Sunday, April 30, 2023

$229 Million Settlement Is More Than 1/3 Of Santa Monica's Budget For Sex Offenses

The Richard Winton in the LA Times writes this week: (the link should be accessible) 

"This week, Santa Monica settled more lawsuits, bringing its total payout to $229.285 million — the most costly single-perpetrator sexual abuse disbursement for any municipality in the state."

Imagine what Santa Monica could have done for poor families, for the homeless, for schools, for health care, for $229 million.  That's more than 1/3 of the total Santa Monica budget for 2022-2023!

From the City of Santa Monica, 2022:

"The total adopted budget for the City for FY 2022-23 is $665.4 million."

There's a lot to untangle in this story.  I've got other posts in draft form lined up, but this one tugs at a number of issues I've been mulling over.  With good administration, this shouldn't happen. With good accountability mechanisms this shouldn't have happened for so long.  There are ways to, if not totally prevent such things, certainly to minimize their impact.   But there are also other societal issues that need to be addressed, particularly how we deal with pedophiles.  So let's look at some of the issues here.

1.  The Cost of poor oversight

One study said it was $3 billion over the last ten years.  That's just police!  That's an average of $300 million per year.  But I'm guessing with this single, one quarter of a billion dollar settlement, almost the average annual cost reported in this study, either that $3 billion figure is low, or awards are getting higher.  

But the cost isn't just in money.  The costs include:

  • impacts on the lives of people who were harmed by the police and others.  In the Santa Monica case over 200 kids have reported the employee abused them.  Eighty were part of the settlement
  • impacts on public safety since police were were spending time abusing citizens instead of protecting them, when people are wrongly convicted, the actual perpetrator isn't apprehended
  • impacts on trust in government - among those abused and their families and among the general public when these crimes and settlements are publicized
  • opportunity costs - the costs of things this money could have done (though one of the reports says most of this comes from insurance companies, which means all other organizations pay higher insurance rates, and I'd guess it spills over to the rest of us paying car, health, and other insurance

2.  Why we don't see  

Most people see what they want to see.  

"The confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to search for, favor, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs. For example, if someone is presented with a lot of information on a certain topic, the confirmation bias can cause them to only remember the bits of information that confirm what they already thought."

We also have a truth bias.  Certainly honest people have a tendency to assume others are honest as well. (And there is evidence that most people are basically honest.)

So adding these two tendencies together, we tend to discount indicators of trouble and hold on to more positive interpretations of the behavior we see.  Especially of a person we've known and respected over the years.  "Nah, he couldn't have done that." 

And the people whose behavior is problematic are often (I'm guessing here) quite capable of giving us believable stories to explain away the problems.  This is why it's often a good idea to have outsiders, people who don't know the people involved,  come in to investigate problems.  

But we also have negative biases.  People who complain might be part of an out group - many of the kids in the Santa Monica case were from poor, immigrant families whose parents might fear deportation if they report and are less likely to be believed if they report.  

Most people, I would argue, take a long time before they realize that something is seriously wrong.  And then it takes a long time to report it.  How long did it take you to acknowledge that your (car, toilet, spouse) had a problem.   Then once you accepted it, how long to take action to fix it.

"But his biggest claim to fame was his work as a volunteer in the Police Activities League, where, beginning in the late 1980s, he worked with boys and girls in the nonprofit’s after-school program.

Uller was a familiar face at the PAL center that served Santa Monica’s Latino neighborhoods, often traveling in a police vehicle and befriending generations of youths.

It took decades to uncover that Uller was a sexual predator, the center of a stunning series of crimes that destroyed the lives of children and exposed grave questions as to why it took so long for authorities to uncover what he was doing."

3.  Why why don't act when we do see

Humans seem to have a basic loyalty built in to one's 'group.'  Betraying family, friends, and community (church, work group, etc.) are seen as moral violations and we have lots of negative names for people who do that - snitch, tattletale, traitor, stool-pigeon, etc.  Among law enforcement agencies, this is often known as "the blue wall of silence."

Competing against that loyalty, we have the Rule of Law - a set of moral expectations for people living in a community, in a society.  

When group loyalty comes in conflict with rule of law, individuals face a moral quandary.  Which set of rules should one follow?  We recognize this in the law with rules that allow spouses to not testify against each other, that ban nepotism and other forms of conflict of interest.  I'd argue that the group loyalty is built into our genes, our emotional make up.  The rule of law is something we learn logically.  And strong emotion generally beats out logic.  

“You have to understand in this liberal city, this is a Black and brown part of the city, and no one in the government was watching out for our kids. The Pico neighborhood was marginalized in that era,” said De la Torre, noting that Uller’s abuse occurred “under the shield of law enforcement” and “not one person lost a job” in response to the oversight.

Reporting people in our in-group for breaches of the rule of law  has real, immediate consequences on our families, our social circle, and even on our employment.  

This conflict keeps many from speaking up, even when they see wrong doing.  If you've ever lied to protect a friend, a family member, or someone else you have a close bond with, you understand what I'm talking about.  

3.  When Good Employees Also Do Bad

Seeing wrongdoing becomes particularly difficult when

  • the employee is otherwise exemplary in their job performance

"In nearly three decades as a civilian employee with the Santa Monica Police Department and the city, Eric Uller was considered a standout public servant who won awards for his technological innovations."

  • has work activities where they work independently, where supervision is not close - such as working with youth after school. (I should mention I was an after school playground director at an elementary school to help pay for college, and I was usually alone with the kids, without supervision. No, I didn't abuse that independence, and I suspect most people don't.)

4.  How the US deals with 'wrong' sex

 Right now in the US, there probably aren't many people considered lower than pedophiles. Gay sex used to have a similar stigma (which, given all the anti-trans laws were seeing introduced across the US now), isn't completely gone either.  Sex and marriage between people of different races was also illegal.  Despite a US Supreme Court ruling banning such laws, 

"As of February 3, 2021, seven states still required couples to declare their racial background when applying for a marriage license, without which they cannot marry. The states are Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota (since 1977),[42] New Hampshire, and Alabama."

There are good reasons for our laws against adults having sex with children, though the lines get blurry as the age of the child gets higher and the age of the adult gets lower.  There's no question about why a 30 year old shouldn't have sex with a nine year old.  Yet according to NBC news in 2019:

"Idaho and California are not alone in not having a minimum marriage age. A majority of states, which issue marriage licenses, allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry, a few allow 14-year-olds, and 13 states have no minimum marriage age as of September. Before 2016 — when Virginia became the first state to put its marriage age into law — more than half of the states had no minimum marriage age fixed by statute."

While it appears there are requirements for parental or court approval, it does appear that there are no minimum ages in these states.  I would guess that the proponents for allowing  young marriage often argue that pregnant girls should be allowed to marry the fathers - but I didn't look that up and could be wrong.  

My point in all this is that some sexual preferences are seen as evil while others are perfectly ok. (Though for many, still, sex outside of marriage is frowned on.)  

People don't choose at some point in their lives to be sexually stimulated by one type of sexual encounter or another.  Some argue some attractions are genetic.  Some argue that sexual preferences are based on early sexual encounters.  

People with heterosexual preferences would appear to be the luckiest.  These are what our society condones.  While some people frown on any sex out of marriage, heterosexual sex among the consenting, unmarried seems to be alive and well.   The kinkier the sex and the more people will disapprove.  As people's preferences stray from heterosexual, single partner sex, there is more disapproval.  

But imagine if a person were forbidden from having unmarried heterosexual sex and punished if they did.  Buzzweed lists a number of ways women have been punished in the US, some of which involved sexual acts.

For many people the sexual urge is very powerful, even irresistible.  I suspect that is probably the case of people who view child pornography and who engage in sex with children.  I would only request that people who have been in situations where they could not resist their sexual urges with another person, consider what it would have been like if that other person were legally a child.  Or for people who couldn't resist opening a porn site and watching porn that turned them on.  

I'm not defending pedophiles.  But simply labeling them monsters and locking them up forever is not a good way to reduce pedophilia.  I'm only suggesting that such urges can be hard to control.  And many such relationships that are considered taboo today, have in different periods of time been acceptable.  And sexual practices condoned today were in past times seen as evil.  

But we've evolved in our beliefs that sex should be consensual.  We've evolved in our beliefs that people in positions of authority have a power in the sexual relationship that makes consent, at best, a morally difficult determination.  

And we believe that adults having sex with young children is, without question, non consensual and also an example of an unbalanced power relationship.  

Child pornography is a problem because children have been exploited to produce the images.  Is viewing drawings of child sex as viewing photos and videos?

If AI could produce child pornography (I suspect it already can and does) without any actual children being involved, would that be ok?  Some will argue that such pornography would lead to actual sexual encounters.  But we really don't know how many viewers of child pornography actually go out and find victims.  

My goal here is to raise the question of whether there are ways to recognize some people's sexual attraction to children, even let them indulge in pornography that didn't exploit actual children, and also figure out ways to protect children from sexual predators?  

The person in this article excelled in some aspects of his job.  But he had a taboo sexual attraction to children.  What do you think his options were to seek help from a counselor?  In many situations people who professionally learn about child abuse are mandated to report that to the authorities.  

If this were not such a reviled and taboo attraction, would this employee have been able to seek and get counseling and treatment that would have helped him deal with his inappropriate attractions?  Psych Central says:

"Pedophilic disorder treatment options include medication, hormone, and psychosocial therapies. “Stigma often discourages people from seeking help, but resources are available."

Most mental health problems are stigmatized making it difficult for people to seek help.  Pedophilia  is probably one of the most stigmatized.  

That leads me to offer a few options for reducing sex between adults and children.

Some ways to lessen the incidence of work related pedophilia:

  1. General education to let people know that there are treatments for people sexually attracted to children and reducing the stigma connected to it so people are more likely to seek such treatment  (I realize that this is a long term solution, since people with more common, more visible mental health problems also avoid getting help because of the stigma involved.)
  2. Education in schools that teaches children how to recognize inappropriate touch, acts of grooming, and steps to take when they encounter such behavior.  Erin Merrin came to Alaska in 2015 and got such a program (Erin's Law) adopted, despite the obstacles set by then Senator Dunleavy, under the guise of 'parental rights.'  Now Governor Dunleavy is still using 'parents rights' as a cover for trying to weaken Erin's Law.  Erin's Law has been adopted in a number of states and seems like one of the more promising ways to reduce pedophilia, by educating the potential victims. 
  3. Increased vigilance for situations where children are vulnerable to predatory adults - situations where adults work with children such as playgrounds, social services that care for children, recreational activities such as sports and Boy Scouts.  
  4. Changing the laws that give public employees immunity for lapses at work.  There do need to be protections against lawsuits or people wouldn't become public servants.  I think the bulk of monetary punishment still needs to be born by the agency.  But individuals who make serious mistakes, who don't report abuse they know about (not just sex related) should also have some monetary consequences.  
That's a start.  I'm sure others can think of other ways to do this sort of work.  

Friday, April 28, 2023

Out For A Hike


I try not to drive too much and an Alaskan hazard has kept me from using my car as we await a new windshield.  The car spent much of the winter in the neighbor's driveway, which is much wider than ours.  But sometime during its stay, an icicle crashed down from above and made a very impressive web of cracks right in front of the driver.  The very center is even leaning in.  I've put clear packing tape all across this creation as we wait for a new windshield to make its way north.  I'm still concerned a good bump would send it all crashing in.  They told us it would be four weeks and I called today because it's overdue.  

So my wife's car got us on our first outing for the season.  McHugh Creek tends to have less snow than Anchorage and is a good first hike.  But it was not as snow free as we had expected.  It was also windy until you get into the woods and a gust grabbed my had and it disappeared.  J is usually pretty good at finding things, but didn't see it at all in amongst the trees.  Another couple came by and they were at the right angle to spot it and retrieve it.  

The view of Turnagain Arm never disappoints.  

The entrance to the parking lot was blocked with equipment and there was a new entrance.  At first I though they were rearranging the entrance, but there was road construction ahead, so I'm guessing they're just storing the equipment in there.  

 The upper parking lot (to the Potter trail) had a lot more snow than I remember from past early hikes.  

And the trail had a lot more snow than we expected.  We ran into a group of Air Force guys out exploring around Anchorage.  They weren't that excited about the snow either.  

Potter Marsh was still mostly frozen.  

From the boardwalk it was still snowy and we only saw a few birds - a goose, a duck, an eagle - all in the air.  

Our very snowy winter and colder than normal April still can't hold off spring too long.  There are tulips and daffodils poking through the soil at home.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Monday, April 24, 2023

Supreme Court's Redistricting Opinion Next Steps. Is Marcum Still On The Board?

The Alaska Supreme Court finally issued its Opinion explaining its reasoning for its earlier Orders.  (Three its in one sentence, sorry, I don't have time to make this pretty.)  See this post for more.  The immediate consequence of the decision is that the Alaska Redistricting Board was given 90 days to object to keeping the interim plan in place for the next ten years.  

For those not up on all these details - probably most people - the Court ruled the Board's last two plans  faulty because of gerrymandering.  So the court made a change in the Board's plan for the 2022 election.   The deadline for candidates to file to run for office was nearing and they needed to know what districts they would be running in.  So, that was the interim plan.  

Most of the state map has been approved and won't be affected.  There are only a few house districts in north Anchorage that could possibly be realigned into different Senate seats.  There is no way the court will allow the Board to make changes that would give Republicans more power in the legislature.  So it would seem that remanding the interim plan back to the Board is just a courtesy, maybe a way for the court to allow the Board to technically approve this plan as the actual plan for the next ten years. 

But that means the Board has to 

  1. Reconvene and meet to 
    1. approve the interim plan as the final plan, or
    2. come up with an alternative within those very narrow options they have left and send it with a rationale back to the court
  2. Do nothing and let the 90 days and let the interim plan become the final plan by default

Is Bethany Marcum still on the Board?
At the Alaska Press Club Conference Friday and Saturday, the Court's decision, which was announced Friday morning, was a big topic among some of the journalists who have reported on the Redistricting Board.  
One of the questions that came up was whether Board Member Bethany Marcum was still on the Board.  She's been nominated to the University of Alaska Board of Regents and some speculated that would mean she was off the Board. 

So I emailed Peter Torkelson who still is the Executive Director for the Board.  I asked 
  • Is Marcum still on the Board?
  • If not, since Governor appointed her, would he be appointing a new member?
  • Are all the other members still on the Board?
Peter's normal quick response was that Marcum had resigned on March 23, 2023.  And the legal advisors believe that since the Governor appointed her, he would be the person legally entitled to appoint her successor.  He pointed out that Governor Parnell did that in 2011 for another Board member.  (Even though I covered the Board, I don't remember that at all.  But perhaps it happened early in the process.  I didn't start covering them until about March 2011.)  He didn't mention other members so I assume they are all still officially on the Board.

A new member could be someone who followed the process closely - say a Randy Ruedrich - but there aren't too many people who would really understand all the details and nuances of what the Board has been through.  I mention Randy even though the Court pointed out that the Constitution requires that appointments be made without regard to political party.  I simply don't think that Governor Dunleavy is capable of appointing someone who isn't committed to Dunleavy's political goals.  Unless he believes, as I do here, that there really aren't any changes to be legally made that would make a difference except to shake up a couple of districts and the incumbents of those districts.  

The Board's Eagle River Senate decisions, which passed 3-2, and were vigorously and loudly objected to by the minority members Banke and  Borromeo, were judged by the Court to be unconstitutional gerrymandering.  

I suspect the most dignified thing for the Board to do now would be to meet and vote to endorse the interim plan as the final plan and send their approval to the Supreme Court.  Board Members Marcum and Simpson were the most partisan Republican promoters of the gerrymandering.  The third Republican on the Board, John Simpson, went along with that, but I think he was less committed to that decision than the other two.  

I'd note that during the 2010 Redistricting process I asked then Board Attorney Mike White about a new plan being challenged on gerrymandering grounds.  His reply was that no plan had ever been overturned because of political gerrymandering and he wasn't worried.  Well, this round, the Supreme Court has definitively said that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.  

I'm slowly reading through the Court's Opinion.  My present plan is read through the Opinion and identify what I see as the key points that are new.  Then I want to pull up the post(s?) I've written about what I hoped the Court would address.  Then I can see if they addressed all the issues I was concerned about.  So far, they have addressed the issue of the Governor intentionally appointing Republicans to the Board.  And they weren't just Republicans, they were hard core Republicans with a history of working with the Republican Party.  

I was concerned about how blatant the political appointments were this time round and that if the Court didn't address it, it would become an unenforceable part of the Constitution.  But they did address it - but I have to read more of the Opinion to see how it informs their conclusions.  I suspect it played a role in their deciding that the Eagle River Senate pairings were politically motivated.  

We'll see.  Meanwhile my previous post extracts the outline of their Opinion (all the headings) so you can have something like a Table of Contents of the Opinion.  There's also a link to the decision.  

Just one more piece of trivia.  I've tried to pay attention to follow the Court's language.  Particularly regarding "decisions," "orders," and "opinions."  So I checked online and here's what Cornell's Law School says:

  • An order tells the parties to a case or cases something that they should do.  Orders can deal with housekeeping matters, such as scheduling or permission to file a brief, or with something substantive and important, such as whether the case will be dismissed or not.  An order may accompany an opinion or opinions, but if it does not, it tends to be brief and not to offer reasons. It may deal with one or more cases, and may dispose of those cases or not.
  • decision is a loose term for the set of opinions that accompany an order, combined with that order.  There may be more than one case associated with a particular decision.     
  • An opinion is a general term describing the written views of a judge or judges with respect to a particular order.  Not all orders--including important orders, and including in both the district courts and the courts of appeals--have opinions.  A single order by a court might produce a zero or more majority opinions, zero or more concurring opinions, zero or more dissenting opinions, and zero or more opinions that concur in part and dissent in part.  It is also possible that a decision produces other documents that are not opinions -- for example, a syllabus, appendix, or summary describing all the other documents related to the decision.

What we got Friday was an Opinion.  

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Alaska Supreme Court Issues Redistricting Opinion - Gives Board 90 Days To Object To Keeping Interim Plan

 Yesterday, the Alaska Supreme Court finally issued its Opinion detailing its reasoning for its earlier Alaska Redistricting Board Orders.  It's lengthy - 112 pages plus appendices.  

I've gone through it quickly (this weekend is the Alaska Press Club Conference) and pulled out an outline based on the Opinion's headings, which I'm posting below.  

But first, the Opinion concludes by telling the Superior Court to remand to the Board the Interim plan (which they imposed on the Board last June to be used in the 2022 election) and give the Board 90 days to object to the Interim Plan.  

"We REMAND for the superior court to order that the Board shall have 90 days to show cause why the interim redistricting plan should not be the Board’s final redistricting plan for the 2020 redistricting cycle:

A. Upon a showing by the Board of good cause for a remand, the superior court shall REMAND to the Board for another round of redistricting efforts; or

B. Absent a showing by the Board of good cause for a remand, the superior court shall direct the Board to approve the interim redistricting plan as its final redistricting plan, allowing any legal challenges to that plan to be filed in superior court in the normal course."

What will the Board do?  Most of the map was finalized and approved.  There were just a few House and Senate seats that could possibly be in play.  Board member Bethany Marcum was appointed to the Board of Regents and presumably would have to resign from the Redistricting Board if approved.  Dermot Cole wrote about this yesterday.   Matt Acuña Buxton has also written about the decision.

Here is a link to the whole Opinion.

Here is an outline of the Opinion.  



Supreme Court Nos. 18332/18419 ) (Consolidated)

(Municipality of Skagway, S-18330) (Alaska Redistricting Board, S-18332) )

REDISTRICTING CASES (Matanuska-Susitna Borough, S-18328) (City of Valdez, S-18329) )

Alaska Redistricting Board, S-18419)

Superior Court No. 3AN-21-08869 CI


No. 7646 – April 21, 2023



A. Article VI, Section 6: Substantive Standards; Gerrymandering Concerns 

B. Article VI, Sections 3 And 8: Redistricting Entity; Gerrymandering Concerns 

C. Related Constitutional Provisions And Concerns 

1. Equal protection

2. Due process 

3. The “Hickel Process” and the Voting Rights Act 

D. Article VI, Section 10: Redistricting Process 

E. Article VI, Section 11: Plan Challenges 


A. Board Proceedings 

B. Superior Court Proceedings 

C. Petitions For Review 

1. The Board’s petition 

2. Skagway’s petition 

3. Mat-Su’s and Valdez’s petitions 


  1. Common Issues
    1. The superior court did not err when it concluded that the Board sufficiently followed the Hickel Process.

2. The superior court did not err by concluding that it was not in the public’s best interest to vacate Board actions resulting from Open Meetings Act violations. 

a. The Board’s OMA arguments 

b. Mat-Su’s OMA arguments 

3. Making the traditional hard look analysis more restrictive by blending it with other constitutional concerns was error. 

  a. Our view of the superior court’s hard look analysis 

b. The Board’s arguments 

c. Mat-Su’s and Valdez’s arguments 

B. Mat-Su’s And Valdez’s Substantive Constitutional Challenges 

1. Aside from the “Cantwell Appendage,” Mat-Su’s and Valdez’s article IV, section 6 arguments fail. 

a. Compactness
i. House District 29 

ii. House District 36 

b. Socioeconomic integration 

i. House District 29 

ii. House District 36 

c. “As near as practicable” to the population quotient 

2. Mat-Su’s equal protection challenge fails. 

a. One person, one vote 

b. Fair and effective representation 

C. Skagway’s Substantive Constitutional Challenges 

1. Socioeconomic integration

2. Fair representation and geographic discrimination 

D. The Board’s East Anchorage Ruling Challenges 

1. The Board’s evidentiary issues 

a. The superior court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the Board’s requests to compel discovery.167 

b. The superior court did not abuse its discretion when it adopted streamlined proceedings regarding witness testimony at trial.171 

2. The Board’s article VI, section 10 arguments 

a. Superior court’s article VI, section 10 ruling 

b. Article VI, section 10’s 30-day deadline and the meaning of “proposed redistricting plan” 

c. Article VI, section 10’s public hearings requirement and procedural due process 

i. Hearings 

ii. Procedural due process 

3. The Board’s equal protection arguments181 

a. “Politically salient class” versus “communities of interest” 

b. Whether socioeconomic integration and “communities of interest” are synonymous (p83)

c. Discriminatory intent
i. Secretive procedures 

ii. Partisanship 

d. Proportionality of representation 

e. Conclusion 



A. Board Proceedings On Remand 

B. Superior Court Proceedings 

1. Girdwood’s article VI, section 6 challenge 

2. Girdwood’s equal protection challenge 

C. The Board’s Petition For Review 


A. The Superior Court Did Not Improperly Consider The Weight Of The Public’s Testimony. 

B. The Superior Court Correctly Concluded That The Senate District Pairings Continued To Violate Equal Protection. 

1. The superior court did not adopt a new burden of proof from federal case law. 

2. The superior court did not improperly distinguish our holding in 2001 Redistricting I. 

3. The superior court did not err in its discussion of communities of interest. 

4. The superior court’s discussion of local government boundaries was not erroneous. 

5. The superior court did not err when it applied the Kenai Peninsula neutral factors test and concluded that Senate Districts E and L constituted an unconstitutional political gerrymander. 

C. The Superior Court Did Not Err When It Ordered As An Interim Plan The Only Other Alternative Considered By The Board. 



Appendix A:  Maps

Appendix B:  Supreme Court of Alaska Order 3/25/2022

Appendix C:  Maps

Appendix D:  Supreme Court of Alaska Order 5?24/2022

Appendix E:  Maps

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

My Indonesian Yacht Cruise Was A Raft Trip On The Yentna With Ted Turner

[For those who are used to Twitter and need the this to read this in 20 seconds, skip down to the bolded question, What does this have to do with yachts cruising Indonesian islands? For those that want some context (and a little history on how the Anchorage Assembly first got onto cable, start at the beginning.]


Michael Shamberg's Guerilla Television had put video literacy into my life goals.  It pointed out that we are taught to read and write at school and given some skills in recognizing when written language is being used to manipulate us. (This was the 70s when schools still did that.  I think many still do, but I'm guessing a lot don't.)  

Shamberg's premise was that we were getting so much news via television that we needed that same sort of training in videography.  The book was a treatise on what was wrong with how news was created and a citizens handbook for how to make people's videos and how citizen created videos would change the world.  This was at a time when video cameras were pretty bulky and pricey, and there weren't any outlets for citizens to show their videos. There weren't even any Blockbusters yet.

I'd say Shamberg was pretty visionary. Eventually cameras on phones gave everyone a pocket video recorder and YouTube offered everyone a people's theater where anyone could show their videos and anyone could watch them.  Social media have extended the audience even further.  

And so when cable television was beginning to show up I was paying attention.  I was reading cable industry journals and even went to a few conferences on cable public access.  I was especially excited about the contracts around the country that required the cable companies to set up public access video studios with cameras and editing equipment so people could make their own videos. They also required public access channels to play those citizen made videos on. Sure, the audience was limited to cable viewers, but it was a step in the right direction. 

Multivision had bid for the contract in Anchorage.  This was 1982 or 83.  I was working on loan from the University to the Municipality of Anchorage for a couple of years.  I read the Multivision proposal and was dismayed that there was no provision for a public access video studio or a channel for people's video.  I kept telling Cathy Allen, Mayor Knowles' chief of staff (I think that was her title) that the Municipality should be demanding that such provisions - modeled from Outside cable agreements - be included in Multivisions' contract.  She kept treating me like I was crazy.  I kept sending her memos (yeah, email was not available yet)  about the Alaska Public Utility  Commission's meetings on cable.  One was coming up soon where there would be public testimony. On the day of the meeting I got a call to come up to Allen's office right away.  She'd just come back from a national conference and a city manager from a big city had sat her down and told her how important it was to have public access in cable contracts. Nothing I hadn't been telling her, but he was more credible to her than I had been.  So yes, I could go to the meeting and represent the Muni that afternoon.  

Fortunately, I'd been reading the proposal and comparing the prices they were proposing for monthly subscriptions and had lots of information about public access in other cities.  

So there I was, at the last minute, running down the street to the meeting.  There weren't a lot of people there and they all seemed to be Multivisions boosters.  Then my turn to talk came.  I nervously compared Multivisions prices to Outside prices and said something like, "I understand it is more expensive to operate in Alaska than it is Outside, but it's NOT three times as expensive!"  I also talked about how most cities were requiring cable companies to have public access studies and a public access channel.  And I sat down.

At the next break, I was mobbed by six or seven people asking me, essentially, "who the hell are you?" did  I really represented the Muni.  

As time went by I was back arguing that Multivisions should be televising the Assembly meetings live.  Not possible they said.  At that time they were meeting in the Muni's Tudor Road buildings and they said it wasn't wired for cable.  It would have to wait until the new Loussac Library opened.  

But for some reason the Assembly  had to move out of the Tudor building and temporarily went to the new Convention Center on 5th Avenue.  And I knew that building was wired.  By that time I'd gotten some others to join me and we had set up a non-profit for this project - something like Anchorage Media Access Group.  I lobbied the Assembly members and they agreed to a six month trial and allotted a paltry sum - maybe $3000 for that.  Our non-profit sent out an RFP to every third video business in the Anchorage media resources book.  We got two bids.  One was way beyond the money the Assembly offered.  The other was a budding videographer who agreed to do it at a ridiculously low price with the help of volunteers (ourselves and a few others) who would staff the cameras for him.  

At first, he balked. He couldn't trust his expensive cameras to volunteers.   But he relented when we pointed out that he couldn't afford to do it any other way.  And so the Assembly began its six months experiment being broadcast live on Anchorage cable.  

While Assembly members had had a number of doubts - it would lead to grandstanding, those without cable wouldn't have access, etc. - after several weeks they were all won over.  They had so many people say they saw them on cable and they had people showing up saying they were watching at home and had to come down to testify.  At the end of the six months they approved a much larger budget and our videographer got the contract and we stopped having to supply volunteers.  We disbanded our non-profit and gave the Assembly back the $500 we still had left and asked them to use it to support televising the Assembly. 


What does this have to do with yachts cruising Indonesian islands? 

Somewhere along this cable path, I got an invitation from Multivision to go on a float trip on the Yentna River with Ted Turner whom they were bringing up to Alaska.  That sounded very cool, but unlike a certain US Supreme Court justice, I didn't consider accepting for a second.  

I understood that I hadn't been randomly selected for this honor, but that it had to do with my advocacy for a better deal for Anchorage citizens and my advocacy for getting the Anchorage Assembly live on cable. And that this might be their way to get me to tone it down or who knows?.  I thanked them and said I couldn't accept their offer. 

Clarence Thomas, on the other hand, seems to have had no qualms about accepting annual half-a-million dollar vacations and didn't see it necessary to report these on his annual financial disclosure forms.  

The wealthy Republicans have been smart and have taken a long range planning approach to maintain power. When Bork got turned down for the Court, they apparently realized democracy was no longer enough.  

Lobbying has been a traditional way to get legislators to vote against the interests of their constituents.  This relationship is strengthened by campaign contributions. And secrecy. But even better would be owning a Supreme Court that decided their way if the legislature wouldn't.  

The Democrats have not been as Machiavellian and were not very good as spotting the stealth takeover  of the Supreme Court the Republicans, through the Federalist Society, had worked on for so many years.  

And with Trump as president, they succeeded in taking over the Court.  Justice Kennedy abruptly resigned to make room for Kavanaugh.  I'm still certain there's a cloak and dagger story about how Kennedy was convinced to step down, that would include his son's work for Deutsche Bank, the last major bank still willing to lend money to Trump for his projects. And Justin Kennedy was the man who made those loans happen. 

But since Trump essentially turned the job of picking his court nominees over to the Federalist Society, it's pretty clear that they had something to do with Kennedy's resignation as well.  The first link is to a speech by Sen. Whitehouse - the Senate's most active and vocal observer of how the Federalist Society has managed the sharp lurch to the right of the Supreme Court.  But for those of you who need a different source, here's a report from The Hill.  Speculation?  Sure.  But a lot of clues point in the right direction. And like Thomas' vacations with the Crows, I'm pretty certain there's lots we don't yet know.  At least there are facts and motives pointing in this direction, which is way more than the Republicans have for every major scandal they scream about daily.  

Breakdown of Norms

From Oxford Bibliographies:

"[Norms] are most commonly defined as rules or expectations that are socially enforced. Norms may be prescriptive (encouraging positive behavior; for example, “be honest”) or proscriptive (discouraging negative behavior; for example, “do not cheat”)."

Basically, norms are the rules that are socially, rather than legally, enforced.  When people break the norms, public opinion is the force that 'rules' the consequences.  Politicians lose elections, officials resign their posts.  

But we're in a period where Republicans, particularly, are no longer constrained by norms.  They're no longer constrained by laws. (Sure, politicians on both sides have fudged the law forever, but they did it clandestinely, not flagrantly out in the open.)  While Trump is by far the most egregious example, his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate have gone along.  The Senate had the power to remove him from office after the House voted for impeachment.  Twice.  

They didn't.  Instead, they rammed through the nominations of Kavanaugh and Barrett.  

Not all the Republicans are completely craven, but they are all much more interested in their reelections than they are in maintaining traditional norms of appearing to support the public interest, 

And Fox News, particularly, has worked closely with Trump to make sure their viewers are fed the stories they (the viewers) want to hear, no matter how much they deviate from truth.  Those Republicans who stood up to Trump, even slightly, have either retired (rather than face Trump's cult in the primaries) or they were defeated in the primaries.  Alaska's Senator Murkowski is the only exception I know of.  She used a write-in campaign to overcome a primary defeat in 2012.  In 2022, Alaska's new Ranked ChoiceVoting went into effect, which eliminated closed party primaries and put all candidates for each office into one primary. 

The wealthy Right Wingers know that their ideas are not popular with the voters.  Ending abortion, no restrictions on guns, racial discrimination, election manipulation are all opposed by healthy majorities of the general population. 

To win, Republicans have to rig the game.  Pack the Supreme Court with judges who rule in favor of business most of the time.  Gerrymander state voting districts to get far more Republicans elected even when the actual numbers of both parties are much more even.  Suppress the votes of minorities and the young in as many ways as they can think of.  Oppose all bills to help overcome the disparities in wealth, access to food, housing, education, and health care. In fact oppose all legislation that might be good for the country that Biden could take credit for.  And now we're seeing the truly power obsessed trying to control women's rights to decide their own health care, even banning out of state travel for those seeking abortions.  

With a strong Supreme Court majority, Republican governors are writing laws so far out of the bounds of US social norms and violate decades old Supreme Court precedents.  They are doing this in anticipation of the new Federalist Society judges overturning all those precedents as just as they overturned Roe v. Wade.  Voting rights?  We're back to a post Civil War Supreme Court that used States' Rights to allow disenfranchisement of blacks and lynchings among other terrible practices.  

And when Clarence Thomas says in his brief official statement that he read the rules and consulted with others and they said he didn't have to report transportation, he's telling me that he has NO business being a US Supreme Court Justice.  

  • First, this is so extreme an example - half a million dollar vacations for 20 years!  Any reasonable person knows this sort of 'gift' needs to be reported  (I didn't have to go to law school to know accepting a pricey trip with a celebrity was the wrong thing to do.)
  • Second, if Thomas has trouble interpreting such obvious and simple disclosure rules for judicial gifts, then he is hardly qualified to interpret the US Constitution. 
  • Third, if he is capable of such interpretation, then he's intentionally flouting the rules and the norms for his own advantage.  In this case his perceived best interest was non-disclosure. One would assume that is also how he often interprets the law and the Constitution in his Supreme Court decisions.  
  • Fourth, hanging out with the Crows and their yachting friends helps to shape his ideas of his own best interests and appropriate interpretations of the Constitution.

Like most such issues, this one is entangled in many overlapping contexts of law, of history, of politics, of economics, of ethics, that it is difficult to discuss it without either leaving important points out or without getting so long and complicated people won't finish.  

A key issue I'm leaving out is accountability of career and elected public officials.  Of course Trump and Fox have so violated societal norms of behavior and of truth telling that we seem to be in a completely different place than we were five or six years ago.  Though another part of me believes that the craziness we hear these days has always existed.  But today's technology enables much more of it to be seen and heard by the public.  

If that's true, the good news is that all this ugliness is being exposed - from police brutality to overt racism (OK, those two are probably intertwined), to sexual abuse, etc.  The bad news is those with norm-violating behavior and thoughts have found support for their anti-democracy desires.  

Before the Republicans get ultimate control of the courts and can manipulate all elections, we need to get all the folks who are still within traditional norms, but have given up on voting, to go vote.  There are still tens of millions of people who have come up with excuses not to vote.  (And this is also in part due to the Right's propaganda about how terrible government is, Democrats are, and how corrupt elections are.)  

Those who want Democracy to carry on have an obligation to get everyone who doesn't normally vote, to vote in the next few elections.  And the Republicans' extreme power grabbing - abortions bans, LGBTQ+ baiting, anti-Semitism, book banning, expulsion of duly elected legislators are all helping to get those voters to the polls in the next elections.   

We need enough Democrats in state legislatures and in Congress to overcome Republican attempts to turn the US into an authoritarian regime favoring wealthy white males who distort the Bible to further their interests.