus suppsed to be?”
Surprisingly, Father knew the answer:  $500 a man.  He is a bean counter for the government.  Five hundred bucks for risking a life in the war, so they could begin a new one here.  Congress turned them down, decided to pay out the bonus later when these men are old.  So they’ve come here from everywhere, wishing to take the matter up with the president.
“Does Mr. Hoover mean to meet with them?”
“Not on our life.  If they want to talk to him, they better use the telephone.”
McArthur’s troops are out with tanks, but Patton’s cavalry men on horseback get through the blocked streets easier.
[p. 106]
July 28, 1932“Between the stone wall and the crush of shoulders, it was hard to breath.  Over the sea of heads and hats you could catch sight of cavalrymen leaning down from the waist, on their horses, flailing their saber blades against whatever was below them.

  Against people.  That hit with a shock.  They were beating at the Bonus Army men and women with razor-sharp blades of sabers.”

[p. 107]July 29
It’s all in the newspapers today. . .
Gallinger Hospital filled to overflowing with the casualities. Any Bonus Marchers who made it to the Eleventh Street bridge joined the ones at the reiverbank encampment.  Mr. Hoover sent orders for troops to stop at the bridge, but MacArthur “couldn’t be bothered with new orders” so he mounted machine guns on the bridge and led a column of infantry across the Potomac into the encampment.  They set flaming torches to the canvas and pasteboard homes.  Exactly as Cortés said it:  Much grieved to burn up the people, but since it was still more grievous to them, he determined to do it.  [Remember, Harrison grew up in Mexico and he’d been reading about Cortés’ conquering the Aztecs.]

The late extra:  After sunset yesterday the flames in the Anacostia encampment rose fifty feet in the air and spread to the surrounding woods.  Six companies of firemen were required to defend adjacent property.  The president observed from the White House windows an unusual glow in the eastern sky, and conceded MacAruther was right to proceed with the routing.  In his opinion the Bonus Army consists of Communists and persons with criminal records.
Oh, yes,  One more Hoover telephone comment.  A joke this time:
President Hoover asked the treasury secretary for a nickel to telephone a friend.
Secretary Mellon said, "Here's a dime.  Call both of them."

We’re off to Childs Glacier for a couple of nights and, I assume, out of contact with the world.  I'll post one more ahead for tomorrow.

Cordova Fireweed

Just a quickie.  The fireweed is in full force in Cordova and attracting all sorts of flying critters.  And people seem to attached to it as well as the signs suggest.  We're headed out of internet contact - I'm assuming - for a couple of days at Child's Glacier.   I'm setting up one or two more posts for while we are gone.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Whittier to Cordova

A riverfall, not just a waterfall, was coming down the mountainside as we waited to get on the ferry in Whittier.

It holds 35 vehicles and two hundred and some people and gets from Whittier to Cordova and three and a half hours.  Too fast to see much.  And J didn't get seasick!

We sat 'out' in the solarium for a while.  It was protected from the wind, but after a while I was getting chilly and the noise was LOUD.

It was hard to read my book - The Lacuna - with all the scenery around us.  But I like the book.  And see?  There was some blue sky.

Looking overboard.

This is a very comfortable way to travel.  No pat downs or scanners either.

Almost in Cordova, which is on left (out of the picture.)

We're hoping to enjoy some Alaska time.  And visit friends.  

What Makes an Empty Lot "Empty"?

Language affects how we think about things. So, an empty lot is empty. Right?

In the US, an empty lot is one without buildings on it.  Despite the fact this piece of land has lots of flowers and grasses. It was woods once, of course, and not that long ago.  This vegetation has reclaimed it after someone bulldozed all the trees down.   It's home to birds and bugs.  And it filters rain water, keeping it from simply flowing into the sewers and out into the inlet.

We are human beings.  We need places to live.  We need common buildings for trade and other activities.  But we need a sensibility that sees that an empty lot isn't empty.  It's full of life and full of natural infrastructure that keeps our air and water clean, and provides habitat for small animals, insects, and the birds that feed on them.  And if we look closely, we see universes within universes.

Soon, riding around town, you'll hardly ever be able to see the mountains.  As fields get replaced by view blocking buildings.

I only intended to play with the idea of an empty lot, but it seems logical to take it a step further and raise Title 21.   You're going to be hearing more and more about Title 21 in the next couple of months.  After years of public process in which a new code was hashed out among all interest groups, Mayor Sullivan has asked attorney and former assemblyman Dan Coffey to go through and make title 21 more development friendly.  Developers had had years to get their issues raised and much of the ordinance was changed to accommodate their concerns.  Then the ordinance was provisionally passed by the Assembly.  The provisions were simply to make it consistent and clean up the language.

But Sullivan  seems to have hijacked this process and from what I'm told, Coffey has worked with the Building Association to change it even more to their liking.  Again, as I said, after all these negotiations and tradeoffs were made in public.  Now, they've gotten to work with Coffey out of the public light to make the code developer friendly and help keep Anchorage in the urban design dim ages.  It's not a done deal, but if people don't let their assembly members and the planning and zoning board know how they feel, it will be.

Cheryl Richardson has a compass piece on this you might want to check that outlines what has happened.  She's been a community activist for years, fighting for public transportation options and good urban planning.  She does it because she thinks it's important and doesn't get paid to do this.

Coffey claims the charges are baseless.   He's had $40,000 or so contracts from the city to revise the code to the Mayor's liking.  He's an attorney who favors the positions his clients want.  That's what attorneys do, so that's fine.  But as you read the two pieces, consider which account is more likely to be closer to the way things have actually happened.

Monday, July 25, 2011

US House Takes Economy Hostage

As I understand this, Congress has been using its credit card to fund a whole lot of things.  Some are required by past agreements - like Social Security and Medicare.  Others are discretionary, like sending US soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan.

And they've spent past their limit.  This has happened before and a mechanism has been put in place.  Congress simply passes legislation that raises the debt limit.  (You'd think the fact that they've passed bills authorizing all the spending would be enough, but when they hit a magic number, the president has to say 'pretty please' to be able to carry out all they've told him to do.)

If they don't do that, the US government's income won't be enough to cover all its debts.  The government will have to sort through the bills coming due and decide which ones to pay and which ones to stall or skip altogether.  Up until now, the US economy has been the most dependable and investors - individuals, corporations, and governments - have chosen the US economy as a safe place to invest.  Because of the US's reliability, they've been able to sell bonds and other financial instruments at relatively low interest rates.

But if the US starts to default on some of its debts, then its credibility will go down.  And its credit rating.  A slow cascade of collapses is likely to happen.  Government contractors who don't get paid, will stop paying their creditors and both will lay off employees.  Those employees will spend less money and the places where they normally would spend money will run into trouble.  The recession will get worse.

That's the scenario economists of all stripes have been painting.  The Republican leadership has even said not raising the debt limit is unthinkable.  A Wall Street Journal article said it threatened the US' special standing in the world even.

BUT, there are enough Republicans in the House who have decided that if it is so unthinkable, they can make demands on the President and he'll have no choice but to comply if he wants to raise the debt limit.  So, instead of just passing the bill to increase the debt ceiling to equal the budgets they've passed, they've taken this vital piece of legislation hostage and have told the president that if he doesn't meet their demands, the debt ceiling increase is dead.  

Sounds like a kidnapper or a hijacker to me.

Essentially, they are saying, if you don't meet our demands, we will let the air out of the American economy.  We've got the debt limit increase hostage, and if you don't bow to our demands, we're killing it.  We know it won't be pretty, they are saying, but the ends (apparently) justify the means.  Yes, we know people will get hurt, but they'll get hurt worse in the long run if we don't reduce the national debt. The President agrees the debt needs to be lowered.  But he understands that government spending, during an economic slump, is necessary until the economy revives.  And he doesn't want to hurt people already hurting.  So he wants to include taxes on the wealthiest Americans as part of the debt lowering strategy.

I've looked up terrorism and there's little agreement on a definition.  It seems officials want definitions that paint their enemies as terrorists, but are careful that they won't fall into that category themselves, so they can't agree.   While the House Republicans seem to be acting on their conservative ideology (one of the definitions of terrorists) one might argue that they aren't using violence to terrorize the population (another part of the most basic definitions of terrorism.)  So, technically, we might not call them terrorists.

But if they cause an economic crisis that worsens the US economy, I'd argue that they will cause far more deaths (because of cutbacks in services at all levels) and damage than the terrorists who took down the World Trade Center.   House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, for one, is willing to risk the standing of the US economy to get what he wants.  Back in April:
In exchange for raising the debt limit -- long a routine move allowing the Treasury Department to borrow more money -- House Republicans will demand further concessions to shrink the government, Cantor said.
"There comes at times leverage moments, a time when the president will capitulate to what the American people want right now," he said. "They don't want to raise taxes, they don't want borrowing to continue out of control."
[I went to the original source - Fox News - but could only find their transcript which was substantially the same, but either they garbled it, or they quoted Cantor verbatim.  It seems the Huffington Post (above quote) captures it pretty accurately and more eloquently.] 

It's common for politicians - and all those trying to wield power for whatever goals - to make their demands in the name of the people, rather than to say, it's simply what they themselves want.  Cantor calls it a "leverage moment," and from a purely utilitarian perspective, it is.  Other leverage moments include when someone has a gun at your head on a dark, empty street.  Or when someone's kidnapped your spouse and now demands $200,000 in unmarked bills by Friday or else.

(While there are times when 'leverage points' might reasonably be taken advantage of, one that risks the US economy and the well being of people around the world, is not one of those.  However, I would say that the Democrats need a modern day Tip O'Neil to help them work the rules of the House to counter this.)

I just don't see how this is different from blackmail.  If you don't do what we want you to do, we're going to inflict severe damage on the economy.  These are small minds at work.  The way they solve problems is by force, by bullying.  By tearing down, not by creating new options to work this out. These guys don't trust anyone who doesn't think like they do.  Maybe, because, like most of us, they believe others think like they do, and they think:  "Take no prisoners."  There's a reason they are called "Young Guns."   Subtlety and nuance doesn't seem part of their grey matter.

That's how  I see it.  Could I be wrong?  It's happened before.  If we default, will the world sigh a breath of relief knowing the Republicans are finally getting the US finances in order?  I wouldn't bet on it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Moni, Ropi, and Alex - Happy Birthday

This is a great day for a birthday.  May the year be interesting, fun, and fulfilling for you all.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Judge Rules Against Redistricting Board and Keeps Cases in Fairbanks

Chris Eshleman at the Fairbanks News-Miner reports that Judge McConahy ruled the court challenges to the Alaska Redistricting Board's redistricting plan will be heard in Fairbanks in January.

The board's attorney, Michael White, sounded fairly confident at last Monday's meeting that the case would be consolidated (the two Fairbanks challenges and the Petersburg challenge) and was hoping the trial would be in Anchorage.  When I talked to him after the meeting Monday he said he was hoping a decision to move to Anchorage would come before the Friday hearing in Fairbanks.  In the memo to the board on the lawsuits he concluded with:

We recently filed a Motion to Consolidate and Change Venue of City of Petersburg, et al. v. State of Alaska, Alaska Redistricting Board, to move the case to Anchorage.  The Petersburg plaintiffs do not oppose this motion.  Plaintiffs in both Fairbanks cases oppose changing venue to Anchorage.  The motion also requests the court consolidate the Fairbanks proceedings with the Petersburg case in Anchorage.  We asked for expedited consolidation of this motion requesting a decision by Thursday, July 21.  [bold emphasis added]
But based on the FNM article, the judge is going to hear the case in Fairbanks in January.
A judge said this morning he’ll consolidate challenges to state redistricting plans and plans to hold a January trial in Fairbanks.

Three parties, including the Fairbanks North Star Borough, are suing over the Alaska Redistricting Board’s map of tentative state House and Senate districts.

Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy met today for the first time with attorneys for all three parties. The state, after any appeals to the Alaska Supreme Court, will need final jurisdictional maps in place by early summer to guide residents interested in running for public office.

Clearly, having the case in Fairbanks gives the Fairbanks plaintiffs home court advantage.  That doesn't change the legal basis of the challenge, but it does have an impact.  Board attorney White, for example, will have to either commute by air to Fairbanks or stay there in a hotel or with friends. He won't be able to drop into his office as easily.  The Petersburg plaintiffs will have an even further commute.  But according to the Eshleman piece, the court will accommodate them:
McConahy said the trial will travel to Petersburg for witness testimony before returning to Fairbanks.
But, the attorneys still need to go to Fairbanks to keep up on all the details. And Fairbanks residents will be able to attend the trial. 

Having a Fairbanks jury that understands the neighborhoods involved does mean that the deliberations will be made by well informed jurors which would not be the case in Anchorage.  As much as I listened and watched, I simply could not absorb what was said about Fairbanks the way I could about what was said about Anchorage.  It's just the way the human brain works.

In fact, only one board member was from Fairbanks (none were from Anchorage).  Bill [Jim] Holm is a former Republican legislator who lost his 2006 reelection bid to Democratic representative Scott Kawazaki.  For both the draft plan and the final plan, Holm was the one who prepared the Fairbanks plans (outside of the public meeting) which was then presented to the board who made no substantative changes.  Already in the draft plan, Holm had cut off the communities of Ester and Goldstream.  I already knew that Ester (nicknamed the Ester Republic*) was considered a liberal bastion and from the discussions it sounds like Goldstream may lean left of the rest of Fairbanks too.

*From the blog Ester Republic:
"Ester earned its moniker when a former Fairbanks North Star Borough assemblyman, Joe Ryan, proposed that downvillage Ester be zoned for mining only, as opposed to the General Use zoning still current. While it is true that there are many mines in the area (three right in the village and one nearby), there are also other endeavors (such as residences, bars, rentals, artists' studios, etc.), so Ester showed up en masse to the pertinent borough assembly meeting and told Mr. Ryan and his compatriots just what they thought he could do with his idea. The measure failed, Mr. Ryan got annoyed and, in a letter to the editor, accused Esteroids of living in the People's Republic of Ester. Ester generally (and the capitalists in particular) thought this was pretty funny, and took to referring to their village by this new title. The name stuck, and Ryan became known, in the village at least, as the Father of the Republic. (So now you have an idea of what Ester humor is like.) He was later invited to judge the 4th of July Parade one year, but, alas, declined."

In the final plan, Ester and Goldstream were still amputated from the rest of Fairbanks and put into a district (38) that stretches out to the Aleutians, creating a district that combines surban Fairbanks residents who live a short drive from shopping malls and the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus,  to Native villages off the road system, like Hooper Bay, where people use 'honey buckets' instead of sewers.  Below is a video tape made by local resident Jacqueline Agnew in 2004 and 2005 showing the how they empty the honey buckets and offering a tour of Hooper Bay.

In the video, she discusses a future water and wastewater system, so I checked online to see if it is complete. I found this state budget item. You can see the yourself it's not scheduled for completion until 2016.  And this is a only budget request.  Let me check if it was funded.

I checked the FY 2011 budget and the only item listed for Hooper Bay was for Boat Harbor and Barge Loading Reconnaissance for $300,000.   The FY 2012 budget doesn't seem to have it either.  Just more Boat Harbor funding for Hooper Bay. Since I had a video for Hooper Bay, I decided to see what I could find on Ester.  This is audio over slides of the Fourth of July parade in 2009.

I believe that we humans have a lot more in common with other human beings who live in different cultures than we generally think.  Surely living in a remote Thai province for two years helped me come to this conclusion.  And as I look at the videos, while it is clear that residents of Ester and Hooper Bay live in very different worlds and have very different needs from their legislators, they also have some very human similarities.  But the state constitution says the districts should be socio-economically integrated and clearly that is not the case here. The question before the court will be whether there was any way to follow the Voting rights Act  which requires keeping the nine Native districts without creating a district that is so clearly in violation of the Alaska Constitution. I guess I should also note that while it appears district 38 is the focus of the Fairbanks' challenges there are other issues and, of course, Petersburg's challenge is totally different.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Healing Qualities of the Flute"

I was listening to Earthsongs on KNBA just now and a Native American flute players Aaron White and Anthony Wakeman were asked about whether they thought that his flute helped people with spiritual healing.  He said that people had told him it did - he mentioned a therapist he knew of who played the flute as part of the healing.  (I found this video of them on Youtube.)

And I thought:  We all know that music can change our mood, radically.  Why has modern medicine focused so much on physically putting things into our body and neglected the mood altering qualities of music.  If music can change our mood, surely there is potential for other healing changes.  This is acknowledged.  At Providence here in Anchorage they have a harpist who plays for patients in their rooms.

I know that there have been studies, say, that show that patients in hospital rooms with windows facing trees heal faster.  But this approach is basically the fringe element of medicine and doctors mainly heal by putting chemicals into our bodies.
image from Sage Press

There's already a journal called Music and Medicine.   (Click on the image to go to the July 2011 table of contents.)

What if there was an institute with a $2 billion endowment to study the healing qualities of music?

Two billion you say?  Wikipedia says there are 1210 billionaires in the world today.  The top 20 from the Forbes list of billionaires have a total net worth of $641 Billion.

That's 20 people, who own $600 billion more than the Alaska Permanent Fund ($41.5 billion as of May 31, 2011).  So, $2 billion isn't that much if only 20 people in the world have $641 billion.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Talking Back to Racism: What They Did v. What They Are Conversations

A friend showed me this video last night at the Healing Racism in Anchorage steering committee meeting.  Talking about race is usually hard in our society.  In the video Ill Doctrine says you should focus on what the people did, not what they are

But the presentation is what makes it so worth watching.

Invest three minutes of your time.  Too long?  Just watch the first 30 seconds, you can spare that.  But see for yourself, it's like potato chips, you can't just watch a few seconds.

Video Tip: It's easier to learn from mistakes than from perfection and this film illustrates the importance of your background. I'd point out to future film makers something to pay attention to when you're doing a film like this.

He didn't do it all in one breath. There are lots of cuts where they edited different versions together. Nothing wrong with that. This would be hard to do well in just one take. But when you do that, try to get a neutral background. If they hadn't gotten the door on the left in the background, it would be a better film.  But, professionals keep telling me that you can overcome video problems if you have good audio which this video does.  And the foreground is done well.  Only strange people like me watch the background.

Race Conversation Dilemma:  At about 1:47, he says, "Just think how a politician or celebrity gets caught out.  It always starts out as a what they did conversation, but . . . they start doing judo flips and change it into a what they are conversation."

He doesn't tell us how to counter that manoeuvre.  Maybe one could say, I never questioned your character, I questioned your behavior, and that's on the record.  You're the one whose changing this to your character.  But that's a bit lame.  Any other thoughts out there?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Where's this? Please Don't Decorate the Caribou

I did a 'where's this' post a couple of times, thinking I'd make it a regular feature.  But I haven't.  I do have a backlog of stuff - the Alaska summer is competing with this computer for my attention - and I'm not sure where else this picture fits. 

So, where's this?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Redistricting Board Meets (Mostly in Executive Session)

They met for 25 minutes then went into executive session for nearly two hours.  Then they had a short closing.  Here are the highlights as I saw them.  My draft (very draft; read with caution) notes are below.
l-r  White, Torgerson*, Bickford, Brody*, Holm*, Ellis  *board members

1.  Pre-clearance Report Time table: 

Attorney White said he was hoping to get the pre-clearance report done and to the Department of Justice in 7-10 days.  There's lots of back up information to include such as all the emails of board members, all the public testimony and emails and letters, and they have todocument all they did.

2.  Final report from consultant Lisa Handley not in yet

White was very gracious when asked about whether the consultant's report was in yet.  Most of it we've heard in public testimony, he said.  But the actual report isn't in yet and he said something like, "She's not a board member.  She has lots of other clients."  But he also said he needs to see her report before he can finish his, which he wants to get done in 7-10 days. 

3.  The Court Challenges

There are three challenges - two from Fairbanks and one from Petersburg.  The Fairbanks challengers want their case heard in Fairbanks.  Not Juneau.  Not Anchorage.  The Petersburg people are content to have the three cases joined and heard in Anchorage. 
White's petitioned to have them consolidated and moved to Anchorage.  As of today, there's a date in Judge Michael P. Mc Conahy's courtroom this Friday at 8:30am in Fairbanks.  White's hoping a new judge in Anchorage will be assigned before that. 

4.  New Intern Drew and a Transcriber.  They've recorded all their meetings and the transcription services they used have had trouble figuring out who was talking so they still don't have the transcripts back.   And they need them for the report that is due, soon.  Today there was a transcriber in the meeting. 

5.  Attorney Advises Clients.  Attorney White advised his clients (the Board) to say nothing about the litigation and send the press to him.  He wants to be sure he knows everything they might have said publicly.

Below are my rough notes:

Redistricting Board  July 17, 2011

10:03 open
Torgerson: Agenda approved
Directors Report-
Bickford:  -new intern - Drew
I’m the public information officer, we’ve had about 7 requests and worked closely with Michael on those.  Cleared on that no pending requests.

Budget update
p. 3 of the binder
FY 2012 projection
FY 2011 summary when all bills paid
FY 2012 - what we have in the bank now going into FY
Money projected for travel,
One or two board meetings by end of year
Possible trip to DC
Torgerson coming to office once a month
Costs once litigation starts.

$100K still in Michael White’s contract, may need amendment
Lisa Handley contract seems ok.
Big bill from here on out will be legal bill.

Next item:  Update on Fred’s Contract with City Gate software, may need to reinstate if board needs to come back and draw next year.  We still have access to software, but limited support service compared to past.
l-r Board Members Greene, McConnochie, Torgerson

Transcripts:  We have live transcripts writer today, we had trouble with transcripts in past.  This will be much faster.  All public hearing transcripts completed.
Computer matrix court reporting is working on ?? meetings??.
Public reading file has been updated.
Appendix to this report includes documents.
Public copy available here and online.
Board’s record - we spent our time last month - archiving and building up the record.  Some we’ve been doing all along, got the rest done.  For Michael - required by the court that the board turn over its copy of the record.
You may notice that your email data bases have been cleared.  Had to archive your old emails and turn them in.  When we archived them, it took them out of your mailboxes, but you can have them if you like.

Review of litigation from Michael.  To the extent that we need to inform you we’ll send out stuff day to day.  Busy month, lot of housekeeping items.

Litigation Report [Get a pdf copy of the report here.]

White:  Deadline July 15.  We have received 3.  City of Petersburg and three individuals, assuming qualified voters.  Two from Fairbanks.  We’ll talk about how I feel about the merits in Executive Session.

1.  North Slope Fairbanks Borough and Timothy Beck - challenging house districts 37 and 38 and Senate districts A,C, and S.  Geographic proportionality.  Although Fairbanks. . . compact and socio-integration effectiveness of 38.  Acknowledge VRA and say not required by VRA and thus shouldn’t have trumped.  Rep. by in-house counsel. [You can read the court challenges on this previous post.]

2.  Riley and Dearborn, represented by Michael Walleri.  Same challenges, plus a few more proportionality issue and for Fairbanks as well.  Should have been completely different, so one of the house seats should have  been entirely in city of Fairbanks

3.  Petersburg, represented by Tom Klinkner, geographic proportionality.  Say 32 not socio-economically integrated.

We’ve asked Juneau court to consolidate and transfer to Anchorage.  That motion should be resolved this week.  Originally assigned to Judge Randy Olsen but ??? by plaintiffs and reassigned.

Petersburg case assigned to ??? in Juneau.

Confident they will be consolidated.  Where?  Not sure.  I argued not fair for Juneau folks to go to Anchorage or Fairbanks to go to Juneau.  Anchorage in the middle.

If rules are followed we should have a scheduled (scheduling?) conference by the 10th.

Procedural stuff questions, I’ll save my views for executive session.

Juneau doesn’t accept fax filings over 5 pages.  We mailed it Friday, more than 5 pages.  Hopefully, judges will just talk.  Petersburg case is stipulated to consolidate, but Fairbanks people would not. 

Preclearance - I’d say about 80% done.  Bottom line, we’re on schedule.  None of the lawsuits raise VRA claims, don’t say retrogressive.  Only FBNS borough only one to mention and said we shouldn’t have relied so much on them. 
Most stuff, writing is done.  Oe section we need to work on to have final report.   Then finalize.  File by Friday of this week or early part of next week.
Will talk about implications in ES

Board transcripts hold us up?
White:  don’t have them in, holding us up.  Some stuff only Eric can do.  He and DOJ speak the same language.  Large amount of info that goes.  My inclination to be overinclusive than underinclusive.  I think filed in next 7-10 days.  Then can go back to DOJ.   60 day clock starts once we submit.   Want all data is submitted electronically.  Megabytes and megabytes of information. 
Don’t wnat glitch with electronic filing. 

Torgerson:  I understand Lisa Handley recommends we come back and talk
Bickford:  No guarantee they will talk to us.  Assumption is that they would meet with us, but we’ll request it. 
Torgerson: We make request why we want to do it?
White:  Yes
Torgerson: Requested that only Marie and I go back, keep it small.
White:  No benefit to have the whole board.  Having Ms. Greene ...Native community…
Bickford:  Touch on Lisa’s report and where we are.  Most public records requests asked for that report.
White:  80-90% already discussed, just a matter of . . . she’s not a board member, has other clients, given us some drafts, not all clear, asked for more info, asked for more and should have in final days.  Some records requests for it, we will produce it and provide her report and whole preclearance report.  Nothing privliged once it is finalized.
Torgerson:  No action required by board.  We just receive her report.   Already authorized Taylor to sign off.
White:  Don’t need to meet again as a board.  Just waiting gathering of materials and portion on effect on Native districts I’m still working on, need Lisa’s report to finish mine. 
Confident in 7-10 days.
Bickford:  Once file DOJ has 60 days to respond, expect in 40-60 days.
White:  Want to make sure we have everything there first, rather than have them come back and ask for things, and restart the clock.
Brody:  I’d like a prebriefing before you file.  I’d like to understand it before it goes out.
White:  I’ll have a draft in ES and point out litigation issues. 

10:26 go into Executive Session

12:39 back on record after Ex. Session

Exec Section to discuss state litigation and preclearnance
White:  Instruction for the board:  Publicly tell board we are now in litigation, therefore questions from the press should be sent to counsel and not discussed outside the board room.  We have nothing to hide, but common advice I give all my clients.  I suspect all of you will deposed and my job will be easier if you haven’t publicly said something that I don’t know about.  General comments - we think it is constitutional”  then refer people to me.

Nothing further.

Board member comments:
Holm:  no
Brody:  After your lecture, I guess not.  Keep in touch, keep us informed so we aren’t caught unawares.
White:  We’ll provide a weekly update.  We just got a notice in that the two Fairbanks assigned to Michael P. Mc Conahy.  8:30am in Fairbanks   whether he remains, yet to be seen.  Fairbanks plaintiffs opposed that.  We should have a decision before Friday when we have a conference.  WE’ll give you plenty of notice if something required of you.  Don’t expect depostions before SEptember.  Plenty of notice.  Can’t delay until January because of expedited nature. 
Torgerson:  Thank everybody.  Next meeting, maybe teleconference for legal update, let Michael and Taylor control that. 

Adjourn.  12:46pm

Sunday, July 17, 2011

After the Default, Do the Chinese Get to Buy NASA?

And how about rich European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and South African hunters putting in an offer to buy the federal lands in Alaska for a private hunting reserve?  Or maybe the oil companies can buy instead of lease the federal oil reserves?

A game of chicken is going on in Congress, but how many of us understand what is really happening and really at stake?  I've been reading online for hours trying to make a list of consequences of a default.

It's not easy.  Financial collapse isn't as visually dramatic as the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.  It happens in slow motion.  And there are lots of different ways it could play out.

I've got lots of notes, but I'm not ready to try to outline what I think is happening.  But I offer a challenge to gain some perspective on our national debt which I found responding to Ropi's comments on an earlier post on the debt limit showdown in Congress.

The CIA has a list of national indebtedness as a percentage of GDP.  I went there to check Ropi's equating the US and Portugal in this area.    Just for the fun of it, can you match the following the rankings and % of GDP from the table to the list of countries below? 

(Smart folks will see that two of the columns are really easy to match.  The third is harder. Those of you who can't understand the table probably should be humble in your opinions about the debt ceiling and solutions for it.)

Rank Country  % of GDP

a. USA    b.  China  c.  Germany   d.  Singapore   e.  Iran  
f.  Japan  g.  India   h.  Libya    i.  world   j.   Mexico   k.  Russia

You can check your answers against the CIA chart here.

I think you can see (after checking with the CIA chart) that just looking at the % doesn't tell us what makes a stable economy.  Nor a country we want to emulate.

(And, of course, the CIA numbers can only be estimates.  Countries calculate % of GDP (if they calculate it all) using different criteria and some (many?) don't publish any data, so the CIA has to guess through other means.)

Alaska International Film Awards - And The Winners Aren't . . .

The Alaska International Film Festival changed its name to 'Film Awards' last year.  I and others had raised questions about a festival that had no actual screenings or . . . 'festival.'

There is a real film festival in Alaska - the Anchorage International Film Festival and I have compared the two events here.  [July 18:  I've corrected this link]

Essentially, the Alaska (not Anchorage) International Film Awards (not Festival) solicits films in the summer, with the first submission deadline in September in a whole myriad of categories and their website says that winners will be announced on July 15 of the following year.   That gives them plenty of time to have lots of people submit films and entry fees.

Last year, I contacted some of the winners and learned that, yes they had won, and to get their trophies they had to pay another fee that varied in price.

Today is July 16 and this is what they have on their website under awards.  The names of the awards, but not the winners.

Click to enlarge
I took a screen shot so you could see today's date (July 16, 2011) in the upper right corner and the awards page of their website.  Actually, now it's the 17th as I get ready to post, but still no winners announced yet.

Since May 15th was the last submission deadline, and since they didn't have to do any work to set up a festival and show the films, they've had two full months to figure out the winners and post them on their website by the July 15, 2011 deadline.  But they didn't.

If anyone submitted a film to the Alaska (not Anchorage) International Film Awards (not Festival) this year, please let me know if you have been notified that you won or didn't win.  You can leave a comment or you can email me.

[UPDATE Aug 4:  Sometime while we were gone, the Awards folks posted this year's 'winners.'  I don't mean to in any way make light of those whose films got awards.  I'm sure that many of the films are truly excellent.  And I've heard from two people who got letters saying they did NOT win an award.  So, not everyone who submitted got an award.  However, the list is pretty long.  I counted 81 different awards.  (In contrast, the Sundance Film Festival seems to have just given out about 40 awards.)  And a couple folks who contacted me and said they won, were told they had to buy their own trophies.

I don't know the answer to John's comment.  Contacting Without A Box can't hurt.  You can also post comments here and in the Without A Box forums to warn others that if they win, they probably will have to pay for their trophies.]

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thai Gender Stories in the News

From Thai Visa, a website mainly aimed at ex-pats living in Thailand, I get regular reports of what's happening in Thailand.  There were a couple of gender-related stories - one showing progress and one showing some regression.   Below are excerpts and the headlines link to the rest of the stories.

Monks teach maleness to Thai 'ladyboys'
Feature - by Janesara Fugal

CHIANG KHONG, July 16, 2011 (AFP) - The 15-year-old aspiring "ladyboy" delicately applied a puff of talcum powder to his nose -- an act of rebellion at the Thai Buddhist temple where he is learning to "be a man".

"They have rules here that novice monks cannot use powder, make-up, or perfume, cannot run around and be girlish," said Pipop Thanajindawong, who was sent to Wat Kreung Tai Wittaya, in Chiang Khong on the Thai-Laos border, to tame his more feminine traits.

But the monks running the temple's programme to teach masculinity to boys who are "katoeys", the Thai term for transsexuals or ladyboys, have their controversial work cut out.

"Sometimes we give them money to buy snacks but he saved it up to buy mascara," headteacher Phra Pitsanu Witcharato said of Pipop. . .

. . . [Phra Pitsanu] told AFP that he hopes the teaching methods will be rolled out to other temple schools to "solve the deviant behavior in novices".

It is an attitude that enrages gay rights and diversity campaigner Natee Teerarojanapong, who said trying to alter the boys' sense of gender and sexuality was "extremely dangerous".

"These kids will become self-hating because they have been taught by respected monks that being gay is bad. That is terrible for them. They will never live happily," he told AFP.

Gay and katoey culture is visible and widely tolerated in Thailand, which has one of the largest transsexual populations in the world, and Natee said the temple's programme is "very out of date".  .  .

Female bodyguards for Thailand's next prime minister
By Budsarakham Sinlapalavan
Peeradej Tanruangporn
The Nation

When Yingluck Shinawatra takes up her post as leader of the new government, Thailand won't just have a female prime minister. Her bodyguards, too, are likely to be drawn from the fairer sex.

"Female bodyguards are able to remain closer to female VIPs," said Pol Lt-Colonel Korakarn Arunplod, who is among the first generation of female bodyguards in Thailand.

Korakarn started her career as a bodyguard in 1995. Among the VIPs she has taken care of are Hillary Rodham Clinton, Empress Michiko of Japan and members of the Thai Royal Family.

She suggested that PM-elect Yingluck should have both male and female bodyguards. Beyond issues of security, having bodyguards of both sexes would create the best image.

And there are more practical concerns: "It is not appropriate for male bodyguards to enter private spaces such as women's bathrooms." She added that women were better at coordinating than men, though men were generally stronger. . .

  . . . To become a bodyguard, the officers of the BPPB must be trained to protect very important persons (VIPs), he said. In addition to the usual police training, which includes guns, driving and parachuting, VIP protection training also teaches crowd-control tactics and techniques for remaining close and attending to the VIP.

Because the task is very physically demanding, requiring the person to be constantly vigilant and sometimes miss sleep, the team consists only of women aged 20 to 35, Prayoon said . .  .

Last Minute Salmon BBQ With Friends

At the last minute we ended up with friends enjoying the lovely evening eating salmon on their deck.  Pretty simple.  Just good talk, good food, good friends. 

As we were eating dessert a young woman, barefoot, in wet shorts and T-shirt asked the direction of the Peanut Farm.  She'd been kayaking Campbell Creek and overturned and told the others she'd meet them at the Peanut Farm where the car was.  As the temperature was cooling (it was about 10pm by then) our host drove her to her destination.

With sweepers here and there, the creek is not as benign as it looks. 

Mini adventures.

Then we biked home.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Three Challenges To Redistricting Plan Arrived By Deadline - Cases Attached

[The court filings for all three challenges are at the bottom of this post.]

Yesterday - June [July] 13 - was the deadline for challenges to the Alaska Redistricting Board's Plan.  We've known about the Fairbanks North Star Borough's impending challenge since the Borough Assembly voted to challenge the board's plan last month.

click to enlarge considerably
Along with that challenge comes one from George Riley, 'a qualified voter who resides in Ester"  and Ron Dearborn, 'a qualified voter who resides in Goldstream.'   These are the two, generally considered more liberal, communities just outside the Fairbanks city limits which have been put into the huge new District 38 which stretches out to Hooper Bay.  (See the blue district on the map.)

I've only had time to glance at these two challenges.  The focus seems to be
1.  The board valued minimizing deviation (from the ideal district size of 17,755) too high, short changing other values such as "socially and economically integrated."
2.  Thus they put what is essentially suburban Fairbanks neighborhoods into a district with predominantly Native villages with no running water or sewage systems whose socio-economic interests are vastly different.

There's a lot more listed, but on first glance, that seems to be the crux.  I need to go back and review more.  (So many posts like that unfortunately.)  You can read the complete challenges below.

The third challenge comes from the City of Petersburg, and three Petersburg voters - Mark L. Jensen Nancy C. Strand, and Brenda L. Norheim.  Their complaint seems to center on the fact that Petersburg is socio-economically integrated with Sitka and other smaller SE villages and has been linked with them in their previous district.  Linking them with "with part of the City and Borough of Juneau (in District 32), a municipality with which Petersburg does not share such common socio-economic interests."

The complete Petersburg challenge is below.

My understanding is that all three challenges will be lumped together.  While I watched the redistricting board at work and listened to some of the public testimony, it was clear that 'socio-economic integration' means different things to different people.  If there's a district that links interior, road-system, basically non-Native towns to roadless, Native villages on the Coast, then complaints by Muldoon folks that they aren't 'socio-economically integrated' with Eagle River are unconvincing (though the board managed to unlink them.)

Petersburg's challenge, it would seem, doesn't have a chance if Fairbanks' challenge to District 38 doesn't prevail.

The Fairbanks News Miner  reported on the Borough's challenge. [And they have a link to the Borough's court documents.] So did the Anchorage Daily News.  They reported the Democrats and Alaskans for Fair Redistricting are NOT filing challenges because they thought they could better spend the money it would take on elections. 

The Board itself will meet Monday, July 18, at 10 am in their headquarters. According to board Executive Director Taylor Bickford, there will be some public meeting to announce the challenges to the board's plan and the status of the preclearance* report to be sent to the Justice Department.   Then the board will go into executive session to discuss litigation  and preclearance strategies.

*Because Alaska has had Voting Rights Act violations in the past, it is one of 16 states that need Department of Justice 'preclearance' before implementing their plan.

The Court Documents

[Scribd has been having problems.  The documents are below, but if they don't show up, be patient and try again soon.]

Fairbanks North Star Borough 's Complaint Re Redistricting Board

George Riley v. Alaska Redistricting Board

City of Petersburg Challenge to Redistricting Plan

Don't Like the ACLU? Compare Your Image to the Real Thing - National Head Speaks at UAA Tonight

Do you trust the media?  You don't????   Well, here's a chance to compare what you hear in the media against the real thing.

The Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union is talking tonight at

UAA at 7pm.  
Wendy Williamson Auditorium
Free Parking
And the talk is free too.

The ACLU has been controversial, on many occasions because of the people they have defended - from the right of American Nazis to march in a Jewish neighborhood, Rush Limbaugh's right to keep his medical records private, to the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church,  as well as the rights of American Muslims.

They would argue that their ideology is the US Constitution and their belief that all Americans are equal before the law, no matter how unpopular their views.  

One of the problems I see is that some people tend to think in more concrete terms and others in more abstract terms.  Concrete thinkers see what they think is a despicable defendant, and can't quite comprehend that even that person is protected by the Constitution and the bill of rights.

But the ACLU would tell you that when there are 'despicable' people, well, that's why the Bill of Rights was written.   They aren't saying these people shouldn't be convicted if they've committed a crime, but that they should get fair treatment from the authorities and get a fair trial.  They shouldn't be judged because of their ideas, but because they violated a Constitutional law.

It's much easier to get support to violate the rights of 'despicable' defendants, but that sets a precedent for the next, less despicable, person, and slowly the breach in our rights gets bigger and bigger.

Just as TSA rules were justified to protect us from terrorists and have unraveled to the point that recently a 95 year-old woman in a wheel chair - was forced to take off her diaper before she could get through security. (TSA denied they required diaper removal.)

Whether you are a supporter of the ACLU or a critic, the opportunity to hear - and talk to (he'll be available to talk to at a reception afterward) - is a chance to match the media coverage against the real thing. 

Here's what the ACLU website says about the director:

About Anthony D. Romero
Mr. Romero took the helm of the ACLU just four days before the September 11, 2001 attacks and led the national Safe and Free campaign to protect basic freedoms during a time of crisis, achieving court victories on the Patriot Act, uncovering thousands of pages of documents detailing the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, and filing the first successful legal challenge to the Bush administration's illegal NSA spying program.

Recently, he has led the fight to restore civil liberties, including pushing for accountability for torture committed under the Bush administration, fighting the practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial and challenging the excessive use of the state secrets privilege to block lawsuits over national security abuses.

The sixth executive director of the ACLU, and the first Latino and openly gay person to serve in that capacity, Romero has been named one of Time Magazine's 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America, and is a frequent media commentator, including guesting on the Colbert Report. In 2007, Romero and co-author and NPR correspondent Dina Temple-Raston published In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror,  a book that takes a critical look at civil liberties in this country at a time when constitutional freedoms are in peril.

The presentation's main sponsors are the Alaska branch of the ACLU and the UAA  Justice Center.  The Journalism and Public Communication Department and KYES - Channel 5 - are videotaping the talk.  A 60 minute version will be aired on

KYES -Channel 5 - Saturday July 23 at 4pm   AND Sunday, July 24 at 9am

For people outside of Anchorage, check the Journalism website - they are putting up a live online stream of the talk.