Archive for September 2010
Update: The News-Miner reports that the Miller campaign blames a staffer for these tweets. What staffer would presume to use a first person pronoun in writing tweets? WC suggests it is far more likely that Miller has thrown another one of his staffers under the bus. The News-Miner also reports the tweets were deleted as “inappropriate.” That cow is out of the barn. It’s long down the road. It’s been struck by a lot of cars. It’s a bit late to close the barn door.
WC will be brief.
Who could possibly vote for someone arrogant enough to tweet about picking office furniture and the plaque for the door, BEFORE THE ELECTION?
Who could possibly vote for someone whose judgment is so bad that they boast about winning an election that hasn’t occurred yet?
And deleting the tweets later? Isn’t that like the cat trying to cover up his mess on the linoleum floor?
Is John Lindauer in the house? Your record for stupid electioneering is in jeopardy.
A comment by Notellin reminded WC of a couple of Ambrose Bierce stories that are on point:
His Fly-Speck Majesty
A Distinguished Advocate of Republican Institutions was seen pickling his shins in the ocean.
“Why don’t you come out on dry land?” said the Spectator. “What are you in there for?”
“Sir,” replied the Distinguished Advocate of Republican Institutions, “a ship is expected, bearing His Majesty the King of the Fly-Speck Islands, and I wish to be the first to grasp the crowned hand.”
“But,” said the Spectator, “you said in your famous speech before the Society for the Prevention of the Protrusion of Nail Heads from Plank Sidewalks that Kings were blood-smeared oppressors and hell-bound loafers.”
“My dear sir,” said the Distinguished Advocate of Republican Institutions, without removing his eyes from the horizon, “you wander away into the strangest irrelevancies! I spoke of Kings in the abstract.”
The Seeker and the Sought
A Politician seeing a fat Turkey which he wanted for dinner, baited a hook with a grain of corn and dragged it before the fowl at the end of a long and almost invisible line. When the Turkey had swallowed the hook, the Politician ran, drawing the creature after him.
“Fellow-citizens,” he cried, addressing some turkey-breeders whom he met, “you observe that the man does not seek the bird, but the bird seeks the man. For this unsolicited and unexpected dinner I thank you with all my heart.”
There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
- H. L. Mencken, New York Evening Mail, November 16, 1917, and reprinted in Prejudices: Second Series (1920).
WC calls this “Mencken’s Law.” Nothing has changed in the 93 years since Mencken made his point. And we get reminded of it in each and every political campaign.
Joe Miller wants to absolutely prohibit abortion. Unwanted pregnancies are certainly a human problem. An absolute ban on abortion is certainly easy, neat and plausible. But if you have a milligram of humanity in your soul, you also know that easy solution is wrong: rape, incest, pregnancies that threaten the mother’s life all present examples of just how wrong a prohibition of abortion can be. Nor can you “ban” abortion. All you can do is drive it underground. WC is old enough to remember rusty coat hangers. Miller’s position on abortion violates Mencken’s Law.
And just for the record, WC thinks abortion is none of Joe Miller’s business; it a decision between a woman and her conscience. Politicizing that decision, especially a man politicizing that decision, is despicable.
Joe Miller wants to “”return[ing] our federal government to the limits prescribed by our Constitution.” Government is certainly a human problem. Miller claims an easy solution. It’s neat and sounds plausible. And it’s wrong. Those Founding Fathers that Tea Baggers talk about? They never agreed on the scope of federal authority. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton went to their graves disagreeing on the extent of federal power. And that debate is now largely irrelevant, because the world is a dramatically different place today than it was in 1789. The United States isn’t 13 colonies huddled on the east coast of the North America. In an age when a president has the power to obliterate humanity by pushing a couple of buttons, how can anyone think that a rural, agrarian agreement can govern the country, utterly unchanged? Miller’s simplistic position on federal power also violates Mencken’s Law.
And, once again for the record, WC thinks Miller knows his constitutional law claims are utter nonsense. In fact, he is already back-pedaling from them. Lying to your constituents, posturing for money or votes, is despicable.
Whenever Joe Miller or any other politician offers you as a voter a simple solution, ask yourself if that “solution” violates Mencken’s Law. WC offers long odds that it does.
Some nice investigative work by the Anchorage Daily News has revealed that Joe Miller, in his first year in Alaska, managed to buy an expensive home in South Anchorage, land a posh $70,000/year job at Condon Partnow & Sharrock, and yet still qualify for a resident low-income hunting and fishing license that required a family annual income of less than $8,200. “Joe told me that he did not cross the income threshold,” Miller spokesperson Randy DeSoto said. Right.
Miller is again revealed as a guy who won’t hesitate to game the system for all it is worth. Farm subsidies. A free undergraduate degree from West Point, followed by a very short enlistment term. A free or subsidized law school degree. Most of his life he’s worked for the government: the Feds as a magistrate and – briefly – a solider. The State as a magistrate and temp judge. The Fairbanks North Star Borough as a part-time attorney.
But he sure doesn’t want anyone else to do what he’s done. Nope. He’s pledged to axe federal spending, entire federal departments, social security and anything else he thinks will get him for Tea Bag campaign dollars.
He’s reformed, right? Even though he’s fed at the government trough most of his life, that’s all ended now.
Or will he turn into another grasping politician, focused on gaming the system to serve himself. WC thinks that you need to answer that question before you cast your vote. Keep in mind that at every opportunity so far, Miller has gamed the system.
The late comedian Red Skelton had as one of his characters the clown Freddie the Freeloader. For WC’s readers who never got to see Skelton’s genius, there was a reason that Freddie was a Freeloader, of course – he had a ongoing allergy to honest work in any form. One example was when Freddie the Freeloader, asleep in his dry bathtub, was wakened by his alarm clock. He awoke, looked at the clock and exclaimed, “Great Scott! It’s Thursday! I’ve overslept and missed my unemployment check! (pause) Oh, well, easy come, easy go.”
The important difference between Miller and Freddie was that Red Skelton’s Freddie had a genuine warmth and concern for people, especially for children or people in need. Miller? Not so much. Is there anything besides opportunism?
Freddie, despite his warmth, was not above deflating a pompous individual, or someone else that he felt had it coming. WC is completely certain that Red Skelton would have no problem with calling out Joe Miller, or with WC borrowing his character’s name. So from this blog forward candidate Miller has a new name: Freddie the Freeloader.
WC is a birder, and deals with the long Interior Alaska winters by leaving them for a few weeks each year, looking for new species of birds, bright sunlight, liquid water and the color green. It’s amazing how much easier it is to tolerate that long, slow climb back to spring if you’ve spent a couple of weeks in February in the tropics.
Last winter, WC spent those two precious weeks in Panama. About half of the time was spent in western Panama, near the Costa Rican border. Which is where former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega comes in. Noriega was military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989. The 1989 invasion of Panama by the United States removed him from power; he was captured, detained as a prisoner of war, and flown to the United States. Noriega was convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering in April 1992. Noriega’s U.S. prison sentence ended in September 2007 and he has since been extradited to France to face criminal charges there.
Part of Noriega’s drug-smuggling operation involved small airstrips in remoter areas of Panama. Those airstrips have been mostly abandoned since the 1983 invasion. Those airstrips have mostly revert to the wild, creating second growth habitat. It turns out to be a very good area for birding.
For example, after a tropical rainstorm a number of larger birds used the fence posts on Noriega’s barbed wire fence to dry off, including this Green Heron:
An this annoyed looking Roadside Hawk:
Not far from the airstrip, near a road cut bank, there was a stunning Blue-hooded Euphonia:
WC doesn’t approve of the U.S. invading Central American countries; this was something like the eighth time the U.S. invaded Panama. But sometimes there are unintended positive consequences. In this case, decent bird habitat which, for political, historical and, WC supposes, superstitious reasons, has been left alone. So, a nod – if a very modest nod – to Manuel Noriega.
Ethan Berkowitz’s campaign platform includes his “own a piece of the pipe” plan. If elected, Berkowitz would press for the Alaska Legislature to create a corporation – it’s exact role regarding the gas line isn’t well defined – in which Alaskans could buy stock using their Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends. There are even fancy stock certificates already printed, available for download.
This is hardly the first time that someone has appeared offering Alaskans a chance to invest in infrastructure. WC takes you back to Valdez in 1907 (this summary is from the Valdez Museum’s website):
There was much talk and speculation about construction of a railway line from Valdez into the interior and even some preliminary track laid; however no line ever reached any further than the Keystone Canyon. Two rival companies, in particular, were the cause for considerable upheaval in Valdez. The Alaska Syndicate was initially interested in using Valdez as the terminus for its line from the Kennicott Mine. The Alaska Syndicate was choosing among Valdez, Cordova and Katalla for a terminus for their railway from the Kennicott Mine. When it appeared that Valdez would not be selected, H.D. Reynolds appeared on the scene touting his plan for the Alaska Home Railroad. He convinced the people of Valdez that “his railroad was their railroad.” Many Valdezans invested their entire savings or businesses into supporting his project. Reynolds bought up much of the town; he soon owned a newspaper, hotel, bank and even some of the streets. In 1907, a shoot-out erupted over the right-of-way through Keystone Canyon between the two rival railroad companies. The Alaska Home Railroad project fell apart and the Alaska Syndicate chose Cordova as the terminus for its Copper River and Northwestern Railway. Reynolds left town in a hurry, owing a great deal of money, and was last seen in an insane asylum. Valdezans were left with no railroad, 500 unemployed workers, and little money.
You can still see the half-built tunnel in Keystone Canyon as you drive along the Richardson Highway. Rex Beach wrote the pot-boiler novel The Iron Trail (available for free on Guttenberg) based upon a loosely fictionalized history of these events. That half-built tunnel should be an object lesson to Alaskans. Not every promotional scheme will work, not every idea is a good idea and not every promotor is to be entrusted with your money.
If WC were to try and promote a plan for ownership of a chunk of the gas line, WC would have to register the deal and a develop a prospectus, a kind of detailed disclosure of the risks, benefits and chances associated with the plan. It’s a serious amount of work. The idea is to give the potential investor enough information to intelligently evaluate whether or not to buy in. It’s a felony, punishable by 5 years in the slammer and serious fines, to offer an unregistered security or tout the “investment opportunity” without an approved prospectus. Candidate Berkowitz is a lawyer, of course, so he knows all this stuff.
And maybe this securities law stuff doesn’t apply to campaign promises, which, after all, never seem to happen. Particularly in the case of Alaska governors, Alaskans simply don’t take them seriously. And WC may still end up voting for Ethan Berkowitz, because all of Governor Parnell’s problems are still there.
But you have to think about the Alaska Home Railroad and that half-completed tunnel in Keystone Canyon, too.
Monday night the New York Yankees revealed a gigantic brass plaque honoring the late convicted felon and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
WC is not a Yankees fan. WC is emphatically not a fan of King George. But a half-ton brass plaque, measuring seven feet wide by five feet tall? Babe Ruth’s plaque is a mere three feet by two feet. So the Yankees are saying The Boss is six times more important than Babe Ruth? Excuse me? The new Yankee Stadium is already a monument to the out-sized ego of this alleged human being.
Why stop there? Why limit yourself to half a ton of brass? Why not exhume the late Billy Martin and, in a solemn ritual, fire his alcohol-preserved corpse as manager one more time? Why not lay the plaque down horizontally, like an altar, and ceremonially sacrifice a Double-A pitcher or two? And don’t forget to ritually defame a few Hall of Fame baseball players, as well.
Shucks, astronauts should be able to read this thing from low earth orbit.
The obscenely over-sized plaque is an inadvertent, ironic comment on the obscenely over-sized ego of George Steinbrenner. The size comparison to Babe Ruth is an equally ironic comment on what Steinbrenner did to baseball. Americans have the annoying habit of indulging in historical revisionism of their dead public figures. And they are doing it again here. Instead of calling out the Steinbrenner kids’ Oedipal compensation for what it is, they are pretending King George was something more than a rich, arrogant, pompous jerk. The Boss deserves no more than a hasty burial and a watercolor epitaph.
WC challenges his readers to name a bigger monument to a convicted felon. The Nixon library doesn’t count; he was never convicted.
Some nice investigative work by the Alaska Dispatch has revealed that Candidate Miller’s strict Constitutional constructionalism, if it exists at all, is a recent development. Until 1998, Miller was an absentee owner of farmlands in Kansas, for which he cheerfully accepted some $7,000 in federal farm subsidies. WC doesn’t see federal farm subsidies as an enumerated power in the U.S. Constitution, Joe. Especially for absentee landlords. Miller is revealed to be just another hog at the trough. And like the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, his holier-than-thou Constitutional principles don’t apply to him.
WC wants to be clear: this isn’t information that Miller forthrightly brought forward; it had to be dug out by reporters. You can read his earlier hot denials of Delta Junction farm subsidies as a blanket denial.
The Anchorage Daily News quotes Randy DeSoto, Miller’s spokesperson:
DeSoto said that it was standard practice for farmers to receive the subsidies in Kansas and that the nation was in a much better financial situation at the time that Miller received the funds.
“This was back in the 90’s, the situation the country was in was far different than now,” he said.
So the rules of Constitutional construction change with the state of the economy, Joe? Is that what you are saying? You’re a hog at the trough when a Democratic president is running a budget surplus, and a pious Tenther when a Republican president has generated a deficit?
WC doesn’t see that principle enumerated in the Constitution, either.
WC may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he knows the stink of hypocrisy when he smells it. And your conduct here reeks of pigsty-level hypocrisy. You’re opposed to government subsidies. Unless, apparently, they are coming to you. Not the kind of principled conduct WC is looking for in his U.S. Senator.
WC offers a Midwest aphorism: pigs get fed; hogs get slaughtered. You’re in hog territory here, Joe.
Joe Miller keeps making mistakes. WC has already tried to help out by correcting some. WC will take up the thankless task again, even though it is very hard to keep up.
Mistake #5: You are a global warming denier. You say, “The science supporting manmade climate change is inconclusive.” You also say, “the trend in more recent years has been towards cooler temperatures.”
The Truth: Two mistakes in one paragraph, Joe.
WC knows you are arrogant – “mastered the law,” indeed. But at least you are a lawyer. Well, a divorce lawyer. You are not a climate scientist. The science supporting manmade climate change IS conclusive. Politicians who deny anthropogenic global warming are the moral equivalent of tobacco company flaks, claiming “cigarettes don’t cause cancer.” The flaks gave us millions of cancer deaths. Politicians who are climate deniers threaten even worse harm.
As for the claim about cooler temperatures, let’s looks at the evidence.
- In 2010, Arctic sea ice set a record for the third lowest extent, ever, with more of the thicker, older ice melting than ever before. Three of the four all-time record Arctic sea ice minimums have come in the last four years.
- Permafrost – the boreal forest’s famous permanently frozen soil – is melting at record rates.
- Through the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 (the Fourth Assessment): “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” That Report was prepared by 620 authors and editors from 40 countries, and reviewed by more than 620 experts and governments.
Extraordinary claims – “towards cooler temperatures” – require extraordinary evidence. Where’s yours? Or you are mistaken.
Mistake #6: You told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that unemployment was an entitlement program:
We have an extension of unemployment benefits several weeks ago, which is beyond what we had in the past in this country. What we have in this country is an entitlement mentality. It’s an entitlement, not just as individual but even at the state level… everything that fails the government should be involved in bailing out.
The Truth: Unemployment insurance is an insurance program, not an entitlement. You pay premiums out of your paycheck. The label for the federal part is usually “FUTA.” You have a modest amount of insurance proceeds if you lose your job. Extensions of unemployment insurance in times of economic crisis are one-offs, they don’t create an “entitlement” because there’s no obligation to fund into the future.
More importantly, Joe, you didn’t answer Anderson’s question. He asked you if you wanted to push the 43.6 million Americans who are recently unemployed below the poverty line by denying them unemployment insurance. You answered with platitudes about the budget deficit. It’s a mistake to not answer questions, Joe.
Mistake #7: The whole business about the Tenth Amendment. You say, “The only answer is to return our federal government to the limits prescribed by our Constitution. Federal powers not specified in the Constitution are reserved to the States by the 10th Amendment.”
The Truth: Legal Eagle over at the Mudflats has an excellent essay on this old argument. But Joe, it’s always a mistake for a lawyer to be absolutely dead wrong on the law. And you are wrong twice. The Supremacy Clause says that in matters of, for example, commerce, Federal law trumps state law. This is bonehead stuff, Joe. You must not have paid any attention in Constitutional Law, an embarrassing mistake for a guy who calls himself a strict constitutionalist. Not to mention associating with segregationists and similar riffraff who have advanced these argument, and lost, in the past.
And you persist in claiming that a junior U.S. Senator gets to decide what is constitutional. Another mistake Joe, and another one that’s pretty embarrassing for a lawyer. Even a divorce lawyer. It’s the nine guys in black robes. You know, the U.S. Supreme Court.
WC thinks it’s fair to repeat here the question Legal Eagle asks:
You’ll say anything to get elected, no matter how absurd, untruthful or just plain wrong. (Seriously, I’m conflicted: is he really this stupid? Or does he know better, but lies just to get elected?)
WC wants to know, too: feathers or lead?
I want to pat you on the back for your way-way-out-of-the-box thinking. Let’s cut that bloated federal budget and say no to federal handouts! Oops, according to a University of Alaska study, the $7.6 billion Alaska gets each year from Washington supports one-third of the jobs in the state (96,000)– I guess a resulting 33% unemployment rate would be sort of OK. Let’s cut Social Security– oops; Alaska’s population over 65 tripled in the past 20 years. Let’s trim those government contracts– oops, companies based in Alaska won about 70 percent of the largest federal purchase contracts– 30 percent to Native corporations and 40 percent to other Alaska companies. Maybe you can campaign by promising another Klondike gold rush like in 1897 or selling Alaska back to the Russians. I think your point that Alaska’s economic problems are due to all those recent immigrants has merit– oops, you grew up in Kansas, didn’t you? Keep trickling down all those ideas no one else can come up with; why, maybe the next time you can run for Mayor of Wasilla.
Everyone from the New York Times to Rush Limbaugh seems to be picking on nonprofits. The Times suggests that nonprofit managers are getting paid too much. Limbaugh called nonprofits ”lazy idiots” and “rapists in terms of finance and economy.”
Limbaugh, and the Republican senators the Times quotes, can be dismissed as posturing windbags. Limbaugh is selling soap (technically, WC supposes, he is being an “entertainer”). Republican senators are buying votes. But the Times, at least, needs to be taken seriously.
So WC, who knows a little bit about nonprofits and nonprofit law, offers the following side-by-side comparison of the strictures on for-profit and nonprofit organizations:
|Board of Directors Accountability to IRS||None||Liable for IRS penalty of up to $100,000 per incident of excess benefits compensation|
|Executive Accountability||None||Overpaid executives liable for penalties of 225% of any excess compensation received|
|Public Disclosure of Compensation||Not required unless publicly traded||Required to file IRS Form 990 every year, with detailed disclosure|
|Support political candidates||Financial support without limits||Absolutely forbidden for charitable organizations to support political candidates|
|Lobby and influence legislation||Financial support without limits||Limited expenditure for both direct and grass roots lobbying|
|Pay Taxes||Pay income taxes on adjusted net income||Pay taxes on all unrelated business income|
Now this is just a partial comparison. The indisputable fact is that charitable organizations are very closely regulated by Congress and the IRS, narrowly limited in their powers in comparison with for-profit organizations and carry far greater risks for their Boards of Directors – almost always unpaid volunteers – and their executives.
As for the notion that some charities overpay their CEOs, WC will match any U.S. Senator or Limbaugh with ten examples from the for-profit sector for every example they can scrape up. Because nonprofit CEO compensation levels are public at sites like Guidestar, anyone asked to make a donation can check to see if, before making a contribution, they think the CEO is overpaid. So the tools are in place to make the problem self-correcting. Can the for-profit sector ay as much.
Finally, nonprofits do much of the scummy work of government, at a much lower price than the government would pay to do the scummy work itself. Delivery of mental health services, adoption services, food banks, youth activities, health care; the list of social service functions is endless. Studies support the claims that nonprofits perform those functions at substantial savings to the government.
The overwhelming majority nonprofits are small. They are PTAs, Little Leagues, Soccer Leagues, and homeowners’ associations; if WC were affiliated with those kinds of nonprofits, he’d be more than a little annoyed to have a gasbag like Limbaugh calling me a “lazy idiot”or “rapist.”
Yes, Dilbert is a web comic as well as a newspaper comic, and is available for free each day on-line. And, yes, Dilbert today isn’t quite as good as it as in its hey-day, 10-15 years ago. Scott Adams must not be getting the consistently outrageous reports from his readers, which inspired much of his early work. Or we’ve gotten jaded. But it can still have its moments.
But WC’s all-time favorite Dilbert cartoon comes from December 24, 1995, nearly fifteen years ago, and is so wryly accurate that WC bought the license to reprint it here.
WC even calls his travel agent “Tantra,” and is careful not to offend her. Yes, WC still uses a travel agent on occasion. And Tantra, for what she charges, is awfully good.
In a recession, with unemployment above 10%, Dilbert may not be quite as amusing, but Adams still gets it right often enough to be worth the price. Oh, wait. It’s free. Then it’s more than worth the price.
Paul Krugman’s opinion piece today in the New York Times is terrific. He’s found a topical metaphor – a mobster’s extortion racket – the is a perfect explanation of Republican tactics. From the opening line – “Nice middle class you got here,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader. “It would be a shame if something happened to it.” – the essay grabs the reader and lays out, in the clearest possible terms, precisely what the Republican plan for America and American taxpayers really is.
WC’s tips his hat to Professor Krugman for an exceptionally lucid explanation. And WC urges his readers to pass the link along to their friends.
Update: Sep 17 2010. The Alaska Dispatch is reporting the Joe Miller denies taking any farm subsidies, although he admits to owning farm land in the Delta Junction area. Someone named “Joe Miller” certainly took farm subsidies in the Delta area. There may be two of the rascals, but WC thinks it would be a remarkable coincidence. Alaska Dispatch Reporter Craig Medred has a FOIA request under way. We’ll see. Of course, it would be more reassuring if Candidate Miller, and not a spokesperson, came forward with an unambiguous statement.
Shockingly, Joe Miller keeps making mistakes in his public appearances. WC is shocked – shocked! – that Candidate Miller is so ill-informed. WC is determined to be helpful and point out these little boo-boos. And there are lots of these whoppers. Time and space don’t permit WC to address them all. WC starts with these four:
Mistake #1: “In this state, two-thirds of it is owned by the federal government. There really isn’t a good constitutional basis for that.” CBS News, Aug 29, 2010.
The Truth: Even ten years ago, the Federal share of Alaska lands was down to 60%, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The Alaska Land Transfer Acceleration Act has sped up the conveyance of the remaining 15%, as WC pointed out earlier. About 101 million acres have been conveyed, according to the latest report WC can find. That’s a conveyance to the State of Alaska of an area about the size of California.
And remember, the State of Alaska agreed, in its Constitution, to accept 28% (108 million acres) of Alaska as state land at statehood. And released all other claims. There was even a lawsuit about it. Alaska lost. It seems to WC that the Alaska Constitution is a pretty “good constitutional basis” for the Federal government to retain its share. Interesting fact: the percentage of land owned by the Federal government in the State of Nevada is much higher (84.5%), but you don’t hear Nevada whining about it.
Mistake #2: “It’s not just Alaska that’s under the thumb of the federal government, but it’s many other states as well.” NewsMax, Sep 1, 2010
The Truth: There are 48 other states that would like to be under that “thumb.” Alaska gets $2,574.68 per capita from the Federal government. Only Vermont gets more. We pay no state income tax. Most of us don’t pay a sales tax. We have some of the lowest property tax rates in the nation. And each October, we get a fat check from the Alaska Department of Revenue. So exactly what thumb are you talking about?
Do you mean we have to follow the Clean Air Act? Obey the Clean Water Act? Comply with the other environmental laws? Obey the dictates of the Fourteenth Amendment? Shall we instead let the Chena River or Ship Creek, like Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, catch on fire and burn? The fact is there isn’t an obtrusive federal thumb; only rules we have to follow to cope with an overpopulated planet.
Mistake #3: You said, “The Social Security system is unconstitutional and bankrupt.”
The Truth: WC has already shown that, far from being unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1935 that the social security system was constitutional and a lawful exercise of federal power. Nothing has changed. WC understands you are reluctant to back down from your death grip on the Tenth Amendment, but dude, the war was lost. Before you were born.
Nor is the Social Security Fund bankrupt. It has quite a large surplus at present. If changes aren’t made by 2037, there will be a crisis. But the changes are easy, well-identified and, if the Republican Party weren’t irrationally obsessed with blocking anything President Obama seeks, simple to implement. Remove the cap on contributions. Right now, we only pay social security tax on the first $100,000 or so of wages received. If we removed that limit, it wouldn’t impact 97% of Americans and the Social Security long-term funding shortfall would be solved.
Mistake#4: You’ve railed about supposed extra-constitutional actions by the Federal government. “The only answer is to return our federal government to the limits prescribed by our Constitution. Federal powers not specified in the Constitution are reserved to the States by the 10th Amendment.”
The Truth: It looks like you took more than $14,000 in farm subsidies from the Feds. WC can’t find farm subsidies in the Constitution. If you were a strict constructionalist of the U.S. Constitution back in 2003 then you should immediately give that money back, shouldn’t you? It would be a serious mistake to look like a hypocrite. If, like Paul, you were struck by the Tenth Amendment more recently, then doesn’t common decency and credibility require you to give the money back?
And WC notes you have a deed of trust on your home, and make monthly mortgage payments. That’s great. But WC can’t find a Constitutional basis for deducting mortgage interest, either. WC bets you a Designer Coffee of your choice at River City Coffee that your income tax return shows a mortgage interest deduction. Wouldn’t it be a mistake to take that deduction when it isn’t in the U.S. Constitution? Can’t be looking like a hypocrite, can you? Or have your explanation of complex Constitutional law be simplistic nonsense, either?
Special note to Tea Baggers who have wandered in by mistake: Yep, the income tax is in the U.S. Constitution; Amendment XVI. Wait? Do Tea Baggers not count them after Amendment X?
Please take a moment and visit People for the American Way and vote for your favorite bumper sticker:
This is WC’s 250th post to his eponymous blog. It’s just another number, but WC will use to occasion for some notes and comments on blogging, on the kind folks who read WC and this blog specifically.
WC has seen a significant traffic spike in the last few months. Blog posts involving Joe Miller and Sarah Palin are by far the most popular; the single most popular post ever was WC’s first, pre-primary post on Candidate Miller. Andy Halcro and Jeanne Devon contributed a lot of those viewers. Thanks to them both.
The older WC post that gets called up the most often is the short piece on photographers’ use of solar-powered battery chargers in the field.
Photography posts get the most comments, although the results are skewed by WC’s turning off the ability to comment on blog posts involving Sarah Palin. It turns out Palin has a squadron of functionally illiterate minions who “police” blog entries for hostile comments on their Diva. The easiest way to deal with their unthinking venom was to deny them access.
Reviews – books, music, software and gear – are the least popular category of posts. WC originally started out with the goal of being helpful. So much for good intentions. Essays on the Chicago Cubs are nearly as unpopular. Sigh.
Writing even the semi-intelligent pieces that appear here is incredibly time-consuming. Unlike some other bloggers, WC uses Actual Facts and, when he can’t avoid it, Actual Research, in his posts. The signal-to-noise ratio on the Web is bad enough without making stuff up.
Several readers have commented on WC’s magpie approach to blogging. WC is asked, “How do you decide what to write about?” The answer is that either some bright, shiny object captured WC’s attention, or some current event provoked WC into responding. That’s how there came to be essays on Iko-Iko and Rush Limbaugh, respectively.
WC has that, at least, in common with James Wickersham. Wickersham was a better writer, a demonstrably superior mountain climber and had a more virulent case of politics. But he was also interested in everything. Specialization is for insects. To be curious, he wrote, is to be human. Obviously, WC agrees.
And WC also believes James Wickersham would be appalled and shocked by current Alaska politics. And in particular by the appeals to ignorance used by Palin and Miller. WC will continue to act on that belief. And have some fun along the way.
Candidate Miller has waffled and flopped on his position on federal spending in Alaska. Before, he opposed all spending, and in fact signed a pledge against earmarks. Over the weekend, he “Set the Record Straight” (Miller-speak for waffled) and said:
Given our current deficits, we, as a nation, will clearly have to curb overall federal spending over the course of the next several years. But concurrently, the federal government needs to honor the promises made at statehood, and transfer control of our land and resources to the people of Alaska. Until that process is complete, I will fight for Alaska to get necessary federal dollars; however, it is imperative that we as Alaskans not settle for a few paltry crumbs from the federal table. We must vigorously fight for the future of Alaska, and that is bound up with control of the land and resources of our great state.
So now Miller’s anti-spending promises are held hostage to the federal government’s obligation “to honor the promises made at statehood, and transfer control of our land and resources to the people of Alaska.”
What “promises made at statehood” have been broken?
He’s already demanded that places like Denali National Park be given to the State, even though Alaska’s own Constitution formally and unconditionally abandoned all claim to those lands. So if Miller means, say, deeding Glacier Bay to the State of Alaska, he’s really saying he wants Alaska to get the special earmarks he rejected earlier, forever. WC will simplify this paragraph for any Tea Baggers who wandered in by mistake: he wants Alaska to get earmarks forever. Flip. Flop.
If Miller is talking about the royalties due from production of resources on Federal lands, WC challenges Miller to identify a single instance, however small, where the Feds are in arrears on payments. Flip. Flop.
And if he’s complaining that the 104 million acres promised under the Alaska Statehood Act still haven’t been conveyed, then he’s being criminally cynical and simplistic about an extremely complex problem, that’s already mostly addressed.
In 2004-2005, Congress recognized that the Feds still owed Alaska about 15 million of the 104 million acres promised at statehood. The state land selection process was seriously gummed up by the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act, the Native Allotment Act and the Alaska Native Veterans Allotment Act. To a lesser extent, even the 1929 law creating the University of Alaska complicates the process. Lands the State lost under the Alaska National Interest Land Act were another complication. And then there’s the whole issue of easements and access. The mess is partially summed up in a Background and Summary available on-line. And let’s be clear: Alaska contributed to the mess; it’s by no means all the fault of the Feds.
Congress – through the efforts of two real Republicans named Stevens and Murkowski – made a serious effort at clearing the logjam by passing the Alaska Land Transfer Acceleration Act in 2004, which attempted to sort out the biggest problems, and delegates a lot of authority to the Secretary of the Interior to speed the process up. Congress required priority reports, which were made in 2006 and 2008. While WC is skeptical that the deadline of 2011 for all conveyances will be met, the process is truly under way and seems to be working. If Miller has a better way of untangling the mess, WC wants to hear it.
So what’s Candidate Miller talking about when he waffles? Which specific “land and resources” haven’t been turned over to “the people of Alaska”? What specific “promises made at statehood” have been broken? And if there are such broken promises, how do they justify earmarks? Flip. Flop.
Or is it possible – and even likely – that Candidate Miller doesn’t have the faintest idea what he is talking about?
WC has landed salmon that didn’t flop around as much as Joe Miller. But Joe Miller and WC’s salmon have this much in common: they’d stay out of trouble if they kept their mouths shut.
Sure it’s political season, and yes, the politics are important, but WC doesn’t live in Alaska for its politics. WC lives in Alaska because it is the most beautiful and unspoiled place in the United States. And autumn is both beautiful and important. The beauty speaks for itself. But it’s important because it is the last, brief flash of color before the long, dark and monochromatic winter.
So WC offers some shots from this weekend out Chena Hot Springs Road. It’s not one of those rare, spectacular autumns. The various leaf diseases afflicting the trees have affected the colors as well. But it’s pretty enough.
The trees killed in the 2020 West Fork Fire are visible along the ridge, but the Alaska Fire Service was able to protect the river corridor.
Red Squirrel Pond is actually a gravel pit with Red Squirrel Campground built around it. It might be on of the prettiest campgrounds in Alaska, particularly in the Fall.
The beauty isn’t always big scale. Sometimes the tundra colors in a single bush are impressive.
Mrs. WC, who is an extraordinary berry-picker, has nine gallons of Blueberries and 14 gallons of Cranberries in the freezer. No, WC will not share the location of this berry patch.
So tear yourselves away from your monitors and get yourselves out into woods. Autumn is all too brief – a stiff wind or hard rain and the leaves will be down. The reprobates will still be running when you come back, but you’ll be better for the experience.
Gail Collins has a terrific column in the New York Times in which she argues that the fundamentalist minister in Gainesville who plans to burn copies of the Qur’an is further evidence that 5% of Americans are nuts:
When this sort of thing happens, it is important to remember that about 5 percent of our population is and always will be totally crazy. I don’t mean mentally ill. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 26 percent of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. So, basically, that’s just normal life. I mean crazy in the sense of “Thinks it is a good plan to joke with the flight attendant about seeing a bomb in the restroom.”
There is nothing you can do about the crazy 5 percent except ask the police to keep an eye on them during large public events, where they sometimes appear carrying machine guns just to make a political point about the Second Amendment. And, in situations like a Koran-burning, make it clear that the rest of us disagree.
WC agrees. But WC thinks the percentage may be significantly higher in Alaska. Consider the following roll call:
- Sarah Palin
- Joe Miller
- Mike Gravel
- any convicted state legislator
- most indicted state legislators
- more than a few unindicted politicians;
and that’s just the politicians.
- Bill Allen
- Bill Weimar
- the late Joe Vogler
- two-thirds of the people who write letters to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner;
and that’s just the ones who are or were noisy about it. And let’s not forget the beer bellies parading in the video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAGdoBcnjWQ.
In fact, WC can make the case that anyone who voted for Candidate Miller is crazy by Gail Collins’ definition. If they know what the guy claims to believe, they’re crazy to vote for him. And if they don’t care what he believes, then they are still crazy to vote for him. So that means there are about 55,847 people in Alaska who are crazy.
Actually, that number seems a little low, but maybe the even crazier ones don’t vote? Anyway, according to Census Bureau, Alaska’s population is about 698,000. That clocks in at about 8% of the population being crazy enough to vote for Joe Miller. Some what above Collins’ 5% estimate but hey, we’re Alaska, we’re different. Crazy different.
But it’s another thing to let the lunatics run the asylum. If we don’t want the crazies running things, then folks who can recognize their own economic and political self-interest need to turn out October 5 and November 2, and exercise their franchise.
Update: The News-Miner now reports that Miller “Miller decided to leave the Army when an early release program was offered in 1991.” So question #1 is answered. Offered the opportunity, Miller didn’t hesitate to leave the U.S. Army early, after it had given him his free education. We’ll have to update JFK’s famous statement: “Ask not what you can do for your country; ask how you can serve your self-interest.”
U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller never answers questions when WC asks them. So WC has posted them in this blog entry, and asks his readers to try to get answers from Mr. Miller. WC explains in each case why he is asking the question. WC will leave comments open longer than usual to see if anyone else has success.
Question #1: What About Your Military Service Commitment?
The U.S. Army gave you an all-expenses paid college degree. (WC, by contrast, worked through college, and borrowed money to make ends meet.) The U.S. Military Academy made you commit to five years of service:
Federal service academies provide a 4-year college program leading to a bachelor-of-science (B.S.) degree. Midshipmen or cadets are provided free room and board, tuition, medical and dental care, and a monthly allowance. Graduates receive regular or reserve commissions and have a 5-year active-duty obligation, or more if they are entering flight training.
Did you do those five years? You told the Alaska Bar Association you graduated from the Military Academy in 1989. You got your law degree from Yale in 1995. Yale has a three year law program. So you started law school in the fall 1992. That’s 2.5 years after graduating from West Point. That’s half the commitment you made. WC is confident there’s a good, sensible explanation of why you didn’t serve at least five years active duty to pay the taxpayers and the Army for your federally-funded education. WC would love to hear it.
Because if you wriggled out of your five year commitment to the Army, how can Alaskans trust you to stay the course as a U.S. Senator?
Question #2: Do You Think Your Position on Government Spending is Hypocritical?
Your education was paid for by the taxpayers. And, on the evidence at hand, you short-sheeted them on your repayment. WC assumes you used part of your military benefits to pay for your Master’s degree in economics, too. You’ve spent most of your professional life working as a state magistrate, acting district court judge, part-time Borough Attorney and U.S. Magistrate. All government jobs. And you attempted other government jobs: you tried elective office and lost, but that would have gotten you paid by the State of Alaska. And you ran – briefly – for the superior court, another government-paid job. Don’t you think it is just a bit . . . inconsistent . . . for Candidate Miller to rail about government spending when you have earned most of your income from the government?
Because if your rules don’t apply to you, if you are somehow “different,” how can we possibly trust you?
Question #3: Why Do You This It’s Unconstitutional for the Feds to Own Chunks of Alaska?
On Face the Nation, you told CBS’s Bob Shiefer there is “no good constitutional basis” for the federal government owning two-thirds of Alaska. Were you saying the Alaska Constitution is “no good”? After all, as an experienced Alaska lawyer who has “mastered the law,” you know that the Alaska Constitution, at Article XII, Section 12, says:
The State of Alaska and its people forever disclaim all right and title in or to any property belonging to the United States or subject to its disposition, and not granted or confirmed to the State or its political subdivisions, by or under the act admitting Alaska to the Union. The State and its people further disclaim all right or title in or to any property, including fishing rights, the right or title to which may be held by or for any Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut, or community thereof, as that right or title is defined in the act of admission. The State and its people agree that, unless otherwise provided by Congress, the property, as described in this section, shall remain subject to the absolute disposition of the United States. They further agree that no taxes will be imposed upon any such property, until otherwise provided by the Congress. This tax exemption shall not apply to property held by individuals in fee without restrictions on alienation.
If it’s in the Alaska Constitution, how can it be “unconstitutional”? Are you saying the people of Alaska should back out of their solemn commitment? Do you think they can?
Because those individual states you want to give more power? They have constitutions, too. And Alaska’s is crystal clear. And if you want Alaskans to welch on the deal they made with the federal government and the rest of the United States, how can they ever trust us?
Question #4: How Can the Constitution Be Static?
On your website and elsewhere, you say
The only answer is to return our federal government to the limits prescribed by our Constitution. Federal powers not specified in the Constitution are reserved to the States by the 10th Amendment.
Are you serious? So you want to abolish NASA? The FAA? The FCC? The FBI? The National Tsunami Warning Center? The Alaska Volcano Observatory? The Global Positioning Satellite System (“GPS”)? The National Transportation Safety Board? The Center for Disease Control? The Food & Drug Administration? The Air Force? Not one of those federal agencies is “specified in the Constitution.” The Constitution doesn’t speak of control of nuclear weapons, either. Do you want to turn them over to the individual states?
Of course, The Founding Fathers didn’t know much about rocket science, national and international air travel, interstate crime, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, radio, television, computer microprocessors, germ theory, vaccinations, medicine or hundreds of thousands of other things. Alexander Hamilton argued that the power to deal with new issues was implied in the Constitution. And if you are going to return to a literalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, shouldn’t you explain how the individual states would manage all of these issues?
And, while we are on the topic, WC thought that the United States Supreme Court, not a junior senator wannabe from Alaska, decided whether something violated the U.S. Constitution.
Because if you seriously don’t believe that the world has changed since 1789, or that the scope of the federal government’s powers don’t have to change when the world changes, then you are seriously unqualified to be a U.S. Senator.
Cubs’ baseball game attendance is down significantly. Al Yellon at Bleed Cubbie Blue reports that the number of games that were not sold out has spiked:
2004: 1 2005: 1 2006: 14 2007: 6 2008: 0 2009: 9 2010: 27
A three-fold increase in games that didn’t sell out (with about 20 games left) has to worry the Ricketts family, the new owners. Overall, it seems to be about 2,000 fans per game. That’s at least $ million in gross revenue.
Admittedly, the Cubs at 58-77 seriously suck. But that’s never stopped Cubs’ fans from packing the house in the last 10-12 years. What’s changed?
Most commentators blame it on a combination of significant ticket price increases and the Great Recession. They may be right.
But for the Cubs, it’s a very serious problem. Consistently winning teams need big payrolls: read, DamnYankees, BoSox, Phillies or the Dodgers. But gate receipts are an important part of funding those salaries. The Cubs have the third highest payroll in the Majors. It hasn’t worked out very well. For owners with shallower pockets (or fiscal prudence), there’s a danger of a death spiral: lower income -> lower salaries -> poorer performance -> lower attendance -> lower income. The Cubs face the risk of that cycle.
WC is a big fan of Tom Ricketts. But it’s a problem that needs immediate attention. And WC is unsure what the solution will be.