Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday Alaska Progressive Blog Roundup - Part 2 - The Lunch Date & Young Bloggers

I. Alaska progressive bloggers Linda Kellen Beigel and Jesse Griffin won a lunch with Sarah Palin's attorney, Thomas van Flein last Wednesday. They were the highest bid at a silent auction to benefit a Japanese language immersion program at an Anchorage elementary school. Apparently, the auction had promoted the lunch opportunity as "lunch with Sarah Palin's attorney." Interestingly, there weren't many bidders. And it appears that van Flein walked into his lunch date unaware that his lunch mates were two of the most articulate and engaged critics of van Flein's most famous client.

Van Flein was in on the set of hostile maneuvers against Griffin - including a threatened lawsuit against Gryph - early last August that led to Gryph feeling he had to resign from his job with the Anchorage School District. Gryph's coverage of the lunch is an example of extremely admirable restraint. His transcription of the exchange the two men had over public information about Trig Palin's birth is an eye-opener:

Probably the most interesting exchange came when suddenly Van Flein leaned toward me and asked point blank: " Do you sincerely, honestly believe that Trig is not her baby?"

To which I replied: "Yes, I sincerely, honestly believe that Trig is not her baby. Do you sincerely honestly believe it is her baby?"

VF: "I have no doubt."

G: "No doubt because you were there and watched it pop out?"

VF: "Have you been in a hospital room for the birth of a child? There are usually three nurses, the anesthesiologist, pediatrician, maybe three MDs. Somebody is obligated under the laws of the State of Alaska to fill out an accurate report for Vital Statistics..."

G: "...right...the birth certificate...where is that?"

VF:" ...and they could lose their medical license if they falsify that. They'd need to have a whole bunch of people lying about something and willing to put their careers on the line."

G: "During the pregnancy, how often did you see her?"

VF: "I did not see her during the pregnancy at all. Whose baby do you think it is? What woman would give up her baby?"

G: "I do not know. That's one thing I actually cannot put together. I've said that point blank...I have no freakin' clue."

VF: "Just so you know, if you have convinced yourself this is the case and are trying to find proof of it, it undercuts everything else that you do. It's kinda like saying "9/11 is an inside job" or that OBAMA IS NOT A US CITIZEN. There's just some instances where rational people take a step back. This is fun to think of maybe but it's crazy."

VF: "You're asking for something short of a DNA test..."

G: "...birth certificate..."

VF:" ...that's a matter of public record...Isn't it recorded in the Mat-Su records with the other births recorded that day?"

G: "We're not talking about birth announcements but there never was a birth announcement and there was never a birth certificate provided by Sarah. Though she was asked by the McCain Campaign it was never provided."

Linda Kellen's coverage of the lunch centers on other topics the three discussed, especially the way van Flein has avoided what might be characterized as accurate descriptions of the climate surrounding the ethics complaints involving Sarah Palin in 2008 and 2009. My only encounter with the attorney involved the same issues, when I called in to the Eddie Burke show last summer, as van Flein spun a very inaccurate description of the costs of the complaints.

Here's Linda's description of their discussion on this topic:

After about 15 minutes, I jumped into the deep end of the pool and basically asked Mr. Van Flein why he continues to give the impression that all of the ethics complaints against the Governor have been dismissed when he knows it's not true. His response was mostly what I expected...that if we notice the wording of his responses, they are "factually accurate". His recent press release is a perfect example from her Facebook:

The Ethos of Ethics

When the Governor announced her decision to resign on July 3, she pointed out the then 15 frivolous ethics complaints that had been filed against her and dismissed.

In other words, no matter what the actual impression his words gave people, he stated he was covered because he didn't "technically" lie.

The problem is that he did. The travel complaint was not "dismissed," it was "settled" a plea bargain. So, while he said to us that it was "resolved" just like the "dismissed" meant something very different. After all, a "dismissed" complaint didn't cost Sarah Palin $10,000 in reimbursement fees while the "settled" one did.

Also, phrasing his story by referring to Palin's discussion of the "then dismissed 15 complaints" makes it sound like all the complaints up to that date were dismissed. That was not true. At that time, two or three were still open. One of the same ones (AK Fund Trust) is still unresolved now (and a determination letter did not find in her favor). Mr. Van Flein justifies his words by saying she was just referring to the complaints that were dismissed up to that point. However, when I did the count at that time, those 15 complaints against Palin had to include the settled travel complaint (or, they were counting several complaints that were against Palin staff, not her...still making it a lie/half-truth.)

However, when Van Flein has been interviewed by people (Eddie Burke is one example) who erroneously claim that all of the complaints have been dismissed, he does not correct them.

Like I said, I already expected his reaction and justification, but it was interesting to hear it directly. It's not a surprise that no one seems to take ethics seriously anymore.

This same subject has resurfaced at the Anchorage Daily News this week in an editorial they published in response to Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan's announced decision to unilaterally change the state's Executive Ethics Administrative Code. The editorial made the same disconnect as van Flein made in his discussion with Linda:

With the proposed rules, the state will reimburse legal expenses if a state official is cleared of the violation claimed by an ethics complaint. Palin was subject to a flurry of ethics cases, most of them groundless, and ran up legal bills of about $600,000.

Rules about paying travel costs for the governor and lieutenant governor's family members will be tightened up. If an event traditionally includes the governor's family, or if a family member is representing the state at an event, or if the event is a youth or family-related affair, the state will pick up the tab. Otherwise, if a governor or lieutenant governor wants family along, he or she must pony up.

Fair enough. Palin faced a complaint on this score, and she reimbursed the state for several of her family members' trips, although no ethics violation was found because state law on the matter was unclear.

As for reimbursing legal expenses, that's fair, too. If there's no violation of the ethics law, the public official in question shouldn't be strapped with legal bills.

However, the regulations don't just open the state checkbook for an public official who accused of an ethics violation. If the official, for example, settles a case by taking "corrective action" -- reimbursing the state for expenses he shouldn't have taken, for example, without admitting any violation of the law -- that's not considered exoneration.

Anyone spot the disconnect here? The ADN statement "Palin was subject to a flurry of ethics cases, most of them groundless, and ran up legal bills of about $600,000," once again avoids the obvious that most of the six hundred grand was connected to three cases: her complaint against herself (to derail the Branchflower Investigation), the Gwartney complaint (which was borderline criminal conduct on the part of the Palins, and was plead out) and the ongoing issues connected with the Alaska Fund Trust. This is not the first, second or third time the ADN editors have served this dishonest meme.

It gets worse. "Palin faced a complaint on this score, and she reimbursed the state for several of her family members' trips, although no ethics violation was found because state law on the matter was unclear." It looked clear enough to me. It looked clear enough to Frank Gwartney. I started writing about the travel scam before any Alaska media took it up.

"If the official, for example, settles a case by taking "corrective action" -- reimbursing the state for expenses he shouldn't have taken, for example, without admitting any violation of the law -- that's not considered exoneration."

As in the case of the Gwartney complaint. Over half of the commenters to the ADN article are at least as critical of their incurious stance, as portrayed in the editorial.

II. John and Heather Aronno are continuing to find ways to energize young progressives in Anchorage. Their blog, The Alaska Commons, has become one of my favorites.

I'm the oldest of the Alaska progressive bloggers (I'm 63), but I interact a lot with young people. I get frustrated when I attend Democratic Party events where the people attending - and many are dear friends - are mostly older than me. That's old.

The key to taking this state back from the regressive GOP isn't to keep on doing things the way Alaska Democrats have been doing them for the past 20 years. It is to simultaneously address rural, union, educational, LBGTQ, general civil rights and health issues progressively, while finding ways to help develop our economy on a sustainable level.

I addressed the issue of long-term sustainable economics five weeks ago, comparing Anchorage to Turku, Finland. Diane Benson, back in early 2008, proposed to British Petroleum and Conoco-Phillips that they participate in a program to rehabilitate Alaska's vocational and higher education structures to mirror examples of places like Turku.

Back to John and Heather. They are working extremely hard with young Democrats in Anchorage and at UAA. Even during finals week - they're attending UAA - they managed to get several posts up and promote local candidates and issues. I even bumped into John as I was leaving the recording of Moore Up North on Thursday. He was coming in from taking a final. I was on my way to Eagle River Community College to give one.

If there were five dozen young coples out there in Alaska as energized and capable as these two, I'd feel better about the future of our party and our state. But the fact that they are there, clearly focused, is very reassuring.

image - Thomas van Flein and friend by CD


Anonymous said...

Obsessed I say. You are absolutely obsessed. grin

Martha Unalaska Yard Sign said...

Phil, your hard work is very much appreciated by this Alaskan! You have so much to offer in so many areas, and I know that the Crazy Woman is your least favorite subject. These fake conservatives with their barely veiled agenda of returning the country to the dark ages are worthy of our attention only because it is imperative to rid our society of their poison.

You do great work, adding art and music to balance out your posts about CW and the rest of the muck and sleaze which has been present in our state politics for far too long. Thank you!

Montana said...

I cannot believe any of you are putting Sarah Palin down. She is the most popular woman Republican ever. She almost made it to the White House (OK, the VP house), but now all she is trying to do is put food on the table, you think her husband can keep up with the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.

And so what if she took two different planes back to Alaska from Dallas, Texas when she was in labor with Trig, instead of going to a local hospital (who wants to born in Texas, yikes). I mean so what if Alaska Airlines spokesman said that they were not aware that she was in labor.

She is not a quitter, she is reloading, so watch out she will be your President, like it or not. I mean come on we had “W”, right?