Out There

Another twist in Bethel’s history with alcohol

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on March 30, 2015

Remember in 2009 when Bethel voted to go from damp to wet, ostensibly because they were upset that Sarah Palin had pushed to cut the monthly importation limits (20 drinks per day) allowed per person in damp villages in half, among other things?

“Hawkins gathered names from friends at his backyard steam house. To him, the vote to go wet is about more than the failed attempt to tighten liquor limits. The problem, he thinks, is that lawmakers in Juneau have imposed restrictions on the city for more than 20 years, making them slap “ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE” labels on their luggage, putting their names in a database of booze buyers and trying to chop liquor limits without asking voters.

Quote is from this article from September 2009, and that article was originally in the ADN but can’t find it now, but prompted this post.  A similar quote from that post, about the same Bethelite (Tom Hawkins) is this one:
“We want the citizens of Bethel to be able to choose what they want or don’t want on these alcohol issues. We don’t want the state to continue to flog us with these rules,” said Tom Hawkins, 60.”
Also in the article was the widely-circulated argument by the wet-vote proponents that there would never be legal alcohol sales in Bethel.  That the move to go wet was just about the airline sticker, and keeping government out of our business, etc etc.  I remember several of the organizers going on record that they would be the first in line to oppose anyone who attempted to get a liquor license to sell booze in Bethel.  They stressed that this wasn’t a vote about whether alcohol should be able to be sold in Bethel, just about whether we should allow the government to require the sticker on our checked boxes of booze on Alaska Air, and whether we should allow them to monitor how many bottles we were ordering from Anchorage each month.  See this quote from the same article as the first quote:

“Hawkins says he and other petitioners would be the strongest opponents if the city tried to start selling booze.”


“Opening a liquor store is a “no-no in my” book, Trantham said. He said he’d fight it.”


“The ballot proposition would wipe away the shipping restrictions altogether. Westlake, one of the petitioners who put the question to a vote, says it’s a smaller-government thing. “I don’t want the state involved in our day-to-day life.”  The state’s push to halve limits fueled the backlash, he said.”

So now we get…the rest of the story.  Bethel Native Corporation lost it’s anchor tenant at their gigantic, beautiful building across the street from the hospital when Swanson’s mysteriously and without warning went out of business (which could probably be the subject of a very long series of posts in and of itself – crazy dysfunction on many levels, it appears).  BNC is clearly desperate to collect rent from someone, anyone, and in order to best serve their shareholders…they are pursuing opening a liquor store.  Meetings before city council have begun, and AC is planning on opening their own store too.  But I haven’t heard anything from Hawkins or Trantham or any of the people from 2009 who said they would be the “strongest opponents” on the issue.  When I heard about the liquor store opening, I immediately recalled those promises and had to google it to find what was reported at the time.  And maybe they have spoken up recently in opposition to the liquor store, I really don’t know, but if they have it hasn’t gotten coverage.  I think I’m going to give them a phone call and see what they have to say, 6 years later.  Might have to record it.  : – )

OK, so where do I stand?
I have written a lot of posts over the years on this issue – a byproduct of having strong feelings about it, which is a byproduct of working with FAS kids, comforting freaked out kids in our home village who have fled their house, and other alcohol-fueled heartache.  I get that you can’t stop people from doing what they want to do.  But actually, what the majority of people here in Kasigluk want to do, is have no alcohol available.  They voted.  As did almost all of the 52 villages for which Bethel is the hub.  Think about it – if Bethel was DRY, where would the booze come from?  (newbies remember Bethel and all of western AK is not on the road system)  Suitcases and the mail.  And homebrew.  And the price would skyrocket.  Which means less people drinking.  That’s a fact.  Just as higher cigarette taxes result in fewer people trying smoking.  If the price of illegal booze triples, there is simply less to go around.  So there is some frustration on my end that Bethel voters (mostly out-of-towners) continually give folks in the villages the finger, so to speak, in regard to this issue.
The only other option I could maybe get behind is the “package store” concept the troopers were promoting many years ago.  Basically it would be a large liquor store in Bethel, and it would be the ONLY alcohol option.  No more flying it in and picking it up at ACE air cargo.  And the package store requires picture ID, and tracks your purchases, and obviously won’t sell if your ID indicates you are from an outlying village.  This doesn’t solve everything either, but would at least make it a little tougher on the bootleggers.  Leave a comment if you like – but note that I screen them and it needs to be constructive and not abusive in order to get published.

The “Make Everyone Mad” Fiscal Plan

Posted in politics by Pete on March 19, 2015

The state of Alaska is currently in an economic free fall due to a precipitous drop in the price of oil.  This seems to happen every 15 years or so and the symptoms are becoming a little familiar.  Right now we’re at this part of the ride:


To take the metaphor a little further – the folks who can see what is ahead are FREAKED, while a bunch of other people are still just “enjoying the ride” without a clue about what lies ahead.  I got this pic from here:  https://bettiesparties.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/roller-coaster-scared.jpg

Or if you prefer:

Anyway the Alaska Dispatch has produced a 3-part take on the current fiscal situation that gives a good overview of the historical context of our situation, and the difficult political realities that surround any of the actual solutions.  The piece by Dermot Cole includes these quotes:

Legislators and the Parnell administration signed off on the 2015 the budget last spring, portraying it as a model of conservatism, fully confident oil would stay near $100 a barrel.

While they ran for office last summer and fall, no one warned of oil prices in the $55 range or that a collapse was coming.

The state budget analysis did not include oil price predictions below $90, which seemed reasonable at the time. It’s apparent now they were not.

It’s no surprise some lawmakers have invested more time in marijuana regulations and ending daylight saving time than in preparing for the likelihood that, if oil prices don’t rise, the next step will be a giant one off the fiscal cliff.

It’s easier to fume about federal overreach or hope the problem will just go away than fill a budget hole that amounts to about $5,000 per Alaskan per year.

$5,000 per Alaskan per year!!  The actual total figure is $3.5 billion.  To put that in some context, a state income tax would raise something like $350 million.  And no amount of cuts gets the state anywhere near a balanced budget.  At this point, really nothing is being done other than lots of small cuts that probably are penny-wise and pound foolish in the long run (from that last link, cutting the parents as teachers program seems the dumbest given that the program costs well under $1m per year to operate).

“Some suggest elected officials will wait until the state falls over the cliff into the ‘fiscal gap’ because only then will enough elected officials believe they have constituent support to access previously unused revenue sources such as the Permanent Fund earnings or to reinstate a personal income tax,” Commonwealth North said in a 2007 report, reflecting a sentiment shared by any number of Alaskans over the years.

And I believe that those elected officials will NOT pursue the income tax very seriously, instead just taking money from the permanent fund, which amounts a massively regressive tax on the poor.

The UPSET plan

Sometimes the only fair plan is the one that makes EVERYONE mad. While it is true that taking from the PFD is regressive and hurts the poor the most, others will argue that an income tax is unfair to the rich and hardly affects the poor at all. Which is why we need BOTH.  And more.

  • Understand that we all have to pitch in to work toward a better future for our state.
  • Personal income tax – The income tax as it existed before I believe was a simple 10% of whatever you paid the feds that year so it takes about 30 seconds to figure out.  I believe this would be about $350M, and even more importantly would get people more invested in state government instead of just viewing everything as an automatic benefit without cost.
  • Sales Tax – Add a 5% tax statewide on everything other than food.  No idea what this would raise – probably something similar to the income tax.
  • Earnings from the permanent fund.  Use say 20% of the fund earnings for current year spending (40% to the fund, 40% used as payouts).  This amounts to more than $1B most years.
  • Take 15% from the budget of every state department/program, rather than picking and choosing which to eliminate and which to leave unscathed.  I know some programs can’t be cut for legal reasons so not sure what this would save – probably something just under a billion.

The only really fair way is to hit all of us at once rather than trying to get it all from one source that affects one population disproportionately more than the others.  This is all just “back of the napkin” stuff but probably makes our 3.5B deficit something more like a $1b deficit.  Of course you are free to quibble with the particular numbers but you get the general idea.  Obviously we all hope the price of oil goes back up, but until then something should be done.  Now.

Alaska Politics as Usual

Posted in politics by Pete on March 19, 2015

Sigh.  This isn’t that big of a deal, but wasn’t it just a few years ago that the FBI did it’s big sting operation in our state capitol?  How quickly we forget.  The Alaska state legislature is apparently about to change the deadline for filing annual financial disclosure reports from March 15 to May 15.  Allegedly so that the date lines up better with tax day.  Note that the legislative session runs from Jan 20 to April 19, so that the new date is almost a month after everyone has left Juneau.  Les Gara has it right:

“The public is entitled to know what potential conflicts we have, what business interests we own, during session when the bills are pending — not after session, after it’s too late,” said Gara.

If the concern really has to do with tax day, why not change to April 15, when they’re at least still (barely) in session?  And the truth is that most people have done their taxes by March 15 anyway.  Most people have all the financial information needed to do it by the end of January – March 15th was not an impractical burden.  So it’s tough not to be cynical here.  It seems that the politicians don’t like having people going through their reports and identifying conflicts of interest during the session.  Real-time accountability and transparency are good, but this reduces both.  Maybe we should just get rid of the filing requirement altogether?  Or require a filing 10 years after they quit the legislature?  Sigh.

Responding to Buster in 1,712 Words

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on March 18, 2015

So I’m not a big twitter guy.  I use it to follow baseball news, but only 2 or 3 times a week or so.  I am into podcasts though, and these 2 things intersect here:

Short back and forth with Buster Olney that prompted me to write this blog post.

Short back and forth with Buster Olney that prompted me to write this blog post.

Oops, just noticed it’s missing one of my 2 responses, here is the other:

buster twitter part 2

I sent that tweet as a part one, with the “maybe I’m hypersensitive” being part two.  Anyway, so to complete the background context, this all started when I was listening to the baseball tonight podcast from 3/16/15.  I like the podcast and all of the guests and generally agree with most but not all of the baseball analysis.  It’s generally fairly light and fun stuff that I just listen to while getting ready in the morning or working on my truck or whatever, along with podcasts from Baseball Prospectus, Freakonomics, NPR’s Planet Money, and several more.

Anyway on the 3/16 podcast there was a segment with Paul Hoynes beginning at 27:30.  He is the baseball beat writer with the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  As he explains on the podcast, he played rugby at Marquette and they used to do this “war cry” all the time as teammates.  Then he did it one night at a bar in Tucson Arizona while working as a reporter covering spring training, and it has taken on a life of its own.  Now it has become a tradition that he does the war cry in the press box, during each Friday and/or Saturday home game, and there is a $2 pool to pick which half inning he will do it and the winner gets the $34.  At the end of the segment he does the goofy thing and that’s it.  Later in the podcast Buster and his producer agree that the war cry should end all of their podcasts from now on.  It’s a funny thing, and seems harmless enough.  Until I kind of did a mental double take and realized “Hey wait a minute…he covers the Indians!”  I did this double take actually about 3 seconds after he finished the war cry.  I think it was right after I had the thought that it sounds an awful lot like a stereotypical “indian” war cry from an old west movie or something.  So I did a double take.  He is doing this self-described war cry, in the press box of the “Chief Wahoo” (logo) Cleveland Indians, whose name has come up a lot in the last several years as far as whether the name is offensive, or should be changed, etc.

So here again is what was in the tweets, all of them pasted in order:

12:21  Fan of the podcast. Disappointed to hear native “war cry” by Indians beat writer.

12:34  It’s got nothing to do with that, as is clear from his explanation of its origin.

12:36  I know it stems from his rugby days & there is no bad intention. But hearing about it happening in the Indians press box (1of2)

12:39  Maybe I’m hypersensitive to Chief Wahoo-I live in actual Indian country. It’s something that should have been gone LONG ago.

12:42  I live in an area named for words in the language of Native Americans. If I just yell out loud–any sound–that’s racist?

Buster’s first rebuttal is that it isn’t about Chief Wahoo.  I say I know that wasn’t how it started out and that isn’t what its about for Hoynes himself, but (and this is where the twitter character limit is an issue) it just still seems like making a war cry yell in the press box of an Indians game in this day and age, and talking about it nationally, probably not a great idea.  Then he comes back with a more ridiculous argument the 2nd time that isn’t worth any more of our time.  But it’s interesting that his opening argument was that this has nothing to do with the racism/offensive/chief wahoo angle, then his second argument is focused on minimizing the perceived impact of that same angle.

FINALLY, my argument, in one paragraph.  We don’t get to decide what hurts other people’s feelings.  Sometimes my kids and their friends (or my wife and I) will argue or tease or whatever and someone walks away with hurt feelings.  Oftentimes the “perpetrator” feels like the “victim” is overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing.  And maybe they are.  But if the “perp” cares about that person at all, it is really on the “perp” to adjust their behavior to avoid the hurt feelings the next time.  If they really care about them, they might even apologize.  And this example I have used from my family doesn’t take into account the centuries of baggage and abuse and other crappy seeds that have been sewn to create the current race relations between native americans and the majority culture.  I get that Hoynes and the folks in the press box mean no harm by this silly tradition, and they’ve been doing it for 30 years and its all in good fun.  But this is an inflamed, hurtful issue and a big, big deal for a lot of natives who currently number about 5m in the USA.  Even if you mean no harm by it, basically don’t be a stumbling block for your brother.  That’s it.

Responding to the “People don’t have a problem with it!” Argument

I know that there are a whole lot of Chief Wahoo supporters, including some natives.  But there is no denying there are a bushel-full of those who are against it, from tribal councils to individuals to knitting circles to church committees, who have written blogs and sent letters and otherwise petitioned the Indians to change the name for many years.  They’ve protested at opening day outside Jacobs or Progressive Field for over 20 years I believe.  If you google it or click just some of the links I put up above you will see there is a LOT of heartfelt opposition and first-person descriptions of how it is deeply symbolic and hurtful.  So, to my way of thinking anyway, strip away 90% of the noise about this issue and you still have these facts – a whole lot of people are really hurt by it and the Cleveland Indians won’t change anything…because they just don’t care very much.

The “You’re being hypersensitive” Argument

Yes, of course this sort of sensitivity argument (or political correctness if you must) can be taken too far, as in Buster’s silly argument about not being able to utter a sound.  At some point people DO have to develop a thick skin.  But who determines when that is?  Who determines when a racial caricature is offensive?  Who draws these lines?  Of course it is subjective which is why this debate is happening at all, but I’m pretty sure that wherever that line is, Chief Wahoo (not to mention the Washington Redskins) is well past foul territory and out of bounds.  Let’s try to put this another way:

racist ball caps

This was copied from one of the links above.

I can just hear some Indians fans of Jewish/Chinese descent arguing they have no problem with this, they would wear it, it honors their culture, etc.  But come on.  And this isn’t even a very true metaphor because we didn’t invade the land of the Jews or Chinese, decimate their population, take away much of their ability to provide for themselves (hunt and gather), and forcibly relocate them and take away their way of life.  Yes, I know that is in the history books, but that just means it *actually happened*.  And sure, at some point people do need to move on.   But that is something each person has to do, and our country still has a lot of work to do in terms of justice and reconciliation toward our native citizens.  (If you don’t believe me then check out the comment threads you will find accompanying some of these links and others)  Going back to the hat metaphor, the only thing close I can think of would be like the “Berlin Jews” (or Frankfurt, or Auschwitz) soccer team.  Good idea?  No. Would you tell the protesting Jews to develop thicker skin?  Maybe if the protest was happening a thousand years from now.  But even then probably not.  The ‘Indians’ name should probably go, and Chief Wahoo should definitely go.

DISCLAIMERS!  I don’t spend that much time and energy usually on this kind of thing.  Definitely my first post ever defending what some might perceive as “political correctness.”  But I wanted to respond to Buster in a way that was impossible via twitter due to the character limits.  Buster and his producer Josh put on a great podcast that I enjoy for free almost every day.  Buster is also a really smart guy and I didn’t write this because I enjoy the debate.  I’m not a troll, nor do I get off on engaging with public figures.  I wrote this because I despaired about ever being parsimonious enough to put something that made sense into tiny twitter bursts.  Buster and Josh have to put together almost an hour of entertaining and insightful dialogue about baseball like 250+ days out of the year, and that’s a challenge I don’t even fully understand.  I also have no axe to grind with Paul Hoynes – I’ve heard him on the podcast many times and appreciate his input as someone close to the team.  Also I’m a big fan of the Cleveland Indians front office in terms of their baseball acumen.  Was just reading on fangraphs about how they are, by one measure, #1 in getting the most bang for their limited buck.  Actually this all started when I got on twitter and was surprised to not see feedback about the war cry and figured if noone else was going to say anything that maybe I should.

I know this is a hot button issue that often draws ugly comments.  I moderate all my comments so if you just need to vent your spleen go ahead but it won’t get published.  I’ll publish and try to respond to reasonable comments from any side of the issue, but I’ve already spent way more time on this than I intended.