Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What the Point?

Rural Alaskan communities are heavily subsidized and they don’t even manage to grow like other places in the country. I think they largely represent failed communities and it doesn’t make much sense to me to subsidize them. There’s pretty much no population growth in those rural Alaskan areas outside of natural population growth from the birth rates present there (rural communities nearly always have higher birth rates than urban areas). There appears to be like no reason to move to one of the rural places when they have such problems with utilities such as water or waste disposal. The conditions they live under are simply not even close to living standards that are average for Americans. I’m not sure if someone finds the sewage thrown outside to your yard to be normal, but that is not normal at all. It just seems so bizarre to hear this is going on in this state. I am from the small community of Delta Junction. To me even Delta is just behind like every city out there when it comes to things like internet, food, culture, and many other parameters that measure progress. However, in Delta there is no problem that I’ve ever heard of with sewage or water. I just never heard about anyone throwing their sewage into their back yard or anywhere. That’s why everyone has a septic tank. It just doesn’t make sense to support these communities that cannot support themselves, and I say this coming from a rural community. Delta has been losing population recently too and I think that is because living standards there simply suck. Everything is expensive and there’s like nothing to do. There is like no reason to live there unless you have family. It doesn’t make sense to support places where people would not naturally move to live. It doesn’t make sense to throw money at communities that have unbearable living conditions. What’s the point of trying to save failed communities? Is there some economic gain I do not know about? I might be missing some important point, but to me it doesn’t make sense to try keep people there when there are so many better places for living across America. People should be living good lives and enjoying themselves not freezing and living like in the middle ages or something. It seems bizarre to hear about how much money we throw at communities that do not bring much benefit to the Alaskan economy. It’s easy to throw oil money at the problem if you have tons of money lying around, but that’s just an irrational way to function. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rural issues/Barbara's presentation.

Alaska has a lot of unique engineering challenges.  The presence of permafrost complicates both surface and subsurface building.  The extreme cold in the winters and the relatively high summer temperatures makes picking suitable building materials difficult due to thermal expansion and contraction, as well as the various changes to the properties of the building materials due to the temperature.  Our delicate environs are also easily harmed by various kinds of commercial and industrial waste, and many communities count on being able to reap the bounties of fish, animals and lumber that nature provides.  Finally, the remoteness of rural job sites makes getting the appropriate materials to the right place difficult and increases the damage that building materials receive due to transportation.  These problems are all issues that communities that wish to have running water, a basic utility many of us take for granted, will have to overcome.

The problem behind the investigation that Barbara did is that communities want the advantages to health, hygiene and convenience that a modern water utility and sewage system provides, but they are often unable to sustain the operation of a water utility.  The government provides funding for the construction of modern water utilities in these small communities.  These projects are extremely expensive due to Alaska.  These water utilities often fail because the small communities are unable to spread the operating costs over enough households and due to the relatively elastic demand for the services these utilities provide.  This is a wasteful use of funds, and a primary reason for this is a faulty method of evaluating which communities should receive government water utility construction assistance.  Barbara found that the government metric was generally set way too high, therefore many communities that would not be able to sustain a water utility were the sites of water utility projects.  Barbara proposed another way of evaluating the suitability of water utilities in communities to better choose recipients of government assistance.

At some level, I found myself struggling with issues concerning rural life.  As much as I respect indigenous practices, and I strongly believe that subsistence lifestyles are a part of Alaskan life, I am concerned with all of Alaska subsidizing communities that would otherwise not be viable.  We are facing an enormous state budget crisis right now, and I honestly wonder how much money is diverted into programs that subsidize people living in remote villages through heating oil subsidies, public works projects, etc.  I do not understand how certain modern amenities like water/sewage, electricity, fast internet, policing, firefighting, cell phone reception and the maintenance of equipment and infrastructure that sustain these amenities can be supported by small communities.  For instance, if a bag of Doritos chips in Tanana, a relatively large community on the banks of the Yukon, is nearly $10.00, and the same bag of chips can be had in Fairbanks for under 4 dollars, what do you think the cost of providing water to that community is comparatively?  Is it fair to taxpayers in Anchorage or Fairbanks to be sustaining programs that subsidize living in remote areas when that money could be used to improve services that benefit many, many more people in these larger communities?  As I stated earlier, I am having problems with dovetailing subsidizing villages with my personal views that subsistence is core value of Alaskan life.  I'd be interested in hearing other people comment on this.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

This Wednesday, April 20, we will be privileged to have our SWEET President, Barbara Johnson, present her research. You can blog your thoughts after her talk.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Gun Control

The restriction or ban of non-hunting guns has both pros and cons. It can be argued that since most violent crimes are committed with guns then restrictions or bans would reduce the number of those crimes, but at the same time it can be argued that criminals would still find ways to get guns and that only those people that follow laws would be hurt. We often hear in the news about mass shootings and banning many non-hunting guns such as assault rifles would mean there would be fewer victims when crazies decide to do mass shootings because their firepower would be limited. However, it is possible that normal people having guns means that those crazies would be less likely to commit mass shootings if people carried weapons with them for protection because those perpetrators would have the potential to be shot. With more guns out there in the general population there can be higher chances of guns getting into the hands of children, which means accidents can happen more frequency. However, the black market for guns would likely become enlarged with guns banned and it would be a loss of some liberty our citizens have. The police cannot protect everyone and people can protect themselves from the government. Gun ownership also has protection from the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution, but it was aimed towards the militia rather than individuals. Furthermore, crimes that would have been less harmful can be a lot more dangerous if guns are allowed. Essentially, both sides can argue their point to approximately the same extent.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Responsible Gun Ownership

Gun ownership is protected by our Constitution.  I sincerely believe that the militia the Constitution speaks of is all adult citizens (more or less) of the United States, and the Supreme Court has already ruled on this matter in support of my views.  That said, I understand that even though the Constitution protects this right, the Founding Fathers could not have fathomed the weaponry that exists today.  In their time, a well-made musket could be expected to have an effective range of about 300 yards.  Today, an AK-47 has an effective range of 400 yards.  Further, while a 10-man unit of trained musketeers could fire about 25 shots in one minute, a single person with an AK-47 can fire well over 10 times that in the same amount of time, and although the musket and AK-47 have similar point-blank bullet energy, the AK-47 maintains that energy and lethality at ranges well beyond the musket.  It is because of these differences that the primary argument against modern gun ownership is the use of modern guns in mass shootings.

Yes, guns can kill people efficiently, certainly more efficiently than a sharpened stick or brick.  However, the bottom line is that our gun rights are protected.  As long as we have gun rights, we will also live with the problems that come with these rights.  Mass shooting stories are frequently on the news.  Many people blame the guns as the root cause of the shootings, and while they definitely facilitate mass murder, they are not the root cause.  A gun alone does not kill people.  There always is the person who pulled the trigger.  All society can do is try to reduce the number of triggermen getting a hold of guns.  We do a very mixed job of doing so.  We have laws which prevent violent criminals and the mentally ill for obtaining guns from most stores, yet we do not enforce many of these laws.  We also have not deigned to safeguard private sales through person-to-person, online or gun show transactions nearly as well as we have through shop-to-person transactions.  Much of the real problem should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the gun owners and their lobby groups.  More over, direct responsibility at some level can literally be placed upon gun owners.  The reason I say this is that in a large portion of mass shooting cases in the U.S., the guns that were used in the shootings were unsecured.  This means that guns and ammunition were accessed by shooters who were not the gun owners.  Jeffrey Weise, Adam Lanza, Charles Andrew Williams, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden are a small sample of individuals who did not legally own guns, but were able to obtain guns and ammunition and then go on shooting sprees.  In the case of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine shooters, they were able to break into a glass display case at a relative's house to get rifles and ammunition.  Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, was able to access guns from his mother's collection.  Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, middle school students responsible for murdering five people, were able to bring a small arsenal to school procured from their homes.  No one holds the gun owners responsible for the deaths.  I find this absolutely bewildering considering the precedents our country has established concerning liability.  A person who has not secured their firearms is not being a responsible firearm owner.  This person SHOULD be punished for being so negligent as to not secure the weapon.

We do have a lot of laws governing firearms ownership.  It's time we take out the loopholes and lack of accountability, and start enforcing the rules we have.  I strongly believe that doing so will help reduce the number of mass shootings in our country.

Article V

The Constitution of the United States
Article. V.

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.


Gun control, to me, is a straight forward issue -- amend the Constitution. I am not always a fan of firearms, or how people choose to use firearms, nor do I own any firearms; but I know you cannot legislate away human faults. Telling people they cannot do something because it is against the law does not magically solve the problem. Even if gun legislation were to become amended in the Constitution, there would be an illegal market to facilitate the desire to own firearms. Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s made alcohol illegal, and yet the market provided. Alaskan villages who do not allow alcohol in their villages are still targeted by smugglers. Drugs are illegal and yet we still have a strong drug presence in this country. Wouldn't the legislation against firearms turn this into another "War On Drugs" scenario, with the inefficient financial costs of enforcing the law outweighing the intended benefit? If you want to legislate anything, focus on attachments and other after market modifications that are not Constitutionally protected, e.g., magazine sizes, foregrips, digital optics.

Regardless, gun control in this day and age is becoming irrelevant as technology continues to advance. Who needs a Class 3 license when all you need is a 3D Printer and the materials to create your own unregistered firearm?
Dear Scholars,

Since there was so much interest last Wednesday, we will be discussing gun control this week. Please feel free to do your own research and post a blog based on your findings. You will receive credit if you post it prior to the meeting.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Just Like Everywhere Else

When the author says someone will fall behind when they don't belong to a special interest I think that statement applies to national politics rather than just state. The same exact thing is happening in Washington, so I think the problems are not only for Alaska. I think there shouldn't be lobbying for politics because then you can have special interests just do what they wish. Who can stop some entity spending millions to get something passed, changed, or not changed? It's almost impossible to get a fair government when anyone with money can just buy off a politician. There shouldn't be any money in politics. It's understandable that political decisions must take into account businesses like that's obvious, but you should not be able to engage in legalized corruption. There shouldn't be any of this bribery going on when public funds are involved. I agree with the author that the system is rigged in favor for those that can simply utilize their capital. Another thing I id not understand was how come we had state officers in foreign countries. That spending does not make any sense to me at all. It just shows how little the politicians care about using money wisely. It's not like they get rewarded or punished for spending money wisely or not. Then ignoring spending for the state law enforcement does not make the situation any better.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Gunnar Knapp's talk

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Freedom for Alaskans

One of the things that I picked up on while reading Freedom For Alaskans is that Dick Randolph does a fantastic job of summing up libertarian principles in a concise and eloquent way.

For example,

"The welfare establishment has to perpetuate poverty to justify and ensure its continued existence," Randolph writes in chapter eight.

I think this quote does a good job of illustrating the problem with government handouts. When government handles the distribution of funds it is more likely that there will be the waste in administration. I agree with this, for the most part, the only caveat is that sometimes I think that the benefit extracted from government handouts outweighs the cost. For example, I think that socialized healthcare has the ability to outweigh its cost.

It would definitely take more research but I think it would be possible since healthcare is not something that is easily obtained.

Another quote I liked is:

"If our economy were again freed of government meddling, the resulting increase in wealth would make today's poor even richer in the future," Randolph writes to close chapter eight.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Reactions II

Chapter 4
"State constitutional provisions that permanently reserve to the state the rights to mineral resources on any land it transfers to private individuals are the cornerstones of socialism within Alaska."

I get that Mr. Randolph is trying to reduce government and allow private parties to generate wealth.  However, I think that in a land that is as abundant and productive as Alaska, the price of a parcel of land should reflect the resources contained within the land.  I don't think there is any way the government can foot the bill of evaluating the value of the entirety of Alaska accurately.  Thus, the government retains the rights of the mineral resources.  Further, I'd argue that the mineral wealth of Alaska belongs to all Alaskans, just as the salmon in the streams are a collective property.  I shouldn't be able to string a net across a waterway because someone was so short-sighted that they sold the mouth of the river to me.  I understand that Mr. Randolph states that my purchase of property shouldn't interfere with the use of land that other individuals purchased, but that just seems to me that I get in early and I pick the best spots.  I don't understand how Mr. Randolph's ideology allows for management of common resources and how he defines where the line between "utilize" and "over-utilize" exists.

"The term public interest has been used to permit state government to classify much of the best land in Alaska as unsuitable for private ownership...  ...After flying over hundreds of miles of vacant line suitable for recreational and other uses, we finally arrived at the remote and inaccessible disposal area.  One passenger was appalled to find that the parcel he had paid to have a chance to obtain was virtually useless...  ...As a starter, I will, through the Tundra Rebellion and other efforts, do my best to see that more federal lands in Alaska are transferred to state control so that Alaskans can have the power to set up a land disposal system that meets their needs."

I do support the idea that more land should be made available to private citizens.  I found Mr. Randolph's comments on improving land interesting, although the idea of "improvement" seems pretty subjective.  How do we define it?  Is it based on putting up a structure or clearing it?  That said, I do believe it's within the public interest to define some lands as unsuitable for private ownership.  I don't think that selling off the mouths or sources of rivers is a good idea.  I don't think selling off through ways are a good idea.  I don't think that parceling up Denali National Park is a good idea.  Further, why am I supposed to be outraged that a man sight-unseen puts money down to try to get a piece of property?  Seems to me that the person who put down that money should have gone to the site before he put down that money.  As far as the transfer of federal lands to Alaska, it does seem that a substantial portion of federal lands have transferred hands, although I'd argue that the federal government's retention of 60% of Alaska is still way, way too much.

"In Houston, Texas, there is no government planning of zoning.  Even dyed-in-the-wool government planners have to admit that the beauty and efficiency of land usage in Houston is no worse than elsewhere and that it has created much individual wealth and happiness."

What looks, smells and sounds like zoning is zoning.  Houston does have de facto zoning laws.  That is why it has residential, industrial and commercial zones that resemble everywhere else in Texas.

Chapter 5
"First, the only economic entities that are true monopolies (meaning they have a corner on a market and can eliminate any competition) are those created, protected and maintained by government."

Standard Oil was not created by government.  It was created by John D. Rockerfeller.  While later on in Standard Oil's life, it was clear that Standard Oil had dozens of politicians in its pocket, early on, this was not the case.

In fact, the vast majority of what Standard Oil did was legal.  Standard Oil made deals and was absolutely merciless in its drive to command market share and improve profits.  This led to Standard Oil both actively destroying and working with railroads to divide out markets.  Much of this concerned the use of railroads.  If a railroad refused to adopt a system of rebates and drawbacks to Standard Oil, it would lose all of of Standard Oil's business to competitors.  Standard Oil demanded that railroads discount their shipping.  Not only that, it also put into place drawbacks, a system where Standard Oil's competitors were charged higher prices, a portion of the difference between the competitor and Standard Oil's rates being paid to Standard Oil.  Not only was Standard profiting from its massive size, a portion of its costs were being paid for by its competitors.  This allowed Standard Oil to eventually gobble up its less efficient competition.  It allowed Standard Oil to control its competition unfairly.  At the point that Standard Oil was purchasing politicians, it was already too late for most of their competitors.  The damage had already been done.

Further, speaking on monopolies, how does Mr. Randolph regard things like tariffs, copyrights and patents?

Chapter 6
"It's time for Alaskans to realize that their government has become a self-serving, self-perpetuating monster that lives primarily for its own well-being, not for that of the Alaskan people."

You will find no argument here.  People do look out for their self-interest, and they will more often place that above the common good.  There aren't many people who are telling their bosses that they need to be laid off.

"One of the most important, and underestimated, powers of the governor concerns the use of the media to lead Alaska."

The media and government should not be in bed together.  Unfortunately, they are.  Access demands compliance at some level.  As far as I am concerned, this is, at minimum, objectionable and at worst, wholesale lying propagated by the people who have a obligation to be telling the truth.

One of my favorite shows is Top Gear.  This show is by far the most popular automobile show in the world.  However, rarely, if ever, do they give a completely bad review.  This is so that they maintain the ability to get cars and review them for the show.  This is especially the case with Ferrari.  Ferraris are magnificent cars, but they are well-known to send multiple tuned cars to a review.  Many times, these specially-tuned cars are not truly production models.  For the 0-60 mph sprint, Ferrari will use one particular car which has special tires and tuning to minimize its sprint time.  This same car will not be used on the skid plate to determine maximum cornering g-force.  Ferrari will have a completely different car, tires and set-up for this measurement.  In the end, Ferrari will force the reviewers to use only the best numbers from specifically job-tuned examples of a particular model.  The reviewers will present the number as if it came from a regular factory-fresh vehicle.  To do otherwise would result in that publication or show losing their ability to review Ferrari vehicles.  In essence, Ferrari has developed a system that allows it to lie to the public with the collusion of reviewers, the very people who are supposed to educate the public about vehicles.  In this, Ferrari profits immensely off the difference in information that the paying public and it has.  It also leverages its reputation and sex appeal to ensure that it can continue to do so.

There is little difference between the system that Ferrari and the government uses.  Media outlets which can not access political figures/sources are not nearly as attractive to viewers.  This is not to say that this is how it should be, but I don't see how we resolve this issue without the use of more rules/government.

"Tax regulations specify what worship qualifies as "religion" and how that status may be achieved.  Federal regulations classify and control the types of allowable sexual behavior."

First, there are too many preachers who have Gulfstream G650s.  I think it's pretty disgusting for a preacher to be actively taking money from the elderly and desperate for a private jet.  Frankly, I don't think there is enough the IRS is doing to look into these sorts of "churches".  There absolutely must be some sort of government regulation concerning religion or Donald Trump would be running his own church to the tune of millions in tax write-offs.

Second, is it animal cruelty or not?  While the sexual conduct between two (or more) consenting adults is most often best left to the bedroom, dining room table, dungeon, etc. of the individuals and shouldn't be something that the government is involved in, there is deviant sexual behavior.  Should the government come in to protect a chicken?

"As a result of judicial 'wisdom,' the state is now spending millions of dollars to build throughout rural Alaska schools which will serve, at great expense, only a handful of students."

I am conflicted on this issue.  I understand the need to be efficient with public funds.  However, I do believe that young children should be near their parents, and boarding school shouldn't be something we force down the throats of those who live and have children in rural areas.

"I will always trust the common sense of the people more than the unrestrained power in the hands of then elite few."
Again, Mr. Randolph dates himself a bit here.  My rebuttal: Kardashians.

Chapter 7
"A good answer to the question 'What will we do when oil revenues run out?' is simple: cut spending-now!"

Agreed!  The problem here is that we may be past this (peak oil) point.  The pressure to cut spending is an order of magnitude more than it was in 1982.

"We should not accept any federal shared revenue."

I like relatively maintained roads.  I like not paying $25,000 a semester for an education at UAF.  If it means that I can't smoke at UAF, I'm cool with that.

"And every time government invests in more infrastructure through the capital budget, it also creates continuing operational and maintenance expenses and misallocates huge amounts of production."

But the government did put together the highway system.  And it helped mobilize America.  And the government did pay for military bases and border crossings/security and levees and putting a man in space.  And we did benefit from it.  I don't argue with the fact that it probably wasn't incredibly efficient, but it happened and we benefited from it.  It smacks of some level of arrogance to receive the gifts of this sort of investment and then state that you want more or that you wanted it a different way.  If you think that your taxes are going to pay for that, you take your 5,000 dollars and see how far you get with it.

Yes, it's expensive and most probably there was waste, but, as a society, we do benefit from any number of large infrastructure projects.  In fact, there is a very strong argument being made that we need to be investing trillions of dollars in our basic transportation infrastructure in the next decade.

"In dollars, we went from $45 million in 1960 to $5.8 billion in 1981...  ...State spending has increased about a hundred twenty-five times during the last twenty years."

Inflation between 1981 and 2012 was 161.49%.  A budget of $5.8 billion in 1981 would be $15.2 billion in 2012.  Our budget in 2012 was 13 billion.  Alaska's population in 1981 was 498,493.  The population as of July, 2013 was 736,399.  It is not only clear that the budget has not gone up, but that it has actually gone down in 1981 dollars while the population has gone up nearly by nearly 50%.

This is not to say that there isn't too much money in government coffers.  Just that the end-times are not here yet.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Who's at Interest?

The author talking about state land disposal laws acting to exert control over the land appears to make sense in how the rights to mineral resources do not belong to private property owners. I must agree with the author that the state land disposal system means that there is no real private ownership of property. I'm not sure if the rights should be repealed or not because the book says the state reserves the right and not necessarily the obligation to take all the mineral resources on private property. Essentially, it's important to have established private property rights for more free business enterprise. There are many various restrictions with respect to land when mining because many of the most potent land resources are restricted from private use, so claims cannot be bought on the many tracts of land that belong to the state or federal government. Many miners do say that the many restrictions only make it harder to scale up their operations because of increased regulation such as the Clean Water Act, and this is what I believe the author tried pointing towards. I do believe some of the increased regulation should be there, but I am not an expert to confidently state whether that should be the case or not. Also, the author talking about how Alaska has the most government of any other state is also partially true in the sense that the people are very dependent on fund dispersal or distribution. I do not think the government should have such an important role in the lives of the people when the people should have the ability to do more themselves. The state government is having very severe financial troubles right now and I think this is what the author points to when he says the legislators spend too much time trying to get reelected rather than improving the state. There are many spending troubles that occurred because of how legislators like to spend for votes, but not cut when needed. Furthermore, I believe the stressing on how the judiciary system in Alaska being held by a small group of people shows that there is no interest in having the state run by the people.