Sunday, May 31, 2015

Summer Time - Urban Conflux

Not sure how I got notified but I got a message from something called Urban Conflux

An Urban Conflux is a one day gathering on May 30th, 2015 to discover Urban Anchorage in unexpected ways. We have organized many events happening simultaneously as a celebration of urban life and 100 years of Anchorage. FIND YOUR EVENT HERE:
There were a number of bike ride groups and a tour of Spenard with Steve Heimel sounded interesting.  It was nice to see a bunch of other bikers, and riding with 30 or so others changes the bike car dynamics a lot when trying to cross a street.  But Steve warned us from the beginning that this wasn't going to be into the heart of Spenard as he'd like.  And it wasn't.  We wandered from West High, past the Franz Bakery, to Bosco's, along a back street parallel to Fireweed.  We heard about the history of the windmill at Chilkoot's, through the Saturday market there, and then along Arctic to downtown.  We did stop at Fire Island Bakery on the way for an impromptu concert/singalong.

Bubble Worship
All the various bike groups that Urban Conflux had organized met at town square where there was music and a little food and bubbles and people.  It's nice to have festive stuff going on,  but it wasn't all that engaging for me.  I checked out the weekend market which seemed to have a lot of empty spaces where booths used to be in past years, but maybe it's just because it's only May.

But it was nice to see old friends I haven't talked to for a while.  

And then I took the bike trail home to see where the detour would block me.  At the wooden bridge just east of Seward Highway near the Senior Center. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sloppy Headline - Supreme Court Ruled for But Didn't Back Group Fighting Pebble Mine

Here's a headline from today's ADN:

Alaska Supreme Court backs group fighting Pebble mine 

The Supreme Court is NOT supposed to take sides in cases.   The justices are not supposed to 'back' one side or the other.  They are supposed to make decisions based on the law, not whether they like the one party in the case or another.

To say the Supreme Court 'backs' one party is misleading.  From the Oxford Dictionaries:

verb:  Back

1  Give financial, material, or moral support to: he had a newspaper empire backing him go up there and tell them—I’ll back you up

sponsor, finance, put up the money for, fund, subsidize, underwrite, be a patron of, act as guarantor of informal foot the bill for, pick up the tab for, bankroll, stake

Even when you use the right words, the listener might not understand exactly what you meant.  But when you use the wrong words you give the reader a license to get it wrong. 

The Supreme Court may not back one party or the other.  It can rule in favor of one side, but that rule should be based on the law, not on whether individual judges or the whole court likes one of the parties.   The ruling may be good for one party, one might even say the ruling supports the arguments of one of the parties, but the court itself can't. 

And while one could argue that the ruling gave moral support to the folks opposed to Pebble Mine happy, that isn't the Supreme Court's job.  And that isn't the main meaning of 'to back.'

There's enough political polarization already without the newspaper adding to it by making readers think that the Supreme Court has taken a position on Pebble Mine.  They've taken a position on the law, not the mine.

If, in fact, the court actually made its decision in order to support those opposing the mine and not based on the law, that would be very big news indeed.  People argue the US Supreme Court did that in their 2000 election ruling.  But there is nothing in the ADN article to support that idea here.

From October 2013 Post

I'd note that this brings to a close a huge dispute over the right of private citizens to bring public good lawsuits without the fear of being charged with the lawyers' fees if they lose.

[Reposted because of Feedburner problems]

Friday, May 29, 2015

My Math Says At Least 2000 Kids Will Be Abused Because Of Dunleavy's Changes To Erin's Law

On May 24, Senator Dunleavy posted a long response on Facebook to the critics of his changes to HB 44, now CS HB 44. 

I've responded to it already here.  But as he continues to defend himself, I thought it would be useful to focus on what I think is the only real issue here:  the number of kids who will be molested because of the changes he made to the Erin's Law.  He argues he hasn't weakened the bill at all.  I truly can't fathom how he has come up with that conclusion.  Well, I've tried and I posted one possible explanation.  Here, I'm going to address this issue about the number of kids.  Then below, I've copied his long Facebook defense with my responses, paragraph by paragraph.

There's only one issue: 

(The only other possible issue is that without the changes, the bill wouldn't have passed.  But since it's already passed the House and the clean version passed the Senate last year unanimously, I think that argument can't seriously be made.)

In my mind, there is only one issue that matters when discussing the changes in Erin's Law that Senator Dunleavy's committee has made:  How will these changes impact the number of kids who will be molested because they did not get taught at school - because of Erin's Law - how to recognize potential abusers and their grooming techniques, how to say no, and that it's not their fault and so they need to tell an authority (parents, teachers, police, etc.) what happened.

Erin's Law, the original HB 44 amended to include teen dating violence awareness education, had the following features:
1.  School districts were required to use this program
2.  It covered kids in grades K-12
3.  If parents did not want their kids to participate, they had to say they did not give permission (opt out)

Now, the Erin's Law section of the Senate Education Committee Substitute for HB 44 has the following features:
1.  School districts are not required to implement the program
2.  It covers grades 7-12 only
3.  Kids cannot get this program unless their parents give them permission (opt in)

Just these changes alone will reduce the number of kids who participate in this program.  We can argue about how many kids will be affected.  Dunleavy tells us that 20+ school districts of 53 are already offering some version of this training.  I've looked at the list and it includes the largest districts - Anchorage, Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Juneau.  Thus while it's less than half the school districts, it's more than half the kids.  So, well over half the students are in school districts that do some of this.  The list doesn't tell us what is content is covered or whether it is K-12 or just 7-12.

Let's do some rough numbers.  Census data tells us that as of 2013 25.6% of the 736,732 people in Alaska are under 18.  That means in 2013 there were 188,600 kids in Alaska.  Of these 7.5% were under five and so not in school.  That comes to 133,348 school age kids and there would be  more now.   For argument's sake (and I'll be conservative with the numbers I offer) let's suppose that 30% of those kids are NOT getting sexual assault awareness training at school now.  That would mean about 40,000 kids. 

Currently, schools have the power to adopt such training or not.  One has to assume that those who are supportive have adopted it.  The others, for whatever reason, have not.  Now that this bill has been changed from mandatory to optional for schools, there's no reason to think that a lot of them will suddenly change their positions on this.  But to be charitable, let's say that 50% of the kids who aren't getting this, will be covered next year because the schools voluntarily adopt it.  And, again being charitable, let's assume those schools offer it to kids in K-12.

That still leaves 20,000 kids who won't get exposed to sexual abuse awareness training.

The numbers that proponents of Erin's Law have cited were 1/4 of girls and 1/6 of boys will be molested by the time they are 18.  ('Molested' a wide array of actions from being flashed to groped to raped.  And these events often continue over years.)  I didn't hear anyone challenge those numbers, but again, I'll be charitable and round it off to one out of ten.  Among the 20,000 kids not getting Erin's Law training, 10% would be 2,000 kids who will be molested because they were not given access to sexual abuse awareness.  I think my number is low because I've been very conservative with my hypotheticals and because Alaska's rate of abuse is higher than the national average.   I acknowledge that Erin's Law education won't prevent all sexual abuse of kids.  But Erin Merryn testified that she's been given anecdotal reports from police where the law is in place that they have been told by kids that it mattered and that statistics on abuse have dropped.  (And given the higher awareness for such crimes, often the numbers go up, not down, because more people report.)

This is the low-ball statistical impact of the changes that Dunleavy has made to the original HB 44.  There is a direct relationship between the changes that were made and this figure of 2,000 kids who will not be prepared to evade molestation because of those changes.  This is just for the first year. Even if the number were 'only' 1000, it would be horrific.  And each of these kids will have emotional and psychological damage that will lead to extra work for teachers, law enforcement, the courts, not to mention their families. 

Despite Dunleavy's claims that other parts of the bill make it a better bill, none of those changes strengthen the original intent or will get a single more kid into sexual abuse awareness classes. One could argue (and I do below) that some weaken it.

Because Dunleavy has insisted on watering down the bill and burdening it with 22 more sections, he will bear responsibility for every molestation that the original bill would have prevented.  He can say what he wants, but there is a very direct correlation between his actions here and the future abuse of a large number of kids in Alaska.  Whether that number is 500, 1000, or 2000, each one is his responsibility. 

Dunleavy has not given equivalent benefits that his changes will cause that would offset the damage to these kids.  He talks broadly about parental rights, but never identifies specific harm passing the original Erin's Law would have caused. 

The only possible way Dunleavy could be excused from this responsibility is if he could prove that the original bill would not have passed the full Senate.  Since it the passed the Senate unanimously last year, I think that proving it would have failed this year would be a difficult task.

From my perspective the impact on Alaska kids is the only thing that is important in this discussion.  What other states do, abstract benefits of parental rights, unspecified unfunded mandates, and the other things Dunleavy offers are just not relevant.

So that's my case here.   If I'm wrong here, show me.  My numbers are conservative.  It's Dunleavy's job, if he wants to refute this, to show how passing the original HB 44 his committee got for a vote , would have caused greater harm because it didn't have his amendments.  I have a good imagination, but I can't see how he can do much more than shuffle words around.  Nothing that changes the numbers.   

Below are Dunleavy's original Facebook Post and my comments paragraph by paragraph.  I've put Dunleavy's words in blue and mine in black. 

The Committee Substitute (CS) for HB 44 known as “The Alaska Safe Children’s Act” by some and “Erin’s Law” by others was introduced in the Senate Education Committee that I chair on Tuesday. [May 19] The CS was heard and adopted by the Senate Education Committee and moved out to the next committee of referral, Senate Finance. A Senate Finance hearing has not been scheduled yet but I do anticipate one will be in the next few days. If the bill is passed out of Senate Finance, it will then go to the Senate Rules committee and soon after most likely to the Senate floor for a vote. If approved by the Senate it would go to the House for a vote as well.

Pretty straightforward so far.  He figures it will be scheduled in the Finance committee "in the next few days."  As I publish this on May 29 the HB 44 Timeline still has May 21  referral to Finance as the last date is mentioned..  I can't find where it has been scheduled.  

The CS for HB 44 has been the topic of much discussion this week. The focus of the discussion seems to center on the following:
• The belief that the change from the word “shall” to “may” with regard to compelling school districts to mandate the training will make the law, if not meaningless, less effective, because school districts would not be required to implement the training – it would be optional and give local districts local control
• The concern that the CS has too many new sections and topics than what was in the original HB 44.
Point 1 - There were two levels of concern.   One, as Dunleavy mentions, changing the requirement  for school districts from 'shall' to 'may.'  But people were also concerned that parental option changed from allowing parents to opt out (they were required to say they wanted their kids to NOT participate in the program) to opting in (they are required to give permission before their kids can participate.)  A third significant change was to eliminate K-6 kids from getting sexual awareness education.  These ages are the most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves.  They need this the most.

Point 2 - It wasn't simply that there were too many new sections.  If they believed the sections  strengthened the bill, I believe supporters of Erin's Law would not have objected.  In fact they went along with the addition of a new section that mandated teen dating violence curriculum.
The concern was a) that there were so many new amendments (the bill now has 23 sections, one of which is the original bill)  that had little or nothing to do with Erin's Law; b) that some of the amendments (in addition to the Erin's Law section mentioned above) that were aimed at parental rights actually hurt kids' chances of getting sexual abuse awareness education; and c) some of the new sections had controversial provisions such as prohibiting schools from contracting with agencies that provide abortions.  They even prohibit school service providers from having non-school related contracts with abortion providers. (This seems to conflict with the US Constitution's guarantee of freedom of association.) 
Let me explain why the changes to the CS were made. With regard to changing “shall” to “may”, this change was made at the request of school districts that testified at hearings that we had during the regular session. Their concern was that with potential budgets cuts and possible staff reductions, making the training mandatory in law now before we know what the budget will be could put the districts in a difficult spot in deciding how to use their limited resources. As one school official said, “We agree this training will be good for kids, but will we have the funds to implement it?” Another asked, “With budgets being cut, what do we give up to make room for new trainings such as this?”
Another thing that warranted the change was the issue of which curriculum or program to use, and more importantly, which is most effective? While this issue of identifying available, effective curricula is in the process of being addressed, some school district officials are concerned that they need time to review curricula before implementation in schools.
I'm sure that school districts did complain about this. The words 'unfunded mandate' were mentioned in the hearing.  Schools do have a lot of things they are required to do.  But my wife, who taught English to non-native speakers in the Anchorage School District and thus saw what happened in a number of different schools, would regularly tell me about how much time teachers spent on things that were not mandated - like celebrating various holidays.  If teachers want to make time, they will. More on this below the next section.

Currently, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 20+ school districts out of 53 total Alaska school districts that are already doing some form of the training now voluntarily without being compelled by the state. School districts are asking for time to allow them to identify the resources to implement the training properly and effectively. This is part of the reason for the change.
The other stated issue some folks are having with the CS is that they believe there are too many sections to it, and that the number of sections may jeopardize the bill’s passage.
Hundreds of bills are introduced during legislative sessions, with a fraction of them ever getting passed by both the House and Senate and then being signed into law by the Governor. So there is always a chance a bill may not get the required votes for passage, including this CS. While I have had some legislators say they may not be able to support the CS as it is, others have stated to me that with the changes and additions to the CS they are now more likely to support the bill. It is always difficult to say what the final vote will be. However, I do have a sense that it has a very good chance of passing.

Dunleavy rightly points out that a number of school districts (he says 20+) already are doing some form of this training.  Then he cites some concerned about:

1.  Not having time to prepare.  This includes getting appropriate materials and training teachers.

I'd note that all teachers are already, by state law, mandatory reporters.  That means they are required to report suspicions of child abuse that they see.  So they should already have some fairly detailed training so they know how to do this.

Book shared at 5/20/15 Education Committee Hearing
I would also note that I could find no time-line in the bill.  Thus one assumes that like most legislation without a date, it goes into effect in 90 days.  If having time is the issue, then simply giving schools a year or two to get prepared would seem to solve this issue. Leave it mandatory, but give them a delay option. A school district could apply for a waiver and explain why they needed it.  But I don't think this should be an issue.  There are already schools doing this training and they have resource materials.  One person who testified shared books that are being used that even have
adaptations to Alaska Native cultures.  (And I note that there are many different Native cultures so one needs to consider whether these are appropriate for all the cultures.)  There was also testimony that the Rasmuson Foundation had pledged to help provide materials and training. 

2.  The legislative process and the slim chances for this bill.  The original HB 44 already passed the House.  Last year a clean version of this bill passed the Alaska Senate unanimously.  So even if a few people told you they had problems with it, the odds are high that you wouldn't lose half  those who voted for it last year.  If you had simply passed the bill that was sent to the committee the way it was, I think (and you know) it had every likelihood of passing.  But because of the significant changes there are now issues that will cause people who supported the bill to reconsider.  Do they support all the new things you've tacked on and is it worth passing them (things you couldn't get passed in the regular session) to get a watered down Erin's Law?  Furthermore, t's not likely the legislature would go back and add K-6 in a future session.  More likely they'll say, we've already taken care of this issue.
And, if it passes the Senate, because of the many changes, the House has to redebate it.  We're in special session now and the state is close to shutting down if the legislature can't agree on a budget.  Debating all the changes to Erin's Law is not something they have a lot of time for.  Perhaps you thought this would get your pet legislation passed.  But it might get everything sunk. 

So what’s in the sections of the CS? In the Comments below, I will post links for: (a) the actual text of the CS for HB 44, (b) the original version of HB 44, and (c) a sectional analysis of the new CS completed by Legislative Legal. While the Legislative Legal analysis lists 23 actual sections of the bill, these components of the bill are worth noting. . .
Section 16 deals with sexual abuse and sexual assault awareness and prevention efforts in public schools. This is what some refer to as “Erin’s Law.” The other component of this section relates to dating violence and abuse awareness and prevention efforts in public schools. Some refer to this as “Bree’s Law,” named after a young Alaskan woman named Bree Moore who was tragically murdered by her then boyfriend.
Sections 2, 5, 6, 7, and 17 relate to SB 89, known as the “Parental Rights Bill.” I introduced this bill earlier this year in an effort to reiterate in law the inherent rights of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. SB 89 has had several hearings this year in the Senate Education Committee and State Affairs Committee. It was passed out to the Senate Rules Committee where it awaits scheduling for a floor vote.
Sections 3, 4, 8, 9, 19, 11, 12, 13 14,15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 all relate to eliminating or modifying requirements of the state on school districts and educational personnel. The purpose of these sections is to identify items that can be modified or repealed to enable school districts to save resources, in order for them to potentially use those freed resources for academic and educational matters.
Section 23 saves the state money and removes a testing requirement. This section is basically HB 80, sponsored by Representative Lynn Gattis, which passed the House this year. It repeals the mandate from last year’s HB 278 that all secondary students take the SAT, ACT or Work Keys test before graduating from high school. HB 278, which required the state to pay for the test, failed to specify a score that students must receive to consider passing. HB 80 reverses the mandate and funding from the state. In doing so, the state will save $525,000 annually and will give back countless hours to school counselors and administrators who have been proctoring these tests.

Sen. Dunleavy is either being careless or trying to slip some things by us here.  Talking about parental rights could take up half a dozen long blog posts.  I'll just say I see there is a national movement on parental rights.  Their website and rhetoric remind me of other conservative 'think tanks' like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity.  They use a phrase everyone agrees with - parental rights, in this case - to attack government and schools.   Parental Rights in this bill includes the right to keep their kids from learning about sexuality, STDs, birth control, and definitely abortion.  And sexual abuse awareness.

It's interesting that while the language in Section 2 requires parents to object each time they want to withdraw their child from school activities to which the object, the language for Sexual Abuse Awareness (Erin's Law) requires them to actually give permission BEFORE the child can attend. 

I'd note that two of the sections listed - 5 and 17 - have nothing to do with parental rights, at least not as I understand that term.  Instead they are aimed at cutting all school contracts with agencies that provide abortions and agencies that don't provide abortions but have contracts with agencies that do.  Those were just slipped in there, it seems, on the assumption that most people won't check.  While Dunleavy has changed a lot of things to optional, the abortion providing agency blackballing has been made mandatory.  What happens if the abortion providing agency also has the best and cheapest training and materials on STD's or pregnancy prevention?  Schools will be forced to pay more and get lower quality materials.  That doesn't seem to be in the spirit of giving school districts more flexibility and local power.  It seems Sen Dunleavy is able to impose his religious beliefs on school districts which might limit the parental rights of parents who would welcome the expertise that, say, Planned Parenthood, has acquired over the years on these subjects. 

There are also sections I would support.  Section 2.4 allows parents to withdraw their kids from school to observe a religious holiday without penalties to the children and Section 2.5 allows parents to review the content of all classes, programs, performance standard, or activity.  These are good things.  Kids shouldn't be punished for observing the holy days of their religion and parents should have access to all the content used in schools.  But they have nothing to do with Erin's Law. 

In my opinion and that of others, the changes in CS HB44 make it a better bill because it addresses a number of outstanding issues that have already had the close attention of the House and/or Senate but which were not yet passed into law because we ran out of time in the regular session. By rolling the issues into a CS as is commonly done in the legislature, a number of “birds can be killed with one stone.”
 Except. . . . that Erin's Law was as close to a slam dunk pass as there could be, until you added  22 new sections on to it, some of which are truly questionable.  Yes, this sort of horse trading on legislation is done all the time, but this is a special session, with limited time, and the Governor's direction was to pass Erin's Law, not all these others.  And, as I've noted elsewhere, all this leveraging and taking advantage that you say is 'commonly done' may well be part of the reason that politicians' approval rating is so abysmally low. 

Now let me address some of the claims by using facts and data.
“You put this CS together to kill the original bill.” - Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything in the CS, I support and in talking with others, many others do as well.
 I suspect this is true.  Rather I see this as a way to piggy back on a bi-partisan bill to get legislation that you failed to get passed in the regular session.  But stuffing this with 22 new sections to the one section of Erin's Law is probably even greedy by normal standards.   And given the news that people are asking you to run against Sen. Murkowski, this would seem a perfect ploy for getting points with the far right of the Republican party in the primaries.  I'm not saying you don't also believe in this, or that the political benefit was part of your calculation, but appearances do matter in politics.  Though you may not have expected the amount of push back you've gotten.  
“By changing the ‘shall’ to a ‘may’ you have effectively nullified the intent of the bill.” - I don’t think so and it is certainly not my intent. If anything, I think we get more support for it by giving school districts more control and more time to identify ways they can implement the training. As stated earlier, many school districts are already doing the training. I am confident that within a short period of time, the remaining school districts will be implementing the training as well.
This really gets to the key point I made at the beginning of this post.  At the top of this post I went through the math, step by step, and it shows that at least 2000 kids will likely be abused without the protection of Erin's Law because of the changes Dunleavy made.

This is a BIG DEAL.  Your intent is not the issue.  They say the road to hell is paved, not by bricks, but by good intentions.  The outcomes are what matters.  Your actions are setting up lots of Alaska kids for abuse because they won't get training on how to recognize abusers and avoid them and report them.  For me, this is the bottom line.  The number of kids who will be harmed because of your meddling with what was a clean bill, certain to pass.  Nothing else matters.  The rest is just noise.

You give no evidence except your 'confidence' that the other schools will follow through.  And even if they did, you've made it significantly easier for abusers to keep their kids out of these classes. 

“Dunleavy, you don’t care about kids. You don’t want Erin’s Law to pass!” - Boy, where do I start? First of all, last year I voted FOR Erin’s law. Read this link:…/alaska-legislature-can-have-impact-abu… Remember, it was also introduced last year and passed the Senate 20 to 0. So I DO support the law. With regard to not caring about kids, seriously, my profession is public education. I care and that is why I support the bill.
I'm sure you care about kids.  I don't doubt that.  But I think you've been able to compartmentalize what you are doing here and you simply don't see the impacts this will have on real kids all across the state.  You can read my post on Hannah Arendt to understand how this might happen.

And since the bill passed the Senate last year unanimously, I'm convinced it would have passed this time if you had simply passed the original bill without trying to tack on a bunch of other things you wanted, no matter how important you think they are.  This is a test of a human being - whether you can help others without taking a cut for your help.  You failed that test.  I understand, because of your time in the legislature, that you consider this standard procedure.  I'm just telling you that it's not part of the ethics I practice.  I challenge you to find a quote from any ethical tradition that tells you to only help if you get something in return.  Show me where Christ tells us to be sure to take your cut when you help others.
“Then why change the ‘shall’ to ‘may’ if you supported it last year? Why the change?” - Good question. Last year we had oil prices well over $100 per barrel. We were not staring at a $4 billion dollar deficit. We were not having to cut school district funding; we were adding to it. The state and school districts were not under the pressure we are under now. Again, the “may” gives districts time to identify resources to implement the training.
A couple of things here.  First, for every kid who is sexually abused, there is more work for the teachers, the school districts, and in many cases police and mental health agencies, and on and on.  Not preventing child abuse is itself an unfunded mandate, because the damage of abuse costs the kids, their families, their schools, and their communities a lot.

Second, if your concern was timing, why not just allow districts to apply for deadline waivers if they can show there's a hardship?   But make them explain why they need the waiver, because people testified that the Rasmuson Foundation and others have offered to make materials and training available.  Make them specify their reason for a waiver and then let Rasmuson help them overcome the obstacles.  We'll see if these are the real issues or not. 

“There should be no amendments or new sections to this bill. Go back to the original bill.” - If we were to do that, then there would be no “Bree’s Law” component of the bill, no training for dating violence and abuse, because that component is itself an amendment. The “original” bill did not have the “Bree’s Law” component. It was an amendment just added this spring. That change, as well as the others in the CS, have all gone toward making it a better bill. Go to the following link and you can follow the bill as it was amended in the House.…
The House amended the bill. The Senate was in the process of amending the bill in the regular session by identifying mandates that could be removed from school districts to free up resources. This effort was led by Senator Gardner. Senator McGuire also offered an amendment to the bill – the “Bree’s Law” component a few weeks before the session ended. My point is that bills often go through many steps and amendments before they become law.
 Again with this red herring about amendments.  There are lots of reasons to amend bills.  One is to make them better when problems are raised or when new options (like the teen dating violence) present themselves.  Another is to try to piggyback your own pet legislation onto a bill that is likely to pass so yours goes along for the ride.  And sometimes they are added to delay or kill a bill.  Despite what you say about the 22 added sections making it a better bill (the teen dating violence change isn't even one of them), we'll just have to disagree.  I've stated already above my reasons for thinking the amendments weaken and water down the bill.   Yes, bills go through many stages because people have different goals and values.  You were in a position to let this go through and you hijacked it for your own benefit.  By that I mean that you got stuff tacked on that you wanted passed.  Stuff that doesn't in any way increase the likelihood that kids will be protected against sexual abuse. 

“Erin Merryn, the lady behind the Erin’s Law movement, states you have hijacked the law and have changed it from its original version.” – This is what she has said. But she also recognizes that there are different versions in different states. I will post in the Comments below a document prepared by the National Conference of State Legislatures which identifies greatly varying action taken in implementing Erin’s Law in various states. While some states do require schools to provide the education, others simply allow them to, and yet other states create task forces to study potential implementation of the training. I believe Alaska’s CS is a version that will help children.
What’s next? The CS is in Senate Finance waiting to be scheduled for a hearing. Hopefully this will occur soon. It’s time to help Alaska’s children.
I really don't care what other states do.  Alaska has the worst statistics of any state when it comes to sexual abuse, violence against women, and related crimes.  Your responsibility as an Alaskan legislator is to those kids in our state who need the information that the original Erin's Law would provide them.  You sound like a teenager telling his parents, "But Mom, all the other kids do it."  You aren't a teenager, you're a legislator with the power to help helpless kids.  You are responsible for every kid that doesn't get sexual abuse awareness education and then gets molested because of what you've done to Erin's Law.  And the numbers, as I've pointed out above, will be significant. That's not opinion, that's not arguable.  It's based on actual numbers and the stats on rates of abuse.  You took a strong bill and watered it down.  There will be kids who don't get the information and help they need because of those changes.  And you're the person who has made the changes and defends the changes.  

If I'm wrong here, show me.  My numbers are conservative.  It's your job, if you want to refute this, to show how passing on as it was the original HB 44 your committee got, would have caused greater harm because it didn't have your amendments.  I don't think you can. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sharing The Newspaper On The Deck At Breakfast

It's nice to eat breakfast outside on the deck again and I more than happy to share with the damsel flies. 

"This inability to think created the possibilities for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale" Chenault and Dunleavy - Meet Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt was a refugee from Nazi Germany who had studied philosophy (and also had a long affair) with Martin Heidiger, getting out of Europe in 1941 to the US where she taught at various top ranked universities.  I had read her book The Human Condition as a grad student and was inspired by her discussion of the public and private realms to explore the concept of privacy in my doctoral dissertation.

So, when I saw a movie entitled Hannah Arendt listed on Netflix, I wondered how her life could fit into a two hour movie.

The movie focuses on her coverage of the Eichmann trial in 1961 and the publication of her reports in The New Yorker along with the backlash to some things she said in the articles.  Let me say early on here, that I'm no Arendt expert and a lot of my response is based on the woman portrayed in the movie, plus some follow up online at  here  and  here.  Having grown up with German-Jewish refugees in the US, I have a familiarity with that world as well, though the California settlers do seem to be quite different from those who stayed on the East Coast. 

There are a number of things that struck me as a I watched the film.  And of course the film touched on these topics very lightly and so do I.  But they are interesting starting points to pursue more. 

1.  Her ability to separate herself from the situation when she views people and interactions among people and to probe while suspending judgment.  As she says in the film,
"Trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness."  
This is significant in the film because people become outraged at their perception that she excuses Eichmann (on the grounds that he's just an ordinary, not particularly bright man and not a sociopath) and because she says that without some Jewish leaders' cooperation, there would have been fewer Jews who died.  To Arendt, this is merely unjudgmental fact of significant interest for anyone trying to understand the Holocaust.

2.  Her notion of 'the banality of evil' hinted at in 1. above.  Her observations of Eichmann in the trial came as a revelation to her, because he was so ordinary.  He had absorbed the Nazi propaganda and had let go of his own individuality and decision making powers and became an instrument of the Nazis.
"I hold no defense of Eichmann, but I did try to reconcile the shocking mediocrity of the man with his staggering deeds. . . Eichmann utterly surrendered that single most defining human quality, that of being able to think, consequently he was no longer capable of making normal judgments.  This inability to think created the possibilities for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the like of which one has never seen before." [emphasis added.]
"The trouble with criminalizing a Nazi like Eichmann was that he insisted in renouncing all personal qualities and it was as if there was nobody left to be either punished or forgiven.  He protested time and again, contrary to the prosecution's assertion, that he had never done anything out of his own initiative.  That he had no intention whatsoever, good or bad, that he had only obeyed orders.  The typical Nazi plea makes it clear that the greatest evil in the world is the evil committed by nobody."

3.  Her point seems to be that this goes far beyond Eichmann and beyond Germany.  People give themselves up to world views, values, and beliefs of the dominant culture and just go along without any moral assessment of their actions.
"And not only in Germany, but in almost all countries.  Not only among the persecutor, but also among the victims." 
This last part is what upset so many people.  Her character says that if the Jews hadn't been organized and their leaders hadn't cooperated, fewer Jews would have died.  They too had been indoctrinated into following orders.  This idea also reminds me of the concept of internalized racism that infects the victims as well as the beneficiaries of racism in a society.  

4.  Points 2 and 3 (which overlap a lot) shout at me to explore how this might help us understand how that might be in play in today's world.  I raise that possibility gingerly, because, as in the case of Arendt and her article, people will likely misread it.  In Arendt's case, it was to see her as excusing Eichmann and blaming the Jews for their own demise.  In this case, some people will surely miss the finer points and see me comparing people today to Nazis.  That's not what I'm doing.  Rather I'm taking the notion of 'the banality of evil' that Arendt coined by studying Eichmann at his trial, and wondering how that might apply to the US today, and particularly to Alaska.

So, how might it apply?

Dunleavy, HB 44 - Erin's Law

Having just last week attended the Senate Education Committee's hearing on HB 44, I immediately thought of the total disconnect between what I saw and what the chair, Sen. Dunleavy said.  How might Arendt's thoughts fit here?

Dunleavy, for one thing, never acknowledged the possibility that what he was doing to Erin's Law (the original HB 44) might mean that there would be kids who would not be exposed to sexual abuse awareness, and thus when they were exposed to an abuser, would not know what was happening, how to respond, and how to report so it could end (if it did start) quickly.  He acknowledged no link between his actions and the fact that more kids would be abused because of his actions.   He even derided people who suggested he was even complicit in kids being sexually abused.

This sounds similar to me to the way Eichmann said he was merely doing his job, making sure people got on the trains.  He separated that task from the idea of where the trains were going and what would happen to the people at their destination.  It seemed to me that Dunleavy was doing something similar.  In his mind, he wasn't 'gutting' HB 44 as people charged.  Rather he was adding language about parental rights (and other things) that in themselves were good, without a sense of the effect these changes would have on watering down Erin's Law, on jeopardizing the passing of the bill altogether, and on the outcome of fewer kids getting abuse awareness training and thus ending up abused.  (Of course, only a relatively small number of kids who would get the training would be exposed to abuse. [updated:  actually the numbers people cite are one in four girls and one in six boys, so that would be not so small a number.]  But the numbers reported were still disturbingly high, so it wouldn't be insignificant.)

Of course, there's the possibility that he knows exactly what he's doing and he's lying, but I suspect not.  It's easy for people to call others liars because they can't believe they don't think exactly the way they think.  The more nuanced approach that Arendt takes requires more concentration and mental agility to comprehend.

Is there a different option than 'not too bright' and 'liar' that I'm missing?  Dunleavy has not offered an explanation that covers all the holes that I see as listed in this post.  He does have a lengthy FB defense, but it really doesn't address the details I raise.  Instead it just says things like other states don't make the training mandatory so what are you complaining about.  It doesn't address the issue of kids falling between the cracks because it's not mandatory and because it cuts out k-6.  Interestingly, he also seems to have dropped all the parental-rights rhetoric, but maybe I just missed it.

Chenault And The Budget

In this case, we could take Arendt's concepts to portray Chenault's world view as so pro-oil, his majority in the House so big, and his leadership power so strong, that he simply never has to think about the consequences of what he is doing.  Like Eichmann, his education is weak (though he did graduate from high school.)  I don't suspect he had many probing high school classes that forced him to deeply consider opposing points of view or how to think critically.  Instead, he mouths the slogans fed to him by the oil company lobbyists (all of whom are much better educated than Chenault) and groups like the Koch brothers supported Americans for Prosperity who tell him how smart he is, and what a good job he's doing, and how what he is doing is in the best interests of the people of Alaska.  He doesn't have to think.  (Think in the philosophical sense of pondering big questions that put his actions into a longer term and larger context, questioning what he takes for granted, considering the moral implications of what he's doing.)  To those who challenge him, he can respond, "If you're so smart, why am I Speaker of the House and you're out there whining?" A good question.  I'd respond:  "Because he thinks he's in the legislature and he's speaker all on his own merits, and not because his oil and construction industry supporters haven't greased the wheels for him.  He thinks they are supporting him because he's got the right values, not because he's absorbed the values they want him to have."

I'm not saying this is 'truth.'  I'm saying this is what Arendt's model suggests could be true. 

Can We Trust Arendt's Models?

I don't think we need to trust them or not.  Rather they are tools for measuring the world we see.  We use models to take measure of the world. It suggests things we should consider in our assessment. Does it accurately reflect what is happening?  If we gather the facts, do they line up as the model predicts?  Or is the model making us sort the facts to see what we expect to see?

Arendt's concept of the banality of evil has similarities to other concepts such as mob behavior or herd mentality;  such as group think and other situations where people give up their moral responsibility to the people around them.  We see echoes in The Lord of the Flies  and in 1984 and in Madmen  and The Sopranos.  The Milgram Experiments are another example that stem from Eichmann's trial, though, as this article states, Arendt said they showed something different than she was getting at.

There are lots of nuances here and getting inside people's heads to read their intentions isn't something I've figured out how to do well.  And there are problems with what people tell us they intended.
  • They can be deceptive.  
  • They can be wrong.  
  • They might not know themselves.

So What Do We Do?

  • The Believers
    • We can listen to people respectfully and let them explain themselves as much as they are willing or able to do.  This gives us some insights.  Asking probing questions might yield more.  We aren't likely to cause believers to change any more they are likely to cause us to change.  Though when we interact respectfully it does change our relationship and allows people to consider each other more authentically.   (A study that seemed to confirm this approach when used to change the minds of people who voted against gay marriage in California, appears  to have been faked.  But the problems with that study don't mean this technique doesn't work.  But that study that seemed to validate the idea apparently can't be used now to do so.)
  • Those Who Think Everyone Is Equally Corrupted
    • There are lots of folks who have simply given up on everyone.  They've dropped out of serious participation and rejected their responsibilities, as citizens, to be informed and to vote.  These folks can be reached.  Mostly they would like to believe that democracy works and just need some examples of how they can have a positive impact.  Again, listening is the best tool.  Ask them to explain how they got to their conclusions.  Is there anything that could happen to change their minds?  What are the consequences of doing nothing?  And so on.   Grab a set of examples of people who have accomplished things against the odds.  For a quickly googled example.  I'm sure you can find ones more relevant to your cause.  And these folks have much to teach the political process believers as well.
  • Those Who Unthinkingly Are On Your Side
    • I find automatic believers of any group problematic.  They often have only the sketchiest idea of why they are supporting or opposing something.  It might be part of the dogma or something they read (without checking) that supports their world view.  It's important to shake up people who automatically support your position, but do so without thinking. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

There Will Be Blood

It's summer, and this was the consequence of my lapse into un-Buddhist like impulses.  But it turned out I'd already made my first blood donation of the day. 

At least these guys are the big mosquitoes.  That means they are slow and easy to feel on hairy arms. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cleansing Of The Pole, Then Changing Of Command To Adjuntant General Hummel

This is the 'honor pole' in front of the Alaska National Guard Headquarters.  Today, prior to the Changing of the Command ceremony from Acting Adjutant General Mike Bridges to Adjutant General Laurel Hummel, was a ceremony to cleanse the pole that had been dedicated a few years ago.  Tlingets and local Athabaskans from Eklutna joined together to cleanse the pole after the scandal the National Guard has gone through.

A member of the St. Elias Dance Group.

Lt. Governor Mallot at the cleansing ceremony.  I'm not using the word totem because there are some questions about combining the old and new traditions and the recognition that this pole doesn't necessarily meet the standards of a traditional totem pole.  So the decided to call it an honor pole instead. 

New Adjutant General Hummel dancing after the cleansing ceremony.

The crowd then moved inside and the Hearts of Oceana Club - West High students mentored by the Polynesian Community Center - danced before the Change of Command.

Gov. Walker was there as well.

Adjutant General Hummel in her speech which ranged from personal to inspirational.. She talked about how her army dad answered her six year old self about her desire to follow him into the army, that  while West Point didn't take women at the time, they would when she was ready to apply.

She talked about how when the governor-elect asked her to be the Adjutant General, she was taken aback.  She said she hadn't applied because her husband worked at the guard, so she would have a conflict of interest.  But the governor and her husband insisted.  And in a few days, her husband heads for a year in Kosovo where he'll be head of intelligence for NATO there.  She then turned to the members of the Alaska National Guard - how honored she is to work with them, how much she values and trusts them, and how together they will make the Guard a better organization.

This is an interesting confluence of two stories I've followed here.  One began when I covered Laurel Hummel's interview to be director of the Alaska Redistricting Board.   The other is the story of the Alaska National Guard scandal.  The links each go to one post.  There were a number of posts on each and you can get to the others by clicking on the appropriate labels.  This was a positive event, I'm sure the governor would like to spend more of his time doing this sort of thing.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Backyard is starting to Bloom

 Things are blooming already in the yard, like these two narcissus,

Wikipedia gives us some background on the name Narcissus:
In Greek mythology, Narcissus (/nɑrˈsɪsəs/; Greek: Νάρκισσος, Narkissos) was a Hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope.[1] He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus drowned.

New hosta leaft. 


The dandelions are here already too.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Will Of The Irish

The size of the majority of the vote on same-sex marriage in Ireland yesterday says this was not about luck, but about will.  

A regular reader here who lives much closer to Ireland sent me links to two different articles on the election, one from the Irish Times,  "Ireland has left ‘tolerance’ far behind" and the other from The Guardian, "Ireland is a kinder, fairer place after voting for same-sex marriage."

The Irish Times article says near the beginning:
"It looks like a victory for tolerance. But it’s actually an end to mere toleration.
Tolerance is what “we” extend, in our gracious goodness, to 'them'. It’s about saying 'You do your own thing over there and we won’t bother you so long as you don’t bother us'."

The word 'tolerance' as a goal has always bothered me.  Tolerance is the lowest level of acceptance.  Tolerating is  putting up with something that you don't agree with.  Tolerance is not a word I imagine that Jesus Christ would have used or approved of.  He said to 'love' one's neighbors, even one's enemies.  Not 'tolerate' them. 

I did actually google  Jesus and the word tolerance, and I got an article entitled "Bible Verses About Tolerance: 21 Scripture Quotes."  None of the 21 quotes actually has the word tolerance in them.  Someone merely found passages that seemed to cover the idea they had of tolerance.   Quotes like:
"Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand."
How people 'know' things and by extension, how the come to change what they 'know' is an underlying theme of this blog.  I'm convinced that 'knowing' is something we do non-rationally.  It's somehow linked in our brains to our fight or flight response - is this a danger to me?   And the less we know about something, the more likely we are to put it into the danger category.  It's why some people fear flying, but think nothing of driving, even though statistically one's odds are much better flying.  But it's easy to viscerally understand that if cars crash, they are, at least, already on the ground, and relatively few of us truly understand what keeps a plane up in the air.  We may have read an explanation, even be able to recite the explanation.  But unless we 'get it' in the sense that we 'feel' its correctness, we don't really 'know' it.  

We can 'know' a lot of things that are incorrect.  Things that 'make sense', that feel natural.  But are wrong.  And the more being 'right' threatens our way of life, the longer we believe what's wrong.  Find me a climate change denier today, and I'll find you some strong connection they have to the fossil fuel industry. 

So how do we people change what they know?  How can we help that process along?

When I taught about values in my graduate classes, I had one section where everyone had to bring some food that would help us understand who they were.  They also had to talk about a value they believed in strongly and explain what happened in their lives to cause that to be an important value.  For instance, for me, siding with immigrants fleeing from a dangerous homeland has always been important.  My parents were immigrants who fled Nazi Germany, so I come to this value in a very personal way.  Sure, there are people who take advantage of the system, but it's better, in my mind,  to let in a few fakers, than turn away genuine refugees fleeing from terrible deprivation and death.  

I recall one night in class where one student showed us photos of her cats, dogs, and a bunny, I believe.  She was a member of PETA and a strong animal rights advocate.  She talked about how important pets had always been in her life.   About 30 minutes later, another student showed us a photograph of himself and his dad with the first time caribou he'd ever shot.  This was an important father and son bonding activity.  

These class sessions profoundly changed how students interacted in the rest of the class.  The PETA member didn't necessarily agree with the hunter (or vice versa) but at least they understood how the other got to that value.  It made a visceral sense. 

Watching the rapid (for significant social change) acceptance of gay marriage over the last 30 years (and if you were gay and of marrying age 30 years ago, I'm sure it didn't seem rapid),  I think a lot of it came about because people came to know lgbt people as the same as themselves, with this one minor difference.  I say minor, because when J and I were first married, our closest neighbors were a lesbian couple.  The better we got to know them over the years, the more their daily lives seemed to be wrapped around the same kinds of issues as ours: working, paying the bills, preparing food, keeping the garden nice, washing dishes, going to the movies,  getting the car fixed, and on and on.  They had good days as a couple and bad days.  The fact that they were both women really was a very minor difference.  Sure, it meant they weren't going to have children, but we had hetero friends who weren't going to have children either. 
When I was a kid growing up, I can think of one gay person that I knew of.  He was the brother of a friend of our parents.  He played the piano professionally and when we were at Seders at their house, I remember him always smoking a lot.  But so did his sister.  I don't even know when I came to know that he was, in those days, homosexual.  Probably when I was about 15 or 16 it slipped out from one of my parents' lips.  It was like saying he had cancer.   He was sort of a shadowy person and I don't recall ever even having any sort of conversation with him beyond hello and please pass the peas.    

In those days few people were open about their homosexuality.  There were men or women who never got married, and I guess adults may have wondered, but people didn't publicly openly identify themselves as gay.  There was no publicly visible gay community that I knew about.  Kids might call someone a faggot or queer at school, but it wasn't until my 10th or 15th high school reunion that I learned about classmates who were gay - because, by then, they had died of AIDS.  No, that's not quite true.  One came out in college and my step-father saved me a newspaper article about him being head of a gay student group at Berkeley. Randy had been a close friend in high school, but I never had a clue.   Later, he became the first openly gay judge in Los Angeles.  

I give all this history, because I think that once LGBT folks began to come out and thus force the rest of the world to acknowledge their existence, things began to change.  Until then, parents could pretend their daughter was living with her good friend because it made economic sense to share an apartment or house.  They could ignore the fact that not only was their 40 year old son unmarried, but he never seemed to talk about dating any women.  He was just too busy at work or something.   They might suspect, but they never talked about it.  Everyone could just pretend everything was 'normal.'

But once people started to come out to their parents, the parents had to come to terms with what they 'knew' about homosexuals and what they knew about their gay or lesbian (often adult) children.  Some disowned their children.  Others disowned what they knew about homosexuals.  

And once parents began accepting their children, aunts and uncles and grandparents were forced to make the same sorts of choices between throwing out the kids or throwing out their false knowledge.  And then it spread to friends of the parents, to people at work, and on and on.  The more people came to know they actually did know gay folks, people they had thought were good, normal people until they had come out, the more people had to reassess what they 'knew' about gays.  

Television and movies mirrored this by adding gay characters as 'real' people.  

Just as in my class exercise on values, people had to match what they knew about real individuals against their stereotypes.  

I suspect this evolution might have happened faster than for other outsider groups in society because gays were embedded, so to speak, in every racial and ethnic group, in every religious group, and in every economic and social group.   Protestant Irish probably have been more likely to have a gay dinner guest as part of a family holiday, than to have a Catholic.  (OK, that's a gross speculation on my part, but the point is, they've been less likely to have a family member of the 'other' religion than a gay family member.  You have to have someone convert or marry into the other religion, but a son or daughter or nephew or niece, is someone you've known all their lives.  

So I'm probably asking here whether we can learn to be first tolerant and then embracing of other 'others' the way Ireland has.  (And I'm assuming that everyone has heard that Ireland is the first country to actually vote for same-sex marriage, not have it imposed by a court or law, and that they did so with a very strong yes vote.)  Or whether there is something about the distribution of lgbt folks in society that gives them access to every part of society, that other outside groups don't have.  

In any case, the world is a better place today than it was a week ago, because of this vote.  While some will disagree with that assessment, mine is based on the assumption that the more people accept each other as fellow, equal human beings, the better off the world is. 

As one person is quoted in the Irish Times article, before the election, wrote: 
“I have two adult children. One is allowed to marry, the other is not. How can this be right?”

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Something For Alaska And US Majority Leaders To Think About

 This comes from the movie Confucius. (孔子 (Kong Zi) Director: Mei Hu).

Confucius consents to an audience with the royal consort of Wei against the wishes of his disciples.  She has a reputation as a beautiful woman with a sketchy past and she clearly is intent on seducing the great scholar.

She starts off by asking about the Book of Odes, and the love poetry in it.

Screen shot from Confucius. (孔子 (Kong Zi) Director: Mei Hu)
He politely rejects her request to become his student and to meet again.  She then asks about his theories of government. 

Screen shots from Confucius. (孔子 (Kong Zi) Director: Mei Hu)

Screen shots from Confucius. (孔子 (Kong Zi) Director: Mei Hu)

Screen shots from Confucius. (孔子 (Kong Zi) Director: Mei Hu)

While there is much about Confucian teaching that is problematic today - particularly his rigid hierarchical power structure and his low regard for women - there is also much of use to our political leaders today.

I'd note that Thomas Jefferson, one of the inspirations of the Tea Party,  was something of a China scholar.  From a scholarly paper "Thomas Jefferson's Incorporating Positive Elements From Chinese Civilization" by Dave Wan.
(Note that the poem Jefferson clips out in the passage below, is the one referred to by the Royal Consort of Wei in the film - "The Book of Odes."  The poem is a tribute to the Prince of Wei - several hundred years prior to Confucius.)
"Founding Inspiration from the Confucius’ Classics

       In the nineteenth century intellectuals in the United States often enjoyed creating personal scrapbooks, in which they would cut out their “favorite newspaper articles and poems” and past “them onto the backs of old letters to create a sort of personal literary anthology.”  None of us will feel surprised to know that Thomas Jefferson, “an Enlightenment intellectual,” created a scrapbook in his own way. Some time from 1801-1809 Jefferson included in the section of his scrapbook titled Poems of the Nations an ancient Chinese poem from The Book of Odes. His love of the poem provides us with a window through which we can look into his efforts to learn from Chinese culture. What he wanted to learn from the poem?

       Below is Jefferson’s clipping of the poem:

                                           A Very Ancient Chinese Ode
Translated by John Collegins seq
Quoted in the To Hio of Confuciues
(….from a manuscript presented in the Bodlein Library )

SEE! how the silvery river glides,
And leaves' the fields bespangled sides !
Hear how the whispering breeze proceeds!
Harmonious through the verdant reeds!
Observe our prince thus lovely shine!
In him the meek-ey'd virtues join!
Just as a patient carver will, Hard ivory model by his skill,
So his example has impress'd Benevolence in every b[re]ast;
Nice hands to the rich gems, behold,
Impart the gloss of burnish'd gold:
Thus he, in manners, goodly great,
Refines the people of his state. True lenity,
how heavenly fair !
We see it while it threatens,—spare!
What beauties in its open face!
In its deportment—what a grace!
Observe our prince thus lovely shine!
In him the meek-ey'd virtues join!
His mern'ry of eternal prime,
Like truth, defies the power of time!

       The poem pays tribute to Prince Wei from the State of Wei, who was loved, respected and remembered by the people of his state. Confucius (551-479 BC) highly praised Prince Wei, described in the poem, when he quoted this poem in his famous book, The Great Learning, to provide a standard to inspire other princes and leaders of various states to follow. Confucius said,

In the Book of Ode, ‘Ah! The former kings are not forgotten’ Future princes deem worthy what they deemed worthy, and love what they loved. The common people delighted in what they delighted them, and are benefited by their beneficial arrangements. It is on this account that the former kings, after they have quitted the world, are not forgotten."

Important themes that we should remember from Confucius is his emphasis on ethics, on education, on harmony and treating people with respect and taking care of the poor and less fortunate. 

Just something to think about on a cloudy Saturday.

I don't particularly recommend this film as a film.  But as an easy (and visually beautiful) overview of the life of Confucius it will do.   It tends to give us a series of vignettes of his life,  with very little character development.   The two actors in these screenshots are (from Wikipedia):
Zhou Xun was in Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002) a film very much worth seeing.  She was also in Cloud Atlas. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

"TO DUNLEAVY" (v) "When a situation unexpectedly comes along giving you the power to help another in need, you instead try to extract some gain for yourself while harming the other."

 EXAMPLE:  "He dunleavied HB 44." As in when you find yourself as the chair of a committee in a special session with just one bill with strong bi-partisan support, and instead of quickly passing the bill, you water down its key provisions, and then add a lot of unrelated amendments that you had tried to pass in the regular session, but couldn't.

This is not how I intended to begin this post, but it seems to encapsulate a lot of analysis in a few words.  Below is the whole post which will show how I got to this point.  

I’ve learned while blogging over the years that it’s easy to form opinions about people I’ve never met and that when I meet them, I'm forced to deal with their complexities, not the cartoon image I originally formed.  I put up a post the other day entitled Sen. Dunleavy Plays Politics With Bill To Protect Kids From Sexual Predators.  I even suggested that if he didn't understand how significant his changes to HB 44 were, he was ignorant and if he did understand, he was venal.  Those are pretty harsh charges.  Not the kind of thing I usually write.

So I went to Wednesday’s hearing to see Dunleavy in person.  I wanted to  get a better sense of Dunleavy and reassess my judgment.

The title and poster are the result of realizing that 'venal' was not the right word, but I had trouble finding the perfect word.  I couldn't; so I coined one.  I would add that I found Dunleavy to be strongly committed to a set of values and I think he's sincere about them and is willing to fight to promote them.  He appears to be one of those folks who is so certain that he's right, that it's easy for them to disregard those who disagree with him.  However, his manner was respectful and, for the most part, restrained.  He did get passionate at the end about the importance of protecting parental rights in a time when government is so invasive in people's lives.  Making decisions is much easier for such people, because they don't appear to doubt their correctness.  While he listened to opposing arguments, he easily dismissed them all, and there were no changes to the bill before it was passed. I'd note that this characteristic crosses party lines, but it comes easier with those used to having the power.  I know that a lot of other legislators probably fit the Dunleavy definition I've written.  Dunleavy just happens to be the person  I was trying to understand that led to this definition.  

So, to start from some arbitrary beginning . . .

What I'd like to do here is evaluate my own charge (and others') that Dunleavy was "playing politics" as well as to evaluate whether my either/or characterization was fair.  (Spoiler:  it wasn't.) 

What Does "Playing Politics" Mean?  
Cambridge Dictionary:  to use a situation or the relationships between people for your own advantage
The Free Dictionary: 
1. Lit. to negotiate politically.
2. to allow politics to dominate in matters where principle should prevail.
Next, I'll go through the arguments against the committee substitute for HB 44 and Dunleavy's responses.  Then I'll give an overview of the changes to HB 44.

I'll try to come to conclusions on the pro and con arguments and, finally, whether this is an example of  'playing politics.'  [I tried to cleanly separate out the analysis in its own sections, but as you'll see, some has slipped in earlier as well.]  So hang in there, or skip down to the sections that most interest you.  Going through this closely has raised a lot of issues for me that weren't originally apparent.

The Reasons People Argued Against The Changes To HB 44 (Erin's Law)

  1. The Changes Gut The Bill -  Making parents sign permission forms before a child can be in the program  ('opting in'), instead of requiring parents to object if they don't want the child in ('opting out') means fewer kids will be exposed to this critical information. Likewise, not requiring school districts to adopt this material will reduce the number of kids who get this information.

    Further, the original bill called for age appropriate material for all kids from kindergarten through 12th grade.  The amended version limits it to 7th-12th grade.   50% or more of the target audience is cut out.   People argued that by 7th grade it is too late. Kids are molested much earlier than that and need the training early.
  2. Adding amendments to a clean HB44, that the governor specifically mentioned for passage in the special session, raises a number of problems:
    1. Jeopardizes passage of the bill.   HB 44 was a very focused and clear three page bill which passed the house this year 34-6 and the senate last year unanimously (without the teen dating violence part).  The new version is  a mashed together nine page bill with several controversial sections that have not had careful discussion or had public testimony and could get HB 44 stalled or killed, especially under the bizarre circumstances the legislature is now in. 
    2. Raises constitutional problems:  It's questionable whether adding the new language will be constitutional.
    3. Tacks on Dunleavy's pet issues.  The amendments came from bills that Dunleavy introduced or supported  but couldn't get through during the regular session.

Dunleavy's Responses:  [I was hoping the audio of Wednesday's hearing would be up  so I could pull out exact words. It wasn't up yesterday when I wrote most of this and I still don't see it today.]
  1. Changing the program to "opt in" for parents and giving school districts the choice to not use it is important because parental rights are being eroded by schools and the government.  Parents need the power to control what their kids learn at school.  Sen. Giessel added at one point, that parental rights don't come from government, but from God.
  2. (Addressing Senator McGuire directly) There is nothing wrong with amending bills, it's how the legislative process works.  You amended the original Erin's Law to add in training on teen dating violence awareness.  I didn't do anything different.  And this bill was delayed in the regular session while you were out of town because of a family emergency.  
    1. All the added sections were important and related to education.  They strengthen parental rights and clear up other issues.  The last part, getting rid of the requirement for schools to offer ACT, SAT, or KeyWorks tests, saves money.  
    2. Here's the legal opinion.  Dunleavy had staffer Sheila Peterson relate a message from Leg Legal on this.   She basically said, if a judge were to rule narrowly, there would be problems.  If broadly interpreted, it would be ok.   I got a copy of the memo on Wednesday, (but I can't find it online for you with the other documents).  I would say Peterson's interpretation was not inaccurate, but rosier than what was written. 

      The memo says in part:
      "In the Governor's proclamation declaring a special session, the subject is limited to consideration of:[T]he passage of bills on the following subjects:
      1.  House Bill 44 - Sexual Abuse/Sexual Assault Prevention Programs, previously under consideration in the Senate and the House . . . ."

      "If the subject is construed narrowly, many of the provisions of the committee substitute you requested would fall outside of the subject, as they are not related to sexual abuse or sexual assault awareness programs. . .

      "If, on the other hand, the scope of the subject is interpreted in accordance with legislative rules regarding germaneness and the constitutional single subject rule, it is likely permissible to include at least some of the provisions you have asked to add to CSHB 44(FIN) through the committee substitute."

      It goes on to say that if it were all passed and challenged in court, it's not clear if the court would use the broader regular session test of germaneness or a narrower one relating to the Governor's proclamation for the special session.  But note, the opinion says that even with a broad interpretation  "at least some of the provisions" would stand, implying that others wouldn't.  The charge against the substituted bill was that it raised constitutional questions.  This opinion verifies that. At best for Dunleavy, it says "you might have a chance that some provisions would survive."

      3.  Dunleavy agreed the other material came from bills he and others had proposed.  He saw nothing wrong with this.  Legally, he's right.  But there was very little or no discussion about the various aspects of the bill except for the idea of strengthening parental rights and eliminating the college and work prep testing,  which only have been in existence for one year.  This would, he said, save money in the bad budget year. (I know a road through the university he could cut which would save way more money if that's his goal.)  He added that such amendments were just part of the legislative process. 

      His conclusion was that his amendments made this an excellent bill.  His defense was more opinion and rhetoric than logic and fact. 

      While people have graphically presented the harm caused by sexual abuse, Alaska statistics, and how cutting provisions of the bill will expose kids to abuse and even death, there was no evidence presented that showed what harm would be caused to parents and kids if the bill had been left as it was.  Dunleavy only invoked general concerns about the erosion of parental rights.  

What Was Added?

The new sections includes a slew of topics.  I've tried to group them for simplicity here.  S1 refers to Section 1, etc.  I've put the whole list of sections provided by Leg Legal in a box on the bottom so you can see for yourself. 

Brief overview of issues added to the bill.  (S16 is the amended version of the original HB 44)
Parental Permission :
S2- gives parents permission to withdraw their kids from any school activities involving human reproduction and sexual matters or divulging of personal or family family affairs
S6, S7 requires parental permission for all school surveys, info on access to survey info

Challenging Courses For Credit:
S3, S4 limits grades and assessment procedures for challenging courses for credit

Prohibits Contracting With Abortion Providers
S5, S17 (The prohibition covers 'organizations that contract with schools' as well as school districts)

Rules For Training Of School Employees
S8, S9, S10, S11, S12, S13, S19, S20

Physical Exams for Students and Teachers
S14, S15

Allows Districts To Adopt Sexual Abuse And Teen Dating Violence Awareness Training (This is the original HB 44, but amended as explained above)

Allows For Existing Department Records To Be Used For Background Checks

Repeals Requirements For College And Career Preparedness Testing

The original bill, you can see, is now only one of 23 different sections!


Complaints about the changes and Dunleavy's responses

1.  Was the bill 'gutted'?

Clearly, fewer children will be exposed to this training than before because:
1.  Parents must give permission before a student can take the program.  Getting prior permission is more difficult than requiring parents to take steps to opt their children out.
2.  Schools are no longer required to implement this program.  Again,  requiring all schools to use the program is likely to cover more kids.
3.  Exempting K-6 grade kids cuts out half the target audience and means kids who are most vulnerable and least prepared to deal with sexual abuse will not get the training.
I learned long ago, as a teacher, that if I asked, "Does anyone have a question?" I got the same number of raised hands as I did when I asked, "Who understands this?"  Taking action is more work than not taking action, and fewer kids will get into these classes if parents have to sign a permission slip than if they have to sign a 'no permission' slip.

I would note that one of the documents available online includes a list of school districts that already have training.  It includes the biggest school districts - Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks, Juneau - and a number of smaller districts.  So lots of students are already getting this training in some form.  However, the list only says whether there is sexual abuse awareness training and teen dating violence training.  It doesn't say what grade levels get the training or any other details.

I do understand how Dunleavy can convince himself that the changes are minor, and because so many districts already offer some training, he's not totally wrong.  But half the kids (K-6) were cut out of the bill!  We simply disagree on the significance of the threat to parental rights compared to the threat to children's safety.  We have dire statistics that show Alaska is the worst state in the nation when it comes to child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and general violence against women. We don't have evidence that Alaskan parents' rights are less than in other states and that this causes them irreparable harm as we know that abuse causes.  Suppose the changes mean that 30 kids per year or per month, will get abused because of the changes in the bill.  Because their schools don't offer the program or their parents don't sign the permission slip, or they're in K-6, they won't get training  and thus won't be able to recognize an abuser and won't be empowered to protect themselves or to report it right away.   Given our numbers, that's a real possibility, and to me, it's a big deal.  I don't see the compensating benefits in the changes that make up for the harm to those kids who will be abused because they didn't get the  this education.  No one identified any specific harm that would be caused to parents or their kids if the bill would have been passed as it was, without changes. 

To me the amendments clearly weaken this bill.  The changes are not minor. 

2.  Were the bill's chances of success weakened?

2-1.  Controversial and unvetted issues.  Two new sections (S5 and S17) appear to be aimed at one organization - Planned Parenthood.   Dunleavy is strongly anti-abortion and believes his religiously based views trump my views and others' views.  Dunleavey's views are the minority opinion in Alaska and the United States, but he believes he knows better than the rest of us.  Anchorage's recent mayoral election when a strongly pro-choice candidate soundly beat a strongly anti-choice candidate, emphasizes this.  Inserting the anti-abortion language in this bill poisons it and Planned Parenthood is not shy about going to court. These are not uncontroversial amendments.

S2 gives parents permission to withdraw their kids from any school activities involving human reproduction and sexual matters or divulging of personal or family family affairs.  I think there ought to be a lot of public discussion to clarify exactly what that means.  Would it prevent a teacher or school nurse from asking a child about bruises and how they got them?  Would it prevent a teacher from asking a student why he was falling asleep in class every day or is suddenly very quiet and non-responsive?  While I can think of a lot of things that teachers should probably not be asking about one's family, I also think the language is so broad there could be conflicts here with mandatory responders' ability to determine whether a child is being abused or neglected at home.  But there was no discussion on this at the hearing whatsoever.

I understand the concern for parental rights.  When my kids were in school, my wife and I were very active in monitoring our kids' education.  We spoke up when we disagreed and advocated for improvements.  I also understand that a lot of parents do not have the knowledge and experience or professional training to be able to effectively advocate for their kids.  I think having parent advocates  available would be very helpful for many parents.  But when we speak of parents' rights, we have to recognize that there are parents who are dysfunctional and fail to support and protect their kids.

S21 allows people applying for work to use the background check that is already on record with the department.  I can see the benefit of not having to go through a whole new background check.  But what happens when there are recent violations that didn't exist when the first background check was made?  I don't know if this is a serious issue, but there was no discussion on it at all.  It's one more thing in this bill that could give a little more opportunity for abusers, and prevent passage of the bill. 

The real irony of all this is that it's parents and other close relatives who do most of the sexual abuse of kids.  Protecting the ability of abusive parents to prevent those kids from getting sexual abuse awareness education so they can protect themselves from their parents and other relatives is inherently, though not intentionally, imbedded in the  parents' rights that Dunleavy is pushing.  Dunleavy took umbrage that people insinuated  that he was complicit in hurting kids by his amendments.  Good people can take principled actions that cause harm.  And I'm sure George W. Bush takes umbrage in the charge that invading Iraq resulted in greater instability and death for Iraqis and destabilized the region.  Those sections added to this bill that strengthen parents' rights, also take power away from abused kids.   It's the abusive parents who will be most interested in keeping their kids out of these classes. 

The need for lengthy discussion to clarify the legality and implications of these and other sections that were added into the bill, do raise legitimate concern about the bill's passage.

Sen. Dunleavy's responses were aimed at equating these amendments to Sen. McGuire's amendment that added teen dating violence to the bill during the regular session.  He changed the debate from whether the amendments were controversial and germane, to whether it was ok, in general, to make amendments.  He didn't really defend his position other than to say the amendments made the bill stronger, which, in my analysis, is definitely not the case. 

2-3.  Constitutionality -  The legal opinion said it would depend on a judge's interpretation  and the outcome could not be predicted.  And even the broadest interpretation would only protect some of the new sections.  In other words, the attorney couldn't say that the bill would survive a court challenge.  The opinion said that some of the sections might survive.  I don't see how anyone can logically argue that opinion doesn't support the critics' charge that the changes raise constitutional issues.   

2-4  Just taking an opportunity to get his own pet issues passed - Some of the amendments come from SB 89, a bill on Parental Rights that Dunleavy sponsored and two of the three other education committee members who voted for this bill -  Giessel and Huggins -  co-sponsored.  Adding these measures onto HB 44 clearly gives Dunleavy (and the other committee members) an unexpected shot at something they already had lost, but the amendments in no way help the original HB 44 get passed.  One could argue that they, along with the changes to HB 44 itself, make it harder. The point isn't that it's bad to add amendments in general, but that these amendments don't strengthen the bill and hurt its chances of passage.

I'm not making judgments on the merit of the changes to HB 44, but rather evaluating them against the challenges of the critics of the changes and the defense of the changes.   The intent of my comments is not to challenge the new provisions, but merely evaluate whether they strengthen or weaken the goal of Erin's Law.  There's no question, that a 'sure pass' by the senate has been made questionable.  That a pass of the revised bill would result in a much less effective Erin's Law, and one that has a questionable chance of surviving a legal challenge on constitutional grounds.

"Playing politics" or not?

So, this gets us to whether Dunleavy was playing politics or not.   Let's retrieve the definitions:
Cambridge Dictionary:  to use a situation or the relationships between people for your own advantage
The Free Dictionary: 
1. Lit. to negotiate politically.
2. to allow politics to dominate in matters where principle should prevail.
Using the Cambridge definition, there's no doubt.  He had the choice to leave HB 44 as it was and send it for speedy passage.  Instead, he made changes that weakened the bill (we can debate how much it weakened the bill, but there's no question that it did)  and added in language from a bill he had sponsored but hadn't gotten passed, which weakens the chances of the bill's passage.  (I haven't talked about the details of what happens next, but even if the bill passes the Senate, which it likely will, it has to be reconciled with the original House version.  Since the House sponsor is also the Speaker of the House, there's a good chance that won't happen.  But if it does, there's the question of whether the Governor will sign it or veto it. Erin Merryn, the woman who is the namesake of this sort of legislation and has gotten it passed in 23 states has said she does not support the amended bill. )

Dunleavy took an opportunity to negotiate something he wanted onto a stand alone bill that had a strong chance to pass and the changes now put the bill in jeopardy.    I'd say that fits the first two definitions quite neatly.

I would allow that Dunleavy might reasonably argue whether the facts fit with the second Free Dictionary definition.  He probably would argue that he was very much working on principle.  He strongly articulated his belief in strengthening parental rights.  But I would counter argue that those who have fought to pass Erin's Law are also doing it on principle, and that if most people had to choose between sacrificing protection from abuse for kids,  or protecting parents' rights, the kids would win.  It has been, after all, patriarchal rights and the idea of children (and wives) as chattel, that have allowed for all kinds of child abuse for centuries.  It's not an either/or proposition, it's not easy to balance.  But when kids get abused, it gets much easier to decide, but then it's too late.  And in a democracy, the principle of fair process has got to be one of the most important for a legislator.  Otherwise, legislators can simply take advantage of their positions of power to forward their own interests.  Which is not to suggest he did anything that isn't perfectly legal, but he has watered down a pretty sure winner and further burdened it with marginally related amendments.

And when I originally put up the post about Dunleavy playing politics, and even when I started this post, I wasn't aware that Dunleavy was considering running for the US Senate seat against Lisa Murkowski and didn't even consider how this debate and attention might help him with the most conservative side of the Republican party.   I suspect that he would have made these amendments anyway, but it adds ammunition to those who claim he's playing politics here. 

Is Ignorant or Venal a valid claim?

Venal means, according to the Oxford dictionary:
"Showing or motivated by susceptibility to bribery"
I see no evidence of anything like bribery here and I was totally wrong to use this word (and I have corrected it in the original post and apologized to Dunleavy.)  It was a bad choice of words. 

But I do think that Dunleavy's defense of his position was not entirely straightforward.  He had to know that his amendments to HB 44 watered it down and that his amendments were of a very different type than McGuire's.  Yet he never acknowledged this.  McGuire's amendments were directly relevant to the original bill and strengthened it.  Dunleavy's are marginally relevant, weaken the bill, and advance his agenda to the detriment of Erin's law.  He's right that this is part of the legislative process, and I'm sure that's part of  the reason that politicians are held in such low esteem.    

But if venal is the wrong word, what's the right one?  I've been unsuccessful finding the perfect word.  For example,  'crafty' which the Oxford dictionary defines as:
"Clever at achieving one’s aims by indirect or deceitful methods"
has some of the elements, but isn't quite right.

I don't know if  Dunleavy was merely indirect or actually deceitful.  I'm not sure he's even being clever or that he will achieve his ends. I don't know for sure what his ends are.  What I really need is a new word.

So I'm coining a definition for "TO  DUNLEAVY"   which I'll define as:
"When a situation unexpectedly comes along giving you the power to help  another in need, you  instead try to extract some gain for yourself while harming the other."  
EXAMPLE:  "He dunleavied HB 44."   As in when you unexpectedly find yourself as the chair of a committee in a special session with just one bill with strong bi-partisan support, and instead of quickly passing the bill, you water down its key provisions, and then add a lot of unrelated other amendments that you had tried to pass in the regular session, but couldn't.

From Legislative Affairs Legal Services - Sectional Summary of SCS CSHB 44
Section 2.  Requires local school boards to adopt policies allowing parents to withdraw their children from any activity, class, program, or standards-based assessment required by the state to which the parent objects.
Section 3.  Limits AS 14.03.073, which allows students to challenge courses for credit, to apply only to students in grades nine through 12.
Section 4.  Clarifies that school districts do not have to establish assessment tools for all courses offered in grades nine through 12 for purposes of challenging a course.
Section 5.  Prohibits school districts and educational services organizations that contract with school districts from contracting with abortion services providers.
Section 6.  Prohibits school districts, principals, other persons in charge of schools, or teachers from administering a questionnaire or survey unless written permission is obtained from a student's parent or guardian.
Section 7.  Amends AS 14.03.110(d) to require schools to inform parents or guardians of who will have access to results of questionnaires or surveys.
Section 8.  Requires regional school boards to establish procedures to provide required training for school employees.
Section 9.  Requires borough and city school boards to establish procedures to provide required training for school employees.
Section 10.  Requires the State Board of Education and Early Development (the board) to establish procedures for training employees of state boarding schools.
Section 11.  Allows school districts to determine how frequently to provide training related to selection of nondiscriminatory textbooks and educational materials.
Section 12.  Allows school districts to determine how frequently to provide employee evaluation training for certificated school employees.
Section 13.  Allows a school district to determine how frequently to provide alcohol and drug related disabilities training for school teachers, administrators, counselors, and specialists.
Section 14.  Removes "additional" from AS14.30.070(b), which pertains to physical
examinations for students required by the Department of Health and Social Services.
Section 15.  Prohibits school districts from paying the costs of physical examinations for
Section 16.  Provides that the governing bodies of school districts may adopt policies establishing training programs for employees and students related to sexual abuse and
sexual assault awareness and prevention and, in grades 7 - 12, dating violence and abuse awareness and prevention.
Section 17.  Prohibits school districts from permitting abortion services providers to offer, sponsor, or furnish course materials or instruction related to human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases.
Section 18.  Makes conforming amendments to AS 14.30.370.
Section 19.  Allows school districts to determine how frequently to provide school crisis
response training.
Section 20.  Requires continuing education related to domestic violence and sexual
assault to be provided once every five years for state or local public employees.
Section 21.  Allows a person who possesses a valid teacher certificate and applies to work
at a facility licensed or certified by the department or who applies to work at a child care
facility or residential child care facility to request that the person's criminal justice
information and national criminal history record check on file with the department be
used to satisfy criminal history check requirements for the Department of Health and
Social Services.
Section 22.  Modifies state agency training intervals for recognition and reporting of child abuse for mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect and allows school districts to determine how frequently to provide the training.
Section 23.  Repeals AS 14.03.075(a), (b), (c),and (e)(1), and AS 14.07.165(a)(5) and (b)
which relate to college and career readiness assessments; and AS 14.30.070(a) and 14.30.120, relating to physical examinations required for students.