Continued from Wednesday….

Пропагaндa By Any Other Name Is Still Propaganda

Propaganda: Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view


Dave Harbour

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet….”

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare truly observed that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

We introduce this theme today to study, along with our readers, one way in which Alaska’s government appears to be using propaganda to enhance its agenda.

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First, let’s agree that if one called a rose a “beautiful flower” or a “fragrant blossom” it would be the rare and picky etymologist who would challenge the comparisons.  But if one were to call a silk purse a sow’s ear, one wouldn’t be picky to challenge the simile.

Sometimes, we hear business critics refer to, “corporate propaganda”, which can be a common device for diminishing a company’s reputation by name calling.  Neil Kokemuller, however, offers this understanding:

In essence, propaganda is a broad umbrella of persuasive communication, and marketing and advertising are specific business applications. Truth-in-advertising and consumer-protection regulations try to deter businesses from including deceptive or misleading statements common to propaganda.

While the U.S. and state governments, in our case, place controls on truthful, corporate communications, let’s now turn to the use of propaganda by government.

The word, propaganda, has both positive and negative connotations throughout history.

We might agree that when government spends public funds to factually and objectively inform citizens (i.e. weather alerts, status of treaties, ballot issues, etc.) some communication techniques under the propaganda umbrella could be justified.  Some of these techniques could be news releases, radio-television public service announcements and speeches.

But government use of communication devices – as opposed to business uses — is a delicate subject.  Government communication use in a free society, such as America’s, is sensitive because the very entity trusted to protect consumer interests, or citizen interests, is the same entity engaging in the propaganda.  Therefore, when government spends public funds to try to convince its own citizens that a given government action is good, worthy of support, worthy of spending more public money, the communication devices used may be rightly questioned if not criticized as potential conflicts of interest and misuses of public treasure.

For example, there is robust, continuing debate on whether government advertising of school bond issues is “informative and factual” or non factual and even emotional pleas to citizens to “support the children”.  It could be that the former approach supports the public interest while the latter perverts it to the benefit, not of the children, but to a special interest (i.e. contractors, architects, unions, school boards/administrators, political supporters, etc).

Historical examples of the use of propaganda might be useful before we address Alaska’s current energy propaganda challenge, though we note that our readers would not consider all examples as “negative propaganda”, including the pre-Revolutionary War work of Thomas Paine, invention of the Gutenberg Press, the mass printing of Bibles and other books, etc.

Leaders of Rome, Persia and India followed even more ancient leaders’ use of propaganda techniques.  The techniques  became more sophisticated with the passage of centuries reaching new levels of sophistication in the 20th Century.  Dictators of the last century have particularly caused the word, propaganda, to hold a negative meaning in modern minds.

Courtesy: Pintrest

In the early Soviet Union, with “truths repressed, falsehoods in every field were incessantly rubbed in print, at endless meetings, in school, in mass demonstrations, on the radio.  The main Soviet censorship body, Glavlit, was employed not only to eliminate any undesirable printed materials, but also ‘to ensure that the correct ideological spin was put on every published item’”.  Of course, propaganda and punishment grew with evolution of the Stalin era.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favorable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favorable to its own side.”

Post-Soviet Propaganda is not to be confused with principled, dissemination of facts.  Russian propaganda is mass media or targeted communications that promote views, perceptions or agendas of the government of Russia. The media includes state-run outlets and online technologies.[1][2] At the end of 2008, Lev Gudkov, based on the Levada Center polling data, pointed out the near-disappearance of public opinion as a socio-political institution in contemporary Russia and its replacement with the still-efficacious state propaganda.[3]

Cuban propaganda.   The limited yet successful revolutionary propaganda apparatus transitioned into what Castro has called “one of the most potent weapons in his foreign policy arsenal.” Today the Cuban government maintains an intricate propaganda machine that includes a global news agency, magazines, newspapers, broadcasting facilities, publishing houses, front groups, and other miscellaneous organizations that all stem from the modest beginnings of Castro’s revolutionary propaganda machine.

North Korea.  Friendly nations are depicted almost exclusively as tributary nations.[20] The English journalist Christopher Hitchens pointed out in the essay A Nation of Racist Dwarfs that propaganda has a blatantly racist and nationalistic angle:[21]  “North Korean women who return pregnant from China—the regime’s main ally and protector—are forced to submit to abortions. Wall posters and banners depicting all Japanese as barbarians are only equaled by the ways in which Americans are caricatured as hook-nosed monsters.[21]” 

(See our Washington Times commentary on North Korea)

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So what does that have to do with Alaska?

Readers know that Northern Gas Pipelines joins them in wishing and hoping for Arctic gas transportation projects that can monetize remote, northern gas reserves and create wealth and jobs for their communities.

But we seek economically feasible projects led by free enterprise that offer minimal risk to the State and its citizens.

We believe this is the rational gas project position to take based on history.  There was a time in the 70s when an Arctic Gas project was feasible.  That is, the producers, the gas transporters and their customers were all in alignment.  The Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Act of 1976 had expedited the project followed by President Carter’s approval and completion of supportive legislation in Canada and a gas pipeline treaty between the two governments.

Then prices fell following deregulation of gas an expanded exploration and domestic production.

From 1980 until the early 2000s, several pipeline and LNG schemes were advanced by promoters and studied by producers but economic feasibility, like a mirage, remained in the distance…just beyond the grasp of project proponents.

Prices again recovered at the turn of the new century and Alaska producers dusted off old plans and studied new concepts for a Prudhoe Bay to Lower 48 gas pipeline.  Those efforts then tanked due to the oil and gas fracking phenomenon which produced a flood of new domestic energy supply that ended up 3-4 years ago deflating prices once again.


As fracking made the Lower 48 a lost market for Alaska gas, eyes turned to Asia where LNG prices remained high long enough for Alaska producers and the state government to be enchanted with a new market for Arctic gas.

But in the last half-decade, as dozens of LNG export terminals were designed and funded from the Gulf coast to Canada to Australia and Indonesia and the Middle East, Alaska again lost gas export momentum because none of its competitor LNG projects had a burden of supporting the additional cost of an 800 mile pipeline required to move North Slope gas to Nikiski, in the Cook Inlet area near Anchorage.  …especially, in the low gas price environment!

As a result of that formidable competition and deflated LNG prices in a world awash in LNG, Alaska’s producers withdrew from active participation in their own export project, concluding that, “now is not the time”.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker. Northern Gas Pipelines photo by Dave Harbour

However, Alaska Governor Bill Walker succeeded in talking the Legislature into supporting his effort to, in effect, nationalize the state’s LNG export project, continuing an expenditure of hundreds of millions on that project along with an effort to subsidize/socialize another uneconomic gas project: the Interior Energy Project, designed to create an area wide gas utility in Fairbanks.

All this occurred as the rating agencies were downgrading Alaska’s creditworthiness while the Governor drew from dwindling savings to subsidize the state’s unsustainable operating budget to the tune of several billion dollars per year.

That brings us to the present.

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We have seen growing signs that Governor Walker, in his obsession to promote a world-class gas export project, is leading the state closer and closer to the U.S. version of a Venezuela-style, government takeover of energy projects.

We characterize it as, “Venezuela-style” because he has used the force of his office to redirect two “independent” agencies of government, the AGDC and AIDEA, to secure MANAGEMENT of both the uneconomic North Slope gas export project and the grossly infeasible Interior Energy Project into the embrace of his bureaucracy, to the exclusion of private industry (except as serving in a servile role as ‘contractors’ to the state, a condition we have identified herein as ‘crony capitalism’[1].

As both projects now continue to falter and stumble toward failure the state is moving toward the last tragic stage of fiscal crisis itself.  The governor’s administration has avoided efforts to materially reduce the cost of the operating budget, proclaiming almost in one breath that, “you can’t cut your way to sustainability”, and the LNG export project, “is Alaska’s economic get well card.”

We would classify both of those “talking point” themes as propaganda.  There is no basis in logic or experience to believe they are true but are oft repeated communication messages.  Like Venezuela and some of the other examples above, he has sought control of the means, transportation and distribution of energy.

The propaganda parade is picking up steam.  In recent months, he and his staff have complained that the news media has said such detrimental things that his foreign trips are encountering more negativity.  He and his surrogates have urged the media and legislature to not be critical of his LNG marketing efforts, as if huge expenditures of public money on a governor’s special project should be beyond public scrutiny.

We think Alaska’s governor would be well served to eat a little humble pie and admit the LNG scheme is not timely today and that he will best serve the public interest by shifting his effort toward confronting Alaska’s fiscal crisis.

Instead of that approach, he seems to be doubling down on using another propagandistic technique to gather support for his socialized energy projects: the use of polls.

Last week, Suzan Downing of shed light on how hand-picked board members and leadership of the governor’s “independent gas agency” were intending to use this polling technique to convince Alaskans at a time of fiscal crisis to spend depleting public monies on an uneconomic LNG scheme.

Downing observed,

“The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board of directors yesterday learned that the staff of the agency commissioned a poll to determine how the project is faring in the hearts and minds of the voting public. And how to make it fare better in those hearts and minds (i.e. emphasis added. – dh).

“… The agency is message testing: trying to figure out how to convince the public to have some confidence in the project, and to determine which messages work on Alaskans.

“According to the poll, 78 percent of Alaskans would favor the gasline once they are told it will bring jobs, a strong economy, cheaper energy for Alaskans, and will provide cleaner energy in general.

“The poll is … being used to develop an advertising campaign directed at Alaskans.”

Based on the propaganda examples we have offered our readers, we believe this.  A government agency could factually state the current status of a publicly funded project, to keep citizens informed.  But when it teeters into the temptation of conspiring to understand why the public doesn’t support a bureaucratic agency’s expenditure of public funds it begins to lose focus on its mandate to serve the “public interest”.  The sin becomes worse when the agency goes on to use that polling information to persuade the public to support those public expenditures using unproven results of a project that has not even completed its due diligence (front end engineering design).  The sin becomes unforgivable should the agency use emotional, rather than factual persuasion, (i.e. “jobs for all”, “get well card”).

A private company risking its own shareholders’ money could use persuasive advertising based on polling data to assist in an effort to create a social contract with a community – so long as it operated within the law.

But a government agency conspiring to change the viewpoints of citizens by using the same techniques can violate government’s mandate to serve the public interest rather than dictate what it believes should be the public interest.[2]

Yes, if Alaska’s governor and his hired hands pursue this self-serving path, we have no doubt that at some point the world will recognize the anti-consumer techniques it is using to pervert the public interest.

Alaska is not a socialist nation.  It is only a state within a union of states.  But the one thing the whole Union has in common is a federal constitution that guarantees due process that presupposes allegiance to the public interest, not to the private interest of governors or legislators.

We would suggest that readers recognize what principles the Alaska LNG project has in common with the Interior Alaska project:

  • Nationalizing[3] what should be private enterprises
  • Commandeering and assuming public risk for projects avoided by prudent investors
  • Conspiring to use various propaganda techniques to convince the public to support government or government leader agendas.
  • Creating an environment conducive to corruption, wherein temporarily elected and appointed politicians and bureaucrats have temporary responsibility for owning and operating world class energy projects.

Yes, we know politicians are likely to look for more ‘face saving’ ways to explain their dogged dedication to “nationalize Alaskan energy projects”, no matter how uneconomic:

  • “our gas project would have worked if irresponsible media and bloggers hadn’t been so publically critical,” and
  • “you elected us and we know that there is virtually no risk to the public treasure that supporting the LNG export project now will be Alaska’s get well card ten years from now,” and
  • “we know better than private investors that it is better to use gas from Cook Inlet to support an expanded and new gas distribution facility in Fairbanks than gas from the North Slope,” and, so on….

We think Alaska politicians’ pursuit of an LNG export project and the Fairbanks gas distribution project serve political interests, not the public interest.

We think government’s use of unproven, emotional, persuasion techniques of propaganda can pervert the public interest.  Yes, the gas agency might call it ‘informing the public’, but “Пропагaндa by any other name is still propaganda”.[4]

And we think our readers, in this case, have a very clear understanding of what “public interest” means without referring to a law dictionary.


Reference: Beware the Greeks, Russians or Chinese bearing gifts.


[1] Crony capitalism – Wikipedia capitalism is an economy in which businesses thrive not as a result of risk taken for them, but rather, as a return on money amassed through a nexus between a business class and the political class. … It is also used to describe governmental decisions favoring “cronies” of governmental officials.
[2] We have used the term, “public interest”, herein.  It is sometimes defined when a legislature establishes law or rule making after hearings and public input.  In the case cases herein, we believe readers will agree that the public interest is served when government follows the wishes of citizens and keeps them informed, not when government tries to manipulate the wishes of citizens to meet the wishes of government.  We believe common sense would further define the public interest as, “seeking to stabilize the budget and government of Alaska in the face of a fiscal crisis, by, in part, shedding itself of unproven or infeasible economic risks that would exacerbate a fiscal crisis.”
[3] If there were such a word, we would call it “stateization”, but we think readers will forgive us from using “nationalization” to describe a situation wherein a state government establishes or seizes control over what are typically within the jurisdiction of the private sector or local government.  Nationalization – Wikipedia, is the process of transforming private assets into public assets by bringing them under the public ownership of a national government or state.
[4] We don’t know if “Пропагaндa” actually means, “propaganda”.  We took every English letter of the word, “propaganda” and converted that letter to Cyrillic.  Then we took the English word, propaganda, and converted it to Russian using a translation program.  Using both techniques, we came up with Пропаганда.  At least, our understanding readers know we cross indexed our translation in lieu of having a Russian translator close at hand.

“Danger Stranger”

(Mr. President: The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation is not a real corporation.  It is a politically controlled agency of Alaska’s increasingly socialized state government.  Dealing with it is not like dealing with “prudent investor” partners, but like dealing with hired hands who are hog-tied to the desires of temporarily elected and appointed politicians and bureaucrats.  -dh)

While China is an important trading partner, its leaders are closer to Russia’s leaders than to America’s.  It is illegally colonizing the South China Sea.  Its support sustains North Korea.  We are still, technically at war with China AND North Korea, having signed only an “armistice” on July 27, 1953.  Parties to that armistice included the United Nations, the Korean People’s Army (i.e. North Korea) and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (i.e. China).  In short, we should be “friendly but not familiar” with China.  When the prospect of negotiating with China arises, the hackles should stiffen up on the back of our necks and we should be on “danger stranger” alert with this nation with whom we are still, technically, at war.

Donald J. Trump file photo courtesy AFP

President Trump is preparing for a long Asian trip.

(Read Here: Trump’s China trip to broker multi-billion dollar energy deals!  Also: NYT.)

We believe Alaskan politicians are going along for more than a ride.

We believe that Governor Walker and his staff will try to use the prestige of the President to convince Asian LNG buyers that the uneconomic Alaska LNG project is a silk purse and not a sows ear.

We especially hope President Trump, famed for his bargaining ability, will not facilitate a losing Alaska gas development project with China.  He should always know — even if Governor Walker doesn’t — that amid the diplomatic discussion  our 64-year-old Korean armistice is a cessation of hostility with dangerous enemies, not a treaty with a friend.

Private enterprise believes the Alaska LNG project is uneconomic, at least at the current time.

Why would an Alaska governor continue trying to promote an uneconomic energy project?  Possibly because he believes that Alaska’s three producers are foolish to conclude, that, “now is not the time” for such a project. Perhaps there are other political reasons, in this election year, or emotional reasons having to do with a career attempting to support failing LNG projects.

So why else would an Asian country like China support an Alaska LNG project, we wonder?  Probably for the wrong reasons, we conclude.

Were China to get a toehold into Alaska, what is now an uneconomic project could be part of a broader economic or military strategy for that communist nation.  In short, for China an uneconomic, Alaska LNG investment may very well be a highly profitable venture viewed from other than economic perspectives.

Do Alaskans…do Americans have trust that Alaska’s governor can both monetize the state’s gas and protect Alaska’s and America’s other diverse cultural, military and natural resource interests?

We hope President Trump is not persuaded that a government owned, bureaucrat run Alaska LNG project is the same thing as an economic enterprise run by three of the most experienced energy companies in the world.



Among the companies tentatively listed as working on China-related deals in conjunction with the trip, according to a government document obtained by Bloomberg News, are General Electric, Honeywell International, Westinghouse Electric, Alaska Gasline Development Corp, the Boeing Co. and Qualcomm. The companies represent a variety of sectors from life sciences to heavy machinery ….  The President will likely emphasise US liquefied natural gas and its role in lowering the trade deficit, and negotiate for China to buy more LNG from the US in the future, two people familiar with the matter said.