Out There

“100% of the communities in the state of Alaska have state highways”

Posted in politics by Pete on August 11, 2017

This brilliant quote is from Peter Micciche, the republican senator from Soldotna and I believe the current senate chair.  I try not to dwell on politics too much, but this one was so classic I had to put it down for posterity.  It was lifted from this podcast, at the 23:16 mark.  The context was as follows.  The show was about what further cuts could be made to the budget, and how we will fill the deficit going forward (the Senate favors taking from the permanent fund, and the house favors a smaller hit to the PFD coupled with an income tax).

On the topic of further savings/cuts to be made, fellow Republican Senator Cathy Giessel spoke about how over 50% of the costs of the state ferry system was subsidized by the state, and how that needed to change – implying that ferry riders would have to pay more and/or ferry services would need to be cut.  This is a common view from legislators from all parts of the state other than southeast AK, where most of the ferry service happens.  A teacher from Juneau called in shortly after and criticized this view, and made the point that people driving the Glenn Hwy from Palmer/Wasilla (Giessel’s stomping grounds) to Anchorage every day aren’t paying a toll.  Their transportation is subsidized entirely by the state, so isn’t it fair that the Alaska Marine Highway System, the de facto road system of southeast Alaska, be subsidized at it’s current levels?  So then Micciche responded with:

The fact is, the reason why we’re not charging a toll right now, is that a hundred percent of the communities in Alaska have state highways.

Uhhh…no.  Kasigluk where I live has no state highway.  Mekoryuk has no state highway.  Nelson Island has no state highway.  There are approximately 200 villages in Alaska.  The vast majority have no state highway.  I’m pretty confident that actually less than half of the communities in Alaska have a state highway.  Not 100%.  Later he repeated “State roads are in every community.” That is either a huge brain fart or deliberate obfuscation from the Senate chair.  Insert joke here about why I should be surprised about this, but actually I was liking much of what they were saying and how he thought most of the cuts to be made had already happened and they were agreeing that we need to increase revenue (FINALLY!)…but he lost me with that ridiculous statement.  I will post a link to this post on his facebook page and give him a chance to respond.  He knows more about state highway funding than I will ever know, but I can’t see how it could be construed that we have a state highway.

Advertisements

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.

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.

 

Carbon Tax

Posted in politics by Pete on September 11, 2015

I’m not going to actually analyze this giant issue here and now, but an article in the ADN today caught my eye.  It cites a study that found that rural Alaskans would “benefit financially from a proposed national program designed to increase energy efficiency and move away from fossil fuels by charging a fee for carbon and returning dividends to households.”

Specifically:

Dividend payments to Alaska households in the study area would total $5.9 million the first year, which would be $2.2 million more than the cost of the fee. “Given the data we have, people in rural Alaska would fare well,” Colt said.

And the counter argument:

One important caveat found in the study is that while most residents would get more in dividends than they would pay in fees, a minority would not. “That is a concern with every kind of assistance program,” Colt said.

Although I’d heard of market-based approaches to the climate/carbon emissions problem before, I was intrigued enough to check out the org who paid for the study.  Their website has this banner at the top of the front page:

CCL banner

Nice.  And the more I think about it, the more I’m persuaded.  At first blush I like this plan.  I realize that as a middle to upper middle class person using lots of electricity in a village that gets most of its power from inefficient diesel generators, I probably will pay more than I would receive.  But the economist in me believes that an incentive-based approach is the most effective way to get everyone (and utilities) to pay attention and actually change their behavior.  Isn’t it preferable to intense regulation by the EPA that is the most likely alternative??  Doing nothing just kicks the ever-increasing costs and problems down the road to future generations – foolish.  Am I wrong here?  Feel free to comment if you can state your case reasonably with a minimum of a few sentences.

One other thing to note is the comments section at the bottom of that ADN article.  Classic.  In a depressing, mind-numbing way.  Way to think things through and put others first guys.

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.”

And

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

And

“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:

roller-coaster-scared

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.

garbage

Posted in politics by Pete on February 22, 2012

I was disheartened to see this story on APRN.  If I wasn’t such a young Pollyanna maybe I wouldn’t have been.  You can read it or scroll down and click the arrow at the bottom to hear the audio news clip.  Requiring our state senators and representatives to file their financial reports online is an overdue no-brainer.  It allows any Joe Citizen to go online and view the reports as soon as they are filed.  When they file the old fashioned way, on paper, it takes a long time for the state to go through it all and post it online for public review, sometimes until after the election.  Filing electronically is of course more efficient, but beyond that it shines the light of public scrutiny on each politician’s donor listing.  And transparency in this case is a very good thing.

The legislature passed the law creating the requirement in the first place, but now they have the nerve to blame the bipartisan commission (which they also created) tasked to enforce it.  The 2007 legislation was born out of the scandals of 4 or 5 years ago that brought down several career politicians, most notably Ted Stevens.  Grainy FBI surveillance tapes showed money changing hands in a suite at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, and notorious audio recordings capture the oilmen saying things like “We own his ass” in reference to specific legislators they supported financially.

Anyway the recent news is that our politicians, in their wisdom self-serving, short-sighted foolishness, recently voted to water down and delay the implementation of the law.  And the senate even had the gall to vote that any sitting politician be grandfathered in and not be required to ever file electronically.  Note that the APOC commission is bipartisan, and they unanimously “blasted” the legislature.  Also note that the legislature passed this almost unanimously, so both parties share the blame.

I can’t believe Republican reps Mike Hawker and Craig Johnson were so brazen as to call in to the APOC meeting and defend the legislature’s actions.  How about this quote?

“I don’t know if you guys are aware of this, but 17 percent of Alaskans have no access to Internet – none – and if you go beyond that into the people that have dial up, that number goes up to almost 20 percent, 25 percent,” Johnson said. “And this is typically the very poor and the people in rural Alaska. And by implementing this policy you have effectively excluded those people from running for office.”

Yes that would be the Alaska Republican politician, the champion of Alaska’s rural poor, coming to their rescue (that sound you hear is the dripping of sarcasm).  The view I heard from a very prominent Republican leader in Anchorage that has always stayed with me is that the natives should be forcibly rounded up, relocated to homes on the road system, and given lump sum cash payments in exchange for the nonnegotiable revocation of all present and future government obligations to them.  So yes I’m a bit cynical about the concern of road system republican politicians for the rural poor.

Addressing the quote specifically, note the word “you” in the final sentence, though the legislature is the one that put this policy together.  And in Kasigluk where we live there IS dial-up internet available.  I’ve traveled around western Alaska to perhaps a dozen different villages and I’m not aware of any that have no dial-up option, though it may well be true for some of the tiniest communities in the state like Platinum, Oscarville, Red Devil, Perryville, Lime Village, Pelican, etc.  An internet provider might not want to pay for a phone line if the community has 9 people in it or whatever.  However,  those sorts of places all put together don’t come anywhere close to 17% of the state.  So I would challenge those figures.  And further as the article points out, communities of less than 15,000 (which is all but 4 or 5 cities in the state) are exempt from this law when it comes to municipal elections.  And in the unlikely hypothetical that a person from a tiny village wanted to run for state office and had no access to internet, I can say from experience that the local school (which all have internet – usually satellite) would let them hop on a computer for a few hours to get it done.  Every school or district would love to have a politician elected from their back yard.  And the schools in the bush serve the whole community, not just the active current student body (or at least they should).  This is why the whole village comes to prom, and why you see adults doing distance-delivered college classes in the school library or computer lab in the evenings, and men playing ball in the gym at night.  You think the local school will tell a guy running for state office that he can’t use a computer for a few hours on a Saturday?  OK, and if the person running for state office lived in a community without a school, that means it is a miniscule community indeed and they could request a waiver from the electronic filing requirement and as mentioned in the article they would certainly get it.

So to sum up, Johnson’s figures are almost certainly wrong, the conclusion (“you have effectively excluded those people from running for office”) is a knowing lie, and the motivation is entirely selfish.  All in a day’s work in Juneau?   It’s bad enough when you see such blatantly self-serving legislation sail through the house and senate.  But it’s even worse when some try and pretend that they’re passing it out of concern for the poor.  Am I wrong about any of this?  Make a thoughtful comment to the contrary.  I know that they may have had some legitimate reasons for trying to delay implementation of the electronic filing, but I haven’t heard any.  And isn’t it a really, really bad idea on the heels of a massive bribery scandal to start rolling back the protections just recently put in place?  Yes I’m overreacting – this is just a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things but for whatever reason as you can see it obviously got me worked up so there you go.  I process by talking or writing, and this is the kind of processing I do with my evenings while away from home.  Hopefully now that it’s all processed I can leave it here and move on.  That’s what this blog was meant for anyway – my mental dump.  ; – )

one economist’s perspective

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on September 30, 2009

“In Galena and the six related villages the annual average suicide rate was 141 per 100,000 over the period 1979-1989. In Nome and the 15 related villages it was 89 per 100,000. In Bethel and the 48 villages of the Yukon-Kuskokwim region it was 56 per 100,000. Galena was awash in booze, with a store in Galena, one in Ruby, in, and one on the Yukon near another village. The Nome villages were dry, on paper. But residents brought booze in from the liquor store in Nome and arrived home drunk from its bars. But the Y-K region had no liquor stores or bars, except for the store in Red Devil, 150 miles up the Kuskokwim from Bethel. The three studies, which included accidental deaths as well as suicides, showed alcohol was involved in over two-thirds of all the deaths they reported.  What else should these suicide rates be compared with, besides each other? The annual average suicide rate in the U.S. has been around 12 per 100,000 since 1900. It fluctuates a little, but not much, through two world wars, the Depression, the entry of many more women into the labor force during and after World War II, increasing drug use, race riots, anti-war protests, a huge influx of immigrants, and other major social changes nationally.”

Here is the link to the full article.