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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

AVANT-GARDE POLITICS Slick Footing Democratic Process Lost in an Oil Spill

Author: Ben Gore

Before Dick Cheney disappeared last year, he held a number of super-secret meetings to map out a national energy strategy. Who was there? What did they say? Was the wine good?

The American people, well, at least some of us, are interested in knowing. A number of us are especially curious because the national energy plan that came out of these chummy retreats appears to be the work of people who are either extremely stupid or are lying to us about their motives (or perhaps both). When we asked Ari Fleischer about this at a press conference, he responded quickly, saying, "None of your damned business." The administration has arrogantly invoked 'executive privilege' because it takes the sickeningly patriarchal attitude that the people whose country this is shouldn't know what's going on.

A number of groups disagree with the administration. There are the usual players, of course. The Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council are both filing suit under various public information laws. There are some pretty unusual characters, too. The General Accounting Office, which sounds like the bleak bureaucracy it is, has decided, at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), to flex its theoretical muscle (it's the financial investigating arm of Congress) and get the documents for its boss.

A summary of the administration's energy proposal goes something like this: produce more oil domestically, build more nuclear power plants and spend enough money on clean energy to appear to be doing something about it. Why is this the plan and how did it get made our business?

For starters, most of that new oil is probably going to come from public lands; that is, lands that you own. The most photogenic case is, of course, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but you can kiss National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands all over the West goodbye too.

The next reason is that they may very well decide to build a nuclear power plant in your hometown. You certainly won't get asthma from air pollution, but you might very well get cancer if something goes wrong. Not to mention that in order to make new plants possible, they've decided to store all of our radioactive waste underneath a mountain in Nevada. The problems for Nevada (which is a beautiful place if you haven't been there) are obvious. But keep in mind that they'll also be transporting all that waste across the whole country by truck on normal roads.

These ideas just don't make sense. Sure, we could produce all of our power with nuclear fission, but why dig up all that uranium and deal with all that waste when we could just build more wind turbines? We could spend half of our discretionary budget on a military whose main purpose is to keep oil flowing, but why do that when we could just drive reasonably sized, fuel efficient cars — or better yet ride bicycles? These questions are important ones that need to get asked. But how can we ask them when our chief executive only invites his frat buddies to sleepovers?

Most of the founders of this country, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson, were only halfhearted about democracy. Over time, we have eroded their paternalistic vision, abolishing slavery, giving women the right to vote and so on. But many vestiges of this nauseating way of thinking remain. The 2000 election showed the need to abolish the ridiculous Electoral College. If the administration successfully invokes executive privilege to hide its dirty back room deals ("they are all Enron," someone shouted in my ear in New York three weeks ago) it may very well be time to abolish executive privilege.

Democracy, that is, the right of people to participate in running their own lives, is based on transparency and the dialogue and conflict that comes from the free exchange of information. Ignore for a second the fact that virtually 100 percent of the information you receive about the outside world comes from six corporations who couldn't care less about democracy, and contemplate this blatant arrogance on the part of people who claim, with their fingers crossed behind their backs, that they work for you. Is self-government possible when you only know half of what's going on?

So, we've moved quickly from energy policy to the fate of our country, but in the end it comes down to this: I don't want our remaining wild places destroyed for any reason, especially not dumb ones. I don't want more uranium mining in Utah's canyon lands or another reactor in my hometown.

I like it when the sky above my home is blue and I can breath when I ride my bicycle. I'd like to see an energy policy that isn't a reactionary handout to the industries that wrote it. The problem is, when information is hidden, when democracy ceases to function, they get to say, "too damned bad."