WC is sharply critical of Americans’ tendency to see a conspiracy – sometimes two or three conspiracies – under every stone. In part it’s wish fulfillment; in other part is the primitive part of our brains seeing patterns that aren’t there. When the suspicious noise could have been a tiger, that pattern recognition skill served us well. Now? Not so much.
But then there’s Mike Dunleavy. He has engaged in a very strange pattern of behavior. He’s destroying the very state he swore to serve and protect. He’s created drastic, campus-killing cuts to the University of Alaska, yet he’s an alum of the University and, presumably, understands its force as a economic engine in Alaska’s economy. He’s a former school teacher. He understands that children are Alaska’s future in a very real sense of the term, yet he haas proposed to cut pre-school funding, slash K-12 monies and cut all funding for the arts. All around the state he claims to govern, villages are being forced to move, or make major infrastructure repairs s a consequence of climate change, yet he denies climate change. Worse, he’s wasting the state’s precious cash subsidizing the fossil fuel industry in a futile attempt to produce more CO2-generating crude oil. Futile because North Slope oil production is driven by demand, not subsidies, as anyone with a teaspoon of knowledge of economics will tell you.
So what is prompting Dunleavy’s conduct?
Can we talk about the Koch Brothers?
Those are the two robber baron siblings that shut down the North Pole Refinery, crippling the community and badly hurting the constituents of his erstwhile buddy, former Senator Pete Kelly. That’s pretty good evidence that the billionaires don’t care a fig about what happens in Alaska.
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Or do they?
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There’s a clue in the Governor’s recent budget roadshow: it was sponsored, in considerable part, by the Koch Brothers. the rich, extremely conservative, oil-loving, climate-change denying billionaires. Why would the obscenely rich oil barons invest money in a clown like Mike Dunleavy? And while Dunleavy’s biggest campaign supporter was his robber baron brother, Koch Brothers’ money found its way in to Dunleavy campaign chest, mostly through the Republican Governors Association, a Koch-funded political action committee. Like Senator Dan Sullivan, Dunleavy has been bought and paid for.
There’s another clue in the University of Alaska’s most famous mission: it’s the world leader in arctic climate research. It’s one of the world leaders in measuring and monitoring anthropogenic climate change. And the Koch Brothers are vehement, mouth-frothing deniers of climate change. Indeed, they are in the business of spewing as much CO2 into the atmosphere as possible. Because profits. Killing the messenger is a time-tested means of dealing with a threatening message.
There’s still another clue. Alaska, after the Exxon Valdez disaster, passed some of the nation’s toughest environmental regulations. Compliance with those environmental regulations is expensive and time-consuming; it cuts into profits. Wouldn’t it be convenient for the oil and gas industry if some of those regulations were “relaxed”? After all, what could possibly go wrong? Why, backing off those regulations might let the Koch Brothers and their buddies in the resource extraction industry make a few more megabucks.
Dunleavy’s actions will maim the state economy. They will drive away residents and businesses. They will increase unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcies, property taxes and sales taxes as municipalities struggle to cope. The will o’ wisp of bigger permanent fund dividends cannot possibly compensate. If you’ve lost your job, a bigger PFD isn’t going to solve your problem. If your house is no longer worth the amount you owe on the mortgage, because a recession has made your property values crash, a bigger PFD isn’t going to solve the problem.
Why has Dunleavy chosen to inflict that harm on voters? He’s not very smart, but he’s not stupid enough to believe it’s a good idea to create an economic depression in Alaska. The other alternative is that he and his political party are sick, and engaged in self-destructive behavior, the political equivalent of folks who cut and scar themselves. As Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims – and claim of a conspiracy is an extraordinary claim – requires extraordinary proof. But there is a decent amount of proof already in the public eye. And the alternatives – stupidity or self-destructive conduct – seem even less likely.
All of which is why WC is inclined to think that we may have a genuine Koch Brothers conspiracy happening in Alaska.