Saturday, September 24, 2016

Oil Pro: "The oil industry is in a horrible dilemma."

This blog is, at its core, about how we know what we know.  We all know that different people see the world differently than we do.  We have lots of sayings, like, "Where you stand, depends on where you sit" that express this notion.

The problem is that while people know there are other points of view, too many assume that their own view is THE correct one.  And there are lots of positions one can take that are 'right' from one angle, but wrong from another.  It may be 'right' for you and your cronies, but wrong for the vast majority of people.   It may be right in the short run, but wrong in the long run.  Or it may have been right for a time, but the times have changed.

We are closing in on the time when oil stops being the right decision.  Where big oil can put there pipelines wherever they please, the people whose land they take to do it, be damned.   It's already the wrong decision when it comes to climate change.  Massively wrong.  And before long, all the subsidies and political and military assistance that have favored for big oil will be tilting more favorably for those other energy sources.

That's the essence of this article from OilPro - a website that appears to be aimed at people working in the oil industry.
"The oil industry is in a horrible dilemma. New developments simply do not have enough time to play out. Oil sector developmental activity will disappear for around two decades. The disruption crash is inevitable - it will stifle new projects. It compromises recovery of initial CAPEX outlay. New projects, if they were to commence today, will barely start production before the disruption black hole opens up and swallows them. Projects simply will not happen. This new situation all but wipes out cost recovery opportunity. 
Supply side capacity constraints are unlikely to occur. Existing players have a brief period to produce while demand persists, accrue cash, and use that cash to diversify out of oil. This is the Saudi strategy. It is now perfectly clear what they are up to. They are out to aggressively realise what they can now, while prices are elevated(!), and use that cash strategically to develop other sectors in their economy for the longer term. Oil's heyday is over. Hydrocarbons are in decline. COP 21 dealt the killer blow. The Saudis know it. Oil companies that want to survive will copy them - the race to diversify out of oil has started. It is now a matter of survival. Recent sector history is littered with half-hearted efforts in this regard. A sense of urgency might finally produce a different result. Dividends are going to have to stop. It is madness to continue to pay them when your very existence is at stake.  
The economics of projects currently underway - such as Statoil's Johan Sverdrup - will undoubtedly undergo intense review in the light of this revelation. Most projects currently on the slate will be shelved indefinitely. The same goes for a number of projects already underway. This will be painful for those involved."
Alaska legislators need to upgrade their mental, energy software.

Thanks to Jeremy for this article.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Termination Dust

It rained yesterday.  It was into the 40s in town.  And when the clouds cleared today we had our first glimpse of snow on the mountains for the season.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Committing Acts of Journalism" And Other Interesting Ideas From Online Class - Journalism Skills For Engaged Citizens

Somehow I got a notice of a course called Journalism Skills For Engaged Citizens, being taught online from the Melbourne University via something called Coursera.  It's taught by two journalist/academics Drs. Denis Muller and Margaret Simons.  It costs $49 for a certificate or without it's free.  So I thought I'd see what I could learn;  Things to improve how I blog, but also to see what a worldwide internet class is like.

One of the reasons for the class, according to one of the Dr. Simons was that:
"journalism is, without a doubt, probably the fastest changing profession on the planet."  
She also caught my attention with this phrase:
"citizens, increasingly armed with mobile phones and other communication tools, are committing acts of journalism."

Week 1 has been about defining journalism and what a journalist is and a bit on good writing.  Dr. Muller highlighted some tips from one of my own favorites - Strunk and White's Elements of Style. 

We had an interesting discussion question:  Which of the following four do you consider journalists:  Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Jon Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey.

The lectures - they were broken down into four lectures of 2 to 12 minutes - surveyed some definitions and characteristics of journalists.

These were collected, as I understood it, from different sources, and they offer a blogger some things to think about.

  • "respect for truth and the public's right to information."
  • "public actually have a right to information."
  • " Journalists describe society to itself"
  • "Journalists convey information, ideas, and opinions. "
  • "a privileged role."
  • "Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, suggest, and remember."
  • "Journalists inform citizens and animate democracy."
  • "main duty is to the public,"
  • " journalists scrutinise power but also exercise power."
  • "Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover and, indeed, from their employers."
  • "being impartial or neutral was not necessarily a core principle of journalism. It was the method that was objective, not the journalist."
  • "respecting truth begins with the idea of assembling and verifying facts"

Nothing really new, but certainly worth reviewing all together now and then.

What have I learned so far?

1.  To be more persistent when things don't seem the way they should be.  The computer boxes we were supposed to put our assignment in, didn't quite fit the instructions.  It turned out there were two different boxes (only one short assignment) and I should have looked harder.  But, the assignment said no more than 30 words.  The box said no more than 140 characters.  So I had to pare my 'lead sentence' down, which made it more succinct.  But this first week it was only a practice assignment, I'm sure intended to help us figure this sort of thing out before we get the 'real' assignments.

2.  I'm going to learn some Australian.  There's a fictional town - Newstown - with its own website with lots of information that we'll be covering.  It turns out that a crèche in British and Australian is a preschool.  Allotments in a new housing development are what I'd call just 'lots.'  And they use Cr. before council members' names.

3.  I'm going to be doing some thinking about differences between traditional news stories for a newspaper and blog stories.  Some things will probably improve how I write posts.  Others I can ignore because we're doing somewhat different things.  I'm particularly thinking about a recommended structure for a news story and the lead sentence assignment we had where you're supposed to get all the key points covered.  For some posts that's probably a good idea - and I've done summaries or overviews on some long complicated posts.  But for other posts I'm ok with meandering a bit.  And I can always work on getting my prose as clean and lyrical as possible.

4.  Distance learning technology has come a long way from when I first had a student calling in to class from Kodiak in the early 80s.  Of course, I knew that.  Blackboard had already added a lot by the time I retired.  And I watched my daughter preparing for her distance class last spring.  But I haven't been on the student end.  I did keep getting lost, trying to find different parts of the course and going through the wrong doors at first.  I still haven't figured out a simple way to do a one-on-one message to another student.  We do have people from all over - Aussies of course, but also Ukrainians, a Brazilian, and people from Canada, New Zealand, a Tibetan living in Bangalore, and more.  There are supposed to be thousands of students taking the course, but only a tiny fraction have introduced themselves online.  More have participated in the discussions.

Here's a link to the course. And perhaps more importantly for many, to Coursera where you can find a lot more courses in different subjects.  I'll add more about class if there are particularly interesting ideas that come up.

There were a lot of different opinions on who was a journalist.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Degeneration, First Blood, Loving God's Wildness, Ket'aq, Show Time, Thermal Physics, and Digital Storytelling

Some books I saw on the new books shelf at UAA library yesterday.

My Degeneration

I was delighted to see local blogger Peter Dunlap-Shoal's graphic story of living with Parkinson's had made its way into the library.  This is an incredible book that only Peter, as a cartoonist with an  impish curiosity could pull off so well.

He treats his current life like an epic heroic adventure against a relentless adversary. The comments on his blog show that it brings comfort to others with the disease and it's incredibly valuable for people who are around them.

  Schroeder's Thermal Physics

This was originally published (with the same cover) in 1999. From Good Reads:

"This might be my favorite physics text book ever (on any subject). It's very readable - strikes a balance between big picture concepts and calculations. I also love how the book explains the connections between the microscopic description of statistical physics and macroscopic thermodynamics. (I wish I knew of a quantum mechanics text book that did this as well.) I used this book intensively while struggling through my graduate Stat Mech class (in retrospect, my undergraduate engineering oriented class on thermodynamics was not adequate preparation), and I'm not sure I would have made it through pancreas...? pathogen...? oh, Pathria... (whatever -- at the time I'm pretty sure it made me feel sick in various vital organs) without it. Although I haven't taught an entire class on thermal physics I have drawn on it heavily when teaching units on entropy and heat engines. In all honesty, I'm not sure how much my students appreciate this, but I at least still appreciate the insights I get! (If only I had found Schroeder's book on Quantum Field Theory as illuminating!) This book is geared towards advanced undergraduate physics majors, but like the Feynmen lectures, there are nuggets here that transcend the intended audience. Unlike the Feynmen lectures, this text is also helpful for solving actual problems. Highly recommended!"

Most of the comments there are in the same vein, but there is also this:
"I found this textbook very frustrating. Not nearly enough theory."

First Blood and The Blockade

From Wikipedia:

The Civil War book series (OCLC 20080930) chronicles in great detail the American Civil War. Published by Time Life the series was simultaneously released in the USA and Canada between 1983 and 1987, with subsequent identical reprints in the late 1980s - early 1990s following suit for foreign, though untranslated, dissemination as well. Some titles focused on a specific topic, such as the blockade, and spies, but most volumes concentrated on the battles and campaigns, presented in chronological order. Each volume in the series was 176 pages in length, heavily illustrated and with pictorial essays on specific topics within each volume and came standard without a dust jacket. Executed in hardcover, each volume was bound in silvery-gray leatherette, the cover endowed with in deep blue printed text imprints, and heavily embossed with Civil War symbology with an oval shaped illustration glued on. There are 28 volumes in the series

So, if you're thinking like I am - that these seem to not be 'new books,' - you'd call the reference desk and ask about them. And librarian Ralph Courtney said that the Civil War books and probably the Physics text are gifts that have been donated to the library. And that a lot of the new books to the library right now would fit in that category.

 Ket'aq and Mingqutem Iinga

I couldn't find anything on either of these books - and when I thumbed through them in the library I didn't see anything written in English.  But my google search did land me on an article about St. Lawrence Island by Sarah Garland,   "In remote Alaskan villages, teachers struggle to make school meaningful" that also appeared in The Atlantic.

It had this memorable phrase:
"Despite the near-fatal brush with Western culture, the Yupiks rebounded. . ."
 In any case, these appear to be Yupik language children's books.

Loving God's Wildness: The Christian Roots of Ecological Ethics in American Literature;

From a Project Muse review of Jeffrey Bibro's book:
"When the Puritans arrived in the New World to carry out the colonization they saw as divinely mandated, they were confronted by the American wilderness. Part of their theology led them to view the natural environment as “a temple of God” in which they should glorify and serve its creator. The larger prevailing theological view, however, saw this vast continent as “the Devil’s Territories” needing to be conquered and cultivated for God’s Kingdom. These contradictory designations gave rise to an ambivalence regarding the character of this land and humanity’s proper relation to it. 
Loving God’s Wildness rediscovers the environmental roots of America’s Puritan heritage. In tracing this history, Jeffrey Bilbro demonstrates how the dualistic Christianity that the Puritans brought to America led them to see the land as an empty wilderness that God would turn into a productive source of marketable commodities. Bilbro carefully explores the effect of this dichotomy in the nature writings of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Willa Cather, and Wendell Berry. 
Thoreau, Muir, Cather, and Berry imaginatively developed the Puritan theological tradition to propose practical, physical means by which humans should live and worship within the natural temple of God’s creation. They reshaped Puritan dualism, each according to the particular needs of his or her own ecological and cultural contexts, into a theology that demands care for the entire created community. While differing in their approaches and respective ecological ethics, the four authors Bilbro examines all share the conviction that God remains active in creation and that humans ought to relinquish their selfish ends to participate in his wild ecology. . ."

The Tax Aspects of Acquiring a Business

I tried to find a review of W. Eugene Seago's book, but could only find book selling websites.  This blurb comes from Readara:

"The decisions about whether to purchase a business and the price to pay is usually a matter of determining the present values of future cash flows and the availability of funds to acquire the business. Generally, each dollar of cash flow has an associated tax effect and therefore the numbers are meaningless if taxes are omitted from the calculations. Each dollar paid for the business will eventually become a tax deduction, either as an expense or recovery of capital investment. The present value of the benefit of the deductions or cost recovery depend upon when the tax benefit will be realized, the marginal tax bracket of the entity receiving the deduction and the discount rate assigned to the benefit. This book is intended to provide the tools to take into account the tax consequences of how the acquisition is structured. The acquisition may be a purchase of business assets, partners interests, or stock of a corporation, and may be undertaken by an individual, an existing business organization, or a newly formed entity. The consideration may be all cash, cash and debt, or equity interests. The tax consequences of the structure of the acquisition can vary widely, depending upon the form of the transaction. This book will provide a framework for analyzing the forms the transaction can take and the resulting tax consequences. As will be seen in this book, the old adage of substance over form often loses its significance in business acquisitions: Form matters. The audience for this book is graduate business students."

 Show Time:  The 50 Most Influential Exhibitions of Contemporary Art
We Make Money Not Art gives a long and detailed review of the book. Here's a short excerpt:
"Show Time examines the most game-changing and risk-taking exhibitions of the past 30-ish years. The survey begins in the late 1980s when the Cold War ends and globalization takes off. The book surprised me. I knew i’d find beautiful images, compelling ideas and elegant texts in there and i haven’t been disappointed. But i also thought that Show Time would provide me with a clear confirmation that contemporary art is far too busy contemplating its own navel to question its relevance in today’s society and to engage with a public whose idea of a wise investment does not involve shelling out 32 pounds to enter the immaculate tents of the Frieze art fair. But i was wrong (up to a certain extent) as many of the innovative exhibitions the author selected not only show the evolution of the profession but also a clearer desire to go and meet the public whoever and wherever it may be. Another fairly recent trend in curatorial practice is to cross boundaries, to explore and communicate with other practices such as theater, architecture, literature, science (though i didn’t find any convincing example of art&science exhibition in the book), etc. The book explores nine themes in contemporary curating"
It then goes on to discuss each of those themes.  Go to the link to find them.

Digital Storytelling

From the author Carolyn Handler Miller's website:
"The new edition contains up-to-date material about hot areas like tablet computers and how to create content for them; the latest developments in gamification, mobile apps and second screen TV, and an updated chapter on transmedia storytelling, with new case studies. It also contains a brand new chapter on harnessing social media for storytelling purposes. In short, the entire book is revised and updated. Meanwhile, the second edition of my book continues to be the only book on the market to cover the entire arena of content creation for digital media. It is still completely relevant and contains timeless information about character development, structure, and the development process. It also covers transmedia storytelling, Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), virtual worlds and serious games. In addition, it contains an entire multi-chapter section on using digital storytelling techniques for information, education, training, promotion and marketing."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Permanent Fund Dividend Is The Speed Bump For Legislative Spending

This hit me as I was reading a letter to the editor today that said the PFD is a 'gift.'  After reading Hammond's autobiography, it's clear he conceived of it differently.  Hammond tells us the Alaska constitution says the resources belong to the state and the people are the state, not the government.  So instead of a private developer getting the money, it's divided among all the population.

I think we can argue over that in a lot of ways.  Why not just give all the money away to the people?  Hammond does respond that it's for future generations, not just the one that exploited the resources.  And I'm of the opinion that the Fund earnings would make a great trust from which the state could pay for a significant part government.

But Hammond argues that the dividend is much more equitable - the poor get the same as the rich.  In fact, the dividend has a much greater positive impact on the poorer folks than on the richer.  While a progressive  income tax would take more from those who can afford to pay more.  And it would also catch folks who work in Alaska but live Outside.

Hammond also felt that the dividend gave the public an incentive to pay attention to the state budget.

And that's the part that made me think about a speed bump.

People drive faster than they should.  To slow them down, we build speed bumps.  Most people can't stand the bumps.  They are a pain to drive over, even slowly.  And they cost money to build and maintain.  BUT without speed bumps, people drive too fast.  We simply won't voluntarily drive slowly.  So, speed bumps are there to stop us from doing what we shouldn't do, since we can't seem to stop ourselves from doing the right thing.

I see the dividend - even if you disagree with most of Hammond's points - acts like a speed bump on governmental spending.  The public pays attention when their dividend is going to be cut because the legislature needs their money to pay for government.  Legislators just can't help themselves from spending more money than we have.  The dividend is a speed bump to slow down the spending.

It's not a perfect metaphor, but it helps frame one aspect of the dividend clearly.

Early Fall Bike Ride - Old UAA Trail Reopened

Got in a bike ride yesterday afternoon while the sun was out.  We're clearly moving into fall as the leaves change.

A week or so ago when the temps dropped and it rained, I expected there to be termination dust* on the mountains when the clouds cleared.  But there wasn't any I could see.  And as you can see, it's still that way.

And here's a view from the trail that connects the east and west sides of the UAA campus - north of the student center and sports center.  The trail was blocked at the east end for two years because the put up a new parking garage at that end.

Imagine shutting down a well used street for that long.  Well, bikes and pedestrians don't matter.  They just have to live with it.

But it's open again, though instead of woods, there's a parking garage.  The gate was closed so I don't think the garage is open yet.  But from what I could see, they haven't really thought out very clearly how the bikes and cars are supposed to interact at that point.  Maybe they'll paint some lines, we'll see.  The windows in the picture are on a pedestrian bridge from the parking garage to the building that used to be the engineering building.
[UPDATE Sept 20, 2016:  I was wrong. Went by again today and they do have lines and a lane for bikes to avoid the cars.]

*termination dust is an Anchorage term for the first snow on the mountains signaling the end of summer

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hammond On Income Tax Repeal: "Once repealed, we'll never get it back until we've raided all other revenue sources, and/or traumatically cut even crucial state programs."

Charles Wohlforth's column in the Alaska Dispatch News today is headlined,
"Permanent Fund hard-liners play chicken with Alaska's finances"
I realize that he probably didn't write the headline, but it does seem to reflect his point of view.  The third paragraph
"Our question is whether it is wise to pay out a dividend of more than $2,000 per person when our state government is going down the tubes. And a deeper question: Is paying dividends the only purpose of the Permanent Fund?"
But I'm also doing some marathon reading of Jay Hammond's Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor
for Monday night's book club meeting.  (Yesterday's post looked at his take on how the all-Alaska pipeline instead of a Canadian line has cost the state billions.)

And I've just read the chapter (28) that focuses directly on the reasoning behind the Permanent Fund, the dividend, and the great mistake of repealing the income tax.

Really, if people want to get a sense of who has it right and whose policy stances are clouded by ideology or personal gain, it helps to look at what people said in the past and what they are saying now.  Of course, some folks today didn't say much in the past, but we can look at the people they hang with.

And we can reassess whether Wohlforth's article should be naming the Permanent Fund supporters as playing chicken OR the people who have consistently stopped the reinstatement of an income tax.  I'd also note that one of the three who filed suit, Clem Tillion, was a close ally of Jay Hammond during the Permanent Fund dividend battles.  He knows the history and I'm sure he knows Hammond's predictions.

The book was published in 1994 - so that's 22 years ago.  But in the context, it appears that these were his positions at the time - in the early 1980s, probably with some editing as the future got clearer.

The Permanent Fund dividend had been enacted.  But at the same time there was a push to eliminate the state income tax.  Hammond strongly opposed this.  He at least wanted it to stay on the books, even if it was greatly reduced, even to zero.
"I thought repeal was stupid.  Worse, I imprudently said so.  'Reduce it if you will;  suspend it if you must.  But for heaven's sake, don't repeal it or you'll cut the one string connecting the citizen's pocketbook to the government purse, and see state spending soar.  If people no longer feel it's their tax dollars 'those idiots in Juneau are spending,' a major restraint on government growth and spending will be lost.  Once repealed, we'll never get it back until we've raided all other revenue sources, and/or traumatically cut even crucial state programs.'" (pp. 264-65)
His income tax stance was opposed by many, including business leaders.
"I tried to convince these opponents how money paid out in dividends would glean far more collective benefits for Alaska businesses than would the same amount of money they'd save through tax repeal.
To make my case, I pointed out that, in the late 1970s, the income tax brought in about $200 million annually.  With repeal that $200 million benefit would not only go mostly to those who least needed it, but to nearly one quarter of Alaska's work force who were non-residents.  By contrast, $200 million in dividend payments would enrich each of our 500,000 residents - and only Alaskans - by $400 each.
One would think that Alaska business, as the prime beneficiaries of dividend spending would be the first to register preference for the dividend program over tax repeal.  Instead, they scoffed at the former while salivating over the latter.  Of course, the degree of enthusiasm for tax repeal was directly proportionate to one's income level." (p. 265)

And he has a lot to say about why the Permanent Fund wasn't welfare.

Why it isn't welfare?
"'First,' I responded [to an NPR reporter who asked if Alaskans weren't embarrassed by free money from this 'oddball' program while gas prices were so high for others] 'you should know under Alaska's Constitution, that money and the resources it comes from, belong to all Alaskans, not to government nor to a few 'J.R.Ewings' who, in states like Texas, own almost all the oil.  Alaska's founding fathers wanted every citizen to have a piece of the action." (p. 256)
His second point, not related to the welfare question, was that the way gas at the pump is priced meant that even if Alaska gave away its oil, the people of the rest of the US would still pay the same prices, thus the PFD had no effect on the price of oil Outside of Alaska.
"'Third, Alaskans should be no more ashamed to accept a direct payment from their one-time oil wealth in the form of a check, than folks elsewhere should be ashamed of accepting lower tax rates or greater services than other states can provide." (p. 256)
Wouldn't the money be better spent on crucial government programs?  {And this is the question I would ask, because some things can only be done collectively, like public transportation (including roads).
"I went on to explain how dividend dollars are not 'lost' for funding crucial government programs.  Rather, they increase the tax base of every community and have created a very healthy condition." (p. 256)
He tells the reporter he'd like to use the Fund to further cut public spending by listing on the ballot programs not based on need or constitutional mandate and letting the public decide.  For programs they cut, half the savings would increase the dividend check.  At first the reporter thinks this is a good idea.  But then asks, "You wouldn't put public radio on that list would you?"  "Of course I would," responds Hammond.  Then the reporter voices an attitude that seriously disturbs Hammond:
"There are some programs the government knows are best for the people, even if the people themselves don't realize it."  (p. 256)
Isn't this socialism?  
"We could have underwritten coverage for all Alaskans who had no health insurance; wiped out our local taxes, funded scholarships or granted folks no interest loans, and we would have been lauded.  While the above would have been far more socialistic, inequitable and reeking with 'Big Brotherism,' all of which the dividend program is not." (p. 255)
I think fear of the label socialism is overblown.  His point, for those who see socialism as an evil, is that with the dividend, people themselves, not the government, make decisions on how to use the money.
"Moreover, the dividend is capitalism that works for Alaska.  In a state where locals traditionally watch in frustration as most resource wealth goes Outside, the dividend's grassroots 'trickle up' distribution now accounts for the largest new capital infusion into Alaska's local economies each year." (p. 254)
There's a lot more detail in the book, but Hammond gives solid reasons for keeping the income tax AND the full dividend.  Some we hear today from those opposing the cuts to the dividend - that cutting the dividend hurts the poor much more than the rich while the income tax is fairer to all because it is progressive.  Except from those among the wealthy who believe that their wealth is solely due to their personal ability, hard work, and initiative and has nothing to do with conditions in their lives (whether family or other important people who influenced them, innate interests and abilities or physical characteristics, laws or other structural conditions that favored some over others, etc.)

I'm not saying that what was right in 1980 is necessarily right in 2016, but a lot of people in the current debates were on the wrong side of history in 1980 or they weren't even in Alaska and know none of this background.  Hammond's prediction of where we would be if the income tax was repealed, exactly describes our situation today.  His narrative of the world seems a lot more accurate than those who opposed the income tax then and still do today.

And as I'm writing this, I began to think about the current play about Jay Hammond and Wally Hickel that's having its world premier run at Cyrano's right now and how if many people went, it might cause them to reflect more on this issue.  It's similar to the release of the movie Snowden which will, I'm sure, add a lot of nuance to people's thinking about whether Snowden is a traitor or a hero or something in between.  The main difference is that movies get a much wider audience than plays.

I do hope people get copies of Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor, whether from the library, which has many copies, including digital, from Title Wave or other bookstores.  The first half is Alaska adventure stories, the second half fills in a lot of political history around the pipeline and the Permanent Fund, plus a lot of issues I'd forgotten about - like D2 and Alpetco.  There's also  interesting brief mentions of people who are key players today - like Kent Dawson, one of the best paid lobbyists in Alaska today.  (See bottom of page 219)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Jay Hammond "If there has ever been a greater waste of energy and economic potential than what Alaska and the nation paid for the All-Alaska pipeline route, I don't know what it might be."

A little history is always helpful and this view of the Alaska pipeline from Jay Hammond's Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor (1994) seems useful in its succinct and clear description of how Alaska built an all-Alaska pipeline (instead of a Canadian pipeline) which had some short-term benefits, but had, in Hammond's view, much, much bigger long term costs.

He frames this argument as a clash between people who have diametrically opposed narratives about the human mission on earth.
"One type are folks who, fed up with environmental degradation and people pressures found elsewhere, flee to Alaska believing it the last redoubt of pristine wilderness and broad horizons.  Here they can indulge in lifestyles which, if not long since lost elsewhere, are at least suppressed in their native states.  Those people have read Robert Service and Thoreau.  They arrive with romantic notions of life in a remote homestead cabin away from the urban rat race.
Along with those would be rustics, however, comes another type of 'pioneer' no less determined to find a different kind of 'good life.'  Jobless or discourage by conditions 'back,' and hearing tales of common, unmanned folk striking it rich in Alaska, they flood north intent upon exploitation.  It's inevitable that the shovels and picks of those treasure seekers often bruise environmentalists' toes." (p. 167)
[I'd note these two views are highlighted in the play The Ticket which is an imagined conversation between governors Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond. It's having its world premiere run in Anchorage through October 9.  But it's so good, I'm guessing it will be extended.  But don't count on it.]

While Hammond says he sees both sides, he acknowledges that he leans with the environmentalists.

Hammond is adamant about how wrong it was to build an all-Alaska pipeline instead of sending the oil through Canada to the midwest by pipeline.  And you could hear the words on the page getting louder as he explained why.
"Almost no one in Alaska, save of course, 'preservationist extremists' dared suggest we even look at a Canadian route for fear of being branded a 'crackpot conservations like Hammond' by the state's most powerful newspaper and labor union.
Clearly, Alaska would experience far less environmental trauma with only six hundred overland miles of pipeline construction across its wilderness than nine hundred miles to Valdez - not to mention the pollution hazards of tankering via Prince William Sound and down the Pacific coast.  The fact that the planned pipeline terminal at Valdez would be erected on a major earthquake fault was also not mentioned, as I recall.
In any event, transporting our oil through a single, 2,100 mile trans-Canada line to the Midwest would clearly be less costly than tankering past  West Coast ports - which is precisely what happened when the southern pipeline fell through and inadequate West Coast refining capacity required North Slope crude to be shipped to the Panama Canal.  There, supertankers had to be unloaded onto smaller vessels able to navigate the isthmus.  These took the oil another 1,500 miles north to the gulf of Mexico, to refineries in Houston.  From there, of course, the product was piped north and east to the marketplace.  Some Alaska oil didn't ship north to Houston, but went all the way to the East coast for refining and sale.
If there has ever been a greater waste of energy and economic potential than what Alaska and the nation paid for the All-Alaska pipeline route, I don't know what it might be.  It has already cost uncounted billions of dollars and has been a major contributor to the nations's enormous trade deficit.
Most economists in 1970 agreed;  only if Alaskan oil was shipped to neighboring Pacific Rim nations, did the longterm economic impacts on the state become a wash with piping it via a trans-Canada route.  There's no doubt this was intended.  Japanese interests admitted such negotiations were under way.
This revelation only further infuriated Midwestern congressmen who wanted Alaskan oil to flow to their refineries.  When Congress threatened to halt pipeline construction until assured no Alaska oil would be sold to the Japanese, pipeline owners and proponents of the trans-Alaska route, scuttled negotiations and gave their word not to ship Alaska oil abroad.  Instead, they'd just ship it twice that distance around the coasts of North and Central American - each additional mile of transportation costs deducted from the wellhead price of the oil.  Since severance taxes on oil extraction are based on the price of oil at the wellhead, less transportation costs, obviously the lower the transport, the higher the tax revenues.  Don't even mention the additional energy wasted in this most inefficient boondoggle." (pp. 176-7)

He does acknowledge that building the All-Alaska route provided jobs for Alaskans and for Valdez, but with caveats.
"Certainly the one-third greater pipeline construction costs expended in Alaska might have provided more jobs and contracts for locals, as proponents promised.  However, since most pipeline workers were imported, and many of the bigger contracts went to Outside firms, it's hard to quantify how much more Alaskans benefited in the short term - if at all - than had much of the pipeline gone through Canada.
True, the greater length of pipe in Alaska, and the number of capital projects located in the Port of Valdez, are values added.  Yet countering these are the costs of state services required to offset population explosions in communities like Fairbanks and Valdez.  Both played for the trans-Alaska route, but were the first to come begging the state for multi-millions in 'impact money' to offset spiraling demands for government services that came with the 'boom.'  .  .  .
"Economic studies financed by Alaska Legislators John Sackett, Al Adams and Jan Faiks, indicated by 1987 Alaska had lost an estimated $15 billion as part of the price paid for the all-Alaska Pipeline.  Since Alaska crude sells at a lower price than imported oil, the higher price would bring on the world market has cost the national treasury many billions as well. " (p. 178)
Hmmm  With a $4 billion deficit this year, that $15 billion would have come in handy.

And he's not done.  He talks about the delays - he says he predicted - caused by court injunctions because of failure onto comply with EPA standards.  A delay he says that added to the national problems caused by the OPEC oil embargo.  BUT . .
" . .  rather than blame 'environmental preservationists,' far greater blame should be laid at the feet of those 'developmental preservationists' who would preserve every exploitive, 'damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead' environmentally insensitive despoiling technique of the 19th Century.  By ignoring laws of the land and the forewarnings of those who promised to force legal compliance, they, not the environmentalists, caused the costly delay.
Forgotten by many who still curse environmentalists for those woes is the fact that during the delay, construction techniques were upgraded and engineering problems resolved.  Now, even some of the pipeline's most ardent promoters admit that, without those improvements, the line might well have proved a disaster.  today they point with pride to what the environmental activists compelled them to do." (pp. 178-9)

Hammond was the Senate President for some of this period and writes about how he tried to get the legislature to require reviews of all the alternatives - basically the Canadian route.  But he was clobbered by Bob Atwood's Anchorage Times.  He does acknowledge that some of the decisions made sense when you understood the financial interests of those pushing for the all-Alaska pipeline.
He concludes talking about the ban on exporting the oil to Japan.
". . .Alaska oil, on its way eastward through the Panama Canal to Gulf states and beyond, passes Mexican oil, on its way westward to Japan.  This is ridiculous.  What we should have done, of course, is simply swap, from for drum, Alaskan oil for Mexican - and enrich the treasures of both nations.  This issue, I regret, once more demonstrates the ability of politicians to subordinate our nation's well-being to demands of local constituencies." (p. 180)
As we deal with our budget deficits now, challenges to the Permanent Fund Dividend, oil credits, and a gas pipeline, it's useful to look back and see what happened 50 years ago and consider what parts of that history might be repeating themselves today.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Snowden - The Movie

I've avoided posts about Edward Snowden.  Yes, I've mentioned him now and then, but I've held off from writing about him in much detail.  My dissertation was on privacy.  I've studied whistle-blowing.  Daniel Ellsberg is one of my heroes.  I knew I was primed to be supportive of Snowden and wanted to hold off.  (And whether I say something about him or not isn't going to matter in the bigger scheme of things anyway.)

I wanted to know more.  Well, I really wanted to drop by and talk to him for a couple of days and see if he was the guy I wanted him to be or not.

I've watched some of his tapes and I've pretty much settled, for the time being, on the Snowden the whistleblower side.  He's the good guy who believed in the ideals of his country and was willing to risk his freedom, even his life, to keep his country honest.  That's the narrative that fits most comfortably with what I've seen and heard about Snowden.

So we went to the 12:50 pm showing of Oliver Stone's Snowden today.  I did read a New York Times review when I was checking last night about when the movie played here.  After seeing the movie I'd concur with the reviewer.

This may be the movie that Oliver Stone has been practicing for.  It's restrained and straightforward.  It goes back and forth between the 'right now' and flashbacks.  The 'right now' starts with his arrival in Hong Kong.  The film is totally consistent with my sense of who Snowden is and why he did what he did.

The surprises for me were:

  • how conservative he was politically and personally
  • how he voiced concerns to others he worked with and for while he was an employee or contractor with the various security agencies
  • that he suffered from epileptic seizures

So, until others can present a more convincing narrative - along with supportive evidence - I'm more than willing to call on Obama and others to find a way to let Snowden come back to the US honorably.  Don't make this like the Cuba sanctions that go on forever or our marijuana phobia because we can't admit we're wrong.

There are more thoughts, but I need to do other things and this movie is worth seeing.  It's well made and is entertaining.  At the very least, it should further open the discussion how we keep spy agencies accountable.  And how we treat those who call them on it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great in the starring role. And I liked how the real Snowden's image replaces the actor's at the very end.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Small Changes - New Library Entrance And Park Parking

Some big, small changes in town.

First, the Consortium Library at UAA now has a north entrance.  From the day they opened the remodeled library it was obvious that they needed another door.  Anyone parking north of the library has to walk about 1/3 of a mile to get to the entrance.  No matter where you park, it's a schlep to the entrance.  I think walking is healthy and al that, but for someone with difficulty walking, particularly in the winter, that's a big deal.

They finally have a new north entrance.  I saw a north entrance sign in the library and looked in amazement.  I followed the arrow and low and behold there was a new entrance and a new spot to check out books for people using that entrance.  How long has this been here I asked.  Just a few days.

[Yes, I know the arrow doesn't point toward the entrance the way I meshed three pictures together.  I could have put it on the right and played with the perspective, but I wanted the check out desk to be clearly visible.  The rotated image in the middle was from further back.  The background picture is near the new door.]

When they first opened the remodeled library I was told a second door would have been too expensive to maintain.  That was when the price of oil was double or more what it is now.  I wonder how long they'll fund someone to check out books at this door.  People better use it a lot.  I'm guessing it was planned before the state budget tanked.

Second, there's a new parking lot at Campbell Creek park just south of Tudor and Lake Otis.  I first saw it from the bike trail not quite two weeks ago.  I was aghast.  Does this park really need more parking?  I guess there are a few times when it gets full, but I'd bet 90% or more of the time there are empty spaces.  And to take trees out for this?

But in the back of my head there was an image of a clearing at this spot, maybe some old maintenance building or something, but it had trees along the bike trail (the old one that cuts from Lake Otis to the easterly bridge.  I never understood why they build a second pedestrian bridge so close to the old one.)  I guess you'll have to go from the parking lot to the old bike trail and across the old bridge to the playground.  Or perhaps you can walk along Lake Otis Parkway to the new bridge.

I checked on google maps to see what was there before.  It looks like a late March or early April image with the creek and the bike trail still iced, but the rest of the snow gone.

And yes, there was a clearing with some sort of building(s) on it - in the green circle.  The playground is where the marker is and you can see the existing parking lot below it.