Monday, May 30, 2016

Does The Supreme Court Really Matter That Much?

One thought game I like to play as often as possible is to take something I believe so strongly, that I don't even consider that I might be wrong, and question its validity.

[Synopsis:  Is the Supreme Court the Holy Grail of US presidential elections, important enough for party members to ignore their candidates' flaws so at least they can appoint the next Supreme Court justice or two?  Or is its importance over rated?  This post gives some evidence that both parties treat the court that way.  The crux to me seems to be the extent to which the court's decisions can thwart voters - like in Bush v Gore or in gutting the Voting Rights Act.

But the Supreme Court is the issue, only because we are unable to solve our differences at a lower level.  The worst issues get kicked up to the Supreme Court.  A  bigger long term issue is the need for grass roots movements to get Americans of different ideologies to talk to each other and to break the media's narrative of the unbridgeable divide.  I believe that most people's basic values are much more aligned than the media portray.  With more Americans speaking with a more united voice, Congress will be less polarized, and the court's decisions will be more focused on legal, rather than political, disputes.   The details are below.]

In discussions about the election - whether it's whether Republicans should support Trump or Sanders supporters should vote for Clinton - all roads seem to lead to the balance of the Supreme Court.  As much as you may dislike your party's candidate, you don't want the other party appointing the next Supreme Court justices.

Some examples I found online:

From left-leaning The Nation:
"The Supreme Court Is the Most Important Issue in the 2016 Election If Republicans obstruct Obama, the next Democratic president can shape the most progressive court since the 1960s."
The opening sentence of that article lists the reasons:
"Healthcare, gay marriage, voting rights, affirmative action, reproductive rights, labor rights, immigration, climate change."
And from another voice on the left a piece at TPM:
"The Implications for the Nation of a changing Supreme Court. There is so much at stake concerning the Supreme Court for the next few years. As I wrote in Plutocrats United, the easiest way to amend the Constitution to deal with campaign finance disasters like the Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United is not to formally amend the Constitution, but instead to change the composition of the Supreme Court. Regardless of what happens with Justice Scalia’s replacement, there will be likely at least three other Justices to be appointed over the next 4-8 years of the next President’s term. The stakes on all the issues people care about—from abortion to guns, from campaign finance and voting rights to affirmative action and the environment, depend upon 9 unelected Justices who serve for life."

From the conservative Weekly Standard, there's a recent article about Zubik v Burwell (on whether non-profits should have to notify the government they do not want to offer contraceptives in their health insurance plans) with the title:
"The Stakes Are High: A timely reminder of the importance of the Supreme Court." 
Richard Wolf, writing in USA Today, back in October 2015 wrote that the Supreme Court is a bigger deal to Republicans than Democrats.

Note:  I do have to acknowledge that when looking for these quotes, I did find a lot of articles on whether Republicans should vote for Trump or Sanders supporters should vote for Clinton that did NOT mention the Supreme Court.

So, is the Supreme Court enough reason to vote for someone you're seriously unhappy with?  

The recent conservative leaning Supreme Court (before Scalia's death) declared money a form of speech in Citizens United, and allowed same sex marriage, upheld the Affordable Care Act, and struck down a number of voting rights provisions.

As big a deal as many liberals make of Citizens United, I would point out that social media have offered a counterweight to money.  And we have seen all the big money going to fight Trump's nomination, it would appear today, unsuccessfully.  And Sanders has managed to refuse PAC money yet to stay in the race and win many primaries and caucuses through the power of the internet and a strong ground game.

Even with a five-four conservative majority, Obama Care and same sex marriage are now the law of the land.

Though the gutting of sections of the Voting Rights Act does pose a serious threat of continued gerrymandering by the many Republican controlled states and allows for obstacles to be erected that prevent - generally - the poor and non-white voters from getting to the polls.  That does fundamentally weaken the chance for the majority's vote to be counted.  For democracy to work. (OK, I understand that a lot of people would laugh at the idea that democracy works at all.  There's only so much I can squeeze into this blog post.  But I've touched on this issue under the label ten steps to dismantling democracy, which I created after a post of that name about Naomi Wolf's book The End of America.)

But there are Republicans telling other Republicans to vote for Clinton.  He's not even mentioning the Supreme Court.

But Democrats tend to be telling Sanders voters to vote for Clinton.  The articles I saw saying Sanders voters should go with Trump tended to be from conservative outlets.  For example, The Federalist.

Here's Ben Shapiro's take at The Daily Wire on why voting for Trump because of the Supreme Court isn't a good reason.  (It's the fourth of five reasons to vote for Trump that Shapiro says are false.) Also  he dismisses the importance of the Supreme Court at the end.  I'd note that I don't understand how he thinks a Trump victory will lead to a Democratic US Senate.):
"4. But The Supreme Court! Trump, the logic goes, will select a more conservative Supreme Court Justice than Hillary Clinton. There is no evidence to support this contention. Again, Republicans are highly likely to lose the Senate to Democrats. Does anyone truly think Trump has the stomach to fight for a constitutional conservative on the Court when he thinks that Supreme Court justices prosecute crimes and sign bills? Ronald Reagan missed two out of three Supreme Court picks. George H.W. Bush went one for two. George W. went one for two. Ford went zero for one, and Nixon went one for four. Does anyone think that Donald Trump will do better than any of these people? Trump has never backed a constitutional balance of powers; he doesn’t know what that phrase means. If you’re hanging your hopes for a conservative Court on Donald Trump, you’re being conned.
Beyond that, the Supreme Court is not the best hope for the Constitution. That hope lies at the state level, and in resistance to unconstitutional legislation and decisions." [from The Daily Wire.]

The Republicans have, for decades now, focused on grooming conservative attorneys to go into the federal court system and on gaining control of state governorships and legislatures. The Federalist Society has played a big role here.  This movement is a mix, I'm sure, of those who truly believe in various conservative ideologies, those who are opportunists looking for jobs and power on a relatively low level, and those who are looking for power and wealth on a relatively high level.  They've made anti-regulatory arguments into personal freedom issues and used those to challenge science that was harmful to their personal interests - science that said smoking caused cancer, science that says global warming is caused by humans.  They've carefully played the emotions of the religious and the less educated on issues like abortion and gay rights.  And they've fought the whole idea of government, except to serve their own interests.  At least that's what it looks like from where I sit.

The Democrats seem to have been focused on specific issues, but not on long term structural strategies like the Republicans.

The media have also played a negative role.  As the newspaper business has become corporatized, and profit becomes the most important motive, news becomes entertainment.  Conflicts generate more readers than calm, so the media now focus more on conflict, and our view of the world is distorted by the exception (the conflict), not the norm (the people who live peaceful lives.)  (That's not to say that profit and conflict  haven't always played a role in the news.)  This election is basically a reality television show - a political "Survivor" - that focuses on personal characteristics, gossip, and strategies to knock competitors off the show, not on the important issues.  No wonder Trump is the Republican nominee.  He's a veteran of reality tv.

The way I see it, taking back our country is something that people have to do.  It's not something Trump will do for us.  Taking back our country is not about going back to when white males did ok because women and non-whites were blocked from the best careers, the best universities, from voting, from controlling their own lives.  It's about going back to when there was a thriving working class, and college grads didn't have huge debts along with their diplomas,  when people with different world views at least knew each other and talked to each other civilly.

The bright side of the internet can help us take our country back.  But it's something that has to be done, ultimately, face to face, community by community.  Immigrants have to share family stories with working class white families.  Black and Latino high school students have to do the same with those who would cut public school funds and together they should work out  better ways to educate our young.  Wealthy owners of corporations need to eat meals at the homes of their lowest paid employees and learn to see the world through their eyes.  And the advocates of regulation need to spend some time in businesses that are tied up by rules.  We have lots of problems, but they are all resolvable if we see each other as well intended human beings and not as 'the enemy.'

Basically we need to talk to each other about the basic issues.  Our childhoods and our relationships with our parents and siblings and partners and kids.  How we earn. save, and spend money.  What our fears are, what our joys are.  What our dreams are.  Why we smoke, drink, take drugs.  Why we don't.  When we do this, we'll find out how much we really have in common.  We'll be able to learn better strategies for getting past our obstacles from those who have already done that.   Good art and literature can help here.  When we start talking to each other as people, as members of our community, rather than as the enemy, everything else will work itself out.

So yes, the Supreme Court is important.  But it's only important because we're so polarized that we can't make important decisions.  Those intractable issues get bumped up to the court.  We need to resolve things at a much lower level and let the Supreme Court worry about legal, not political, issues.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Parent Bias Blocks Message, Prevents Better Response

[UPDATE May 28, 2016:  Chris Thompson has a longer article on the subject today, with a lot more detail about the problems with short term missions abroad and to Alaska.]

All decent parents naturally jump in to protect their children.  But how they see their role as protector varies in different situations.  Some let kids experiment and take risks.  Some don't.  Some block them from what they see as harmful information.  What and when should kids know more about the tooth fairy or sex is tricky.  

But sometimes kids need to face evidence that makes them uncomfortable.  I'd like to offer this parent different option than the denial that her letter to the editor suggests.  And, who knows, after getting her initial anger off her chest in the letter below, perhaps she calmed down and came up with my suggestion on her own.

Here's the letter to the editor in Wednesday's paper that got my attention:
Don’t criticize selflessness
I am the mother of a 16-year-old teenager who is going on the St. John United Methodist Church mission trip to South Africa at the end of May. This trip was mentioned in Chris Thompson’s article “Why Short-Term Mission Trips May Do More Harm Than Good.” Thirty young adults and 10 adults are giving up two weeks of their summer to help complete living quarters for the people of Ocean View, South Africa. They are also helping to improve soccer fields and related structures for a local soccer organization. Money has been raised specially for the purpose of this trip and many of the teenagers have worked very hard for the last two years to earn their own money to pay for their travel expenses. For someone to write that these teens and adults may be doing more harm than good is heartbreaking to me. We constantly fault the younger generation for being self-absorbed. Here is a group who will make a huge difference in the lives of the community of Ocean View, and they are being criticized for it. Chris Thompson owes these selfless people an apology. — 
Carla Wight
Who is this evil Chris Thompson who dares to raise questions about the moral value of a mission trip to do good in Africa?  According to the ADN,
"Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,"

The original article was written byThompson, the man who writes the weekly column in the ADN on religious issues in Anchorage and beyond.  The article talks about why sometimes such trips can do harm and also gives examples of mission trips that do work for both the helpers and the receivers.

Here's the part that Ms. Wight seems to specifically object to:
"A large local church group will shortly depart for South Africa, an expensive trip. What's really going on here? In a paper published in the journal Trends and Issues in Missions, Liberty University professor Don Fanning makes a powerful case that short-term missions can create dependencies and problems among the very people short-term missionaries are supposed to be helping. South Africa, like Alaska, is about 80 percent Christian.
Church attendance, a key measure of religiosity, shows South Africa's weekly church attendance at 56-60 percent per week, while recent Gallup data shows Alaska weekly attendance ranks it in the bottom 10 states, with 26 percent attending weekly. The mission field is here in Alaska, as I've argued before, not other areas of the world. Many local churches are missing the boat: local member involvement is critical."
I understand part of Ms. Wight's reaction.  The timing of the article is difficult.  It's the end of May.  The group is about to leave or may have already left.  The people have most assuredly already got their tickets and there is no way that they can gracefully or economically pull out of the trip and look for one that is more in keeping with the best of Christian theology.   Furthermore, it's a bit of a downer to have someone raise questions about your do-good trip to Africa just as you are about to leave.

But I find Ms. Wight's reaction more problematic.
"For someone to write that these teens and adults may be doing more harm than good is heartbreaking to me."
Ms. Wight has blocked out the possibility that Thompson is right.  She's heartbroken, not because some short-term missions may do harm, but because of how it will make the teens - including her daughter [son] -  feel.  Sort of like being concerned about the doctor's feelings when he's about to perform surgery and someone brings him an article that questions that sort of surgery.  Sorry, it's too late, everything is set up and the patient's insurance has already been approved.   Seems to me we should be focused on the patient, not the doctor.  And the top priority of missions should be to improve the lives of the recipients.  Not to make the do-gooders feel good about themselves.  Ideally, they should be humbled that they are blessed to be in a situation where they can help others.

Thompson's taking off point is an article from Trends In Missions from Liberty University. This isn't a study by people who dislike religion.  Liberty University  bills itself as the world's largest Christian University.   Fairbanks senator Pete Kelly got his undergraduate degree there.

Here's the concern.  The author, Dr. Don Fanning writes:
"My father once told me that the surest way to create your worst enemy out of your best friend is to loan him money. When he is suppose [sic] to return the funds, he will likely not be available to do so and the mere reminder to him will begin a deteriorating relationship that inevitably will end in animosity.
In this chapter we will deal with the following topics:
  • The dangers of dependency
  • Short-term trips and dependency
  • How to avoid dependency
  • Four Perspectives for Using Money in Missions"
This could actually be a much greater learning experience for Ms. Wight's daughter [son] than anyone anticipated.

Instead of saying, "Don't listen to that man who is questioning what you're doing", a more useful response would be to give her daughter [son] and the whole group the Chris Thompson article and the Liberty University article and have them discuss the two articles among themselves and with the people they will be working with in South Africa.

There is even a seven principle checklist at the end of the Fanning article which they can use to evaluate their project and, if after the trip, they think the article is good, they can make sure St. John's uses the principles to choose future projects:

  •  Goals and methods of helping are not defined unilaterally. Do not develop a plan then invite non-Westerners to join in at a later stage. 
  • Do not base the relationship on a one-way flow of resources. "Complementarity, not assistance, lies at the heart of effective partnerships....A partnership moves beyond assistance to complementarity when each partner makes different but crucial contributions to a common goal.”
  • Do not allow money to become the most highly valued resource. We tend to put a premium on our own resources rather than on the resources of our non-Western counterparts. In most cases, non-Western partners may rely on Western partners for financial and technological resources, but Western partners are dependent on the human resources, linguistic skills, cultural insight, and relevant lifestyle of their non- Western partners. ... If money becomes the driving force, the golden rule takes hold -- the one with the gold rules.
  • Do not fund the entire cost of the project without clear justification. "In the face of enormous economic inequities, there is inherent pressure on Western partners to be the "sugar daddy" for more "needy" partners.
  • Do not interfere in the administration of the partner's organization. It’s okay to give advice when asked or to admonish a partner when a serious misconduct occurs.
  • Do not do for others what they can better do for themselves. People, like organizations, become strong and effective only when they make decisions, initiate action and solve problems. This may lower the level of accomplishment short-term, but will ensure a long-term progress.
  • Do not rely on a "one-size-fits-all" policy, especially with policies. For example, one agency gives only 10% of the total need in any project. This may work well in some circumstances and be detrimental in another.
  • The key principle today is the interdependency or mutual dependency in the task of world evangelism (Rickett, 2003).
    Will the article make Ms. Wight's daughter [son] uncomfortable?  Probably.  But most real learning - where your view of the world shifts a bit - involves discomfort as your old views are challenged and you have to revise what you know.

    Helping others is always fraught with moral dilemmas, some of which are pointed out in the Fanning article.  It's hard for the helpers not to feel some superiority over the people they are helping.  And to feel pleased with themselves for doing good.  And the recipients are supposed to be grateful to you.  Actually, as the seven principles suggest, this should be a partnership in which both sides contribute what they can.  There should be givers and receivers.   Imagine 40 people showing up in this town in South Africa to build housing and soccer fields.  Unemployment is high there.  Why import Americans?  What are they contributing that the locals couldn't do themselves?

    And imagine the airfare.  I looked up tickets for the end of May and got $1,900 to South Africa.  So I looked for July thinking it would be cheaper if I booked in advance.  I got $2400.  Let's say the church got a good group rate, say $1500.  Times forty people.  That's $60,000.

    I also looked up the average salary in South Africa.  In February 2014 it was R11,641 which my computer says is $743, or $8916 per year.  The group's airfare would pay an annual salary for six people.

    Wouldn't it make more sense to hire local workers in South Africa to do the work they plan than to have 40 Americans show up for two weeks?   Maybe not.  Maybe the learning of the Americans and the fellowship they all get interacting with each other would be worth it.  But if you asked the people in South Africa whether they think importing free American labor for two weeks at the cost of $60,000 was a good deal, I bet they might think of a different way to use the money.

    And that's part of what the seven principles are about.  Involving both sides to plan the project.  But they're also about not just giving money one way, which can lead to dependence, so just sending $60,000 isn't the answer either.  But I'd say raising the money just for the Africans, without getting a trip to Africa out of it, would be a lot more selfless.  I'm not suggesting that any of these options is better.  I'm just saying all these kinds of calculations should be thought through and the African recipients should be in on the discussions, as the principles suggest.

    [UPDATE June 26, 2016:  There's been more on this issue.  Chris Thompson wrote a followup column on June 10.  And Nick Wight wrote a letter to the editor.  I'm assuming that Nick is the son of the original letter writer.  So I've changed 'daughter' in this post to 'son.'  I don't think the gender was mentioned, so I originally decided not to arbitrarily make it a male.  And I'm guessing that Nick is a male here.]

     [For those of you who have read this, I apologize for the repost. Feedburner isn't doing it's job, but the update link to Thompson's new post not the subject fills in a lot of the issues with short-term missions that he didn't talk about in the previous article.]

    Thursday, May 26, 2016

    Phlox and Flax and Sweeney Todd

    Great day today and the flowers are summer show.  I very accidentally planted things out front that start early and end late with different things blooming throughout the summer.  One of the early ones is the phlox.  These dime sized flowers put on a great show.

    And if you look in the upper right corner, you can see several tiny blue flowers.  Those are flax.  They've been coming back and, I think, reseeding themselves every summer since about 2011.  They start early and stay most of the summer.  Opening up in the day and closing at night.  Also, tiny flowers.

    There were flowers mentioned at last night's performance of Sweeney Todd.  Mrs. Lovett sings (from  MetroLyrics):
    I've been thinking flowers, maybe daisies
    To brighten up the room
    Don't you think some flowers, pretty daisies
    Might relieve the gloom?
    Ah, wait, love, wait
    Sweeney Todd has to be one of the most perfect Broadway musicals, more a blend of musical and opera by Stephen Sondheim.  The plot, the music, the lyrics, everything weaves together.  Here's a post I did before seeing the movie with Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd in 2007.

    Back in those early blogging days, I was still testing to see if my camera could take video at the movies.  It was before Youtube was anything and even getting previews online was hard.  Besides I thought that if book reviewers could pick what they wanted to quote in their reviews, movie reviewers should be able to do the same and not be restrained by what the studio wants you to use. (I still think that.)  But there's lots more video available these days so I don't do that any more.  But there is some video in this post after we saw the movie and it will give you a sense of the story and the great music.

    Another aspect of this musical is that while Sweeney is the main focus, a number of different characters get the lead on different songs.   There was a younger crowd than I normally see in the Discovery Theater and a lot more tattoos.

    And since I don't take pictures without prior permission at live performances, I only have this picture of the first few orchestra members warming up in the pit well before the show began.

    Sweeney is a treat and it's playing tonight and through the weekend.  I'd highly recommend it.  There were some great performances.  I particularly liked Enrique Bravo as Sweeney, Victoria Bundonis as Mrs. Lovett, and Zebadiah Bodine as Tobias Ragg.  But everyone was good.

    This is a Perseverance Theater (Juneau) production and ticket information is here.  There are significant discounts for military, seniors, and students.

    [Reposting once again because of Feedburner problems]

    Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    Costco Packaging Problems

    Costco, among others, is known for its hard plastic packaging that is incredibly tricky to open.  But that packaging is also wasteful.

    I needed some AAA batteries and I was at Costco.  So I bought a package of 32.  More than I need, but so much cheaper per battery than elsewhere, that I bought them.

    Once I got them home, I needed a way to store them since their packaging was useless once it was opened.  That's when I realized how little space the batteries needed to contain them.

    The Costco package was 6.5" by 11" - and one inch high.

    I got all the batteries into a little box - 2X3X2.

    I can put the cardboard part into the recycling, but the plastic, here in Anchorage, has to go to the landfill.

    I realize that the small packages are harder to see on the shelf, but they can up them up with big signs.
    I realize that the big packages are harder to shoplift, and I'm not sure how to solve that problem, but I know there's a way that we just haven't thought of yet.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2016

    Brandon Lentz

    I was sitting in Terminal 9 at SEATAC last week eating my yakisoba across from a striking young individual who was working on posters with another woman.

    Blogging gives me the excuse to say hello and ask what the posters were about.  (I shouldn't need an excuse, but I'm basically pretty shy.)

    So meet Brandon Lentz.

    Brandon's putting on a show June 3 at GRC  (Green River College.)

    Here's some of Brandon's music from Sound Cloud.  I like it.

    Monday, May 23, 2016

    Packing Pictures Past Alaska Airlines And TSA

    The renting guy in LA said to get rid of the valuables and particularly pointed out two pictures he didn't think we should leave in my mom's house.  Two were pretty big - more than I could carry on to the plane.  The biggest one had glass as did the smallest.  He said they all use plexiglass now.

    two pics at Box Bros

    I finally checked out shipping places to see about getting packing material.  That got me to Box Bros on Wilshire and Barrington.  Yes, they could wrap them for the plane.  I gave them Alaska Airlines size limits for oversized baggage.

    I mention the company name because I think I got exceptional service.  It was clear that Dave saw these pictures as a challenge - how to adequately wrap them, particularly the big one, while staying within the size constraints.  He said he'd done a lot with art work.  I didn't give them a lot of time, because by the time I thought about just taking them home, there were just a couple of days left.  We even needed a friend to take them and pick them up because the big picture wouldn't fit in my mom's car.  And we would need a van cab to get them to the airport.
    Dave [Dan, who has more hair] doing some calculations

    We needed to be at the airport for a 10:30am flight.  I figured we needed extra time in case it was hard to get a van taxi, because it was morning traffic time, and if there were any problems with the boxes.  And then I realized that TSA wouldn't take kindly to these big sealed boxes.

    I was ready to just leave them in the garage in their new boxes.  That's when I decided to write a letter to TSA explaining what was in the packages, why I was taking them to Alaska, why I was a very low risk profile (we're meeting our granddaughter during our layover in Seattle, so we really want to get there), etc.  Wouldn't X-ray or sniffer dogs do?   I taped a copy on each box in an enveloped marked. "TSA".

    the boxes with suitcase for scale

    The cab was late.  I called.  They were having trouble getting a van.  (I had called the night before.)  But we still had a lot of time.  I called again.  I'd just leave the boxes in the garage and get a regular cab, but they said a van was on the way.  We got to the airport ok.  The baggage guy at Alaska didn't charge for one of the boxes - "It doesn't look that big."  (It's $75 for each oversize piece. Alaska Club members (anyone living in Alaska) can have two free bags going to and from Alaska.

    We lugged them over to the oversized receiving area, got through security - really not that many people, especially given the hype about big lines this summer - and to the gate with an hour to spare.  Then I hear our names over the loudspeaker.  The Alaska Airlines agent said they wanted me at TSA to open the boxes.

    So I had to go back out of security to the oversized baggage area.  They called TSA down.  I pointed out the letters on the boxes.  He said, yes, that's why we called you to let you open them.  They're too big for the X-ray.  So with the boxcutters they had, I cut the tape along the seams of the cardboard outer box and showed them the foam and bubble wrap.  Both boxes.  I could see his brain working - he understood why I didn't want to unwrap them, but he did need to check.  He called a supervisor and they decided to use the chemical test strips.  I spread things enough for him to slide his hand in
    with the tape between the bubble wrap and the foam in each box.  I asked if I could tape it while we waited.  He said that technically I wasn't allowed to touch it once it went through security and he'd retape it.  What time does your plane leave?  10:30.  Hmm.  40 minutes.  The OK came and he told me to go back to the gate.  They were loading the plane.  We got on and I sat in my window seat.  A little later a baggage cart came out with the two boxes and they were loaded onto the plane.

    They made it through SEATAC during our layover.  And they were waiting at the oversized baggage spot in Anchorage.  There was one van in the taxi line and we got them home.  That was Thursday night.  I moved them from the garage to a  downstairs room on Friday, but didn't open them.  As long as I didn't, they weren't broken.  Schrodinger's pictures.

    Saturday I opened them.  

    Here are the two smaller ones packed together.  They were both fine.

    Then to the big one.  It took a while to get it out of the box and then start unwrapping all the heavy duty clear wrap paper holding everything together.  Then getting the bubble wrap off.  It looked good so far.  Then the masking tape like paper Dave had put on the glass.  So far so good.

    And when it was all off, the glass was fine.  It all made it in as good a shape as they started the trip in.

    And they look good here.  The last picture, not shown, is of palm trees on the beach at Key West.  My dad was stationed there during WW II (some people get rough assignments) and my mom was there as well.  And a friend of hers did the water color of a beach they went to.  And since I was born there at the very end of the war, it has special meaning for me too.  It's been above my mom's bed all these years.

    I called Dave to let him know his wrapping had kept the pictures safe and he sounded truly pleased to know.

    And then there was all the debris to clean up.

    The bubble wrap we'll use again - there is still a lot of breakable stuff at my mom's.  The cardboard we'll find a use for, and if not, it's at least recyclable.

    In Amsterdam and in Israel security folks interviewed individual passengers and determine by what they say and how they act, whether to let people go.  In the US it usually seems much more mechanical and statistically done.  (J was randomly selected for a second check this time.)  So, it was nice to see agents who used discretion and evaluated our risk factor and found a way to check the boxes without tearing everything apart.

    But I also recognize that several types of privilege were in my favor.  Because we've traveled so much while my mom was ailing, we're Alaska MVP, and we get TSA pre check 80% of the time.  So this is a frequent route and we've been ok in the past.  (Did they check that out?  I'm guessing they did, but who knows?)  I'm an older white male.  I'm well educated and know how to write out my case.  Would this work for my colleague who's Indian-American?  I'm guessing it would have been a harder decision for the TSA agents.

    Sunday, May 22, 2016

    All Genders Restroom

    Here's the door to one of the restrooms at the Seattle Aquarium.

    We'd been able to book our flight home from LA with a six hour layover in Seattle and we were meeting our daughter and granddaughter at the aquarium.
      We looped around over downtown Seattle and could see the aquarium, but they wouldn't let us out until they landed a few minutes south at the airport.

    Since my granddaughter started walking, it's been a minor dilemma when she and I were out together and one of us had to pee.  I obviously couldn't take her into the women's room, but should I take her into the men's room?

    If I had to go, there was no choice.  I wasn't going to leave her outside the restroom where I couldn't see her.  She came into the men's room.  And as she got older and knew when she had to go, I still have had to take her into the men's room.

    No one got excited.  No one ever made a fuss about her presence in the men's room.  I wasn't totally comfortable.  While I believe in openness and that we should be able to talk about anything that a kid raises, I also feel it important to let her mother be the guide on this.  And we haven't talked about this.  And what if my granddaughter doesn't raise questions, out loud?  But sometimes you have to make a decision on the spot.

    I also understand that it's different when an adult male goes into a women's restroom, especially when a woman is alone in the restroom, especially if she's ever been sexually abused.  But that could happen any time, any where.  With or without laws about transgender access to restrooms.

    As I see this issue there are several key points.  But the absolutely most important is simply understanding the fluidity of gender.  And for the current situation - what a transgender identity is about.  I'm certainly no expert on this, but I seem to know a lot more than the folks freaking out over transgender rights and bathrooms.

    Understanding transgender.    From the moment of birth, we are segregated into boy or girl. Pink or blue.  I wrote about my experiences on this with my granddaughter at the playground two years ago.  We know there is more than black or white, good or bad, open or closed, up or down, smart or dumb, and every other pair of opposites.  There are shades of gray.  A person  can be good at some things and bad at others.  A car can be good at one time and bad at another.  But male or female, to many people, are absolutes.  Penis or no penis.

    But it's not that simple.  Every year, about 2000 babies are born with "ambiguous genitals."
    Ambiguous genitals refer to the uncertain appearance of a baby's external sexual features. Sometimes a female foetus is born with ovaries but male-like external genitals (female pseudo-hermaphroditism). A male may be born with testicles (which have yet to descend from the pelvis) but with female-like external genitalia (male pseudo-hermaphroditism). Rarely, newborns may even have both ovaries and testicles and ambiguous genitals (true hermaphroditism). In addition, there may be other congenital defects present in these newborns, such as hypospadias in males. This is a condition in which the urethral (urinary) opening is not in its normal position on the tip of a penis but is on the underside.  [From Gender Centre]

    So what happens when babies are born with ambiguous genitals?
    Approximately 10 times a year in Houston, at the birth of a certain type of baby, a special crisis team at Texas Children's Hospital springs into action. Assembled in 2001, the unusual team includes a psychologist, urologist, geneticist, endocrinologist, and ethicist. Its mission: to counsel parents of infants sometimes referred to as "intersex" babies—that is, babies of indeterminate physical gender. That such a team exists—and that it often counsels deferring surgery for infants who are otherwise healthy—reflects a radical new thinking among doctors about gender identity and outside efforts to shape it. Instead of surgically "fixing" such children to make them (visually, at least) either male or female, a handful of U.S. specialists now argue that such infants should be left alone and eventually be allowed to choose their gender identity. The approach challenges decades of conventional wisdom about what to do with infants whose genitalia don't conform to the "norm." Until very recently, such children were automatically altered with surgery, often with tragic consequences. Each year, about one in 2,000 children is born with ambiguous-looking genitalia.

    One in 2000 children a year.  In 2014 there were 3,988,076 babies born in the US, so that comes to just under 2000 babies who weren't physically classifiable as clearly a boy or a girl. One in 2,000 is a tiny fraction of the population, but it's still 2000 people a year.  For Anchorage, assuming a random distribution, with a population of about 300,000, given one in 2000,  there should be 150 transgender folks.  That's a tiny minority.  So it's reasonable that most people don't know anyone who is transgender, especially since it isn't something people tell you when they meet you.  But it's not reasonable to stay ignorant, given the attention in this issue, and to treat these folks poorly.

    Given the importance our society attaches to whether someone is male or female - remember, it's the first thing we ask when a new baby is born - being of ambiguous gender has to be one of the most difficult identity issues one can imagine. Especially when everyone assumes that you have to be either a boy or a girl. What do these 2000 people a year have to deal with every day of their lives?

    For me, the first serious introduction to these questions came in Jeffrey Eugenides' book Middlesex, which tells three generations of familial history of Calliope Stephanides, a Greek American girl who doesn't feel like a girl.  It won a Pulitzer Prize and I recommend it - not only for what one can learn about intersex people, but because it's a wonderful novel.

    Closing Thoughts

    We're having this debate about transgender bathrooms because people are ignorant.  That's not a judgmental statement, merely descriptive.  People really don't understand about intersex or transgender or ambiguous genitalia.  They don't understand it because they don't even know it exists. We've been taught that you're either male or female.

    Some people are naturally ignorant.  That is they have been taught people are male or female and their life experiences match what they've been taught.  Gays and lesbians have given them some cognitive dissonance, but even gay folk are still identified as male or female.

    Some people are willfully ignorant.  They refuse to seek information that challenges what they 'know.'

    Some people, in this election year, see this as an issue that could help the Republican Party overcome what looks like a hopeless presidential race for them.  Wedge issues have been a big part of the party's strategy over the years.  For a more academic approach on this click here.  I'm sure there were Republicans clapping with glee when the Obama administration announced it was suing North Carolina.  But I'm guessing there will be a lot of education in the next six months.  Not only on transgender issues, but also on the other aspects of North Carolina's HB 2 which attacks things like minimum wage and the right to sue over employment discrimination.

    When my granddaughter had to go potty (her language, not mine) we weren't near the all genders  restroom and I took her into the men's room.  There were stalls as well as urinals.  We used a stall and no one's privacy was disturbed.

    [Yes, Feedburner problems continue. I'm reposting what I put up earlier.  Finding a better RSS feed is on my todo list.  Anyone with suggestions let me know.]

    Saturday, May 21, 2016

    No, No, No - Bragaw Extension Won't Get People To Emergency Room Faster [UPDATED - 13 New Emergency Rooms For Prov]

    [May 24, 2016 - See today's article on Providence getting 13 new emergency rooms after battle with Regional Hospital to see more reason why Providence is behind this money getting back into the budget.]

    Here's the letter to the editor* that inspired this post:
    "U-Med road would be a lifesaver
    The U-Med road is the one thing that absolutely will save lives. Providence hospital sits right in the middle of this road. If you ever had to get there because of illness or heart attack like me, every second counts. Shortening the amount of time it takes to get to the hospital could save more lives. The money once was already appropriated for this road but the mayor wanted it for the black hole also known as the port. Now the money is there again for this much needed project but guess what? The mayor talks about the deficit and wants this project blocked again for his friends, but at the same time he is in the capital asking for over $200 million for the port. We have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars at the port and there is nothing to show for it. I know where it went, but shhhh — they don’t want you to know. — Richard Wooten Anchorage"
    *[not sure people without an ADN subscription can use this link (let me know if it works for you), but you've got the whole letter above.]

    I'm sorry to hear about Mr. Wooten's illness and hope he's better.  But his having been sick doesn't change the actual facts.  It just distorts his interpretation of them.  That's understandable, but policy decisions need look at the big picture.  There are lots of questions to raise about this letter, but let's just focus on the "Lifesaver" story.

    First,  nowadays, we have ambulances with technology that allows the paramedics to start treatment before they get to the hospital.  Here's an Edmonton story about their $3.3 million (Canadian) stroke ambulances.  But then they have long rides bringing people in from rural areas.  That's not an issue that this road would fix.  But their ambulances might.  You could get five of them for the initial cost of the minimum sized road.  That doesn't account for later expansion beyond a two lane road or maintenance of the road - funding that wasn't provided for.

    Second,  it's not the road that matters, but a host of other issues that get ambulances to people on time and then to the closest hospital.  This article discusses some of the turf battles and other administrative issues that cost lives.

    Third, and most significant in this case, there's another hospital north of Providence, where patients would be coming from to use this road.   Why do ambulances coming from the north even have to go to Providence?  Alaska Regional is a short distance to the north of Providence and if time is of the essence, the ambulance should go there.

    Let's look at the map.

    Screen shot, with additions, from Google (click to focus)

    To the north, circled in red, is Alaska Regional Hospital.  To the south, circled in blue, is Providence. Google says they are 2.9 miles apart via Lake Otis (blue route) and 3.1 miles apart via Bragaw (gray route.)  Nine minutes either way.

    I've added in an extension to Bragaw in red to Providence from Bragaw and Northern Lights.  It wouldn't be significantly shorter than the gray existing route.

    People on the Lake Otis route won't be affected because the new road would be longer for them.

    Most of the area around there is wooded parkland.  There are some health agencies along Northern Lights and East High at the corner of Northern Lights and Bragaw.  East High is probably right in the middle between the two hospitals.  That would make it, by Google's time estimate, about 4 minutes and 30 seconds from either hospital.  Anyone north of East High is probably closer to Regional Hospital.

    This road isn't about saving lives.  I suspect it's really about Providence's need to dominate the Alaska health care world.  Getting one more road close by is part of a much bigger strategy.  They've already gotten 40th Avenue pushed through and paid for by the State.  They've got lots of other roads wandering through their ever-expanding campus.

    The letter writer doesn't mention that all the community councils in the area are strongly opposed to the road.  Nor does he mention all the reasons why they are opposed, not the least of which is the cutting through the last big tract of unbroken land that's used for recreation by people and for living by wildlife.

    I'd bet that a road through there might cost more lives by adding traffic past East High than it would save by getting people to the hospital faster.   There's no proof this road would save lives.  The map plus the changes in ambulance technology, plus the existence of Regional to the north, all suggest that this road would not save any lives.  Unless Providence just wants the ambulances from the north to pass by Regional.  But even then, the new road would be marginally shorter than the existing road.  

    And the port?  Mayor Berkowitz inherited that problem. Sheffield may have wasted tens of millions, maybe even hundreds of millions, but that doesn't mean the port should be abandoned. It still needs to be fixed.

    And that funding the writer mentions, was snuck into the budget in the closing hours of the last session without any hearings or opportunity to remove it against the wishes of the legislators from the U-Med district.

    Friday, May 20, 2016

    Mom Leaves Her Stamp(s)

    There are several drawers of stamps - cancelled stamps from all over, first day covers, loose stamps, unused US stamps in blocks.  And there are several stamp books.

    Should I take them to a stamp store?  Give them to my grand children?  Put them on E-Bay?  The second option is my preference.  I think (ah the memory is such a malleable faculty) that stamp collecting was one of the ways I got interested in geography - learning the names of foreign countries and finding them on the map.

    And looking at the cancelled stamps, many still on envelopes, I can't help thinking about the people or events or places or things depicted on the stamps.  And I wonder about how the letter writer chose the stamp - purposely or just because that's what the post office sold her?  And, of course, who were the people corresponding?  What was the nature of the correspondence?  In some cases my mom's collection affords the opportunity to find out more because the letter is still inside.  And I'm ever so distractible that I could spend a year just pursuing that.  Others have already written novels based on letters they found.

    But we're just back home with lots to do and this wasn't supposed to be a long post, just some pictures of stamps. (Click on any of the images to enlarge and focus. They're really SO MUCH better if you do that.)  But, as I said, I'm infinitely distractible.

    So looking through the box of stamps I brought home - these are unused US stamps that mean I won't have to buy stamps for a long time - I thought I'd just post some that I thought were visually strong.

    Just imagine the challenge of creating an image that fits on a postage stamp.  There are a lot that are awfully busy and you have to look very closely to see what's in them.  Those that focus on one thing seem to come out best.

    First, some portraits.  I think I like these because they're big and bold.  And I noticed that four of them are basically black and white drawings.

    The Pulitzer stamp is the exception, but the quote is big and drew me in.  And the message - "OUR REPUBLIC AND ITS PRESS WILL RISE OR FALL TOGETHER" - is as important important today as when Pulitzer said it.  Here's more context from

    In May 1904, writing in The North American Review in support of his proposal for the founding of a school of journalism, Pulitzer summarized his credo: "Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations."
    The media coverage of the current presidential race doesn't seem to me to be living up to Pulitzer's expectations for the press.

    Here are a few stamps heralding events.  The Spirit of 76's power comes from our familiarity with the image and the post office's willingness to use three stamps to zoom in on the three characters.  The American Revolution tells us:
    "Despite the near universality of this image as synonymous with Americanism and its instantaneous recognition in the iconography of the Revolution, the world of art has never considered it to be Art with a capital "A"."
    And the picture on the stamp doesn't quite match up with the picture on their site.   But they add that painter (not artist according to the critics) Archibald McNeil Willard, made several different versions of this picture that was featured at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

    The First Man On The Moon stamp says it all in a relatively simple illustration, that, I think, is also aided by images we've all seen before.

    Finally, I like the image on the Mayflower stamp.  The Pilgrims are a little small, but the boat stands out and you can work a bit to see the Pilgrims.  My assessment is of the image, not, by the way, of the event itself.

    I love these images of plant life.  I like the cacti particularly.  Do I really have to say any more?

    Getting the details of buildings and places onto a tiny stamp would seem to be a bit of a challenge.  Here are some of the more successful ones in the box.  I particularly like the architecture ones and the lighthouse on the lower right.  The historic preservation stamp had to, apparently, highlight the theme and identify what was being preserved in each stamp.  They did the latter in tiny letters, which, when I blew up the image, showed how out of focus it was.  But they're challenging to my old eyes in the original.  For those who need to know the images are a) The Decator House, b) The Charles W. Morgan,  c)  San Francisco Cable Car, and d) San Xavier del Bac Mission.   (The links are well worth following.  I figure most people already know about the cable car.)

    There have to be over a hundred different images in the box I found.  Some pretty dramatic and others almost looking like advertising.  I could do weeks of posts on these stamps.  And who knows, maybe I'll come back to them for future posts, but for now one more set - animals.

    I really do like the top set - the 125th anniversary of the Berlin Zoo.  It's the only block of non-American stamps I've come across in the box.  And it's interesting that the German stamps in the set are different denominations.  I haven't noticed that among the US stamps.

    The role of stamps

    The little stamp has a role much bigger than one originally thinks about.  This should be obvious by the popularity of stamp collecting over the years.  The Art of the Stamp conveys a little of this, better than I can, in a description of the an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in 2003-4:

    "Few works of art enjoy as vast an audience as American stamps. At their most basic, stamps are simple proofs of postage, but with the addition of graphic designs that honor national heroes and commemorate historical events, they become something much greater: compelling works of art that serve, in the words of W.B. Yeats, as “the silent ambassadors on national taste.” Each year, award-winning graphic artists bring their talents to a broad range of U.S. stamps. Working on unusually small canvases, these artists surmount truly unique design challenges to create superb miniature encapsulations of American culture and history."

    Wednesday, May 18, 2016

    State Overreach And Elmore Road Extension

    I've written about how disingenuously I think the term "federal overreach" is often used.

    Those who decry federal overreach tend to mean "we want to do what we want and damn the feds" (or often our corporate funders want to do what they want without pesky regulations to preserve the environment, workers' health, or equity).  The idea that they are defending the democratic rights of citizens of the state against an overbearing federal government is proven a joke, when these state officials turn around and forbid local governments from doing what they want.

    North Carolina's new and controversial law about bathrooms was specifically aimed at prohibiting Charlotte from recognizing the needs of transgender folks to choose an appropriate restroom.  (And, apparently, it covers a lot of other issues that aren't getting the same attention, like limiting rights to sue over discrimination, and affects minimum wage.)

    And in Anchorage, according to a story in this morning's ADN, Rep Saddler and Rep Pruitt have added $18 million to the University budget for "roads."  The University's budget has been drastically cut, but they found an extra $18 million for roads.  (If that link doesn't work, try this one.)

    Not just any road mind you, but the extension of Elmore Road - a road that has been resoundingly rejected by all the community councils surrounding the area and in the area.  Over and over again.  A road that DOT has pushed through against what people want.  A road that new mayor Ethan Berkowitz rejected when he came into office.

    The only question really out there is:  Who wants this road?   The obvious suspects are contractors.  I suspect the other major culprit here is Providence Hospital which has gotten the state to build a number of other roads in the area that the community did not want, but which makes their property much more accessible.  But there may be others.  But government transparency isn't one of their favorite ideas either.

    I call this state overreach, when the state tells local people they have no say in how their communities develop and how that development affects the livability of their neighborhoods.  Well, they have a say, but the power that be just don't listen.  And that's why I think the term 'federal overreach' is just a catchy marketing tool to mask the real intent - we want to do whatever we want and all consequences be damned.  Just like states' rights was used to mask racism during the 1950's and 60's.

    No more time today, got lots of work to do on my mom's house before we head home.

    Sunday, May 15, 2016

    This Is Hopeless

    Or so I think.  Then I plow on.

    Back cleaning out my mom's house.  We're trying to get it rentable by Thursday.  The bar is pretty low, but I think we'll have to come back and do more.  But I'm getting more ruthless about throwing things away.  But what do you do with things like this?

    Actually, that's fairly easy.  It will go into one of the boxes headed to the thrift shop.  But old letter and photos, jewelry, watches, and stuff.  Pictures on the wall.  The realtor helping to rent the place thinks we shouldn't leave any pictures up we wouldn't want to lose.  And there are a few.

    So blogging is a low priority at the moment.

    At least we can put things we can't decide on into the garage.

    But I'm guessing we'll be back in a month to do more.

    Not complaining, just thinking out loud.  My mom cleaned up my messes often enough, so turnabout is only fair.  She has given us a lot, and throwing things away was painful for her.

    Friday, May 13, 2016

    Nordstrom's Great Marketing Department

    My step-father died about thirty years ago.  My mom just last summer.

    Today I opened a letter addressed to my step father that included two new Nordstrom credit cards.

    Meanwhile, I'm still battling with Feedburner problems. (I know, I need to find a new RSS feed.  I will, I will.) I posted yesterday about why I thought Rep. Johnson had filed to appeal the decision of the Superior Court to allow Gov. Walker's Medicaid expansion even though though the legal counsel told Sen. Gary Stevens that such a move required a vote of both houses.  It didn't make it to other blogrolls.  So if any one is interested you can get to it here.  I tried to put the issue into context.  It also includes the complete contract between the Alaska Legislative Council and the DC law firm Bancroft PLLC.

    And for people who do come here when they see the new post links at other blogs, if you don't see anything for more than a day, you might just want to check anyway.  Or you can subscribe and get your own reminder - those seem to be working.

    You can subscribe in the upper right - as you can see in the image to your right.

    Thursday, May 12, 2016

    Legislature's Contract With Bancroft DC Law Firm To Sue Governor Walker Over Medicaid Expansion

    This post began with me wanting to just post the contract between the Alaska Legislative Council and the Bancroft law firm.  But as I tried to explain the context it got more and more complicated.   I was trying to figure out what the push was all of a sudden to get approval and to skip the Senate's approval.   Eventually it became clear.  And while I don't think I have anything here that hasn't already been published by someone somewhere, I think maybe I've put the pieces together in an easier way to follow it all.  Or maybe it just makes sense to me because I've now spent so much time doing this.

    There was a fair amount of sturm und drang over Rep. Craig Johnson ignoring the legal opinion that both the House and the Senate had to vote to approve the appeal.  It makes sense to me now.  I'll say it here, and then the rest puts it all into context with some commentary on how I found my way through this maze.   So here's the skinny as I see it:

    There's a 30 day window in which to appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.  Although the judge's decision is dated March 1, 2016, which would appear to make the deadline March 31, there is something else in the court record called the "Final Judgment" which is dated April 5, 2015.  Thus the magic drop dead date was May 5, 2015 - 30 days later.  

    So no matter what the legislature did or did not do, if the appeal wasn't filed in the court by May 5, 2016, there wasn't going to be an appeal.  So, apparently Johnson went and filed the appeal by the deadline in the hopes that the attorneys will be able to win any challenges to his authority to file the appeal without the House and Senate voting to move to Phase 2 of the contract with the DC law firm, Bancroft PLLC.  

    Now, here's the post I was working on that led to the conclusion above.

    I've posted the full contract below.  You can just scroll down and read it all.  But for those who are a little fuzzy on all this, here is some background.

    As briefly as I can:
    1. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and President Obama signed it
    2. Republicans around the country did everything they could think of to kill the Affordable Care Act, including filing lawsuits saying it was unconstitutional.
    3. The first challenge to make it to the Supreme Court was decided in 2012 and it upheld the Affordable Care Act.  An attorney - Paul Clement - for the law firm of Bancroft PLLC represented The National Federation of Independent Business, et al
    4. The second challenge to make it to the Supreme Court was decided in 2015.  Again the Affordable Care Act was upheld.
    5. About this time expansion of Medicaid in Alaska as called for by the Affordable Care Act was not making its way to the governor's office in Juneau.  So the governor expanded Medicaid administratively.
    6. When the legislature is out of session, the Legislative Council does necessary business  on behalf of the whole legislature.  The Council voted to sue the governor over his decision to expand Medicaid.  And they asked the court to block the expansion until after the case was heard.
    7. The court rejected blocking it and the Alaska Supreme Court did too.
    8. The Legislative Council's suit  lost in the Alaska Superior Court in March 2016.
    9. The Alaska Legislature is currently in overtime, having been unable to complete their work in the 90 day session.  The Legislative Council has some specific duties, but most importantly, acts in lieu of the State Legislature when it is out of session. But not when it is in session.
    10. The House of Representatives has approved extending the contract and told Bancroft to file an appeal.  (Well, I thought this was true when I wrote this, but it appears that neither body voted to approve going to the contracts Phase 2 (which will be explained below))
    11. The Democrats are pointing to a letter from the Legislature's legal counsel to Senator Gary Stevens, saying that when the Legislature is in session, decisions to take legal action require approval of both houses of the Legislature.  The decision to move ahead was only approved by the House.  (And apparently not even that, though I admit I'm confused on this.) An attorney I talked to about this speculated there was a deadline for the appeal and so they wanted to go ahead and file it before that deadline passed.  If they didn't they couldn't keep harassing the governor on the state level and the ACA on the federal level, and the Bancroft PLLC would forego the Phase 2 $150,000 and the continuing guerrilla warfare against ACA.  But I checked.  The Alaska Courts website says you have 15-30 days to file an appeal (depending on the type of case.).  The case was decided on March 1.  So even if it were working days and not calendar days, it's been over 60 days now, surely that's more than 30 working days.  But as we all know, reading the law with just a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.  Obviously they're still planning to appeal.  So either there are provisions that allow extensions of that time, I've misread it, or they've already filed the appeal.  But if that were the case, it would be on the record.  You can see why so few reporters really dig in to get all the details of the story.  One thing just leads to another.  I'm tired and I'm not going to try to figure out how to look up if there has been an appeal filed already.  Someone else can do that.  [I'm leaving this all in so you can see all the false paths I explored before finding the right one.]
    Well, I couldn't just abandon it at that point.  I have looked up cases before so I poked around on the Alaska Court System webpages for searching cases.  It's much easier than it used to be, though I did come up with different things in different searches.  

    It was, in fact, about deadlines.  The case was filed May 5.  It says the case was settled April 5.  But the judge's ruling is signed March 1, 2016. 
    But on the appeal it says the final judgment date is April 5, 2016.  The red on the upper left marks the appeal filing date - May 5, 2015.  The red in the middle on the right shows the trial court judgment date as April 5, 2016.  This is really so as the court judgment document above shows.  

    Click to enlarge and focus these images originally from Alaska Court System

    But further poking around shows that even though the decision was made on March 1, 2016, there is another date - April 5, 2016, that's labeled "Order:  Final Judgment Case Motion #22."  The information below is from this court system page.  Just keep scrolling down when you get there.  But here I've distilled the key dates and put them into this table:

    03/01/2016Case Dismissed. Case Closed
    03/10/2016 Motion for Entry of Final Judgment Attorney: Borghesan, Dario (1005015) Filing Party: Walker, Bill; Davidson, Valerie Case Motion #22
    03/23/2016 Non-Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Entry of Final Judgment Attorney: McKeever, Timothy A. (7611146) Case Motion #22: Motion for Entry of Final Judgment
    04/05/2016   Order: Final Judgment Case Motion #22: Motion for Entry of Final Judgment
    05/05/2016 Appeal Filed in the Supreme Court Case No: S-16309

    So there it is.  Johnson was going on the advice that it is better to ask forgiveness than ask permission.  There just wasn't time to get permission.

    Below is the whole contract so people can see it for themselves.  My layperson's eye doesn't see anything too unusual.   It's really the whole idea of spending $400,000 to try this Hail Mary lawsuit, that's at issue, more than details of the contract.  But since it's been bandied about, we ought to be able to read the whole thing.   I've noted a few highlights.  There's some seemingly weird language like the clause on Human Trafficking, but I figure that's boiler plate that has to be in every state contract.

    Maybe others with more legal experience or knowledge of the players will point out things I overlooked.

    Highlight 1:  This is a two phase contract.  Each phase is a flat fee.  By starting the appeal, it looks like the second clause begins and the company gets the final $150,000 payment. From the contract (see whole contract at end of post):
    1. "Phase 1 - the flat fee for consultation, advice, and handling the court action until a final judgment or other resolution of the court action in Superior Court will be $250,000; the Committee will pay the Contractor $100,000 when this Contract is entered into, and $150,000 when services in the Superior Court are completely rendered. If the Project Direction elects to not proceed to the Supeme Court, then Phase 2 does not apply and the services and payments re complete.
    2. Phase 2 - the flat fee for handling any appeal to the alaska Supreme Court (and subsequent Superior Court action if sent back to Superior Court) will be $150,000; the Committee will pay the Contractor $75,000 when the Contractor files the first brief and $75,000 upon final resolution."
    So, it seems that the House's move to appeal, automatically gets us to Phase 2 - $75,000 for the first brief - the appeal I assume - and then another $75,000 when it's all done.  Chump change for the Majority it seems.   $150,000 would pay for two starting teachers in the Anchorage School District, their benefits, and still leave something on the table.    This can only benefit the law firm.  It's hardly likely to win.  And if they win, then Alaskan general health will lose.   So I can only guess that key legislators were leaned on to help this law firm pick up another $150,000 on top of the $250,000 they got for Phase I.

    Think this through.  $400,000. [I'd note here that the Independent/Democratic Coalition has put out a press release saying that $300,000 has already been spent with $150,000 left to go for a total of $450,000.  Maybe something changed since the contract, but the contract is pretty clearly for $400,000 total.]  If we pay the attorneys $400 per hour, that's 1000 hours.  If we assume attorneys work 50 hour weeks, that's 20 weeks, about five months, full time.  Much, if not most, of the work would be done by para legals who get paid way less that $400 per hour.  And most of the legal research Bancroft has already done in prep for their other Obamacare challenges.

    Note:  I first posted about this law firm and its role in representing 26 states that fought Obamacare to the Supreme Court August 19, 2015 when the lawsuit was originally announced.  Then I posted again a couple of weeks later when the Legislature lost their lawsuit.  And I'd note that Paul Clement, the attorney who lost the 2012 case at the US Supreme Court is listed as one of the attorneys in the Alaska case that lost in Superior Court.

    Sorry for getting sidetracked there, but those two old posts give a lot more relevant background on the firm.

    Highlight 2:  Contract goes from August 18, 2015 until "completion of the legal services required by Clause 1, or August 1, 2017."

    Highlight 3:  Interest rate for late payment (after 90 days) is 1.5% per MONTH which comes out to an annual interest rate of 18 - 19% depending on whether it's compounded or not.  Credit Union 1 offers 0.30% on a premium savings account with $100,000 or more in it.  They offer rates between 4 and 7% for boat and vessel loans up to $250,000.  Is that a fair comparison?  After all, this is for a late payment after 90 days, so the first three months are interest free.  And the state should be good for the money, right?  Well, that used to be true.

    Highlight 4:  The Project Director and Vice Project Director
    "The Project Director and Vice Project Director are the persons appointed by the Presiding Officers of the Alaska State Senate and the Alaska State House of Representatives  The Project Director under the Contract is Chad Hutchison, for the Alaska State Senate.  Mr Hutchison is is [sic] authorized to oversee and direct the activities of the Contractor under this contract and shall, unless otherwise stated in this paragraph, approve all billings from the Contractor.  The Vice Project Director under this Contract is Mark Higgins for the Alaska State House of Representatives. Mr. Higgins is authorized to oversee the activities of the Contractor under this contract. .  ."
    A quick internet search doesn't tell us too much about these men.

    Chad Hutchison, according to a brief description under an opinion piece in the Juneau Empire, is a Fairbanks attorney and staffer for Sen. Coghill.  The opinion piece argues passionately for this lawsuit and I found it, on the whole, using logic and reason to make his points.  We can argue about his assumptions and I didn't fact check it, but it's not the kind of empty explanations we've been hearing from Juneau's finest.  Apparently there's another Chad Hutchinson who's Director Fairbanks Pipeline Training Center Trust and a longtime member of the Operating Engineers Union.

    Mark Higgins is a staffer for the House Majority.  He's served as a political consultant and as a lobbyist for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.  Higgins was the subject of concern back in 2009 when Rep. Craig Johnson wanted to hire him to finish a 'long overdue report' on fisheries for a task force with which Higgins' wife, Debra, was involved, if I can untangle the story, as an aide to Rep. Johnson.   Senators Stedman, Harris, and Coghill had problems with the appointment because of the apparent conflict.  Johnson said he couldn't find anyone else with Higgins unique qualifications - his ability to write, his background in fisheries, and his knowledge of the law.  Johnson is quoted,
    "If I thought there was a better person out there I would have certainly tried to get that person," he said.
    That's about as clear as most politicians are going to get.  He didn't think there was anyone with better qualifications.  Which suggests he didn't look. Seems to me there are lots of Alaskans who know about fisheries, the law, and can write.   Reading between the lines of that article, I'd say Johnson  had this overdue report and they were getting some pressure to get it done and someone in the office said something like, Mark could do that.  But when you read between the lines even with some knowledge of how organizations work and a good imagination you can end up anywhere from close to way off.

    Anyway.  Here's the contract.  I know, by now, anyone who didn't just skip everything and come directly here, is already asleep.  But if you're still awake and ready to tackle the contract, go get yourself a chocolate chip cookie as a reward.  Or a bowl of strawberries if you prefer.  Maybe with some vanilla ice cream.