Would You Rather Freeze to Death, or Be a Socialist?

28 11 2008

On Thanksgiving weekend, when Americans are thinking of all they have to be grateful for, many are also burdened with worries about the future. Matters as fundamental as keeping warm are very real for thousands of Alaskans living in rural villages where the price of heating oil hovers around $10/gallon. The costs associated with flying heating oil out to rural communities that are off the road system is astronomical. Many communities are experiencing theft of heating oil by neighbors desperate to keep warm, and others in coastal communities are scouring the shore for driftwood to burn. These things are incomprehensible to most Americans, but are a stark reality in Alaska. Many families are abandoning the native subsistence lifestyle that their families have been living for thousands of years, and moving to Alaska’s urban centers because they feel they have no choice. This is causing a whole host of other challenges for the rural communities that are losing residents, and for the urban centers coping with the influx of rural Alaskans coping with culture shock.

For the past three years, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has been donating free heating oil to Alaska villages, and economically depressed communities in 23 states across the country. This has the effect you might imagine in Alaska. Some are deeply grateful. Those are usually the cold people. Others are furious at the gesture from this unapologetic socialist, and either accept the gift begrudgingly, or have outright refused to take it. Those in the latter category are starting to rethink their position facing the hard reality of the coming winter, and the fact that some rural families will be spending in excess of 40% of their income on heating fuel.

I am unsure if the irony of the socialist free fuel dilemma is lost on Alaskans. While some state leaders are squawking that

a) Chavez is a Socialist

b) Socialists are evil

Therefore we should reject them and all they stand for.

They seem to be OK with the fact that

a) Sarah Palin also gave away money for free fuel to all Alaskans in the form of an energy rebate check.

b) This sounds awfully…..socialist

c) Sarah Palin was openly railing against socialism and all things socialist across the country on the campaign trail.

Many say, “We shall forget this comparison because we don’t like cognitive dissonance and we shall not ever admit that a socialist idea has any merit at all, nor that any Alaskan might think we need to be doing the same thing as Hugo Chavez. Humph.”

The main difference, of course, is that Chavez is providing the fuel to rural communities that have at least a 70% Alaska Native population, and Sarah Palin gave it to everyone, including wealthy Anchorage residents who spent it on…whatever.

Speaking of the $1200 energy rebate check issued by Palin,

Anchorage Rep. Bob Lynn, a Republican, said he doubts the state would cut checks again because oil prices are dropping and the payment was meant to be a one-time measure.

Lynn said it’s not right for Alaska to receive oil from Chavez. “We need to be able to take care of our own. The United States needs to do something about this,” he said.

Still, Lynn added later, “It’s one thing for me to speak philosophical thoughts here in the warmth of my home in Anchorage. It’s another thing to have a wife and kids in danger of freezing to death out there.”

Bingo. It’s time for Alaskans and Americans to stop screaming “Socialist!” like it was a four-letter word and get over the reactionary knee-jerk rejection of an entire political philosophy because of the fear of a label. Fear of freezing should trump fear of a word. We need to address these problems using concepts with long-term solutions, and not be afraid to use what works because of how it sounds. And we need to recognize where the need exists most and focus our efforts there.

It’s going to take some conviction and courage from both sides of the aisle in Alaska to deal with this, especially considering the ironic anti-socialist rhetoric that came from our Governor on the VP campaign trail.

 





Energy Emergency in Rural Alaska.

26 10 2008

The Alaska Federation of Natives on Saturday called on the state and federal governments to declare an energy emergency in rural Alaska, and to cap the price of heating oil and gasoline in villages across the state. 

Palin spokesman Bill McAllister said the governor will continue appointing Natives to state posts.

Some village residents pay twice as much as city dwellers for heating oil and gasoline, and rural delegates meeting for their annual convention in Anchorage voted to ask the government to pay the difference.

That should last until low-cost, alternative energy projects are up and running in rural Alaska, said Loretta Bullard, president of Kawerak Inc., a Native nonprofit operating in the Bering Strait region.

AFN delegates also demanded that Gov. Sarah Palin appoint more Natives to influential state posts and commissions, saying Natives have “suffered from inattention.”

“It was an extreme struggle to get an Alaska Native on the Board of Game,” Timothy Andrew, chairman of the Native village corporation in Marshall, told the crowd.

At her recorded announcement to the AFN convention on Thursday, Palin announced that she was creating a new sub-cabinet to deal with energy issues, and the related migration of rural dwellers into Alaska’s urban areas. Energy costs in rural areas can be as much as 40% of a family’s household budget, and many family’s are being forced to reluctantly relocate so they can afford to stay warm.   Heading up this new sub-cabinet will be Attorney General Talis Colberg.  And no, he is not Native.

Talis Colberg, you’ll remember is the Alaska Attorney General who was the subject of a petition submitted to Palin’s office last month, and a whopping giant protest rally – the biggest in state history.  More than 1200 “Alaskans for Truth”  signed a petition demanding the removal of Colberg from office for advising state employees to ignore legislative subpoenas.  What did the governor think of this loud and clear statement from her constituents?  Apparently not much, since Colberg just got this shiny new appointment.  I’m guessing he’s not fearing for his job.  I think Alaskans can confidently say we’ve been roundly ignored.

Back to Native issues.  Try to follow this very Palinesque thread of non-logic.  Natives say she doesn’t appoint Natives.  She says she will continue to appoint Natives.  And then she creates a sub-cabinet to deal with Native issues, headed up by a non-Native.  I have to believe that Alaskans are catching on to this.

So what will Palin do now?  Rural Alaskan families are facing a crisis this winter.  According to Senator Lisa Murkowski, fuel is being rationed, and prices are prohibitive.  Palin has been asked by her constituents to help.  So will she allow families in rural Alaska to go through a life-threatening winter without adequate heat?  Or will she be one of those dreaded socialists that she is constantly vilifying on the campaign trail? 

 

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Requiem for a Debit Card.

23 06 2008

I’m grumpy. Even though Sarah Palin’s new proposal would put $1200 in my pocket to help with fuel costs. I have to admit…I wanted the debit card. That was the original proposal. We each got a glittering free-fuel debit card to spend at the pump, or to pay our home heating bill, or anything related to energy usage. It would get charged up each month, and occupy a special little slot in our wallets. It was a thing to have and hold, it was a gift card to the energy store that kept on giving…it was plastique! But, alas, it is not to be.

Now, we will probably just get a check in the mail and that’s that. We can buy a recliner, a microwave, a big screen TV, a life-time supply of Doritos….whatever we want. There’s something about that that just feels wrong. It feels like charity. It feels like a handout. It feels abstract. It feels like when Bush told us after 9/11 to “go shopping”. The debit card, on the other hand, was relevant. It would have reminded us where it came from and what it was for. And while I could probably survive without anything, it reminded me that folks in rural Alaska whose heating costs are 5 times more than mine would be using this to actually keep warm. And it would be a visual reminder to conserve.

The cash handout simply sends the message, “Spend me. Consume. Don’t think. Drown your sorrows with a big screen TV. Have a Dorito.”

Now, in the big picture, none of this is going to have much effect. We absolutely need to get the noose that is ‘big oil’ off our necks and start thinking about alternative energy sources. With more tidal power than anywhere in the country, geothermal literally erupting all around us, wind potential that is incalculable, and constant solar for months out of every year, THIS is where our efforts need to be. But that’s not going to help the really needy who, in a few months are going to see their home heating costs go through the roof, and have to make decisions about what to give up so their family can be warm.

And once again, no one knows what to make of our governor’s latest proposal. Cries of “Socialist!” are heard ringing down the conservative halls of the legislature. Environmentalists are screaming that the bill encourages consumption instead of long-term solutions. Most people are just chanting, “Show me the money!” And once again, we search for the middle ground.