Russia, Ukraine and the Price of Oil

It looks like Russia will take its second bite out of Ukraine at the end of the Winter Olympics, on or about 2-22-22. Its first bite, Crimea, was taken at the end of Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. No one will stop them now, just as no one stopped them eight years ago. Economic sanctions won’t deter them now, just as they didn’t stop them before.

Modern Russian adventurism is tied to the price of oil. With oil currently above $90 a barrel, the Russians are taking in $1 billion a day in hard currency, and sanctions won’t put a dent in that income. Oil is a fungible commodity. There will always be a market for Russian oil somewhere.

In 1979, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, oil was at $115 a barrel. In 2014, when the Crimea was invaded, it was at $120 a barrel. In contrast, in 1986, when Gorbachev threw in his hand, and gave up on competing with the United States militarily, the price got down to $11 a barrel. Without hard currency from oil, Russia could no longer afford to play the superpower game, and the cold war was over. As Reagan had predicted, and helped bring about, we won, they lost. Oil was a big part of it.

In the end, Russia will likely wind up with a piece of eastern Ukraine, where most of the ethnic Russians live. What’s left of Ukraine will not join NATO and will be, effectively, a satellite of Russia. Demography is not destiny, but geography is. Demographics can change. Geography never does. The Ukrainians are cursed because of their location next to Russia and terrain that provides no defense.

It’s not fair, and it’s not right, but there is a lot of injustice in this world. The American people deplore all of it. But we won’t fight a war to stop it. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us a lesson. From now on, we will only fight wars when our national security is at stake. That’s definitely not the case in Ukraine.

Joe Biden will bear some of the responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine. Beginning in his first day in office, with the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline, he declared war on American energy production. To him and his fellow environmental extremists, it is the price of fighting climate change. It’s a high price, but he’s willing for you to pay it. He wants high energy prices, in order to depress consumption, reduce pollution, and incentivize the transition to alternative energy sources. When he took office oil was around $50 a barrel. It will be $100 a barrel before long.

High oil prices enrich some of the worst human rights violators in the world — the Russian autocrat Putin, the Saudi royal family, and the Iranian mullahs. To curb their wealth, and their mischief making, we need to encourage North American oil and gas production. American shale production helped bring down the price of oil, and it can do so again. Federal lands, most especially Alaska’s ANWR, need to be opened up again for exploration and production. Until then the Saudis, the Russians and the Iranians have some fat years ahead of them.

We were well on our way under President Trump. The next President will be a like-minded Republican, barring satanic intervention. We’ll be back on the road to energy dominance on January 20, 2025. Until then we’ll pay at the gas pump, we’ll pay to heat our homes, and we’ll pay with inflation.

The political coalition that brought down Trump in 2020 was fanatical in its determination. They were willing to break the law, destroy their own credibility, and violate every American political norm. They were willing to foist an incompetent old fool on the country as President. None of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was beating Trump.

We’re all paying the price of this fanaticism. Sadly, so will Ukraine.

Democracy and a Convention

Opponents of a constitutional convention point to the passage of Prop 2 as an example of what could go wrong. Outside dark money got it on the ballot, and then convinced a bare majority to vote for it. This is the danger inherent in direct democracy, which is what initiatives are.

Federal initiatives are not allowed by the United States Constitution. The Founding Fathers didn’t believe in direct democracy. They gave us a constitutional republic, in which the people don’t directly make decisions. Rather, the people vote for representatives, who do have the power to decide.

In the case of a convention, the people will not be proposing amendments directly. They will instead elect representatives – delegates – who will meet, deliberate, and then decide what amendments should be submitted to the people.

The proponents of Prop 2 knew they could never get it passed by the Alaska legislature. It was a radical change in the structure of Alaska politics. Their only hope was through an initiative, using millions of dollars in a fundamentally dishonest campaign. There was no real organized opposition, and voters were fooled in to voting for it.

If a convention is approved in November, the legislature will decide how delegates will be elected. Every part of the state will send trusted and respected citizens. Outside dark money can’t possibly control these elections, taking place from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. That would require a conspiracy so large, and so well disguised, that only a paranoid conspiracy freak could believe in it.

Participating in a constitutional convention is serious business. Voters will only support people they know, and have confidence in. Since a convention is of limited duration, and is a limited commitment. People who can’t make the commitment to service in the legislature will be candidates. Community leaders from all walks of life will be step forward..

Instead of fear mongering about a constitutional convention, Alaskans should fear what our ruling elites are trying to do to this state. In Saggoonick v. State of Alaska, they recently came within one Supreme Court vote of shutting down our oil and gas industry. In the name of climate change, the plaintiffs came very close to destroying Alaska’s economy.

We shouldn’t be deterred by paranoid fantasies of a Great Constitutional Conspiracy. Instead, we should worry about the very real threats to our liberty and economy by the elites who run this state. They are the danger, and they are very real. The legislature can’t pass the amendments we need to protect the dividend, provide for school choice, and rein in a judiciary running amok. Only a convention, elected by the people, can do that.

That’s why we get the chance to vote for a convention every ten years.

A Question of Trust

In Alaska, lawyers decide who gets to be a judge. They control the Judicial Council and use that control to prevent any judicial conservative from being considered for appointment by the Governor. There are no dissenting voices on the Alaska Supreme Court. The lawyers won’t allow it.

There’s a simple fix. Repeal the clause of the Constitution which gives the Alaska Bar Association the right to name three members of the Judicial Council. This would give the Governor the right to name all six public members of the Council, subject to legislative confirmation.

Such a constitutional amendment will never be proposed by the legislature, since it requires a 2/3 vote. The lawyers have enough allies in the legislature to prevent that from ever happening. But delegates to a constitutional convention can propose an amendment by majority vote, and would likely do so if voters give them a chance.

In Alaska, parents don’t control the education of their children. The teacher’s union and the education establishment have a monopoly on public funding. Private and religious schools can’t receive any state support, because the Alaska Constitution forbids it. The legislature won’t propose an amendment to remove this prohibition. Delegates to a convention could do it, with a simple majority vote.

The United States Supreme Court is about to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow state legislatures to write laws on abortion. But it won’t affect Alaska. In Alaska, the Alaska Supreme Court has taken complete control over the issue of abortion, and the people have no say. A simple amendment to our Constitution could change that, but there are enough pro-choice state legislators to prevent that from happening. It would take a 2/3 majority, and the votes aren’t there. At a convention a majority could prevail, and give the voters a chance to decide the issue.

If the people call for a constitutional convention this November, it will probably be because they want to protect and perpetuate the Permanent Fund Dividend. Opponents of the Convention will use scare tactics, saying the delegates, and the people, can’t be trusted. Millions of dollars will be spent trying to convince Alaskans that they can’t be trusted.

Who can be trusted?

Should we trust the lawyers to pick our judges? Should we trust the teacher’s union to control the education of our children? Should we trust the Alaska Supreme Court to decide abortion policy? Should we trust the legislature with the Permanent Fund Dividend?

Or should we, instead, trust ourselves?

With Biden, we got what we expected.

That’s the stunning news from the recent Quinipiac poll that had Biden at a 33% approval rating. Here’s the link. A majority or plurality of every demographic — young, old, black Hispanic or white — says he’s performing as they expected.

If this disaster of a Presidency is what people expected, how did he get elected? Because he wasn’t Donald Trump. That’s why people voted for him, even though they knew he wasn’t up to the job. We have Trump to thank for Joe Biden.

I believe more and more Republicans — even those who were all in on Trump — are starting to realize this. And that’s why Trump can’t win the Republican nomination in 2024. If he could lose to Biden in 2020, he could lose to just about any Democrat in 2024.

Beginning in West Virginia on May 10th, a series of primaries across the country will pit Trump Republicans against Republicans who are not aligned with Trump. These are proxy elections, where allegiance to Trump is the defining difference between the candidates.

The last of these primaries will be in Alaska on August 16th, with Trump Republican Kelly Tshibaka challenging the liberal incumbent, Lisa Murkowski. On the merits, Murkowski doesn’t deserve reelection. But she’s got a chance, thanks to Donald Trump.

What to expect from Juneau

We know what the big issue will be when the legislature convenes next week. It’s been the same fight for last five years. For four months (or five, or six) they’ll debate, how big will the PFD be?

There’s no reason to expect that this will be the last such fight. The legislature is divided, and both political parties are divided. The people of Alaska are divided. The only way to resolve the issue, once and for all, is by amending the Constitution. Putting a formula into law won’t help, as we learned in 2016. Governor Walker’s veto of the dividend amount was in violation of the law, but the Supreme Court said that didn’t matter. Passing a new law wouldn’t accomplish a thing.

And a new statute is the best we can expect, according to Senate President Pete Micciche. He said as much in a recent podcast with MRAK. He wants a 50-50 split of Permanent Fund earnings, with half going to the dividend. He said getting eleven votes in the Senate and 21 in the House will be a challenge. He’s in a position to know. That means getting fourteen in the Senate, and 27 in the House to propose a constitutional amendment just isn’t going to be possible.

Since the legislature has proven itself incapable of settling this dispute, it’s up to the people. Do they trust themselves with such a decision? Or would they rather let Alaska’s politicians continue to deal with it? If they have faith in their own judgement, they’ll vote for a constitutional convention in November. If they do vote yes, the legislature will decide when and where the convention would be held, how long it would last, and how the delegates will be elected. Parts of the law in effect today, SLA Alaska 1955 ch. 46, are obsolete.

The old statute did set up a system which resulted in an outstanding cross section of Alaska’s most thoughtful citizens (only eight of them legislators). They proposed a model Constitution, which Alaskans have been generally satisfied with, up to now. But the men and women who wrote our Constitution didn’t know there was going to be a Permanent Fund, much less a dividend.

They did realize that situations might arise in the future which required amending the Constitution. And they understood that such needed amendments might never get the 2/3 vote needed for the legislature to propose it. In this case, the legislature itself is the problem, and it can’t fix itself. Because of the foresight of the framers of Alaska’s Constitution, we’ve had a chance every ten years to vote for a convention, to break the legislative gridlock. When they gave voters this power, they necessarily believed they could be trusted with it. Do we?

The opponents of the dividend will try to convince voters that a convention simply can’t be trusted. It might propose something radical, which would be ratified by the people, because the people can’t be trusted.

Alaskan voters have a right to know where candidates for the legislature, and Governor, stand on this issue. They also need to know how the the1955 law currently in place will be amended. Such legislation should be introduced, and debated, this year. People need to know what to expect if they do vote yes.

It’s not entirely clear where Governor Dunleavy stands on this issue. Perhaps he still hopes that somehow the legislature will propose a constitutional solution to this problem. Since that’s almost certain not to happen, he should introduce a bill setting out the procedures he would prefer for the convention, so that voters will have some idea of what to expect if the call for a convention is approved.

As Governor of this state, he has an obligation to lead.