Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Nuisance" Ballot Initiatives - Translation: Voters Too Stupid To Decide

Let's see how calm I can stay [not very it tuns out] while I give my reaction to a story in today's ADN.
"Scott Hawkins, founder of ProsperityAlaska believes the voting public should not decide complex tax questions or other measures that increase regulations or permitting of businesses. . .

'Our elected officials spent years and thousands of hours in hearings and hired experts and oil taxation is not a suitable subject for the ballot.'"
Where to begin?  There's so much packed in this article.

It cites a question sent to candidates for state office that asks:
"whether the rules for putting initiatives and referendums on the ballot need reform and are being 'abused resulting in a nonstop series of bad ballot measures that Alaska's business community must spend millions of dollars every 1-2 years to fight.'"
Let's get this straight.  Now that business - big and small - has helped elect a conservative legislature that is so lopsided that Democrats are pretty much ignored.  Business gets most of the legislation they want.  Apparently that isn't enough.

Because when the public gets riled enough by the kind of legislation that gets through this one-party legislature, they write petitions and gather signatures around the state to give the public the opportunity to put some brakes on the business express coming out of the legislature.  So, since Hawkin's friends already are spending so much money contributing to conservative campaigns to get the loyalty of well over half the legislature, they shouldn't have to deal with fighting citizen referendums, the only check left for the public when they think terrible legislation has been passed, or good legislation has been stymied.

And it isn't enough that the petitioning requirements have been made more difficult.  Ballotpedia explains: 
"Signatures equal to 7% of the total district vote in the last general election must be collected in each of 3/4 of the 40 Alaska House districts.
An older, less restrictive, distribution requirement was changed by a legislatively referred ballot measure on the November 2004 ballot, the Distribution Requirement for Initiatives Act. That measure was approved with 51.7% of the vote. The older requirement was that proponents must collect petition signatures from each of 2/3 of Alaska's 40 state House districts--only one voter needed to sign from each of the 27 districts."
But those pesky citizens have managed to overcome these obstacles to get initiatives on the ballot.  In August, they got enough signatures to challenge SB 21 that gave oil companies about a $2 billion a year tax break.  And the oil companies had to spend millions to defeat the referendum, and it was relatively close.  So why not cut off this last way that people can keep their legislature accountable?

I'd also note that I spent a session in Juneau as a blogger.  There are a number of legislators who have no more smarts than the 'public' Scott distrusts.  And then there are those who are reasonably smart, but ethically challenged.  And then there are those whose world view, apparently like Scott's, sees business as the savior of humankind. 

What else might voters be incompetent to decide on Scott?

Don't get me wrong.  I think the voters of Alaska make plenty of mistakes.  They voted to amend the constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.  The voted to make English the official language of the state.  They've elected Don Young again and again and again.  But I trust them a lot more than I trust the oil industry or the various big business interests to decide what's best for Alaska's people now and in the future. 

 Before posting this I checked ProsperityAlaska's website. 

Prosperity has the nerve to run a headline like "Alaska Budgets Have Run Amok!" yet, they have a picture rotating through their header with the  corporate supporters who lead the Republican majority in the legislature along with Gov. Sean Parnell all of whom fought for and passed these out of control budgets!  

Image from PosperityAlaska Header

Another headline "Facing Down "Enviro Whack Jobbery" goes on to tout the bill that passed the legislature that threw out regulations on the cruise industry that were passed by an initiative.
"An important vote on cruise ship wastewater regulations brought the environmental extremists in the Alaska Legislature floating to the surface.  With solid leadership from Gov. Parnell, sound science carried the day. "
Environmental extremists?  In the Alaska legislature?  I think he means anyone who mentions any regulation on business.  This sounds like the language of the old Anchorage Times back in the 1970s.  What about the pro-business extremists in legislature?  These are folks who worship the free-market with no idea that some of its greatest supporters warned that it has serious flaws.  Everything has flaws and we need to use all tools with awareness of when they don't work.   And these folks need to recognize and protect against market's failures.  Anyone who points them out and tries to correct them seems to be pilloried. 

The cruise ship industry is one of the Outside corporations that treat Alaska like a colony and were not happy at all when citizens put restrictions on them through an initiative.  The legislation the site touts gutted much of that citizen initiative. 

Thank you Alex DeMarban (ADN reporter) for writing about this so the rest of us become alerted to this attack on the rights of Alaskans.  An attack on the Alaska Constitution.

Oh yeah, the initiative and the referendum are spelled out in Article 11.  From the Lt. Gov's website:

Article 11 - Initiative, Referendum, and Recall

§ 1. Initiative and Referendum

The people may propose and enact laws by the initiative, and approve or reject acts of the legislature by the referendum.

§ 2. Application

An initiative or referendum is proposed by an application containing the bill to be initiated or the act to be referred. The application shall be signed by not less than one hundred qualified voters as sponsors, and shall be filed with the lieutenant governor. If he finds it in proper form he shall so certify. Denial of certification shall be subject to judicial review. [Amended 1970]

§ 3. Petition

After certification of the application, a petition containing a summary of the subject matter shall be prepared by the lieutenant governor for circulation by the sponsors. If signed by qualified voters who are equal in number to at least ten per cent of those who voted in the preceding general election, who are resident in at least three-fourths of the house districts of the State, and who, in each of those house districts, are equal in number to at least seven percent of those who voted in the preceding general election in the house district, it may be filed with the lieutenant governor. [Amended 1970, 1998 & 2004]

§ 4. Initiative Election

An initiative petition may be filed at any time. The lieutenant governor shall prepare a ballot title and proposition summarizing the proposed law, and shall place them on the ballot for the first statewide election held more than one hundred twenty days after adjournment of the legislative session following the filing. If, before the election, substantially the same measure has been enacted, the petition is void. [Amended 1970]

§ 5. Referendum Election

A referendum petition may be filed only within ninety days after adjournment of the legislative session at which the act was passed. The lieutenant governor shall prepare a ballot title and proposition summarizing the act and shall place them on the ballot for the first statewide election held more than one hundred eighty days after adjournment of that session. [Amended 1970]

§ 6. Enactment

If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition favor its adoption, the initiated measure is enacted. If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition favor the rejection of an act referred, it is rejected. The lieutenant governor shall certify the election returns. An initiated law becomes effective ninety days after certification, is not subject to veto, and may not be repealed by the legislature within two years of its effective date. It may be amended at any time. An act rejected by referendum is void thirty days after certification. Additional procedures for the initiative and referendum may be prescribed by law. [Amended 1970]

§ 7. Restrictions

The initiative shall not be used to dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or enact local or special legislation. The referendum shall not be applied to dedications of revenue, to appropriations, to local or special legislation, or to laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.

§ 8. Recall

All elected public officials in the State, except judicial officers, are subject to recall by the voters of the State or political subdivision from which elected. Procedures and grounds for recall shall be prescribed by the legislature.
You best check the link now before the governor thinks the Constitution is too radical to have on the state's website.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Random Shots From Prospect Heights Trail

The bridge at the creek not too far along the trail from the Prospect Heights parking lot.  I think this is the south fork of Campbell Creek, but I'm not certain.

 A close up of lichen on a dead tree branch.

A view from the trail.  I'm pretty sure that peak on the left is Near Point.

There was a little (really little, maybe two feet wide) creek that dropped a bit and had lots of bubbles.  This picture is a bit surreal, but I like it.  The bubbles are toward the left on top. 

It was a spectacular day, and this time of year there were no mosquitoes.

Hong Kong Democracy Movement Heats Up

It seems like the whole world is full of governments trying to control their people and people taking to the streets in protest.  It's hard to keep track of them all.

But I spent a year in Hong Kong, just after Tiananmen, when everyone was jittery because the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong coming in 1997, looked a lot more ominous after June 4, 1989. 

A recent white paper from the Beijing government on Hong Kong sent the notice that elections the people of Hong Kong had been expecting soon, would have Beijing approved candidates only.

This has pushed democracy advocates into action.

(Reuters) - Violent clashes between Hong Kong riot police and students galvanized tens of thousands of supporters for the city's pro-democracy movement and kick-started a plan to lock down the heart of the Asian financial center early on Sunday.
Leaders and supporters of Occupy Central with Love and Peace rallied to support students who were doused with pepper spray early on Saturday after they broke through police barriers and stormed the city's government headquarters.  [For the whole article, click here.]

Part of Hong Kong is attached to mainland China.  Then there's Hong Kong Island, the heart of the business district.  Central - as in "Occupy Central" above - is where many of  the modern office buildings and the main government offices are located.  I don't have a good feeling about how this is going to end.

One of those arrested, according to the Reuters piece, is 17 year old student leader Joshua
Wong has already won one major victory against Beijing. In 2012, he forced the Hong Kong government to shelve plans to roll out a pro-China national education scheme in the city's schools when the then 15-year-old rallied 120,000 protesters.
 Here's a BBC article
And China Daily's take on this.
It says China's deployed 7000 police to keep order.  If there were 70,000 protesters, that would mean one cop for every 10 protesters.  Even if there were 700,000 it would still one cop for every hundred protesters.  Now do you understand why I don't feel good about this.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tea N. Crumpet Returns Online As Token Liberal

When I first started blogging in 2006 and 2007 a small community of Alaska bloggers found each other and linked to each other.  We had relatively small audiences and we checked each others blogs regularly.  Many of them have dropped by the wayside, and just the other day I was thinking how much more community we had back then.

Well, I just learned that Tea N. Crumpet is returning at Token Liberal.  Back then she basically had a mommy blog and blogged about, mostly, the joys and unjoys of raising her nine kids.  She described herself as living north of Chicago, but soon the stories she wrote seemed more Ancchorage than Chicago until I finally emailed to ask why.  Her reply was that Alaska is north of Chicago.  In those days we all played with versions of anonymity because we didn't know what we were going to say and how this would all play out.  Tea N. Crumpet's family played a big role in her blog and she wanted her location vague.  

So I'm pleased to put her new blog  onto my blogroll.  We'll see how it evolves, but I expect it will be well written and interesting.  Check it out. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Story Of Mankind: History Of The Middle East In 300 Words

click to enlarge the images
"The story of Mesopotamia is one of endless warfare and conquest. . .

"In the fortieth century before our era, the Sumerians had entered Mesopotamia.  They were soon afterwards overpowered by the Akkadians . . . A thousand years later, the Akkadians were forced to submit to the rule of the Amorites, another Semite desert tribe whose great
Damascus, the capital of modern Syria, is in the middle

King Hammurabi built himself a magnificent palace in the holy city of Babylon and who gave his people a set of laws which made the Babylonian state the best administered empire of the ancient world.  Next the Hittites whom you will also meet in the Old Testament, overran the Fertile Valley and destroyed what they could not carry away.  They in turn were vanquished by the followers of the great desert god, Ashur, who called themselves Assyrians and made the city of Nineveh the center of a vast and terrible empire which conquered all of western Asia and Egypt and gathered taxes from countless subject races until the end of the seventh century before the birth of Christ when the Chaldeans, also a Semitic tribe, re-established Babylon and made that city the most important capital of that day.  Nebuchadnezzar, the best known of their kings, encouraged the study of science and our modern knowledge of astronomy and mathematics is all based on certain first principles which were discovered by the Chaldeans.  In the year 538 B.C. a crude tribe of Persian shepherds invaded this old land and overthrew the empire of the Chaldeans.  Two hundred years later, they in turn were overthown by Alexander the Great, who turned the Fertile Valley, the old melting-pot of so many Semitic races, into a Greek province.  Next came the Romans and after the Romans, the Turks, and Mesopotamia, the second centre of the world's civilization, became a vast wilderness where huge mounds of earth told a story of ancient glory." (pp. 84-87)

This is from Henrik Van Loon's The Story of Mankind, the first book to win the Newbery Prize for outstanding contribution to children's literature in 1922.  It has over 500 pages and as you can tell, it's a little dated and Eurocentric.  The first index reference to China, for example, isn't until World War II. 

This is a book I got as a kid.  I don't remember how much of it I actually finished.  But with my son here looking through the closets and garage for stuff he's left behind, this book showed up. 

What strikes me is the much larger context it gives the events in the Middle East today.

Like, "In the fortieth century before our era."  Forty centuries.  That's 4,000 years.  Add two thousand years since the birth of Christ and we're talking about 6000 years.  Since the so called 'first Iraq war' in 1991, the US has been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan about 23 years out of that 6000.

Despite those who believe in American exceptionalism,  we're still a relatively young nation, and throughout history there have been many powerful nations that have ruled large portions of the world, and then have faded into obscurity.  I thought I'd put up these maps to remind folks of the geography - I have a modern map with the countries that border Syria here - and also to remind us that the limits of our knowledge plus our biases cause us to believe our version of Truth which inevitably will change as time goes on.  That's not a bad thing.  In fact it's inevitable.  But we're wiser and probably more effective human beings if we remember that and leave a keyhole of doubt in all our certainties. 

The Story of Mankind, it seems, was made into a terrible film in 1957 - the last film to have three Marx Brothers.  You can learn more about the film (and see a couple of clips) here.

First Report Says 6.1: Earthquake Willow, Alaska

There was no mistake that there was an earthquake.  When it didn't stop right away I started counting.  At about 25 there was a much bigger jolt, then a few more seconds and it stopped.

The USGS site says

"6.1 97km WNW of Willow, Alaska"
Map from USGS
No damage here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How Addicted Are You? Facebook And The Heroin Model Of Marketing

First they give the product out free, until the user is addicted.

Then they say, "If you want more, you gotta pay."

So, are you ready to give Facebook $3 per month?

So, for those who have been saying, "I'm not addicted.  I can quit any time," this truth time.  

And if you aren't ready to give it up, how will you capture your list of contacts and other information?

You did see this coming, didn't you?

And I suspect most people will decide it's worth $36 a year.   And once they have your automatic payment set up, how long will it take to increase to $4 or $10 per month?

If 70% of the world said no, would they lower the price to $1?

I'm sure there are already people using FB to protest this.   

But how will this impact all the people around the world who have used FB as a way connect to people far away or to organize and get community activity going?

Now is the time for the FB alternatives who will be more than happy to offer a place to talk to those who say no.

I remember when the world wide web was just starting and there were all these amazing opportunities.  I used to think it was like the wild west, with few rules and lots of freedom, but that it couldn't last.  This is probably the biggest single action to remind us that it won't last.

[UPDATE 5:50pm:  Of course, Anon is right. India Times:
New York: An article on the satirical website National Report, which stated that the social networking site is going to charge its users $2.99 per month starting Nov 1 is fictional, media reports said.]

Take A Nature Break - A Trip To Potter Marsh

Even though the path is a man made boardwalk and the highway and shooting range noises interfere, going out to see the seasonal changes at Potter Marsh is always a soothing event.  This time my three month old grandson and his parents were along, and while he slept through it all, it was good to take him out there.

So if you need a relaxing nature break, enjoy the post.  Clicking on any picture will give you a MUCH sharper version. 

The ducks I could identify were all mallards.  Mallards are really beautiful, but I tend to dismiss them because they're so common.  I just enjoyed the patterns of and the reflections in the water.

Most of the summer birds were gone.  The bald eagles (it's in the old cottonwood, look for the white head) nest back there and spend the winter in the area.  The Arctic Terns were gone.  We did see some trumpeter swans, but they were camera shy yesterday.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Climate Change March in New York: There Are Things We Can Do

Tens of thousands of people are supposed to be marching in New York City this morning to let our leaders - in DC and in other world capitals - know that people want them to take action to mitigate global climate change.  From the New York Times:
“We’re going to sound the burglar alarm on people who are stealing the future,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of the group 350.org, which is helping to organize the march, and the author of several books about climate change, notably “The End of Nature,” published 25 years ago.
“Since then we’ve watched the summer Arctic disappear and the ocean turn steadily acidic,” Mr. McKibben said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s not just that things are not getting better. They are getting horribly worse. Unlike any other issue we have faced, this one comes with a time limit. If we don’t get it right soon, we’ll never get it right.”
Why aren't leaders doing anything?  There are a number of reasons, for example:
  • There are organized campaigns to deny that climate change is happening or if it is, that it's caused by human action. 
  • The oil industry and other carbon fuel related businesses and those that maintain their infrastructure all have a short term financial interest in not making changes and keep the pressure on the public and politicians to do nothing.  Much like the tobacco industry did and still does deny tobacco is harmful.
  • While people are starting to feel the effects of climate change - particularly in extreme weather patterns, for example, bringing huge rainfalls in some places and drought in others, the connection to human behavior is not obvious.
  • People who understand it's a problem don't know what to do or think it's too late.

There are solutions.  I joined the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) because I was so impressed with
  • the information and experts they had
  • their organization and efficiency, and
  • their focus on a revenue neutral (tax revenue is returned to citizens) carbon tax as the most effective and politically viable way to fight climate change.
  • the first Saturday of the month international call in meetings with great speakers and brief but empowering reports on what CCL has accomplished in the previous month.
CCL chapter map - click map to find your local chapter

You can see from the map there are chapters nearby most everyone in the U.S. and Canada.  If you want to be cheered up, rather than depressed about global warming and what can and is being done, go to a chapter near you.  The next meeting is Saturday, October 4.  The national phone call to all the chapters is at 10am Pacific Time.)  In Anchorage we meet at Rasmuson Hall 220 at UAA at 8:30 Alaska Time.

CCL's basic tactic - as the name implies - is to create chapters in every congressional district and have members lobby their representatives and senators.  In the three years I've been going to CCL meetings they've grown from 45 chapters to over 200.  Members bring information to their congress members about the benefits of the carbon tax which will significantly - more than any other option - lower CO2.  CCL members aren't confrontational and bring the latest and best information to their representatives.  You can see from their website that they've got lots of resources.  The goal is to build a relationship of trust over the long term.  Reps come to know that CCL members won't harass them, but will give them straight information. 

A recent report by REMI - Regional Economic Modeling Inc. - commissioned by CCL - looked at the potential economic impacts of the carbon tax they propose.  REMI does economic modeling of various taxes and other projects to see how they will impact a state's or the nation's economy.  States regularly contract with REMI  to determine the economic impact tax and other proposals.  That's what they were asked to do with the carbon tax proposal.    Other studies have already determined that the carbon tax will be reduce CO2.  This was a study to determine what such a tax would do to the economy, because critics claimed it would cost jobs and hurt the economy.  Turns out they were wrong.

The REMI Report's main points on the revenue neutral Carbon Tax:
  • The Fee And Dividend returns money to households, who spend it, which has a positive economic effect
  • Consumer-centric industries tend to be more labor-intensive than the capital-intensive fossil fuel supply chain
  • The border adjustment helps American exporters maintain competitiveness on the world marketplace
  • The United States imports more and exports less but the Fee And Dividend is enough consumer spending that GDP stays positive
From the CCL website, here are some links to the study:
I started this post early this morning, but grandfathering duties intervened.  Here's a more recent New York Times update.  It doesn't say how many people marched, but it does say:
Under leaden skies, throngs of demonstrators stretching as far as the eye could see moved through Midtown Manhattan late Sunday morning, chanting their demands for action on climate change.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Power of 5: A Lottery Commercial Catches My Eye

When I visit my mom I see a lot more television than normal.  Actually normal means I see bits and pieces people post online.  The ads tend to be better than they used to be - often great images, quick messages, even humor.

This one particularly caught my eye.  It's just good video.

World Lottery Association - has members on all the populated continents, including California.  They are all state operated lotteries and they have a set of "Responsible Gaming Principles."  I found number six directly related to marketing lotteries. 
6.   "WLA Members will provide the public with information in an accurate and balanced manner to enable individuals to make informed choices about gaming activities within the lotteries’ jurisdiction. This commitment requires the following:
a. That the marketing of lottery activities and products be subject to reasonable operator self-regulation, and promote responsible gaming practices and informed choices.
b. That individuals shall be provided with accurate information about gaming and the risks associated with it, for example, organizing education program."
 I don't see anything in the ad above that could be considered "providing accurate information about gaming and the risks associated with it."  This ad goes directly to a person's emotional responses, in the guise of some sort of scientific setting. 

I'm ambivalent about lotteries.  My sense is that people who can least afford them, spend on them.  But I also recognize that people who are virulently against taxes, will happily give their money to the government for a lottery ticket.  Lotteries are for the statistically impaired.  But then people will point out all the winners - somebody will win!

Talking About Numbers found that the numbers of lottery winners were difficult to retrieve, but found that people were about 100 times more likely to be killed in a car accident than to win a lottery. (37,000 die in car accidents and "winning tickets that pay out one million dollars or more only number in the hundreds.")

And winning apparently changes people's lives, not always for the better.  The NY Daily News offers some anecdotes like this one:
 "I had to endure the greed and the need that people have, trying to get you to release your money to them. That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you've loved deep down, and they're turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me."

California lottery  tells us that they do good things with the money:
"Initially, the Lottery Act capped administrative expenses at 16 percent of sales and required that 34 percent of sales go to education.

In April 2010, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 142, which changed the Lottery’s funding formula to follow best practices. Those practices have helped lotteries throughout the nation increase sales and earn more money for their beneficiary.

AB 142 limits administrative expenses to 13 percent of sales, while requiring that 87 percent of sales go back to the public in the form of prizes and contributions to education. The law gives the Lottery the flexibility to pay out a higher percentage of its revenues in prizes than it has in the past, but only if it does so in a way that increases the total amount of money that goes to public schools and colleges."

The World Lottery Association is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, and they have a chart with membership fees

Gross sales Fees
up to US$ 100 million CHF 4,900 (@$5,208)
US$ 100 to 500 million CHF 5,600
US$ 500 million to 1 billion CHF 8,400
US$ 1 to 4 billion CHF 14,000
over US$ 4 billion CHF 21,000 (@$22,322)

If you want to keep track of what's happening in the world of the lottery business, there's a website called Lottery Insider.

I also found out the Power of Five also refers to
A dark story of the supernatural. Matt a young man with unusual powers finds himself in the midst of sinister goings-on. His investigations uncover a terrible secret - eight guardians are protecting the world from the evil ones, beings banished long ago by five children. But a shadowy group want to let the evil ones back in. Can Matt succeed in stopping them...