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Friday, September 29, 2006

Politics and Platitudes Mean Most Vulnerable Will Suffer


In the days after Katrina, twelve members of Congress sent a joint letter to the major oil companies asking for help. The rising price of oil, the refining crunch and the onset of winter threatened many of the most vulnerable in America with untenable choices.

CITGO was the only company to step up and offer help. The current CITGO home heating initiative is a result of those commitments.

The righteous anger over Hugo Chavez’s posturing at the United Nations is like ashes in the mouth to over 260 homes in Western Alaska who will now go without a gift of heating oil this year because politicians from Caracas to Anchorage chose to posture over an abstraction.

But first a word about Hugo Chavez calling George W. Bush “The Devil.”

Over the past five years, the White House political operation has assiduously cultivated a halo about the person of George W.Bush. The politics of the pulpit was laid bare in the Jack Abramoff hearings in which pastors were mobilized for a fee to serve the interests of Abramoff’s tribal casino clients. The evangelical political operation exposed in the Abramoff hearings went right to the White House.

The President of Venezuela, along with the rest of the world, is quite aware of the political uses of religion by the Bush administration and, using theatrics and literary allusion, President Chavez knocked the halo off George Bush’s head to curry favor among the non-aligned nations among whom President Bush is unpopular. Venezuela is vying with Guatemala for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. In other words, it was an old fashioned political stump-speech.

In response, the right-wing pundits of America have whipped themselves into a foamy lather while the rest of the political establishment, the media, opposition Democrats and think tanks either remain silent or, like Nancy Pelosi, join in the harangue of election-year chest beating.

Through the distorted lens of the last six weeks of a political election cycle, no one is seeing or thinking clearly.

Comes now the political lynch mob looking around for symbols to burn, such as the landmark CITGO sign in Boston that one city councilman wants to replace with an American Flag. CITGO is an American company that is now wholly-owned by Petroleo de Venezuela. CITGO was around long before Hugo Chavez and CITGO will be around long after he goes away. Since CITGO has no outlets in Alaska to attack, we are left with, well…the charitable home heating oil program of CITGO. We in Alaska are saying “…we’ll show Hugo Chavez, by golly…we will refuse a gift of home heating oil to our villages!”

Yeah, that will show Hugo Chavez!

Is CITGO’s goodwill little more than propaganda? It is hard to deny that.

Few acts of charity or kindness managed by a corporate relations office that also results in a tax benefit can be considered anything but propaganda, including a grant from, say, ConocoPhillips.

Interestingly, ConocoPhillips is doing plenty of business with Venezuela. The company is partnering with the democratically-elected government of Hugo Chavez in the development of oil fields and processing units. Also interestingly, the activities of the exploration and production segment of ConocoPhilips are being financed by low interest loans and profits from activities throughout the company including, presumably, Alaska.

While I wish ConocoPhillips well on their venture, I seriously doubt that ConocoPhillips will make a decision affecting their investment and strategic partnership with Petroleo de Venezuela based upon the politics and platitudes currently being played out in America.

So my question is, why should rural leaders let this all this silliness cloud their judgment?

The villages of Alaska and the most vulnerable Alaskans are being asked by their political leadership to make a noble sacrifice for patriotism and the President.

Once again, to paraphrase Mark Twain, when the wealthy and powerful call for sacrifice, it is the poor who do the giving.

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