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Palin’s Petropolitics

Michael T. Klare, The Nation
In the clinical terminology of political science, Alaska is a classic “petrostate.” That is, its political system is geared toward the maximization of oil “rents”–royalties and other income derived from energy firms–to the neglect of all other economic activities. Such polities have an inherent tendency toward corruption because of the close ties that naturally develop between government officials and energy executives and because oil revenues replace taxation as a source of revenue (Alaska has no state income tax), insulating officials from the scrutiny of taxpayers. Ever since the discovery of oil in the North Slope, Alaska’s GOP leadership has largely behaved in this fashion. And while Governor Sarah Palin has made some commendable efforts to dilute her party’s ties to Big Oil, she is no less a practitioner of petrostate politics than her predecessors.

… The question thus arises: how does Palin’s experience as a maestro of petropolitics bear on her candidacy for vice president? To begin with, it should be clear that she has nothing in common with the leaders of any other state. Although it is true that Texas produces more oil per day than Alaska, Texas is no longer a petrostate, since its economy has become so much more diversified. Alaska is virtually alone in possessing a large (oil-supplied) state budget surplus–now about $5 billion–at a time when most states and the federal government are facing massive deficits and citizen groups are rising up in fury at the prospect of budget cuts. Palin is simply unqualified to deal with the demanding economic realities of any nation that is not a petrostate.

Second, Palin’s only real nitty-gritty legislative experience is in measures aimed at expanding oil and gas production, to the virtual exclusion of other factors, including the environment. Although critical of the cozy ties between her GOP predecessors and Big Oil, Palin, like them, views Alaska as an unlimited source of raw materials to be exploited for maximum economic benefit, much like the leaders of comparable petrostates (Kuwait, Nigeria and Venezuela). She says she cares about the environment, but her support for drilling in ANWR and her eagerness to push the AGIA pipeline through forests in Alaska and the Yukon suggest otherwise. We can only assume that, as veep, she would favor similar policies in the Lower 48, entailing more drilling, digging and pipe-laying in environmentally sensitive areas.

Finally, much like the leaders of other petrostates that depend on oil sales to fill government coffers, Palin is leery of efforts to promote renewable sources of energy and other petroleum alternatives–the exact opposite of running mate John McCain’s proclaimed objective and that of most members of Congress.
(17 September 2008)

Speth: Progressive Fusion

James Gustave Speth, The Nation
… The environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to deteriorate. The current has strengthened faster than we have and become more treacherous. It is time to consider what to do besides swimming against it.

It is no accident that environmental crisis is gathering as social injustice is deepening and growing inequality is impairing democratic institutions. Each is the result of a system of political economy–today’s capitalism–that is profoundly committed to profits and growth and profoundly indifferent to nature and society. Left uncorrected, it is an inherently ruthless, rapacious system, and it is up to citizens, acting mainly through government, to inject human and natural values into that system. But this effort fails because progressive politics are too feeble and Washington is more and more in the hands of powerful corporations and great wealth. The best hope for change in America is a fusion of those concerned about the environment, social justice and strong democracy into one powerful progressive force. This fusion must occur before it is too late.

Sadly, while environmentalists have been winning many battles, we are losing the planet.
(17 September 2008)

A crisis that could make the US election a cleaner contest

Johann Hari, The Independent
Is it possible to empty a presidential election of all political content? The economy is crashing, the climate is unravelling, Iraq and Afghanistan are haemorraghing – and the debate in the mainstream US media about who should be the most powerful man in the world was fixated for weeks on burbling trivia. Barack Obama called Sarah Palin a pig! (No, he didn’t.) Obama wanted to tell toddlers about sex! (No, he wanted to warn them about paedophiles). The critics of Palin are sexist! (McCain voted against the Equal Pay Act. That’s sexism.)

Can the collapse of Lehman Brothers ram a rare taste of reality into the campaign? The facts are plain. John McCain enthusiastically backed every one of George Bush’s moves to deregulate the banks and the mortgage industry that caused this collapse, while Barack Obama opposed them. This isn’t just a credit crunch; it’s a conservatism crunch. The right got their dream of a totally unregulated “shadow” banking sector – and it swiftly imploded, bringing the world economy down with it…

…McCain knows his stances on the economy and foreign policy are opposed by 80 per cent of the population as barely-trimmed Bush. So he needs to toss up a confetti of distraction-issues instead – and Palin was the biggest distraction of all. This attempt to run down the clock was working with slick efficiency until the stock exchange’s opening bell started to sound like a death-knell. He is gathering fistfuls more of confetti as we speak…
(19 September 2008)