Friday, September 05, 2008

Smoke and mirrors

Remember the carnival magician? You'd buy a ticket, go into a tent and watch as the Amazing Zandolini seemed to pull a canary out of an empty box, saw a woman in half and then put her back together, escape from a straightjacket while locked inside a safe, hand you two interlocked iron rings and then separate them, make a rope rise up out of a basket and dance as he played some vaguely middle eastern tune on the recorder, levitate a volunteer in thin air and make all sorts of objects disappear and reappear in a puff of smoke.

You knew of course that it was all sleight of hand, but it was entertaining anyway.

Who knew that the Amazing Zandolini's assistant would go on to run for Vice President of the United States?

We've heard a compelling story this week about Sarah Palin-- that she fought corruption, fought earmarks, cancelled the so-called "bridge to nowhere," cut taxes. and sold her predecessor's private plane on e-bay.

Turns out that it's all smoke and mirrors.

Start with the corruption, since we've been learning all week about how Palin is under investigation herself for apparently abusing the power of her office as Governor to try and help her sister out in a custody dispute with her ex-husband. This has been reported on fairly widely (including here) so I won't repeat all the details, except to say that to claim that Sarah Palin is a corruption fighter is a bit like suggesting that Eliot Spitzer was a fighter against prostitution. She's throwing stones and they are breaking her glass house all around her on that one. She also likes to point out that she ran against and defeated corrupt former Governor Frank Murkowski, who was especially unpopular after engineering his daughter into a U.S. Senate seat. OK, so she beat him. Corrupt politicians often lose because they are corrupt. She was astute enough politically to realize that Murkowski could be beaten in a primary but that in itself says nothing about her own views on corruption.

What about earmarks? Isn't she big against earmarks? Well, no actually. We've learned that while she was mayor of Wasilla, a town about the size of Winslow, she hired a Washington lobbying firm which brought in over 27 million dollars in earmarks for the town. She even once praised Congressman Don Young for helping her town get this 'largesse.' Yup, a fighter against pork. NOT!!

Then when she ran for Governor she promised more of the same. On one campaign trip to Ketchikan she said she supported the proposed bridge that has now become infamous.

So what about the bridge? It became a symbol of so-called wasteful government spending. Demogogues on the right made no end of pointing out that the bridge cost $223 million and would provide road access to an island that had a population of fifty. In fact, they either ignorantly or intentionally omitted the fact that on the island was an airport that serves 200,000 passengers per year who have to be brought over to the mainland by ferry, so in fact a good case could be made for building the bridge. In any case though, Congress decided to make it the symbolic sacrifice of pork they could kill and all look good back home. So Palin, the consummate politician realized it was about to be gone anyway so she cancelled it and took the credit. In her speech this week she said "I told Congress, thanks but no thanks." Only she kept the money! The money that had already been sent up there stayed in Alaska and went to other projects. Not only that but right now the state of Alaska is building the access road to the proposed bridge for a twenty-five million dollar price tag (they did keep that money too.) So if the bridge is never built then this must be wasting money on the 'road to nowhere.'

What about tax cuts? Well, that would be difficult since in Alaska there is no sales tax and no income tax to begin with. Most of the state revenues come from royalties paid to the state by the petroleum industry, as well as the Federal largesse that Alaskans enjoy on a grander scale than residents of any other state (and which Palin for years dined at the trough of.) And in a remarkably progressive policy, the state of Alaska has for several decades sent excess oil revenue to all residents of the state in the form of a once per year check. It is true that with oil prices soaring the revenue has gone up commensurately so this year's check, about $1,200 per permanent resident was substantially more than last year's. If you want to call that a tax cut, I guess you can call it one. But you can call a mule a horse and it still doesn't make it a horse.

What does that leave? Oh, yes that airplane. It is true that when Palin took office she found that Murkowski had purchased an airplane with state money. So she put it on e-bay. Again, a good political move, and if she and the GOP left it at that, she'd have scored a point. Only they haven't; they've implied and have now actually been saying that she sold it on e-bay. Which is false. We learn today that the plane did not sell on e-bay, but was subsequently sold to a businessman in a private transaction, and at a $600,000 loss.

Specifically, the plane originally cost $2.7 million and was sold for $2.1 million to businessman Larry Reynolds.

Yet today John McCain is quoted as saying at a campaign stop in Wisconsin,

You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on eBay -- and made a profit!"

Well, McCain can be excused-- this is hardly the first time he's gotten his facts wrong on the campaign trail.

But on the video played about Palin at the GOP convention they said outright that she had 'auctioned it' on e-bay. Either the video was intentionally misleading or very poorly researched. But I'm sure Palin must have known that it didn't really sell on e-bay but she has said nothing to correct the error-- which reflects directly on her own character, and not in a good way.

And for that matter, if she took a loss on the plane then it is fair to ask, now that the state government doesn't have that plane anymore, how she gets around a state where flying is a necessity (you can't drive to Juneau from the rest of the state, for example.) Does she take commercial air? If so does the state government pick up the tab for the flight? If not, then did they buy another airplane? Come on, if they lost $600,000 on the deal then where is the savings? Only an advocate of Bush economics could figure out a way to claim that the state is making a profit by selling a plane they already owned at a loss.

So it looks like everything that Sarah Palin is supposed to be running on is a mirage. A carefully crafted mirage, which makes you wonder exactly who is writing the story-- it looks like something that might be written in a Washington think tank rather than in Alaska.

At least when the Amazing Zandolini pulled a rabbit out of a hat nobody was trying to tell me that it was real.

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