Our Right to Decide?Permalink +
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 6:24 pm // Guest writer
Guest Writer David Maas is a retired professor of political science and a steering committee member of the No Coal! Political Action Committee. For more information about the organization, go online to coal-free-bellingham.org
In collecting signatures to place the Bellingham Community Bill of Rights on the November ballot, I occasionally was asked why No Coal was involved in such a pointless effort to get local citizens involved in the coal transport issue, a dispute that can only be resolved by the county, state, and federal governments.
The critics are right. Our constitution prohibits cities and towns from interfering in decisions about fracking for natural gas reserves, or mining for shale oil, or building transcontinental pipelines, or building coal terminals and offshore drilling rigs. Therefore, Peabody Energy and SSA Marine can build a coal terminal at Cherry Point that threatens our health, our emergency services, our water quality, our parks, our air quality, and our future, and there is nothing we can do to overturn the plan. As Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder ruled last Friday, the Community Bill of Rights Initiative exceeds the authority of the city.
We now ask a fundamental question: Why is an incorporated government like the city of Bellingham powerless to stop the development of a private project that will reshape our community? There are three answers. One important consideration is the U.S. Constitution and Congress’s power over interstate commerce, like the transportation of coal from Montana and Wyoming to Western Washington. Where did this come from? Moses certainly didn’t bring this commandment to us from Mount Sinai. No, the origins were more mundane. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Edmund Rudolph, and nine other men met in Annapolis Maryland in September 1787 to “remedy the defects of the federal government.” At the top of their list of complaints was the interference of states in trade, commerce, and indebtedness. They passed a resolution calling for a convention of state delegates in Philadelphia the following May to “revise the Articles of Confederation.” As we know, the framers turned their backs on popular consent, tossed the Articles, and created a national constitution. Can you imagine this occurring today, say a small group getting together in Omaha, passing a motion to meet later with some other acquaintances, and composing a new founding document, one that might even be democratic? Why not? Look at the Declaration of Independence.
Another constraint on local influence is state government. The national constitution is silent about local governance; but between the states there were two interpretations in the nineteenth century: Thomas Cooley, chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, presumed that “local government is a matter of absolute right, and the state cannot take it away.” In contrast, John F. Dillon, the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, in striking down a Clinton County injunction against the construction of a railroad through their land, claimed municipalities “owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the (state) legislature. It breathes into them the breath of life, without which they cannot exist. As it creates, so may it destroy. If it may destroy, it may abridge and control.” Dillon was described as one who greatly distrusted local governments and local officials, thinking their conduct was “unwise and extravagant.” More telling, though, was that Judge Dillon was a general or advisory counsel to the Union Pacific Railroad, the Missouri Pacific, the Texas Pacific, the Manhattan Elevated, and the estate of the railroad magnate, Jay Gould. Guess which interpretation prevailed?
Dillon’s thinking was right in line with the corporate attack on community and state responsibilities led by railroad barons and Stephen Field, the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court and later an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Field’s close ties to Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker, the founders of the Central and Southern Pacific railroads, was well known. The Southern Pacific Railroad was threatening many of the counties it ran through by refusing to pay taxes. The counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara sued Southern Pacific for the revenue they were owed. The San Mateo case was thrown out and the railroad prevailed in the Santa Clara County challenge. According to one historian, Field’s decisions trampled logic and a core democratic practice...the legislature’s right to determine taxes.” The railroads prevailed and corporate personhood was born.
Today, corporate constitutional protections exceed those of “human citizens.” For example, UBS, Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo recently paid $673 million for a bond-auctioning scam that robbed millions of pensioners, retirees, and other investors of untold billions; another example is the trillions of toxic assets the Bank of America transferred to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, so the taxpayers can cover any losses; still another example is IBM’s cooperation with Nazi leaders in Germany during WW II. Can you imagine a gambler transferring his wagers to a government insurer? Or imagine an individual stealing billions, or helping a genocidal regime, and eluding imprisonment?
In the face of federal, state, and corporation limits, how can communities gain more influence over developments like the building of the Gateway Pacific Terminal, education, or many other important issues? The Constitution offers two choices: elections and petitions. We could elect more local-minded candidates, but unfortunately, voting and campaigning are separated from legislative struggles and policy-making. We are no longer pubic citizens; now we are called customers, clients, or in the words of Presidents Obama and Bush, folks. Our collective might and responsibilities are diluted. Few of us can afford to run for public office. Winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives costs at least $1.5 million; for the Senate $8-$10 million. Money is the mother’s milk of politics, but only a small percentage of people help finance campaigns, political parties, or other organizations. Many of us don’t understand the important issues of the day because of a derelict media, empty campaign messages, limited debates, irresponsible and skewed spending by Super PACs, and the failure of leaders to fully disclose who or what is spending billions on buying our elections.
Then there is the First Amendment “right to petition to redress our grievances.” Here we have the right to form or join a group and lobby representatives, senators, and administrators. Most of us, though, don’t belong to a political interest group, nor is there an organization, out of the thousands that exist, that speaks for the American public. We used to be a nation of joiners. Concerned parents were active in Parent-Teacher Associations; farmers joined the National Grange, workers belonged to unions, friends gathered with other Masons, Odd Fellows, or Elks. People could find solidarity in these groups and learn the skills of expression and organization. They could also influence the powerful, like when the American Legion opposed FDR’s meager WW II veteran’s benefits and convinced Congress to pass the GI Bill which supported the education of millions of returning soldiers.
Since the 1950s these membership associations have faded and been replaced by advocacy and public interest groups which depend on corporate funding, donations, and professional managers. They lobby Congressional and presidential offices, they litigate, and they publish occasional reports. The Sierra Club is typical. Their mission is to educate the public about environmental issues, lobby, and campaign for candidates that agree with their values. Memberships consist of writing a check, occasionally signing a petition, and voting for candidates backed by the Club’s board. Is this democracy in action? Who decides which issues are important? Who communicates with policy-makers? Who understands the political process or, even more unlikely, the budget process?
Groups care about elections because they want people in office who support them. But more of their money and muscle is spent on lobbying. Lobbyists spent $3.5 billion in 2010 and $3.3 billion in 2011. Business organizations have always dominated American politics, but the growth of corporate lobbying over the last thirty years is unsurpassed; motivated by the supposed assault on free enterprise from college campuses, pulpits, media, intellectuals and politicians in the 1960s, businesses fought back. The number of corporate public affairs offices in Washington, D.C. went from 100 in 1968 to over 600 today; there were 2,500 registered lobbyists in 1982, in 2011 there were 12,646. Business has a 16 to 1 representation advantage over organizations that might oppose them, like unions, environmentalists, and consumer advocates. Seven of the ten largest lobbying spenders between 1998 and 2012 are either private corporations or trade associations that represent them in Washington; they include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, General Electric, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PHARMA), Northrup Grumman, and Exxon Mobil.
The politics and rhetoric that surrounds the building of the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point illuminates and confuses our understanding of party divisions, ideological differences, representation, and traditional lobbying. Peabody Energy, the company that wants to ship coal from mines in Montana and Wyoming, is part of a coal industry group that is represented by 268 lobbyists and the National Mining Association, a trade group that is the “voice of mining companies.” The company is one of twelve energy companies that spends a million dollars or more every year on lobbying mostly key Republicans and a few Democrats on the Senate Energy and Resources Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. This year they are trying to expand domestic production and soften regulations.
Peabody Energy is also part of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which is an alliance of coal companies (BHP Billiton is the world’s largest, and Peabody Energy is the biggest coal company in the U.S.), railroads (Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe are the largest in the U.S.), and electric utilities. The coalition has spent millions on promoting clean coal and opposing environmental regulations and legislation related to climate change and mine safety. In the Coalition’s $38 million clean coal campaign they sponsored a CNN presidential debate, they canvassed all of the debates with literature and human billboards, they targeted ads in key primary states and districts, and they engaged in Astroturf lobbying through staged interviews and forged letters from phantom constituents. They have been aided in their efforts by a revolving door of former Congress members and staffers lobbying for the mining interests. For example, one of the key voices for Peabody Energy in Washington, D.C. is Richard Gephardt, the former Democratic Speaker of the House from Missouri. There is also movement between the companies and federal regulatory agencies, like between the mining industry and the Mine Safety and Health Administration that enforces safety standards. The justification for this movement is that the regulators need the expertise of industry experts, but critics claim such coziness leads to a lax enforcement regime that put’s miner’s lives at risk.
This disconnect between the public and the powerful is evident when Congress passes tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy, or when the president misleads us about threats from Iraq, or in the size of the loans given to floundering banks and investments houses on Wall Street. What is most revealing is the relation between income and Congressional responsiveness: the poor have virtually no voice in national decision-making. This should surprise no one; what is startling is that Congress does not listen to the middle class either. Middle class demands or ideas are only heeded when combined with the wishes of the affluent. As one researcher concluded, “Most middle-income Americans think that public officials do not care much about the preferences of ‘people like me;’ sadly, studies suggest they may be right.”
So, we ask our critics, what are our alternatives? For us there is only one choice: to come together as a community not only to oppose unwanted projects, but to improve our schools, rebuild our local economies, and enhance our living environment. Our ancestors, who freed the slaves, enabled all to vote, and advanced our civil rights, have shown us the value of political movements. No doubt charges of senseless opposition and unlawful acts were leveled against the abolitionists and suffragettes in the nineteenth century, and civil rights activists in the twentieth; fortunately they were not deterred. Nor will we abandon our belief that a community should have a voice in decisions like the proposed renovation of the BNSF train corridor, the construction of a coal terminal at Cherry Point, and the dramatic increase in commercial traffic.
Mon, Mar 10, 2014, 9:51 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into an unusual hiring decision at the County Planning Dept
1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2014
Sun, Mar 02, 2014, 2:22 pm // John ServaisThe editor of the Whatcom Watch, Richard Jehn, has resigned effective today. Chalk up a victory for Craig Cole and Pacific International Terminals.
8 comments; last on Mar 05, 2014
Paper Dreams in Fairhaven
Tue, Feb 25, 2014, 8:29 pm // John ServaisThe full text of Craig Cole's threatening letter of libel against the Whatcom Watch. And the emptiness of the threat.
14 comments; last on Mar 04, 2014
Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 3:33 pm // Wendy HarrisWe were led to believe the city would review waterfront wildlife and habitat connectivity. It turns out that the city intends to focus only on nearshore fish.
Sat, Feb 22, 2014, 12:16 am // Wendy HarrisAccepting the Paul deArmond award of citizen journalism on Feb 7, Wendh Harris gave this speech. We think it deserves its own post.
Wed, Feb 19, 2014, 4:48 pm // John ServaisCraig Cole, the local contact for the proposed Cherry Point coal port has threatened the Whatcom Watch with a libel lawsuit.
5 comments; last on Mar 08, 2014
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 7:26 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs through court data and discovers the real impact of privatization and legalization
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 9:35 pm // Wendy HarrisThe mayor wants to amend a city law to increase flexibility for a GMA provision that should be used rarely, if ever at all.
3 comments; last on Feb 11, 2014
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 2:36 pm // Wendy HarrisCostco imposes indirect costs on our community that are as real and tangible as road construction expenses.
1 comments; last on Feb 13, 2014
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 9:13 am // John ServaisThe old empty Reid Boiler Works industrial building in Fairhaven burned to the ground Saturday night.
Mon, Feb 03, 2014, 5:30 am // Dick ConoboyProfessional and even college sports have morphed into a circus of corporate greed and the fleecing of the public.
3 comments; last on Mar 01, 2014
Sat, Feb 01, 2014, 12:35 am // Wendy HarrisFiling a public record request could land a citizen in jail under a proposal reflected in a Herald opinion article.
2 comments; last on Feb 03, 2014
Wed, Jan 29, 2014, 6:18 am // Guest writerTim Johnson writes about the first recipient of the Paul deArmond Citizen Journalism award, Whatcom County writer Wendy Harris.
3 comments; last on Feb 08, 2014
Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 5:14 am // Dick ConoboyThe developers of University Ridge have been silent since shortly after the hearing examiner's decision on 23 October last year. Will they walk?
Sun, Jan 19, 2014, 8:39 pm // John ServaisSuper Bowl ... Weed Bowl ... This bud's for you ... Bong Bowl ... Marijuana Bowl ... whatever. It is on!
1 comments; last on Jan 20, 2014
Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 2:19 pm // Guest writerDo we actually need to say that we, as citizens, want accurate information from government officials?
1 comments; last on Jan 14, 2014
Fri, Dec 27, 2013, 4:00 am // Guest writerGuest writer Barbara Perry writes about Bellingham Parks refusal to allow motorized wheel chairs to recharge at public electrical outlets.
6 comments; last on Jan 03, 2014
Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 3:56 pm // Wendy HarrisA Port of Bellingham internal memo tries, but fails, to justify changes in cost estimates for alternative marina sites.
5 comments; last on Dec 22, 2013
Tue, Dec 17, 2013, 12:21 am // Wendy HarrisArmy Corps advised DOE that it will not issue a waterfront permit without Lummi approval
2 comments; last on Jan 13, 2014
Mon, Dec 16, 2013, 12:30 pm // John ServaisFerndale Mayor Gary Jensen has decided not to file for the 42nd state Senate seat currently held by Doug Ericksen.
5 comments; last on Dec 24, 2013
Mon, Dec 09, 2013, 12:24 pm // Guest writerBarbara Perry writes about the closed nature of the Bellingham School Board on the future of the Larrabee School.
1 comments; last on Dec 15, 2013
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 8:23 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the direct, indirect, hidden and lost opportunity costs make this a waterfront boondoggle of billions
3 comments; last on Dec 11, 2013
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 12:33 pm // Wendy HarrisLocal activist calls on Bellingham City Council to table the unpopular waterfront plans and engage in meaningful public process
2 comments; last on Dec 08, 2013
Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy HarrisThe county will be required to consider water quality and water quantity when planning rural growth.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2013
Thu, Dec 05, 2013, 11:58 am // John ServaisThe Political Junkie has posted a 3 minute video showing Bellingham City Council members explaining their idiocy for all of us to watch.
2 comments; last on Dec 06, 2013
Thu, Dec 05, 2013, 5:00 am // Dick ConoboyThe post "riot" conversation is terribly lacking in several areas. We must expand the discussion or risk learning little from the experience.
3 comments; last on Dec 15, 2013
Wed, Dec 04, 2013, 10:53 am // John ServaisBellingham City Council and Port of Bellingham finalize the waterfront plan. In his weekly Gristle, Tim Johnson blasts the corrupt public process.
4 comments; last on Dec 05, 2013
Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 8:11 pm // Wendy HarrisThe waterfront plan allows a development bonus for payments made to the Lake Whatcom land acquisition fund
1 comments; last on Dec 01, 2013
Fri, Nov 29, 2013, 9:43 pm // Wendy HarrisA number of important issues need to be resolved before waterfront planning is complete, but the city council and port commission are ready to act.
2 comments; last on Nov 30, 2013
Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 9:01 pm // Wendy HarrisIf the port can not construct the airport safely, should it be entrusted with dangerous waterfront cleanup work?
Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 5:03 am // Dick ConoboyThe advice coming from Walmart and McDonald's to its low paid employees becomes more and more bizarre and inane.
Tue, Nov 19, 2013, 5:35 am // Dick ConoboyAmbling's motion to the hearing examiner for reconsideration was definitively rejected. The developer has not met the deadline for an appeal to the Superior Court
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 2:18 pm // Guest writerIn which we find the hidden core of the waterfront plan is rotten through and through
7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 10:59 am // Riley SweeneyThe county takes two big steps forward on the new jail, while still missing the point
Thu, Nov 14, 2013, 1:39 am // Tip JohnsonDear Mr. President, There's a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.
7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013
Wed, Nov 13, 2013, 3:16 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city adminstration has been providing misleading/ incorrect information to the city council to avoid waterfront plan revisions.
1 comments; last on Nov 18, 2013
Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 10:21 am // Riley SweeneyRiley crunches the numbers on Renata and McAuley's races to find answers
2 comments; last on Nov 13, 2013
Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 5:16 am // Dick ConoboyPuget Neighborhood will likely have in the immediate future 1,300 new rental units that will be marketed primarily to the student population.
Sat, Nov 09, 2013, 9:47 pm // Wendy HarrisThe COB administration continues in its refusal to analyze waterfront wildlife issues, even though this is a prerequisite step in protecting wildlife from the impacts of development
3 comments; last on Nov 10, 2013
Tue, Nov 05, 2013, 8:21 pm // John ServaisWith lots of outside county money flowing in to our local races, this election is weird. But real - and we county residents have spoken.
11 comments; last on Nov 09, 2013
Mon, Nov 04, 2013, 9:55 am // Dick ConoboyThe call of the dollar speaks more loudly to health insurance companies than does the voice and well-being of the consumer, even here in Washington.
8 comments; last on Nov 06, 2013
Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 10:19 am // Dick ConoboyFour bedroom dorm rooms have been nixed by the hearing examiner. University Ridge may be in trouble as a cash cow for Ambling Development of Georgia
3 comments; last on Nov 04, 2013
Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 10:19 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein we discover why we exert our rights - and grab some more petitions before it's too late
3 comments; last on Nov 06, 2013
Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 12:00 am // Dick ConoboyIndependent voters are for independent thinkers on the city council. Vote for Burr and Petree.
Sat, Oct 26, 2013, 7:36 pm // John ServaisBeach reconstruction is done at Boulevard Park on the Bellingham waterfront. Paths along shore are again open - and it looks good.
6 comments; last on Nov 01, 2013
Sun, Oct 20, 2013, 7:07 pm // John ServaisKen Bell has my vote over Mike McAuley for port commissioner. And Renata Kowalczyk has it over Dan Robbins.
8 comments; last on Oct 30, 2013
Tue, Oct 15, 2013, 3:16 pm // Dick ConoboyThe development of University Ridge will replicate the student ghetto that fueled the riot on 12 October.
6 comments; last on Oct 25, 2013
Tue, Oct 15, 2013, 2:46 pm // Wendy HarrisRequesting waterfront handouts for the Overwater Walkway while proclaiming autonomy from further public review is unjustifiable.
2 comments; last on Oct 16, 2013
Tue, Oct 08, 2013, 2:22 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city staff considers the overwater walkway a done deal before official approval or resolution of treaty right conflicts
4 comments; last on Oct 16, 2013
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 10:19 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city administration asserts that there is no gap in waterplant plant and animal analysis
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 10:01 pm // Wendy HarrisBellingham is holding an open house to introduce the public to its habitat restoration master plan, despite being at a preliminary draft stage
3 comments; last on Oct 04, 2013
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 5:40 am // Riley SweeneyRiley uncovers how the Coal Industry is funding conservative candidates in Whatcom County
11 comments; last on Oct 03, 2013
Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 5:05 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city and port have not addressed wildlife impacts from waterfront development and this should be done before a waterfront plan is enacted.
Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 2:20 pm // John ServaisAs the right wing radicals seek to shut down our national government this week, we need to push back with common sense.
8 comments; last on Oct 01, 2013
Fri, Sep 20, 2013, 7:09 am // Dick ConoboyHearing held on 11 September. Comment period extended 10 days. Effects on home owners already manifest.
8 comments; last on Sep 22, 2013
Thu, Sep 19, 2013, 6:08 am // Riley SweeneyRiley examines who is donating to which candidates
Mon, Sep 09, 2013, 12:07 am // Wendy HarrisThe staff will be explaining the public's concerns, but the public is not allowed to testify.
Fri, Sep 06, 2013, 2:52 pm // Wendy HarrisElected officials continue to rely on inaccurate and misleading reports by the city and port staff regarding waterfront development.
Wed, Sep 04, 2013, 8:37 am // John ServaisAn attempt at linking to one or more writers who can help us make sense of going to war with Syria. An alternative to Kerry-Obama.
Wed, Sep 04, 2013, 12:36 am // John ServaisContacting Rick Larsen and Susan Delbene is actually a viable citizen exercise just now. Tell them to vote NO on bombing Syria.
1 comments; last on Sep 04, 2013
New LinksJulia Ioffe/New Republic
Current InterestCommunity Wise Bellingham
Friends of Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
League of Women Voters
Paul Krugman - economics
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesBellingham Police Activity
Chuckanut Community Forest
Citizens of Bellingham
City Club of Bellingham
Community Wise Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Port of Bellingham
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good LinksAl-Jazeera online
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Talking Points Memo
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Internet At Its BestTED
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Register
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph
The Crisis Papers