Monday, August 31, 2015

Sunsets Good Here, But Wish I Were In Anchorage With The Pres - Plus Notes From Harding's Visit In 1923

The Santa Monica pier as the sun sets.

I'm spending my days going through closets and drawers, calling government agencies and companies, and trying to get an evening beach bike ride.  Well, it's been so hot that around sunset is the only time it's reasonably comfortable to go ride.  And last night the sunset and the balmy cool air almost made up for not being home.

It was Sunday, so there were lots and lots of people on bikes, foot, skateboards, segways, and something I noticed for the first time today, a segway like vehicle that looks like a skateboard moving sideways, just feet, no handle.  (I just checked - it's an IO Hawk, you can see a German video of it at the link.)

Palms at Venice Beach

But I'm sorry I'm missing the big day when a US president comes to Alaska for a meeting on the Arctic.  I won't miss the street closures, but given his gift to Alaska  - renaming Mt. McKinley to Denali - and all the attention to climate change, this first visit to Alaska of a sitting President since 1923 is a pretty big deal.

Obama's trip compared to Harding's
But President Obama's trip to Alaska is going to be a whirlwind three day tour whereas Harding took a leisurely two week vacation in Alaska after a cross-country speaking tour to San Francisco.  From SitNews, July 23, 2003:
"So the Hardings set off on the rail trip to San Francisco, where they would board the U.S. Navy transport the S.S. Henderson. It was smooth sailing en route north, with card games for the men, jerky silent movies enjoyed by everyone, books to read and plenty to eat and drink, in spite of Prohibition.

The first port of call was Metlakatla where Florence [Harding] was startled by accomplished Native Alaskan musicians in their bare feet playing for the presidential couple! They visited the grave of the world famous Anglican missionary, Father William Duncan. (Future President) Herbert Hoover, Harding's Secretary of Commerce, was personally interested in the call at Metlakatla. Hoover's uncle, the man who had raised him after the death of both his parents, had been an Oregon Indian agent who later traveled to Metlakatla to study Father Duncan's unique methods with the Tsimshian people. The widower uncle, John Minthorn, had married a Metlakatla woman.
Mrs. Harding was also given a salmon in Metlakatla on July 8.  They also visited Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, and Skagway.  They got to Seward on July 13 and took the train to Anchorage.
"From Wasilla to Willow the President himself drove the train while the First Lady sat in the fireman's seat.
The President drove in the golden spike to ceremonially complete the Alaska Railroad in Tenana and then to Fairbanks to open the agricultural school.  I'd add that the party spent the night in Talkeetna. 

They returned to Seward and this time stopped in Cordova and then a stop at Sitka on July 23.   And ate the shellfish that some say caused Harding's death barely a week later in San Francisco.

Photo of Harding in Valdez - from White House History
There was also a stop in Valdez according to White House History where the above picture was taken.

You might also find this link interesting:  LaVern Keys recalls President Harding's visit to the new college on July 16, 1923.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Alaska's $400K Donation To Support DC Law Firm's Anti-Obama Care Campaign

How else can we explain this? 

Alaska Superior Court judge Frank Pfiffner soundly rejected the Legislative Council's court challenge to Gov. Bill Walker's expansion of Medicaid in Alaska.  The expansion will proceed next Tuesday, Sept. 1.  Some 40,000 Alaskans will gain access to affordable medical care.  The state will get an influx of over a billion dollars.

But it appears the Republicans want to appeal.  The ADN online post of Aug. 29 ADN reports
"By the end of the day, the Alaska Supreme Court had already received the Legislature’s request for emergency review and ordered Walker’s attorneys to respond by Monday at noon."
[UPDATE Tuesday Sept 1, 2015The ADN reports the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the Governor's attorneys to let Medicaid expansion begin today, Sept 1.  They did not rule on other parts of the suit.]

In either case, the $400K has been appropriated to the DC law firm Bancroft PLLC.  I posted a bit about them two weeks agoThe Nerve reported in Jan 2013 that Bancroft PLLC had charged South Carolina over $3 million to defend their voter id law. 
"Bancroft PLLC, located in Washington, D.C., billed a total of 6,290 hours from September 2011 through last September at hourly rates of $520 for attorneys, $200 for research associates and $180 for paralegals. With other litigation costs thrown in, the firm's total invoice came to $3,419,439. .  .
Federal online court records show that eight Bancroft attorneys represented the state in the voter ID case, which, based on a total cost of $3,419,438.28, works out to an average cost of $427,429.78 per lawyer."
If you read that quickly, you might not have realized that 6,290 hours equals 157 forty-hour work weeks, just about three years of work in about 13 months.   Divide that by eight (for eight attorneys) and that's over 19 weeks per attorney - almost five months full time each.  OK, I realize attorneys bill more than 40 hours per week and that there were paralegals and others.   But also note it was a Bancroft attorney who lost a case over billing when he charged for his commuting time.

One wonders how the Alaska legislature will monitor the bills from Bancroft.  Basically we're paying them for research work they will use to fight Obamacare in other states.  Again, I realize that's how things work, but I don't think most Alaskans want to be making this sort of subsidy to this sort of firm.  It's especially galling since a) it's likely to lose and b) for most Alaskans, based on their views on Medicaid expansion, it would be worse if they won. 

Do our state Republican legislators even care?  I don't think so.  This is a way for the firm to get its new friends in the Alaska legislature to move money from Alaska's treasury to theirs.  Nothing Chenault and gang say to defend their actions makes sense on the face of it.  Herz quotes House Speaker Chenault as saying,
“We are by no means looking for a way to stop Medicaid expansion; we are trying to do it the right way so that we have a reliable, sustainable system.”
Yeah, sure.  This appears to  really be  part of a national ideological fight against Obamacare. Every state that signs up for Obamacare is a loss for these anti-Obamacare forces.  I'm sure they've come to the legislative leaders and convinced them (using logic? promises of future support?) to fight this Medicaid expansion at all costs. That's why they hired Bancroft, the key law firm that specializes in anti-Obamacare lawsuits.  Who were the brokers who connected Chenault and his merry gang with Bancroft?  The same folks who pushed them to fight the expansion in the first place?  Even though a strong majority of Alaskans favor Medicaid expansion?  I'm sure Koch funded groups like Americans for Prosperity who opened an Alaskan office this year played a role.  Sourcewatch writes:
According to the Center for Public Integrity, Americans for Prosperity "spent a staggering $122 million (in 2012) as it unsuccessfully attempted to defeat President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats," including $83 million on "communications, ads, and media."[3]
 to the US Supreme Court.  They lost the critical one NFIB v Sibelius that would have shut down the Affordable Care Act  and won the second Scott v. US DHSS
Note:  Bancroft was the anti-Obama care law firm in both those suits - NFIB v Sibelius and Scott v. US DHSS.

[Addition 7pm - I forgot to mention that the Governor got an Anchorage law firm to work with the AG's office to represent his (our) side for free.  People of Kenai, really, are you going to reelect Chenault?]

Note 2:  The South Carolin Voter ID law mentioned above:  A Washington Post article reports that while the Department of Justice rejected the law in Dec. 2011, a unanimous three judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for DC approved it October 2012, but delayed implementation.]

I'd also like to salute Nat Herz who did a great job of sending out tweets from the judge's reading of the decision on Friday.  He also tried to live feed it, but I wasn't around for it live, so I'm not sure how that went.

Screenshot of Nat Herz tweeting from the courtroom Firday

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Forbes Tells It Like It Isn't - Bluster Meets The Judge

From a puff piece in Forbes online:
"Gov. Bill Walker and his lawyers plan to argue that Medicaid expansion is required by federal law. Who better to combat that false claim than the very same attorneys who successfully argued the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court in the first place?
Gov. Walker Should Walk Away From Obamacare Plan
Walker’s unilateral Medicaid expansion isn’t just bad policy, it’s also illegal. He now knows that lawmakers stand ready to block his actions. It’s time for Gov. Walker to give up his misguided attempt to circumvent the legislature in order to expand Obamacare in Alaska."
That's dated August 25, 2015.  Alaska Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffer, a Parnell* appointee, apparently missed this, because yesterday he ruled decisively in favor of the governor's position and rejected the challenge approved by the Legislative Council.

It was written by 
"Jonathan IngramNic Horton and Josh ArchambaultMr. Ingram is Research Director, Mr. Archambault is a Senior Fellow, and Mr. Horton is Policy Impact Specialist, at the Foundation for Government Accountability."
And who is FGA?   According to SourceWatch:
The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) is a right-wing advocacy group based in Naples, Florida. It is run by former Maine legislator Tarren Bragdon. It is affiliated with the State Policy Network (SPN), a web of state pressure groups that denote themselves as "think tanks" and drive a right-wing agenda in statehouses nationwide.
The FGA describes its own agenda as developing free market public policies that “achieve limited, constitutional government and a robust economy that will be an engine for job creation across [Florida].” The FGA “believes personal liberty and private enterprise are key to our economic future,” the website states.
 SourceWatch also says there are links to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which means there are Koch connections. 

Is this total BS PR-piece part of the package deal the Council got for our $400K when they hired anti-Obamacare DC law firm Bancroft PLLC?  What else comes with this deal?  What sort of future benefits do the key culprits in this waste of Alaskan dollars get?

Bancroft bills itself as a high stakes player. Chenault and Meyer (Speaker of the Alaska House and President of the Senate and Legislative Council members) have been rolled by these high stakes ambulance chasers.  With our dollars. 

*For non-Alaskans, Parnell was Palin's Lt. Gov and became governor when she resigned.  He lost to Walker, a former Republican who ran as an independent in November 2014. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

LA Gas Prices, Freeway And Weather Notes

Last December, I reported on LA gas prices.  We'd just gotten gas fpr $2.39/gal at Costco and I compared that to Anchorage prices (lowest then was $2.83) where the tax is significantly lower.

I also remarked that the Anchorage Costco prices were not even the same.  (Costco told me then, that price depends on the competition near the stores.)

I caught this Chevron sign this afternoon as we were coming back from visiting relatives in the valley.

Lowest price at this station is $3.78.   This is noteworthy because J filled the tank last night at the nearby Costco for $2.99.  I wonder about all the folks who let stations get away with this sort of price difference.  I realize that location is important.  Costco isn't far from my mom's place, but there is also something called planning.  Especially with an 80 cent per gallon difference!  But with the way prices fluctuate, getting gas last week at Costco may not have been such a bargain now.

By the way, I checked on Anchorage Gas Prices and the lowest in Anchorage is $3.13 right now.  But with such websites, people can find the lowest nearby prices easily.  And if they only shopped within ten cents of the lowest local price, I guarantee that 80 cent spreads would disappear soon.

We got home fairly quickly after we got past the jam behind this accident on Ventura Freeway. (Sorry, I'm old school and still call them by their names, not by their numbers.)

By the way, the temperature for where we visited is predicted to be only 101˚F (38˚C) by 4pm today (in 30 minutes).  It's supposed to be only 88˚F at my mom's by 4pm.   It doesn't feel that much cooler - the humidity here (closer to the beach) is 47% but only 21% in the valley. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mystery Solved - It Was Kardashians

Tuesday was our first night in LA.  We were already in bed.  A little after midnight.  Loud booms.  There were clouds, but thunder?  I didn't think so.  And it kept on and on.  Guns?  Bombs?  More like fireworks.  I looked out the window, but couldn't see anything.  Don't know of any holidays that call for fireworks in late August.  So, we forgot about it. 

But today's LA Times had a story that seems to explain it all. 
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe will present a motion Tuesday calling for an investigation into a loud midweek fireworks show, reportedly at a boat party thrown by Khloe Kardashian, that angered thousands of Westside residents.
The eight-minute show shined brightly in the sky above Marina del Rey and could be seen as far as Venice and heard in Redondo Beach.
For many residents, the midnight fireworks display early Wednesday was an unwelcome surprise that caused chaos in their households. Children were roused and dogs were left shaken.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Work, Then Play

Spent the morning on the phone doing things like negotiating with Verizon to put my mom's  tv on hold, but keeping the phone and internet.  Cell phone reception in here is terrible and I need the internet when we're here.  Also cancelled her supplemental insurance and arranged for reimbursement for the two months they've taken through their 'easy pay' system.  I don't like any system where someone else is taking money out of my account until I say stop.  Also stopped by the bank to give them some more paperwork.  Everyone was very polite and helpful, which makes it easier to go on and do the rest of these chores. 

We had lunch with friends and then started the second attack on my mom's room.  We made the first attack last July before we left, but there is still so much we hadn't seen yet.  Like this self-defense tear gas permit.  Never knew she had this.

Also found an old invitation to a baby shower for my wife.  And lots of purses and necklaces.  And pens.   Readers, recycling and reusing are both great, but if you haven't used it in the last five years, consider starting the process of giving away, selling, or tossing.  Rubber bands, I've learned, have a short shelf life.  Paper clips last much longer. 

I didn't mention it's hot in LA.  And it's humid.  Hot and humid didn't use to happen in LA.  And it's supposed to be warmer for the next two days.  I was feeling sticky most of the day and needed a break. 

We got to the beach just as the sun was going down. 

I went down and tested the water.  It's almost always chilly when you do that here in LA, but after you catch the first wave, it's fine.  This time it felt only refreshingly cool.  So I got rid of my shirt and watch and went to get unstickied.  It was fantastic.  The surf was not very big and just rolled gently down.  Easy to catch, and even though it was breaking close to sure, it was just deep enough not to scrape the sand.  Body surfing a few waves was heaven. 

I watched others enjoying the small, but catchable surf  as I dried off.

Then before it got much darker,  we walked back to La Fiesta Brava for a little Mexican food.

Now, let's see how my Achilles tendon reacts to the sand walking and sandals.  It's been fine for a couple of months now.  No problems walking, though I still know it's there, and I'm not running yet.  That may be a thing of the past. 

Tomorrow more garbage bags to give away and throw away, plus consolidating the things to keep this round in smaller piles. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Plan To Save The State Of Alaska At Least $700,000

Before I offer my plan to save all that money, let me offer some background

Decision to sue governor
The Alaska Legislative Council - 14 legislators who represent the other 46 legislators when the legislature not in session  - voted to authorize $450,000 to pay an expensive DC law firm (plus some Anchorage attorneys)  to file a court challenge of the governor's decision to expand medicaid coverage for Alaskans.  (I posted the names of the Legislative Council members and the law firms here.)

I figure the state of Alaska will have to expend at least another $300,000 to defend the decision.  (The Legislative Council leaders are the same folks calling for budget cuts because of the revenue drop.)

Public Opinion supports governor, not the legislators
The Legislative Council is doing this despite the fact that a March poll by Ivan Moore found that 65% of Alaskans favored medicaid expansion then.
Chart from Ivan Moore

Will the suit against the governor win in court?
In any case, these legislators are taking a pretty big risk of losing.  But it's not their money.  It's Alaskans' money, and, as I mentioned, 65% of Alaskans were with the governor on this decision.  So they are spending this money in defiance of what is a pretty large majority in politics these days.

I'll bet they wouldn't take this action if this was their own money.  Or even if they only had to reimburse the state if they lost.  And those 65% of Alaskans (the number could be higher now) probably want them to lose because they feel we're better off squandering the $450,000 than NOT expanding Medicaid.

I looked at the section of the statute that they say the governor violated, the part that says the governor needs a vote of the legislature.

I'm not a lawyer and I don't know the larger context of the law,  but I'm guessing the governor wouldn't make this move without feeling confident of his legal standing and an opinion from Legislative Legal Services for example, to Rep. Andy Josephson, concludes:
"For the above reasons, the governor likely has authority to accept additional federal funding to provide expanded Medicaid coverage.  If insufficient state funds are available, he could also request supplemental state funding.  A request for supplemental appropriations would be subject to legislative action."

The ADN has a link to AS 47.07.020 as the basis for the lawsuit.  Here is a section from the statue in question:
"(d) Additional groups may not be added unless approved by the legislature."
 But that comes after (a) and (b) which state:
"(a) All residents of the state for whom the Social Security Act requires Medicaid coverage are eligible to receive medical assistance under 42 U.S.C. 1396 - 1396p (Title XIX, Social Security Act).
(b) In addition to the persons specified in (a) of this section, the following optional groups of persons for whom the state may claim federal financial participation are eligible for medical assistance:" [emphasis added]
It goes on to list 15 'groups' of eligible Alaskans. I'm guessing that there aren't any additional groups not already listed in the 15.  As I understand this, there aren't any additional groups, but the income level for eligibility for federal Medicaid is higher to include people who can't afford coverage, but I'm not sure. I contacted my representative, attorney Andy Josephson, because he requested the opinion above from the Legislative Legal Office.  He's writing a piece for the ADN on this, so look for that for more detail.  He wrote that besides the legislature's legal office, the attorney general's office also said the governor's move to expand medicaid was legal.   Sam Kito, the only legislator on the Council to vote against suing the governor, also cites both opinions favoring the governor's action.   
Josephson's piece will go into a bit more legal detail.  He also talks about the mandatory/optional distinction.  He starts his opinion piece with a quote from US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts from the Sibelius decision on Medicaid expansion and Josephson concludes:  
"Chief Justice Roberts’ quote . . . makes it plain and unmistakable:  once a state opts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the expansion population becomes a mandatory group that enjoys coverage.
My bet is the suit against the governor is going to lose.   

My Plan 
So, here's my simple plan:  If the suit is going to lose anyway, why pay so much?   I'm willing to lose this suit for only $1000 instead of the $450,000 they've allocated and that would also save the governor's legal costs defending his action.  After all, if you're going to lose a case, why spend $450,000 if you can do it for just $1000?
An extra note on this:

Why are the legislators spending all this money to thwart the governor and public?
Why is this group (there's only fourteen because the Leg Council takes care of business when the full legislature is not in session) doing this? They tend not to answer questions like this publicly,  but I'm guessing  there are some pretty influential folks who want to keep Alaska (and other states) from doing anything that might make Obamacare more successful.  And these folks seem to have influence over key people in the Legislative Council.  I'm assuming Americans for Prosperity, the Koch funded group that set up an Alaska office last year, is somehow involved.  Their website has this note:


August 19, 2015
Following Governor Walker’s attempt to unilaterally expand Obamacare’s Medicaid, Legislature will Sue ANCHORAGE — Americans for Prosperity – Alaska, would like to applaud the members of the Alaska House and Senate for deciding to sue Governor Walker over his unilateral decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Upholding the rule of law is vitally important to Alaska’s future; […] 
 But this is merely speculation.  Rep. Chenault and Sen. Meyer (the leaders of the two Alaska legislative houses)  offer us far more principled, but hard to believe, reasons.   They tell us, for example, at the end of the linked opinion piece, they are doing this "for checks and balances."  These are the folks who kept the minority voice pretty much silent and prevented legislation they opposed - including medicaid expansion - from getting to the floor when it stood a chance of getting a majority of votes.  Pardon my skepticism, but this seems more like a protest that there now is a governor who checks and balances the legislature. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Wasps, Jays, Aurora, Friends, Alaska's Future

One downside to the warmer summer we've experienced, is the increased number of wasps.  To the point where we've had to take our outdoor dinner on the deck inside. 

These two appear to be yellow jackets, though earlier we had less articulated bugs.

I talked to an exterminator who wanted to make sure they weren't honey bees, in which case we should contact a bee keeper, since honey bee populations are crashing around the world.  But these aren't.  And wasps eat insect pests, though apparently yellow jackets eat dead insects.  The Idaho Extension Service has a very thorough description of yellow jackets, wasps, and hornets in Idaho.

In this case, I put out some pieces of smoked salmon which got them still enough to shoot, but even so, I'm not pleased with the shots.

Just recently, we've discovered that we aren't the only ones in town with more and peskier wasps in their backyards.  And as the climate changes continue, I suspect we'll be getting a lot more insects who weren't comfortable here when the weather was colder.

We also have a Steller Jay who's been visiting the deck.  He's been around for a while, but when we got back from Portland, he was downright aggressive.  When he saw me in the kitchen, he flew up against the kitchen window.  It turned out our house sitter had fed him.  While it's nice to see birds close up, I'm not a bird feeder.  If they can't survive here naturally - particularly over the winter - then they should go south rather than get dependent on people feeding them.  Though I know I'm in a minority on this point.

And Saturday night, I finally looked at Twitter after a couple of weeks of not having time to get around to it.  AuroraNotify was reporting sun activity and you could watch reports of great aurora activity moving west around the world - in the north and the south.  It was a bit after midnight and I went out onto the deck.

WOW!  I was blown away by these bright thrusts of light shooting down at me in the small window of open space to the sky from out deck.  But it quickly evaporated and by the time I got a camera there was nothing that spectacular left.  But there was plenty of faint to moderate green activity across the sky.  I was able to get quick google help when I wanted to take pictures of a lunar eclipse, but similar help for capturing auroras - while there - hasn't been as helpful.  This picture is from my little Canon Powershot.  You can barely see the green glow. 
Click for better version of aurora

We've had a bit of time to catch up with friends, but we're headed south again.  We bought tickets for trips to visit my mom while there were lower than normal fares.  Even though my mom passed away in July, there's still a lot of work to do cleaning up.  We're also combining the trips to see grandkids.  (And their parents too, of course.)

Unfortunately that means I'll miss this talk at ISER.    But I'll be able to go to the public talk Sept. 19. 

Moving Our Conversation Forward:
Alaska’s Fiscal and Economic Future
Gunnar Knapp
Director and Professor of Economics, ISER
Cliff Groh
Chair, Alaska Common Ground
Alaska’s state government has operated mainly on oil revenues since the 1980s. But now lower oil prices and falling oil production have hit Alaska hard, leaving the state government with a $3 billion hole in its annual budget. And Alaska’s economy will also face big challenges, because it relies so much on state spending.
ISER and Alaska Common Ground are sponsoring a free public forum on Alaska’s fiscal and economic future on September 19 (information about the forum). But in advance of that forum, Gunnar Knapp, ISER’s director, and Cliff Groh, the chair of Alaska Common Ground, will talk at ISER, previewing some of the material they plan to present. They will encourage those at the talk to ask questions and offer suggestions for improvement.
Please join us—and remember that ISER is now at 1901 Bragaw Street, between Northern Lights and DeBarr Road. Parking is still free. Call 786-7710 if you need directions. 

When: Thursday, August 27, 12 to 1
Where: ISER Conference Room
Third Floor, 1901 Bragaw Street, Suite 301

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Note To Carly Fiorina: Solving Nation's Problems Harder Than Rocket Science

From Friday's news:

"For GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, solving the nation’s biggest challenges is pretty simple — “it’s not rocket science,” as she likes to say."

I watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon in an elementary school classroom in Thailand.  It's one of the moments that moved me to the field of public administration.  I thought to myself, having lived in Thailand for two years by then and with the Vietnam war close enough that I could get the Armed Forces Network out of Saigon on my radio at night, "If humans can land on the moon, why can't we find ways to feed, house, and school  all the people in the world, and provide them basic health care?" 

As I pondered what I would do after Peace Corps, I came across public administration.  It seemed to be a field of study that might address that question - it was a generalist field that borrowed knowledge from other disciplines and applied that knowledge to real human situations.

Public administration seemed broad enough to let me pursue answers to other questions that Thailand raised. Things like: is there a way to combine the best  of the communal aspects of Thai society with the best of the individualistic parts of the US society?

And I was also curious about why the US free press that I grew up believing in was NOT reporting about the US planes that were flying over my house on their way to bomb Laos and North Vietnam.  If I knew it was happening, then the many journalists in Thailand and Vietnam surely knew.  The Laotians knew, the North Vietnamese knew, and no doubt the Chinese and Russians knew.  But officially it wasn't happening and the American public was not reading about the bombing in their newspapers or seeing it on the nightly news.   Why not?

I began to realize that getting people to the moon was relatively easy.  The rocket science part - doing the calculations and building the machines - was basically modeling and crunching numbers.  The hard part was getting people to do things, getting Congress to agree on funding and then coordinating folks scattered across the nation. 

Getting people to agree on systems that equitably distribute resources among the peoples of the world is far more difficult.  The political, social, economic, and cultural webs of humans are hard to weave but easy to rip apart. 

So, from my perspective, if Fiorina thinks handling government problems isn't rocket science, she's right.  But if she thinks, as this quote suggests, that it is easier than rocket science, she's dead wrong.  It's way harder.

In physics, the laws of nature  are stable.  What happened ten years ago will happen again tomorrow.  You can calculate the speed and direction of a rocket and of the moon so that you can land the one on the other.

In the social sciences, there are some observable principles, but the people we study in social science don't obey those laws as scrupulously as the moon obeys Newton's laws. 

It's often difficult to test theories because you can't find two comparable cities (or states or nations)  to use in experiments.  But if we could, another problem arises.  People are sentient and willful.  When they know what scientists think they will do, they can change their behavior - for their own good, like cutting down smoking, or to prove their independence, like not cutting down smoking.  

If government were as easy as Fiorina seems to think, millions of people wouldn't be in prison, wouldn't be homeless, wouldn't be addicted to drugs and alcohol, wouldn't be killing each other in our cities and in war zones.  We would have adjusted our carbon use years ago and avoided the impacts of climate change we are experiencing already.  Members of Congress (and leaders in other nations) would be heroes because they would have supported projects that resulted in prosperity, equity, and the successful pursuit of happiness for all people.

Note:  I'd like to say I went into public administration because getting to the moon was the easy task and because figuring out how to get human beings to collectively solve collective problems was the much harder challenge.  While that is partially true, it's also true that I don't really have much of an aptitude for physics (though both my kids have physics degrees) and I have much more of an aptitude for public administration. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Chuitna River DNR Hearing - Two Different World Views Colliding

There's no wifi in the room so I'm doing this quick during a lunch break (early because they'd allocated more time than people used) but I have to get back from the Federal Building cafeteria where they do have wifi.

I've got lots to sort through.  Lots of learning as I listen to testimony that seems to be coming from inhabitants of totally different planets.  Their views on this are based on completely different world views and assumptions.  More later.  I'll get pics up for now.  Above you can see the DNR table that's listening and asking questions.

Across from them is the spot for people giving testimony.  This is Valerie Brown from Trustees for Alaska at the podium.

During a break - Dave Schade on the right standing up.

This is the Pac Rim attorney - Eric [Fjelstad].  I didn't catch his last name clear enough to try to write it here.

Gotta get back to the room.  There's a tunnel under the street so you don't have to go through security again.  More later. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dave Schade And The Decision Over Coal, Salmon, and the Middle Fork Tributary To The Chuinta River

Organizing a post is often a problem.   For example, I went to a reception at UAA for grad students in the College of Business and Public Policy (CBPP) yesterday and now I'm asking myself:
  1.   Should this be one post (about the UAA reception)?
  2.   Or several posts about the different aspects I found interesting?
The problems are exacerbated by how long it takes to upload to Youtube (a movie over a minute or two takes a while on my slow upload connection.)  This is all a preface to what's below. [As I'm about to post this, several hours after I began it, I realize this will only focus on one of the people I met yesterday and the hearing he will conduct tomorrow over conflicting mining and salmon claims in the Middle Fork tributary of the Chuitna River.]

The College of Business and Public Policy has a several masters degrees - public administration (MPA), business administration (MBA), and one in global supply chain management (MS) - and the reception was for new students to be able to meet other students, alumni, faculty, and staff.  I was invited as a faculty emeritus and now sometimes adjunct faculty member.  Lots of things caught my eye and ear, but one in particular, is very timely, so let me start [and finish] with that. 

Alaska Public Radio had a piece on the Chuitna dispute between salmon and coal back in June.  Basically, as I understand this, it's about whether Pacific Rim Coal's mine in the area will negatively impact the fish in the river and if so, whose legal claim to the water and resources is stronger.  Read the article linked above to see about the conflict between traditional and reserved water rights.  There are also a few comments by Dave Schade (pronounced Shady), Chief of Water Resources for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  I only found that piece while writing this post.  But I did read Schade's name in the August 7, 2015 ADN article.

Dave's name jumped out at me because he was one of my students in the MPA program back in the early 1990s.  I hadn't seen him since then.  And it didn't occur to me that he'd be attending the grad student reception.  He was there at the invitation of his niece Kaitlin who is a student in the MPA program now.

I remember Dave as a strong and independent student.  By independent I mean he wasn't wedded to any particular ideology.  He was born and raised in Alaska and has a firm sense of himself.  As a student I recall he listened and read and thought and came to his own conclusion.  All he would say to folks last night about Friday's public hearing at the Federal Building Annex was that he's got criteria spelled out in the law and it's his job to try to match the facts to the criteria (see bottom of the post) and then make a decision, by the court mandated deadline of October 6.   Pretty much the kind of thing taught in the MPA program - that such decisions have to be based on the 'rule of law' -  meaning that decisions are based on the appropriate law, regulation, or professional standards that most closely govern the situation.  Not by personal preference or arbitrary whim.   I haven't followed the Chuitna River issue in detail, but there does seem to be a bit of room for interpretation, and even there Schade will, I'm sure, explain why he leans one way rather than another.

OK, as I'm writing this, it's clear that there's enough here to make this a post all by itself.  I've got the agenda for tomorrow's (Friday August 21, 2015) meeting from Alaska Business Monthly.

The current hearing agenda is as follows:
8:45 a.m. – 8:50 a.m.             Introduction of Hearing Officer and Panel
                                               Instructions regarding hearing process
8:55 a.m. – 10:25 a.m.            Chuitna Citizens Coalition Inc.
                                                Trustees for Alaska
10:35 a.m. – 11:35 a.m.          Pac Rim Coal LLP
12:25 p.m. – 12:55 p.m.         Cook Inlet Keeper
1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.             Alaska Center for the Environment
1:35 p.m. – 2:05 p.m.             Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
2:10 p.m. – 2:25 p.m.             Alaska Conservation Trust
2:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.             Alaska Miners Association
2:50 p.m. – 3:05 p.m.             Alaska Oil and Gas Association
3:10 p.m. – 3:25 p.m.             Council of Alaska Producers
3:30 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.             Howard Grey
3:50 p.m. – 4:05 p.m.              Resource Development Council
4:10 p.m. – 4:25 p.m.             Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition Inc. – Applicant’s final comments
4:25 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.             Hearing Officer’s Closing Comments
It will be held in the Anchorage Federal Building Annex (222 W. 8th) conference room.  

I tried to find the agenda on the Department of Natural Resources website to be sure it was accurate, but couldn't, so I called their information office, and they couldn't find it and asked if I wanted to talk to Dave Schade.  I smiled to myself and said, 'Sure."  Dave said the agenda was sent out to all the parties involved but not posted online.
Schade:  I'm hoping that we'll get some new information from the testimony.
Steve:  Are there any information holes you're specifically hoping to fill?
Schade:  Now you're asking for specific comments.
Steve:  No, not asking what the holes are, but just if there are any.  
So he offered to send me a copy of the letters he sent out to the parties.

First is the most recent letter which has the agenda (with breaks included) and goes down into administrative details about equipment presenters might need. 

The June 23, 2015 letter narrows the scope of the testimony to objections that have already been made to
1.  to some part of the DNR analyses, and
2.  to granting the reservations

It also addresses the issue I raised above - about information holes DNR might want to fill.  Specifically it identifies questions DNR might ask:
  • how particular objections relate specifically to each application under consideration
  • what back up information supports particular objections
  • what is the basis for any legal or constitutional argument being made
  • what timelines or processes an objector might suggest as an alternative to a timeline or process objected to
  • how DNR should consider particular objections in relation to the criteria set out in AS 46.15.080 (see bottom of the post)

I have to say that from what I can see in these letters, that Schade has spelled out the process in detail for participants and given a sense of the kind of questions they might be expected to respond to. 

They've had this information since June, giving them sufficient time to prepare.  And the things he's asking are what any MPA student is taught to ask for - supporting information for claims, alternatives to things they object to, and the legal basis for their claims.  I remember a student once in class, after I'd asked a question, got an answer, then followed the answer up with "Why?", saying, "I knew you were going to ask that." That 'why?' should be automatic to people doing this kind of work.   Dave needs all the supporting information he can get to be able to make his decision on this.

Since he mentions the specific criteria he's requred to use, I thought I should look them up and post them here. 

AS 46.15.080. Criteria For Issuance of Permit.

(a) The commissioner shall issue a permit if the commissioner finds that
(1) rights of a prior appropriator will not be unduly affected;
(2) the proposed means of diversion or construction are adequate;
(3) the proposed use of water is beneficial; and
(4) the proposed appropriation is in the public interest.
(b) In determining the public interest, the commissioner shall consider
(1) the benefit to the applicant resulting from the proposed appropriation;
(2) the effect of the economic activity resulting from the proposed appropriation;
(3) the effect on fish and game resources and on public recreational opportunities;
(4) the effect on public health;
(5) the effect of loss of alternate uses of water that might be made within a reasonable time if not precluded or hindered by the proposed appropriation;
(6) harm to other persons resulting from the proposed appropriation;
(7) the intent and ability of the applicant to complete the appropriation; and
(8) the effect upon access to navigable or public water.

 You can see there's a bit of room for interpretation - words like 'adequate' and 'beneficial.' 'Public interest' at least is spelled out.  A good public administrator will wrestle hard with the law and the facts trying to come up with the most defensible decision possible.  There are some close calls where both sides have strong claims and where two different hearing officers could come up with different, but justified, conclusions.  And then there are decisions where the answer if fairly clear cut. 

You can get more background information from Pacific Rim Coal , the coal mine developers, and from Inlet Keepers, a keep opponent of the mine.

You can also go to the hearing tomorrow.  Testimony is limited to those parties who have already been involved, but the public may attend and listen.

And one final comment.  The  Water Resource Section of the Division of Mining, Land & Water, of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, is just one of the government agencies that have some sort of jurisdiction over this project. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

State Legislature Sues Governor Over Medicaid Expansion

The ADN has the story.  Basically 
"a Republican-controlled House-Senate committee voted 10-1 to authorize spending up to $450,000 to hire a pair of law firms to work on a suit against the governor."

Voting in favor of hiring the two law firms were Republican Reps. 

Mike Chenault of Nikiski, 
Steve Thompson of Fairbanks, 
Craig Johnson and Charisse Millett of Anchorage and 
Mark Neuman of Big Lake, 

Democratic Rep. Bob Herron of Bethel  (member of the House Republican Majority)

Republican Sens. 
Anna MacKinnon of Eagle River, 
John Coghill of North Pole, 
Charlie Huggins of Wasilla and 
Kevin Meyer of Anchorage.

Voting against:

Democratic minority member, Juneau Rep. Sam Kito.

"Two Republican senators from coastal areas typically viewed as more moderate, Gary Stevens of Kodiak and Peter Micciche of Soldotna, were absent, as was Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, who belongs to the Senate’s Republican majority.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, also missed the meeting. He was in Minnesota undergoing medical treatment but said by email he would have voted against hiring the law firms."

The DC Firm:  Bancroft PLLC   - This boutique DC firm, that epitomizes the DC revolving door.  From their own website:
"Bancroft PLLC was founded by former Assistant Attorney General Viet D. Dinh and now includes former Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, former Associate White House Counsel H. Christopher Bartolomucci, and other accomplished professionals focused on our clients’ most difficult and complex legal issues. Among our 12 lawyers are 6 U.S. Supreme Court clerkships, 12 U.S. Court of Appeals clerkships, and 5 Presidential appointments."
One of their top attorneys, Paul Clement, recently had his going hourly rate of $1,100 cut to $300:
"— Judge Mae D’Agostino of the Northern District of New York, giving the reasons for slashing Paul Clement’s customary $1,100 hourly rate to $300 per hour when awarding attorneys’ fees in Osterweil v. Bartlett, a Second Amendment case.
(For what it’s worth, $1,100 was Clement’s hourly rate in 2011, when he was began representing Osterweil. Clement’s current hourly rate is $1,350. Osterweil would’ve been getting a deal!)"
Another Bancroft attorney was denied his claim that he worked while driving to the office.

Obamacare is not a new topic for this company.  They represented the 26 states that went to the Supreme Court over  Obamacare in 2012.

Anchorage based firm:  Holmes, Weddle, and Barcott.

Who's Calling The Shots Here?

Not clear.  We know that the Koch supported Americans For Prosperity has been strongly opposed to Obamacare.  Presumably they are working with key members of the House and Senate Majorities on this.  But we shouldn't leap to conclusions.  Maybe others are involved too.   It would be interesting to learn who Meyers, Chenault, and the others talk to behind closed doors and what they talk about.

The members of the Majority seem to believe that they are immune to electoral removal.  Redistricting has given many of them comfortable seats.  But I don't suspect they realize how many people are affected by this who may well be motivated to vote in 2016.

Not only are they still dragging their feet on expanding Medicaid, but they've allocated up to $450,000 on this for their attorneys.  And the governor's office will probably have to spend just as much to defend his decision.  Sure is easy to spend other people's money, it seems.  The Republicans also spent millions of dollars over the years in unsuccessful lobbying efforts to open up ANWR.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Julian Bond In Anchorage

When I heard the news about the death of Julian Bond who'd started the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and been a Georgia state representative among many other things, I thought about the time I got to talk to him when he was here at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  I don't even remember what we chatted about, but it was an honor to have the chance to just be with him.  But then, given my recent experience at my Peace Corps reunion, I began to question my memory - did this really happen? 


So I went on line to look up "Julian Bond at UAA."  And there it was - in the UAA Archives.  So I biked over to UAA to see what they actually had.  The first box had a stock pr photo that Bond must have sent in advance.  The second box had negatives of the event in one folder, and negatives with a proof sheet in the second folder. 

So here are some pictures from when he was here.  You can read the mainline obituaries and notices elsewhere - as in this New York Times article.  


click to enlarge and focus
 For this one I used Photoshop's inverse (under image) function to change it from negative to positive.

All these images are from:

UAA University Relations photographs, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage

There was no more information than than the date 1984 and Julian Bond written on the negative sleeve. 

There were lots and lots of other old photos in the same folders.  You can wander through the collection electronically at

I was experimenting a bit trying to get decent images from the proofs.  I vaguely remembered there was a way to change pictures from negatives to positives in Photoshop and it was pretty easy.  As I mentioned above - just go to Images, then to Inverse. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Clouds And Shadows And A Glory

One would think that pictures from the plane in an out of Anchorage would get old.   But even though I've lived here for almost 40 years now and I'm still amazed by how the mountain views change as the light and shadows change.  So I shouldn't be surprised by a seeing Cook Inlet differently as we flew into Anchorage Monday.

The battery on the bigger camera died as we got over Turnagain Arm, so these are from my little Powershot.    Below is the road into Girdwood and the mudflats.

As we flew in and out of the clouds, our shadow came and went, sometimes circled by a rainbow.  This actually has a name - a glory. - ( I needed to check on it before posting.)  According to Wikipedia:
"A glory is an optical phenomenon that resembles an iconic saint's halo about the shadow of the observer's head, caused by light of the Sun or (more rarely) the Moon interacting with the tiny water droplets that make up mist or clouds. The glory consists of one or more concentric, successively dimmer rings, each of which is red on the outside and bluish towards the centre. The effect is believed to happen due to classical wave tunneling, when light nearby a droplet tunnels through air inside the droplet and, in the case of a glory, is emitted backwards due to resonance effects.[1]"
"The scientific explanation is still the subject of debates and research. In 1947, the Dutch astronomer Hendrik van de Hulst suggested that surface waves are involved. He speculated that the colored rings of the glory are caused by two-ray interference between "short" and "long" path surface waves—which are generated by light rays entering the droplets at diametrically opposite points (both rays suffer one internal reflection).[3] A new theory by Brazilian physicist Herch Moysés Nussenzveig, however, suggests that the light energy beamed back by a glory originates mostly from classical wave tunneling, which is when light rays that missed a droplet can still transfer energy into it.[1]"

After flying over south Anchorage, we veered west for a slow loop back to the runway.  Lots of cloud shadows on the water.

And then as we closed in on the runway, the light changed again. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

". . . editing the film to fit the story line." Or Why We're Seeing So Many Stories About White Cops Killing Black Men Now

Edward Jay Epstein's News From Nowhere was published in 1973.  In it he outlined how news at television networks got made.  It's a great book that looks at the structure of the networks and how that structure and the technical requirements at the time shaped what people saw each night as "the

Despite its age and the many changes in video and in media delivery systems, it's still worth reading because of the organized insight he offers about news production (in the most literal sense.)

And this year, as stories about white police officers shooting unarmed black men started showing up almost weekly, I thought back to this book and how it explained that 'the news' is based on a pre-determined storyline.  Clearly, police harassment of African-Americans has been taking place for a long, long time.  The Phrase Finder traces the official media debut of the term "Driving While Black" to 1990.
"The term came to public view in the 1990s, although the reports of the police tactic date from long before that. In May 1990 The New York Times included a piece with this line:
'We get arrested for D.W.B... You know, driving while black.' "
I remember being at a conference in Florida back in the 1990's and asking a black professor who had been a classmate at USC about why he was dressed in a suit and tie when most of us were less formal.  He replied that his clothing was an attempt to mitigate problems when he was stopped by the police - particularly when in the South.  Wearing a suit and tie might increase the odds that the police would let him go without anything serious happening. 

Epstein has a section called "The Story Line" in Chapter 5:  The Resurrection of Reality.
"More than fifty years ago Walter Lippmann suggested that newspaper reporting was in large part a process of filling out an established 'repertory of stereotypes' with current news.  In a similar way, network news is involved with illustrating a limited repertory of story lines with appropriate pictures.  One NBC commentator, Sander Vanocur, observed that 'network news is a continuous loop:  there are only a limited number of plots - 'Black versus White,'  'War is Hell,' 'America is falling apart,' 'Man against the elements,' 'The Generation Gap,' etc. - which we seem to be constantly redoing with different casts of characters."  Many of the correspondents interviewed complained about the need to fit news developments into developed molds or formulas, and to order stories along predetermined lines;  at the same time, most accepted it as a practical necessity." [emphasis added.]

He  explains that, in part, this is due to having to coordinate so many different people - reporters, cameramen, sound men, writers, etc.  There needs to be some common idea of what the story will be.  It's necessary
"that there be a stable set of expectations of what constitutes a proper story.  Moreover, producers generally assume that a given audience will have certain preferences in terms of both the form and the content of news stories.  "Every program has certain requirements and guidelines for its filmed reports," an ABC executive explained.  "Eventually these might harden into formulas and clichéd plots, but when they fail to hold the audiences' attention, the producer or the program is usually changed."
So, I'm guessing that until now, the 'white cop kills unarmed black man' story line was in competition with the 'cops are good, cops are honest and trustworthy' story line.  But with cameras on phones and with anyone being able to post on YouTube, there was finally footage available with the new story line that got a big audience that the mainstream news media (no longer just the networks) couldn't ignore.  And the media then caught up.

But some things seem not to have changed that much.  Epstein writes that most pieces are 'sound' pieces such as speeches, testimony, press conferences.  However,
"there is also a category of stories mainly concerned with visual action, such as riots, demonstrations and disasters, in which the pictures need not be synchronized with words spoken at the time.  In the case of these action stories, the establishing footage becomes the story itself, with the simple addition of a voice-over narration.  In these stories, cameramen are usually given free rein and are expected to seek out the most violent or exciting moments of the event.  One NBC cameraman explained, "What the producers want on the film is as much blood and violence as we can find.  That's the name of the game, and every cameraman knows it."  Robert MacNeil claimed in his book that cameramen in Vietnam at the height of the war were ordered by the networks to "shoot bloody" - and this produced a strong focus on military action at the expense of the less visible political considerations."
There's a lot more in News From Nowhere that explains how the structure of the news industry shapes the stories that the networks aired.   We all know, vaguely, that the news is managed, but this book spells out quite clearly how it was done, at least 1970s style. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Proud Parents Push Daughter's Book

As I was perusing books at Powell's bookstore in Portland Sunday, a couple asked me if I had read Landfall by Ellen Urbani.  No, I hadn't.  It's very good I recall them saying.  Then they revealed it had been written by their daughter.  I asked if they were in it.  No, but they were in a previous one.  And this one is dedicated to them.  So I asked them if I could take a picture of them holding the book.  Here it is.

But, in answer to my question, they showed me the dedication:
"Along with virtually every other good thing in my life, this book is a gift from and for my mother, whom I adore.

And with her, my father, who each day gives everything he has for his family."
And clearly, Mom adores Ellen back.

The book takes place post Katrina.  As I looked for info about the book I found several sites saying it comes out August 29 this year, but it was already at Powell's - maybe because Portland is her home town.  Her first book, it turns out, was about her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala 1991-1992,  I didn't mention to her parents that I was in Portland for my Peace Corps group's reunion.

 Other Books

Powell's is an enormous bookstore with room after room of books.  Here are a few books I looked at near the entrance.   The first three reflect my always burning curiosity about what makes people tick.

The Man In The Monster is a book about a journalist who befriends a serial killer on death row as she seeks to understand the man and his actions.  This gets directly to the basic theme of this blog - how do you know what you know?  Why is a man's life summed up by something he spent, perhaps three or four weeks on in total, rather than everything else he did?  Is it accurate to forever label him a murderer when, as the parts of this I scanned suggest, it was hard for the author to imagine the man she grew to know as the man who had killed?

Mark Ruthman, Chicago in a First Read review of the book writes:
"This is a very well-written and soul-searching peek at an unexpected relationship that develops between a brutal killer and a pacifist journalist. While this seems wildly improbable, the journalist has an amazing sense of compassion and the killer is well-educated and legitimately or convincingly remorseful and highly functioning and medicated by the time she meets him, so that she only catches glimpses of the "monster" that on a handful of occasions took control of him and caused him to stalk and sometimes rape and kill women and girls. As time develops and she sticks with him through his retrials and appeals and sentencing, all the while fervently trying to keep him from being executed, her compassion wins out and she has to be reminded by him of his horrific actions. She pieces together the story of his childhood and early relationships where parents, family, and others skewed his notions of how to treat other people in relationships and general. His family history suggests both nature and nurture went awry and contributed to his desires to commit horrible crimes. .  ."
There are a number of reviews of the book at the link.

Another book that tries to bridge communication among people by getting them to share their stories with each other.  This was particularly poignant on a weekend when we were meeting up with friends we'd share Peace Corps training and teaching in Thailand with and learned more of each others' stories since the last time we'd seen each other - in some cases 45 years ago. 

What's Your Story? was put together by Brandon Domon who sat in a public space and gave people a blank page to write their stories.  The rules are spelled out in the book, which, like the stories in it, is all handwritten.

Click to enlarge

 Straight To Hell is a disturbing book, by a young banker who describes his high flying days and ways.  If you don't already question the enormous salaries in banking, then this book should at least raise a few.  Like whether the market is the best way to determine salaries. The chapters I looked at were about his life in Hong Kong.

Again, a sharp contrast to the life I led for a year in Hong Kong teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This book reminds me of pale version of John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman.   But it seems to focus more on the sensational than the structural forces that allow this to happen.  But both are exposés of corporate greed behind the facade of respectability. 

And finally, this last one combines two stories by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami.

I was hoping you could read the staff recommendation at the bottom, but it's too small.  It basically says these two first books of Murakami have long been out of print in English, but now they are back, that they are coming of age stories for the characters, but also for Murakami.

I found this note on his beautiful website:

In 1978 Murakami was in the bleachers of Jingu Stadium watching a baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp when Dave Hilton, an American, came to bat. According to an oft-repeated story, in the instant that he hit a double, Murakami suddenly realized that he could write a novel. He went home and began writing that night.

A bookstore is a little like an airport - each gate offering you a different destination.  Except a bookstore offers an overwhelming number of options.  I bought two books.  Americanah,  a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian-American.  The other is The Larouse Book of Bread, by Éric Kayser.  It's time to take my bread making to another level.  Can I bake 50 different kinds of bread in the next year?  That would be nearly one a week.  Maybe I should aim for 25.  After all, I may want to repeat some of the best ones.