Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Thursday, January 15, 2015

So if I understand the situation correctly, Alaska is deep in a financial hole due to the drastic decline in oil prices. We are therefore dependent on the moral strength and integrity of our legislators to do the right thing and balance the state budget no matter the political cost. I’ll pause here for a moment to give you time to laugh hysterically. Call me a pessimist, but I’m going to bet that legislators will find a way to make a few cosmetics cuts and then kick the rest of the pain down the road. After all, this is Alaska. We live with our fingers crossed that the price of oil will go up or we’ll tap a new, equally rich, resource that will continue to allow us to live rich without any pain.

I’ve lived here for over forty years and I still find the Alaskan mentality a challenge to understand. We seem to want government to pay for everything without contributing much of anything to the pot of money needed for those payments. We want government off our backs except that we want government on our backs at PFD time. We want our boom and bust economy to constantly find a new boom so that the bust never lasts long enough to be really painful. We don’t want to pay an income tax. We don’t want to pay a sales tax. And we squeal like stuck pigs if anyone even hints at using the Permanent Fund in any way that cuts into our dividends. We think of ourselves as a state of independent people, rugged individuals who challenge the great wilderness without fear and live off the land. But that land better have a mailbox on it for our PFD check.
Our stalwart legislators will try to figure out a way to manipulate the situation so that they can boast of being fiscally responsible while kicking the bill down the road to the next legislature, or the one after that depending on when our savings run out. Meanwhile we make our reservations for Juneau to explain why no cuts can happen to programs that affect us. The cuts clearly have to come from someone else’s pet pot of money. Nowhere in this mix will there be anyone suggesting new revenue streams that might affect the ordinary Alaskan because that’s political suicide.
So what’s the answer? How do we solve this budget deficit without cutting your favorite program or asking Alaskans to bear some of the costs? Well, we could start printing our own money. That seemed to work for Bit Coins. We could burn incense to the god of resources to find us a new one quickly that is easily accessible and can be marketed at a high price. We could try to actually diversify our economy based on the gazillion studies that show any state dependent on one source of revenue is inevitably going to face a crash at some point.  Or we can do what I’m guessing the legislature will eventually have done when all the dust has settled – created a lot of sound and fury that will signify absolutely nothing.
Alaskans need to grow up, stop whining and accept that they either have to start contributing at least a little to the state coffers or stop going to Juneau to defend every program currently being funded as absolutely critical to Alaska’s future. Because seriously, if we aren’t willing to help pay for it with our money as opposed to oil taxes, then how really important is it to us?
For years now Alaskans have been told that the party is ending, the revenue stream is slowing down to less than a trickle and we need to look at different ways of funding state government. And for the same number of years Alaskans have pretended that there is a Santa Claus and if they wait just a little longer, he’ll be down the chimney with a bagful of money. And who knows? Everything is cyclical and there is every chance that oil prices will go back up. If the legislature is lucky, that will happen before they run out of savings to tap. If they’re not, then Alaskans are really going to have to start seriously thinking about where the money comes from, where it’s going and how much they are willing to kick in to keep those programs funded.
Let the hangover begin.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:42 AM •
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:07 AM •
Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tolerance and love are hard.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:16 AM •
Sunday, January 11, 2015

In Alaska news, Charlo Greene lost her court case and was evicted from her store. She ran a “social club” that centered on pot. But that’s not the strange part. The strange part is that she lost out to the downstairs business which indulged in BSDM… an apparently alternative lifestyle. I’ll leave you to figure those initials out. I got a headache just reading about it.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 12:03 PM •
Saturday, January 10, 2015

I bought a heating pad for my arthritic dog to complement her pain meds. She is now much happier than she’s been in a long time. And she’s warmer than living things usually are in my house. So there is one creature on this earth that had a good day yesterday.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:51 AM •
Friday, January 09, 2015

It gets harder and harder to view Islamic extremists as fellow humans. I want to not lose that ability because I don’t want to become one of them. But it’s harder every day to not just be so angry that I want us to go to the mid-east with bombs and keep bombing until it is a virtual wasteland.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:25 AM •
Thursday, January 08, 2015

Congratulations are in order for the boys and girls Barrow Whaler basketball teams. They both did extremely well in their respective tournaments. For anyone who has lived in Alaska for longer than ten minutes without figuring this out, let me make it perfectly clear to you that basketball is to Bush Alaska what football is to all of Texas. It is king.

For the kids lucky enough to have the talent to play, basketball can be a way out of town for some mall roving and movie going. It is also a strong impetus to stay in high school. The cheers and adulation that follow many high school players can make you feel pretty good about yourself. For many kids from small villages, basketball provides an escape from a sometimes not great home environment. It provides an escape from the boredom that can sometimes sit heavily in a village during the long winter months. It provides a way to exercise, stay healthy, learn to function as a team with others and feel good about yourself.
Here comes the bad news. Only so many kids in any community can be on the team. Only so many kids in any community have the physical skills to play at that level. Only so many kids in any community want to actually be on that team. There are some with other skills, other areas of interest. Believe it or not, there are some kids in high school in small villages with a real interest in the academics that are supposedly at the center of the secondary school experience.
By just saying that, I can already feel myself getting in trouble with a lot of people I truly admire and respect. It happens every time I write about basketball in a way that suggests that maybe the emphasis placed on it is detrimental in some small way to the success of students with an academic bent. While the basketball team gets a $10,000 budget for just one away trip, with parents left behind in the villages glued to whatever means of communications can keep them up with the game score, the debate team and the science competition tend to happen in a much quieter atmosphere. Other school activities always seem to come second. I sometime wonder if the passion expended by some villages on the success or failure of their school basketball team might not be a reflection of an adult need for bragging rights.
This whole experience would be a lot more wonderful if that success had more impact on the players’ futures than it seems to have, with a few obvious and notable exceptions. What I always hear ringing in my ears when people rave about basketball is a statement once made after a former high school basketball star killed himself in a drunken vehicular accident. On hearing the news, a friend quietly said, “He didn’t have much to live for. After high school, it was all down hill. No one was cheering him anymore. He’d already peaked.”
Sports in school are a vital and fun way to learn a lot of important lessons. Learning how to both win and lose gracefully and learning how to be part of a team are the kind of experiences that will last these student athletes throughout their life. And for many, staying on the team is what keeps them in school. If only we could translate that into these students continuing their education. But far too many star players simply fall off the radar after their high school playing career ends. They may graduate, but once they’ve taken that walk down the aisle, they walk into an empty future. Crowds no longer cheer them. No one slaps them on the back at the store and tells them what a great game they had. You can understand how they feel as though they’ve peaked and there is no place to go but down.
Wouldn’t it be great if, after the season, each and every player was shadowed by a counselor who made sure that the player had an idea of what he or she wanted after high school and basketball ended? And as a former (current?) nerd, let me add my dream for a future in which the debate team has a roaring crowd cheering them on to victory with full newspaper, radio and TV coverage. Now wouldn’t that also just be wonderful?


Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:05 AM •
Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Anchorage is having the kind of winter that gives winter a bad name. Our choices for weather seem to be below freezing weather followed by rain followed by more below freezing weather so that all the rain is now sheer ice, making every attempt to walk outside an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen. Today is freezing. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get freezing rain. I may just go to sleep until spring. Then I can wake up and see how many of my perennials died because there was no snow cover to protect the roots from the freezing ice.
Living in Alaska sometimes takes more energy than I have to give.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:07 AM •
Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Center yourself. Breathe deeply. Accept what is coming. There is nothing you can do about it. The US Congress is back in session. Let the horror begin.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:20 AM •
Monday, January 05, 2015

The unwanted red headed step child of colors.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 10:17 AM •
Sunday, January 04, 2015

Snowy barked until 2 AM on New Year’s Eve, protecting me from every bang outside by racing frantically around the house barking at every door and window he could find. In between the barking, he’d jump on the bed and sit with his back towards me in a very protective stance. He would not lay down. Just sat there guarding me. BuddhaBubba, on the other hand, snored through everything. I don’t think she hears very well anymore. And Carm just lifted his head every once in a while and barked half-heartedly when he heard Snowy barking but mostly wanted to scrunch down as tight as he could on me in the hope that it would make the scary sounds go away. My birds didn’t even stir!
Yep, I know how to have fun on New Year’s Eve.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:20 AM •
Saturday, January 03, 2015

As I sat in my bed reading the other night, the wind started howling and the temps moved steadily up the gauge. I thought at that time that I should have been more specific when I complained to god about the boring winter she’d sent us here in Anchorage. I wanted a good blizzard, snow swirling, cars sliding, heads bent low trying to walk to the car through deep drifts. I did NOT mean a rain storm. For goodness sake, it’s friggin’ January in Anchorage!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:38 AM •
Friday, January 02, 2015
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If you are very, very lucky in life, you end up fifty years later still spending Christmas with your best friend since kindergarten. You find yourself the godmother of her daughter. You find yourself with a friend you can share anything with because you’ve been through everything together. We should all be so blessed. Judy and Paula are.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:51 AM •
Thursday, January 01, 2015

Normally I use this last column of the year to recount those people, places and things that will live forever in my own personal Hall of Infamy. Talk about an embarrassment of riches, this year politicians alone would fill that hall. So I thought I’d hand out kudos instead, the biggest and only one of which goes to Governor Bill Walker.

I’m probably not the only person who was skeptical about how long he’d keep his independent status when elected to office.  I figured by now he’d have returned to the Republican Party and been received, if not with wide-eyed enthusiasm, at least with relief that he wasn’t going to play the independent game any longer than necessary. But Walker actually seems to be walking the independent line and for that we should all be grateful. He may actually be more interested in the welfare of the people of this state than in advancing his political career and financial future. What a concept!
Walker’s appointments to various government posts have, for the most part, annoyed everyone with a political affiliation. My personal philosophy has always been that if you are annoying both the right and the left, then you are probably doing fine. Many of his appointees would be hard to categorize as political given that they have never been active politically. So hats off to Bill Walker who seems to be actually intent on carrying through on his promise to Alaska that his will be an independent administration and not one beholden to any given party.
The governor comes in for even more kudos for moving the lite gov’s offices near his. Maybe this is just a showy display to placate Dems who have had their noses out of joint ever since they realized they had no candidate in the gubernatorial race. Moving Mallott this close to the seat of power makes it seem as though Walker truly does intend to reshape and redefine the role a lit gov can play in an administration. Given Mallott’s bone fides, that’s probably wise. With the state budget tanking and finances looking grim, Mallott’s financial background could be a critical asset in the coming months. So it would seem that despite the general low regard in which politicians are held nationally – a low regard, I should hasten to add, they worked very hard to earn – here in Alaska we seem to have found a new way to proceed.
The coming year is going to be a difficult one for Alaskans. That rainy day has arrived and our financial future is bleak. After years of being warned that total dependence on oil was not a good idea, the house of cards seems to be collapsing. The truth of those warnings is coming at us every day in the headlines about state budget deficits. As that old saying goes, this is where the rubber meets the road. I can’t imagine any corner of state government not up for scrutiny and review as every penny possible is cut to meet declining revenues. I can picture the rush of people to Juneau during budget hearings, all clinging to the frantic hope that their program won’t be axed.
I imagine that Walker will have as many people unhappy with him over the budget as he does over his appointments. I imagine I will be one of them since it’s almost a guarantee that social service programs will, as always, suffer greatly. We blather and bleat a lot about taking care of the most vulnerable in our society but the truth is that homeless people and alcoholics don’t vote in great numbers. Politicians looking for places to cut that won’t create future election problems don’t have to look much further than the programs geared towards those populations. If I’m going to be even slightly accepting of the inevitable cuts coming to programs I feel are critical, it’s only because I think if anyone will attempt to do a fair job of cutting, it’s the administration that Walker is assembling.
Maybe that’s a false hope. Maybe it’s the holiday eggnog talking. I just don’t want to be writing about this as 2016 approaches and apologizing for thinking Walker would stay the independent course. As we wave goodbye to a year that saw oil prices plunge and our financial future sag like an old swaybacked nag, any hope is worth clinging to.
Happy 2015.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:42 AM •
Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The problem arises on that one morning a week when we are up early so I can make it to Bird TLC. No one wants to get up at that hour except for Snowy. He’s still young enough to bounce out of bed and leap into the day while the rest of the household tries to find its slippers.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:46 AM •

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