Tuesday, November 29, 2022

AIFF 2022: Anchorage International Film Festival Begins Friday With Turkish Entry At The Bear Tooth

I once was totally on top of the Anchorage International Film Festival each year.  I've fallen behind this year, but this should get you into the mood.  

You can get tickets for individual films or passes for the whole festival at the AIFF website.  $100 passes for all films is a good deal if you have time to see more than eight or nine films.  I checked a couple and they were $12 each.  

Venues will be mostly Bear Tooth and the Museum.  

Also, check on the AIFF Facebook Page.

Feature Films

NARRATIVE FEATURES  - Note:  Three of these are by women film makers.  

“Dealing With Dad” by Tom Huang • USA

Interview with Director Tom Huang from Oxford Eagle

The Last Birds of Passage” by Iffet Eren Danisman Boz • Turkey


From an article on this film from Business Mirror.  It seems pretty relevant to issues faced by Alaska's ancient peoples.

"In one scene in the film, the nomads are invited to a kind of cultural festival in the city. They are declared as the real Yoruks, an identity important for them. Their presence is applauded and people take their photographs as if they are museum specimens. In real life, the director admits to a prejudice these people experience. It is a discrimination that is more subtle and implicit, and which comes out only in conflicts that arise because of the fact that there are people who move from one place to another, their incursion into lands not ably validated by license or ownership. Thus even on the way to the mountains, these people have to be careful not to tread on plantations owned by other people. Their supply of fresh and clean water is also endangered because mining and other human activities that allow humans to stay put have occupied lands and endangered the surroundings."

Where Life Begins” by Stéphane Freiss • Italy, France 

From Home MCR:

"26-year-old Esther, the daughter of a rabbi from Aix-les-Bains, joins her ultra-Orthodox family on their annual trip to a farm in southern Italy, where they perform the sacred task of harvesting lemons. While Esther is expected to marry a man she does not yet know, her budding friendship with Elio, the farm owner, encourages her to follow her desire to leave religion and live life on her own terms. Set in the beautiful Italian countryside, Where Life Begins is a tender yet thought-provoking exploration of tradition, family and self-realisation."


The Wind & The Reckoning” by David L Cunningham • USA

From Cinema Clock:

"1893. The Hawaiian Kingdom has been overthrown by a Western power just as an outbreak of leprosy engulfs the tropical paradise. The new government orders all Native Hawaiians suspected of having the foreign disease banished permanently to a remote colony on the island of Moloka'i that is known as 'the island of the living grave'. When a local cowboy named Ko'olau and his young son Kalei contract the dreaded disease, they refuse to allow their family to be separated, sparking an armed clash with brutal white island authorities that will make Ko'olau and his wife, Pi'ilani heroes for the ages."

You Resemble Me” by Dina Amer • USA

From the Press Kit (download at bottom of this page):  


Cultural and intergenerational trauma erupt in this story about two sisters

on the outskirts of 
Paris. After the siblings are torn apart, the eldest, Hasna, struggles to find her identity, leading to a choice that shocks the world. Director Dina Amer takes on one of the darkest issues of our time and deconstructs it in an intimate story about family, love, sisterhood, and belonging.


As a Muslim Egyptian woman living in the West, I’ve struggled to reconcile pieces of my identity that feel contradictory. I am a woman who has spent the majority of my life praying discreetly in public spaces (airports are the hardest). And yet I don’t look like what most of society envisions as a Muslim woman. I don’t wear a hijab and I love Cardi B. Throughout my life I’ve lived through the shadow of how the failure to reconcile a Muslim Western identity with such clear contradictions can result in a haunting headline. [This is just a short excerpt]

I couldn't get an embed code, but here's a link to the trailer.  I'd recommend watching it.

From the AIFF Facebook page, here's some other films at the Bear Tooth

Monday, November 28, 2022

Cancelled Wiz Leads To Seattle's Pacific Science Center

 The Wiz was not high on my todo list.  It wasn't even on my todo list.  But when invited to accompany my daughter and granddaughter to see the Wiz, I, of course, said yes!

The ferry into Seattle was jammed with Seahawks fans.

We made our way to the Art Museum restaurant for lunch and while eating my daughter got a voice mail saying that the afternoon performance of The wiz wasn't.  An hour before the show we learn it was cancelled? That's even more bewildering because looking on line today I find this at the 5th Avenue Theater site:

"Masks will be encouraged but optional for audience members at The 5th for performances of The Wiz. We strongly recommend and encourage the wearing of highly effective masks such as N95, KN95, or KF94.  Please CLICK HERE for further details.

Please note, the performances of The Wiz on November 19, 20 and 27 matinee have been canceled."   

If the matinee was cancelled last weekend, why didn't they notify us sooner?  (I suggested to my daughter that they hadn't sold enough tickets and she responded that they'd been sold out.)

Oh well.  Flexibility.   

The Pacific Science Center at the site of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair was my granddaughter's immediate alternative destination.  That meant a short rail ride to the monorail, then the monorail to the Space Needle.  

A walk over to the Science Center and to the laser show.  

I was underwhelmed.  I  expected a laser show in 2022 to be more than lots of moving squiggles and primitive cartoons backed with lame electronic music.  (Note:  I like good electronic music.)

A bathroom break.  This was probably the best surprise of the Science Center.  Most surfaces had great sciencish cartoons.  Though this one leaves a sexist conclusion that lacks some key context.  Did they have this same example in the women's room?  (I think you can click on this to enlarge and focus it, but I won't know until it's actually up.)

Then we engaged in various science activities while waiting for a 4pm planetarium show.  Some time in my favorite spot - the butterfly garden.  

Parts do look like they were built 60 years ago for the World's Fair.  

A four o'clock planetarium show was going to get us to a late ferry back to Bainbridge. And we found out that planetarium had an open house, so to speak, where people could drop in and ask questions.  So we got to visit various planets and moons.  It's been a while since I've considered how amazing and humbling the universe is.  All those stars and planets out there that we only have a tiny inkling about.  

From there, we wandered over to the Space Needle.  It seems the women decided that this was a good opportunity for my  granddaughter to go to the top of the Space Needle since both her parents have separate reasons for not taking an elevator 60 stories up in order to look 60 stories down and Grandpa was a perfect escort.  

It's been 60 years since I went to the top of the Space Shuttle, when three friends and I drove up to the World's Fair in 1962 in a '32 Model A Ford.  My memory of being up there is rather hazy.  

But I remember yesterday pretty clearly still.  There are three public floors.  In the top one you can wander around inside with glass walls, drinks, snacks, photo opportunities, or wander around semi-outside, with large glass walls and benches.  The picture above was from that level.  

I'd point out that if you find the green ferris wheel you can see one of the ferries to Bainbridge and Bremerton right behind it.

Here's another view of that outside top area of the Space Needle.

Then there is a middle level that didn't seem to have windows, but did have bathrooms.  
Finally, the lower level also had windows all around.  And it had a ring of floor, sort of like a ring around Saturn, that was glass and slowly rotated.  That took some instinct erasing to step on.

Then back on the monorail to the light rail and a walk back to the ferry where we encountered the Seahawks fans once again.  You couldn't tell their team had lost.  They were loud and chanting - one person shouting "Sea" and the crowd answering "Hawks."  There also seemed to be some testosterone at work.  Though a women managed to push one of the excited ones back until a security officer took him off somewhere. 

And finally, as the ferry left the terminal in downtown Seattle, we could look back up to the Space Needle - that tall tower just left of the center.  

A long and busy day with two of my favorite people.  

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Obituaries Should Be Published At Least A Year Before People Die

 As I read the obituaries in the Anchorage Daily News, I come across people that I really, really wish I would have known and could have talked to about their apparently incredible lives.  Waiting until they are dead means I've missed the opportunity.  

And this thought was reinforced when I saw this note about Alfred Nobel's premature obituary:

"To prepare for your next cultural activity in Värmland, ask yourself this: what would you do if you read your own (accidental) obituary? In Alfred Nobel’s case, an obituary published by mistake on a French newspaper made him re-examine his whole life. See, the Swedish chemist held 355 different patents and one of them was for the invention of the dynamite. But after a long career producing firearms and weapons for sale, he decided he didn’t want his legacy to be “the merchant of death”. So he funneled all of his considerable fortune to form the Nobel Prize Institute, which awards 'outstanding contributions to humanity'”.

Not only do early obituaries give the living a chance to meet interesting people before they die, but, in Nobel's case, it gave him the opportunity to reflect on his life and legacy.  

There are a number of folks today who might be able to repair some of the damage they've done in the world if faced with their obituaries a year or more before they die. 

And then there are people who might be able to edit what their children write about them.  We could publish an obituary cliche list that people could use to be a bit more authentic.  First obituary cliche entry would be: "he married the love of his life."  

I ran across this excerpt at Culturetrip.tcom while trying to find out more about Värmland, the county where the Story of Gösta Berling takes place, preparation for Monday night's book club meeting. I've put up some quotes from Gösta Berling in the last post.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Giving Things Away This Thanksgiving

We're on Bainbridge Island visiting with family for Thanksgiving.  I've been walking more than biking just because a) most roads here are either up or down or both and b) bikes get, if at all, narrow space on the side of two lane roads.  

The other day I walked past this gifting and receiving stand.  It's on a small dead end street that doesn't get much traffic, but there is a walk way that goes through to a main road.  

This one is a nice idea, but I suspect it will have little impact on recycling, but perhaps it will cause people to think about buying stuff.  

Other related efforts that seem to have a bigger impact are Freecycle and Buy Nothing.

"Freecycling is when a person passes along, for free, an unwanted item to another person who needs that item. From silverware to mobile homes, people worldwide are choosing to freecycle rather than discard. The practice frees up space in landfills and cuts down on the need to manufacture new goods. Thousands of groups dedicated to connecting people who want to give away something to people with a need are forming worldwide. Here are three steps you can take to join the freecycling movement."

And Buy Nothing.

THE BUY NOTHING PROJECT is an international network of local gift economies. Buy Nothing offers people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors. We believe that communities are more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and joyful when they have functional gift economies

Both use the internet to help neighbors give away what they don't need and find things they need.

And as we celebrate Thanksgiving, with businesses salivating for Christmas sales,  it's a good time

Inflation could steal Christmas, but shoppers are finding ways around it  (Washington Post)

Sunday, November 20, 2022

A Lesson In Simple People Power From Sweden, Late 1800s

The Story of Gósta Berling by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlof is the story of people in rural Sweden in the late 1800s.  People deal with evil spirits and the word of God, the beauty and the dangers of nature, and the challenges of making a living in the northern regions of earth.  There are rich people and poor, good and evil, hard workers and lazy.  

It shouldn't be surprising how much human beings then and there are like people here and now.  

The villagers have walked out at the end of the Sunday services in the local church.   Their protest is quiet and simple and effective.  A lesson for us today to think of ways to creatively make our protests known. 

This excerpt takes place in a later chapter called The Drought.  It's late summer and there has been no rain since June.  Crops are dying, forest fires are burning.  People are getting desperate.  All are questioning if it is their behavior that has caused God to withhold the rain.  

"It was a Sunday in August. The service was over. The people wandered in groups along the sunny roads. On all sides they saw burned woods and ruined crops. There had been many forest fires; and what they had spared, insects had taken.  

The gloomy people did not lack for subjects of conversation. There were many who could tell how hard it had been in the years of famine of eighteen hundred and eight and nine, and in the cold winter of eighteen hundred and twelve, when the sparrows froze to death. They knew how to make bread out of bark, and how the cows could be taught to eat moss.

There was one woman who had tried a new kind of bread of cranberries and corn-meal. She had a sample with her, and let the people taste it. She was proud of her invention.

But over them all floated the same question. It stared from every eye, was whispered by every lip: “Who is it, O Lord, whom Thy hand seeks?”

A man in the gloomy crowd which had gone westward, and struggled up Broby hill, stopped a minute before the path which led up to the house of the mean Broby clergyman. He picked up a dry stick from the ground and threw it upon the path.  

“Dry as that stick have the prayers been which he has given our Lord,” said the man.

He who walked next to him also stopped. He took up a dry branch and threw it where the stick had fallen.

“That is the proper offering to that priest,” he said.

The third in the crowd followed the others’ example.

“He has been like the drought; sticks and straw are all that he has let us keep.”

The fourth said: “We give him back what he has given us.”

And the fifth: “For a perpetual disgrace I throw this to him. May he dry up and wither away like this branch!”

“Dry food to the dry priest,” said the sixth.

The people who came after see what they are doing and hear what they say. Now they get the answer to their long questioning.

“Give him what belongs to him! He has brought the drought on us.”

And each one stops, each one says his word and throws his branch before he goes on.

In the corner by the path there soon lies a pile of sticks and straw,—a pile of shame for the Broby clergyman.

That was their only revenge. No one lifted his hand against the clergyman or said an angry word to him. Desperate hearts cast off part of their burden by throwing a dry branch on the pile. They did not revenge themselves. They only pointed out the guilty one to the God of retribution."

“If we have not worshipped you rightly, it is that man’s fault. Be pitiful, Lord, and let him alone suffer! We mark him with shame and dishonor. We are not with him.

It soon became the custom for every one who passed the vicarage to throw a dry branch on the pile of shame.

The old miser soon noticed the pile by the roadside. He had it carried away,—some said that he heated his stove with it. The next day a new pile had collected on the same spot, and as soon as he had that taken away a new one was begun.

The dry branches lay there and said: “Shame, shame to the Broby clergyman!”

Soon the people’s meaning became clear to him. He understood that they pointed to him as the origin of their misfortune. It was in wrath at him God let the earth languish. He tried to laugh at them and their branches; but when it had gone on a week, he laughed no more. Oh, what childishness! How can those dry sticks injure him? He understood that the hate of years sought an opportunity of expressing itself."

The book's copyright is long over and you can read the book at Gutenberg.org or you can listen to a Swede reading it in English at the Internet Archive here.   This chapter is Part II, Chapter XVI.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Who Pays For It Scam? The Propaganda Campaign

This video is good.  It will take about 30 minutes of your time.  It's better to watch it, but go ahead and listen to it while you are doing other mindless tasks you can do without thinking.  Kneading bread, putting away dishes, working out, or if that's not your thing, baking a cake.  

I'm not even asking you to listen to the whole thing, because I think once you start it you'll watch the rest.  

He takes fairly complex stuff and makes it pretty simple.  BUT, since we all have been so programmed, you do have to think a little bit to understand the programming - Who Pays? - and how the question is only asked for social welfare issues and not for military spending or tax cuts, particularly tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy.  

Some key themes that come up:

  • Long term programing through repetition of "Who pays?" and "What about the debt?"
  • How this programming evolved - from trying to convince average folks (didn't work) to convincing news media and members of Congress (works).  
  • How media then use the fake think tank 'experts' as 'experts' on news programs.
  • How news media are either unable to counter these ideas or bought and paid for so the won't.  Even PBS and NPR get caught up in this.  
All done with humor.  Ideally, when you watch or read news, you'll think about this video and not be taken in so easily.  He's talking about the relentless attacks of "Who Pays For It?" for social programs but not other government expenditures.  But you should be thinking about framing on all the other issues as well.  

One thing that emerges in the video is how little viewers actually know about the background of the guests on most media news programs - don't know their past or even current involvement with organizations that have a vested interest in the topic.  So here's Maza's Wikipedia page to start your awareness of who he is.  

OK, Carlos Maza is no Hasan Minaj*, but probably if he had Minaj's budget, staff, and researchers, he might get there.  If you don't know who Minaj is, you can watch his Patriot Act series on Netflix which picks a national issue and gets rid of the smoke and mirrors so you can see the wizards behind each scam he covers.  More recently he did The King's Jester on Netflix - also fantastic.  Maza covers some similar ground, but technically at a much more basic level.   No Netflix?  Here's a bit of The King's Jester on Youtube.  Well, I just watched it so I wouldn't be steering you wrong.  This appears to be a show where he worked with some of the material for King's Jester, but didn't really pull it all together into the show that talks about the importance of standing up to powerful people. And the personal risks.  The King's Jester is terrific.  This Youtube piece is, well, okay.  

*I realize there is some talk online about Minaj not treating some staff well. But the reports are really vague. I'm not saying there is nothing there, but given the kinds of people Minaj takes on, one can also see them doing campaigns like this to cut off his message. Patriot Act was not renewed by Netflix.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

How Wisely Did The No Constitutional Convention Campaign Spend Its Money?

The Alaska Constitution requires a ballot measure on the ballot every ten years, asking voters whether there should be a new constitutional convention.  This year Alaska held the sixth such election.  

Those pushing for an election had two main goals:

1.  To make abortion illegal by either cutting out the Constitution's privacy language, adding new language that would outright ban abortions and/or say the privacy section doesn't cover abortions.

2.  Make the process for choosing judges more political so they could get judges who will not interpret the privacy clause to allow abortions.

There were any number of additional far right goals that they would love to tamper with if they got the chance.  

The measure lost decisively on Tuesday.  Mail-in, absentee, and questioned ballots are likely to make the No vote even higher and there's no way they could change the outcome.  


An Anchorage Daily News article today tells us:

"Defend Our Constitution dominated spending 80 to 1.

They recently reported spending $4 million and raising $4.7 million. The donations came mostly from Outside organizations like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which is based in Washington, D.C. and has been described as a left-wing dark money group.*

Convention YES spent about $50,000, usually from small contributions from individual Alaskans, allowing them to make small ad purchases."

So, how effectively did both sides spend their money?  It's hard to know.  But since we've been voting on this question every ten years now since 1972, we can at least look at the margin of victory for the NO vote over the decades:

Alaska Constitutional Convention Question (1972)
Defeated No55,38965.49%
From Ballotpedia

Alaska Measure 1 (1982)
Defeated No108,31962.93%
From Ballotpedia

Alaska Constitutional Convention Question (1992)
Defeated No142,73562.70%
From Ballotpedia

2002 was 72% No;  28% Yes.  [This image from Alaska Division of Elections because I couldn't find the 2002 election from Ballotpedia.]

Alaska Ballot Measure 1
Defeated No17956766.59%

Alaska Ballot Measure 1


Defeated No

From Ballotpedia   2022   [These numbers will change when all the mail-in and absentee ballots are added in.]

So, the highest NO vote has been 72% NO in 2002.  The lowest No vote was 62.7% in 1972.  

I'm guessing they could have spent $2 million and still defeated the measure soundly.  Probably $1 million.  The extra $2-3 million could have done the state a lot more good spent on the governor's race and a few of the state legislative races.  

I suspect a lot of money was wasted in this campaign.  Sometimes you don't know, but in this case we have ten years of election results suggesting Alaskans aren't interested in a Constitutional Convention.  

*I'd note that "has been described as a left-wing dark money group" is just troublesome language.  Use of the passive voice allows you to say something happened without saying who did it.  "Has been described as" could be pinned onto nearly any phrase.  And 'dark money group' is a short hand cliche that means 'bad'.  I'd bet half the readers would have trouble giving an accurate definition and they certainly wouldn't all define it to mean the same thing or in a way that would accurately describe the Sixteen Thirty Fund.  

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

However The Night Ends, Remember These Two Things

 1.  However things turn out, remember that more people will have voted for Democratic candidates than Republican.  Only a Senate that gives small states (Wyoming and Alaska both have under 1,000,000 populations) the same number of Senators as large states (California has almost 40 million and New York has 20 million) and gerrymandered House maps cause the outcome to seem close. 

2.  Whatever the results, we must continue the struggle for respect, decency, understanding, and democracy.  No gloating if the results are good, no giving up if they aren't.  

The 2024 election begins Monday.  Lots of people have to talk to people about their values and where they came from and listen to others do the same.  Here's one path forward:

I worked at a polling place today from 10:30 to 2:30.  Everyone was cordial to everyone.  Even when a ballot got jammed in the machine and people had to wait, they were calm and reasonable.  (I did have home made chocolate chip cookies as compensation for the wait to fix the machine.)

Click to enlarge

Alaska has great I VOTED stickers.  The blue Alaska flag stickers and then some alternate stickers designed by kids.  

Monday, November 07, 2022

56% Of the Alaska Redistricting Board Expenditures Were Legal Fees


This is a budget post.  Not for the faint of heart. One has to look at numbers and then answer these questions:

Did the Board spend its money wisely?

Did anything stand out as you looked at the budget?  What does it mean?

In this and a second budget post I'm going to:

  1. Post the copy of the budget I got as of July 22, 2022 
    1. for those with more budget savvy and 
    2. as a precedent, so that future Redistricting Board budgets get published and reviewed publicly
  2. The Board's biggest single expense category was Legal Fees.  In this post I look a bit more closely at the section on Legal expenses and raise some issues to consider in the future 
  3. Raise some questions about the payments made to Board Members (in a later post).  The only conclusion I can make at this point is that saying the Board Members were volunteers, as many people did, is more than slightly misleading.  

I feel a bit like a sculptor who has a slab of marble and is trying to release the statue that is hidden inside the stone.  I have a slab of data in the form of budget expenditures and I’m trying to figure out how to release the meaning of that data in a way that makes sense to the reader. And I’m also not completely sure what the meaning of all the data is myself.   

I’ve had a copy of the Alaska Redistricting Board’s budget as of July 22, 2022 since that date and I’ve been walking around it trying to figure out where to start chipping away.  I went through it and sent a bunch of questions to the Executive Director which he answered in detail.  

Budgets, on the surface, are lists of categories and numbers.  While they (should) list all the expenditures, one needs some experience and skill to tease out what's hidden between the lines.  I don't claim to be a fluent interpreter of budgets.  

The point of reviewing the budget is to keep the Board accountable in terms of the public monies it spent.  The underlying question one needs to answer is:

Did they use their money efficiently and effectively?

To make that determination, a budget analyst might ask: 

  1. Did the Board stay within its budget?  
  2. Are there any unusual expenditures?

1.  Did the Board stay within its budget?  

$3.5 million were allocated to the Board (Board Executive Director Peter Torkelson said this was based on what the 2010 Board spent), but the 2020 Board only spent $1.97 million by July 22, 2022 when the Board staff sent me the budget. 

Of course, staying within your budget assumes that the original budget was reasonable.  Comparing it to the 2010 Board is one benchmark.  A big savings this round, according to Board Executive Director Torkelson, was that in 2010 the trial was in Fairbanks so there were lots of travel expenses. But there was also more significant litigation AFTER the second Proclamation was approved in 2010.  That Board did NOT broadcast its regular Anchorage meetings across the state.  But I don't know that there is a better comparison organization.  And this Board spent considerably less, so far.  

Of that $1.97 million total,  $1,111,513.46 went to SCHWABE WILLIAMSON & WYATT, the company that won the contract to give legal advice and to represent the Board in court. (Link shows proposals for all firms that submitted them including Schwabe).   

That's the main thing that stood out for me.  I also have questions about how much money was spent on retirement funds and other things that suggested Board members were possibly treated as state employees rather than volunteer Board members.  But I'm awaiting more information and that will be another budget post.

Did The Board Spend The Money Wisely?

I would note that I believe that the Board staff was dedicated to serving the public interest. My belief is based on numerous conversations - in person, by phone, by email - that I had with staff, particularly the Executive Director Peter Torkelson.  He was always forthcoming with information and documents - including sending me this copy of the budget.  I also closely observed the Board in action from December 2020 through the last meeting held in May 2022. Torkelson put an unprecedented amount of information on the Board's website.  Well, "unprecedented" is not a high bar, considering what little past Boards did. The previous Board also did much more than past boards had.  Technology has moved quickly and Torkelson had the skills and public interest values to take advantage of it. 

 I hope future Boards can match the level of transparency of this Board.  Not only was there an enormous amount of documentation (maps, transcripts and video and audio of meetings, transcripts of public input, etc.) but it was also put up with minimum delay - sometimes immediately, often within a day, usually within a few days, rarely more than a week.   

I suspect this budget reflects a Board and staff that was pretty much playing by the rules when it comes to how money was spent.  Some Board members may have spent more on travel and hotels than others, but not enough to matter that much.  The Board probably could have saved a bit of money here or there, but this organization reincarnates once a decade with new players and it's reasonable to expect them to learn along the way.  And in many cases, there were extra expenses due to the Board being transparent in ways past Boards haven't been.  

The only large expenses that immediately stand out as avoidable are the legal costs for defending the second Proclamation Plan that continued the attempt to give Eagle River two Senate seats.  We don't know what the attorney advised in Executive Session, but we do know the three Republican majority members of the Board were more than eager to make that decision.

The Whole Budget:   

Alaska Redistricting Board Fy22 Spending as of July 22, 2022 by Steve on Scribd

Just Because the Grass Is Green, Doesn't Mean Someone Painted It Green
Just because 85-90% of the legal fees came after the original Proclamation Plan was approved, doesn't mean the attorneys advice caused that.  A key reason for the delay in posting this has been my concern that by raising the idea that an attorney might increase his income by insuring post Proclamation litigation, readers would conclude that happened.  Voters these days believe some of the most implausible accusations against candidates and parties.  In those cases it's mostly pure fiction, while in this case there are facts that show most of the legal fees were post Proclamation.   Can I even raise the issue without having some readers conclude this was intentional?  Probably not.  But while I can't rule it out 100%, I have NO evidence to suggest the timing was anything but the natural flow of the redistricting process and I will outline below why I think it's highly unlikely there was any intentional action by the Board's attorneys.  I raise this possibility only because I thought it could happen in the future and so legislators and Board members in 2030 and beyond should just be aware of it.  After writing this all out, I don't think this is an issue.
Some may say I protest too much here, but 1) the budget begs for this issue to be raised and 2) once raised it should be quickly dismissed without reflecting poorly on the attorneys who represented the Board.

On the other hand, there were unnecessary legal expenses to defend the second Proclamation Plan, but that was due to the Board's Republican Majority's decision.  I'll mention briefly that below. 

The Legal Expenses - 85-90% were paid after the First Proclamation Plan was approved

The chart below shows the payments made to the attorneys' firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt over time.  The first column shows key events in the timeline in relationship to the payments.  

9/01/2021 - 10/25/2021 ($55,904) The first payments were made while the attorneys attended Board meetings and gave advice to the Board to help the Board understand the parameters for their mapping decisions set by the Alaska and US Constitutions and past Supreme Court decisions as well as other Federal and State legislation.

11/22/21- 1/25/22 ($229,626) -  Proclamation Plan was approved 11/10/21.  After this date the plan was complete.  The attorneys' bill goes up sharply in response to the five lawsuits challenging the Board.  It was also after there was a sharp public rupture between the majority of three Republican Board members and the two members not identified by party.  That dispute only related to one of the five lawsuits - the two Eagle River Senate seats.  The other four would have been filed anyway and would have required a lot of attorney time.  

3/15/22 - 3/16/22 ($370,015) - Judge Matthews ruled on 2/15/22.  These bills clearly represent work done earlier, during the trial and then work appealing parts of his decision and responding to plaintiffs' appeals. 

3/29/22 ($175,797) - The Alaska Supreme Court ruled on 3/25/22.  

4/25/22 ($122,141) - The Board picks Option B for second Proclamation Plan (which still gave Eagle River two Senate seats) on 4/13/22.  

5/31/22 - 7/1/22 ($158,029) - The Superior Court and the Supreme Court ruled on May 17 and May 24 respectively.  Both essentially told the Board to join the Eagle River house districts into one Senate seat.  The Board quickly complied.  At this point, we await the longer Supreme Court decision which will explain its ruling in detail (setting precedents for future Boards) and decide whether the 2022 map will become the permanent map or have the Board make the final map.  I've written about the factors that likely will affect that determination here.


Date of expenditure


Category of Expense



















Proclamation Plan approved 













2/16/22   Judge Matthews ruling













3/25  Supreme Court Rules





4/13  Board picks Option 3B 





5/17/22 - Judge Matthews 2nd Ruling

5/24/22- Supreme Court Ruling










[This table combined information from the budget as provided to me by the Board's Executive Director plus dates I retrieved from blog posts on this site.]

What do the charts tell us about the legal representation?

  1. We have to take these figures and the juxtapositioning with dates of payments and events with a grain of salt.  The timing of the bills and the State's actual expenditures doesn't necessarily neatly match when the work was done.  Rather, it reflects when the firm was able to calculate and submit the bills and the State issued payment. 
  2. That said, the bulk of the attorney costs come after the initial Proclamation Plan was completed.  The bills are for litigation, only a tiny fraction for advice.  Peter Tolkerson told me via email that "Non attorney time and costs make up less than 10% of total legal spend. . . Non-attorney staff [para-legals] costs have run about 4% of total legal spend."
  3. Did the Board get hit with excessive legal fees?  I'm guessing not.  There have always been challenges to Redistricting Board proclamations.  This time the Board's attorney had to fend off five challenges at once in a very short period.  Four of the challenges were for decisions the whole Board agreed on.  One (Eagle River Senate seat(s)) was for a decision the Board was  bitterly split on.  Did the attorney give advice that the majority's decision was defensible or did he advise against it?  We don't know.  It happened in Executive Session.  We do know that the two minority Board members argued publicly, loudly, and ultimately correctly, that the Eagle River decisions in both the first and second Proclamation plans were unconstitutional and they would lose in court.                                                  We also know that the original "legal subcommittee" was made up of the two attorneys on the Board - Budd Simpson and Nicole Borromeo.  But sometime later a new subcommittee formed that had only Simpson and John Binkley. Borromeo was cut out of the process.   So it's possible we will eventually hear about some of what happened behind closed doors at Executive Sessions, it's unlikely we'll hear anything about what happened after Borromeo was replaced on the legal subcommittee..  
  4. More experienced and astute budget analysts might well be able to distill more information from the budget as presented to me.  I hope publishing it here will pique their interest and if I missed something important, someone else will raise it.
  5. Below are some additional emailed comments about the legal portion of the budget in response to questions I had about how the Board was actually billed.  I'd noted in my question that the Schawbe bid for the contract had included a slightly discounted half day and full day rate instead of the hourly rate.  Again, from Peter Torkelson:
"The RFP response offered some discounts and then we negotiated further for additional savings.  The more meaningful savings have been the bulk discount we hammered out with the original contract.*  At the time we weren't sure we would need it, but in retrospect, that was naive. We were likely to rack up significant bills for any number of our unanimous decisions, as you noted (Valdez, Matsu, Skagway etc). *The negotiated bulk discount is 5%  Of Counsel and Paralegal fees (not partner attorney fees) from total firm billings of $100k - $500k and 7.5% from 500k to $1M and 10% over $1M per calendar year.  So far we have saved about $20k."      [I had to get clarification on "5% Of Counsel." Torkelson wrote back "'Of Counsel' is a common title for attorneys in a law firm who are not yet partners.]

Torkelson also noted that because the trials were in Anchorage this time (2010 trial was in Fairbanks), the Board saved money on travel and lodging compared to the previous Board.   

Is there credible evidence that the Board's attorney intentionally gave the Board advice that would increase the likelihood of Post Proclamation litigation?  [Spoiler Alert:  No!]

The only 'evidence' that there might have been bad advice with the intent to increase post Proclamation litigation is purely theoretical.  It's this: 

1.  Law firms are for profit businesses.  Their goal is to make as much money as they can.  If 90% of the income from representing the Alaska Redistricting Board comes from defending the Board from post-proclamation legal challenges, there’s an incentive there to make sure there are legal challenges.  

That's it. It's theoretical. No facts.

What then is my evidence that would suggest that just as grass grows green naturally, extensive litigation flows naturally from Redistricting Proclamation plans?

1.  There are other incentives for attorneys besides money.

I emailed the Board's attorney, Matt Singer, to find out what his motivations for bidding on the contract were.  

"I'm doing a post on the Redistricting Board Budget and the fact that about 56% of the budget went to legal fees and of the legal fees, about 90% were paid after the original Proclamation Plan was approved.  I'm trying to come up with a list of reasons why a law firm would seek such a contract in addition to money.  Could you send me the list of reasons you and your firm bid on this contract? 

His response was longer and a lot more thoughtful than I expected.  

"Regarding your question below, in outdoor pursuits, we use the phrase "Type II fun" to describe a task that is difficult at the time, but feels rewarding afterward, often because it challenges the practitioner to test their limits and grow. I'd call Redistricting a Type II kind of fun for a lawyer. The subject matter is fascinating and nuanced, the issues are important, the work is very demanding, and it is all done under immense time pressure and scrutiny (including by friendly bloggers like yourself). 

In addition, our "Hickel process" in Alaska redistricting is a deep dive into culture, history, geography, transportation, and a myriad of other interesting tidbits about how Alaskans live, work and play. Many of us who chose to make our professions here in Alaska did so out of a deep interest and admiration for this great state. Redistricting, at its core, is about understanding Alaska and its people. We were blessed with a board that collectively has covered just about every inch of this state, and so being a fly on the wall for their discussions and deliberations was a great privilege.

I suspect it is no coincidence that many of the lawyers who competed with us in response to the Board's RFP ended up being lawyers representing challengers in the redistricting process. For those of us interested in the subject matter, it would be hard not to get involved if given the opportunity. 

Lawyers are interested in working on redistricting for many of the same reasons that you have taken the time to follow and write about the subject. Are you doing it for the money, or are there other factors at play?"

I got to watch Singer extensively at Board meetings and Court hearings.  We even interacted a few times.  My gut says that this is a sincere response to my question and not carefully crafted argument to sway a friendly blogger.  There are more incentives than money involved.   

Another key incentives that come to mind is upholding one's reputation, and giving bad advice doesn't help that at all.  

2.  Litigation naturally flows from redistricting Proclamation Plans - The Statutes and Constitution even anticipate that

In a follow up email Singer wrote: 

". . .it sounded like you are musing about why the attorney’s fees are mostly incurred after the proclamation plan is adopted.  This is a bit like musing about why most of a book’s pages come after the prologue.  In Alaska redistricting, litigation has been a part of the process in every cycle since statehood, and the litigation follows the adoption of the proclamation.  In other words, the time consuming legal work comes after the proclamation.  As you saw this round, even parties with longshot claims will file lawsuits in a bid to influence the outcome.

Litigation in redistricting is such a certainty that our legislature defined the role of the Board’s lawyer as this: “defend the plan and board in all matters concerning redistricting until a final plan for redistricting and a proclamation of redistricting have been adopted and all challenges to them brought under art. VI, sec. 11, Constitution of the State of Alaska, have been resolved after final remand or affirmation.”  Alaska Statute 15.10.220." 

Let's also look at art. VI, sec 11 of the Alaska Constitution that he cites :

"Any qualified voter may apply to the superior court to compel the Redistricting Board, by mandamus or otherwise, to perform its duties under this article or to correct any error in redistricting. Application to compel the board to perform must be filed not later than thirty days following the expiration of the ninety-day period specified in this article. Application to compel correction of any error in redistricting must be filed within thirty days following the adoption of the final redistricting plan and proclamation by the board. Original jurisdiction in these matters is vested in the superior court. On appeal from the superior court, the cause shall be reviewed by the supreme court on the law and the facts. Notwithstanding section 15 of article IV, all dispositions by the superior court and the supreme court under this section shall be expedited and shall have priority over all other matters pending before the respective court. Upon a final judicial decision that a plan is invalid, the matter shall be returned to the board for correction and development of a new plan. If that new plan is declared invalid, the matter may be referred again to the board. [Amended 1998]" [emphasis added]

3.  Four of the six challenges to the board were on decisions the board had agreed to unanimously.  I say six challenges, though two were related to the same issue - the Eagle River Senate pairings.  One brought by one set of plaintiffs after the first Plan and another brought by different plaintiffs after the second plan.

4.  Redistricting law is complicated and ambiguous.  It is made up of the Federal and State Constitutions, (including the minutes of the Alaska State Constitutional Convention), Federal and State statutes, and what judges have interpreted in prior Redistricting court cases.  One has to sift through all that to guess what will be ruled legal or illegal.  For example, the Board unanimously agreed to pull Cantwell out of the Mat-su Borough and put it into a huge Interior district so that it was with other Ahtna villages.  This was despite clear past court rulings that Boroughs should not be broken if at all possible and it violated the Constitutional requirement for compactness.  The Board knew the law was against this decision.  But it was also a strong request by the Calista and Ahtna Native Corporations arguing the Cantwell was Socio-Economically Integrated with the other Ahtna villages.  It didn’t involve a lot of people - maybe 200, and fewer actual voters.  It was challenged by the Valdez plaintiffs and by Mat-Su.  The Superior Court judge let it be in his ruling.  But the Supreme Court said they couldn’t do it.  Putting Cantwell back into a Mat-Su district didn’t get either Valdez or Mat-Su the bigger changes they wanted.  The point here is that there are lots of ways an attorney can justify a decision and lots of ways one can challenge a decision.  And it’s also unclear whether the advice would result in a lawsuit or not, or which way the Court will rule.  I’d note that had Valdez been originally put in a district that went up the highway to Fairbanks, they probably wouldn’t have challenged the decision even if Cantwell had been part of that district.  Maybe Mat-Su wouldn’t have sued either.

5.  Redistricting happens every ten years and only a few attorneys get involved in Alaska.  So there are relatively few opportunities to practice redistricting law and to become an expert in this area.  Understanding it well comes from reading everything about it - nationally and locally - and being involved in the process.  Both paths together help bring a better understanding.  And both take a lot of time, more than most lawyers who aren’t involved have time for.  And because redistricting only happens once a decade, there may well not be a chance to use one's expertise in court again.

 6.  Redistricting is highly political and somebody will always believe they were the loser and the map should be changed to accommodate their grievance.  This is implied in my second point - there's always litigation.  Someone or several someones will be aggrieved enough to pay an attorney to challenge some part of the Board's final map.  It's happened in every round of Alaska redistricting.


My conclusion is that it makes no sense to misadvise the Board in hopes of increasing litigation.  An attorney can give the Board the best possible advice and there will still be litigation.  

I'm leaving out two other areas of exploration that might fit in this post.  

  • An examination of the kinds of advice Singer did give the Board.  
    • There were key areas where at times the advice seemed either overly broad and/or it changed.  This was particularly true in terms of the early mantra - everything within a Borough is Socio-Economically Integrated (SEI).  At one point this stretched to: Mat-Su and Anchorage have had overlapping districts so everything in Anchorage and Mat-Su is Socio-economically integrated.  And then at another point - since Mat-Su and Valdez have shared a district, they are SEI.  And since Mat-Su and Anchorage are SEI, all three are SEI. Ultimately the Eagle River Senate seats were overturned, at least in part, by a similar concept - communities of interest - which judges said were not the same in all Anchorage neighborhoods.
    • Other concepts like contiguity and the role of public participation in redistricting offered challenges in this round of redistricting, but these are matters for the court to decide
  • A look at the nature of the attorney-client relationship
    • Alaska Legal Rules of Professional Conduct outlines what is expected of attorneys.  Eagle River plaintiffs' attorney Holly Wells raised the issue of different ways to think about this relationship when it comes to attorneys of public entities.  Is their duty to the whole Board, the Board majority, the public, and how do you balance these?  Matt Singer would rightly point back to the role of the attorney to the Board he cited above from the statutes.
    • Directly related is what role public testimony should play in redistricting.  Superior Court Judge Matthews ruled that the Board didn't give it enough weight in both the Eagle River suit or the Skagway suit.  The Supreme Court disagreed in the Skagway case, and we haven't yet heard their thinking on this in the Eagle River case which they seemed to rule against the Board based on other issues.  
    • Conflicts of interest also have to be explored - This came to light when Valdez attorney pointed out that the Board's attorney also represented Ahtna Corporation in two upcoming Supreme Court cases and claimed that he should have told the Board that when they were considering Ahtna's role in getting the Cantwell moved out of the Mat-Su district.  
    • The attorney's role is to explain the law as best he can and predict the likelihood of winning in court.  The Board then weighs that advice and decides how much risk they are willing to take.  But in this case, the client (the Board) does not bear the financial cost of a bad decision, the public does.

This post, many would argue, is already too long.  The first additional point - how redistricting criteria were explained and used and clarification the Supreme Court ought to make - I've already discussed in detail in various previous posts.  Here's one that succinctly identifies key issues/terns I'd like the Court to clarify.
The second point - on the attorney-client relationship - I'd like to explore in a future post.  

To reiterate - I'm personally convinced there was no wrong-doing on the part the Board's attorney to increase the post Proclamation litigation.  There was no need since it happens anyway even with the very best advice.  


 (Yes, I've been toying with this way too long.  But this is more for the 2030 Board than for today.  The only deadline I've given myself is to post this before the Supreme Court publishes its full opinion to supplement its brief ruling back in May.  And I figure that won't happen at least until after the November 8 election.  So I'm closing in on that deadline.  People are probably focused on other things right now, but I need to get this up finally.)