Archive for the ‘Alaskana’ Category
You’d think that a former governor who presided over the most corrupt government in Alaska since statehood would stay home and write his memoirs or something. You’d think a former Governor whose own Chief of Staff served a prison sentence for illegal campaign contributions would thank his lucky stars that Chief of Staff didn’t tell the Feds everything he knew and would keep discretely quiet. You’d think a failed candidate who helped give us Sarah Palin would have the simple decency to maintain an embarrassed silence. You’d think the man who single-handedly killed a national bank and seriously wounded a regional Native corporation would just shut up. But we’re talking about Frank “the Bank” Murkowski. You remember. Murky.
Which explains why Murky was in front of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce recently. Not to apologize for being a disaster as Governor. Not to apologize for stuff that happened on his watch. Not even to make excuses. No, he was in front of the Chamber to blame everything on “extreme environmentalists.”
WC supposes that on Murky’s scale of environmentalists WC counts as one of those extremists. WC thinks that before you dig up the millions of tons of coal on the North Slope, maybe you need to think about the consequences for the planet of pumping all that CO2 and dirty-coal pollution into the atmosphere. WC thinks that before you cut more old growth forest in the Tongass National Forest you have a care for the future of the forest, the impact on fisheries and the impact on tourism. WC thinks before you dig the world’s largest gold and copper mine and create the world’s largest sulfide-laced, heavy metal-contaminated lake and spoil heap, you think about whether that’s a smart idea in the world’s most productive salmon habitat. WC thinks that before you drill for oil near Teshekpuk Lake, you consider whether that can be done without jeopardizing tens of millions of migratory birds.
Let me put this in terms Murky is certain to understand. If considering those things before proceeding with development makes you an extreme environmentalist, WC pleads guilty as charged.
More than that, though, WC thinks that among all but the most rabid drillers and diggers, even in Alaska, the days of jobs at any price are behind us. A majority of Alaskans were shocked and appalled at the Keystone Cops act of Shell Oil and its attempts to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The days of “Drill, Baby, drill” are an embarrassing memory.
But not to Murky.
Nor is he any more honest now than he was as governor. The claim that no oil has been produced from federal lands? He implies that’s because of extreme environmentalists. But, of course, all the oil has been produced from federal lands. Some of it – the stuff with the very highest potential for oil and gas – was selected by the State of Alaska under the Statehood Act. We’ve got the good stuff. The Feds have leased land for development; remember Shell Oil’s Keystone Cops act? All of that was on off-shore federal land. It just hasn’t produced any oil or gas. Millions of federal acres are available for development. Most recently, the overwhelming majority of National Petroleum Reserve Alaska has been made available for lease. Under a Democratic President. Something that didn’t happen during Murky’s tenure as U.S. Senator. The oil companies just haven’t found marketable quantities of oil. Blaming “extreme environmentalists” is fundamentally dishonest. It’s Murky.
But ignore the straw man arguments. Ignore the dishonest arguments. Murky’s view is that development is so overwhelmingly important that nothing else matters. It’s a minority view. Even in Alaska. Maybe even at the Chamber of Commerce. We’ve moved on.
Nothing to see here. Just another old geezer stuck in the 1970s. Move along.
There are some sad facts that are being overlooked in Captain Zero’s near-hysteria over declining oil field production. And the largest overlooked fact is that there aren’t any more Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields.
Prudhoe Bay – the oil field, not the industrial slum we’ve created on the surface – was a behemoth, the largest single oil field ever found in North America. Since production from the field began in 1977, the 1,114 wells punching into the Sadlerochit Formation have produced 11 billion barrels of oil out of an estimated total recoverable reserve of 13 billion barrels. Sure, there may have been as much as 25 billion barrels of oil in Prudhoe, but under there are only 2 billion recoverable barrels left. A sizable amount of oil by any measure, but nothing like the 1.5 million barrels per day at peak production back in 1979.
Total production over the history of the North Slope through 2012 is 14.6 billion barrels of oil. Putting that another way, 11 billion of the 14.6 billion barrels of oil have come from a single, huge reserve that is 90% recovered. All the other fields around Prudhoe Bay account for about 25% of total production.
All of the fiddling with state oil tax laws doesn’t change the fact that Prudhoe Bay is about tapped out and there aren’t any more. As Prudhoe Bay is exhausted, you’d expect, in the very best case, for total Trans-Alaska Pipeline throughout to decline to about 25% or less of peak flow in 1979. That would be about 375,000 barrels per day. And throughput today is about 550,000 barrels per day.
There are no more Prudhoe fields on the North Slope. Sorry. Big Oil has looked. And they are pretty good at finding big fields.
There are a number of smaller producing fields, and some prospects. But, as WC has argued before, even if Alaska reduced its taxes to minimal levels, it’s still much less expensive to produce fracked oil in North Dakota than to drill for new oil on the North Slope. And the crude that’s produced is much closer to the market.
The implication is clear: lowering taxes isn’t going to increase production; it’s not going to put more oil in the pipeline. Apart from the absence of a link to increased production, the tax break to Big Oil isn’t big enough – can’t be big enough – to promote the discovery, development and production of the numerous small fields required to keep the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at operational levels. At the problems of aging infrastructure and the number are even worse. The only thing the repeal of ACES will accomplish is to cost the State of Alaska a whole lot of revenue on a non-renewable resource.
And a bonanza for Big Oil, ofcourse. Which makes you wonder who really controls the Captain and the Legislature.
There are two essays in Saturday’s papers that each, in their own way, demonstrate the surreality of modern day Alaska government.
Former Attorney General John Havelock is one of WC’s heroes. In his essay in the Anchorage Daily News, he writes of the looming fiscal cliff facing Alaska, and the utter unwillingness of the Legislature to either curtail capital spending or impose additional sources of revenue, to make Alaskans, as opposed to their nonrenewable resources, pay their own way.
Alaska remains the only state in the United States that has no statewide citizen tax. No income tax, no statewide property or sales tax; we live on coupons clipped from the limited nonrenewable petroleum extracted from the ground. Like the proverbial drunken sailor on shore leave, we’ve been spending that resource as if there is no tomorrow. Havelock estimates that “tomorrow” – the day when the resource revenue and the painfully generated cash reserves are gone – is probably seven to twelve years away. As you reflect on that fact, consider that the voters approved a half-billion dollar general obligation bond for a serious of dubious projects in the last general election. The bond will require annual payments of $37-38 million a year for the next 20 years.
Claus-M Naske, emeritus professor of history at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has an equally interesting essay in the News-Miner. He addresses the kerfuffle over Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D., Fairbanks) making faces during the sham debates over the oil tax give away. Naske, as a historian, points out that the Alaska Legislature has a long history of allowing itself to be bought by the resource-extracting industry. Only the price has varied.
Bill Allen was able to create the Corrupt Old Bastards Club, trading in legislator’s votes like pork futures, for a few tens of thousands of dollars. Prof. Naske reminds us that lobbyists for the salmon-packing industry were able to lobby for minimal taxes on their resource-extraction industry by – wait for it – threatening to leave Alaska, taking their jobs with them. Or the legendary “Big Jim” Fozzard, who obtained an exemption from the Territory’s already minimal mining tax in return for a few cases of liquor. The late Ernest Gruening’s excellent history of Alaska, The State of Alaska, is especially enlightening about the same Alaska House that Rep. Pete Higgins (R., Jim Holm) called “sacred.”
WC doesn’t want to offend the Second Oldest Profession, but the Alaska Legislature, for a hundred years, has sold itself like cheap whores. It’s an indisputable historic fact. And Rep. Higgins, the guy with that stupid fur thing on his face, during a debate in which the Alaska House is whoring itself again, criticizes Rep. Kawasaki for sticking out his tongue?
If you think that “surreal” is too strong a word, consider that the Captain Zero’s oil tax giveaway passed the state senate because two employees of Big Oil thought it was okay to vote in favor of the biggest tax break to their employers in Alaska history. They insist it is “legal.”
WC has always thought that “legal” was the minimum standard. WC has always thought public servants should be held to a higher standard. Obviously, WC was wrong. Obviously, matters of decorum are far more important than whoring to the resource extraction industry.
WC declines to apologize for his confusion.
The Congressperson for all Alaskans who voted for him, Don Young (R, Don’t Blame Me), has his foot in his mouth again, this time up past his knee. Of course, both of Young’s feet are badly chapped, they’ve been in his mouth so many times. He’d be a public relations challenge for anyone, even for the skills of someone like Nate Walsh. After all, a 14-year old Toyota Camry (“It’s only been puked in twice.”) is a piece of PR cake compared to OUF, Our Unindicted Felon.
As you probably have heard, OUF, in an public radio interview in Ketchikan, in response to a question about immigration, told the reporter about growing up on a farm in the Central Valley of California. He volunteered,
My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.
Later that same day, the OUF’s press secretary, Mike Anderson – now there’s a challenging job – issued a statement, allegedly from OUF, apologizing for the racist comment:
During a sit down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.
Migrant workers play an important role in America’s workforce, and earlier in the said interview, I discussed the compassion and understanding I have for these workers and the hurdles they face in obtaining citizenship. America must once and for all tackle the issue of immigration reform.
And by the way, WC is from the Central Valley of California. And the only person he ever heard use the racist term, “wetback” was his drunken, racist uncle.
Of course, OUF has an embarrassingly long, embarrassingly appalling record. Space doesn’t permit WC to set them all out. But in 1994, he waved an oosik (a walrus’s penis bone) around at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hearing. And this is the guy who, when speaking to students at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, criticized federal funding of the arts because it had underwritten, “photographs of people doing offensive things,” and “things that are absolutely ridiculous.” Asked by a student for specifics, OUF answered, “Buttf**king.”
Sheila Toomey at the Anchorage Daily News had a recent partial compendium of these gems:
Who can forget “Pribilof’s dog,” “bladderdash” and the “money we get is a piddlance of the total bill.” Well we remember his claim that he convinced his wife to get a “monogram” (you know, to prevent breast cancer). And he once reported replacing copper piping in his home with inexpensive “PCP pipe” (Ear is pretty sure he meant PVC pipe; if not, hallucinations may have been involved.).
And there’s Ear’s most recent favorite, in which Don explains seemingly contradictory comments to a TV reporter: “I don’t agree with what I said.”
The Associated Press reports that OUF is back before the House Ethics Committee.
The allegations against Young, a Republican who has served in the House since 1973, focus on his expenses and travel costs for trips that were already the subject of an ethics investigation. The investigative subcommittee will look at whether he, or persons acting on his behalf, obtained or received improper gifts, misused official resources or campaign funds for personal use or failed to report gifts on required disclosure statements.
The committee said in a statement that it will investigate the allegations after a referral from the Department of Justice. The department had previously investigated allegations Young accepted gifts in exchange for political patronage.
The badly overworked Mr. Anderson, OUF’s press secretary, said OUF would cooperate with the investigation. “Congressman Young has cooperated with the committee and will continue to do so,” he said.
Damn. There goes another million dollars in attorneys’ fees.
WC offers as a hypothesis that there is something in the water in Wasilla that causes these behaviors.
Item: Kayla Clabo is accused of assault and disorderly conduct in a fight over use of an apartment laundry dryer. It took two troopers and restraints on her arms and legs to get her out of the apartment building.
Item: 45-year old Valley resident Rischele Huntington was arrested for having a sexual relationship with a 16-17 year old boy. The text messages between them are damning.
Item: Mihal Cosma was sentenced to 8 months in jail for walking naked through the Palmer Carrs’ Grocery. His goal was to go to jail for the winter because it was very cold outside. It’s hard to decide which is stranger: the misdemeanor Cosma selected to have a warm place to sleep, or the reported reactions of folks who saw him on display.
We know that stuff in the water can cause people to behave strangely. The Dutch Harbor Police Blotter makes it clear that alcohol in the water can make fishermen behave like complete idiots, for example.
And we know that there can certainly be strange stuff in the water in the Mat-Su Valley. Remember Ken Champ, who was smart enough to hide his dope grow operation behind a sewage pumping business, but dumb enough to dump the sewage in Mat-Su streams? Yeah, there’s some strange stuff in some of the Valley’s water.
One of WC’s partners thinks Fairbanks is strange. Well, Fairbanks is a little strange. But for the truly bizarre, he is looking too far north.
Something in the water: it would explain so much.
Governor Sean “Captain Zero” Parnell’s changes in the state oil tax are so nonsensical, so wrong that it confuses everyone involved in the debate. Maybe taking two steps back and taking an overview will reduce the confusion and illustrate, for anyone still paying attention, what is really going on.
The current tax structure, ACES, is a progressive tax. That is, the rates aren’t level. If the oil companies make more money per barrel in one of crude oil’s cyclical price swings, the tax rate goes up. The idea of ACES was that Alaska should share in the windfall. It’s a good idea. It’s a nonrenewable resource, after all. And it isn’t as if the major oil companies aren’t making billions of dollars in profits in Alaska. Throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is indisputably down. Is it the result of ACES or is it the economic consequence of fracking technology and attendant booms in oil shale regions? Alaska oil is notoriously expensive to develop: the North Slope is harsh and difficult.
ACES recognizes those higher costs. It grants credits against the oil taxes for monies expended on development. Monies spent on development – and it is a very generously defined term – subtract directly from the tax bill. Spend enough on development, and you can significantly reduce your tax bill. Which suggests that the problem isn’t the ACES tax, but rather the lower opportunity costs elsewhere than in Alaska. If you can get the same amount of oil someplace else in the U.S. for a lower direct cost, taxes may not even enter into the equation.
So let’s look at Captain Zero’s twin proposals in light of those facts and realities.
Captain Zero wants to repeal the progressive elements in ACES. It will give a considerable windfall to Big Oil, on the order of $2 billion a year. What’s in it for Alaska? Captain Zero thinks it will encourage more development on the North Slope. Notably, Big Oil has flatly refused to commit to plow the avoided taxes into North Slope development. But the simple laws of economics tell us that if the avoided taxes aren’t simply distributed to shareholders as dividends, they’ll be re-invested where the most oil can be produced at the lowest price. That may very well not be on the North Slope. It might be North Dakota, or Pennsylvania or Texas. The absence of any conditions from the State of Alaska means that Alaska will have no control, none at all, over where the lost tax revenue goes.
But remember there’s also a tax credit for North Slope development. Captain Zero wants to repeal the tax credit. His fellow Republicans point to items that have been granted a tax credit – paving an airstrip at Kuparuk, for example – which they think don’t have an obvious tie to increased production. At least not obvious the Republicans. And conclude from those examples that the tax credit should be thrown out because Alaska is losing tax revenues.
This is important: Captain Zero not only want to make an unconditional tax repeal with no promise of increased production; he also wants to repeal the one piece of tax law that ties tax breaks to North Slope development.
A sensible administration, a government that was working to increase North Slope production and put more oil in the pipeline, might modify ACES to condition tax reductions on increased throughput over the long term. The avowed goal is increased oil; dangle the carrot near the goal. Don’t just hand out free carrots. And if you think the definition of “development” for tax credits is too loosey-goosey to be useful, revise it; tighten it up to focus on the goal. Don’t throw it out.
The repeal of the tax credit is an especially cynical way to sweeten the loss of tax revenue from Captain Zero’s repeal of ACES. But it has the exact opposite effect of the claimed purpose for repealing ACES. The credit links to development. Removing it increases the cost of development, however you define “development.” Increasing the cost of development sends development effort elsewhere.
Unconditional repeal of ACES is a stupid idea. Repeal of the tax credit is a cynical, counterproductive piece of politics. Choose your explanation: the Captain is still working for Big Oil, not for Alaskans. Or Big Oil has bought and paid for the Republican majority. Or the Corrupt Old Bastards are back in charge. Because the official explanations make no sense. The proposed solution doesn’t address the declining throughput. It’s free carrots for the Big Oil.
Don’t expect gratitude.
This is a close-up shot from “Hunting Dragons,” the kind of spectacular detail and realism WC has come to expect from Steve Brice’s work.
The scales on the dragon – they extend over its entire, twelve foot long body – represent an astonishing amount of work. The layout didn’t let WC photograph the entire sculpture, but here’s two-thirds of the Brice-Cox Artist’s Choice prizewinner:
Less classical but still very impressive Is “Extreme Ice,” by Qi Feng and Di An, Julio Martinez and Aubrey Newton, which won the Governor’s Cup.
The trees, in particular, were very well done.
All in all, an excellent set of sculptures. These are just two of the eighteen multi-block entries, and WC’d photos can’t begin to capture the beauty of the work. They’ll all be water in a few weeks, but as transient art they are nothing less than wonderful. If you are in Alaska and don’t stop by for a look, you’re making a mistake. Although you may want to wait for the present 25 mph wind, with gusts to 40 mph, to die down first.
For those readers not from Interior Alaska, one of the real highlights of late winter here is the annual Ice Alaska World Ice Art Championships. The ice carvings are stunningly beautiful and at night are very nicely lit.
There are two parts to the competition: single block carving and multi-block carving. The single blocks are completed and judged, and are as spectacular as ever. Here are two samples.
The sculpture won first place in the realistic category (WC, a nature photographer, is admittedly biased towards realism). The work goes beyond being highly realistic, anatomically correct and gorgeously detailed; the sculptors even managed to give the locust some attitude. Congratulations to Junichi Nakamura and Shintaro Okamoto.
The jellyfish are nicely detailed and anatomically correct within the limits of the medium. WC especially liked the way the sculptors captured the languid floating of jellyfish in their work. “Blue Ballet” didn’t win but, in WC’s admittedly biased view, it was the best sculpture not to win a prize. Congratulations to Stephan Koch and Jess Parrish on a lovely carving.
These are just two of about forty entries. And that’s just the single blocks; on Friday night, when WC was at the Ice Park, the multi-block carvers were frantically completing their works, and they will be judged today. There may be photos later. The mild weather, while perhaps a problem for the carvers, is ideal for viewing. No excuses; get out and view these treasures.
The battered, fuel-laden Kulluk left the protected waters of Kodiak Island this morning. Towed by three tugs, it’s bound for Dutch Harbor, midway out the Aleutian Islands. If you want to frighten yourself, visit PassageWeather, click on the North Pacific link and scroll down to the wave height forecast, towards the bottom of the page. Then click on the Animate button and watch the storms roll through, one after another.
Can you hold your breath for ten days?
In August 2006, 53% of Alaskans voted to impose a head tax, on-board observers and stricter regulation on cruise ships coming to Alaska. The initiative passed despite economic blackmail by the industry, over-the-top scare tactics, attempts at illegal voting by non-resident seasonal workers and and a $1.5 million media blitz by the industry.
Since then, Alaska’s governors and the Alaska Legislature have collapsed like beached jellyfish in their zeal to undercut the citizens’ decision. Deadlines were extended, key provisions were watered down or removed and enforcement has shown less spine than a banana.
The final nail in the coffin came down Monday when the Republican-controlled State House effectively repealed all of the remaining teeth in the citizen initiative, all in the name of sucking up to the cruise industry. This is the same industry, mind you, with a long record of pollution, including a 1999 guilty plea to illegal discharges in the pristine Lynn Canal, and payment of a $27 million fine. The House bill appears headed to near-certain adoption by the state senate, and Captain Zero has already pledged to sign it into law.
All of this because if the State doesn’t cave to the cruise line demands they’ll take their behemoths elsewhere.
For WC, this abject fawning demonstrates an utter lack of confidence by the folks we send to Juneau in the tourism product we have to sell.
Alaska and its scenery have a long-proven record of successfully attracting tourism dollars to the State. The demand to see Alaska is real; the threats – direct and indirect – by the cruise ship industry to take their floating buffet lines elsewhere if the state doesn’t meet their demands is a bluff. The cruise ship industry has huge amounts of capital invested in their gargantuan ships and in their earlier promotion of Alaska in general and Southeast Alaska in particular. Despite the threats, they don’t want to walk away from that investment. The cost of complying with the environmental requirements is trivial in comparison to the profits, and for the most part a one-time expense which is even tax deductible to the industry.
And, you know, the fishermen have a point when they stress the important of keeping the heavy metals that the cruise ships spew out of the water column, out of our fish and out of ourselves. And the evidence of voluntary compliance is non-existence. Also on Monday, Princess Cruises paid a $20,000 fine for illegal wastewater dumping in Glacier Bay.
None of the arguments advanced by the powerful cruise ship lobby withstand scrutiny, which is why they have fallen back on economic blackmail. But to the extent anyone, including our elected officials, give those threats credence, they are demonstrating a lack of confidence in the natural beauty of Alaska.
You see the same thing in Captain Zero’s efforts to suck up to the oil industry. But that will be the subject of a later essay.
Have you noticed how much longer it takes to climb out of the cold, dark hole of Winter Solstice than it does to drop in to it?
Sure, WC gets himself outdoors. You may have noticed him painfully shuffling around the Skarland Ski Trail system, wheezing and blowing up the hill from Smith Lake to the West Ridge of campus. You may have noticed the giant sitzmarks on the long downhill stretch coming down Miller Hill. There’s no question that it’s good for him in all kinds of ways, and much better than moping inside.
But WC can empathize with Jimmy Buffet’s classic lines, too:
This morning I shot six holes in my freezer
I think I’ve got cabin fever
Somebody sound the alarm
I gotta go where there ain’t any snow
I wanna go where it’s warm
Jimmy Buffet, 1979, “Boat Drinks,” on Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads
Seriously, all WC needs to be happy are some birds to photograph, some nice light on them and temperatures warm enough that his camera works. None of those is available in Fairbanks just now. Or for the next 4-5 months.
Ice sculptures just aren’t the same.
As WC writes, the Shell drill platform Kulluk is grounded off the rocky shore of Sitkalidak island, off of Kodiak Island, not far from Old Harbor. A more or less average winter storm in the Gulf of Alaska was too much for the towing operation. How long the Kulluk will remain there, whether she will break up from being pounded on the rocks, and whether any of the 150,0000 gallons of diesel on board will spill into the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge are all good questions. That don’t currently have answers.
This is a whole separate ship from the Noble Discoverer. That drilling platform pulled her anchors in Unalaska and, depending on who you believe, ran aground or nearly ran aground. And it’s the Noble Discoverer that was busted in Seward earlier this winter for a number of safety and pollution violations.
And don’t confuse either of these drilling platforms with the pollution control ship, the Arctic Challenger, which still hasn’t gotten Coast Guard certification.
How did anyone ever think that drilling in these waters was a good idea? An “acceptable” risk?
Increasingly, Shell Oil looks like the Keystone Cops, amusing in an old-time silent film, but about as scary as it gets if you care about Alaska, its fishing industry or its environment.
If there was ever a reason to trust Shell Oil, can we all agree that the reason is gone?
WC has accused the Alaska Redistricting Board of the worst kind of political gerrymandering, an egregious set of violations of the Alaska Constitution, in adopting each of the redistricting plans developed to date. On December 28, 2012, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed. Basically, the court refused to allow the Redistricting Board to stack the deck. And ordered yet another do-over.
The Alaska law of redistricting isn’t that complicated. Even the application of the federal Voting Rights Act to Alaska law isn’t that complicated. It only gets complicated when one political party dominates the Redistricting Board, and tries to use the decennial process for a special agenda. Usually to get itself more seats in the Alaska Legislature.
And yes, that has happened in each and every redistricting process since statehood. This redistricting effort is no exception.
The Alaska Supreme Court has already rejected the Redistrict Board’s funky maps once, and told the Board to go back, apply Alaska law, and submit a new map.
Since 1992, Alaska law has required the Redistricting Board to develop a map that complies with the Alaska Constitution and then, to the minimum extent necessary, tweak the map to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. In Redistricting I, the Court found that the Board had improperly focused first and foremost on the Voting Rights Act.
The Alaska Supreme Court refused to attempt to review the resulting mess, and sent the Board back for a do-over, this time in compliance with Alaska law:
Because it did not follow the Hickel process, the Board cannot meaningfully demonstrate that the Proclamation Plan’s Alaska constitutional deficiencies were necessitated by Voting Rights Act compliance, nor can we reliably decide that question. The Hickel process provides the Board with defined procedural steps that, when followed, ensure redistricting satisfies federal law without doing unnecessary violence to the Alaska Constitution. The Board must first design a plan focusing on compliance with the article VI, section 6 requirements of contiguity, compactness, and relative socioeconomic integration; it may consider local government boundaries and should use drainage and other geographic features in describing boundaries wherever possible. Once such a plan is drawn, the Board must determine whether it complies with the Voting Rights Act and, to the extent it is noncompliant, make revisions that deviate from the Alaska Constitution when deviation is “the only means available to satisfy Voting Rights Act requirements.”
The Court even explained why it insisted on this process:
The Hickel process assures compliance with the Alaska Constitution’s requirements concerning redistricting to the greatest extent possible. The Hickel process also diminishes the potential for partisan gerrymandering and promotes trust in government. . . . A redistricting plan that substantially deviates from these constitutional requirements undermines trust in the process. [Emphasis added.]
So in March 2012, the Board, with the very clear, explicit directions of the Alaska Supreme Court in hand, met again. But instead of following those directions, and starting over as directed, the Board simply tweaked the rejected map for those elections districts that had sued. The Board simply modified the rejected map for the handful of Districts that had complained.
You see, that allowed the Board to leave in place the gerrymandered map that it had ginned up for almost all of the Alaska, and make some minor changes to the communities that had squawked. The new map was rejected by the superior court but by then the election deadlines had rolled around and, oh dear oh dear, there was no choice but to use the boogered map.
The Alaska Supreme wasn’t amused the second time around. On December 28, they told the Redistricting Board that the Board couldn’t avoid the requirements of Alaska law by limiting the scope of the do-over to the contested districts. The Board was sent back to start over – really start over – following the requirements of Alaska law from the start. The Board has been tasked with drawing a new map in time for the 2014 elections. One that follows what has been the unambiguous law of Alaska since 1992.
Of course, in the meantime the 2012 election has been held, using a flawed map to set the election districts. It gave Captain Zero his Republican-controlled state senate. And it gave interior Alaska Tammie Wilson, John Coghill and Pete Kelley. Incumbents are notoriously difficult to defeat. And WC has little doubt that the Redistricting Board will slow roll the process, and that its eventual product will attempt to preserve the gerrymandering already in place.
Because, for some folks at least, clinging to more power is more important than, you know, following the law.
Yesterday was Winter Solstice. In Fairbanks, that meant 3 hours and 42 minutes when the sun was above the horizon. This year it also meant 44 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. At solar noon (12:49 PM ADST), WC climbed up on a roof downtown for a photo up the Chena River.
A strong inversion, plainly visible in the photo, gave Fairbanks its ninth air quality alert in the month of December, which is likely a record. Other times during the day, the ice fog was much thicker.
Those are pigeons flying through the center of the photo. Somehow the pigeons seem perfectly appropriate flying through the soup of fine particulates, ice crystals, wood stove and coal smoke and auto exhaust that comprises ice fog. An alien bird in an unnatural, unhealthy murk.
The light will start to return; a few seconds a day at first, but 6-7 minutes a day by mid-January. The wretched air isn’t going to be solved in a few months. If Tammie Wilson and her fellow anarchists have their way, it won’t be solved at all. But let’s not worry about that today. It’s sun return. It may not get any warmer or the air less chokingly bad, but it will get lighter. Our republic may be broken at all levels – local, state and federal – but by Sir Issac, astronomy still works.
Mrs. WC forwarded this slightly hysterical graphic from one of her Twitter acquaintances.
Wuss. Wimp. WC would sneer at your sissiness, but his face is frozen. Keep warm, folks. And be careful in the ice fog.
The photo kind of says it all, except that the inversion wasn’t strong enough to make it a lot warmer up on Gilmore Trail. It was about -40 F in the valley; about -30 up on the hillside. You are looking south across the Tanana Valley. The large plume is North Pole Refinery. If there were less haze and no clouds, you’d be looking at the central Alaska Range in the background, with the North Pole area in front.
For readers not from Alaska, North Pole is about 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks. The pall of haze – technically, ice fog – roughly tracks the Richardson Highway and the North Pole area.
The photo was taken at 10:57 AM. The sun has just risen from the gap between Aurora Peak and Meteor Peak.
From the Wunderground forecast for Fairbanks:
We’re all tough Alaskans, of course, but it does make you think twice about your weekend plans.
Where’s global warming when you really need it?
Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, reportedly plans to introduce a voter photo ID requirement in the Alaska Legislature. He says this photo ID law isn’t based on the so-called “model statute” developed by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, a national organization that promotes conservative model legislation. Even though Lynn is a member of ALEC.
It’s all about equal protection. If you have a photo ID, you get to vote; if you don’t, you SOL.
The Alaska Supreme Court has a pretty well-developed set of standards for equal protection tests. In Ross v. State, Department of Revenue, the court recently reaffirmed that test. Let’s see how it works on Rep. Lynn’s proposed voter photo ID law. [Note to lawyers reading this: yes, we are being a bit simplistic.] The court has held:
We have adopted a flexible “sliding scale” test for reviewing equal protection claims. First, we determine what weight should be afforded the constitutional interest impaired by the challenged enactment. The nature of this interest is the most important variable in fixing the appropriate level of review. Second, we examine the purposes served by a challenged statute. Depending on the level of review determined, the state may be required to show only that its objectives were legitimate, at the low end of the continuum, or, at the high end of the scale, that the legislation was motivated by a compelling state interest. Third, an evaluation of the state’s interest in the particular means employed to further its goals must be undertaken.
The right being impaired is the right to vote. It’s at or near the top of the most important rights. There can’t really be any serious argument about it.
The purposes served by the proposed statute? To defer fraud. But wait a minute, has there been an actual criminal case involving voter fraud? Director Elections Gail Fenumiai could only think of one, the illegal alien in Anchorage who used fake ID to get a job as an Anchorage policeman. Of course, he had a photo ID, so the law wouldn’t work on the only case of genuine voter fraud we know about. So this law wouldn’t address an existing problem; there is no existing problem. It purports to address a possible future problem. That might exist. Someday. Possibly. That not a very compelling state interest. WC suspects the court might even think that the goals and objectives were illegitimate.
Which leaves an analysis of the means chosen by the state to achieve its purported goal. And that would be to deny folks the right to exercise the right to vote because they don’t have a photo ID. At a time when, on the available evidence, the existing system is working just fine, thank you.
Impairment of a critical constitutional right for a dubious reason with an onerous requirement?
The Alaska Supreme Court will go blow through the Honorable Bob Lynn’s voter ID law like a hot ball bearing goes through runny butter. It doesn’t pass the red face test, let alone constitutional scrutiny.
And, just for icing, remember that a few Florida Republicans were silly enough to admit the real purpose of Florida’s burdensome voter ID law: inhibiting Democratic turnout.
Maybe we can just not have this fight? Maybe the Alaska Legislature can address real issues, rather than unconstitutional attempts to cling to power?
Nah. Too much to hope.
WC headed down to the banks of the Chena River behind the Carlson Center Saturday afternoon to photograph the frost on the shrubs along the river. It seemed likely that after 15 ays at -20 F or colder, there ought to be impressive frost on the branches.
But to WC’s surprise, while the frost was there is wasn’t the pure white you’d expect.
Water vapor condenses around airborne dust particles. During the recent inversion, when the fine particulates were compressed and captured in the cold air, the evil stuff was so dense it turned the frost a faintly light brown color.
Gross. And a clear indication of what’s in the air that we can’t see. Hey, thanks Tammie Wilson.
Oh, and the photos of pollution-tinged frost are throwaways, too.