Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Nuisance" Ballot Initiatives - Translation: Voters Too Stupid To Decide

Let's see how calm I can stay [not very it tuns out] while I give my reaction to a story in today's ADN.
"Scott Hawkins, founder of ProsperityAlaska believes the voting public should not decide complex tax questions or other measures that increase regulations or permitting of businesses. . .

'Our elected officials spent years and thousands of hours in hearings and hired experts and oil taxation is not a suitable subject for the ballot.'"
Where to begin?  There's so much packed in this article.

It cites a question sent to candidates for state office that asks:
"whether the rules for putting initiatives and referendums on the ballot need reform and are being 'abused resulting in a nonstop series of bad ballot measures that Alaska's business community must spend millions of dollars every 1-2 years to fight.'"
Let's get this straight.  Now that business - big and small - has helped elect a conservative legislature that is so lopsided that Democrats are pretty much ignored, they want more.  Business gets most of the legislation they want.  Apparently that isn't enough.

Because when the public gets riled enough by the kind of legislation that gets through this one-party legislature, they write petitions and gather signatures around the state to give the public the opportunity to put some brakes on the business express coming out of the legislature.  So, since Hawkin's friends already are spending so much money contributing to conservative campaigns to get the loyalty of well over half the legislature, they shouldn't have to deal with fighting citizen referendums, the only check left for the public when they think terrible legislation has been passed, or good legislation has been stymied.

And it isn't enough that the petitioning requirements have been made more difficult.  Ballotpedia explains: 
"Signatures equal to 7% of the total district vote in the last general election must be collected in each of 3/4 of the 40 Alaska House districts.
An older, less restrictive, distribution requirement was changed by a legislatively referred ballot measure on the November 2004 ballot, the Distribution Requirement for Initiatives Act. That measure was approved with 51.7% of the vote. The older requirement was that proponents must collect petition signatures from each of 2/3 of Alaska's 40 state House districts--only one voter needed to sign from each of the 27 districts."
But those pesky citizens have managed to overcome these obstacles to get initiatives on the ballot.  In August, they got enough signatures to challenge SB 21 that gave oil companies about a $2 billion a year tax break.  And the oil companies had to spend millions to defeat the referendum, and it was relatively close.  So why not cut off this last way that people can keep their legislature accountable?

I'd also note that I spent a session in Juneau as a blogger.  There are a number of legislators who have no more smarts than the 'public' Scott distrusts.  And then there are those who are reasonably smart, but ethically challenged.  And then there are those whose world view, apparently like Scott's, sees business as the savior of humankind. 

What else might voters be incompetent to decide on Scott?

Don't get me wrong.  I think the voters of Alaska make plenty of mistakes.  They voted to amend the constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.  The voted to make English the official language of the state.  They've elected Don Young again and again and again.  But I trust them a lot more than I trust the oil industry or the various big business interests to decide what's best for Alaska's people now and in the future. 

 Before posting this I checked ProsperityAlaska's website. 

Prosperity has the nerve to run a headline like "Alaska Budgets Have Run Amok!" yet, they have a picture rotating through their header with the  corporate supporters who lead the Republican majority in the legislature along with Gov. Sean Parnell all of whom fought for and passed these out of control budgets!  

Image from PosperityAlaska Header

Another headline "Facing Down "Enviro Whack Jobbery" goes on to tout the bill that passed the legislature that threw out regulations on the cruise industry that were passed by an initiative.
"An important vote on cruise ship wastewater regulations brought the environmental extremists in the Alaska Legislature floating to the surface.  With solid leadership from Gov. Parnell, sound science carried the day. "
Environmental extremists?  In the Alaska legislature?  I think he means anyone who mentions any regulation on business.  This sounds like the language of the old Anchorage Times back in the 1970s.  What about the pro-business extremists in legislature?  These are folks who worship the free-market with no idea that some of its greatest supporters warned that it has serious flaws.  Everything has flaws and we need to use all tools with awareness of when they don't work.   And these folks need to recognize and protect against market's failures.  Anyone who points them out and tries to correct them seems to be pilloried. 

The cruise ship industry is one of the Outside corporations that treat Alaska like a colony and were not happy at all when citizens put restrictions on them through an initiative.  The legislation the site touts gutted much of that citizen initiative. 

Thank you Alex DeMarban (ADN reporter) for writing about this so the rest of us become alerted to this attack on the rights of Alaskans.  An attack on the Alaska Constitution.

Oh yeah, the initiative and the referendum are spelled out in Article 11.  From the Lt. Gov's website:

Article 11 - Initiative, Referendum, and Recall

§ 1. Initiative and Referendum

The people may propose and enact laws by the initiative, and approve or reject acts of the legislature by the referendum.

§ 2. Application

An initiative or referendum is proposed by an application containing the bill to be initiated or the act to be referred. The application shall be signed by not less than one hundred qualified voters as sponsors, and shall be filed with the lieutenant governor. If he finds it in proper form he shall so certify. Denial of certification shall be subject to judicial review. [Amended 1970]

§ 3. Petition

After certification of the application, a petition containing a summary of the subject matter shall be prepared by the lieutenant governor for circulation by the sponsors. If signed by qualified voters who are equal in number to at least ten per cent of those who voted in the preceding general election, who are resident in at least three-fourths of the house districts of the State, and who, in each of those house districts, are equal in number to at least seven percent of those who voted in the preceding general election in the house district, it may be filed with the lieutenant governor. [Amended 1970, 1998 & 2004]

§ 4. Initiative Election

An initiative petition may be filed at any time. The lieutenant governor shall prepare a ballot title and proposition summarizing the proposed law, and shall place them on the ballot for the first statewide election held more than one hundred twenty days after adjournment of the legislative session following the filing. If, before the election, substantially the same measure has been enacted, the petition is void. [Amended 1970]

§ 5. Referendum Election

A referendum petition may be filed only within ninety days after adjournment of the legislative session at which the act was passed. The lieutenant governor shall prepare a ballot title and proposition summarizing the act and shall place them on the ballot for the first statewide election held more than one hundred eighty days after adjournment of that session. [Amended 1970]

§ 6. Enactment

If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition favor its adoption, the initiated measure is enacted. If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition favor the rejection of an act referred, it is rejected. The lieutenant governor shall certify the election returns. An initiated law becomes effective ninety days after certification, is not subject to veto, and may not be repealed by the legislature within two years of its effective date. It may be amended at any time. An act rejected by referendum is void thirty days after certification. Additional procedures for the initiative and referendum may be prescribed by law. [Amended 1970]

§ 7. Restrictions

The initiative shall not be used to dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or enact local or special legislation. The referendum shall not be applied to dedications of revenue, to appropriations, to local or special legislation, or to laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.

§ 8. Recall

All elected public officials in the State, except judicial officers, are subject to recall by the voters of the State or political subdivision from which elected. Procedures and grounds for recall shall be prescribed by the legislature.
You best check the link now before the governor thinks the Constitution is too radical to have on the state's website.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Random Shots From Prospect Heights Trail

The bridge at the creek not too far along the trail from the Prospect Heights parking lot.  I think this is the south fork of Campbell Creek, but I'm not certain.

 A close up of lichen on a dead tree branch.

A view from the trail.  I'm pretty sure that peak on the left is Near Point.

There was a little (really little, maybe two feet wide) creek that dropped a bit and had lots of bubbles.  This picture is a bit surreal, but I like it.  The bubbles are toward the left on top. 

It was a spectacular day, and this time of year there were no mosquitoes.

Hong Kong Democracy Movement Heats Up

It seems like the whole world is full of governments trying to control their people and people taking to the streets in protest.  It's hard to keep track of them all.

But I spent a year in Hong Kong, just after Tiananmen, when everyone was jittery because the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong coming in 1997, looked a lot more ominous after June 4, 1989. 

A recent white paper from the Beijing government on Hong Kong sent the notice that elections the people of Hong Kong had been expecting soon, would have Beijing approved candidates only.

This has pushed democracy advocates into action.

(Reuters) - Violent clashes between Hong Kong riot police and students galvanized tens of thousands of supporters for the city's pro-democracy movement and kick-started a plan to lock down the heart of the Asian financial center early on Sunday.
Leaders and supporters of Occupy Central with Love and Peace rallied to support students who were doused with pepper spray early on Saturday after they broke through police barriers and stormed the city's government headquarters.  [For the whole article, click here.]

Part of Hong Kong is attached to mainland China.  Then there's Hong Kong Island, the heart of the business district.  Central - as in "Occupy Central" above - is where many of  the modern office buildings and the main government offices are located.  I don't have a good feeling about how this is going to end.

One of those arrested, according to the Reuters piece, is 17 year old student leader Joshua
Wong has already won one major victory against Beijing. In 2012, he forced the Hong Kong government to shelve plans to roll out a pro-China national education scheme in the city's schools when the then 15-year-old rallied 120,000 protesters.
 Here's a BBC article
And China Daily's take on this.
It says China's deployed 7000 police to keep order.  If there were 70,000 protesters, that would mean one cop for every 10 protesters.  Even if there were 700,000 it would still one cop for every hundred protesters.  Now do you understand why I don't feel good about this.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tea N. Crumpet Returns Online As Token Liberal

When I first started blogging in 2006 and 2007 a small community of Alaska bloggers found each other and linked to each other.  We had relatively small audiences and we checked each others blogs regularly.  Many of them have dropped by the wayside, and just the other day I was thinking how much more community we had back then.

Well, I just learned that Tea N. Crumpet is returning at Token Liberal.  Back then she basically had a mommy blog and blogged about, mostly, the joys and unjoys of raising her nine kids.  She described herself as living north of Chicago, but soon the stories she wrote seemed more Ancchorage than Chicago until I finally emailed to ask why.  Her reply was that Alaska is north of Chicago.  In those days we all played with versions of anonymity because we didn't know what we were going to say and how this would all play out.  Tea N. Crumpet's family played a big role in her blog and she wanted her location vague.  

So I'm pleased to put her new blog  onto my blogroll.  We'll see how it evolves, but I expect it will be well written and interesting.  Check it out. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Story Of Mankind: History Of The Middle East In 300 Words

click to enlarge the images
"The story of Mesopotamia is one of endless warfare and conquest. . .

"In the fortieth century before our era, the Sumerians had entered Mesopotamia.  They were soon afterwards overpowered by the Akkadians . . . A thousand years later, the Akkadians were forced to submit to the rule of the Amorites, another Semite desert tribe whose great
Damascus, the capital of modern Syria, is in the middle

King Hammurabi built himself a magnificent palace in the holy city of Babylon and who gave his people a set of laws which made the Babylonian state the best administered empire of the ancient world.  Next the Hittites whom you will also meet in the Old Testament, overran the Fertile Valley and destroyed what they could not carry away.  They in turn were vanquished by the followers of the great desert god, Ashur, who called themselves Assyrians and made the city of Nineveh the center of a vast and terrible empire which conquered all of western Asia and Egypt and gathered taxes from countless subject races until the end of the seventh century before the birth of Christ when the Chaldeans, also a Semitic tribe, re-established Babylon and made that city the most important capital of that day.  Nebuchadnezzar, the best known of their kings, encouraged the study of science and our modern knowledge of astronomy and mathematics is all based on certain first principles which were discovered by the Chaldeans.  In the year 538 B.C. a crude tribe of Persian shepherds invaded this old land and overthrew the empire of the Chaldeans.  Two hundred years later, they in turn were overthown by Alexander the Great, who turned the Fertile Valley, the old melting-pot of so many Semitic races, into a Greek province.  Next came the Romans and after the Romans, the Turks, and Mesopotamia, the second centre of the world's civilization, became a vast wilderness where huge mounds of earth told a story of ancient glory." (pp. 84-87)

This is from Henrik Van Loon's The Story of Mankind, the first book to win the Newbery Prize for outstanding contribution to children's literature in 1922.  It has over 500 pages and as you can tell, it's a little dated and Eurocentric.  The first index reference to China, for example, isn't until World War II. 

This is a book I got as a kid.  I don't remember how much of it I actually finished.  But with my son here looking through the closets and garage for stuff he's left behind, this book showed up. 

What strikes me is the much larger context it gives the events in the Middle East today.

Like, "In the fortieth century before our era."  Forty centuries.  That's 4,000 years.  Add two thousand years since the birth of Christ and we're talking about 6000 years.  Since the so called 'first Iraq war' in 1991, the US has been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan about 23 years out of that 6000.

Despite those who believe in American exceptionalism,  we're still a relatively young nation, and throughout history there have been many powerful nations that have ruled large portions of the world, and then have faded into obscurity.  I thought I'd put up these maps to remind folks of the geography - I have a modern map with the countries that border Syria here - and also to remind us that the limits of our knowledge plus our biases cause us to believe our version of Truth which inevitably will change as time goes on.  That's not a bad thing.  In fact it's inevitable.  But we're wiser and probably more effective human beings if we remember that and leave a keyhole of doubt in all our certainties. 

The Story of Mankind, it seems, was made into a terrible film in 1957 - the last film to have three Marx Brothers.  You can learn more about the film (and see a couple of clips) here.

First Report Says 6.1: Earthquake Willow, Alaska

There was no mistake that there was an earthquake.  When it didn't stop right away I started counting.  At about 25 there was a much bigger jolt, then a few more seconds and it stopped.

The USGS site says

"6.1 97km WNW of Willow, Alaska"
Map from USGS
No damage here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How Addicted Are You? Facebook And The Heroin Model Of Marketing

First they give the product out free, until the user is addicted.

Then they say, "If you want more, you gotta pay."

So, are you ready to give Facebook $3 per month?

So, for those who have been saying, "I'm not addicted.  I can quit any time," this truth time.  

And if you aren't ready to give it up, how will you capture your list of contacts and other information?

You did see this coming, didn't you?

And I suspect most people will decide it's worth $36 a year.   And once they have your automatic payment set up, how long will it take to increase to $4 or $10 per month?

If 70% of the world said no, would they lower the price to $1?

I'm sure there are already people using FB to protest this.   

But how will this impact all the people around the world who have used FB as a way connect to people far away or to organize and get community activity going?

Now is the time for the FB alternatives who will be more than happy to offer a place to talk to those who say no.

I remember when the world wide web was just starting and there were all these amazing opportunities.  I used to think it was like the wild west, with few rules and lots of freedom, but that it couldn't last.  This is probably the biggest single action to remind us that it won't last.

[UPDATE 5:50pm:  Of course, Anon is right. India Times:
New York: An article on the satirical website National Report, which stated that the social networking site is going to charge its users $2.99 per month starting Nov 1 is fictional, media reports said.]

Take A Nature Break - A Trip To Potter Marsh

Even though the path is a man made boardwalk and the highway and shooting range noises interfere, going out to see the seasonal changes at Potter Marsh is always a soothing event.  This time my three month old grandson and his parents were along, and while he slept through it all, it was good to take him out there.

So if you need a relaxing nature break, enjoy the post.  Clicking on any picture will give you a MUCH sharper version. 

The ducks I could identify were all mallards.  Mallards are really beautiful, but I tend to dismiss them because they're so common.  I just enjoyed the patterns of and the reflections in the water.

Most of the summer birds were gone.  The bald eagles (it's in the old cottonwood, look for the white head) nest back there and spend the winter in the area.  The Arctic Terns were gone.  We did see some trumpeter swans, but they were camera shy yesterday.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Climate Change March in New York: There Are Things We Can Do

Tens of thousands of people are supposed to be marching in New York City this morning to let our leaders - in DC and in other world capitals - know that people want them to take action to mitigate global climate change.  From the New York Times:
“We’re going to sound the burglar alarm on people who are stealing the future,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of the group 350.org, which is helping to organize the march, and the author of several books about climate change, notably “The End of Nature,” published 25 years ago.
“Since then we’ve watched the summer Arctic disappear and the ocean turn steadily acidic,” Mr. McKibben said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s not just that things are not getting better. They are getting horribly worse. Unlike any other issue we have faced, this one comes with a time limit. If we don’t get it right soon, we’ll never get it right.”
Why aren't leaders doing anything?  There are a number of reasons, for example:
  • There are organized campaigns to deny that climate change is happening or if it is, that it's caused by human action. 
  • The oil industry and other carbon fuel related businesses and those that maintain their infrastructure all have a short term financial interest in not making changes and keep the pressure on the public and politicians to do nothing.  Much like the tobacco industry did and still does deny tobacco is harmful.
  • While people are starting to feel the effects of climate change - particularly in extreme weather patterns, for example, bringing huge rainfalls in some places and drought in others, the connection to human behavior is not obvious.
  • People who understand it's a problem don't know what to do or think it's too late.

There are solutions.  I joined the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) because I was so impressed with
  • the information and experts they had
  • their organization and efficiency, and
  • their focus on a revenue neutral (tax revenue is returned to citizens) carbon tax as the most effective and politically viable way to fight climate change.
  • the first Saturday of the month international call in meetings with great speakers and brief but empowering reports on what CCL has accomplished in the previous month.
CCL chapter map - click map to find your local chapter

You can see from the map there are chapters nearby most everyone in the U.S. and Canada.  If you want to be cheered up, rather than depressed about global warming and what can and is being done, go to a chapter near you.  The next meeting is Saturday, October 4.  The national phone call to all the chapters is at 10am Pacific Time.)  In Anchorage we meet at Rasmuson Hall 220 at UAA at 8:30 Alaska Time.

CCL's basic tactic - as the name implies - is to create chapters in every congressional district and have members lobby their representatives and senators.  In the three years I've been going to CCL meetings they've grown from 45 chapters to over 200.  Members bring information to their congress members about the benefits of the carbon tax which will significantly - more than any other option - lower CO2.  CCL members aren't confrontational and bring the latest and best information to their representatives.  You can see from their website that they've got lots of resources.  The goal is to build a relationship of trust over the long term.  Reps come to know that CCL members won't harass them, but will give them straight information. 

A recent report by REMI - Regional Economic Modeling Inc. - commissioned by CCL - looked at the potential economic impacts of the carbon tax they propose.  REMI does economic modeling of various taxes and other projects to see how they will impact a state's or the nation's economy.  States regularly contract with REMI  to determine the economic impact tax and other proposals.  That's what they were asked to do with the carbon tax proposal.    Other studies have already determined that the carbon tax will be reduce CO2.  This was a study to determine what such a tax would do to the economy, because critics claimed it would cost jobs and hurt the economy.  Turns out they were wrong.

The REMI Report's main points on the revenue neutral Carbon Tax:
  • The Fee And Dividend returns money to households, who spend it, which has a positive economic effect
  • Consumer-centric industries tend to be more labor-intensive than the capital-intensive fossil fuel supply chain
  • The border adjustment helps American exporters maintain competitiveness on the world marketplace
  • The United States imports more and exports less but the Fee And Dividend is enough consumer spending that GDP stays positive
From the CCL website, here are some links to the study:
I started this post early this morning, but grandfathering duties intervened.  Here's a more recent New York Times update.  It doesn't say how many people marched, but it does say:
Under leaden skies, throngs of demonstrators stretching as far as the eye could see moved through Midtown Manhattan late Sunday morning, chanting their demands for action on climate change.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Power of 5: A Lottery Commercial Catches My Eye

When I visit my mom I see a lot more television than normal.  Actually normal means I see bits and pieces people post online.  The ads tend to be better than they used to be - often great images, quick messages, even humor.

This one particularly caught my eye.  It's just good video.

[UPDATE October 28, 2014:  I've been getting lots of hits on this one today - mainly from Asia, particularly Taiwan.  So I came here trying to figure out what's happening.  First, the video I liked so much is now Private so I deleted it. But I found this Chinese ad (see below)
for the California Powerball. Maybe that explains the hits. I think Californians know they are competing for this with people from other states, but do they know that Chinese are in the competition too? That may raise the prize, but it lowers the odds. What are Californians going to say when the news shows a guy in Taiwan as the winner? But the money goes to a good cause right?

This is NOT the great video I originally posted.]

World Lottery Association - has members on all the populated continents, including California.  They are all state operated lotteries and they have a set of "Responsible Gaming Principles."  I found number six directly related to marketing lotteries. 
6.   "WLA Members will provide the public with information in an accurate and balanced manner to enable individuals to make informed choices about gaming activities within the lotteries’ jurisdiction. This commitment requires the following:
a. That the marketing of lottery activities and products be subject to reasonable operator self-regulation, and promote responsible gaming practices and informed choices.
b. That individuals shall be provided with accurate information about gaming and the risks associated with it, for example, organizing education program."
 I don't see anything in the ad above that could be considered "providing accurate information about gaming and the risks associated with it."  This ad goes directly to a person's emotional responses, in the guise of some sort of scientific setting. 

I'm ambivalent about lotteries.  My sense is that people who can least afford them, spend on them.  But I also recognize that people who are virulently against taxes, will happily give their money to the government for a lottery ticket.  Lotteries are for the statistically impaired.  But then people will point out all the winners - somebody will win!

Talking About Numbers found that the numbers of lottery winners were difficult to retrieve, but found that people were about 100 times more likely to be killed in a car accident than to win a lottery. (37,000 die in car accidents and "winning tickets that pay out one million dollars or more only number in the hundreds.")

And winning apparently changes people's lives, not always for the better.  The NY Daily News offers some anecdotes like this one:
 "I had to endure the greed and the need that people have, trying to get you to release your money to them. That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you've loved deep down, and they're turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me."

California lottery  tells us that they do good things with the money:
"Initially, the Lottery Act capped administrative expenses at 16 percent of sales and required that 34 percent of sales go to education.

In April 2010, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 142, which changed the Lottery’s funding formula to follow best practices. Those practices have helped lotteries throughout the nation increase sales and earn more money for their beneficiary.

AB 142 limits administrative expenses to 13 percent of sales, while requiring that 87 percent of sales go back to the public in the form of prizes and contributions to education. The law gives the Lottery the flexibility to pay out a higher percentage of its revenues in prizes than it has in the past, but only if it does so in a way that increases the total amount of money that goes to public schools and colleges."

The World Lottery Association is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, and they have a chart with membership fees

Gross sales Fees
up to US$ 100 million CHF 4,900 (@$5,208)
US$ 100 to 500 million CHF 5,600
US$ 500 million to 1 billion CHF 8,400
US$ 1 to 4 billion CHF 14,000
over US$ 4 billion CHF 21,000 (@$22,322)

If you want to keep track of what's happening in the world of the lottery business, there's a website called Lottery Insider.

I also found out the Power of Five also refers to
A dark story of the supernatural. Matt a young man with unusual powers finds himself in the midst of sinister goings-on. His investigations uncover a terrible secret - eight guardians are protecting the world from the evil ones, beings banished long ago by five children. But a shadowy group want to let the evil ones back in. Can Matt succeed in stopping them...

Enjoying The Pre-Equinox Sun

September 22 will be the fall equinox, when everywhere around the world will have the same amount of daylight and night.  That does, of course depend on where you are.  It's on September 23 Greenwich Mean Time.

In Anchorage the clouds and rain that have been here over a week gave way to sunshine and big puffy clouds.  My little guy is visiting from SF and was out with his parents, so I took off on my bike to move my muscles a bit. 

Campbell Creek, near Lake Otis

UA President's Bonus Rescinded And Fuller Cowell, The Regent Who Voted No

This is old news, but I want to complete the story I started on this topic and also get people to start paying attention to who is on the Board of Regents.

At their September 8, 2014 meeting, the Board of Regents voted, at the President's request, to rescind the $320,000 retention bonus.  I'm hoping this is the end of this particular series of posts, but I would note that the president's request did say that the bonus was inappropriate at this time.  Leaving open, perhaps, a more appropriate time.  But I want to give the president the benefit of the doubt.  As I've indicated in previous posts on this topic, he's already earning - with pensions from the Air Force and the Alaska Railroad - and his UA salary, in the ballpark of half a million a year.  Anyone could find something to do with $320,000, but at his income level, surely he can live well without it.

One of the regents voted against rescinding the bonus.  KFQD reported:
"[Cowell] says the university wants to attract high-quality leaders and the vote sets a bad precedent. Gamble says he appreciates the support of the board."
It seems that the rest of the regents thought giving the bonus sends an even worse message to students, faculty, and staff of the university system, not to mention potential donors, the legislature, and the general public.  And I'm not sure what bad precedent it sets.  That the Board listens to the president?  That it is sensitive to public opinion?  That it can correct a mistake?  Or that if you want to be president of the Alaska system, your salary won't be unlimited?

I emailed Regent Cowell right after the vote to ask some questions, but I never got a response.  He's also the only regent who doesn't list his phone number on the University pages for the regents.

So I took to the internet to try to figure out who he might be.  I'll warn you, I've been doing this long enough to know that figuring out someone's values and motives from scraps of bio information is a risky business.  At best it can let you speculate and raise questions to ask.

So let's look at Cowell's online shadow.

First, from the University of Alaska's bio of the regent.
Fuller A. Cowell of Anchorage was appointed in 2007 by Governor Palin. Regent Cowell was raised on a homestead in Fairbanks, attended Lathrop High School and studied biology at UAF. He completed his bachelors of business administration with an emphasis in marketing at National University, Sacramento, California graduating Summa Cum Laude. Cowell completed the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg Business School, Northwestern University, in Chicago, Illinois. In 1995, he was awarded the UAF Alumni Achievement Award for Community Achievement. The award was established to recognize outstanding UAF alumni.
If you just read this you might think Cowell was born in Alaska, but a McClatchy article from 1993  says he didn't come until he was seven. 
He has an extensive background in Alaska, moving to the state with his family when he was seven years old. 
That's no big deal.  I didn't get to Alaska until I was in my 30s. It's not so much how long you've been here, but a) whether your story matches what really happened, and b) whether your time here was spent getting to know the state, particularly the people.    

Probably much more relevant to his position as a regent is his educational background.  From the official bio we can infer that he studied at, but did not graduate from UAF.  Then, apparently he switched from biology to business.  National University is today a big online university. How good it is, I can't tell.  Students often go to online universities because it's easier to get in, class times are more flexible, and they want a degree.  While you can get a good education online (and a bad one in person), my guess is that most people going to online programs want the degree more than they want an education.  That's a generalization and there are lots of exceptions.  Does it apply to Cowell?  First, I don't know when he went and whether it was even online at the time.  But it's not a traditional university.  I'm guessing he went there because after dropping out (?) of UAF, he just wanted to get his diploma.  But I don't know.  We just gather clues and make hypotheses and try to test them.  His next educational experience seems to point in the same direction. 
"Cowell completed the Advanced Executive Program at the Kellogg Business School, Northwestern University, in Chicago, Illinois."
First, I'd mention that Northwestern is in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.  But maybe they have a Chicago branch, or maybe he thought people wouldn't know where Evanston was, or maybe he's not a stickler for details.  It's probably not important, but just another clue that may or may not prove useful.

The Kellog School has one of the best business programs in the country.  An advanced executive program sounds pretty substantial.  But the Advanced Management Program - Intensive today is just under three weeks long and costs $36,000! (In comparison, a Harvard Business School Program For Leadership Development costs $45,000, but goes from December to June with two (12 day) on-campus and two off-campus modules.)

Again, this is a program for someone who wants to get things done quickly, who can't or doesn't want to spend the time for a longer, more traditional program.  I'm sure it was a stimulating experience, but there's only so much you can learn and retain in such a short program. 

Is this the best person that Sarah Palin could find to be on the board?  Of course, each appointee should be considered in the context of the other members.  If they all have more traditional educations, then he might add a useful perspective. 

Back to the official bio. 
Cowell serves as co-chair of the Providence Foundation Steering Committee, is on the board of St. Elias (long term acute care) Hospital and on the C.W. Snedden Chair of Journalism Selection Committee at UAF. He has served on the Journalism Advisory Board at UAA, the boards of Commonwealth North, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and the Anchorage Performing Arts Center and co-chaired the United Way of Anchorage campaign.
The Juneau Empire adds this:
He also co-chaired the Providence Foundation Steering Committee and was a founding member of the Alaska Cancer Research and Education Center.
The cancer research makes more sense if you look at Evangeline Atwood's Bent Pins to Chains:  Alaska and Its Newspapers:
"He returned to Alaska in 1993 as publisher of the Daily News but had to retire in 1999 to concentrate on a successful fight against leukemia."
Back to the official bio:
Cowell’s newspaper career took him from a newspaper carrier at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner to director of operations of the McClatchy Company and ultimately publisher of Alaska’s largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News. He spent ten years commercial fishing in Area E, which includes Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta.

Cowell is married to the former Christmas Tripp of Fairbanks. Their daughter Alexis lives and works in Anchorage where she was born.
Much of his career has  been spent working for the McClatchy newspaper chain. Including time with some of its California papers.   He seems to have been in the management rather than the journalism side.  The McClatchy newspaper chain published information about Cowell when he took over as the publisher of the Anchorage Daily News, in 1993.

He's also, it seems, the owner of Cowell's Heliport Service in Big Lake.  The only date I could find on the site was a 7/2004 activation date; there's a July 2014 reference at 123 Jets. Or maybe he has a son with the same name.

OK, as I said, this is just a bunch of facts about his education and his work experience.  It doesn't tell us who he is, what he knows, what he values, and whether he's a good choice for the Board of Regents.

The University plays a critical role for Alaska.  If it does its job well, more Alaskans will get a good education and make important contributions to a sustainable Alaska, an Alaska that uses its resources wisely and has both  physical and social infrastructures that support a good life for this and future generations.

With a FY15 budget of over $1 billion, it's also an institution whose leaders should be closely followed and kept accountable.  But I dare say few Alaskans could name even one or two regents, let alone have any idea of what they do or how well.  (I did post abbreviated bios of the regents in an earlier post.)

I hope to explore this topic further in future posts. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Alaska Election Gets Yet Stranger As Oil Consultant Brad Keithley Pledges $200K To Change Election

Brad Keithley is apparently taking advantage of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and will, according to APRN, spend $200,000 of his own money in order to pursue his concern that the state is spending too much money.

From his blog at Alaskans For Sustainable Budgets:
Today I am taking the next step in the effort by announcing the legislative races in which I intend to participate.  They are House Districts 15, 19, 21 and 25.  I also am going closely to watch Senate Districts K and N, and, after studying the dynamics at play, House District 9 over the next two to three weeks with the possibility of participating in them as well.  A brief description of the reasoning follows:  [You can read the rest here] [And you can check on the Alaska election districts here.]

He identifies spenders and savers.  He's targeted two incumbent Republicans and will support their Democratic opponents;  one Democratic incumbent and will support her Libertarian opponent; and another Republican over a Democrat in a seat with no incumbent.

His basic criterion is whether the candidate will vote for a sustainable budget.

There are a couple more races he's considering campaigning in.

 Is this a good thing?  If you are a challenger struggling to raise money to unseat an incumbent, this probably looks good.  Keithley isn't going to give money directly to candidates, because there are limits to how much you can give as an individual.  Instead he will essentially have a PAC that will independently support candidates. 

To what extent will this affect what the chosen candidates say and do?  The blog acknowledges that some of his choices are just based on questionnaires returned to him by candidates and that they might not follow through.  But he's not worried,
 "If Moore fails to live up to his words I will work to defeat him also in two years"
 For $200,000 you can be an Alaskan Koch it seems. Keithley isn't taking on the governor's race, but given Bill Walker's rhetoric on the budget deficits at the announcement of the Walker/Mallot ticket, it would seem Keithley would be supporting him, especially since the incumbent Sean Parnell was one of the architects of the current deficit budget that Keithley opposes. 

One of the incumbents he opposed came out fighting,  accusing Keithley of being a bully who takes advantage of women.  

This is not politics as usual.  It will be interesting.  November 4 is only seven weeks away. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Can We Simplify Politics? Simpolfy Thinks They Can

A family member runs a business incubator - called Fledge - for socially-conscious startups.  They have a new group that started a week or so ago.  The website tells it succinctly:
Fledge helps impactful entrepreneurs take their ideas and prototype-stage companies into reality, via an intense, 10-week program of guidance, education, and mentorship, plus a large and growing network of support from past fledglings and hundreds of mentors.
Fledge receives applications from around the world, inviting just 6-7 to participate.  Each team is paid for the privilege, in exchange for an investment in a unique revenue-based model, where you ultimately keep the ownership of your startup.
Our goal is to help foster a wave of companies that make not just a measurable impact in the world, but a noticeable improvement in the lives of everyone on the planet.
So I was looking at the list of new Fledglings and one jumped out for me - mainly because it's a topic I know a little about.  It's called Simpolfy and the aim is set up a website:
"that simplifies politics so you can hold your representatives accountable to you!"
Their particular goal is a) to simplify complicated legislation and b) communicate to users about bills of interest to them.   You can get more details directly from Simpolfy's Indiegogo page where I got the video below.

This is a great concept.  There's simply way too much data out in the world for people to keep track of what's going on.  But simplifying legislation is also difficult.  I tried to do that when I blogged the legislature.  If you hang out at the committee meetings and read the bills carefully, you can get a good idea of what's in the bills.  But really good bill writers know how to word things, using references to other legislation, or specifying parameters so that even clever folks can't figure out that the intent is to favor a particular company or to make it impossible to, say, get an abortion.

This also raises questions for me about what they do with the information they collect from users.  It would seem of great interest to politicians and their handlers.  But these things can be worked out and I'm sure that's what they are busy doing now.  The bigger goal - turning data into useful information - is a worthy one, something that other websites - such as those that parse political ads to determine if they are truthful - have been successfully doing. 

At the end of the ten week period the Fledglings present their companies at Demo Day.  If you're in Seattle October 23 you can go see the presentations, but get your tickets early.  I was able to attend one of these and it was an exciting evening of possibilities.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Alaska Is Number 1 - Spending Per Capita

Here's a cute video advertising Common Ground's Oct 4th forum on Alaska's Fiscal Future.   It sets out quickly and with wit, the way Alaska's spending its oil wealth and the forum that will discuss it at Loussac's Marston Library on Saturday October 4. 

A Crude Awaking for Alaska from Ian Laing on Vimeo.

Leaving LAX - Light Games

These are all straight from the camera, no photoshop and in chronological order from taxiing to take off.  I like the latter ones best. 

The red comes from the decorative light tubes where the airport road connects with Sepulveda.

I have no idea why the blue lights in the foreground look stable while the background lights reflect the slow shutter speed and the planes movement.  

These shots remind me that what we see is that tiny part of the world that our eyes are wired to capture and our brain is wired to interpret.  With different eyes, we'd see different things and know different things.  For example, what if we didn't see skin pigment, just whether people were benevolent or threatening. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chinese Week At UAA - Food, Movies, And Other Treats

The Confucius Institute at UAA is sponsoring a Chinese culture week.  There's food, movies, and other activities. 

This is a heads up for next week.  It looks like everything is free.  I'll have to check if they have free parking passes for events too. 

I'll try to find out more about the movies - there are three short films - the poster they sent me is a little hard to read.  

Click to enlarge and focus

The Confucius Institute is the Chinese version of things like the American Libraries abroad or the German Goethe Institute, used to spread Chinese culture around the world.  The Confucius Institutes are connected with universities.  There have been some reports that they are part of the Chinese espionage system.  Whether that's true or not, these events are available and past events that I've attended were pretty good to excellent. 

I'm at LAX waiting for my plane out of the heat and back to decent weather. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who Skips Fisheries Debate? [UPDATED]

[UPDATED 1:45pm:  Apparently, not Dan Sullivan any longer.  According to Lanie Welch's column in today's ADN:
"The lure of reaching a statewide audience was too much to pass up for U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Sullivan, who will be at the Oct. 1 fisheries debate at Kodiak after all.    Sullivan was able to reshuffle a packed travel schedule to fit in the fisheries event, said Ben Sparks, campaign manager. Sullivan initially was going to be in Bethel on a multi-day swing through Southwest Alaska during the time of the Kodiak event. “Dan recognizes the importance of Alaska’s fisheries, and our campaign has rescheduled our southwest swing to ensure that Dan could make the debate. He looks forward to a healthy exchange of ideas with Mark Begich on the future of Alaska’s fisheries, and is excited to attend the debate in Kodiak,” his campaign said in a prepared statement."

The original post below should be read with the above in mind.]

This letter to the editor was in the ADN Sunday. [I couldn't get the link to the ADN, but it was also in the Kenai Peninsual Clarion]:
"Who skips fisheries debate?    I had to ask myself this week does Dan Sullivan actually want to get elected in November? I’m not sure he does, since he chose to skip the fisheries debate in Kodiak. Or he is a complete fool and had no idea the giant mistake he made by turning down this debate.    Either way, Sullivan just proved what Sen. Begich and Democrats have been saying all along he doesn’t know or care about Alaska.    Bill Starnes"

Why couldn't he make it?  According to debate organizers, via Lanie Welch, ADN's fishing reporter:
"Sullivan campaign manager Ben Sparks told debate organizers that Sullivan does not have a prior commitment keeping him from the fisheries debate, but that “he is just too busy with all the traveling he is doing.” The two-hour debate is broadcast live to over 330 Alaska communities."

I think at least three more credible possibilities beyond the two Starnes gives:
  1. He knows that Begich, after six years in the Senate and as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard knows his fisheries much better than Sullivan and that Sullivan would look bad in comparison.
  2. He knows his policies as Attorney General and Natural Resources Commissioner - helping get rid of local input in development, on Pebble Mine, and other issues wouldn't sit well with the fishers anyway.
  3. He's simply biding by the old saying, attributed, incorrectly it seems, to Abraham Lincoln, 
"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
Maybe a combination of all three.  He knew this was a fight he couldn't possibly win. 

[Note on dubiously attributed quotes:  The link goes to a website called Quote Investigator:  Exploring the Origins of Quotes.  It looks like a much better sources than all the spurious 'quote' sites that just copy things incorrectly from other places.   The discussion on this quote makes it highly unlikely that it came from Lincoln and also looks at similar sentiments from the bible.]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Counterintuitive - Swimming Pools And Drought

"As California's drought worsens, swimming pools have become a target for those who think the classic backyard oasis wastes water. Some water districts have prohibited new pools from being filled and have limited how much water existing pools can use."  From the  LA Times 

I'm in LA right now.  California is in a severe drought.
"With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages."
 California's first seven months of 2014 have been the hottest on record.  And to make the point, at 10 am today it was already 88˚F downtown with 25% humidity. Now, at 11 am, it's 93˚.   Fire danger is high. 

TWater levels are low.   The state of California has been taking steps to get water consumers to reduce their water usage. 

Swimming pools would seem to be a slap in the face to everyone trying to save water. 

But the the LA Times article headline actually is:
"Water agencies are learning pools aren't a big factor during drought"
The article tells us (in part):
"Analyses by various water districts, along with scientific studies, conclude that pools and their surrounding hardscapes use about the same amount of water as a lawn of the same size. Over time, pools might even use less water. With pool covers, experts say water evaporation can be cut by almost half, making pools significantly less wasteful than grass and about as efficient as drought-tolerant landscaping."
"Facing complaints over a recent ban on filling pools, the Santa Margarita Water District conducted its own water-use analysis. It found that pools require thousands of gallons of water to fill initially, but they use about 8,000 gallons less water than a traditional landscape after that. By the third year, the analysis found, the savings add up, and a pool's cumulative water use falls below that of a lawn."
 I always like it when things we think are so obvious turn out not to be true.  But also, let's be careful with this as well.   The article doesn't tell us the specific 'scientific studies' but it does mention the pool lobby was involved.
"At least two California water distributors have rolled back pool-filling limitations after being contacted by the pool lobby and crunching the numbers." 
Whose numbers did they crunch?  The pool lobby's?   Compared to green lawns, pools might use less water (after three years), but there are relatively few green lawns left as water restrictions are in effect.  And drought-tolerant landscaping probably is more environmentally friendly and heat reducing than the cement that surrounds most backyard pools.  And their calculations seem to assume that people conscientiously use their pool covers when the pools are not in use.  I suspect that isn't the case. 

While looking for the scientific studies online, I found a more thorough San Gabriel Valley Tribune  article on this back in July with an aerial view of pools.

ISPACA (International Swimming Pool and Automatic Cover Association) has a list of studies that shows pool covers save energy and water, but most seem to be focused on the energy savings.  A US Department of Energy study they list does also say there are water savings, but doesn't compare the savings to lawns.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Well, they were going to fill this parking lot at Rose and Venice Beach today no matter what they charged.  And for all day, I guess that's not too bad.  But it's the highest I remember seeing. It was supposed to be pushing 100˚F downtown and the beaches were supposed to pretty warm as well. 

I got my bike ride in before ten and you could feel the beach was drawing people towards it.  But the breeze from riding the bike felt nice and it seems to have turned out not quite so bad as expected.  Weather.com says it's only 84˚ in downtown LA now (about 4pm) and 79˚ in Santa Monica.

But it got pretty warm in my mom's house.  Being pretty close to the beach means that you almost never need air conditioning.  I closed most of the windows as the day warmed up, but I've opened them now and there's a "cool" ocean breeze coming in. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Money's capacity to turn morality into a matter of impersonal arithmetic . . ."

I'd been reading David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years so I had a newly focused understanding when I read this sentence from the LA Times story on the pending Detroit bankruptcy settlement:
"The creditor was frustrated that a deal had been reached to transfer the works in Detroit Institute of Arts to a public trust and use foundation money to nearly make city pensioners whole, while other creditors were expected to receive pennies on the dollar."
The unusual part of this story is that the pensioners would be paid before the money creditors and their insurance companies. 

Why is this unusual?  Because usually the bankers get paid first - as we know from the housing crash when the bankers, who pushed lenders [borrowers] into loans the bankers knew the lenders [borrowers] couldn't pay, got paid, while homeowners lost their houses.

Graeber argues that our unquestioned moral certainty that "people must pay their debts" makes it easier for bankers and other lenders to enforce collection of debts, even if the conditions were impossible for the borrower from the beginning. 

He discusses how to distinguish between moral obligations and debts.  This is, he says, the basic question of the book.
"What, precisely, does it mean to say that our sense of morality and justice is reduced to the language of a business deal?  What does it mean when we reduce moral obligations to debts?  What changes when the one turns into the other?  And how do we speak about them when our language has been so shaped by the market?  On one level the difference between an obligation and a debt is simple and obvious.  A debt is the obligation to pay a certain sum of money.  As a result, a debt, unlike any other form of obligation, can be precisely quantified.  This allows debts to become simple, cold, and impersonal - which, in turn, allows them to be transferable.  If one owes a favor, or one's life, to another human being - it is owed to that person specifically.  But if one owes forty thousand dollars at 12-percent interest, it doesn't really matter who the creditor is;  neither does either of the two parties have to think much about what the other party needs, wants, is capable of doing - as they certainly would if what was owed was a favor, or respect, or gratitude.  One does not need to calculate the human effects;  one need only calculate principal, balances,  penalties, and rates of interest.  If you end up having to abandon your home and wander in other provinces, if your daughter ends up in a mining camp working as a prostitute [he'd given such an example from Nepal], well, that's unfortunate, but incidental to the creditor.  Money is money, and a deal is a deal."
Thus when the bankers call on the City of Detroit to pay up, the public outside of Detroit is primed to assume the city has been deadbeat and even though it's unfortunate, the banks have a right to take over the art at the Art Institute and get paid before retirees get their pensions.  

The Art Institute raises other issues to be argued about, but not here now.

But the retired employees also had a deal with the city.  They worked for years with the knowledge, based on a written contract, that after they worked a significant part of their lives they would get a pension. For many - particularly those in professional positions - they gave up the immediate higher pay and bonuses they could have gotten in the private sector for the pension.

Graeber's point is that by adding the moral imperative to pay one's debt to the business impersonality of 'a deal is a deal' lenders have gotten away with insisting on being paid, even if the lending conditions and paying consequences are inhumane.  Because humanity has been taken out of the equation.
"From this perspective, the crucial factor, and a topic that will be explored at length in these pages, is money's capacity to turn morality into a matter of impersonal arithmetic - and by doing so, to justify things that would otherwise seem outrageous or obscene. The factor of violence, which I have been emphasizing up until now, may appear secondary. The difference between a "debt" and a mere moral obligation is not the presence or absence of men with weapons who can enforce that obligation by seizing the debtor's possessions or threatening to break his legs. It is simply that a creditor has the means to specify, numerically, exactly how much the debtor owes."
I already knew something about how the language of instrumental rationality has taken over the language substantive rationality.   Very simply that means that the rational thinking processes we use to achieve a goal or solve a physical problem (say build a highway) are different from the rational thinking processes needed to consider moral questions (if the highway through a neighborhood is a good a good thing.)   I studied under Alberto Guerreiro-Ramos while he was writing The New Science of Administration, in which he argues that the distinction between the two different rationalities has been lost as people use instrumental rationality to resolve moral questions.  As when economists are called into court to help determine the value of the deceased's lost life, so the family can be paid off.     Guerreiro-Ramos
"was one of the earliest scholars to point to the risks of a social science that took homo economicus as its referent. A solution that he offered for this dilemma was to recognize the importance of non-market settings in which people could pursue other, non-materialist interests."
But I hadn't thought about - and that is Graeber's point - how the moral weight of paying one's debt assists international lenders in collecting their money even though the both the terms of the original loan and the consequences of collecting payment are unjust, even inhumane.

He does point out that the financial crisis of 2008 did loosen people's firmly held beliefs enough to get a conversation about this started.  But that has faded.  But the terms of the Detroit settlement seem to suggest that maybe there's been at least a little shift.

I do think this is an important book.  The previous post on it gave an example of international lenders unconscionable actions in Madagascar.  Here's another one from the book about Haiti.
But debt is not just victor's justice; it can also be a way of punishing winners who weren't supposed to win. The most spectacular example of this is the history of the Republic of Haiti - the first poor country to be placed in permanent debt peonage. Haiti was a nation founded by former plantation slaves who had the temerity not only to rise up in rebellion, amidst grand declarations of universal rights and freedoms, but to defeat Napoleon's armies sent to return them to bondage. France immediately insisted that the new republic owed it 150 million francs in damages for the expropriated plantations, as well as the expenses of outfitting the failed military expeditions, and all other nations, including the United States, agreed to impose an embargo on the country until it was paid. The sum was intentionally impossible (equivalent to about 18 billion dollars) , and the resultant embargo ensured that the name "Haiti" has been a synonym for debt, poverty, and human misery ever since. 

The whole book is online and I would encourage readers to at least bookmark it, but even better, read the first chapter.  It reads far more interestingly than people would expect from a book on finance. You can find the passages in this post by cutting them here and pasting them into the search at the pdf file of the book.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

So Predictable

August 20, 2014  (after Prop. 1 which would have repealed the big oil company tax break lost):
"Gov. Sean Parnell says it’s now time for the oil industry to increase its investment in oil field projects that create jobs for Alaskans."

September 8, 2014
"ExxonMobil told state regulators again last week not to expect an increase in oil production on the North Slope, arguing it is a “reasonable approach” to conclude that a long-term decline is continuing."*
That this was going to happen was so obvious that 89,608 Alaskans voted "Yes" on Prop. 1 on August 18.  That's only 10,147 fewer than those who voted "No" despite the stars being lined up for the "No" campaign:
  • There were no real contests on the Democratic ballot to get Yes votes out.
  • There were a number of interesting contests - particularly the Senate race - on the Republican ballot
Thus many more Republicans were likely to vote
  • The "No" campaign spent 30 or 40 times more money than the "Yes" campaign

So Gov, a question.  What are you planning on doing when the other oil companies do not increase their investments in oil fields?   You going to say you need more proof like you did with the National Guard?  Even if you have proof, what will you do?  Being loyal to your friends is a virtue, Gov, but only if you have better quality friends. 

*To be fair, the article also said that Tesoro challenged Exxon's prediction. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jelly Fish, Puffins, And Starfish Lunch

jelly fish

jelly fish

early morning over Seattle

tufted puffin

starfish eating a fish

Got to go with my granddaughter and daughter to the Seattle aquarium between flights today. 

When I flew in, just the peak of Rainier was showing in the distance.

And when I left in the afternoon.

And a little closer as we flew by.