Sunday, November 01, 2015

What's A Blogger To Do? Too Much To Write About - LIO Scandal, Forced Arbitration, Trump's Good Old Days, Hockey

Me:  Even with the gain of an hour overnight as we set our clocks back,  there's not enough time!
Jiminy Cricket:  Of course there is Steve, you just have to prioritize.
Me:  Actually, the number of things we could do has increased so fast that humans will soon be obsolete, we just can't keep up.  It used to be we maybe had two newspapers to read, now every newspaper in the world is available online.  Not to mention every home video anyone has ever made.
Jiminy Cricket:  You going to complain all morning or write?
Me:  OK, OK.  So, my first glimpse of November 2015 was an inspiring one as I looked out the window at what should have been 9:24am, but because of the time change was only 8:24am.  And if you look closely you can see the snow that we got Friday still lingering.

So, what's stacking up in the blog pile?  Anchorage International Film Festival (AIFF) posts on documentaries, shorts, animation, and maybe even Alaska films in competition.  I try to get some of those groups done before the festival begins and this year I have the features in competition up already.  I don't have to think too hard on these, just go looking for info on the films.  And the AIFF 2015 page is started already.  That's up on top and I'll be updating general festival strategy stuff from last year and information on the films for this year.

I've got more to do on the Chuitna decision which the resource development community is upset about and has appealed.  There are some significant democratic principle issues at stake there that should be explored.  But it's complicated and people have lots of other things to distract them (back up to complaints about too little time above.)

I want to post more on my new, evolving relationship with my sourdough starter.

I'm working on something on rules - what they do for us, but how to keep from becoming trapped by them.   There are some books I want to say something about, some movies, how Netflix and other online movie sites are changing things, more on the conflicts between police and African-Americans  . . .  But serious posts require some time and thought and if I take on a subject, I want to look at it differently than others, not just reprint what others write.

Then there are all the potential posts that show up everyday, not part of the queue, but begging to be written.  Today's Section A of the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN)  (it was the second time this week we had to call to say it wasn't delivered) was full of such stories.  I'll just try to do a short take on a couple of them.

1.  Jim Gottstein's lawsuit against the Legislative Information Office remodeling contract.  It's so easy for legislators to get away with stuff.  Lisa Demer wrote along detailed story on all the irregularities in the contract two years ago in the ADN.   But this needed someone with legal standing and money and perseverance to step up and sue.  Today's article reveals some private emails that show Rep. Hawker worked with the politically generous developer to get around legislative attorneys' opinions that a no-bid contract was illegal.  Legislators often work with constituents to find ways to get around obstacles to get things done.  But when it's for a no bid contract for a state building that's going to raise the legislature's  rent enormously, it's suspicious.  And Hawker's an accountant, so he can't plead ignorant (ignorance is not a get out jail free card for anyone, but he had special expertise and clearly should have known better.)

2.  Corporations slipping arbitration language into contracts.  This is a New York Times article that was on the front page of the ADN.  It's got several themes I've got an interest in:
  • The power of large corporations to force rules on their customers, rules that always favor the corporation.  In particular it is looking at rules that require arbitration to resolve disputes.   The offending language is:
". . .the company 'may elect to resolve any claim by individual arbitration.'

Those nine words are at the center of a far-reaching power play orchestrated by American corporations, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
By inserting individual arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts, companies like American Express devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.
Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to apply for a credit card, use a cellphone, get cable or Internet service, or shop online without agreeing to private arbitration. The same applies to getting a job, renting a car or placing a relative in a nursing home."
[Added later:  I should also add that attorneys have lots of incentives to fight for their ability to file class action lawsuits.  And that my sense is many of those suits only bring in money for attorneys because either the individuals don't understand all the paperwork needed to make a claim, or they do understand and decide that for the small amount they might possibly get, it's not worth all the work.]
  • The impossibility of consumers actually reading all the contracts they have to agree to these days.  For a particularly egregious example, see my post on the iTunes update agreement back in 2013.
  • Among many disturbing aspects of this issue, is how this change was carried out and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' role in this.
" . . .the move to block class actions was engineered by a Wall Street-led coalition of credit card companies and retailers, according to interviews with coalition members and court records. Strategizing from law offices on Park Avenue and in Washington, members of the group came up with a plan to insulate themselves from the costly lawsuits. Their work culminated in two Supreme Court rulings, in 2011 and 2013, that enshrined the use of class-action bans in contracts. The decisions drew little attention outside legal circles, even though they upended decades of jurisprudence put in place to protect consumers and employees.
One of the players behind the scenes, The Times found, was John G. Roberts Jr., who as a private lawyer representing Discover Bank unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case involving class-action bans. By the time the Supreme Court handed down its favorable decisions, he was the chief justice."
 The problem for me isn't that a group of people come together to change the law.  That happens all the time for things like civil rights, environmental protection, and other important causes.  But the Constitutional narrative of James Madison was that competing powers would mean that laws would be just because people would challenge misuses of power.  And that's what seems to be happening in the LIO case mentioned above.  However, given the huge inequality in the distribution of wealth in the United States today, the ability to challenge large corporations becomes harder and harder.  The ability of corporations to draft legislation for the legislators they've funded, to change the laws in their own favor, grows increasingly hard to challenge. 

3.  A Washington Post article reprinted on page A-7 of the ADN explaining that supporters see Trump as the candidate who can restore America's greatness.   Trying to understand the motivations of Trump and other candidates is something I always want to do.  I think it is often more complicated than is normally reported.  Unfortunately, the reporter's tone is a bit flip (not to the snark level).  But he does point out that 'when America was last great' varies from person to person, and how Trump is going to restore this lost quality isn't clear.  But let's look at a couple of the examples of the good old days.
  • ". . . the last time America was great was when Ronald Reagan was president, when people played by the rules."   
Let's see, the 1980's included the savings and loan scandal, Iran Contra,  Reagan's Chief of Staff was convicted of lying to Congress and more. Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy Baker scandals, and in sports Pete Rose was betting on his games and Ben Johnson got his Olympic Gold metal with steroids. 
  • ". . . it was in the ’70s, Holly Martin says, when you could depend on Americans to work hard."   
When the US had the largest number of union members who still had some power to negotiate with their employers?  When the pay ratio between the CEO and the lowest paid employees was about 20-1 compared to today's 350 - 1? [Clearly related to inequality of wealth mentioned in the class action suit article.]  And jobs were easy to get because so many men were fighting in a controversial war in Vietnam and women were supposed to stay home and raise the kids?
  • " . . .to find true American greatness, Steve Trivett contends, you need to go back to before the Vietnam War, “when you could still own a home and have a good job even if you didn’t have a college education.”
You mean just before the Civil Rights Act when whites didn't have to compete with blacks for jobs?  And redlining meant blacks couldn't get loans to buy houses?  
  • “The last time we had good jobs and respect for the military and law enforcement was, oh, probably during Eisenhower.” 
When income tax rates in the US were at their all time highest, the largest percentage of US workers were unionized, and when Southern police and courts looked the other way when blacks were lynched?  That was right after WW II and before Vietnam tore the country apart.  
All this selective memory echoes the theme of the play I just saw Other Desert Cities.  We all remember things differently.  And none of those decades were calm and peaceful. They all had strong conflicts. 

4.  Local hockey player squeezes in grandmother's and great aunt's funerals in Saskatchewan before leading his team to victory back in Anchorage.  Here's a kid whose family obligations came before his team obligations.  It involved three plane changes each way (and a hefty bill, I'm sure).  On the lucky side, instead of the normal Fri-Sat games, it's a Sat-Sun series.  A good story and my condolences and congratulations.


  1. Good to get a 'behind the curtain' view of the blogger-writer's art, Steve.

  2. When I started blogging and was trying to figure this all out, I did a lot more. I'm a big fan of authors who talk directly to the audience, but sometimes I think I shouldn't digress so much. So thanks for saying it's ok.


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