Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Hospital/Kahtnu Problem: Either Way We're SOL

I was having a hard time trying to make up my mind about the Kahtnu/CPGH  situation.  I can easily see the merits of both sides.  Competition does help the consumer’s bottom line.  But there is the truth that the hospital is able to offer a full service, including those procedures that will never be profitable, because other services might be more profitable and can cover those other costs. Lose those profitable services and the price of everything else either goes up, or the service goes away.

Maybe it’s easy to be callous.  If you don’t need the service, why pay?  But it is often luck that calls those shots.  Every time someone has to hold a bake sale, spaghetti feed or something to help out someone with medical needs (and often that person in need is a child), I am embarrassed that we live in a society that accepts that practice as being just fine.

Oh, and then there's insistence that tax rates are lower for the rich than what we working people pay.  The result..?

More bake sales. We all know that the proceeds of these fund-raisers don't make a dent in the staggering debt people incur.

We are forced to seek out bargains and places like Kahtnu make sense.  But it is shortsighted to then make it harder for those, who through no fault of their own, can’t afford treatment, so the hospital point of view is also valid.

There is only one solution.  Medicine should not be a for-profit business; just like police, firefighters and paramedics are not for-profit.  The cost of medical care is never going to be manageable as long as everyone at the top in the trade, from doctors to pharmaceuticals to insurers, can make huge profits.

And it comes at our expense.  We pay for it with exorbitant health insurance costs, high deductibles, huge medical bills and taxes.  One way or another we pay for it all.

I can chose not to buy a stereo if I think prices are too high.  We have no choice with medicine. What’s the option when you are in pain or sick… to die or to be in pain?  Of course we’ll pay. Or we’ll be in pain or we’ll die and that does happen here.

Pulling numbers from the thin air just for example, say CPGH total expenses are $20 million a year, that includes all salaries and benefits, supply and maintenance costs and whatever, they have to charge at least that much in fees.  If they lose one component that makes more money than another, they would have to raise the fees charged for those procedures.  The price of services keeps spiraling up and we are forced to pay even more insurance premiums, higher fees and higher deductibles.  Each and everyone of us has had this happen to us already.

Until there is universal, single-payer health coverage in the US and until medicine is run like the service it morally should be - -equally for all - - those who stand to profit from our vulnerability will screw the consumer. 

It already happens.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Board of Gaming the System: Managing Wildlife for the 1%

Before you dismiss this post as the opinion of a Bambi-loving extremest greenie,  just for the record I'm a multiple gun owner who has hunted caribou, moose, deer and various winged critters. I think that if you eat meat or wear any sort of animal product (including leather), it is nothing sort of hypocritical to be opposed to hunting.  Fine if you choose not to do so, but don't expect me to do the same.  I believe in the freedom of and from any sort of religion and that includes most any rigid political or social dogma.

There is a certain tragic beauty in the natural balance of nature. No matter if the predator is human or beast, hunting is essential to that balance.

On the Kenai right now there's an overpopulation of arctic hares and feral bunnies.  Besides making it darn near impossible to take your dog for a walk off-leash, there's plenty of snacks for predators - - especially lynx.  As this year's lynx have a feast, these well-fed cats will lose few of their own kind to starvation. Since more lynx will survive, there will be more offspring.  This trend will continue for a couple of years until enough fluffy bunnies have been consumed that there aren't enough of them to sustain the lynx. Some of these predators will begin to starve and the downward spiral begins again until there aren't enough lynx to keep the little hoppers from breeding, well, like rabbits. And the cycle goes on and on. 

That same pattern is part of the balance of predators and moose. Because moose breed, well, like moose, the cycle of feast and famine takes longer to phase through.

Humans are part of that natural cycle; we have been since we evolved. 

If there is something beyond nourishment, warmth and art that comes from harvesting wild game, it is the challenge of matching ones skills to the terrain, the weather, and the deadly smarts of our wolf and bear competitors.  Some years are lean for all involved. We humans have the luxury of stopping off at a store on the way home, so unsuccessful hunts don't thin our ranks.  If you haven't noticed, there's an overpopulation thing happening on the planet. With more people, there are more hunters and more of a demand for prey.  Not everyone will be successful. Get over it. Those who aren’t successful have a few options. They can keep at it and hone their skills and patience. They can find another hobby and in that way thin the ranks of human predators, or they can get appointed to the Board of Game and game the system, so that their big-game hunting guide cronies can bring in rich outside trophy hunters and guarantee them a kill.

That is the agenda of the Board of Game with their recent decisions to expedite aerial predator control on the Kenai and many other places around the state.

In making their decision about the Kenai, the BoG chose to ignore the 300+ moose killed in traffic collisions here.  Meat harvested from these accidents is eaten by Alaskans.  Although not hunted with a gun or bow, a dead and harvested moose is a dead and harvested moose.  When these moose are added to the numbers that hunters get, the yield for the Kenai is very plentiful.

The Rossi scandal is exposing the depths of how political cronyism coupled with blatant personal unethical practices have made Alaska wildlife management decisions become based on what is best for big game guides of rich outsiders.

Let’s begin with Ted Spraker, a central peninsula resident, former Fish and Game biologist and Safari Club member.  Ted admits that habitat is the most important factor when it comes to moose populations; in the log run, a habitat can only support so many moose.  In area 15A the moose population is slightly lower than the habitat can support, and in Area 15C there are slightly more than average as the habitat is much better there. Both well within what is normal for their different stages of habitat flux.  15A hasn’t had a major wildfire for decades and there just isn’t enough browse to support significantly more moose.

Despite Spraker’s awareness of this, he is looking for a short-term boost to the moose populations.  Why?  Well, the spin is that they want more moose meat on the table of Alaskans.  Ted knows that that the aerial hunting of predators will not significantly increase the success of Alaskan hunters. 

If there was a concern about the number of moose for ordinary Alaskans, how come the Board of Game has never considered reducing the number of rich Outside game and trophy hunters that guides bring in? Professional hunting guides do have skills and their clients are more successful than the average Alaskan.  And make no mistake, non-subsistence urban and Outside hunters take most of the game in any given management area.

There’s certainly a legitimate debate if subsistence users should have priority with hunting rights.  In my mind, they absolutely should.  In bush Alaska, the grocery store is nature.  In Kenai and Anchorage, we have Fred Meyers and Safeway. 

Preserving ones way of life is a legitimate consideration however, but ethical decisions must be made. I don’t understand the arrogance of thinking that someone who does not depend on hunting to survive should have as much access to the resource as someone whose life does.  Once subsistence needs are met and then if there is enough game left to satisfy recreational Alaskan hunters, only then you should you allow rich Outside sport and trophy hunters to get their trigger locks off.

Each and every current Board of Game member is tied in some way or another to big game hunting guides.  There is no balance on the board – each and every one was appointed by governors as a favor to the big game guide lobbyists.

The recent Corey Rossi scandal is exposing some of the arrogance that these political appointees practice.  While Rossi is not on the BoG, he was the director of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation and just got busted for violating hunting rules and lying about it. In addition, Rossi and current BoG Chairman Cliff Judkins and then-Game Board member Bob Bell of Anchorage went on a subsistence musk ox hunt. Yeah, that’s right, none of these nimrods depend on musk ox to live, but they had a subsistence permit.  The permit rules state that you must destroy the  horns.  That rule is there to keep those just interested in a trophy from killing the animal under the guise of subsistence.  Well Judkins and crew tried to bully a lowly F&G biologist to make an exception for them. They wanted trophies.  The biologist refused to play along. They tried to use their power to break the rules. 

Rossi and his kind have abused their special perks of obtaining trophy permits by giving them to Outside hunting lobby groups such as the Sarfari Club to auction off for fund raisers for those organization.  More meat for rich outsiders, less for Alaskans. 

The BoG is about special privileges for guides,  the connected and the rich. 

The BoG took public input about introducing aerial predator control on the Kenai and a whopping 92% of the testimony was against the practice.  Yet the Board’s decision to expedite the slaughter  was unanimous. 
The BoG has an agenda that isn’t tied to facts, ethics, public opinion or sound wildlife management practices. Why does that seem acceptable to the Governor? Why is this OK?

Reason 738 why we’re SOL.

The Alaska Dispatch has had an excellent series of reports about these scandals.  I hope you are reading them:

Smart Alaska Game Board decisions drowned out by bad calls

New allegations surface against disgraced former Alaska wildlife chief

Alaska Board of Game shows affection for any predator control program

State is playing an unscientific game

And some related links:

Aerial control

Political science at Alaska Fish and Game

Rossi investigators examine signature of Kenai hunting guide

This is old, but still applies:

End Aerial Wolf Hunting

Read more here:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Dems: Let's Save some $; The Reps: Let's be Somewhat Frugal

Oh, the crazy world of Alaskan politics.  We elect republicans because they are fiscal conservatives and scorn democrats because they love to spend.

There are a series of bills before the new legislative session and included are several, all sponsored by democrats, that would force the state to save a sizable chunk of the state's growing wealth.  Included in the bills is SB142 sponsored by Johnny Ellis of ANC which would transfer $2 billion additional dollars into the Permanent Fund and another $2 Billion to a fund whose investment gains would then pay down the state's pension debt.  While there is some bipartisan support in the senate, there seems to be no traction among Republicans in the state house, including Mike Chenault and Curt Olson, the central peninsula's representatives in the state house.  Mike's comment was simply that he didn't think that lawmakers should be mandated to put money aside.

WTF?  The last time the politicians added anything to the PFD that they weren't already mandated to do, it was 1985.  If they are not required to save, and Mike's a great example of why this happens, money goes to boondoggles. I've written about the tremendous wastes at the Goose Creek Prison and the Port of Anchorage that came while Mike was in the leadership role in the state house.  Better grab your Xtratufs because the slime will continue when the money gets released for the Susitna Dam and the Knik Arm Bridge.  Mike feels entitled to go play golf and go on international junkets on the government dime.  And what do we get?  We're just SOL.

So, do you want the politicians to spend the money, or do you think it might be better if the citizens spent it?  More $ in the Permanent Fund = more $ for us. If you think it might be better for us to have money to spend, start voting for some Democrats.

Hey, the Dems HAVE to prove that they are really fiscally conservative in this state, or else they couldn't get elected in a union hall. The republicans, especially the ones we elect from the peninsula are all about talking the R talk, but playing good-ole-boys (or corrupt bastards) and enriching their friends at our expense.

Mike Doogan, another D, has a bill that would put a one-time $10 Billion deposit in the PF. Another bill sponsored by Bill Wielechowski, a D from Anchorage, would cap the spending from oil-generated funds each year and mandate that 2/3 of the excess would have to be saved.  If Wielechowski's bill passes, the proposal to save would go before the voters. 

Remember Steve Cowper - he was governor quite a few years back and he proposed an educational permanent fund.  The state would set that up like the PFD, but the profits from that would have been used for education.  Forever.  What happened to that?  The Rs that controlled both the Alaskan senate and house shot that down.

Because they are fiscal conservatives?

Yeah, right...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Trophy Hunt!

Back in November, I wrote about Bob Ermold's opinion piece in the PC about predator control.  Bob got all slobbery about the wisdom of Corey Rossi, the unqualified director of the State of Alaska's Division of Wildlife Conservation. Corey was originally selected by then Gov Sarah Palin to run the AK Dep't of Fish and Game, but he was not appointed after a near-revolution in the department based on his lack of a degree or appropriate experience.  So, the special job he has now was created for just him.  Since then, he's been sort of promoting his own big-game guide services. Apparently conflicts of interests mean nothing to those who approve of his desire to kill every wolf and bear in AK.

Well, ole Corey is in a heap of trouble.  Apparently, an independent investigation by the state troopers has shown that this guy, who is suppose to conserve wildlife, has violated state hunting laws and lying to the cops and has just been slapped with 12 counts of illegal guiding.

Read more about the charges at the Alaska Dispatch and Craig Medred's follow-up piece here. Seems that one of the things Rossi lied about in the investigation was that he was working for Kenai guide, Joe Dilley.

I wonder if there are bag limits on unqualified head of state departments?  Well, since the Murkowski/Palin/Parnell governorships, that would be the head of nearly every department.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Updated:Things That Don't Suck in Soldotna

New Year's Day, 2012: a time to appreciate the place where I live.  Please add your comments about the good things Soldotna has going for it..Here's my start:

1) Tsalteshi Trails - this winter cross-country ski/summer running and biking trail system is a gem not only for Soldotna, but for Alaska.  Get out there and get fit!
2) Maybe it's just me, but I love the bridge and the lights - the color-changing side lights in the winter just make me happy every time I cross.  I think the DOT should have a volunteer light-controller who can creatively program the lights...
3) Kaladi Brothers Coffee Shops- both are great places to sip and chat.
4) The Kenai River Brewery - stop and have a pint with Inebriata!
5) St Elias Brewpub - Soldotna became so much more livable when St Elias opened! I usually boycott businesses which overtly push ultra-conservative politics, but the food and beer are good.
6) River City Books - they have a good collection of books and it's a great spot for lunch.
7) Soldotna Creek Park - the annual Kenai RiverFest is held here, there's a weekly farmers and craft market in the summer  new kiddie park and now the Kenai Watershed Forum has its office there too.  Once the Birch St light and crossing is improved, this will be even a better place to visit.
8) The Moose Refuge - trail system and Headquarters Lake.  If you haven't snow shoed or skied out here, you are missing out on one of Soldotna's prettiest places!

C'mon now...what makes Soldotna special for you?

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