I watched the Palin-Biden Debate with over a thousand Alaskans at the Bear Tooth Theatre in Anchorage. Our collective response was filtered through years of the Palin experience combined with the recent disillusionment courtesy of intense national media scrutiny. The debate hit a nerve when the Darfur Genocide was brought up. Palin said she led the charge to divest the Alaska Permanent Fund of Sudanese investments.
The Alaska Permanent Fund was created in 1976 in order to set aside a share of oil revenues to benefit current and future generations. Alaskans have been encouraging the Permanent Fund Corporation’s Board to diversify our investments and move to a socially responsible investment model. I, along with many other concerned Alaskans, testified last year at the annual permanent fund board of directors meeting held in Anchorage. Norway’s successful Petroleum Fund and it’s ethics board were held up as a shining example of how divestment could both be socially responsible and profitable-investment with a conscience. I was told by Mike Burns, Executive Director , that if I wanted the investment charter to include more than just a financial directive, I would need to take it up with the legislature. The genocide in Darfur seemed urgent and evidence enough to stop investing in companies who ignore slaughter to maximize profit. If there was a chance Alaskans could help end far away atrocities by divesting our $36 Billion portfolio from these businesses, we should. My testimony was met with ambivalence; the feeling you get when someone in customer service tells you it’s ‘not their department.’ It occurred to me if the Darfur victims’ age were recorded in trimesters instead of years, the ongoing Genocide of Innocents in Africa might get the same attention and support as abortion legislation.
I was not surprised by Sarah’s debate performance. The press had set the bar so low, she would have been deemed a success if she had only pointed out America’s need for more maps, ala Miss South Carolina. Palin had been outfitted with a “Chatty Cathy Doll” box, and needed only to pull the string for the perfect Neocon talking point. I laughed at her “women’s rights” comment. I recognized her skill at avoiding the question through my own experience of interviewing her. But her comment about Darfur, taking unearned credit, and knowing how it played to Americans, sent me through the roof.
PALIN SAID: “We have a $40 billion investment fund, a savings fund called the Alaska Permanent Fund. When I and others in the legislature found out that we had hundreds of millions of dollars in Sudan, we called for divestment so we wouldn’t be doing anything that could be seen as condoning activity in Darfur. That legislation hasn’t passed yet but it needs to because all of us as individuals and humanitarians and as elected officials should do all we can to end those atrocities in that side of the world.”
On December 5th, 2007, Alaskans for Darfur screened the film, “The Devil Came on Horseback” at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. There was a postcard campaign that night to encourage the legislature and Governor Palin to divest Alaska’s money of blood. The program announcement said, “We will also be there to help attendees write their legislators to ask for divestment of Alaska funds from companies that assist the Sudanese Government in its genocide campaign and to write Governor Palin to ask her to reject Sinopec’s bid to build the Alaska Gas Pipeline.” I was in attendance, and know Alaskans were taking this to heart. Governor Palin was aware of the divestment legislation as early as December 2007. Save Darfur met with her staff at the Governor’s Anchorage Office to discuss Sinopec’s role in the Alaska Gas Pipeline and to request her support for targeted divestment from Sudan. It turned out Sinopec did not get the license to build the pipeline, but many felt they should not even be considered given their record in Sudan.
Last December 11th, I posted this on my radio show blog:
“Ok, Mike Burns has graciously agreed to re-open the public testimony tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 9am at the Hilton, Dillingham room…So I would love to see as many of us there as possible. It is our chance to ask them to consider an ethical approach to our PFD investments. I’ll be there, if you want to call in, try the teleconference line…
Mr. Burns response to me and many others who came before him was one of tied hands. He said there was no directive for the board to divest and be socially responsible, and this was a matter best taken up with the legislature. Five weeks later, on January 18th, Representatives Les Gara-D and Bob Lynn-R co-sponsored House Bill 287 to make such a directive.
The same Mike Burns who had given the directive was opposed to the Darfur Divestment Bill. “A bill before the Legislature would force managers of the Alaska Permanent Fund to dump stocks of companies doing business in Sudan, whose government has been blamed for genocidal killings in Darfur. The measure also would apply to state retirement fund investments. Alaska’s money managers oppose the bill. Managers of the state savings accounts say House Bill 287 would complicate their work, raise expenses and have little effect in Darfur. Managing money according to a social or political agenda is a bad bet.”
Palin Appoints the Board of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. “Alaska is a young, growing state where we are still making important decisions that will guide development of our economy and infrastructure,” Governor Palin said. “The Alaskans I have selected to fill these positions share my faith in the state’s future and my commitment to the highest level of integrity in public service.” They were all very much aware of the Darfur divestment issues and House Bill 287. They were opposed to it. Sarah Palin’s claim that she led the charge to stop state investment in Sudan “once she found out” is ludicrous.
On February 9, 2008, Governor Sarah Palin’s appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Treasury Division, Brian Andrews, spoke to the Alaska House State Affairs Committee on bipartisan HB 287, which would require the state to divest from Sudan. He agreed with Mike Burns who said divestment was ‘not the right tool.’ He stated, “The legislation is well-intended, and the desire to make a difference is noble, but mixing moral and political agendas at the expense of our citizens’ financial security is not a good combination.” He also said the bill “should be amended…in the Finance Committee” and said that the Department of Revenue was “working with the Department of Law… to actually take certain actions with regard to divestiture that would still be compliant with the state investment laws.”
The Palin administration OPPOSED divestment. Brian Andrews testified against the bill. After that testimony, Democrat Representative Les Gara called a series of meetings with the Administration encouraging them to drop their opposition to Darfur Divestment. He called on them to support the bill, a complete reversal of their public position. In March, 2008, they successfully killed the House bill by bottling it up in the House State Affairs Committee. Neither Palin, nor her administration did anything to encourage change in the votes of the four Republicans who were against moving the bill out of committee. As late as mid-March 2008, the governor was not on board with the divestment legislation. A member of the Save Darfur Anchorage group received a reply dated March 11, 2008, wherein the Governor again declined on the opportunity to support divestment. The Legislature adjourned Sine Die on April 13.
Sarah Palin was called on to divest State Funds from Sudan in 2006 by Congress. She did nothing.
Sarah Palin was aware of the press coverage and postcard campaign in 2007. She did nothing.
Sarah Palin knew when the Save Darfur Coalition met with her staff in 2007. She did nothing.
Sarah Palin knew when House Bill 287 was filed in 2008. She did nothing.
Governor Sarah Palin, in fact, took no leadership role to fight for Darfur divestment. She dismissed pleas for help. She only changed her position in 2008, a year and a half after first being asked. Republican Bob Lynn, co-sponsor of HB287, authored a press release today stating “Governor Sarah Palin was a strong supporter of HB287 in the Alaska House.” He has her support for introducing a similar bill in the new session starting January. Bob Lynn is not addressing the issue. The debate is about her stating she acted as soon as she knew. She did not. Only late in the session, after her own administration had testified against the bill, when public support for the bill was building, did she say anything different. Too little, too late. Alaska is still invested in known companies who fund the Sudanese and subsequently the Jinjaweed.
Many good people in Alaska serve a greater humanity; feeding and housing Sudanese refuges, raising awareness, testifying to the PFD board and legislature. Sarah Palin coat tailing on the hard work of these Alaskans is disingenuous at best. Her taking credit in front of 70 million viewers was indicative of her lust for the White House and revulsion of the truth. In the meantime, innocent people are being murdered, Alaska has not divested, and our hands are covered in blood.