ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL
Take care of our own
Alaska should not let Venezuela embarrass us again next year
Published: September 26, 2006
Smart people learn from their mistakes. Or, at least they're supposed to.
In this case, it was a mistake for the Legislature not to approve the governor's request for additional state funding to help keep low-income Alaskans warm this winter. Instead of us taking care of our own people, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stepped in to help pay the fuel bill. In doing so, Mr. Chavez gained even more international publicity for his U.S.-trashing political rants.
It's probably too late to undo the embarrassment this year, unless the North Slope oil companies are willing to volunteer the financial aid. But let's hope Alaska doesn't make the same mistake next year. The state, with all its oil wealth, and Alaska's regional Native corporations, with their profits, should provide leadership on the issue -- and not allow Venezuela to rub our noses in oil.
Federal funding for the low-income energy assistance program has been flat for 20 years, and Gov. Frank Murkowski this past session asked lawmakers to put in state cash to supplement the funding.
Legislators said no, and rural Alaskans started to fear another winter of costly heating fuel.
Then up steps President Chavez and Houston-based Citgo Petroleum Corp., which is owned by Venezuela's national oil company. Expanding last year's program of helping low-income Americans stay warm, Citgo this month said it would donate $5 million to buy heating fuel for every household in 151 Alaska villages.
It's hard to blame villagers for accepting the gift. Heating fuel is $6 a gallon in the Koyukuk River village of Hughes and $7 a gallon in the Kobuk River village of Kobuk. The free 100 gallons of oil, courtesy of Citgo, means a $600 to $700 savings for those households.
But it's more than ironic, it's embarrassing that residents in a state with so much oil wealth should be looking to a foreign nation for help. Even worse that the foreign nation is led by a president who supports Iran's nuclear ambitions and is friends with many of America's enemies.
Alaska has enough problems convincing the nation that we're able to manage our own affairs, our resources and our wealth. Taking Venezuela's aid makes it worse. It should not happen again.
BOTTOM LINE: Hugo Chavez is using Alaska.
I attended the signing ceremony in New York for the Citgo heating oil donation program that you find so worrisome. It was a wonderful event. Hugo Chavez was there and showed himself to be humorous, self-effacing, and extremely well-read. He was also quite gracious to all of us in attendance, particularly the young Aleut and Inupiat dancers who performed at this historic event.
I will repeat to you what I told Fox News when asked what I thought about Hugo Chavez calling President Bush "The Devil": It is part of the Kabuki play of international politics. It was a literary and theatrical performance, not unlike the "Axis of Evil" or the "Holy Crusade Against the Enemies of the West" that Bush declared after 9-11. I also said that, in the Bible (Book of James), we are admonished that "...not by faith alone, but by your acts shall you be judged..." Chavez's words are less important than what he does. Bush's actions are more important than what he says. In my opinion, if both died today, Chavez (a devout Catholic) will enjoy the bounties of heaven; George Bush will burn in Hell...
Fox chose to broadcast only my last 17 words or so.
The Bush White House has worked assiduously to develop the Evangelical "mystique" of George Bush. Linking his White House to "God's Plan" helps to innoculate President Bush from critical analysis by his 'base' for his foreign misadventures. Is it so surprising, therefore, that a critic of those misadventures, like President Chavez, might try to knock the halo off President Bush's head?
To see an example of the evangelical political workings of the Bush Machine, go to:
Next, you inaccurately characterize President Chavez as "...attacking America". President Chavez takes pains to point out in every one of his theatrical outings that his issues are with George W. Bush and NOT America.
I can understand that duality. My own contempt for George Bush arises in large part out of my love for this country. I believe that a large number of Americans share this sentiment.
Then you punch-up your rhetoric by linking Chavez to Iran. While it is true that Chavez supports the development of peaceful nuclear power and opposes interference by the United States in Iran's internal affairs, there is no record that demonstrates Hugo Chavez supports the development of nuclear weapons by Iran. When you refer darkly to Iran's "nuclear ambitions", you contribute to a misunderstanding of Chavez's position. While the Republican "talking points" focus on Iran's alleged weapons program, the consensus of the intelligence community is that weapons delivery is far off, if it all. The "crisis" over Iran may be much ado about very little.
Then you say that Venezuela "embarassed Alaska"? Really? What you are really pointing out is that Alaska embarrasses itself. I could go on too long about the width and depth of Alaska's self-embarrassment, with regard to this issue and many others, but I will not. The genesis of the Citgo program was a letter sent by 12 congressmen to all the major oil companies after Katrina asking for such a charitable program. Citgo was the ONLY one that responded. I repeat: Citgo was the only oil company that responded to a request by members of the U.S. Congress to provide heating fuel assistance.
...So tell me, in light of this history, Larry, how is the government of Venezuela "rubbing our noses in it"?
Also, it isn't "Alaska" taking the "aid" from Venezuela. It is Tribes and Tribal non-profits acting independently of "Alaska". I personally hope they continue to do so. My hope is that the program continues and that some future sustainable business relationship can be developed with Citgo or any other company that wants to do business with Alaska Tribes.
Finally, you and your colleague Paul Jenkins seem concerned that Tribes and Village representatives would do business with the likes of Venezuela. Well, guess what? So are the likes of Conoco-Phillips. Take a look at their 10-K report filed with the SEC (synopsis attached). C-P enjoys subsidized financing from the Ex-Im Bank, tax breaks for overseas investments and probably uses some of its Alaskan profits to finance their happy partnership with Petroleo de Venezuela.
The irony and the hypocrisy of the self-righteousness of you and Mr. Jenkins is Denali-scale.