Elise Sereni
Thursday, April 09, 2015

Like many people reading this column, I was raised by parents survived the Great Depression. Their view of money was always going to be skewed by that experience. My father didn’t get a credit card until he was in his sixties. In his world, you didn’t buy something you couldn’t pay for.

All through my childhood my godmother sent my mom money to buy me a new outfit each Easter and Christmas. In fact, when I was all grown up and making more money in a year than she’d ever imagined possible, my godmother still sent me money out of the very tiny amount she survived on in old age. Whenever my sister and I were getting ready to travel to some remote location, an envelope with a card and a check for $15 would arrive in the mail with a message telling me that we should enjoy a dinner on her.
My parents taught me that money did not grow on trees and that if I wanted something, I either needed to work for it or have an incredibly generous aunt.  And my aunt taught me that being incredibly generous was a good and kind thing to do while also teaching me the value of community and family, of one person helping another so all could have a better life.
As our legislature wrestles with budget numbers that have fallen below anything they could have imagined in their worse nightmares, I find myself thinking that we would have all been better off following my family’s philosophy on money. You didn’t spend what you didn’t have, you earned what you spent, and you shared with those in need.
Alaskans have spent way too many years living off of someone else’s money. That free ride is seemingly over. The question is whether we will learn a lesson from this financial disaster or simply hope the price of oil goes back up.
As cuts are announced in even our most sacred cows, I have deliberately not come out advocating replacing that money because I have yet to hear anyone give a reasonable explanation of where the funds will come from. I think education is critical to our future. I think public broadcasting is a vital link to sanity in a world full of noise. I think shelters for abused women should be put in every village in this state. But we no longer have the money to do that.
I still hear few voices accepting responsibility for paying for these programs in any way other than having someone else do it. There’s talk about tightening tax loopholes. Go for it, I say. But is that enough? If programs being cut are those we feel are truly critical to our state, then we should be willing to chip in to pay for them.
So let me be the first to say that I am willing to pay my share to keep the quality of life in this state good and healthy for all. I’ll pay taxes if needed to keep those shelters open and to keep public broadcasting on the air, the same way I pay taxes for schools even though I’ve never had a child in one. I pay because community life demands that we all participate in making our community as healthy as possible for all its members, whether that service directly benefits us or not. We either are a community that pulls together or we’re simply a collection of individuals who only care about ourselves.
I understand some cynicism about this concept. There are those who feel that politicians will spend as much money as we give them. While there is obviously more truth in that statement than we could wish for, Alaska’s fiscal reality is such that even I can understand how broker we are. And no one has ever accused me of having a fine math mind.
We can no longer fund all the programs we have grown so dependent on. If we’re even a little bit smart, we will work hard to never put ourselves in this position again. OK, even I couldn’t write that sentence without bursting into laughter. I guess Alaska’s motto remains what it has always been - no, not North To The Future. The other motto, the one that says, “Please god, give us another boom. We promise not to p..s this one away.”

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:47 AM •
Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Yep, nothing like a run off to keep politics going on forever.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:47 AM •
Tuesday, April 07, 2015

I’m going to vote today because my grandfather’s passport was signed by a king. The only thing that stands between us and that is our vote. So get up off your lazy duff, stop making excuses and go vote!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:07 AM •
Monday, April 06, 2015

Winter was here in Anchorage for a quick visit yesterday. Snow on the ground in the morning. Trees continuing to bud by noon. It was short, sweet and memorable.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:07 AM •
Sunday, April 05, 2015

It takes at least two weeks after I get home for my sinuses to get over the cigarette smoke from the casinos. C’mon, Vegas. It’s 2015. The world is going smoke free. So should you!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:06 AM •
Saturday, April 04, 2015

I slept last night with two warm furry bodies pushed up against me and it was cold enough to appreciate their warmth. And this morning I woke up to parrots calling me to feed them. The sounds of home. Comforting.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:42 AM •
Friday, April 03, 2015

This is clearly not the year I’ll win enough on the penny slots to buy that private island I’ve been eying. So I guess it’s back to Alaska and trying to earn a living legitimately. How boring.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:41 AM •
Thursday, April 02, 2015

It’s a heartbreaking story full of tragedy, sadness and pain. It’s the story of alcohol in Alaska, and specifically the attempts of people in small Alaskan villages to mitigate the damage by controlling the flow. Unfortunately, decades after the passage of Alaska’s local option laws, liquor in one form or another is available throughout Bush Alaska. And the pictures on the front page of this paper of people in Bethel speaking out against a liquor store just brought to mind once again how difficult a situation it is.

The reality is that people who want to drink will find something to drink. Alcohol can be found in all sorts of places that you and I would probably not look. I’ve seen people mixing coke with aftershave lotion and with cleaning products like Pine Sol. People will make homemade liquor or risk jail time to bring liquor back home with them. Alcohol is a potent addiction and no amount of wet, damp, dry laws will ever be stronger than that need for one more drink before bed.
Those of us who lived in Bush Alaska watched this drama play out over the years with difficult to assess results. There are those who say that going dry just pushes the problem underground. There are those who say that we can’t calculate a negative, i.e. we can’t know what tragedies didn’t occur because a village was dry. The truth is that prohibition has never really worked well in any iteration. Village corporations and village governments have looked at operating liquor stores in the past in order to capture some of the revenue that otherwise flows directly out of town to either legitimate retailers or bootleggers. To say that this creates a level of tension and conflict almost impossible to really gauge is to put it mildly.
Controlling the flow of liquor into a village is difficult when village borders are so porous. One village may be dry and the one down river may be damp and the one a few miles in the other direction may be wet. All those villages are connected by boat or skidoo as well as by plane. Keeping liquor out of a village is impossible.
For many, the idea that their local government or corporation will be responsible for the liquor in their village is anathema. They view alcohol as the root of most of the evil they deal with in their communities. Having that liquor sold by an entity to which they belong seems very, very wrong. But that same entity, be it a village corporation looking to provide its members with an annual dividend or a village council looking for a revenue stream that will allow it to provide needed public services, finds it hard to accept that all the money involved in the liquor trade is bypassing them. If the money is going to be spent on liquor anyway, why shouldn’t they get a cut of the profits that they can then put it to good use in their communities?
So the debate continues. Villages all over Alaska go from wet to dry to damp and back again as people struggle to find some accommodation with a substance that is seemingly an intractable part of their lives. The pain heard in the voices of those opposing its legitimate sale in a village is real. The pain that alcohol abuse causes every year in these villages is staggering. But isn’t that just the point? Even when the sale of alcohol is illegal, it’s still there in vast quantities, affecting the quality of life for every family in that village.
During almost thirty years in Barrow, I watched the town jump from one status to another with monotonous frequency. When it went dry, there would be a sudden drop in alcohol related crimes. And then, inexorably, the statistics would start to climb back up again as alternative methods of importation were accessed.
I hope the people of Bethel come to some resolution on this issue that does not leave the town as angry and divided as some wet/dry/damp campaigns I’ve seen in the past. I hope even more that they find a way to deal with the problems of substance abuse in their villages because, like death and taxes, you are guaranteed that so long as someone wants it badly enough, alcohol will appear in the driest of communities.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:35 AM •
Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Surely there is one slot machine in this whole damn city that will at least give me the illusion of winning before taking all my money. Surely…

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:40 AM •
Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I love Vegas. I hate heat. It is hot in Vegas this week. Not hot by Vegas standards but sure in hell hot by Alaska standards. I may never go outside this whole week. I’m so glad so many of these casinos are connected so I never have to breathe fresh air. Fresh hot air is no fun at all.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:38 AM •
Monday, March 30, 2015

Off for my girls’ annual week in Vegas. Going during Holy Week and Passover guarantees cheap rooms and lots of seats at the penny slots. Yea for agnostics and atheists! 

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:36 AM •
Sunday, March 29, 2015

He could make that thing on his head vice president and we’d save an entire salary.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:45 AM •
Saturday, March 28, 2015

Let the panic about leaving my animals with a new sitter begin now!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 10:44 AM •
Friday, March 27, 2015

Remember when the crazies were the fringe candidates and not mainstream. Ah memories…

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:43 AM •
Thursday, March 26, 2015

Despite getting every immunization known to man and recommended for people of a certain age, I came down with a nasty bug and spent most of last week rewriting my will and deciding that life was not worth living if it included feeling so awful. Then I woke up one day and decided that maybe I did want to live. That morning the world seemed sunny and bright. That feeling of euphoria lasted right up until I saw the paper and read that the Republican Senate had released its proposed federal budget. Part of the spending package they proposed included defunding the Affordable Care Act.

Look, I understand about being a bit annoyed when something happens that you don’t like or are opposed to. After all, I lived through the seventies. I also understand trying to change things when possible. But the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Based on that definition, the Republicans putting forward this budget are completely nuts. If you or I told our boss that the plan we were handing in for the new year contained the exact same objectionable line that sank it last year, our boss would want to know what she was paying us for and what we’d done with all our time. If nothing else had changed in the course of the year to make the outcome different, why were we wasting her time?
This is exactly what we should be saying to the Republicans in the Senate. Whether they approve or not, Barack Obama is still president and still has veto power. Whether they approve or not, they still do not have a veto override majority in the Senate. So whether or not they like it, Obama will veto any bill that comes to him with the intent of defunding his signature health care law and they will not be able to override that veto – which means the whole bloody mess will have been in vain. We will be back at square one with nothing to show for it except some video clips for Republicans to use when running for re-election to prove to their Tea Party brethren they tried.
As their titular bosses, we should be outraged at this waste of taxpayers’ time and money on a useless exercise they knew way in advance would go nowhere. Aside from making brownie points with their ultra conservative base, they have done nothing productive towards creating a sustainable budget that keeps our economy growing while reducing the national debt.
And please, I an not an idiot. Balancing the budget based on revenues expected to be received through the very law they are trying to kill is the kind of math I used to do in 3rd grade when I still didn’t understand how math worked. Or did you miss that line in the budget? Yep, in one section of the document they defund the Affordable Care Act while a few pages later, they use the projected revenue from that law to balance their budget. They are also trying to end run budget constraints on the military by dumping money in a separate account for war that won’t raise the legally mandated ceiling on military spending. Sister Gaetano would keep them all after school for a basic math refresher course plus a few words about ethics and their place in our modern system of government.
Maybe I simply have less patience than I did a week ago. Maybe being sick has warped my normally sunny disposition. But I am sick and tired of the posturing in front of the cameras that passes for governing in today’s DC. It doesn’t matter if something makes sense or is critical to our future. If we can play it for the crowds back home so that it helps us get re-elected, than nothing else matters.
Republicans spend a lot of time demonizing government employees as lazy workers sucking off the tit of government while waiting to retire with some very sweet benefits after a career of nothingness. Sounds to me like the perfect definition of a group of senators who propose useless legislation that is nothing more than a big waste of time. I guess the reason Republicans are so good at their definition of government employees is because the definition is so familiar to them. They are defining themselves.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:34 AM •

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