Sunday, April 28, 2013

Were You There?

Back on April 21st, Jesse Griffin posted a diary at The Immoral Minority that claimed a school in South Carolina was giving 4th graders a science test about origins which required the students to answer in conformance with the Biblical book of Genesis to do well, or even pass.  He posted the above image of the first page or the exam.

I looked at it and thought this must be a parody of what they test these kids for in Xianist schools.  Every question was absurd.  I was pretty sure Jesse had been caught taking a great comedy gag for something it was not.

I'm not sure anymore.

The varacityesque website, Snopes, rated the story as "probably true" last week, but now is less sure.  They do note that people researching the story are trying to home in on the school, even though it is obvious this might expose the dad who took the test screenshot, and the kid who took the test, to risk.

In states with voucher programs in their schools, tax money helps prop up this bullshit child abuse.  Our Alaska legislature wants your tax money to prop it up here too.

It's not about faith or truth.  It isn't even about Jesus loving infant velociraptors.

It's about money:


The creationist curriculum industry is rabidly seeking evangelical welfare programs from local, state and national governments.  With passage of voucher programs in more and more states, these companies might be considered stock opportunities, because it certainly is a growing segment of the economy.

Back to the science test story I initially doubted.

Jesse wrote his post a week ago.  Then the story sort of disappeared.  But it came back at the end of the week.

If it turns out that this is indeed a genuine 4th grade science test, the most troubling part of it is the final question, "The next time when someone says the earth is billions or millions of years old, what can you say?"

What can you say?

Was Jesus actually resurrected, for starters.

Were you there?

But that's faith.  This was represented as a science test.

I wasn't there when the kid supposedly took this test at a small school in the deep South back on March 28th.  But I'm hoping to be there when we find out whether or not this test was actually administered, and whether or not the school gets any government funds or credits beyond normal religious exemptions.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

SB 21 Repeal Referendum OK'd by Lt. Governor. What Now?

I.  On Thursday, the Alaska Lt. Governor's office announced that the citizen's movement to repeal the egregious Senate Bill 21 has submitted a sufficient petition.  Three prime sponsors and 100 additional signatures were required by state law.  The petition also needed to state a case meeting the referendum law's standards:
The elections office will print booklets for the referendum backers to use as they gather the more than 30,000 signatures required for the measure to make it to the ballot. They have until July 13 to collect the signatures, which must be from 30 of the 40 House districts.
Of the 370 signatures collected, 352 were valid.  That is an error rate of 5.12%.  So, the referendum's supporters need to get at least 32,000 signatures - the state will require 30,169 real ones.

Which 30 of the state's 40 legislative districts will be targeted is yet to be seen.

The clock is ticking.

I'm predicting about 40,000 signatures within 80 days.

II.  Since SB21 was passed, ConocoPhillips announced two things.

First, they announced new projects for 2013, implying SB21 was already working.  Yet the projects announced had been approved months ago, if not longer.

Then, Thursday, they posted their most recent earnings statement [emphases added]:
ConocoPhillips financial statements released today indicate 1st quarter profits in Alaska of $543 million.  
Adjusted earnings in Alaska exceeded those in the Lower 48, Canada, Latin America, and Europe combined. Capital expenditures in Alaska increased 13% to $262 million.  
A non-partisan Legislative Research Report showed Alaska’s profits per barrel continued to remain among the highest in the world, at $27.99 per barrel, much higher than the $17.80 total global average profit per barrel, and over eight times the $3.15 Lower 48 profit per barrel.
Successfully getting this referendum's state-certified signature booklets distributed, cared for, documented fully in their chains of custody, and turned in early with anything over 150% of the required voters might be a 2014 election game changer.

It will draw people to the polls.  The GOP and the energy companies will have to address the referendum and the bill in many campaigns, local and regional.  It will have an impact on both the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections.

All this will cost the GOP major money - maybe up to $5 million - with only about $300,000 or so having to be spent by donors who usually support Democrats.

Begich, his opponents, and Parnell, and his opponents, will be asked to state their positions on SB21 and the referendum.

Oil company lobbyists and their associates are already crafting the ads they will have to carry when the referendum is placed on the ballot.  So, they're already bleeding over this.

Come Hear the Anchorage Civic Orchestra Pops Concert on May 4th

The Life of Thomas Paine to Be Presented Friday at the Wilda Marston Theatre

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Comparing the West, Texas Explosions to the Boston Marathon Explosions

Last Monday, two explosions occurred in Boston, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, during the course of the annual event.  Three people were killed, dozens injured, some very severely.

Last Wednesday, several explosions occurred in the middle of West, Texas, at an ammonia fertilizer plant.  We don't yet know how many people were killed, because some of them were completely incinerated, but the count is currently at over 15, with well over 100 injured.

The two young men the FBI claims were behind the Boston crimes have garnered trillions of words of worldwide press and internet coverage over the past five days or so.  One is dead, the other injured, and in custody.  The amount of venom I've read directed toward them in comments to any of the meretricious press stories I've gone through is quite frightening.

The owners of the Texas fertilizer company who wantonly destroyed the community their business was supposed to serve have not been chased down by police.  I haven't found a single mainstream or second stream news story yet, calling for anything remotely resembling what thousands are demanding being done to the 19-year-old kid being held for the marathon mayhem.

Although West was evacuated, martial law wasn't declared there, as it was in Boston on Thursday.

Yet, what the owners of the Texas fertilizer company have been involved in, set up their crime scene, piece by piece, for decades.  The two Boston kids just recently, if one wants to believe the narrative the media is feeding us, only recently turned toward creating situations that would probably kill people.

I regard what the owners of the Texas fertilizer factory did to be as serious, and as criminal, as what these two kids are alleged to have done.  Why our media and our society can't see it that way saddens me.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Perseverance of Ray Metcalfe

Ray Metcalfe and Vic Fischer checking their work
- image by Zach Roberts
Readers here know that I'm a friend and colleague of Alaska's most enduring muckraker, Ray Metcalfe.  Since bolting from the Alaska Republicans late in the last century, mostly over the party's craven and corrupt giveaways to big oil, Metcalfe has continually carved away his own political territory.

A founder of the Republican Moderate Party, and longtime critic of Democratic Party Alaska politicians whose support for development is eclipsed by their friendliness to flawed energy company regulation or taxation, Ray has become the most persistent Democrat in Alaska, when it comes to taking on heavyweight personalities (then-Sen. Ben Stevens), clubs (the GOP Corrupt Bastards), or campaigns (the 2006 Democratic primary for the U.S. House, and in 2008, for the U.S. Senate).

Long  before the 28th Alaska Legislature convened, Ray warned that Gov. Parnell was about to dismantle ACES.  Shortly after the 2012 election, while Ray and I were going through some paperwork together, he mentioned that the end of the so-called Senate Coalition meant a tax holiday for Alaska's big three big oil trio:  ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum and Exxon-Mobil.  He also said a citizen's initiative might be able to overturn any bill.

In February, at the Anchorage Bartlett Club, Ray told me he was thinking about getting people interested in an initiative, or referendum on the bill, SB21, that was being introduced in Juneau to committees on a fast track.

In March we discussed the probability of SB 21's passage several times.  On the 22nd, I interviewed him on his ideas about an initiative or referendum.

Ray always stressed how time sensitive the referendum process has become.  From the beginning, he felt a successful campaign might need over $500,000.

I wasn't able to attend more than a single meeting of various groups getting together this past ten days, as Ray's plans gained traction and became somewhat taken out of his hands.  What I saw at that one meeting encouraged me:
I took away a couple of deep impressions from the meeting. The most indelible was seeing former Wally Hickel aide Malcolm Roberts, former legislator and gubernatorial candidate Chancy Croft, former Anchorage mayor Jack Roderick, and former legislator and constitutional convention participant, Vic Fischer, all sitting together at one end of the table. What a stunning group of four men, with a collective set of accomplishments, memories and stories about our short statehood experience, second to none.
I was working during the remainder of the meetings, and when the rally and petition delivery happened.  What I've read or seen about how this is going is encouraging.  For one thing, the referendum petition has been filed by a respectable group, headed by inclusive Alaska icons Vic Fischer, Bella Hammond and Jed Whittaker.

Metcalfe handed over the petition paperwork himself, in the governor's Anchorage office.  In this video, taken for The Mudflats by Zach Roberts, the receptionist seems overwhelmed at first.  But her handling of this under pressure is laudable:

Ray Metcalfe and I think this referendum will be able to get its 30,000 valid signatures - and then some:
To apply for petitions, they needed 100 signatures, and collected 372 in just a couple of days, Metcalfe said. Now it's up to Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell to decide whether to approve the application for petitions. While he has just seven days to make that determination, the state then must print signature booklets, and that can delay the process. Organizers hope the state acts fast.  
The referendum campaign already has a Facebook page called "Vote Yes -- Repeal the Giveway." Lavin said the effort will need many volunteers to succeed. The group plans to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission and raise money "from Alaskans," Lavin said. They likely will have to pay signature gatherers to collect enough in time, though the group is just forming and figuring out how to proceed, he said.
Anyway - we'll get the signatures, and this referendum will be placed on the 2014 ballot.

Then the ad campaigns by Big Oil will start swarming your media.  Who will the referendum opponents hire to sway key swing voters?  Tony Knowles?  Bill Sheffield?  Put Steve Cowper's name and picture on milk cartons?

Sarah Palin?

Without Ray Metcalfe's background work on this citizens' response to SB 21, the referendum idea might not have gotten going in time to implement it.

Thanks, Ray!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On the Anti-SB 21 Referendum

former Alaska legislator Ray Metcalfe
The 27th Alaska Legislature's passage of the Gov. Parnell-inspired Senate Bill 21 was greeted by a movement to allow Alaska voters to respond to this reckless legislation, with an opportunity to vote it out of existence, through Alaska's referendum process.  The need for such a response to passage of the bill was seen by a few, since the beginning of the session, as inevitable.

Back on March 22nd, I interviewed former legislator, Ray Metcalfe, who was the first person to put serious thoughts together on a direct appeal to voters.

I posted the video at Youtube, facebook, twitter, and at my blog.  I linked to it at the comments of several news stories to which commenters were lamenting SB 21's inexorable progress.

Here's the March 22nd interview again:

His ideas evolved, with critical input coming back to him from a number of people who have sponsored or initiated referenda or initiatives in the past.  Last week, as it became obvious that the state house and senate would reconcile their minor differences on the bill, Metcalfe was sought out, and a series of meetings on the mechanics of how to organize, write, distribute and deliver the necessary paperwork for such an appeal to Alaskans, began.

Ray invited me to participate, as a past colleague on some of his projects, and as a person seriously motivated to get this issue on the 2014 statewide ballot.  I couldn't make it to Friday's organizing meeting, but was there for Monday's meeting.

I took away a couple of deep impressions from the meeting.  The most indelible was seeing former Wally Hickel aide Malcolm Roberts, former legislator and gubernatorial candidate Chancy Croft, former Anchorage mayor Jack Roderick, and former legislator and constitutional convention participant, Vic Fischer, all sitting together at one end of the table.  What a stunning group of four men, with a collective set of accomplishments, memories and stories about our short statehood experience, second to none.

There  were a number of Republicans present, a lot of independents participating, and a few Alaska Natives.  A fair number of people from around the state attended telephonically.

My second deep impression was that all these people understand the urgency of getting a viable referendum petition, clearly legal in its construction, out to all the districts, as soon as possible.  They also understand the need for the public to see this process for what it truly is - a bipartisan move to thwart some of the worst legislation we've ever been dealt.

There should be an announcement from this statewide, bipartisan citizens' group sometime Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Bartlett Club This Thursday: Will Iran Be Our Next Iraq?

We went to war against Iraq largely because a false meme was created that claimed that they had an ongoing nuclear weapons program.  The false meme was largely created by people who held dual allegiances to Israel and the United States, and who suborned democratic processes here to push an agenda that has diminished our democracy's viability and vitality.

For over a generation, one Israeli politician or public figure after another has claimed that Iran is only months or a couple of years from becoming a nuclear power.  The 2005 AIPAC conference had an entire multimedia interactive basement display devoted to illustrating how the Iranians would create an IRBM nuclear capability within the next 24 months.  And this at a time when our failing, flailing Iraq campaign was costing us scores of deaths - and the Iraqi people several hundreds of deaths - per month.

This will be the Bartlett Club's first contentious set of presentations on Israel's role in our foreign policy since Joe Princiotta has been in charge of programming events and speakers there.  It is also the first time since my friend for 37 years, Pat Abney, stepped down as head of the Bartlett Club.

Pat was always concerned that bringing up the subject of Israel's role in our foreign affairs, or Israel's militant Zionist expansionist colonialism in Palestine, at the Bartlett Club, might have an adverse impact on the Club, or on the Alaska Democratic Party.

Her concerns were not unwarranted.

The only time I ever walked out in anger at a Bartlett Club event was when Alaska AIPAC head David Gottstein accused the entire crew of the USS Liberty of suffering from some sort of delusional PTSD for their firm belief they had been intentionally attacked on June 8th, 1967.

David, who I otherwise respect, was one of the concern trolls who haunted Pat on the particular subject of Israel's role in our foreign affairs.

But the people who made these threats have a diminishing role in how the Democratic Party makes decisions in Alaska, or on how outside pressure can dictate  who says what and how at Denny's on Bragaw on Thursdays at noon.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Obama to America: "Frack You!"

Obama's pick of fracking advocate and close friend of the nuclear industry, Ernest Moniz, to replace outgoing Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, is being looked upon with dismay by many, including me.

Perhaps the most damning comment on his nomination comes from the Food and Water Watch: "His appointment to the DOE could set renewable energy development back years."  The advocacy group is circulating a petition opposing the nomination.

His past statements supporting the nuclear power industry and its crumbling infrastructure are troubling.  Emblematic is his assessment of lessons learned from the Fukushima reactor disasters, "It would be a mistake to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits."

Whatever its short-term benefits, its long-term dangers are rapidly growing, with rising sea levels, ossified power plants that should have been shut down years ago running at full bore, and no solution in sight to remove the growing tonnages of spent fuel rods suspended above operating reactors, both in the USA and elsewhere.

When I spent a lot of time around Hanford in the late 1980s, through the 1990s, people there, including nuclear scientists and engineers joked about Moniz' ability, as an Assistant Secretary of Energy (1997 to 2001), to award huge contracts to companies to do nothing about growing radioactive waste leakage problems:
Back then, Moniz and [Oregon Senator Ron] Wyden were debating the department’s handling of cleanup at the site. The DOE acknowledged in the late 1990s that it knew less about how much the radioactive waste was leaking into soil above the water table, a dry area known as the “vadose zone.”  
“It was Moniz who had the unenviable task of coming out to the Hanford site and eating crow for DOE and admitting the waste had migrated, that the science was good, that they were wrong,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of the Hanford Challenge, a Seattle-based watchdog group. 
According to press reports at the time, Moniz did concede the department had not done enough. 
And they have continued to not do enough, and with Moniz at the helm of DOE, he will defer to the "sage wisdom" of a nuclear industry that has no realistic solutions to waste problems.

Wyden plans on grilling the nominee in the upcoming confirmation hearing:
In recent months, tanks at Hanford have been found to be leaking, and just last week Wyden received a letter from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent government organization, warning that a treatment plant being built there to better store the waste could lead to chemical explosions. In February, Wyden asked the GAO to investigate the Energy Department’s management of Hanford. That’s the same group Wyden asked 15 years ago to look into a similar set of problems.
“The next Secretary of Energy—Dr. Moniz—needs to understand that a major part of his job is going to be to get the Hanford cleanup back on track,” Wyden said in a statement regarding the letter last week. “I plan to stress that at his confirmation hearing.”
From Wyden's statement, it appears he accepts that the nomination is unstoppable.

At a time when public perception of climate change and global warming as being a real threat is on the rise, Obama has picked someone who will make sure the policy of DOE remains one of keeping its head buried in the sands of time:
The corporate mainstream media has roundly ignored or barely mentioned Moniz's connections with the fossil fuel industry.  
After all, just looking at the companies who are his founding advisors for MITEI (see above) indicates that the fossil fuel lobbyists will give the green light to senators of both parties to confirm Moniz.  
As with Obama's policy of no major action toward preventing irreversible Climate Change, Moniz will become Secretary of the Department of Energy at a time when the earth's environmental deterioration may outpace his and Obama's leisurely approach to implementing alternative energy and standing up to the fossil fuel industry.
What a shame!

5 Broken Cameras - The Complete Movie

This winter's 85th Academy Awards saw a highly competitive field for Best Documentary Feature.  The Oscar in the category went to Searching for Sugar Man, which was understandable, as it is an entertaining film, with an upbeat ending.

Two of the other four nominees were about the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  One of these, The Gatekeepers, is an astounding set of interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service.  The other, 5 Broken Cameras, is an account of one man's coverage of the demonstrations in and near the West Bank community of Bil'in, where he lives.

5 Broken Cameras didn't win an Oscar, but it did receive the World Cinema Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, and the Special Broadcaster IDFA Audience Award and the Special Jury Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 2011.

I don't think the film has been shown yet in Alaska.  Here it is, in its entirety:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Anchorage Civic Orchestra Accompanies Dane Breitung in Smith's Fantasia for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra

Last Friday I had the pleasure and honor of directing the Anchorage Civic Orchestra's Family Concert.  We presented the two winners of our annual High School Concerto Competition.  The first of these to perform was Dane Breitung, a junior at Chugiak High School, in Claude T. Smith's Fantasia for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra.  Originally written for alto saxophone and band, it was transcribed for orchestra soon after the composer passed away.

Here's Dane's outstanding performance: