Do What I Say, I Know Better Than You. And Other Roads to Utopia.

March 22, 2005

Both senators, in statements you can read online (Inouye's here and Akaka's here) say their main reasoning is that the native people in Alaska are in favor of drilling. Self-determination.

Akaka says, "To me, ANWR is really about whether or not the indigenous people who are directly impacted have a voice about the use of their lands...They have the greatest incentive of anyone to preserve their environment, including the plants and animals that live on the coastal plain, in order to maintain their way of life."

Inouye writes, "When 229 out of 230 tribes tell me they want it, I am ready to respond."

Now I've done some research on the effects of oil drilling on the environment, and it's not pretty. There's a huge amount of waste water (that's supposed to be pumped back into the earth but in places like Ecuador was just left in big, sludgy pools) they have to burn off "waste" gases (full of toxins), and either big pipelines (that can leak) or tankers (that can leak --remember the Exxon Valdez?) have to bring the stuff back to all the thirsty SUVs down here. It's a dirty, dirty business.

But it's hard to argue with the Native Americans. Victims of relentless genocide ever since their land was "discovered" by the Europeans, subjected to horrors like smallpox-infected blankets and systematic kidnapping to "educate" their children, the indigenous people of this land have not had a good go of it. Like everyone else around the world exposed to the American consumer culture, why wouldn't they want tv (with 125 cable channels), convertibles and cell phones that you can day-trade on? And if you're sitting on black gold, texas T, why not cash some of that in?

The self-determination argument slays me. For centuries, colonists used the argument, "We know what's better for you, do as we say," to justify not just economic exploitation but cultural sublimation --you must dress, eat, worship, communicate and work like us. They used arguments of greater intelligence, civilization and morality to justify their position.

On what grounds now could I possibly tell someone that they shouldn't have the right to make their own decisions?

Of course, it's not that simple. I try all the time to get people to stop smoking, for example, because not only is it awful for the smoker but it's a hazard to those around her, too. And I support any legislation that would curtail people's ability to smoke --banning it in restaurants, taxing it, eliminating advertising. if i could bat people's cigarette's out of their hands (without getting beat up) I don't know, maybe i would.

And if I could single-handedly stop drilling in ANWR, I think I would do that, too. I would (in a scenario where I was not only unilaterally powerful but had lots of money and resources) give the native Alaskans so much more than a tiny percentage of as-yet-unknown oil profits --I'd provide education (egads), explore and create alternative industries, introduce them to inhabitants of other oil-rich regions like Nigeria, Ecuador and Iraq so they could see the impact the extraction industry has on a place (often they end up being poorer than non-oil rich regions) and then, fully armed with a big-picture perspective on the global issues, I would let them make their decision.

So long as they made the right choice.

Just kidding.

Kind of.

The truth is, I don't know what to think. As much as I dislike casinos --not just because they are dens of vice and godless sin but because they're tacky and depressing and cliched-- I vote in support of Indian gaming in California. Why? Because it's been very successful in bringing revenue to tribes that haven't even gotten fair land-use payments from the federal government in 100 years.

Of course, I don't think the Republicans are the ones to go around arguing self-determination. They're the ones running around overthrowing governments (not just in America!) and taking away civil rights of everyone whose name isn't Halliburton. or ExxonMobilStarbucksWalmart. That's not the point, of course, since they actually are in alignment with the Alaskan tribes.

Or maybe it is the point, since Republicans and big oil would be clamoring to drill no matter what the tribes thought. Maybe self-determination is a red herring, a smokescreen that Big Money is using to get what it wants again, to paint it in a "people care" fuzzy light.

And then what of the tribes, the people living on the land? Are they just going to get screwed again? Will they be happy buying processed food with their monthly checks from the oil companies (as is apparently the case with many post-Exxon Valdez)? If they are, is that okay?

I, for one, am torn.




Off Topic Social Security Comment...Mayflower Compact Coalition (Wangstas Fo' Shizzle My Nizzle)!RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman today attended the unveiling of the 21st Century Mayflower Compact at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.. The nine-point agenda includes support for school choice and private social security accounts. The Coalition is advised in part by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s consulting firm.African Americans often reach different and surprising conclusions on social issues that the casual (Caucasian) observer just won’t understand. For example, Black folks still want to see Michael Jackson find happiness. His high-pitched voice and soulful delivery is the soundtrack of generations and has a permanent place in the Black community’s psyche, no matter the plastic surgery, skin bleaching and alleged child molestation charges. Possibly, it’s the “he’s still Black” phenomenon that African Americans well understand. They want Michael Jackson’s name cleared. In short, they want him to make good music and just leave the damn kids alone.Likewise, Blacks see Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance Program, popularly known as Social Security, as an entitlement forced into place during a period when “bigots” wanted to run things. And against the odds, a well respected Franklin Roosevelt was able to established needed protection for the public from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. As its original name suggest, African Americans believe the insurance program was created to do much more than provide an old age benefit.Wangstas (whites and uh oh oreos) are extremely white people who attempt to be “gangsta” (cool with Black people) in order to “pimp out.” They dress, speak and act for all practical purposes as a African Americans aside from the fact that they are not. Normally they are hated by the fam for being fake.The White House and its oreos who support overhauling Social Security have launched a highly targeted campaign to convince Black people that President Bush’s plan to create private investment accounts will have special benefits for them. The ghetto fab element about the GOP message to African Americans: “The shorter life expectancy of Black males means Social Security in its current form is not a favorable deal.”Proponents of privatizing social security who claim no group has as much at stake in the debate over reform as African Americans, in fact, are right. Black families of workers who become disabled or die are much more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to be dependent on the grip available from disability and/or survivor benefits. Blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 23 percent of African American children receive survivor benefits, and 18 percent of the community are disability beneficiaries.Although the wangstas are making a special effort to appeal to the strizzeet with the 21st Century Mayflower Compact, the “lower life expectancies” illusion appears to reached every one except the African American senior. Their attempt to focus on a very narrow element of the system (current program based on longevity is unfair) is misplaced and doesn’t gain cool points. What the oreos fail to realize is their attempt to be “down” for da brothas... is just “gosh-darn” obnoxious (using their vernacular) and another clue identifying the new face of segregation.“A’ight?”Social Security is an insurance program that protects workers and their families against the income loss that occurs when a worker retires, becomes disabled, or dies. All workers will eventually either grow too old to compete in the labor market, become disabled, or die. President Roosevelt created the program to insure all workers and their families against these universal risks, while spreading the costs and benefits of that insurance protection among the entire workforce.It is a “pay as you go” program, which means the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) payroll tax paid by today’s workers are not set aside to pay their own benefits down the road, but rather go to pay the benefits of current recipients. The tax is progressive. The low-wage workers receive a greater percentage of pre-retirement earnings from the program than higher-wage workers. And, in the 1980's, Congress passed reforms to raise extra tax revenues above and beyond the current need and set up a trust fund to hold a reserve.As was the case when the program was established, higher-wage workers still oppose the social nature of the program. They argue low rates of return as a reason to switch from the current “pay-as-you-go” system to one in which individual workers claim their own contribution and decide where and how to invest it. In short, rather than sharing the risk across the entire workforce to ensure that all workers and their families are protected from old age, disability, and death, higher-wage workers want to enable opportunity to reap gains from private investment without having to help protect lower-wage workers from their disproportionate risks.Allowing high-wage workers (who are more likely to live long enough to retire) opportunity to opt out of the general risk pool and devote all their money to retirement without having to cover the risk of those who may become disabled or die, is da fo’ shizzle identifying the republican party’s desire to return to a segregated society.Roosevelt’s benefit formula currently in place intentionally helps low income earners. Lifetime earnings directly factor into the formula. And, thirty-five percent of Black workers born between 1931 and 1940 had lifetime earnings that fell into the bottom fifth of earnings received by workers born in these years. African Americans’ median earnings (working-age in jobs covered by Social Security in 2002) were about $21,200, compared to $28,400 for all working-age people.HNIC, President Bush, does acknowledge the difficulty Blacks will have in accumulating enough savings in their individual accounts to provide for a secure retirement once the progressivity of the current system is eliminated. However, he has only suggested allowing lower-income workers to place higher portions of their income into the uncertainties of investment accounts (creating even more risk).Yes! Private accounts would be passed on to children or other heirs. But, what the HNIC and his oreos doesn’t explain is lower-income workers would be forced to buy an annuity large enough (when combined with their traditional Social Security benefit) to ensure that they would at least have a poverty level income for retirement.Yo’ playa... da new private Social Security account fizzle sucks!