Out There

The Alaska Disconnect

Posted in politics by Pete on April 9, 2017

What a great name for a band!  I completely agree with this editorial from Mike Navarre, mayor of Seward.  I remember learning about this very thing in our Alaska History course with Joan Antonson way back in 2001 or 2002.  In case that link gets broken eventually, here is a copy of the editorial.

In debating the state’s fiscal future amid a $3 billion annual budget gap, many Alaskans talk about how more state-supported public services should “pay their own way,” or at least get closer to covering the costs. The users should pick up more of the tab, they say, not the state treasury.

While user fees make sense, such as state park cabin rentals, fishing licenses, driver’s licenses and motor fuel taxes, we need to accept — and apply — that same “pay their own way” reasoning to economic development.

The cold-hard-cash fact is that unless economic development produces more barrels of oil, any new economic activity and its accompanying jobs and students and subdivisions can be a loser for the state treasury. But we can fix that as part of an overall state fiscal plan. Probably not all in one year, but it is fixable.

New jobs are great for people who get hired, for retail and service shops that get additional businesses, and for communities with property taxes and sales taxes to collect the revenues needed to pay the costs of more students, street maintenance, police and fire protection.

But lacking any broad-based state tax, such as income or sales or property tax, the state gets the bills for its share of more students, more roads, more demand on public services, but little to no additional revenues to pay the bills. That’s particularly true as more businesses are establishing themselves outside the jurisdiction of the state corporate income tax code.

With oil, the state collects production tax and a royalty share and property tax and corporate income tax. But what about a new widget factory? An ore smelter? A server farm for cloud computing? A new big box store? Likely sizable property and sales taxes for cities but likely squat for the state. 

It’s our own fault. We didn’t need the money, so we let the problem grow for 40 years.

Our problem has a name: The Alaska Disconnect. A 2003 report from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage explained the problem: “In most states economic development that brings new jobs and payroll generally pays its own way from the perspective of the public treasury. Because of the Alaska Disconnect, economic development in Alaska does not pay its own way — economic development makes the fiscal gap bigger rather than smaller. The notion that economic development alone can close the fiscal gap is unfounded.”

Also in 2003, in a report for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., a group of the fund’s investment advisers made the same point: “Moreover, the state’s revenue structure is such that each additional basic sector job added to the economy … costs more to state finances than what it generates. … The state must also eradicate the growth-inhibiting incentives of the ‘Alaska Disconnect,’ where new non-oil-producing employment is a net drag on state finances.”

As Alaskans discuss and debate, argue and agitate for their favorites pieces — and least favorite pieces — of a long-term, balanced state fiscal plan, don’t dismiss a broad-based state tax, such as income or sales, just because the thought of taxes causes you more stress than coming up short on overhead space for your carry-on bag.

Rather than dismissing tax talk, think about what it means not to have a broad-based tax, especially as Alaska looks to expand its economy beyond oil, looks to reduce our near-total dependence on oil dollars, and looks to attract new investment and jobs for younger Alaskans.

The Alaska Disconnect is a self-inflicted illness. We can solve this one on our own. The cure isn’t painless, but it is long lasting and creates a healthier economy.

We Alaskans have become addicted to a painless system of representation without taxation, and it is destroying our state as we would rather blow up the government, education, and medicaid, than pay an eminently sensible income tax.  The current income tax proposed by the Alaska State House would be the 4th lowest income tax in the 50 states.

Moving from post-election grumbling to prayer

Posted in politics by Pete on March 16, 2017

President Trump has released his proposed budget.  He lost me with the title (pic copied from npr.org just now:

Trump Unveils 'Hard Power' Budget That Boosts Military Spending

My mind right away goes to these passages from Mark 9 and 10:

When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And to this song that I’ve quoted before – A King and a Kingdom by Derek Webb:

(vs. 1)
Who’s your brother, who’s your sister
You just walked passed him
I think you missed her
As we’re all migrating to the place where our father lives
’cause we married in to a family of immigrants

(chorus)
My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
It’s to a king & a kingdom

(vs. 2)
There are two great lies that i’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
And if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

(chorus)

(bridge)
But nothing unifies like a common enemy
And we’ve got one, sure as hell
But he may be living in your house
He may be raising up your kids
He may be sleeping with your wife
Oh no, he may not look like you think

Did you know that the word “America” is not actually in the Bible?  Haha.  Nor does it say “seek first to build your empire, and all of these other things will be added to you as well.” As believers we are called to seek the Kingdom of God, to love our neighbors as ourselves and pour our lives (even our money – gasp!) out in love for others (not just the people we prefer) as Jesus did, and not instead do all we can to preserve our own wealth and security.  This is an idol in our culture and a difficult fight and temptation for me as well.  Most of us want comfort and security above all, and therefore we seek an easier way than laying our lives down for others, so we continually reject the suffer-die-rise model of Jesus and the cross.  Just as Peter apparently did in Mark 8, from the New Living Translation:

Jesus Predicts His Death

31Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Manc must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. 32As he talked about this openly with his disciples, Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things.d

33Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.

34Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?e 37Is anything worth more than your soul?

BOOM!  Jesus is the man.  No no, not THAT man (from “School of Rock”)…

Dewey Finn: Give up, just quit, because in this life, you can’t win. Yeah, you can try, but in the end you’re just gonna lose, big time, because the world is run by the Man.

Frankie: Who?

Dewey Finn: The Man. Oh, you don’t know the Man. He’s everywhere. In the White House, down the hall… Ms. Mullins, she’s the Man. And the Man ruined the ozone, and he’s burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank! Okay? And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man, it was called rock ‘n roll. But guess what? Oh no. The Man ruined that, too, with a little thing called MTV! So don’t waste your time trying to make anything cool, or pure, or awesome, ’cause the Man is just gonna call you a fat washed up loser and crush your soul. So do yourselves a favor and just GIVE UP!

The challenge for me now is to pray for the man in the white house, for wisdom and true strength (which isn’t about how rich we are or how many nukes we have), humility, and the internal sense of self worth and security to be able to deal in a healthy way with insults and disagreement that are inherent to the political process.  So I guess what I’m trying to say is that for me personally, I’m trying to move from the “freak out about everything that our &$#@$#&$%^! new President is doing and holy cow how/why did people actually vote for and elect this horrible person” stage to the “truly trying to sincerely pray for our leaders” stage.  And I don’t mean praying only that bad things will happen to him, haha.  If we are really living in faith and the reality of God’s greatness and goodness, then we remember that we’re ALL screwups and losers, noone is beyond hope or redemption, and anyone can have a true Damascus Road turnaround experience because of who God is.  So I’m resolving to quit grumbling and start praying.  Now.

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on January 21, 2017

Have you heard of H.L. Mencken?  I hadn’t.  Until I saw this today on my wife’s phone:

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

Which led me to google, where I found these and many, many more with no effort:

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

And this one which cracks me up, even though I vote Republican pretty often:

Image result for mencken cartoon trump

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

Image result for 1920 quote president mencken

OK, who in the world was this guy?  Obviously a journalist or writer to have so many quotes out there.  I used one google image search for ALL of those results.  I don’t agree with all of these but they’re fun.  He was probably viewed as a tremendous elitist, understandably so.  Probably highly educated and if I had to guess I’d say a newspaper columnist from the northeast – most likely Boston.  I confess that I share his perspective to some degree, I think because I’ve been so surprised and disillusioned that so many would vote for Donald Trump.  I’m no fan of his opponent in the election, but of the many candidates on the ballot, he seemed clearly the worst choice.  So that “mob of men” quote (fifth from the top) resonates with me these days.

Sexual Assault in Western Alaska

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on November 21, 2016

The rate of sexual assault in Alaska is the highest in all 50 states.  This has been known for quite a while.  The national average is about 27 sexual assaults per 100,000 people.  Alaska comes in at 80.  South Dakota is second-worst, at 70, so Alaska is dominating the nation in this horrible category.  And within the state of Alaska, the rate of sexual assault is highest in western Alaska, at around 370 cases per 100,000 people.  Yes, something like 14 times higher than the national average.  And within Western Alaska, I think it is highest in the Bethel area, where we have made our home since 2003.  Sean Parnell tried to fight this with his “Choose Respect” campaign, as covered by CNN here.

Sexual assault is never ok.  Unwanted sexual advances are not ok.  Not with a family member, a stranger, anyone.  We have to break the cycle by talking about it, openly.  We have to report it.  We have to deal harshly with those who do it, even when it is people we are close to, so we can begin to make headway in breaking the continuous cycle of abuse.  Here are some summary stats from the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey that found that half of all adult women in Alaska have experienced either intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both.  This is wrong and we have to fight it.  And anyone who says you shouldn’t make waves or press charges is unfortunately part of the problem.  I know that is a strong stance, but it’s true and it’s right.  Of course I’ve always believed this, but it’s come up again and I wanted to get all these links in the same place and come out publicly against it.

Eve of the election thoughts

Posted in politics by Pete on November 7, 2016

The election is finally, mercifully, almost here.  This has been another brutal, bruising campaign season.  There is a tendency with age to say that things are getting worse and worse, but even if I compensate for that tendency…this one has indeed been the worst of my lifetime, haha.  One of the most interesting things for me has been to see Christians grappling with their vote.  Mister Trump is not the typical Republican nominee and has a well-known history of missteps including infidelity, a scandalous 2005 video, a fortune made partly from casinos, all kinds of crazy quotes, and is not exactly humble or meek in how he carries himself in public.  In short, he seems like someone that Christians would not support.  Not Christ-like.  And they didn’t.  In the primaries, Trump polled poorly with self-described Christians like evangelicals.  However, once he secured the nomination, the most loyal Republican voting bloc came around to his side.  The argument for this 180 seems to be largely about his opponent Hillary Clinton, abortion, and the supreme court.

This has me wondering if the end justifies the means, after all.  On Facebook I put up a post asking what Trump would have to do to make Republican believers not vote for him.  Or what Clinton would have to do to make Democrat voters not vote for her, in this election.  Because no matter what Donald Trump has been caught doing or saying, apparently he is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton in the eyes of many Christian conservatives.  My personal view is that is a travesty, and that we shouldn’t compromise our beliefs and that the end NEVER justifies the means.  But there is just a tremendous split among people of faith this election season, a huge diversity of opinion that we haven’t seen in a long time if ever.

Here are a bunch of editorials that I wanted to remember for posterity that address these various issues from many angles.

Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today, “Whoever you decide to vote for in this election, be sure you have made the decision with a heart set towards pleasing God, not man. And if you find that you have overlooked or dismissed many of the morals and values that you have held dear in the past, then it just may be that your character has been Trumped.”

Ed Stetzer again, this time on why so many evangelicals despise Hillary Clinton as a candidate.

FiveThirtyEight on the enduring support of evangelicals for whoever the republicans nominate.  Christianity Today on the same topic.

Here is one of my personal favorites, from Christianity Today opposing Trump, and not endorsing any of his opponents.  I posted about it in Oct on facebook, saying “The author is trying to be measured but also speak truth on an obviously explosive topic, and I’m sure he will get a lot of heat for it from different camps. I think this relates to ANY election season.”  Quoting the article:  “The true Lord of the world reigns even now, far above any earthly ruler. His kingdom is not of this world, but glimpses of its power and grace can be found all over the world. One day his kingdom, and his only, will be the standard by which all earthly kingdoms are judged, and following that judgment day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, as his reign is fully realized in the renewal of all things. The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.”

Here is James Dobson explaining the apparently majority evangelical preference for Donald Trump.

Christianity Today with an editorial urging to vote for neither of them.

Christianity Today with an editorial supporting Hillary Clinton for President.

The prominent leader of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, showing he strongly opposes Donald Trump.

The NY Times on the rifts within the “evangelical voting bloc.”

Third party candidate Evan McMullin did a long interview on Christianity Today.  “We have to understand that if we continually cast our votes for people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we are going to continually get leaders like them.”

Bill Maher on the hypocrisy of religious conservatives.  Course and ridiculous, but painfully true.  This after I had an ad on my facebook “home” feed today from “Christian Women for America” that states:  “How sad:  Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners and other liberal “faith” orgs are funded by atheist billionaire, George Soros — to elect Obama & Hillary.  Soros is a felon in France but his money picks politicians and is destroying America.  Watch this (2) minute video.  Soros’s “Rented” Evangelical “mascots.””  I’ve been a supporter of Sojourners in the past, and I don’t know about the accusation that they have taken money from Soros and then lied about it.  This may be true, I don’t know.  I don’t even know anything about George Soros.  However, I do know that over the last 3+ decades, the religious right has proselytized itself for the GOP over and over and over and it is pretty rich for this ad to claim that the same thing is happening this time for the democrats.  I once worked for the self-described richest man in my state, and he was the worst kind of republican in the mold of Trump.  He was very politically active with large donations to the “right” candidates, and I saw in him how believers were propping up a system that benefited him and others like him by preserving the status quo and giving him little to no tax burden while his lifestyle was one antithetical to Christ.

This is a little different from the above editorials, but I stumbled on a link to it in one of those Stetzer editorials.  This is Hillary Clinton speaking about her own faith way back in 1994, and according to Stetzer she took a beating in the press for it.  “But it is my very firm conviction that there is a growing awareness of the need for a spiritual renewal in our country and a willingness on the part of many to act and work in good faith together to fill that sense of emptiness with the Word and with an outreach that is grounded in real Christian values.”  Obviously this was a long time ago, but I hadn’t ever even heard of this side of Hillary Clinton.  I admit I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I’m intrigued.

So who am I voting for?  Still undecided, believe it or not.  Tomorrow I will vote though, if the half-frozen river permits travel to the new side of the village which is where we all have to go to vote.

 

bad leaders write bad editorials

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on October 1, 2016

I don’t have time to do the point by point analysis I’d like to on this right now, but I’m posting it so I can maybe hit it later.  This is all-timer in terms of ridiculous lies, distortions, and deceit.  Written by the chairman of the Alaska Republican party, Tuckerman Babcock, it is maybe the single-worst piece of writing I’ve ever seen in a newspaper, and I’ve been reading the paper consistently for about 30 years, haha.  So, so bad.  Drivel suitable for framing!  As I wrote in the comments, this is right up there with Al Gore inventing the internet and Frank Murkowski’s snow tire and sales tax proposals not breaking his “no new taxes” promise because they were merely “optional user fees” because after all no one HAS to buy anything, so you don’t have to pay the sales tax if you don’t want to.

http://www.adn.com/opinions/2016/09/30/governor-took-half-of-your-dividend-and-thats-about-it/

 

Foolish MARINER predictions

Posted in baseball, fun, Uncategorized by Pete on April 6, 2016

I recently published some predictions on how the standings will play out.  Now I want to talk about this year’s M’s roster.  Last year’s roster was a true “stars and scrubs” collection of players headlined by stars Robinson Cano (poor first half, strong second half), Nelson Cruz (career-best year), Kyle Seager (another strong season), and Felix Hernandez (his worst career year, about league average).  At the other end of the spectrum, roughly 30% of team plate appearances went to players who put up negative WAR in 2015 (Zunino, Ackley, Weeks, Taylor, Jones, Hicks, Ruggiano, Bloomquist, Sucre, Montero, Morrison, and more!).  The team struggled with OBP and usually out-homered the opponent but lost anyway.  Watching our catchers trying to hit was particularly painful, and they may have produced the worst hitting from the catcher position in major league history.  If you don’t want to click, here is the succinct summary:

“…they’ve potentially been the worst-hitting catchers in recorded history, spanning several decades.”

The other major failing of the 2015 Mariners was the relief pitching, where about 230 innings were pitched by guys who put up negative WAR on the season.  After being hailed as one of the best bullpens in recent baseball history, the same group of guys were one of the very worst in 2015:

“We saw a total collapse in the first half with five pitchers from last year’s bullpen either sent down, demoted or traded by mid-season. A horrific turnaround with no in-house remedies.”

Currently the team is in a tough spot where they struggle to contend, but finish too high in the standings to get the draft picks needed for the quickest rebuild.  Saddled with huge long-term contracts for Cano and Felix, and coming off of a 76-win season, Dipoto and the other GM candidates all told team president Kevin Mather in interviews that a rebuild wasn’t the way to go and that contention in the short term was possible.  It think it’s possible a lot more than it is realistic.

It was in this context that new GM Jerry Dipoto took over and got busy, as the M’s made more changes to the 40 man roster than any other team.  Only 1 holdover remains from last season’s opening day bullpen – Charlie Furbush.  The guys he targeted for the new bullpen all have something in common – a low price tag, both in terms of payroll and the cost of acquisition.  Lots of guys who struggled in 2015 that Dipoto obviously considers good bounceback candidates.  Apparently Dipoto believes in the power of regression to the mean, and that reliever performance over any single season (typically less than 70 IP) is very unpredictable.  M’s fans can attest to this as we already discussed the bullpens of 14 and 15.  Fernando Rodney personified this as he went from amazingly good to terrible.  Others may recall Shigetoshi Hasagawa’s 1.48 ERA in 73 bullpen innings in 2003.  Followed by a 5.16 ERA in 2004.  Outside of the top 5 or 6 guys, sometimes you are best served by amassing a large pile of arms that have a decent track record, or the potential for success at the major league level.  Especially since even the top guys get very expensive after several years of success and end up way overpaid (Papelbon).

So Dipoto went and got Steve Cishek, the new closer, who performed badly in 2015 and lost the closer job in Miami after several strong seasons of side-arming funkiness.  He also acquired Joaquin Benoit for the 8th inning, the 40-year old Joel Peralta, the soft-tossing but still somehow effective Nick Vincent, and Evan Scribner who never walks anyone but gave up home runs last year at a historic pace.  These guys and the aforementioned Charlie Furbush, as well as minor league callups Vidal Nuno and Tony Zych will make up the bulk of the 2016 bullpen innings pitched.  I have no idea how they will perform individually.  But I’m pretty sure they will perform better as a group than the performance the team got from their bullpen last year.  Just as I was darn sure that the 2015 bullpen would be worse than the 2014 one.  Regression.

Dipoto also added 2 starting pitchers, the solid and durable Wade Miley for the #3 spot, and Nate Karns from Tampa for the #5 spot.  They combine with Felix, who continues to lose velocity but who should be reasonably effective, Iwakuma, who is aging and injury prone but capable of stretches of brilliance when dialed in, and Taijuan Walker, who is a huge wild card.  Several observers including Jonah Keri are predicting a breakout season from Taijuan Walker this year, even suggesting he will put up a better line than King Felix will.  I see this group as being slightly better than average.  Not great.  Karns and Miley are not great, and Karns and Walker are so unpredictable at this early point in their careers, so the error bars are pretty wide on this group.  If those two both pitch at their 90% projection, all of a sudden the rotation is a monster, but if the wheels fall off for both of them, then you are pushing James Paxton and Mike Montgomery both into the rotation (and out of the bullpen) and it’s a big step back.

On the position player side, Dipoto added Leonys Martin in CF, Chris Iannetta at C, Adam Lind in a platoon with Dae Ho Lee at 1b, and Nori Aoki in LF.  The main takeaway here is that these guys don’t have to be great to be an improvement.  Nowhere is this more true than for Iannetta who replaces the aforementioned hapless production the M’s got fro the catcher position in 2015.  He is projected to put up a .213/.325/.352 line (not very impressive) in 2015 according to the fangraphs depth chart tool, which would represent a 95 point improvement in OBP and a 52 point improvement in SLG.  The man can take a walk.  If he outperforms the projections, it’s all gravy.  Martin is another bounceback candidate as he put up a disappointing season in 2015 after stronger previous seasons.  He is also a superior defender in CF than anything the M’s had last year.  Adam Lind rakes against RHP, and always has.  The main question here is Dae Ho Lee, how he will perform against LHP (we have no idea), whether he is worth a spot on the 25-man roster, and it appears that the collective defense at 1B will take a small step back from last year.  But there is no question that offensively this will be a large improvement over Logan Morrison.  And signing Aoki allows for a Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez platoon in right field, as well as the further benefit of getting Nelson Cruz off the field defensively.

The other thing I wanted to touch on is I think it’s almost a foregone conclusion that we will see a big decrease in production from Nelson Cruz.

Cruz 2016 projection:  .258/.323/.482

Cruz 2015 actual line:  .302/.369/.566, probably his best season ever at the plate.

Career line:  .273/.335/.511

The projections think the 35-year old’s season will be worse than his career line by a pretty wide margin.  I think that is a little too pessimistic and would bet on something pretty close to his career numbers.  But there is no question that his numbers will take a BIG step backward.  Regression.

However, it also seems likely that Robinson Cano’s numbers will improve substantially.  Cano 2016 projection:  .288/.346/.441

Cano 2015 actual line:  .287/.334/.446

Career line:  .307/.355/.495

The reasons for optimism go beyond regression toward his career numbers.  Cano had surgery to fix a hernia he was struggling with last year that also limited him in the field.  He also hit well all spring and as I write this in game 3 he already has 3 home runs.  No, make that 4 as he just hit another in this game.  I believe the M’s will pick up as much production with Cano as they will give up with Cruz.

I’m also predicting a lot better defense in CF, RF, and 2B, and perhaps a slight improvement in LF and SS.  1B and maybe C will probably be slightly worse, defensively, but overall the defense has taken a big step forward, especially in the outfield.  This will help our pitching.  We will also see big leaps forward in the offense we get from C and 1B, a modest improvement at 2B, and probably a small improvement at DH, and probably a big decline in RF even though Smith/Gutierrez should be a strong platoon.  Heck this should probably be a table.  Hey you get what you pay for.

Changes from 2015 to 2016

C – Zunino et al to Iannetta/Clevenger, defense slightly worse, offense WAY better

1B – Morrison to Lind/Lee, defense slightly worse, offense a lot better

2B – Cano, both defense and offense much improved as discussed

3B –  Seager, about the same

SS – Miller/Marte to Marte, defense slightly improved with Marte all year, probably some offensive regression (.341 BABIP in 2015 will probably come down)

LF – Smith/Gutierrez to Aoki, I think this will be a wash, defensively and offensively

CF – Jackson/Jones to Martin, moderate defensive improvement, but a little bit worse offensively

RF – Cruz to Smith/Gutierrez, large defensive improvement, large step back offensively

DH – Trumbo/Weeks to Cruz, large improvement even with Cruz regression

OK, if you’re read all of this, you are in select company I assure you!  I’m just happy to have some stuff typed up because the last few years I’ve felt frustrated that I, a casual fan, seemed to have a better idea of what would happen with the team than the team’s brass did.  I have a lot more trust in the current regime, but I finally did the preseason write-up I’ve been wanting to do.  And now it will be easy to look this post up and mock my foolishness.  Hence the title of the post.  I started this before the start of today’s game 3 against Texas and am finishing during the postgame show.

Our Alaska-Sized Budget Deficit

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on April 4, 2016

Alaska is the land of over-the-top superlatives.  Mind numbing record low temperatures.  Not just the biggest state, but the state so big we could cut it in half and Texas would be the 3rd biggest state!  The state with more coastline than the other 49 states combined!  The highest peak in the 50 states!  The Aleutians with their preposterous winds.  The jaw-dropping salmon runs, volcanic activity, earthquakes, northern lights, you get the idea.  In the same vein, we now have the amazing Alaska budget deficit!

The short version is that the pipeline is carrying less and less crude oil as the legacy fields on the north slope are getting depleted, and couple that with oil at $30 per barrel, and you get a massive deficit.  Just a few years ago oil was over $100 per barrel and the state was flush with cash and spending as much as $8 billion per year.  As the price dropped, cuts have been made to the point that the current state budget is around $5.5 billion (with revenue of around $1.8 billion), and next year’s budget may be as low as $4.1 billion if the conservative state legislature has it’s way.  But the state is projected to bring in only $1.2 billion in revenue.  Not good.

Many have pointed out the obvious:  There is no way the legislature can cut their way out of this mess.  Not that they aren’t trying.  Alaska is a notoriously conservative, anti-tax state.  No state sales tax, and no state income tax since it was abolished in 1980.  Residents have become so accustomed to getting something for nothing that most are refusing to accept reality now.

You can read much more about this here and here and here and here and here and many others if somehow that doesn’t slake your thirst.  From that last link (The Atlantic), “But Alaskans are fiercely protective of their checks, and of their state’s savings. This might be the most tight-fisted state in the union.”  And “But for the time being, Alaskans seem to want to hang on to the good old days for as long as they can, scrimping and saving despite having billions in the bank.”  Yup.

I took part in an exercise that challenges Alaskans to balance the budget themselves using an online simulator, at plan4alaska.com.  You can view my balanced budget here.  If you want to take a stab at it, go to plan4alaska.com and click on “take the challenge” at the top.  I don’t want to come off as self-righteous, but I have never been able to get my head around why my fellow Alaskans so resent the idea of paying their share for the cost of government.  The plan I went with is pretty similar to the governor’s plan, calling for a state income tax of 10% of the federal tax (I believe the governor is seeking something like 7%).  For Tammy and I using our 2014 taxes as a real world example, the 10% would come out to about $650, or less than 1% of our total income.  (If you need a primer on the difference between marginal tax rate and effective/average tax rate read this or this)  The $650 in my 2014 example equates to less than $2 per day, for schools for our kids, airport maintenance here in Kasigluk, the court system, etc.  So maybe this makes me a crazy liberal, but I consider that a bargain at under $2 per day.  This is a little disingenuous though as my plan also calls for a 3 or 4% sales tax which would almost certainly take more of our money than the income tax would.

Regarding that link in red above (this article) I just have to comment.  The headline states:  “Alaska Senate leaders: We’re not getting into ‘the tax business'”

Really? Senate leaders, let me tell you what business you ARE in.  You are in the business of running a state government.  As a part of this business, money comes in and out.  You are in charge of making sure the revenue keeps up so the state has the money to pay for the expenses.  And state revenue is collected, for the most part, in the form of TAXES.  You can quibble over semantics if you wish, but the fact is that our existing state income is already in the form of taxation levied on corporations, and taxes on resources such as barrels of oil, as well as on the fishing and mining industries.  So you ARE, actually, in “the tax business.”  You always have been. You know it, we all know it, so drop the games and do what is right for the state.

The reason there is some urgency here is that the “sovereign wealth concept” really only works if you have a large enough principle to earn interest with.  If we choose to kick this down the road and burn $4B in savings every year, we are eating the golden goose.  We should be smart enough, humble enough, and forward thinking enough to pay a little now so everyone profits big-time down the road.

Prediction Foolishness

Posted in baseball, fun, Uncategorized by Pete on April 4, 2016

Today was opening day for a few teams, and my beloved Mariners start out tomorrow in Texas, when King Felix will dethrone Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, and the rest of the Texas Ranger lineup.  As spring training winds up, all of the major media outlets put out their predictions for which teams will make the postseason.  Every year these kind of make me crazy, and there are a few common picks that I disagree with and I think I should post my contrary predictions.  And this year I’m doing it.  For example, everyone picked the Nationals last year to win the NL east.  As I recall something like 54 of 54 people at ESPN picked the Nats to win the NL east.  The problem is, let’s say a team is 60% likely to win a division.  Well then of course everyone should pick them to win, but then when you see *all* the experts picking them to win, it makes that team appear to be far more dominant than they really are.  And it pushes me toward being a contrarian and picking the teams noone else is picking but who still have a real shot.  Which is a great way to miss on almost every prediction except 1 or 2 that noone else made.  Soooo, we’ll see how this goes.

To start with, you can see USA Today’s predictions here, or what the heck I can paste in this  handy graphic:  

Quibbles – The Angels finishing over Seattle?  I see Anaheim as a 4th place team at best, and Oakland may finish ahead of them.  They have the best player of this generation, or maybe ever, surrounded by bad players.  Richards can be a good pitcher, but the rest of the starters look to be poor.  And in the lineup Pujols is a shell of his former self and is probably their 2nd best hitter.  I could see them losing 90 with Trout, and 100 if he gets hurt.  I see Houston as the clear favorite in the west, and Texas and Seattle have a high degree of volatility in their possible outcomes.  The Rangers could be undone by the back end of their rotation, especially before Darvish comes back.  Seattle has so many eggs in the Cano & Cruz baskets, and those players are aging and at some point the production will really start to decline.  Cruz was so far above his career line last year, it is almost a given that he will massively decline this year.  However, Cano looks primed for a bounceback year after getting over his health issues from last year, and those 2 things might be a wash, statistically.  If pressed I’ll pick Seattle to finish 2nd in the west, and yes my objectivity here is hopelessly compromised.  I’m putting the Astros at like 89 wins and the M’s at 86 and Texas at 85.  Specific enough?  And 3 or 4 wins apart really means it’s anyone’s division to win, especially if injuries crop up, or one of the team goes 15 games over .500 in 1-run games or some other fluky thing.

Over in the AL Central, I will admit that this is a difficult division to predict, but I would take Cleveland or the Twins before the White Sox, though I do think the southsiders will be in the mix to the end and have a real shot at winning it.  And I’m picking the Tigers to finish at the bottom with the Royals (yes, last years champs).  When I say the bottom I mean around .500 in what is a very deep division (no really bad teams).  The Tigers strike me as a brittle, top-heavy team that could win 90 games if everything goes right, but it is the very rare season in which everything goes right like the 2001 116-win Seattle Mariners.  I think the whole division will win 80-something games.  If forced to go with 1 team I’ll take the Twins.  Tons of young talent there.  Sano is a monster.

In the AL East I think USA today has the O’s and the Yanks winning too many games.  I guess one theme with my picks is I’m very leery of what I perceive to be the older, more injury prone teams, or the “stars and scrubs” rosters that carry a lot of risk in 1 or 2 great players, especially as those players age.  I see the Yankees falling down to like 74 wins this year, and the O’s to a record of 69-93.  So who do I like in the east?  I like all 3 of the other teams, but I’m going to go with Tampa.  I told you I like to be a contrarian.  They have the pitching depth and just enough offense.  I’m optimistic about Brad Miller.  Those guys really know how to do more with less.  I’ll take Toronto 1 game behind them, and Boston 1 game behind Toronto.  90, 89, and 88 wins.

OK, it’s after 1 am and I’m not as much of an NL guy so let’s speed this up.  I’m *agreeing* with USA today’s NL east predictions!  Not just because I’m sleepy but I do like the Nats over the Mets this year.  It’s kind of silly that almost everyone picked the Nats this year, then they all go bleeting over to the Mets side after the Mets did well.  We so easily overreact to *recent* events and give those events too much weight in our analysis.  The Nats have Harper, and I think Rendon can bounce back, they have good pitching.  The Mets have pitchers who throw hard and get a lot of Ks.  They are good pitchers.  But I don’t particularly love their bullpen or their lineup.  Plus they have the Wilpons as owners (terrible reputation) and it’s always nice to be able to root against those guys.

I can quibble with the NL Central.  In my biggest upset pick I’m going with the Pirates to break through at last.  Of course the Cubs are better on paper.  That is why everyone is picking them.  They have the best front office int the game probably.  Awesome young talent all over the place, yada yada yada.  But everyone is picking them, so I’m going with the pirates.  I’ll admit that it’s probably like a 1:4 shot or something but it’s a legit shot.  Like any team there can be injuries, maybe a sophomore slump or two, anything can happen.  I don’t see it with St Louis.  I know they are a development factory and they just seem to manufacture good players out of thin air (bricks without straw!) – which by the way makes me crazy as a Mariners fan, an org that is the polar opposite of this in terms of player development.  We can ruin top 10 prospects if you give us a chance.  The Cardinals can make all stars out of guys off of the top 100.  Anyway I’m going with Pirates beating the Cubs in a one-game playoff to decide the division with 92-94 wins, and the Cards finishing with 85 wins.  I like their pick of the Reds with 61 wins, but I’ll pick the brewers to win 59 as they jettison all present talent for future lottery tickets.

In the NL West I’m going with Dodgers first, Dbacks and Giants tied for 2nd like 5 or 6 games back, and the Pads and Rockies way, way back in 4th and 5th place.  I guess the Rockies are a better team than the Padres, though USA Today disagrees.  They’re both bad, but the Rocks have Nolan Arenado, whose hitting is eclipsed only by his superlative fielding.  Both teams seem to lack much of a coherent plan, as far as I can tell.

Phew!  OK, 1:24.  Tammy is still at work planning her lessons for the week (man those teachers are all overpaid, amirite??), but even she won’t be there much longer so I must wrap this up.  Here is a link to the fangraphs staff predictions.  Kudos to them for the amount of variability in their picks.  None of the divisions are unanimous as the Nats were in years past on espn as I mentioned above.

Here are ESPN’s picks.  You can google more from SI, cbssportsline, nbc sports (hardball talk), etc etc.  In scanning these, I guess I’m most contrarian when I pick the Rays, Pirates, and Dodgers.  I’m kind of surprised that the Dodgers were picked by so few, at least at espn.  They can kind of buy their way out of any mistakes they make.  I knew the Rays and Pirates would be a little out there, and the Jays offense makes me waiver a little on the Rays pick but I shall not be, I shall not be moved.  Predictions are a fools errand.  And this is quite true when it comes to predicting outcomes in sports, where luck (or chance if you prefer) holds far more sway than most of those connected to the game want to admit.  Foolish or not, I’m crossing this errand off.  On to other items on the to-do list, like blogging about Alaska’s budget problems, filing our taxes, and prepping for class tomorrow.

 

SLP Caseloads

Posted in SLP, teaching, Uncategorized by Pete on March 14, 2016

I’m copying and pasting something from an SLP forum that I lurk on.  This is about caseloads and thought it was a good perspective and I wanted to be able to access it later so I’m pasting it in here.

I have posted this more than once. My rule of thumb is my caseload cannot exceed the number of hours I work over a week. So…if I work 38 hours, I can’t have more than 38 students. In that 38 hours, you are ALL entitled to 30 minutes of duty free lunch daily, and whatever planning time is given to the professional staff in your school. If you are working through lunch and planning time, you are NOT doing anyone any favors…and that includes the district and your students. You are allowing yourself to be taken advantage of.

So back to my rule of thumb. Where I worked, I had 30 minutes of lunch and 30 minutes of planning (planning was averaged out over the week…so really 2 1/2 hours per week) per day. So that left 28 hours in which to do everything else…therapy, testing IEP meetings, consults, classroom observations, report writing, meetings…you get the picture. Even with 28 hours to do all of that per week, I sometimes found myself stretched. When I read about caseloads that are double or triple what I had, I wonder just how FAPE is being met. And I wonder about the real quality of services…and I wonder just how quickly some of you will burn out.

It took me a while to get to the point I was at…that caseload of 30 or so students. Back in 1973 when I started, I had 13 schools and well over 100 students. It was a job that could NOT be done….period. I was at each school once every two weeks. The kids didn’t even know my name.

I immediately became a strong advocate for decent services for my students. NOTE…not for me…for my students. BUT in advocating for my students, I also advocated for myself, and our profession.

Our administration understood that the apraxic, low cognitive student with multiple issues…and multiple weekly consults…took much more of my time than even a multi sound artic case. And I needed to have the time for these things.

I understand that some folks don’t want to make waves because of job security and the like.

But read what you are saying….your admins expect you to make up time with students when you are absent for a day…but they also think it’s good quality services for you to be seeing 60 plus kids per week? I guess I think those are contradictory statements.

If they are REALLY worried about FAPE, they should get more staff…so ongoing services can be better.

Where I am, districts with these larger caseloads also have HUGE turnover in SLP staff…because folks simply move on to districts where the working conditions are better. And yes…that sometimes means a huge cut in pay. But I know a few people who went from having over 75 on their caseloads to under 40 and also lost over $6000 a year in salary. They say…it was well worth the reduction in salary to be able to provide a quality service to their students.

As a profession, we need to stand up and be counted. Do the special ed teachers in your district see 60 or 75 kids per week? How about OT and PT? If you are in a primary school….what classroom has 60-100 kids?

Please…advocate for quality services for your students. And for heaven’s sake…stop short changing yourselves by working through lunch and planning times…and taking hours of work home nightly.

OK…off my soapbox.

-S

And someone replied with:

I think everyone can reply to this question but not much can be concluded.  Numbers do not reflect workload.  I think that is where administrators loose perspective on appropriate staffing.  So much goes into determining workload for any specialists.  Everything from severity of students to universal supports provided in a school system.  I personally could service 30 articulation kids over a couple of days with my eyes closed but give me 30 more involved students and the game changes.

We all need to advocate for reasonable workloads and numbers.  The amount of work, paperwork and meeting time that is required for each student also need to be taken into consideration.  I also find that administrators have little to no understanding of the process of language development nor how decreased language abilities impact academics.

This past year I published a book,  The School Speech Language Pathologist,  An Administrator’s Guide to understanding the role of the SLP in schools along with strategies to aid staffing, workload management and student success.  It’s just a start in educating administration.  Available on Amazon and through my publisher Booklocker.

I think it would also be interesting to know how much turnover occures because of workloads/caseloads that are too high an unmanageable.  My 30 years of experience can also state that staffing levels have not grown over the years but numbers have.  Think about that.

I didn’t write either of these but they are good food for thought, for me at least.  I’ve wrestled since before I became an SLP with the service delivery model used in the Alaska bush (at least in my home district of LKSD) and this applies to that issue.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,