Monday, September 08, 2008

Sarah Palin: The View from Alaska

Justin Racette, a lawyer up in Fairbanks, and a longtime friend, has this to say about the Governor-cum-Veep candidate. Thanks for guest-blogging, Justin!

First, I'll not spend much time on Alaska political culture, but suffice it to say that I think the corruption scandals that have resulted in convictions of several oil industry types, an indictment of Uncle Ted Stevens, and an ongoing investigation of Don Young have barely scratched the surface. The energy and mineral extraction industries have had a stranglehold on the politics here since before Alaska became a state. Ironically, even though Alaska is a national leader in energy production, people here have dealt with crippling energy costs. Our gas prices have been the highest in the country, and along with that food and other necessities have spiked in price and they were already much higher than the national average. It wasn't just a master stroke of propaganda when Hugo Chavez sent foreign aid in the form of heating oil to Alaska villages last winter - people in remote areas really needed the help. By the way, I'd like to correct a huge and somewhat disturbing misconception that liberal types are using to criticize the Palin selection: Alaska is NOT lily white, it's almost 20% Alaskan Native and there are also more black folks than people realize mostly due to several military bases. A much more valid criticism would be to examine how Palin or any other Alaskan politician have mostly ignored the needs of native villages and tried desperately to destroy their lands with mining and drilling.

Anyways, its against this backdrop that Sarah's time as governor must be evaluated, because energy has dominated her policy focus. She's really spearheaded two main initiatives in the realm. One is the "gas pipeline," which she mentioned in her RNC speech. It was a huge issue in Palin's campaign against Murkowski - probably even more so than the ethics issue. People of all walks of life here are clamoring for a pipeline to be built from the North Slope to get natural gas to market, and it has to do only with the boom (of questionable size) that would come about if it were built. The oil pipeline made a lot of people rich and a lot more working folks made money hand over fist and think that the gas pipeline would be a second coming of the halcyon days of the mid 70s. It's hard to overstate the importance of the original oil pipeline in the collective consciousness here. It's been documented elsewhere but it's worth mentioning here: Sarah totally misled the public in her speech about the pipeline. Construction hasn't started and won't for several years, if at all. All she did was promise a bunch of money to a Canadian company if they figure out how to build the pipeline. That's it.

The other energy related initiative she has pushed was a plan to reduce energy costs for Alaskan citizens. The ultimate plan gave all Alaskans $1200 in an "energy rebate" and changed some regulations regarding cost equalization so that rural Alaskans hopefully don't have to pay 2-8 times as much for their electricity as they do in urban areas. The final plan is pure populism, but the original plan was all voodoo economics. She originally proposed giving Alaskans a monthly debit card to spend on energy only, and the plan also included huge subidies to oil and gas companies so that they could "pass the savings on to consumers." The final plan is nothing but a bandaid. The costs of gasoline and heating oil are so high and many poor and working poor Alaskans depend on their PFDs for so many other necessities, and this plan doesn't do anything to address the broader issue of creating an economy that isn't dependent of fossil fuels for energy and economic livelihood.

So overall that is the big problem with Sarah Palin from a policy standpoint when you just evaluate what she's done in her time in office: She's just another Republican oil crony who lacks the vision to take real action to move an economy beyond fossil fuels because the oilmen are the ones who pull the strings. Sound familiar?

I have to say in fairness that Sarah did raise windfall taxes on oil extraction, and so in that sense it is true that she "stood up to the oil companies" or whatever she's trying to claim. On the other hand, she wants to drill f*****g EVERYWHERE, which really tells me where her allegiances are. She's basically saying to the oil companies, give us a little cut of the action and I'll get you access to every possible oil field in the state.

And while we're on the environment issue, she has sued the Bush administration over the EPAs decision to consider polar bears endangered. Yes, that's right, the Bush administration is really too protective of the environment for her tastes. She also denies that humans have any part in global warming. These are all interesting stances for someone who also believes that the earth is 6,000 years old. She seems to have an even greater disdain for science than even W.

The big picture problem with Sarah on the energy/economy issue is that she doesn't even pay lip service to the need to transform the economy to a post-fossil fuel one. Most people on some level recognize that oil won't last forever. That's an extremely important fact in Alaskan life - if we don't figure out what is going to drive this economy once there isn't any more oil, this place will collapse. That sort of shortsightedness is even more problematic when we're talking about the national economy. The GOP heads are all talking her up because she's been an executive of a state that is a linchpin in the energy economy but to me that is what is so scary: She's been in office here for a year and a half and the best evidence I have is that she has no clue what a post fossil-fuel economy would look like, no vision of the future that doesn't include continuing to drill for oil and gas in every conceivable location.

Other things about Sarah that have been documented elsewhere but bear repeating as much as possible so that people know exactly what we're dealing with. She is a ruthless authoritarian who does what she can to purge opposition to her points of view. If you disagree with her she'll take it personally and get rid of you if she can. I refuse to believe that this is a person who will help the country get beyond "bitter partisanship."

When she was mayor of Wasilla she tried to get the librarian to ban some books, and then fired her when she said no. It took a movement of outraged citizens to get the librarian reinstated. I mean, Jesus H Christ, she tried to ban books from the CITY library, not even the school library where most of the culture warriors focus their attention.

I know Obama has said families are off limits but I disagree - she's parading her kids up there on stage as props every chance she gets, and those cynical jackasses even flew the father of Bristol's kid out to the RNC to get on the stage. I mean, really, if you're going to be so brazen as to make your daughter's shotgun groom-to-be a stage prop, you at least deserve to get the obvious smackdown on your idiotic abstinence-only stance on sex ed. How did abstinence-only work out for YOU, Sarah? This should be fair game as far as I'm concerned.

She cut funding by 20% by way of line item veto for Covenant House, which is an outfit here that services troubled teens and is the number one support system for teen mothers in Alaska. Beautiful. If all teen mothers were as privileged as Bristol Palin I guess that move would be justifiable.

She's flat lying about the "Bridge to Nowhere," I can't believe the GOP machine is stupid enough to let her claim she opposed it. I guess McCain didn't really click on all the links when he did his Google searching. She was absolutely in favor of the bridge until it became a punchline in Washington and everyone else started wondering why Alaska got so much more federal money per capita than any other state as it was. There's even photographic evidence of this fact. Even after the bridge got canned by the feds she still took what money they did give her and built a road right up to where the bridge was going to go.

She's also lying about the "pork" issue in general - as mayor of Wasilla she hired a lobbyist that was affiliated with Abramoff to scare up $3,000 per citizen of Wasilla in federal money.

She has demonstrated no actual competence in managing a budget - she inherited a balanced budget when she took office as mayor of Wasilla, raised tax revenue (in part by way of a sales tax), and left office with Wasilla $22,000,000 in debt, mostly in the form of bonds to pay for things like a sports complex instead of truly necessary infrastructure projects. And she was also the first Mayor of Wasilla to hire a city manager, so she apparently didn't even feel comfortable doing the day to day work of running the city.

There's plenty more stuff out there about Sarah for those who want to look for it but I'm tired and I think I've hit the high points. She's probably to the right of Bush, certainly not to the left of him. And that's based on what limited knowledge we have regarding her stances on the pressing national issues of the day. I can't really fathom the idea that she is this close to the White House, it scares the shit out of me. To say that she isn't qualified to be president isn't even really accurate. She's totally unfit, and all the experience in the world won't change that.

The preceding analysis was from Justin Racette, not from me. But even though I'm not from Alaska (my mom is...) I couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks again, Justin!


Renegade Eye said...

Some of the data from your post, I used for comments at other blogs.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the "book banning" claim:

Justin said...

Three responses re: book banning.

First, the Chicago Tribune article makes clear that at least one book banning conversation had taken place before Palin asked Emmons to resign:

"In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her—starting before she was sworn in—about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose.

"Emmons told the Frontiersman she flatly refused to consider censorship. Emmons, now Mary Ellen Baker, is on vacation from her current job in Fairbanks and did not respond to messages left for her.

"When the matter came up for the second time in October 1996, during a City Council meeting, Anne Kilkenny, a Wasilla housewife who often attends council meetings, was there."

The dates are likely typos - the issue came up "for the second time" in October 1996 and the conversation actually started even before Sarah was sworn in.

Second, I don't think most of the people who were there believe these were purely "rhetorical" or "hypothetical" questions. At a minimum she was probing the librarian's comfort level with censorship. Why was this even an issue? So what if Sarah never officially demanded books be banned. The fact that it was even on the table in her mind is a huge problem.

Third, "Loyalty purge?" Great. That certainly proves the point re: her leadership style, to say the least, and should be cause for alarm.

Anonymous said...

I can see how some might be troubled by a mayor's willingness to even entertain the idea of removing a book from a public library (even if it were for purely pragmatic reasons). But it's less troubling than an actual effort to ban books (which is what you accused Palin of).

I can't say I share your concern at the idea of a "loyalty test" in this sense. Aren't resignations of appointees generally tendered after a change in administration, whether of a city, state, or the US Presidency? Palin fired two department heads--the librarian and the police chief (though she withdrew her firing of the librarian), both of whom had publicly supported Palin's opponent in the recent mayoral election. While that might in some small measure undermine any claim of Palin being a bipartisan miracle worker, it doesn't seem "ruthlessly authoritarian," since it's pretty much par for the course. (If Obama is elected, it's safe to assume he won't keep many, if any, Bush appointees. Why would he, if he thinks the Bush administration has been botching everything?)

The prospect of Palin in the White House scares me, not because I think she's going to take books off my shelf, but because I see nothing in her background to indicate a capacity for a job as complex as the US Presidency. (Obama has as little "experience" as Palin, but his accomplishments -- academic and political -- show capacity.)

Justin said...

I stand by my concerns.

Anonymous said...

Good enough. Her Charlie Gibson interviews are enough to persuade me that--even if I agreed with her political ideology (which I don't)--I wouldn't want her in the White House. I can see Republicans disagreeing about whether she was the best pick for the short term goal of winning the election. However, I can't imagine any serious-minded Republican honestly arguing that--of the hundreds of millions of people in this country--Sarah Palin is the best person for the job of Vice President or, if it comes to it, President.