Friday, August 31, 2012

The Hitchhiker

I was riding home along 36th and was waiting for the light to change on the median between the north and south bound lanes of the New Seward Highway when I saw the hitch hiker with his thumb out and his skateboard in his other hand waiting for a ride south.

I was thinking about my days hitchhiking Europe as a student and the time I hitched to northern Wisconsin from Chicago.  Would I pick this guy up? 

Cars were whizzing by.  And then a car braked and pulled over.  A yellow cab.  The hitch hiker ran to the window and they talked.  The cabbie got out and opened the trunk.  The skateboard and a small day pack went in.  At that point I finally pulled out my camera and got this shot just after the hitchhiker got into the cab.   My light changed and I pedaled on home wondering if the cab put on the meter or not. 

"I love the way he lights up around his kids" and other Republican speech thoughts

First, let me take something totally out of context, the way the Republicans are running with Obama's inept comment about entrepreneurs. 

Here's Romney's comment about his running mate Paul Ryan:
"I love the way he lights up around his kids . . ."
Wow, I thought when I heard this.  But it makes sense from a man whose religion forbids smoking.  It must be thrilling to see someone have the freedom to light up around his kids.  Of course, I'm assuming it meant tobacco and not that medicinal herb, cause then we'd need to know about Ryan's health issues. 

Fortunately for the Democrats, they don't have to take an out of context comment like this and run ads riffing on it, because Romney and his colleagues like Rep. Akin say enough real stuff to give them serious political ammunition.

I heard Marco Rubio and part of Romney's speech.  A few quotes from Rubio I thought worth commenting on:
"Our national motto is "In God we Trust," reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all."

It's interesting that Romney, a little later would say:
"And I will guarantee America's first liberty: the freedom of religion."
Let's remember exactly what the First Amendment to the Constitution says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Given the first Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of religion by Congress, it seems strange to claim 'faith in our Creator' as the most important American value of all. I understand the First Amendment was to get government out of the religion business and letting people practice as they please.  I would think justice and freedom would be higher on the list.

 Wikipedia reminds us "In God we Trust" was not the motto of our founding fathers. 
Never codified by law, E pluribus unum was considered a de facto motto of the United States[citation needed] until 1956 when the United States Congress passed an act (H.J. Resolution 396), adopting "In God We Trust" as the official motto.[4]
And reports tell us that the convention protestors were not allowed to assemble any closer than 10 blocks from the convention.

Rubio spoke movingly about his dad.
My dad was a bartender. . . A few years ago during a speech, I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar at the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father who had worked for many years as a banquet bartender.
But I couldn't help think that if everyone in the US shared Mitt Romney's values about drinking alcohol, Rubio's dad wouldn't have had a job.

And then there was the homage to the convention theme of American exceptionalism:
"For those of us who were born and raised in this country, it's easy to forget how special America is. But my grandfather understood how different America is from the rest of the world, because he knew what life was like outside America."
Rubio's granddad, as I understand it, before coming to the US only knew Cuba - the country the US has been boycotting since Castro came to power over 50 years ago.    I have no doubt that Rubio's grandfather loved his life in the US, and his gratitude for living here is appropriate.  But I'm not buying his expertise on how things are in all the rest of the world 'outside America."  There are a lot more options than Cuba. 

The US is an amazing country and has been an inspiration to people around the world.   But so was Germany before WW I. After the humiliating Treaty of Versailles,  Hitler promised Germans he'd regain their former greatness.  Rubio suggests Romney, too, will restore the US to its former greatness and beyond:
Mitt Romney believes that if we succeed in changing the direction of our country, our children and grandchildren will be the most prosperous generation ever, and their achievements will astonish the world.
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins.  Given that Rubio had already ranked faith in the creator as his number one value, you'd think he would remember this line from Proverbs:
Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.

I hope you realize this has not been a review of Rubio's (and certainly not Romney's) speech.  I've just taken a few lines.  Some of my comments are more serious than others.

I hope enough Americans realize, when they hear speeches like this analyzed by the media, that they too are taking what they see as the most interesting lines or the lines most likely to gain hits for their online articles.  Listen to or read the speeches yourself.

Rubio's speech.
Romney's speech.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Suffering Nature-Deficit Disorder? Try A Dose of Alaskan Mountains and Clouds

Never heard of Nature-Deficit Disorder?* I hadn't either until this morning, but I have known that being out in the woods, even in the mini-woods of our back yard, makes me feel better.
Saturday going to Hope was sunny and I stopped a couple of times to be near natural water.  Sunday, coming back, when it was cloudy, I had more time to stop here and there and walk around in natural settings, places where the human impact was almost invisible.  (Though the sound of traffic sometimes invaded those spaces since I wasn't far off the road.)

So I'll post some pictures of those moments over the next few days so you can take a break.  And maybe find some local natural spot.  The coolth of the air, the fresh smell of rain, the sounds of water and wind, are all more than pictures can convey.

And then I learned today:

*Richard Louv, the award-winning author of Last Child in the Woods, will be at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium on September 6th at 7:00 pm. He will talk about his recent book, the Nature Principle, Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, as well as the research from his earlier work on the connection between youth and nature.  More info at Chugach Children's Forest.
FAIRBANKS folks - you get him the day before, Wednesday, Sept. 5. More here.

Both events are billed as FREE.  (Someone's paying, but you won't have to pay at the door.  But you might consider donating to the organizations that are sponsoring Mr. Louv.)

Now go outside and stick your finger or toes in the water, smell the tree bark, taste an herb or berry or something else growing wild. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wasn't There Room In The Cab For The Last Kid?

Seen waiting for a light on Tudor near the Seward Highway.

Hope Last Saturday Night

My book club met in Hope Saturday.  One of the members has a cabin there.  After the discussion (John McPhee's The Control of Nature) and dinner, we walked into downtown Hope.  Note, the 2010 Census says there are 192 residents.  Not sure if that counts the summer residents, and it certainly doesn't count the campers on the beach.

We walked down to the muddy banks of Resurrection Creek.  This is where it flows into Turnagain Arm.

The Super Saturated Sugar Strings was playing at the Seaview Bar.  I'd met some of the band at the Out North fundraiser earlier this year.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Early Anchorage Election Report Shows Higher Republican, But Overall Low, Turnout

As I glance through the early returns (8:59pm)  it appears that Republicans were out voting more than Democrats and others.  Race after race shows more votes cast in the Republican ballots than the Democratic ballots, with just a few exceptions.

This led me to believe that Prop. 2 would be doing poorly and that was the case.  It's losing - 62. % NO to 37. % YES.

Prop. 1 is a tossup at this point with Yes slightly ahead.

Turnout appears low in the precincts reporting - under 10% if I read it right.

I was number 93 at my polling place voting machine around 3pm.  They said they had 1200 registered. (But those numbers are always very high because they are so slow at getting rid of people who have moved out of state or died.)

Here's a link to the latest results HTML  or  PDF.  (The 9:15pm posting is now up)

How Many Ways Are There To Steal An Election? And Why Doesn't Anyone Care?

Americans have long taken pride in their free elections and think of voter fraud in the US as something part of history (Such as Chicago's slogan "Vote early and vote often" and stories of people voting using the names of dead voters.)

We are even proud to send observers to countries where democracy is new and governments untrustworthy.  But we have plenty of stories of problems in the US.

Alaska has a primary election today.  Given Anchorage's municipal election fiasco in April, voting machine expert and blogger Brad Friedman has posted about our voting machines and the elections practices that make them vulnerable to fraud in today's election:
Of course, there are "tamper-evident" security seals placed over some of the most vulnerable parts of the optical-scan systems, and those could never be defeated without leaving visual clues behind, right?

Well, funny thing. In Alaska, when a security seal is discovered broken on their tabulation computers --- if they are discovered broken --- poll workers are instructed to simply replace it with another one and start the voting, as both several poll workers, as well as an Alaska election official (who has now been fired) confirmed with The BRAD BLOG. Several seals, the now former Alaska election official told us when she still had a job, are provided to poll workers to make replacing broken seals very simple, as seen in this next photo...

So why would Election Officials in the Last Frontier instruct poll workers to simply replace broken seals before the election, which would seem to defeat the entire point of using "tamper-evident" seals in the first place? It's a good question, especially when these machines --- which will be used once again in more than 1,000 jurisdictions in all or parts of 24 different states during this November's Presidential Election --- have been shown by many many official studies over the last decade to be incredibly vulnerable to nearly undetectable manipulation.
I would note that this is not a case of local bloggers being asleep, they have helped Friedman get information for this post.

 The Economist has an article about stealing elections that lists several ways to steal an election.   First a few based on a study by a University of Essex researcher.

  1.  blatant ballot stuffing (is declining)
  2. alter election laws (increasing)
    [Republicans have used 'voter fraud' as an excuse to require photo id's to vote in a number of critical states.  We know that a large proportion of people without photo id's are likely to vote Democratic (and student id's with photos are not allowed in some states).  Documented cases of voter fraud are almost non-existent in these states.  Critics are calling this 'election-fraud' NOT voter fraud. See NY Times "The Myth of Voter Fraud.]
  3. gerrymandering unlosable constituencies
    [The Alaska Redistricting Board, while more careful than past boards, has managed to endanger seats of members of the Senate coalition and Fairbanks Democratic Senators and representatives by how they drew the lines.]
  4. vote-buying, using state resources in campaigning, and exploiting partisan media.
    [More common outside the US, however the Citizens United Supreme Court decision appears to have had a similar effect by unleashing unlimited private money, in some case undisclosed, that can be spent influencing voters.  And Fox News was already doing this without contributions.]
  5. Some fraud masquerades as incompetence.  From a Duke study by Judith Kelly (also in the Economist article)
    1. "Too few voting slips, patchy voter lists, and long queues at polling stations distort elections as surely as burnt ballot boxes and bribes. Yet election observers are likely to withhold their worst scoldings if the line between cock-up and corruption is unclear."
      [This is a large part of the problem we had in Anchorage in April] 
  6. "intimidation, sabotage (doors being glued shut, for example, in Russia) or manipulation" of poll watchers.
  7.  "Another dodge is to invite more than one mission" of poll watchers (external groups coming to verify elections.) 

    Then there's a whole new way to steal elections in the last 20 years:
  8.  Tampering with Voting Machines
    Here is a video from Princeton University showing how to steal an election by messing with the software.

We use Diebold machines in Anchorage.  Our last election showed a number of irregularities, including seals that can easily be tampered with.  Our election officials allow voting machines to overnight with election workers and election workers are told not to worry about broken seals.  [SEE, I CAN JUST WRITE THAT WITHOUT BOLD PRINT OR EXCLAMATION POINTS, BECAUSE I TOO NOW TAKE IT FOR GRANTED.  We're like the slowly boiling frogs.  Wow, finding a boiling frog link even explodes that myth.]

If I were going to steal an election by tampering with the machines, I'd try out some things in elections before I wanted to strike.  Maybe someplace remote, like Alaska.  Test things out, lull the public into believing that, "well there are problems, but no one actually fixed the election."  That happened in Anchorage in April.  Few seemed to care about all the well documented problems, "because none of the races was close."  Then I would try it out on a specific race.  There's a perfect one to try this on today.

In today's election, international mining interests and other resource developers like Shell ($150,000 contribution)  had raised, by the end of July, over $700,000 to defeat proposition 2.  (Those supporting proposition 2 had only raised $150,000.)  The resource exploitation industry has an obvious interest in preventing the reactivation of the Coastal Zone Management program that existed for over 25 years in Alaska until the governor and the legislature could not agree on legislation to extend it.  The video shows how little it would take to manipulate the voting machines.

We do have the advantage of having back up hard copies of ballots.  But the Anchorage election in April showed how those hard copies could be mishandled.  There were many, many questions  about what happened to the hundreds and hundreds of questioned ballots.  If any of the races had been decided by less than several hundred votes, there would have been no way to verify who was really elected.

Alaskans,   elections are the foundation of democracy.  Are we going to hold state election officials and legislators accountable for making our elections incorruptible?

And what happens here is happening in different scenarios around the country.  So all you non-Alaskans have work to do as well.  And if anyone thinks that last sentence ignored my international readers, you're included.  The Irish threw out €54 million in voting machines because they weren't safe from tampering.   [Mac users, you can get the Euro symbol (€) by typing Option+Shift+2]

Do we need to call the UN to send election observers to the US in November? 

Other sources on stealing elections:

Foreign Policy has an article on how to steal elections that's quite similar, though it is focused on  countries with few checks and balances.

The vulnerablility of voting machines from ars technica.

A long Alternet piece on stealing elections has this subtitle:
Americans cling to an idealized image of our political integrity, but a look at how we run our elections tells a very different tale.
Gallup Poll senior editor David Moore has written a couple of books on this topic as specifically relates to polling and public opinion.  

I realize the title promises something on why we don't care about this.  I could change the title, but I think it's probably as important as the part on stealing elections.  Let me start a list of things that make sense to me.

  1. People commiting election fraud have gotten the media to focus on VOTER fraud.
    1. OK, I'm guessing about who is doing this, but googling the question comes up with stories about VOTER fraud, not election fraud. 
    2. Those making money off voting machines have a vested interest in people believing they are safe.  
  2. People don't know there's a problem because we don't change our basic beliefs easily.  Americans have been taught that American democracy is untouchable.  That's in part what the Republican platform title "American Exceptionalism" is all about.
  3. Some people don't care as long as it benefits their side.
  4. Americans are overwhelmed by things they should be worried about and so they do nothing about any of them.  (Or pick an issue and work on just that one.) 

    Readers, you have to supply the rest.


Think of this as a memorial to a dragonfly that died on my windshield.

Monday, August 27, 2012

If The Democratic Convention Were Postponed By a Hurricane . . .

You know that some of those conservatives who regularly talk with God would be telling us about divine intervention.

But, since I checked before posting this, it seems a lot of others have made similar observations.

Dana Milbank at the Washington Post fills out this thought most clearly:
By their own logic, Republicans and their conservative allies should be concerned that Isaac is a form of divine retribution. Last year, Rep. Michele Bachmann, then a Republican presidential candidate, said that the East Coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene — another “I” storm, but not an Old Testament one — were attempts by God “to get the attention of the politicians.” In remarks later termed a “joke,” she said: “It’s time for an act of God and we’re getting it.”
The influential conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck said last year that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami were God’s “message being sent” to that country. A year earlier, Christian broadcaster and former GOP presidential candidate Pat Robertson tied the Haitian earthquake to that country’s “pact to the devil.”
Previously, Robertson had argued that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for abortion, while the Rev. John Hagee said the storm was God’s way of punishing homosexuality. The late Jerry Falwell thought that God allowed the Sept. 11 attacks as retribution for feminists and the ACLU.

Science anyone?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Good Websites To Stretch Your Imagination

Image from bumbumbum

I found this arresting sculpture by  Bruno Catalano  at bumbumbum. You can also go directly to Catalano's website to see more sculptures and links.

Image from flavorwire

Flavorwire has a post on the 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World

Image from Ready Made

Getting a little less grandiose, Ready Made has some creative projects you can do at home, like this grass couch. 

Image from Radass

And finally, from Radass, a way to recycle the utilitarian shipping pallet. They have 34 different ideas for projects.

We haven't exhausted all the new possibilities in the world.  We just have to be playful and creative. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Republican Platform Committee Discusses Civil Unions

For Democrats who think all Republicans are nasty and uneducated and incapable of a civil discussion, watching the Republican Platform Committee discuss amendments might be a hopeful contrast to the way Republicans often appear on television and on the internet.  Even on Republican websites. 

I found these videos yesterday when trying to find a copy of the draft Republican Platform. I clipped a copy of the discussion of an amendment to recognize civil unions - same sex as well as one man/one woman - and allow marriage to be a religious sacrament.

The amendment didn't pass, but the fact that it was proposed and discussed without acrimony may come as a shock to some. For that reason alone, it's worth watching. I apologize for not quite mastering the trick of making clips from C-span videos. I cut out a minute or so from the beginning.

 [I thought it would play here, but if you click on the upper right corner - more info - it will take you to the clip on C-span.]

 You can see the complete video (there are two days of videos) of this and other discussions by the Republican platform committee. From the hour or so that I watched, I'd say that not too many amendments seemed to pass.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Republicans Finally Agree with Democratic Stance on Abortion: "It's a distraction."

Morning Edition had a three minute piece on Rep Akin's rape/aborition comments  . . .

Morning Edition host Steve Innskeep cites an LA Times report
"that in 2008 Romney touted the support of the doctor behind the Akin theory  that raped women don't get pregnant. . . 

Then he goes on:
Since that detail of the story emerged, the Romney campaign has only agreed to local interviews under the conditions that the reporters agree not to ask about Akin or abortion.

"It's a distraction.  We don't need any distractions, especially the week before our convention."  Republican consultant Ed Rogers says this controversy is a gift to Democrats and an albatross for Romney.

"It's cost him days when he could be having a message about something else, particularly about the economy.  And instead of having a message about that, we're talking about one of the wackiest things said in American politics this year . . ."

Let me get this straight.

1.  Discussion of abortion is a distraction from more important issues?  It seems to me for the last 30 years the Republicans have been using abortion as a distraction from the more important issues, because it got them money and votes.  But now that discussing abortion hurts Republicans and helps Democrats, it's suddenly a distraction. 

2.  Romney refuses to have interviews unless Akin and abortion and Romney's past support for the doctor Akin cites as the source of his 'raped women don't get pregnant' remark are off the table.  Is that also going to be a condition for the presidential debates?

3.  Republican consultant Rogers dismisses Akin's abortion view as irrelevant because it's  "The wackiest thing said. . ."   Let's play that back again slower.   Akin sponsored anti-abortion legislation that Paul Ryan co-sponsors that includes banning abortion in the case of rape and incest and he justifies this because rape victims can't get pregnant.  And this is irrelevant?  Republicans refuse to talk about it?  Sorry, it's not on my agenda, next question please - one about the economy. Why don't they just plead the fifth?

The 'distraction,'  it seems to me, is that attention is being put on Republican attempts to shut down every woman's access to abortion, even rape victims.  The Republican political agenda is intended to put the spotlight on the areas where they think Obama is vulnerable, and far from the areas where they are vulnerable.  

This is a distraction only if you are a paid consultant whose job it is to manage what Americans are talking about, because you've failed miserably in that agenda management.  Because one of the wacko (that's the Republican consultant's word not mine) politicians that you've helped get elected has escaped his handlers and said publicly what he really believes.  And you know that there are a bunch more wacko politicians out there who could do the same thing. (I heard some of the Alaska versions talking crazy like this when I was blogging the legislature.)

The Republican Platform on Rape and Abortion

If you google "Republican National Platform" there are a lot of links that pop up talking about the platform and abortion - but they are all news outlets and blogs talking about the platform.  Finding the platform itself is proving more difficult, at least for me. (If anyone has a link, please put it in the comments!)

C-Span reports that the draft platform has been sent to delegates for adoption on the first day of the convention, Monday. offers the 2008 platform.

C-Span has video of the Republican Platform meetings.  I haven't looked at them, but they might offer some interesting insight into the thinking (yes, it's still thinking even if you don't agree with the conclusions)  behind the Platform.

NPR reports that the platform has language that would essentially ban all abortions including the 'wacky' Akin's desire to ban abortions for rape and incest victims.
. . .  one of the least controversial issues discussed this week is abortion.
With little discussion, the committee on Tuesday adopted the same anti-abortion language it included in GOP platforms in 2004 and 2008. It seeks passage of a constitutional amendment that would extend legal rights to the unborn, essentially banning abortion.
The language in the platform includes no exceptions for rape or incest.
So, while the Republican establishment is working overtime to distance themselves from Akin's comment about rape victims spontaneously avoiding pregnancy, they are pledging to  ban access to abortion even for rape and incest victims.  The most positive thing about this whole incident is that some Republicans understand that Akin's comments were bad.  (Not necessarily bad policy, but bad PR.)

Looking at the Republican Convention website - there are no tabs that link to the Platform.  Going tab to tab, I could find this mention of platform in "Features"
Some delegates will be chosen to represent their delegations on one of the four standing convention committees (Resolutions, sometimes referred to as the “Platform Committee;” Credentials; Rules; and Permanent Organization).
 The 'Get Involved" tab offers us the word platform, but a different meaning:
You can sign up to receive newsletters and other updates, join convention social media conversations or get an up-close look at convention events through our website, blog and other platforms designed to create a convention without walls.
Maybe they're just waiting for it to be approved by the convention, but I'd think they would be proud of it and want to post it on their website.  But - I don't do this often - what do I know?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Did You Do Or Think Anything Today That Wasn't Media Inspired?

Suppose you had a blog post to write today.  Suppose further that you wanted to write about what was most important to you.  What would you write about?

Have you ever made a list of your most important values?  If you have, have you tracked whether you spend your time pursuing those values?  

How hard is it for us to spend our thinking time and doing time - the actual things we think about and do from the time we get up to the time we go to bed -  on what we believe is truly important and valuable?  And how much of our time and our thoughts are prescribed by others? (Would things be changed if we added dream time to the thinking calculation?)

How many of you would keep going to work if you were suddenly given a stipend of $100,000 a year for life?  Pause a bit and think about the answer . . .

If you stopped working, what would you do?  Would your life be caught up in stuff you 'have to do' because of stuff you own that needs attention (paying your bills, repairing your car or RV or boat, or iPhone, etc.)?  Would you be influenced in what you did by what other people would think?  Would your choices come from television shows, movies, and commercials?  Or would you create options based on your most important values? 

And even if you believe your work is basically worthwhile, how much of what you do at work is truly important and how much is wasted time?  We only have so many hours to spend on earth.  How can we spend them to best effect, whatever that means to you.  Do you know what that means to you?  [You mean you didn't stop to answer this?  You really don't have time to figure out what's most important to you?]

Do you set your agenda based on your values, or does the media set your agenda?  Or do  annoying people around you  set your agenda?  Do people's reaction to what you do or say affect your agenda?

Thought Control?

Have you ever made a diary of the topics you discussed with people in a day and then determined which topics were media inspired (like health care, the Olympics, global warming, the Hunger Games, Iran, the Euro,  Rihanna, or the latest tragedy in the world covered by the media) and how much was inspired by your life quest?  (Well, if you talked about health care because you were sick, that isn't necessarily media inspired, unless you then talked about the health care system.)

Having a few days with little internet connection and little other access to news, I started asking myself questions like these.  We talk so much about the importance of freedom, yet how many of us have much freedom?   How many of us know what we really want to do, have come up with options that weren't planned by marketing teams trying to figure out ways to get into our wallets or into the voting booth with us, or otherwise set our brains' agendas? 

And if you were to track how your thoughts were influenced by the media, would that be an original act, or would it be influenced by reading this blog? 

Obviously, being influenced by others isn't, by itself, a bad thing. 

But we shouldn't be ping-pong balls bouncing back and forth from headline to headline.  Rather we should develop some basic sense of who we are and what's important and when a passing idea will help us get where we want to go, it's fine to grab it and use it.  Or even when it causes us to question where we want to go.  But that shouldn't be happening five times a day or even five times a week.  Cutting off from 'the media' for a few days is healthy.  Anything really important we'll find out about when we turn it back on.  The rest we can do without. . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If You Vote For Obama Are You Voting For A War Criminal?

Obama's continuation of many of the Bush administration's war on terrorism actions are troubling - torture, the right to kill American citizens who are terrorists, the continued war in Afghanistan, etc.

Shannyn Moore posted a loooong conversation between John Cusack (the actor, who is also, clearly someone who thinks) and Jonathon Turlock a law professor and expert for various media.

Basically, they ask the question - Can you really vote for a president who violates the constitution and commits war crimes because "he's better than Romney" or because "I like his social programs?"

My personal rational has been that if a Republican appoints the next two Supreme Court justices, the chance to save democracy will be postponed another generation. 

There is also the assumption they make that Obama is in fact a war criminal.  It seems that they are guilty of convicting him without a trial, the same crime they accuse him of with his powers to assassinate people like Osama bin Laden, and worse, American citizens.  It's seriously disturbing, and that's why the media should cover it so there can be a full blown debate and the facts and interpretations can be examined.

Crossing the Rubicon is the metaphor they use repeatedly - is there no point past which Obama could go before you wouldn't vote for him? 

The alternatives to voting for Obama aren't nearly as well developed as the argument that he is a war criminal.  
“Look, you’re not helping Obama by enabling him. If you want to help him, hold his feet to the fire.”
Turley: Exactly.
If, like me, you live in a strongly red state, you can vote for a third party candidate as a protest vote.  No matter how I vote, it won't cost Obama any electoral votes.  People in blue states run the risk of too many people protesting and giving electoral votes to Romney.  When people voted for Nader in 2000 they were blamed for losing the election and the mainstream Democrats didn't get the message that people were protesting Clinton's moving so far to the right. 

So, I guess now we need to be sending messages to Obama that we are voting for one of the third party candidates unless he pledges to change his ways.  USA Today reported that there would be five third parties that will be on the ballots in more than five states:

Here are some excerpts from the conversation between Turley and Cusack:

Some of the charges against Obama:

Turley: Well, President Obama outdid President Bush. He ordered the killing of two U.S. citizens as the primary targets and has then gone forward and put out a policy that allows him to kill any American citizen when he unilaterally determines them to be a terrorist threat. Where President Bush had a citizen killed as collateral damage, President Obama has actually a formal policy allowing him to kill any U.S. citizen. . .

Cusack: Does that order have to come directly from Obama, or can his underlings carry that out on his behalf as part of a generalized understanding? Or does he have to personally say, “You can get that guy and that guy?”
Turley: Well, he has delegated the authority to the so-called death panel, which is, of course, hilarious, since the Republicans keep talking about a nonexistent death panel in national healthcare. We actually do have a death panel, and it’s killing people who are healthy. . .

Turley: Well, the framers knew what it was like to have sovereigns kill citizens without due process. They did it all the time back in the 18th century. They wrote a constitution specifically to bar unilateral authority.
James Madison is often quoted for his observation that if all men were angels, no government would be necessary. And what he was saying is that you have to create a system of law that has checks and balances so that even imperfect human beings are restrained from doing much harm. Madison and other framers did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government. They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone — a system of shared and balanced powers.
So what Obama’s doing is to rewrite the most fundamental principle of the U.S. Constitution. The whole point of the Holder speech was that we’re really good guys who take this seriously, and you can trust us. That’s exactly the argument the framers rejected, the “trust me” principle of government. You’ll notice when Romney was asked about this, he said, “I would’ve signed the same law, because I trust Obama to do the right thing.” They’re both using the very argument that the framers warned citizens never to accept from their government. . .
On the lack of media coverage:

Cusack: Oscar Wilde said most journalists would fall under the category of those who couldn’t tell the difference between a bicycle accident and the end of civilization. But why is it that all the journalists that you see mostly on MSNBC or most of the progressives, or so-called progressives, who believe that under Bush and Cheney and Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez these were great and grave constitutional crises, the wars were an going moral fiasco’s — but now, since we have a friendly face in the White House, someone with kind of pleasing aesthetics and some new policies  we like, now all of a sudden these aren’t crimes, there’s no crisis. Because he’s our guy? Go, team, go? . . .
It seems to me that there was media coverage about the Bush administration because there were lots of Democrats opposed to what Bush was doing.  But there isn't any noticeable Republican opposition to torture or assassination so there is no opposition and the press doesn't cover it. 

Who Ya Gonna Vote For?
And so then it gets down to the question, “Well, are you going to vote for Obama?” And I say, “Well, I don’t really know. I couldn’t really vote for Hillary Clinton because of her Iraq War vote.” Because I felt like that was a line, a Rubicon line –
Turley: Right.
Cusack: — a Rubicon line that I couldn’t cross, right? I don’t know how to bring myself to vote for a constitutional law professor, or even a constitutional realist, who throws away due process and claims the authority that the executive branch can assassinate American citizens. I just don’t know if I can bring myself to do it.
If you want to make a protest vote against Romney, go ahead, but I would think we’d be better putting our energies into local and state politics — occupy Wall Street and organizations and movements outside the system, not national politics, not personalities. Not stadium rock politics. Not brands. That’s the only thing I can think of. What would you say?
Turley: Well, the question, I think, that people have got to ask themselves when they get into that booth is not what Obama has become, but what have we become? That is, what’s left of our values if we vote for a person that we believe has shielded war crimes or violated due process or implemented authoritarian powers. It’s not enough to say, “Yeah, he did all those things, but I really like what he did with the National Park System.”
Cusack: Yeah, or that he did a good job with the auto bailout.
Turley: Right. I think that people have to accept that they own this decision, that they can walk away. I realize that this is a tough decision for people but maybe, if enough people walked away, we could finally galvanize people into action to make serious changes. We have to recognize that our political system is fundamentally broken, it’s unresponsive. Only 11 percent of the public supports Congress, and yet nothing is changing — and so the question becomes, how do you jumpstart that system? How do you create an alternative? What we have learned from past elections is that you don’t create an alternative by yielding to this false dichotomy that only reinforces their monopoly on power.
Cusack: I think that even Howard Zinn/Chomsky progressives, would admit that there will be a difference in domestic policy between Obama and a Romney presidency.
But DUE PROCESS….I think about how we own it. We own it. Everybody’s sort of let it slip. There’s no immediacy in the day-to-day on and it’s just one of those things that unless they… when they start pulling kids off the street, like they did in Argentina a few years ago and other places, all of a sudden, it’s like, “How the hell did that happen?” I say, “Look, you’re not helping Obama by enabling him. If you want to help him, hold his feet to the fire.”
Turley: Exactly.
Cusack: The problem is, as I see it, is that regardless of goodwill and intent and people being tired of the status quo and everything else, the information outlets and the powers that be reconstruct or construct the government narrative only as an election game of ‘us versus them,’ Obama versus Romney, and if you do anything that will compromise that equation, you are picking one side versus the other. Because don’t you realize that’s going to hurt Obama? Don’t you know that’s going to help Obama? Don’t you know… and they’re not thinking through their own sort of self-interest or the community’s interest in just changing the way that this whole thing works to the benefit of the majority. We used to have some lines we wouldn’t cross–some people who said this is not what this country does …we don’t do this shit, you had to do the right thing. So it’s going to be a tough process getting our rights back, but you  know Frankie’s Law? Whoever stops fighting first – loses.
Turley: Right.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How Many Others Who Serve in House With Akin Agree With Him, But Don't Say So Publicly?

Todd Akin has been a member of the House of Representatives for six terms - that's 12 years.  He's been voting on issues relating to women and all sorts of other topics. 

His old House district (it's been changed with redistricting) is just west and north of St. Louis.  These are the people responsible for his being in Congress.

from Akin's website

At 8:47pm Alaska time, these are Akin's most recent tweets:
  • We can't be intimidated by the liberal elite. I will continue standing for life. Will you?  

Let's see, these liberal elites include:

  • Mitt Romney
  • Paul Ryan
  • Sean Hannity
  • And a whole slew of other top Republican politicians and funders.

But my question is how many more members of congress feel as he does, but just keep quiet about it and use other reasons to explain their anti-women votes?

Random Seattle Shots

  Jackfruit at a Vietnamese market in Seattle.  You can see them growing out of the tree trunk in a photo from Chieng Mai here.   These are big fruit! 

 The ospreys I mentioned in the previous post. (There are two)


Ferry deck going to Bainbridge.

Monday, August 20, 2012


When the tide is out, three racoons wander out onto the mudflats looking, I assume, for shellfish.  There's an osprey nest in a nearby tree.  A kingfisher sits on the end of a pole.  And there are blackberries everywhere.  Visiting our daughter near Seattle.  Not much internet access, but natural access.

Pretty sure it's a female Western White butterfly

Not sure what this is.  The images I find for Western White and Pine white, don't have the black pattern on the lower parts of the wings. [Update Tuesday:  There's a picture of a female Western White butterfly that seems to have the same markings as this one and another one at green nature.]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

History as Ammunition or History as Lesson? The Control of Nature

Using historical examples to support an argument you're making can be tricky.  Many people echo this thought as this quote from Vital Remnant's blogger Martin Cothran shows us:
It won't please the Politically Correct, who will willing [sic] misread history to fit their narrative.
Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying,
"History is written by the victors."
Wikipedia has a post on "the politics of memory"  and the abstract of a book The Politics of Memory and Democratization explores, in part:
. . . how new democracies face an authoritarian past and past human rights violations, and the way in which policies of truth and justice shape the process of democratization. Eighteen countries in Central and South America, Central, Eastern and South Europe and South Africa are analysed in detail. The main variables affecting the implementation of truth and justice policies (purges, truth commissions and trials, among other policies) are: the balance between old and new regime forces; the availability of institutional, human and financial resources, the nature of the ideological preferences and commitments of the elites in question; the mobilization of social groups pressing in favour of these policies; and the importance of human rights in the international arena. The duration and degree of institutionalization of dictatorship is also important.
On the other hand,  most are familiar with George Santana's warning:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
So the challenge for us is to find coverage of the past that is reasonably self-aware and aware of the pitfalls of reporting the past,  and reasonably careful with its facts.

McPhee's Control of Nature

That said, I've been reading John McPhee's 1989 book The Control of Nature.  It has three accounts of humans attempting to control nature -  controlling the Mississippi, controlling lava flows in Iceland, and controlling the mud/rock slides in the mountains around Los Angeles.  I've read the Mississippi case (it's actually titled Atchafalaya and is about preventing that river from stealing the Mississippi's flow and taking the river out to the Gulf of Mexico several hundred miles from New Orleans thus threatening that city and the huge industrial complex that has taken advantage of the fresh water and transportation of the Mississippi) and the LA part.  I've just begun the Iceland story.

Each case is under 100 pages.  Yet each offers so many new names and places and ideas that I found myself having to reread them in an attempt to understand how things fit together.  Common themes in the Atchafalaya and LA cases include:
  • Natural cycles that existed before humans arrived
  • Human settlement that builds up enough economic investment to muster political support to protect it against natural cycles
  • The settlement grows, nature strikes again, newer, bigger protections are required and built.
  • There are regular proclamations of final victory with each project, though as time goes by there seems to be more recognition of the complications of the situation and the huge power of nature.
  • The predominant metaphor is war.  
  • Early protections encourage more settlements, putting more people at risk, requiring greater and costlier new protections.
  • The protections themselves cause other problems that ultimately make things worse
  • The protecting institution (the Army Corps of Engineers in Atchafalaya and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District) soon has a vested interest in continuing the ‘battle against nature.’
  • Attention is focused on protecting those in danger’s way, money gets appropriated to solve the immediate danger without looking at the ever increasing long term expenditures

The cases are not perfectly symmetrical but the basic commonality is the attempt to control powerful natural forces.

The Mississippi is a huge dynamic system that reaches from Canada and down to the Gulf of Mexico.  The engineers are depicted as almost like children building sand forts at the beach to stop the waves.  McPhee even talks about the 15 acre ‘sandbox’ where the Army Corps of Engineers has a model of the Mississippi drainage  to test their projects.

McPhee doesn’t really look deeply at the alternatives to control.  He discusses how the Mississippi has natural flooding cycles and how it used to overflow its banks in many places spreading silt and building up the land as it did.  He talks about how the natural cycles, over thousands of years, build up silt high enough in some places until the river shifts its flow through other channels until it builds up enough silt on that side and then moves its main channel again.

What, I kept thinking, would things be like if there was no work done to protect settlements along the Mississippi?  Would it be a vast wilderness?  Would the transportation channel from the Midwest simply become too difficult to navigate and cause economic disaster?  Is the fuel consumption of transportation along the Mississippi a much better alternative to rail and roads and air?  Would humans find ways to develop more portable and flexible settlements that could adjust more easily to the river’s cycles?
 Are there ways to make fewer and smaller protections that would leave more of the natural cycle and also allow for some stable settlements?

While McPhee did mention Holland’s ability to keep out the sea with its dikes, there was no discussion of whether this was a case of man successfully controlling nature or that it had equally problematic side-effects.  Or whether they just understood or accommodated nature better.  Or whether the problem wasn’t as complex.  Or whether they just spent, proportionately a lot more money and had better models.  It would also be interesting to hear some cases of places that gave up their attempts to control nature and just moved away. 

McPhee speculates, in passing, on the fate of New Orleans.  It seems doomed by ever increasing water levels if current practices continue and doomed by lack of water if the river were allowed to take advantage of the faster path to the Gulf through the Atchafalaya.  He doesn’t directly talk about the cost of saving New Orleans.  (Remember the book was published in 1989, well before the recent flood of New Orleans.)  But he makes it clear, that the danger to New Orleans is heightened by the protections given to all the cities and farmlands between New Orleans and the headwaters of the Mississippi and all the other rivers (such as the Missouri and Ohio) that flow into it.  Do the people who get that benefit owe New Orleans?  It would seem the answer is a strong yes.

The repeated quotes of scientists and engineers claiming to have solutions, plus the mocking of these claims by their critics, including Mark Twain, can’t help but make me think about the BP’s safety claims for the Deepwater Horizon and Shell’s present claims about the safety of drilling in the Chukchi.

McPhee is an outsider in each of these situations, though his reports imply that he's spent considerable time in each.  An outsider loses some of the perspective of people who have live in the situation most of their lives, but an outsider also is able to see the situation fresh and without the emotional blinders of the insiders.  My sense is that McPhee questions the hubris of those who want to control nature, but that if the story unraveled for him with a different conclusion, he'd report it that way.  And, having only started the Iceland story, I'm really not sure where it will end up.  At this point the people are attempting to stop the lava flows from blocking the nation's most lucrative fishing harbor.  Will this be a successful example? 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Airline Ticketing - Making Lemonade

You've heard, probably experienced, this story already.

I tried to get two tickets from Anchorage to Seattle.  $337 each, one way.  The closest stop from Anchorage is one of the most expensive.  So, out of frustration I checked Anchorage to LA.  $197.  With a stop in Seattle!  So, the Seattle price isn't that expensive because of lack of seats.  After all, we had to use two of those seats to Seattle on the way to LA.  It's just because Alaska has most of the Anchorage-Seattle flights.

After working through the Alaska Airlines website we ended up with a trip to Seattle with a two day stop in LA.  The whole thing comes out cheaper than if we had just flown to Seattle. 

And the Seattle-LA-Seattle flights we took were full.  So if they had had reasonable prices to Seattle and we hadn't gone to LA too, they could have sold our Seattle-LA-Seattle seats and ultimately made more money. 

But we got to see my mom, got more miles, and spent more time going to and from and waiting in airports. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Alaska's Prop 2 - Why Have Alaska Miners Association and Shell Each Spent As Much To Defeat Prop 2 As The Yes Side Raised Altogether?

Here are the basic parts of this post:
  • The Context of US Coastal Zone Management Programs
  • Supporters and Opponents
  • Money Raised
  • My Take On What's Going On
  • Finding Out More
Very briefly, after the legislature and governor in 2011 failed to renew the coastal zone management program that was initiated in Alaska in 1976,  a group of citizens and officials from coastal communities across the state have put a measure on the ballot to reestablish the program that every other coastal state and territory in the US are part of. 

Alaska's governor opposes most federal regulation of Alaska on the grounds that we know best what we need. But when local Alaska communities make the same argument about the feds and the state, he dismisses them.  He doesn't really seem to be as much concerned about local needs and power as corporate needs and power.  The real issue, it seems, is that the former Conoco-Phillips lobbyist in our Governor's mansion, is against anyone having the power to raise questions, slow down, or, even worse, stop any development.  We should all, the opponents seem to be saying, trust the developers to do the right thing. 

The Context of US Coastal Zone Management Programs

The Coastal Management Program was set up in 1976 by Gov. Hammond, the governor who fought to establish the Alaska Permanent Fund.  Hammond was a governor that most people agree had Alaskan people as his top priority.

Local powers were reduced by new legislation introduced by Gov. Murkowski in 2003.

In 2011 the program expired when the legislature and Gov. Parnell could not agree on specific legislation to renew it.  [This history comes from the Alaska Sea Party website which supports Prop 2.]

Coastal Management programs exist under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act established in 1972 (under Republican president Richard Nixon) and all the states and territories with coast lines - Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes - have programs affiliated with the Act.  Except Alaska which is supposed to have more coast line than all the others combined.  From NOAA's website, here is the list of states and territories with links to their programs.  (I checked them all.  Only Alaska has withdrawn.)

Alabama Alaska American Samoa
California Connecticut Delaware
Florida Georgia Guam
Hawaii Illinois Indiana
Louisiana Maine Maryland
Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota
Mississippi New Hampshire New Jersey
New York North Carolina Northern Mariana Islands
Ohio Oregon Pennsylvania
Puerto Rico Rhode Island South Carolina
Texas Virgin Islands Virginia
Washington Wisconsin

Supporters and Opponents

You can learn a lot by who supports and who opposes something. 

Prop 2 Supporters

The Alaska Sea Party which set up and backs the initiative is led by Juneau's mayor Bruce Botelho.  Its list of supporters include local mayors from around the state and other citizens who tend to stand up for the benefit of Alaskans.  People like Alaska Constitutional convention  member Vic Fischer and former state senator Arliss Sturgulewski.  You can see a  list of Prop 2 supporters here.  These are people who tend to represent the needs of their local communities.

Prop 2 Opponents

The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce President Rachael Petro signed the Statement in Opposition in the State Ballot Guide.  The list of Prop 2 opponents from a No on Prop 2 website is a list of developers, chambers of commerce, and industries supported by strong Outside interests (Cruise industry, Mining, Oil and Gas). 

Comparing the websites of the Yes and No sides offers an interesting contrast. I have only fact-checked a few points so I can't vouch for everything, but the style of the two sides is so enormously different that it tells you a lot.

There are lots of complaints about the language and reach of Prop 2, but little or no acknowledgment of the need for the program at all or the kind of changes that would make it more reasonable.

The Sea Party website (pro Prop 2) is long and detailed with factual statements that can be easily tested.  Conclusions are in generally neutral direct language supported by facts.

The No on Prop 2 website appears to be put together by the same sort of lucrative PR firm.  (The expenditure reports shows they've paid Porcaro Communications over half a million dollars.)   It's light on facts and heavy on slick visuals and unsupported and inflamatory generalities like this header on all their pages:
Ballot Measure 2 is a defective, deceptive measure that would create confusion and legal uncertainty, establish a new government bureaucracy and hamstring the state’s economy and job creation.

Money Raised 

This information comes from the July 31, 2012 APOC reports for No on Prop 2 and The Alaska Sea Party

No on Prop 2 - Total raised $767,995.31.  
Contributors giving $10,000 or more (all these were June and July 2012) You can see the No on Prop 2 APOC report here:

Alaska Sea Party (Yes on Prop 2) - Total raised $150,122.07 
[Contributions below were between April 1, 2012 and July 31, 2012, Income of $63,688.86 was reported for this period.  I can't find information on the source of the $86,433.21 income received before this period.  All but one $100 contribution have Alaskan addresses.]  You can see the Alaska Sea Party APOC report here.

Contributors giving $10,000 or more:

North Slope Borough - $15,137.97
Bristol Bay Native Corp  - $10,000

Note that the Alaska Miners Association and Shell have each contributed as much as the Alaska Sea Party raised altogether.  While I haven't found a list of members of the Alaska Miners Association, if the other mining contributions is an indication, their membership includes many huge multi-national mining corporations.  

The numbers here are from the APOC reports.  I have only double checked them, so there may be some minor errors but nothing, I think, that make a significant difference to the overall impact. 

My Take On What's Going On

This is about large corporations, many if not most headquartered outside of Alaska, opposed to regulation.  After 25 years in existence, Alaska's Coastal Zone Management program was weakened by the Murkowski administration in 2003.  The Parnell administration was able to end it by fighting with the legislature over the wording of legislation to renew the program.  Alaska is now the only coastal state without a program affiliated with the national Coastal Zone Management Act.  A group of coastal communities have come together to reestablish the program that gave them some meaningful input in decisions by larger corporations that would affect their way of life. 

We have a governor who is fighting the feds on all fronts because, he argues, we have the right to make the decisions that affect our state without the federal government interfering.

But when it comes to local government, our governor thinks the state knows best and local governments should have no say on what happens to their communities.

The real issue, it seems to me, is that this former oil company lobbyist (Gov. Parnell) doesn't want anyone, whether it's the feds or local people doing anything to interfere with corporations and businesses making money in Alaska.

Finding Out More

  • Check out the Alaska Sea Party Website and the No On Prop 2 website.
  • Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAH) website that maps out the Coastal Management Act and the programs around the country.
  • Check out the Alaska Voting Guide.  The online link is packaged differently from the hard copy that was mailed to Alaska households.  In either case, this is hard to read.  Here's an overview of the pamphlet that came in the mail.
    • Pages 20-21 - Ballot Language - this is the summary that appears on the ballot
    • Pages 21-22 - Legislative Affairs Summary - Legislative Affairs tends to give non-partisan analysis
    • Pages 22-27 - Statement of Costs - this was prepared by the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.  I can't vouch for their estimates.  The Governor strongly opposes this measure.
    • Pages 27-37 - Full Text of the Law - you can check both sides' claims against the actual wording of the law, though you can't always understand the implications from the wording
    • Page 38 - Statement of Support
    • Page 39 - Statement of Opposition 

I had been getting hits for Alaska Prop 2, which were going to the 2010 post on the Prop 2 that year which was about parental notification before a minor could have an abortion or the 2008 post on Prop 2 for that year which was on aerial wolf hunting.  Thus I decided I should do a post for this year's Prop 2.  I haven't had the time I'd like to do a better job on this, but the primary election (when this is voted on) is in less than two weeks (August 28) and people can vote early already.  So I need to get this up.