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.

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.

 

Kindergarten Truancy

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 18, 2015

This is meant as an open letter to the Alaska legislature, Governor Walker, parents, and educational leaders across the state.  Alaska law currently makes school attendance mandatory for kids between the ages of 7 and 16.

Here is the statute:

(a) Every child between seven and 16 years of age shall attend school at the public school in the district in which the child resides during each school term. Every parent, guardian or other person having the responsibility for or control of a child between seven and 16 years of age shall maintain the child in attendance at a public school in the district in which the child resides during the entire school term, except as provided in (b) of this section.

I’ve come to think this is a problem.

All too often I see kids who are enrolled in kindergarten who attend extremely sporadically and are then retained.  Today in one of the rural school districts I work in I was asking the kindergarten teacher about one of the students on my caseload, trying to get a feel for the student’s standing relative to their classmates, their progress this year, and any teacher concerns.  The teacher reported that the child can perform about as well as their classmates when they are paying attention and physically in school.  She mentioned that three kids were retained from last year’s kindergarten class (including my student), and she wants to retain 4 more from this year’s class, and she believes the reason for why all those kids are behind is truancy, with some of her kids attending about 2/3 of the time (40 absences by mid Feb).  I asked if the school has filed truancy reports or anything and she reminded me that until the child is 7 there is nothing the teacher or school can do.  I’ve been involved in education in the bush for over 10 years and I’ve seen this happen with kindergartners time after time.  But today it just struck me as illogical and silly that we go after parents who let their 4th grader or 8th grader stay home, but we allow it with kindergartners.  Truancy is a huge, chronic issue in the bush.  If we allow it to be a habitual thing for the first 2 years of school with no penalty, should we be surprised that it remains an issue for the rest of that child’s life in school?

I believe the intent of the law is to allow parents to decide when their child is ready to start kindergarten, so the state isn’t forcing 5 year-olds to begin school.  I don’t take issue with that.  However, I do take issue when the parents decide it IS time to start school, but then the child shows up half the time.  If it is obvious that it isn’t working for whatever reason, the parents should withdraw the child and try again the following year.  Or at least have a conversation with the teacher where it is acknowledged that they aren’t really trying to go to first grade in the next year and that the school shouldn’t be trying to move heaven and earth to get the child the extra help required to make it happen.

The law in section (b) makes exceptions to mandatory attendance, for things like illness, private school, living far from the nearest school, etc.  Then way at the end there is this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is six years of age in first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is six years of age and is enrolled in first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

I think it should be changed to this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is FIVE OR six years of age in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is FIVE OR six years of age and is enrolled in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

This is a small change but would help to combat runaway truancy, while not taking away from the spirit of the law which allows parents the freedom to determine when their child begins kindergarten.

the broad solution to the debt ceiling budget shortfall groundhog day crisis!

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on November 20, 2013

Every few months we all get treated to another round of debt ceiling freakouts by our elected leaders.  When “…the question on everyone’s lips (their chapped lips!) is:” will we default and plunge off some sort of metaphorical cliff like Phil and the groundhog (Don’t drive angry!), or will they make a deal?  A compromise.  A deal like the one proposed by Simpson & Bowles way back in 2010, which enjoyed a modicum of bipartisan support, but apparently not enough to make legislation actually happen.

A story from last month that appeared shortly after the last edge-of-the-cliff temporary agreement is here.  Its a good primer on the recent history of the debt ceiling problem, and gives a depressing commentary on how far the 2 parties are apart on the issue.  So I figured that what the country needs is for a random blogger with zero readers or influence to come up with a plan to fix things, ha ha.  But surely this isn’t that difficult.  The problem seems to be much more about pride and influence and self interest than it is about the actual logistics or the complexity of the problem itself.  As opposed to, say, the problem of systemic, generational poverty.  So without further ado, here is Pete’s super-easy fix to the debt ceiling / budget deficit issue, aka the “make everyone crazy” plan.

First you raise all taxes across the board by 5%.  Note for you non-mathy types, this doesn’t mean you go from a bracket of 15% to 20%.  It would be from 15% to 15.75%.  Or from 20% to 21%.  Or 30% to 31.5%.  This will whip the conservatives into a white-hot, burn him in effigy, I-can-only-put-this-in-writing-because-I-live-in-far-away-western-Alaska-where-there-is-no-conservative-talk-radio, apoplectic rage.  Then you serve up a slice of budget cuts, a 10% cut across the board, from every department and program without discrimination.  No wrangling over which ones lose how much money.  Easy peasy.  This is the part where those of a liberal bent are reduced to seething, incoherent gibberish as they blow their top, hit the roof, lose their chips, insert your favorite cliche here, etc etc.  OK.  Now who haven’t we upset?  Just to be sure to get everyone involved, we top this meal off by raising the retirement age to 66 for everyone who is currently between the ages of 36 and 50, 67 for those ages 20 to 35, and 68 for everyone who is under 20.  This by itself would go a long way toward preserving social security solvency.  #4 is to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction on mortgages that exceed $1M.  This obviously wouldn’t affect most Americans, and wouldn’t make that much economic difference but I just had to include it as a nod to the fine people and classic podcast at Planet Money.  That’s it!  Four bullet points (in paragraph form!).  Now was that so difficult?  Of course you can quibble with the numbers.  Maybe its a 4% tax increase and 8% budget cut, whatever, you get the basic idea.

We’ve tried to find something that makes everyone happy.  We’ve tried for years.  It hasn’t worked.  So if it makes everyone mad…can’t that be fair too?  I had this revelation several years ago when Alaska endured the Frank Murkowski regime (a far bleaker time in Alaska politics, I feel, than when Sarah Palin was govnuh), when the state house and senate in Juneau were led by the most absurdly, SNL-esque over-the-top partisan leaders.  Millionaire banker Murkowski proposed helping to balance the budget via the POMV, which was maybe sort of a gateway drug to raiding the PFD, which would amount to a massively regressive tax on the poor.  Opponent Fran Ulmer proposed an income tax, but only if the state savings account fell to a certain predetermined level.  Murkowski called for the “Council of Alaskans” to decide, and nothing was decided.  Then it occurred to me that if everyone hates it, its probably fair!  Don’t do the GOP plan.  Don’t do the democrat plan.  Do both.  In this case you might even end up with a surplus and reduce the national debt.

Yes I know, it could never happen, this is a democracy where people need to get elected (and re-elected), blah blah blah.  Impossible in today’s polarized political climate.  Maybe tomorrow, but not today.

Take it away Phil.  “Well what if there is no tomorrow?!?  There wasn’t one today!”

politics today – personal power over serving others

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on October 19, 2012

Politics is important.  We need to pay attention, be informed, and vote for people who will help lead our country where it should go.  Tons of people don’t vote today, and this is especially true in Alaska, and even more so in the villages of bush Alaska like Kasigluk.  Why?

I think partly because articles like this and this are essential.  You can turn on the presidential debates like we did here on our XM radio, and really gain very little useful and true information as to the candidate positions on the important issues.  Because the most important issues may or may not be discussed (while frivolous or largely symbolic issues grab headlines), and because even when they are discussed the candidates so often speak in duplicitous half-truths or even out and out lies.  Example from the first link above (CAPS are my insertion of the actual truth and I crossed out the lies):

ROMNEY: “As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year FROM 2010 TO 2011 on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federal waters.” OF THE MORATORIUM ON NEW OIL DRILLING IN THE GULF AFTER THE APRIL 2010 BP OIL SPILL, AND BECAUSE ALMOST ALL NEW GAS DISCOVERIES ARE BEING MADE USING NEW AND CHEAPER “FRACKING” TECHNOLOGY ON PRIVATE LANDS.

Obama appeared to make similarly false statements, like about implementing a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens when in fact such a pathway does not exist at this time.  And Romney was clearly dissembling when he accused Obama of bringing down the auto industry, when in face Obama’s plan that Romney publicly opposed then and now saved much of the domestic auto industry.  

What if we had a candidate who could only be honest, like Jim Carrey in the 90s movie “Liar Liar.”  Yes, he would probably get killed on election day, but man would it be refreshing.  

I remember when republican Frank Murkowski defeated democrat Fran Ulmer here in Alaska in the governor’s race in 2002 or so and it was largely because he painted her as someone who wanted to implement an income tax and “steal” people’s PFD (permanent fund dividend – the state was in a budget crisis at the time due to low oil revenue).  Those were just fear mongering out and out lies, but they got him elected, with signs that said “Vote Frank Murkowski – Protect your PFD.”  Murkowski was a millionaire with a banking background, while Ulmer was an educator.  Guess which one had a lot more to lose from an income tax and would prefer to fund government using the permanent fund?

After his victory Murkowski called together the “Conference of Alaskans,” 55 bipartisan leaders and ordinary citizens to meet and agree on a way out of the budget crisis.  I actually taped the proceedings that were aired live.  Their initial conclusion was that the most fair way to help balance the state budget was an income tax that would kick in only if oil revenues stayed down and reserves ran out.  The Republicans freaked out and descended on the conference, and within 24 hours the conclusions were changing.  From the Juneau Empire, The Conference of Alaskans eventually “recommended spending some permanent fund earnings on state government, but also said the Legislature should consider balancing that with other sources of revenue, including a personal income tax and other broad-based taxes.  Another conference recommendation is that permanent fund dividends be guaranteed in the state Constitution.”

Murkowski and republican majority in the legislature pushed for the POMV plan, using more of the permanent fund earnings for government spending, and even a statewide sales tax, but never touched the income tax idea.  Anyway, all this to say that Murkowski ended up showing what was obvious from the start – he was much more of a threat to the PFD payouts than Ulmer ever was, despite his campaign signs to the contrary.

All of this leads me to this article in Time magazine by Michael Grunwald, which is unfortunately blocked behind a pay wall which most of us don’t pay.  But it basically details how the republicans were in disarray after Obama’s victory over McCain, and how they came together to plan stategy, and decided that everything hinged on denying Obama the bipartisan, “reaching across the aisle and working together” Washington DC that he sold to the voters.  By saying no.  To everything.  Here are some quotes lifted from the paper copy of the article in front of me.  “”We’re not here to cut deals and get crumbs and stay in the minority for another 40 years,” Cantor said.”  And “A few weeks later, [Pete] Sessions began his presentation at a House Republican leadership retreat in Annapolis, Md., with an existential political question:  “If the purpose of the majority is to govern…What is our purpose?”  The answer was not to promote Republican policies, or stop Democratic policies, or even make Democratic bills less offensive to Republicans.  “The purpose of the minority is to become the majority,” Sessions wrote.  “That is the entire conference’s mission.”  And they decided they would get there by saying no.

So if Obama had a plan to end world hunger and war forever by lowering taxes on everyone in the country by ten cents, they would vote no.  From an add-on to the article:  ““If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”  And “Republicans recognized that after Obama’s big promises about bipartisanship, they could break those promises by refusing to cooperate. In the words of Congressman Tom Cole, a deputy Republican whip: “We wanted the talking point: ‘The only thing bipartisan was the opposition.’ ”

This is so so so nauseating to me.  Shouldn’t you vote for each proposal on it’s own relative merits?  Not how your party tells you to vote.  Not in the way that will most hurt the opposition.  Vote in the way that most represents the people of your district (all of them), and in the way that most serves the people.  I know I’m hopelessly naive, but this is how we all want it to work, right??  And to me it is what Obama represented and what he actually tried to do.  This (“party of no” stonewalling) sort of garbage is why people hate politics.  Why they don’t vote.  And this specific instance is why I and hopefully many others won’t vote for a republican for national office for a long while.  I’ll show the party of no the voter of NO, and I hope most of the country is with me.  Throw the GOP out!!  (Where’s my paper bag??  About to hyperventilate!)  Honestly this gets me waaay too worked up and my mind goes in many irrational directions at once (get the pitchforks!  Light the torches!  Get a rope!  Get lots of rope!  Off with their heads!!!).

I’m an independent.  I have voted for people from both parties, and even a couple of 3rd party candidates, for local office, for president, etc.  I actually voted for the old George Bush, the W Bush, AND Obama.  I know, weird.  Anyway, I’m just trying to give context to my anger at the republicans for this “strategy.”  I’m not saying this as a hard-core democrat, I’m saying it as a normal, free thinking person and someone who tries to be a conscientious voter.  The republican “party of no” strategy actually succeeded in hurting Obama politically because he couldn’t get much accomplished.  But the GOP clearly put their own personal power ahead of working together for what was best for the country.  For 4 years.  That is reprehensible.

Now, I’m not so naive to think that dems have *never* engaged in this type of hyperpartisanship, putting themselves before those they are elected to serve.  Of course they have, countless times at various levels over the years.  We’re all screwed up.  But this is a recent example, on the biggest political stage there is.  And it was just wrong.

the art of compromise

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on August 20, 2012

The looming insolvency of the social security administration has been this giant political doomsday topic for what seems like most of my 30-something years.  I read this story today and was struck for the umpteenth time how dumb it is when our national politics are so polarized and intransigent.  The article states:  “…the trust funds that support the program will run dry in 2033.”  Yet the focus of the article, and the focus of our public servants, is not on how to actually solve the social security problem, but on how Romney’s selection of a running mate who supported some degree of social security privatization in the past might affect the presidential election this fall.  As in “In 2010 Mitt Romney’s running mate supported allowing 35% privatization for workers under the age of 55 so I can’t vote for Romney.”

I’m not much of a Romney fan.  I don’t think I’ll vote for him.  But I’m going to go out on a judgmental limb and say that if the above is your reason for not voting for him, that’s ridiculous.  The senior who is trying to get by on a fixed income who worries about losing that 35% on the stock market needn’t fear, because this hypothetical plan from 2 years ago that never got off the ground would have only affected workers under 55.  The ultra conservative 54-year-old investor can put the money in treasury bills or municipal bonds or other instruments that are 99.9% safe bets.  And actually the article says that the 2010 plan would “allow younger workers to divert more than one-third of their Social Security taxes into personal accounts that they would own and could will to their heirs.”  So it sounds like it wasn’t even a required thing, just a voluntary thing where you could choose to divert some of the money going to the social security fund to your own private retirement account.

Note that the Romney campaign isn’t talking about any plan like this.  At all.  So it’s really absurd to bring this up as a reason to vote against him.  The funny thing is I actually like some of that plan.  Here are the positions of Romney and Obama as described in the article.

Romney, in his book, “No Apology,” said he liked the idea of personal accounts. But, he wrote, “Given the volatility of investment values that we have just experienced, I would prefer that individual accounts were added to Social Security, not diverted from it, and that they were voluntary.”

Romney’s current plan for Social Security doesn’t mention personal accounts. Instead, he proposes a gradual increase in the retirement age to account for growing life expectancy. For future generations, Romney would slow the growth of benefits “for those with higher incomes.”

Romney says tax increases should be off the table, and current beneficiaries and those near retirement should be spared from cuts.

I’m totally with him on all of this, except for the tax increases being off the table. Boo!  I’ve encountered so many people who would seemingly rather sacrifice their firstborn than suffer a 1% tax increase, no matter what it might be used for.  In all seriousness, a couple of these folks I could ask them hypothetically if they would vote for a 1% tax increase if it meant a complete end to world hunger forever and they say no with a straight face.  Strange and sad.  And stupid.  Which is a big part of why I haven’t voted with that party lately nearly as often as I did when I started voting 20 years ago.

Anyway, what is Obama’s position on the social security problem?

During the 2008 campaign, Obama said he wanted to improve Social Security’s finances by applying the payroll tax to annual wages above $250,000. It is now limited to wages below $110,100, a level that increases with inflation.

Obama also pledged to oppose raising the retirement age or reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. “Let me be clear, I will not do either,” Obama said at the time.

Last year, however, Obama put on the table a proposal to reduce annual COLAs during deficit-reduction talks with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. The talks ultimately failed and nothing came of the proposal, but it raised questions about whether Obama would honor his 2008 pledge.

“We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable or people with disabilities, without slashing benefits for future generations and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market,” Obama said in the speech.

Hmmm, clear as mud.  Takes a lot of guts to be specific before the election.  At least on a thorny, divisive issue like this one.  So this is way too long already, but what I thought when I read this was “How hard would it be to just meet in the middle on this stuff?”  

1.  Age at retirement.  It seems like common sense to raise the age at which you can start receiving SS benefits.  We are all living a LOT longer than we used to.  Phase it in slowly. This is not that hard.  For example everyone 45 and over can still retire at the same age.  Those who are currently 35-44 can retire 1 year later.  25-34 year olds can retire 2 years later, and those who are currently under 25 can retire 3 years later and let it go back another year every 20 years or so afterward.

2.  Payroll taxes are currently limited to wages below 110k and Obama proposed taking it to 250 and he was vilified for it.  How about we go to 170k or so?

3.  Accept Romney’s idea of reducing the benefits for people who very obviously don’t need it.  Anyone worth tens of millions at retirement age does not need their social security checks.  

Boom, solved.  You take an important part of each side’s proposal, each of which is absolute poison to the other side, combine them into one plan, and you have something that works.  If everyone is mad about it, then you’re probably getting somewhere, and it is probably closer to fair than anything either party could come up with.

So what I really want to know is, why is noone saying anything like this?  “Well if a politician says this he’ll never get elected.”  OK, lame, whatever.  But I don’t even hear anyone, anywhere, (media?  barber shop?) making proposals like this.  Is it because its a stupid idea?  Or….?  I’m really asking because I’m neither a genius nor a political junkie at all but every time I read anything about politics these days the need for compromise just seems really glaring.  There is so much room in between, it looks like low hanging fruit, and I don’t know why people aren’t pursuing it.  You know, for the good of…the world?  

 

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.  ; – )

bags

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on January 25, 2012

So you wanna save the planet?

Let me explain.  No, let me sum up.  In 2001, when Tammy and I were making our way from Los Angeles to Anchorage via the Cassiar Highway in western British Columbia, we had the good fortune of driving through lovely Prince George.  We stopped and bought some groceries because it is the largest place you see until you actually get to Anchorage some thousands of miles later.   After paying for a pile of produce and canned goods at the register, the clerk asked if I wanted a bag.  We sort of stared at the pile of groceries and then looked back up at her, blankly.  Uh…yes?  Yes.  Yes!  I would love a bag, or actually several bags.  Her comeback?  Wait for it…  “How many?”  At this point I was realizing something funny was going on here.  I know my grocery store social pragmatics and this was in direct, clear violation.  “Um…as many as it takes?”  So they bagged them up, and then she punched some numbers on the register and charged me $.05 or $.10 per bag (ok, I don’t remember the amount per bag, give me a break and listen to the story!).  AAAHH, the light at last came on.

So back to saving earth.  These people think you can do it with cloth bags.

http://www.igotmybag.org/links.htm

Now, I have no problem with this philosophy, in fact I find it eminently sensible.  It just reminded me of that story so I had to share it.

The Irish are apparently completely on board as well:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/02/world/europe/02bags.html

 

*****1/25/12 update – HMMM.  Just found this in the “drafts” section of the blog, meaning it never was “published.”  OK, let’s try this again.

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We’re #3! We’re #3!

Posted in politics by Pete on December 11, 2008

You think Illinois is bad?  Hah!  It has NUTHIN on Alaska or especially North Dakota, that legendarily sordid den of iniquity.  USA Today put out a seriously flawed study that proves Illinois hasn’t caught us yet.  And as soon as Weyrauch and maybe Don Young and a couple more after that are added to the list we’ll be #1.  As Napoleon would say:  “Yessssss.”  Here is the view from Ketchikan.

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