Saturday, May 8, 2010

Former Governor Walter Hickel, Dead at Age 90

Former Alaska Governor Wally Hickel passed away late Friday of natural causes. He was 90.

I worked in Juneau during Wally's second governorship. There were many things, politically and policy-wise, that I have disagreed with Mr. Hickel about over the years.

But whether you were his political friend or foe, some things about him no one can disagree with:

He loved Alaska, and spent most of his life trying to make it a better place to live.

He was genuinely a decent, caring man.

There will be plenty of eloquent eulogies about him... but for my part, I'm simply going to repost something I wrote last September.

Rest in Peace, Wally. 

Former Governor Walter Hickel Gives Us Some Fatherly Advice

Former Governor Walter J. Hickel penned an OpEd piece which appears in today's Anchorage Daily News, entitled "Alaskans can rise above petty politics, hateful acts."

Bravo, Mr. Hickel.

During his long career, no matter what his stance on issues, and no matter what less-than-complimentary things one might say about him, even his detractors (and as a life-long Democrat, I fall into that category) have to grudgingly agree on this point:

Walter Hickel has always followed his conscience.

Just as Pinocchio had his Jiminy Cricket, Walter Hickel has always had his "Little Man."

When appointed in 1968 by President Richard Nixon to serve as Secretary of Interior (an appointment Mr. Hickel agonized about accepting, for it required him to step down as Alaska Governor), Wally didn't turn out to be quite the "plunder and pillage" pro-development voice many environmentalists expected him to be.

Listening to his "little man," Hickel supported strong liability laws concerning oil companies drilling offshore, and supported environmental standards on Alaska's rapidly developing oil industry.

As a populist (and perhaps because he was a populist with a conscience), Mr. Hickel confused and confounded the people in the White House at the time.

He saw his role as Secretary of the Interior as doing the best job he could do for the American people. By doing his best, Hickel surmised, he would help the Republican Party as well.

When that style conflicted with the political agenda of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew or the cadre of Republican henchman in the White House, they saw his actions as "disloyal."

It didn't take long. More and more, Wally Hickel was being frozen out of the Nixon White House, his access to the president that hired him cut off. The president was isolating himself more and more from those who might disagree with him, because any thing viewed as internal dissent would not be accepted, nevermind encouraged.

After the shooting death of four student demonstrators by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University in 1970, Mr. Hickel's "little man" took charge again.

Hickel wrote a letter critical of Nixon's Vietnam war policy, urging the president to listen to the voices of young people opposing the war. The contents of letter was leaked before the president saw it, and it didn't sit well with the White House.

The president subsequently created the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration within the Commerce Department, and created an independent Environmental Protection Administration. The creation of these agencies intentionally removed their mission from the purview of the Interior Secretary. The handwriting was on the wall.

Eventually, Hickel was called to the White House. After a half-hour or so conversation between Wally and the president, Mr. Hickel was shown the door.

True to what he told 60 Minutes: "If I go away, I'm going away with an arrow in my heart and not a bullet in my back," Mr. Hickel returned to Alaska, and eventually (like it or not) served a second term as governor.

(Side note to ex-governor Sarah Palin: Wally Hickel was a "maverick" when you were barely out of diapers. His willingness to take responsibility for his actions is a concept that's alien to you, I'm sure.)

Some of my liberal friends will criticize me for lauding Mr. Hickel.

Too bad.

In retrospect, Walter Hickel emerges as a progressive. Hell, compared to today's current crop of Republicans, he sounds like a "liberal."

Besides, when you're right, you're right.

In a time when the GOP is controlled by the right-wing fringe, hate speech is running rampant, and crazy people like Sarah Palin claim to speak for Alaskans (and the "real" America), 90-year old Governor Walter Hickel's is a voice that should be heeded.

By all of us.

h/t to Progressive Alaska for the photo.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Pattern of Profit Above All Else

As I've noted before, British Petroleum is not in the petrochemical industry for altruistic reasons, no matter what their ads say... and BP rebranding itself as green ("Beyond Petroleum") doesn't make it green.

They're all about profit, and will pretty much go to any measure to secure it.

In Alaska, BP has a track record of foregoing needed maintenance - with near disastrous results - because money saved deferring maintenance adds to the bottom line.

BP has a history of combating regulations that might have prevented the ongoing BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico... because complying with more stringent standards might cut into company profits.

The oil now hitting Louisiana's coast and marshes may be the most egregious example to date of BP's dedication to profit, greed, but it really should surprise no one.

Nor should BP's current scramble to distance itself from any blame for this continuing catastrophe (it's Transocean's accident, not BP's!) surprise us.

What should surprise us is that the world allows them to repeat this amoral behavior over and over and over again.

How massive do their "mistakes" have to be before the world cries "enough!"?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Take A Minute to Help Matt Osborne Win A Netroots Nation Scholarship

A blogger of some reknown, and a Huffington Post contributor, my friend Matt's trying to win a Netroots Nation scholarship (and yes, it’s a popularity contest).

Please take a minute to lobby Democracy For America on Matt's behalf!

You can learn more, and more about Matt, at Matt's Blog, Osborne Ink.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

British Petroleum Asshattery, Continued.

Well, as predicted, the "Beyond Petroleum" company is now attempting to lay the blame for the ongoing Gulf Coast "spill" at someone else's feet (although they are magnanimously cleaning it up).

They are now claiming this catastrophe "was not our accident," and saying it was the fault of Transocean, from whom they leased the Deepwater Horizon.

This is exactly like blaming the Avis car rental agency because you got drunk, drove like a bat out of hell, got in a wreck killing 11 people, and left wrecked lives and devastation in your wake.

After all, it was Avis' car, right?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Gulf Coast Oil Spill Asshattery Continues

Remember my post on May 1 about unvarnished greed?

To underscore my point, consider this:

According to an article in the Huffington Post (and verified here) British Petroleum was attempting to convince Gulf Coast residents to sign away their right to sue BP in exchange for a one-time, lump-sum payment of up to $5,000.

You read that right.

In an attempt to limit their own economic liability, the "Beyond Petroleum" Company lawyers were trying to buy people out at rock-bottom prices.

As of this morning (since they got caught), BP's CEO Tony Hayward said the practice had stopped.

From the Huffington Post article:
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told "Good Morning America" today that it was unacceptable for BP to ask fishermen it hired to help with the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill to sign waivers that would limit the company's liability.
Story continues below

"I'm looking into that right now." she said. "I was just alerted to that and if that in fact is the case, that is a practice we want stopped immediately."

BP CEO Tony Hayward told "GMA" this morning that the company has already put a stop to the practice.
"That was an early misstep George, frankly. We were using a standard contract. We've eliminated that," Hayward told George Stephanopoulos. (emphasis mine)
That's in their "standard contract? 
Holy shit.

According to another BP spokesperson, this "misstep" has been discontinued, and any signed waivers would not be enforced (I wouldn't count on the truth of that statement, myself).

Since British Petroleum is all about profit, this attempt by their corporate shysters was merely "good business."

In human terms, it's despicable.

Brace yourself, America.

BP's Asshattery will get worse.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Asshat: UPDATED

Saturday, Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Mississippi. (a clown who also happens to represent coastal Mississippi districts) flew over the spill (shades of Bush's Airforce One tour of Katrina) in a Coast Guard flight.
After landing in Gulfport, Taylor said...
... the oil spill is large but it's "not Armageddon." He said he saw no oil slicks within about 20 miles of Mississippi marshes.(emphasis mine)
He must have been looking out the wrong window.
Yeah, it's now predicted to be the worst oil spill in US history, but it's no big deal.

I don't care if he IS a Democrat... he's a southern Democrat,, which means he's really not a Democrat at all.

But:  As a bona fide asshat, he already has the heartless and clueless part covered... so he might as well be a member of the GOP.



Brian Martin, who commented below to tell us that Congressman Taylor was a former member of the Coast Guard (Reserve - 26 years ago), so therefore he really knows oil spills, happens to be an aide to Congressman Taylor.

No wonder he takes umbrage when his boss is revealed as an asshat.