Thursday, October 24, 2013

Symbolic Protest Against Parnell's Intimidation Of Public Interest Lawsuits

When Alaska Constitutional Convention member Vic Fischer and the wife of the Governor who established the Alaska Permanent Fund, Bella Hammond, signed onto a lawsuit protesting action taken  by the Pebble Mine developers, little did they think they would be hit with a $1 million bill for legal expenses.

People were out to protest the Governor's decision to stick it to Vic and Bella.

The Governor's former Attorney General, Dan Sullivan promised in his confirmation hearings, that he would fight the US government by filing suit against every action that infringed on Alaska's sovereignty (just about any action the feds take in their minds).  The administration sees this as a way to wear down the Feds  and keep them from requiring resource extracting corporations - large and small - to prove they won't do any serious environmental damage while they are taking Alaskan resources to the bank. When they sue the federal government, the administration is using money that belongs to the State of Alaska, that is, money that collectively belongs to all the residents whether they agree with the Governor or not. 

So it's no wonder that when others sue those corporations and oppose what the Administration wants to do, they assume it's the same sort of political tactics they use.  They go into win-lose mode and declare these people enemies of the State (anti-development is one such term) and set up obstacles to do what is their own strategy against the feds.  Parnell and his associates can't imagine or understand that there are people who do this sort of thing out a belief in public duty and public good.  For Parnell it's just a tactic to maintain and increase their power.

But some people use these sort of lawsuits the way they were intended. Not simply as a way to clog up the process or to protect their personal financial stake, but  because they strongly believe it's in the best interest of the future of the state.  Of course, Parnell says he believes that too, but when his actions are always on the side of large corporations - ones he used to work for like being the lobbyist for Conoco Philips - the lines between public and private good are seriously blurred.  A large, multinational corporation that, despite their feel good ads and pocket-change-to-them strategic contributions to the community, really have no interest in Alaska except how our resources will help their company's bottom line. Sure, as individuals, their employees may enjoy Alaska's wonders, but their collective work as employees is NOT for Alaska, it's for the corporation and its stockholders. 

Individuals who raise objections to their projects are dubbed "anti-development" as though all development were good and all opposition to development were bad.  These folks go to court, risking their own money, to fight their case.   Most jurisdictions recognize this sort of public interest lawsuit and protect the folks that undertake them.  But the Parnell administration got legislation passed to prevent such suits that oppose their projects and their corporate backers by intimidating them with the threat of having to pay the State's legal fees.  Now if they sued the state over offering abortions or for the right to buy as many automatic weapons as they can afford, I'm sure he would not think they needed to pay the court costs if they lost.  And I don't think the State of Alaska will pay the Feds' legal costs if they lose any of their suits against the Feds.  And even if they do, it's our money, not the Administration's personal money.  This is part of the stifle dissent campaign that shut down coastal zone management programs.  We're the state with the largest coast and the only coastal state without a coastal zone management program.  No program means no pesky local folks raising objections to corporations developing projects that threaten their community and environment. 

The Feds, in other words, should leave Alaskans alone to do things their own way, but the local communities should simply let the State do whatever it pleases to them.   This inconsistency suggests to me that the issue isn't so much to protect Alaskans' best interests, but to protect the Parnell Administration to do what it wants to protect its corporate sponsors.

I realize that Parnell and Sullivan (the one running for Senate, not the mayor) have converted to the church of commerce which says that whatever corporations do is good, so that their sense of the public good is consistent now with their actions.  We all seek confirmation in ideologies that support what we want to do.  But some ideologies better match what how things actually work in the world. And they make us, sometimes, give up what we want for what is the right thing to do. 

And so I'm sure that Parnell and his backers looked at today's rally with disgust and condescension.  Taking to the streets to protest simply demonstrates your lack of power.  If you have real power, you talk to the Governor privately without inconvenient questions being raised.  You work out your deals and you do what you want as unobtrusively as possible.  But you are always ready to squash any opposition. 

The protestors used all the symbolism of the location they could. 

On the plaza of the Atwood Building that houses so many state offices, with the large faceless building looming over them, they mocked Parnell's "Choose Respect" anti-domestic violence campaign by holding a large sign in defense of two Alaskan icons: the last active signer of the Alaska constitution Vic Fischer; and the wife of the governor who established Alaska's Permanent fund, Bella Hammond.  It read:   "Real Alaskans Don't Bully Their Elders."

They mocked the anti-tax line often used by conservatives, and used by Anchorage Assembly Chair last night, to justify the draconian anti-union ordinance passed last spring, that seniors will lose their homes because they can't pay the property tax.  The other big sign said, "Don't Evict Bella Hammond" (with the attempt to charge her exorbitant court fees.)

These are the same kinds of tactics the Palin administration (of which Parnell was a part) used by charging huge sums for public records requests.  

And behind the demonstrators loomed the huge (and in my opinion, awful) mural of some of Alaska's founders - Ernest Gruening, Bill Egan, Bob Bartlett, and Ralph Rivers.

I realize that I'm sounding a little ideological myself here.  But how else can you explain what's going on?   With corporations being seen by the Supreme Court as 'people' deserving the constitutional rights reserved for individual human beings (though actual human women, Indians, and slaves weren't originally given all these rights)  like freedom of speech, we now have inordinate corporate money funding pseudo think tanks to pump out studies that discredit legitimate science on everything from evolution to the link between cigarettes and cancer, or the harmful effects of all the chemicals in household products,  to global climate change and they push a corporate agenda that has created the greatest disparity in wealth America has seen for nearly a century.  They're funding the Tea Party members of Congress who shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act.  While they justify this because, they say,  the ACA will bankrupt the US, and they want to keep federal spending sustainable, they absolutely refuse to consider any new taxes to help reduce our debt, even though the tax rates today are the lowest in 50 or 60 years.  And they had no such misgivings about the money to be spent on their (and it was mostly their) war against Islam (well for some that's what it is) which brought huge corporate profits for defense contractors at the cost of countless lives interrupted and ended. 

Not only do they kill in the name of Christ, they promote guns, not helping the poor, and treating foreigners with hostility and deportation.  That's not the Christ I've been told about who said things like:
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.
As you can see, I'm agitated today.  I can find you links to support all I say, and I'm confident that in 20 years, most sane and rational folks won't see anything amiss in a post like this.  (I'd like to think that's true of sane and rational folks today.)  But I'm also mindful not to fall into the same strident rhetoric of the people I oppose because of their abuse of facts, of truth, of the people they are supposed to represent, of their power. 

But I think my words and actions are moderate compared to the people who support the Governor and encourage him with model legislation from ALEC to pass laws that intimidate publicly minded citizens from legally protesting programs they see as harmful to our way of life.  People like Vic Fischer, Bella Hammond, and the other, less well known, people who expect that Pebble Mine, like most other huge mining operations around the world, will take its money out of state and leave in the state huge environmental degradation.   The history of mining suggests this is not an unreasonable expectation.

I would note that Michael Dingman has a piece in the ADN today that argues in part, that:

"Something happened in court last month that the anti-development folks don't want you to know about.
Rather than focusing on the facts of the court case -- which they don't want you to know -- they are going to show you photos of former State Senator and Alaska Constitution Delegate Vic Fischer and former First Lady Bella Hammond because they are sympathetic Alaskan heroes.
Don't fall for it."
I would argue that my claims about Parnell's pro-corporate stands are much easier to document and much more accurate than Dingman's characterization of Fischer and Hammond as part of the anti-development movement.

Vic Fischer and Bella Hammond and I are not anti-development.  He was part of the constitutional convention that wrote in Article 8:
"It is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest. "
And then went on to innumerate how to allocate those resources.  That's not anti-development, but apparently Governor Parnell believes his administration alone should determine what 'consistent with the public interest' means.

Bella Hammond's husband ushered in oil development and, understanding that oil was a finite resource added a program to reserve a portion of the wealth raised for the use of future generations.

Governor Parnell's notion of public interest appears to have been affected by his years arguing the interests of Conoco Phillips before the legislature.  The real problem in Alaska is that people are not at all alarmed by this obvious conflict of interest.  I guarantee you that if the former lobbyist for the Sierra Club were running for Governor, the Right would create such a screech and howl in the election that you'd think Satan himself were running.  Alaskans - and the Democrats play a role in this - would see that conflict, but don't seem to have a problem with the Governor's obvious conflict.  I think we have petro dollars - we know about the Corrupt Bastards Club  before Citizens United - and later Citizens United to thank for this. 

Bella Hammond and Vic Fischer (and I) are for development that will benefit the people of Alaska and is sustainable and won't damage the other resources important to Alaska.  Immediate short term profit for political supporters shouldn't be the standard, but rather the long term benefit to Alaska's current and future residents.  These don't seem to be worries for the Governor and his people.  And that worries me too.  What also worries me is their stifling of channels of dissent where citizens can raise legitimate questions.  To the Parnellites, any hint of a question of their intent brings out a loud charge of anti-development. It's either or.  Development is good.  Any opposition is bad.  It's an almost biblical application of good and evil, and they always see themselves among the good.

[I've been having problems with feedburner lately intermittently working and not working to connect my posts to subscribers and other weblogs.  This one was posted Oct. 23 but has not been linked elsewhere, so I'm reposting it to see if that will help..]


  1. If Parnell had any moral compass, he would be ashamed, but, like sp, he has no sense of shame or values.

    It's embarrassing, once again, for Alaska. He would have no idea where to start to enhance Alaska and its people in the ways Vic Fischer and Jay and Bella Hammond have - he has no love for the land, the people or thoughts beyond what will increase his own self-worth. A pox on his house.

    1. I guess my 'curse,' instead of a pox, would be that he would suddenly become enlightened and see the errors of his ways. That would be far more satisfying.

  2. Vic & Bella ...have lost it. The PFD was a secondary priority for Hammond. First ...priority was a tax deal to continue the ""Oil Development Dream"...
    Memory goes first ..they say..
    Homework for tonight is 3-21-13 Alaska Dispatch article on Hammond.
    . In this definitive article- on the "father of the PFD"... Joe LaRocca -....went back in history witha detailed ...story on how Hammond's oil patch meetings... saved the
    Oil development boom in Alaska...and paved the way to save { taxes under the PFD } Instead of Vic & Bella historical rewrite.{intentionally}...
    Hammond chose "to give tax breaks" to the oil industry....trusting development and growth would follow as the boom continued. The PFD was a secondary step.... first the industry had to work/produce/ &
    enjoy favorable tax treatment.

    The 3-21-13 Article --- " Jay Hammond's multi-billion -dollar cop-out"
    factually... shows Hammond's often secret negotiations with oil...the helped keep the oil industry busy but.-- eventually resulted
    in the $60 billion PFD today.

    So..note to: .Bella & Vic..... Jay Hammond should really be known as the ---"Father of the Oil Boom version 2.0" Post pipeline.

    1. "Does this guy work for Pebble?" That was my first thought. I don't know Bella, but I've talked to Vic Fischer over the years and recently and I know he hasn't lost it. That sounds like a nasty dig at Alaskan elders who still have all their marbles. And you've got nothing to support your claim except their position on this is different from yours. Attack the credibility of our elders because they all have Alzheimers? That's a low blow in my book and not the sort comment I get here often.

      Then I went to the LaRocca article. It clearly supports the point I made that Hammond wasn't anti-development, just for a balanced approach. In the post I was challenging Dingman's anti-development charge.

      I wrote that Hammond wasn't anti-oil, he just wanted to do it right. The article suggests the same. That he lost a high stakes card game against the oil companies, as LaRocca asserts, is unfortunate, but certainly not a disgrace. Few public officials, particularly in a small state like Alaska, have the knowledge, brain power, and well trained staff to win a battle with the power and resources and expertise the combined oil company clique can bring to bear.

      LaRocca writes about a sudden change of leadership in the House, just coincidentally, at the time the oil companies needed some help on the Free Conference Committee. It sounds a little too fortuitous to have just happened without the oil companies' involvement. Shades of what went on behind the scene during the days of the Corrupt Bastards Club. Not to mention in too many oil producing countries around the world.

      At this point while I was writing this reply and thinking about LaRocca's article I remembered I'd just read about the Duncan-Hayes coup and foundStephen Haycox's article in the ADN last week. It highlighted that coup and that McBeath and Morehouse "claimed it was the only time in American history a legislative body had changed its leadership without changing its membership." I can't check that claim now, but the rarity of such an event would make it all the more remarkable and suggest the oil companies played a pivotal role.

      The Haycox article actually attributes the coup to divvying up the spoils, not to the oil tax. But a comment by David Freer took him to task for that and suggests that those asking for big developers to be held accountable were right then and are still today:

      "the overthrow of Speaker Jim Duncan had nothing to do with doling out pork; the central issue then (and this past legislative session) was an oil tax bill that Speaker Duncan and House Finance Chairman Sam Cotton did not favor. So the oil industry in the 'dark' of night conspired with Meekins and Bush Democrats to overthrow Duncan, install Meekins and then reorganize with Hayes. By doing so the Bush Dems got what they wanted....more pork. The similarities between then and this past session with the passage of SB 21 are striking. And what occurred in 1981 was a harbinger of political turmoil to occur over the years with the oil industry able to use considerable clout to get their way. . . . As for me I was there during that session and had a front row seat to the travesty that became the norm for Alaska legislative politics.

      David Freer
      Bethesda, Maryland"


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.