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.

 





Sarah Palin is a Socialist, and She Can’t Buy My Vote.

30 10 2008

Oh, how quickly they forget. While watching John McCain, and Sarah Palin decrying Obama for his “socialist” tendencies, I have found myself becoming increasingly amused. One of the things that defined Sarah Palin’s pre-VP candidate career in Alaska was the fact that nobody seemed to know what to make of her. I refer you to my comments on this, back in the beginning of June, 2008 titled “McCain’s a Greenie. Palin’s a Socialist. Hillary’s the President.”

I’m holding my sides laughing about the Newsweek article that has Alaskan’s all a-twitter, comparing Sarah Palin to Hugo Chavez. Having claimed my staunch neutrality about Sarah Palin, I’m enjoying standing in the middle of the swirling tornado that has become the Palin phenomenon and enjoying my popcorn. Is she a crazy creationist wingnut? A big business-hating, free-gas-doling socialist? A maverick hockey mom? The next Vice President? No one seems to know.

Obviously to regular readers, my “staunch neutrality” about Palin has gone the way of the Steller’s Sea Cow. (For you non-Alaskans; it’s extinct). I did not vote for Palin, but was willing to give her a shot. I like to think I’m open-minded. So, knowing what I know, and  all the recent “socialist talk” made me look up this old post, and I was amused.

I got my $1200 energy rebate check from Sarah Palin a couple weeks ago, and so did every other human being in Alaska.  This money, which came from the wealth of oil companies doing business in Alaska, got spread around by the Governor to help Alaskans defray the rising costs of energy that made the oil companies profitable enough to provide Alaska with the money for the rebate check that defrays the cost of energy…..(you get the circular idea).

At the Alaska Women Reject Palin rally here in Anchorage, a woman drove by as I was returning to my car. She leaned out of her window and said, “Are you going to get a $1200 check this year?” “You mean the rebate check? Yes,” I said. “So how can you hate Sarah Palin!?!” she quipped, looking angry and smug at the same time. “Are you going to SPEND it???” she spat. I said the first thing that came to mind, “Yes, I’ll probably donate it to the Obama campaign.” She screeched away. And I didn’t tell her the whole truth. I’ve actually spread my wealth around to lots of good progressive candidates, both in Alaska and outside.

It was an interesting exchange, though, and I’ve thought about it many times. I’ve heard other people use this logic, although not quite as directly. The basic question is “How can you vote against someone who hands you cash?” It’s really very startling. It presupposes not only that cash-in-hand is the ultimate goal we humans seek, but also that I am not making good on my end of this deal. I’ve been paid for my services, and now I’m not willing to deliver. Does this make anyone in Alaska who votes for Obama, a political prostitute who gets paid in advance, and then takes off with the cash without delivering the vote, thereby breaking some kind of implied, perverse, money-for-votes pact?  To the woman in the red car, apparently it does.

I’ve seen a few references in the mainstream media to Palin’s socialist tendencies, which is good. The fact that in a society that has public education, fire departments, public libraries, police service, Medicaire, and Social Security,  it seems odd to be having the conversation at all. But if Sarah Palin is going to use the term to cut down Barack Obama, she needs to be reminded that 12 weeks ago, she was being compared to Hugo Chavez by her own party, in her own state. And anyone in Alaska who IS voting for Palin because of that $1200 for every man, woman and child in the state, needs to come to terms and make peace with their “inner Socialist.”

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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.