Power To Speak

Power To Speak

Since the Earth Day oil rig explosion that killed 11 people and unleashed an unimaginable disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the unacceptable risks of offshore oil drilling have been in the news every day. Politicians, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, are backpedaling from their prior support, based on the horrifying images on the nightly news. Given how close we have come to expanding offshore oil drilling off Santa Barbara (a proposal that now appears almost certainly dead) it’s useful to look back at how that proposal played out. I was the Sierra Club representative in Sacramento dealing with this proposal when it first came to light, so I saw exactly how this unfolded.

When the proposal to drill new wells from Platform Irene was first proposed by PXP, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) did an impressive job of convincing and cajoling other organizations to support the deal, notwithstanding the fact that all the details were contained in a secret contract between EDC and PXP. Many organizations were willing to follow EDC’s lead, based on its years of impressive environmental work. Given that the details of the deal weren’t available for review, there was a heavy emphasis on “Just trust us.”

The initial push by EDC and PXP to sell the deal came just after Susan Jordan had declared her candidacy for Assembly. As the director of the California Coastal Protection Network and a detail-oriented person, Susan wasn’t going to simply accept someone else’s claim that supporting the first new offshore oil drilling in California in 40 years was a good idea. She dug into the available documents at a far greater level of detail than anyone else had.

What she found is now old news: the deal was not as enforceable as had been claimed (an observation validated by the Attorney General, the State Lands Commission and the Mineral Management Service). And despite the supposed benefit of creating an end-date for oil extraction, the project would significantly increase the risk of an oil spill disaster in the short term.

Let’s be perfectly clear about the risks at the heart of this deal. When you set aside the various bells and whistles of land transfers and carbon offsets and such, at its core the benefit, from PXP’s perspective is, that it could drill more wells now, extract more oil faster, then get out. Drill more, faster, now. But, as the State Lands Commission found when it rejected this proposal last year, drilling more wells to accelerate oil extraction increases the risk of a disaster.

Having established that the proposed deal would increase the risk of an oil spill, and was not as enforceable as claimed, Susan was in a tough spot. She and Linda Krop at the EDC have been friends and colleagues for many years, and opposing the deal was going to be personally difficult. Further, the local politics were such that supporting the deal, or staying silent, would have been the safe thing to do. How Susan handled this situation tells us lots about what kind of leader she will be in Sacramento.

Despite the political risks, and the difficulty of opposing a long-time friend’s proposal, Susan made her decision based on the facts and what was right. She was clear about her position, and explained the facts that led her there. And she stuck with it, even though she paid a heavy political price: Her primary opponent, Das Williams, publicly stated that he jumped into the state Assembly race because of the issue, apparently perceiving an opportunity to exploit divisions in the environmental community.

Much has been said about the PXP/EDC deal over the past couple of years, and it has become a significant election issue. I believe that looking at how Susan handled this exceedingly difficult issue tells us a lot about her commitment to doing what is right, even when it is personally and politically difficult. She demonstrated exactly the combination of guts, integrity and leadership that we need in Sacramento during these difficult times.

The difference between her response to this deal and that of her opponent is the difference between being a leader or a follower. Given the challenges facing California right now, I think we need a leader.   

Paul Mason was the deputy director and a lobbyist for Sierra Club California between 2002 and 2009.


Power To Speak

Power To Speak

In aid of all the attention (I would say more like a smear campaign) being lavished by the MSM on the Tea Party (or Tea Bagger, if you’re a leftist) movement, here are a few observations on some of the issues/concerns/planks I’ve seen raised by many of its participants, and some perspective from an anarchist point of view.

Talking about states’ rights while denying the lawfulness of secession is just that … talk. Since secession was declared illegal by the federal government’s conquest of the Confederacy in 1865, talk of states’ rights is just talk. The anti-federalists were right, but the federalists won the political battle back in the late 18th century.

The constitution means … whatever those who happen currently to be in control of the federal government say it does. These folks number fewer than 300: one-half plus one Congress (a quorum for conducting legislative business is far fewer than the number of total possible representatives, so this number could be potentially less than 200), one president, and five Supreme Court justices. This essentially means the Constitution has no meaning, only subjective interpretation. Anyone else’s opinion is worth nary a zinc penny. And many think this a system of perfection?! It’s not even sane! Oligarchy, anyone?

Government is inhabited by strangers who derive their authority from having had more people put checkmarks next to their names than those of their opponents in an election. Typically, the winning number represents 10-25 percent (depending on the perceived importance of election — presidential gets more attention than local school board, for example) of the populace the winning candidate gets to rule over. Obama’s “landslide” victory (and the most favorable interpretation of a Democratic Party “mandate”) saw him garnering a whopping 22-23 percent of the votes of all Americans.

Government (all governments) resembles nothing so much as a legalized Mafia that claims a monopoly over the use of initiatory violence, usually over a specific geographic area (but sometimes outside it — see U.S. government) in order to extract protection money (i.e., taxes) to fund its operations.

It claims the power to order people around (i.e., make laws and regulations) at gunpoint. It has enforcers (police, military, investigators, tax-collectors, etc.) to make sure people obey. Federal, state and local laws — and the regulations they spawn — most likely number in the millions, now, across America. Remember: ignorance of the law is not a valid defense for violations thereof.

If one disagrees with the government’s edicts, one has the privilege of challenging them before a government-appointed and -paid judge (who was probably a prosecutor for the government at one time) who will decide how the defendant gets to defend himself. Prosecutors get ahead in the legal/political world based on how many people they convict and lock up — it could be for murder or rape or for smoking a joint or for painting one’s house a non-approved color. I’m sure they’re perfectly neutral when helping administer their employer’s edicts.  

There is a very clear line between those who rule (government) and the ruled (citizens): one group issues commands backed up by the threat of violence (and sometimes violence itself), and the other obeys (or else). “We” are not the government, and the government is not “us.” This kind of unbelievable disparity in power can, eventually, only lead to one outcome: totalitarianism/slavery.

Governments and the agents who serve them are composed of individuals. So we are ruled over by other individuals, not an inanimate and mythical entity we call “government.” Sure, the individuals come and go, but the offices and titles (and most importantly, power) remain: kings, noblemen, knights, divine right to rule, hereditary ascension … presidents, congressmen, soldiers, democracy, elections.

Governments, essentially, claim ownership over human beings and the products of their labor, and can be seen as a very clever disguise for slavery by the discerning.

The idea of governance — a few ruling over many, including “democracy” (representational/republicanism) — is ancient, going back thousands of years. With all the advancements and innovations humanity has witnessed over a wide range of areas since then, you would think we might start questioning the legitimacy of a system of societal relations that has force (i.e., government) as its core unifying principle. For some reason, however, almost all cling to this ancient idea, insisting not only that it is the best system, but the only one.

What kind of people do you think will be drawn to government power? Who shall have the kind of ruthless ambition necessary, and the skills to manipulate the greatest number of people, which are required to gain high office where the real political power is? Who backs these types of individuals and to what end? What kind of “payback” do political climbers owe their benefactors? What kinds of alliances and deals are made in pursuit of the great and terrible power that governments wield? Why do so many fail to recognize politics and the political class for what it is?

A piece of paper with rules written on it (Constitution) can’t stop evil men from being evil — and they know this.

Maybe the rest of us will figure this all out some day.   

Shane Solano is a resident of Ventura and an anarchist.

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